Monday, July 28, 2008

Her Boots Are Made for Flying

Many important people in the long, well-lived life of “cultural heroine” Gilda Cordero-Fernando (seated second from right) are missing from this photo shared by DJOK ADRIANO at the end of a buffet dinner hosted by the Ateneo de Manila University. The university had just conferred on her the Tanglaw ng Lahi award for achievements in the arts. An equally vital sartorial detail is a-miss: a peek of her ankle-high, off-red boots cobbled together by Marikina craftsmen underneath her Steve de Leon saya. If a GCF Fans Club finally gets going, here’s part of the core that will compose it (seated from left): lighting designer Shoko Matsumoto, theater director Nonon Padilla, art director Manny Chaves and couturier Steve. Standing are three women happy to witness Gilda’s latest recognition: one fat mama, feminist Anna Leah Sarabia and Ateneo Prof. Eileen Lolarga.

What the Letters "E" and "L" Signify

Once you got past the main pedestrian gate of the Lolarga-Valdellon-Romero family’s former summer house (it was sold a few years ago), you had to pass through a smaller and lower gate, unlocked all of the time. The letters “E” and “L” were there to stand for our late lolo, Enrique A. Lolarga, founder of the National Radio School and Institute of Technology. Two of his three sons carried the same initials: Enrique Jr., my dad, and Ernesto or Uncle Esting.

Our uncle married educator Erlinda Garcia who happens to share the same first letter for her given name. So all their children’s names began with the letter “E”: Eileen, Emelinda, Eloise, Emmanuel, Eleanor and Ernesto Jr.

My dad and mom were no different until they got to their sixth child who they thought would be their last. So she was baptized Genevieve (the “G” after my mother’s Gliceria). As for the rest of us, we were a series of “E’s”: Elizabeth, Evelyn, Enrique III, Edgar, Ellen and the two babies that came after Genevieve, Eric and Eugenia.

The more recent photo above is of Enrique III (more known as Junic) and his son Christian. The black and white photo shows Evelyn in her preteens, summer of '68 by her recollection, posing by her initials, still at the Brookside house. Her only child is named Carlo. The “E” tradition stopped with us.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

First of a Series of Brookside Babies

When word went around my immediate family circle that I had just put up a blog, the question from all was: “Why Brookside baby?” Friends and colleagues who don’t know my Baguio background commented that the blog’s name sounded like I was abandoned beside a body of water, like Moses in a basket among the river weeds.

My siblings and first cousins on my father’s side knew better. Our childhood summers and later, as we became college students, our semestral breaks were largely spent at 18 M. Roxas street, Lower Brookside, Baguio City. Our widowed grandmother, Telesfora Cariño Lolarga, built her retirement home in what was once a 1,000-square meter avocado grove.

The three-storey house was of modest dimensions. As the years went by and whenever she had enough savings, a room would be expanded or a roof and a fence added.

And yes, there was a brook behind the backyard. There was no budget for landscaping—my lola knew by instinct where this tree, that bush and those clusters of flowers should grow.

I am hoping that as I add more entries to this blog, I can recover more stories about those Brookside years. Meanwhile, among the first to get excited by the possibilities of this site in tying the scattered branches of our family together is my sister Evelyn Lolarga Trinidad, Embeng to us. We have a family code for “cute”; it’s “cute-at.” Embeng rang me several times, instructing me to open my G-mail and check if her cute-at photos were all in.

So for our buena mano Brookside babe, here she is, a few inches away from falling into Burnham Lake. She must have been five or six years old. Note the background. Yes, the boats then had real sails!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Couple at Midpoint

An old married couple—I don’t think he and I qualify for that description yet. You’ve got to reach a kind of steady togetherness covering all of 40 or 50 years to earn that title. Well, we’ve been together off and on for 29 years. On the 26th of this month, it will be our 24th wedding anniversary (I counted the five years we also became a couple—magsyota—on and off, too, that’s why I have an odd figure of 29 there). Who’d have thought we’d last this long? Certainly not me, always the one ready with her little maleta (and lately a backpack) to walk out at the slightest provocation. So here’s to us for enduring one another! We never had a song. How about the book, movie and song of the same title: I Never Promised You a Rose Garden? Photo by MAX FERNANDEZ

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Q & A with Jerry Araos

Sculptor-raconteur Jerusalino V. Araos, founder of the artists' guild Sanayan Lapat Kamay Inc. (SALAKAI), never fails to astonish me with his views on anything under the sun. As the first semester was ending in September 2007, he granted me an interview for my class in Sculpture 1 at the University of the Philippines Baguio. It wasn't a class requirement. I volunteered to do the work because I felt that we needed some kind of background about the subject we had just studied. All we had done at that point was execute plates in stone, wood, plaster and terracotta. We hardly had a theoretical/historical background on what it was we were doing. If I was presumptuous for thinking I could complement what our teacher had passed on to us, so be it. His photo was taken by GIGI LOLARGA. The picture of his sculpture, "Castranate," is lent to us courtesy of LIWA ARAOS. Here's the transcript of that interview.

If you're a woman and you want to be a sculptor, what does it take?

Louise Nevelson, one of the greatest American sculptors, is unmarried. Julie Lluch has a failed marriage. Sculpture is destructively jealous of other relationships. To be a sculptor requires singular dedication to the avocation. To be a sculptor or sculptress is to be a priest or priestess of the creative order.

Some say your kind of life is an emulation or a copy of the great artists' lives, full of drama, big gestures, bravado. What can you say about this?

I behave according to the urges that make me move from within. I am not affected very much by forces from without. Art is a concentrated expression of life. Art is a concentrated expression of experiences in life. Art is a concentrated expression of one's own lived experiences of life. Vicarious experience, when translated into art, is peeping tom art. I have lived a rich life. I have pushed my life through great sicknesses and demanding strain on my health. I have been a guerrilla and will always be a guerrilla. I am a writer, and I think freely. My passion is unbridled, and my appetite matches my imagination. They say bastos ako, that when I'm being bastos I'm being Bohemian. They flatter the Bohemians. The Bohemian cannot be creatively bastos.

What is the language of sculpture, and how do you express it?

The language of sculpture is a mixture of the grammar of my tools and the jargon of materials. The message of the sculpture must be a three-way dialogue among the sculptor, the material and his tools.

Are your resources, meaning, old pieces of wood, becoming scarce? What will you or the SALAKAI members do when the time comes that cutting wood or finding old wood will be close to impossible?

Old houses, whether mansions of the grand manner or humble huts, are being replaced by condominiums by the very rich and Italianate cottages by the beneficiaries of overseas domestic helpers. Whatever old houses are left in Manila and its environs must be preserved as historical landmarks and specimens of architectural expressions of the Philippines. I strongly believe in that.
Sources of secondhand lumber come from as far as the Ilocos, Cagayan and the Bicol region. Supply is dwindling, and acquisition is very competitive. The solution: Global warming is now felt worldwide. Cyclones, tornadoes and typhoons besiege the surface of the earth. In our part of the world, typhoons have uprooted trees. Here at the UP Diliman campus, many acacia trees have been uprooted. Some of my latest sculptural works come from them.
I compete with bakeries which use them (uprooted acacia trees) as firewood. When bakeries use them as firewood, the tree is converted into carbon dioxide which further destroys the environment. When my school uses them for sculpture, we practice carbon segregation (preventing carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere). The chippings are used to enrich some of our gardens.

Question: Why don't you apply texture on the surfaces of your sculpture or do filigreed work on your furniture?

An old sculptural practice is putting texture on the surfaces of wood. This is done with the use of the V cut or the acutely curved chisel. This practice is an imposition of the sculptor's ego over the material. As I have said, the material has its own jargon, and I allow that to be expressed as intimately as possible. This is my way of romancing the wood.

You've always stressed the importance of an artist's statement. Among SALAKAI member you require us to be able to articulate our thoughts and ideas. Why?

An artist's statement is a prior expression of how the exhibitor understands his or her own work. This is the basis for an audience to judge whether the work on display succeeds in achieving the idea of the exhibit. Before this practice was demanded by a few galleries, it was usual for an exhibitor to simply wait for a critic to come out with a review and then quickly claim that what the critic said was what he meant. Sadly some critiques are rehashed clichés from other criticisms. Because of this the audience is left uncertain of his/her own assessment of the work in view. Other exhibitors say pag naintindihan ng audience, hindi malalim. This is bullshit.
The questions that must be answered by the concept paper are: What? – The project. What for?—The objective. What then? – Social expectation.
To aspire to be an artist is to claim to be a teacher. And it is a maxim, a social contract in education that if the pupil has not learned, the teacher has not taught. There are no failed pupils, only failed teachers. The statement which goes, "If I can say it, I should not have painted it anymore" is a lame excuse for dullness.

What do the holes in your sculptural pieces stand for? Nothingness?

Bakit may butas? Pampatanong. Ano yung pampatanong? Para yung tatanga-tanga may itatanong. Kasi tanong nang tanong. Wait, do you want to hear the reason why there's a hole? Sheepish silence. Does that mean yes? A few nods. Do you want my answer to be on the level of art theory? Stupid look from everybody. The purpose I put holes in most of my sculptures is to arrest visual speed. If that surface is simply a plain surface without holes, you take it on with one visual sweep of perception. If there's a hole, your eyes tarry, your look lingers, and then you begin to think, why is there a hole? The hole arrests visual speed, slows down and lengthens the duration of perceptual engagement between the work and the audience, initiates intellection from the audience, and encourages a discussion between the viewer and the sculptor.

I've noticed since the Hiraya Gallery days that you have always been present during the duration of your exhibitions. Please explain your presence.

A solo exhibit must be an original expression from the exhibitor. For him or her it should be an artistic invention. If a scientist invents a newfangled and hi-tech but low-end can opener, the inventor must be there to show the end user how the can opener works. The same applies for an artistic invention. Also a solo exhibit of fresh insight is like a newborn child. It needs constant babysitting. My marked presence in all my exhibitions is a practice in show tending. Being present in one's own show most of the time is standing up courageously to confirm one's artistic convictions as evidenced by the works.

What does one tell young, aspiring visual artists about how they can navigate the vicious art scene, especially in Metro Manila?

The art scene is an arena of war, a war composed of many battles. To win the war you must win more battles than your competitors. The most important battle in this war is the battle for space. For beginning practitioners my advice is for them to promote alternative spaces into viable art venues. If they succeed in this endeavor, they likewise promote themselves into viable exhibitors. Then galleries would begin to take notice of them.
There is a shortcut to what seems to be success. This is by making a monkey out of yourself. Many galleries develop their own monkeys and include them in their stables. When gallery owners talk to each other, these practitioners are referred to by them as monkeys. Galleries do not disrespect the rights of other galleries over their stables of monkeys. Unggoy ko 'yan, unggoy mo 'yan.
What is a monkey? A monkey is a practitioner who is recruited by a gallery owner to paint or sculpt like a well-known artist, but a monkey signs his name. This is tantamount to art imitation, a gray area in artistic legalese. There are many successful monkeys in the whole art scene. Many of them would like to rid themselves of their "monkeyness". Very few have succeeded.
Monkeys may make their mark and money in their own time. But art history will never forgive them.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Chant for Cafe

In late March this year, Su Llamado put together a mini-art festival to celebrate the 20th anniversary of what is now a Baguio landmark--Cafe by the Ruins on Chuntug Street. As part of the fest, the Baguio Writers Group held an after-dinner poetry reading. Members Jenny Carino read a Pablo Neruda ode to the tomato, Nonnette Bennett celebrated the short life of one of the cafe's partners, Christine Arvisu, visual artist Rishab strummed the guitar and sang his own composition, Desiree Caluza praised vegetables, Baboo Mondonedo read a piece about another cafe habitue, Santiago Bose, who had passed on. This was my contribution.

How many times have I sat here alone, ordered from a short list of favorites—the chewy turon, a glass of lemonade, no sugar, a cup of coffee, a pot of tea? And, when feeling acutely bereft, a bowl of the gooiest champorado to warm a fretful belly?

When there is nothing going on in the refrigerator at home, except for cooling bottles of water, I come here to stock up on loaves of camote bread and vials of decadent liver pate and live on them for as long as I stubbornly refuse to step on the kitchen.

This is where I bring out-of-towners, visitors from foreign shores who never leave disappointed. Always they praise the freshness of the day’s menu, the creative take on an old or familiar staple.

Revelations, confessions, disclosures come easy when hunger is sated. After tucking a plateful of Tofu Pouches, how can I say “No” to a request for a tour around the city? If I had eaten an uninspired comida china, I would have reason to refuse.

So here’s to the café of our affections.

May you never lose your intimate size.
May you never become a chain or franchise.
May you never be replaced by a more pragmatic bank, a real estate office or a nest of condominiums.
May poets, troubadours and similar wayfarers never overstay their welcome.

May the rich Cordillera soil continue to yield the greens you are famous for.
May your roof defy months of monsoon.
May you be highland Philippines’ perennial pleaser of palates, salve of souls.

Has It Been Almost a Year?

Padma Perez is the very same person responsible for this catchy line attached at the bottom of the Baguio Writers Group (BWG) e-group addy: "This group exists to celebrate Cordilleran literature and to nurture the souls of Cordilleran writers. We write to live, and we live in Baguio."
But the group does not exclude people from other regions. In August last year, we held "Stepping Stones--Begin to Write Your Life Story," a workshop designed for midlifers and senior citizens who wish to leave a written legacy. So fired up were the workshop participants who came from as far as Manila and as near as Mirador Hill that at the end of the course, they set up a BWG affiliate called Ripples. Their Baguio chapter met recently and expressed to us a desire for a follow-up workshop (sort of a kick in the butt to get them moving with their manuscripts). That should happen before this year ends. Meanwhile, here is a class picture from last year taken by EV ESPIRITU.
Seated from left are: Marilyn Cayabyab, Leonora Guinid, guest speaker Dr. Priscilla Supnet Macansantos, who is chancellor of the University of the Philippines Baguio, Aurora Caro, Leticia Sison and Rose Enerio. Standing (same order) are: BWG treasurer Desiree Caluza, Rene Manipon, Gelli Caballero, Henry Austria, Ed Mir, Eli Ruiz, Vitt Hernandez, Lynn Morales, facilitators Merci Javier-Dulawan and Grace Subido and one fat mama. Not in photo are Cecile Afable and BWG vice president Baboo Mondonedo who unfailingly ensures that writers can work in comfort and are fed more than adequately at the Baguio Country Club's Pine Room.

Padma (right, the woman in red) addresses the second Baguio Writers Group writing workshop for the young at the Pine Room, Baguio Country Club. Photo by EV ESPIRITU

Nowhere Woman's Place in the Sun

For openers, let me present the (formerly mad) nowhere woman who walked me through the process of setting up this blog. The following text also served as my introduction to her at the closing rituals of the second writing workshop the Baguio Writers Group conducted for students and young teachers at the Baguio Country Club yesterday. The group chose her to be the guest speaker primarily because of her youth (role model type) and in spite of it (she has written over a million characters with spaces).
She comes from a distinguished matrilineal lineage: her great-grandmother, Pilar Hidalgo Lim, was one of the first suffragists; her grandmother Gloria came from a family of educators that founded the Mapua Institute of Technology; her own mother Adelaida is a writer, culinary artist and cultural leader of Baguio City. The speaker herself was most probably conceived and, this next detail I know as a fact, born in this city.
I first learned of her existence from a series of photographs exhibited by her father Butch Perez at the Main Gallery of the Cultural Center of the Philippines in the mid-’70s. The photos showed her mother pushing a pram along the length of Session Road one Holy Week when vehicular traffic was forbidden on the main road and there was no island dividing it. Her father took the photos from the other side of the street.
I met her again in 1990 at the Baguio Convention Center. She went up to me, introduced herself and asked at what age I wrote the poems in my first book The First Eye (published by Kalikasan Press with a small print run of 200). Her mother bought a copy earlier for P60, and it must have reached the daughter’s hands.
I returned to Manila elated by that encounter and told my editor of The Sunday Times Magazine then, Rosario “Chato” Garcellano, about this slip of a girl of around 16 who had read my poems. Chato said I had connected.
Connecting is writing’s ultimate aim. Literary prizes, fellowships and writers’ residencies local and abroad, publication in prestigious journals, magazines and anthologies—all these are fine. But ultimately, connecting to the reader is what it’s all about.
In 1995, our speaker and I would be together again, along with one of our panelists, Luchie Maranan, as fellows of the Wika ng Kababaihan writing workshop. She wrote a memorable poem about the process of childbirth. I can still recall her reference to her waters bursting just before her baby popped out.
I want to stress that today’s speaker started out like you, too. Perhaps she was lucky to have had a head start because at age seven or thereabouts, her lolo required her to write a few paragraphs to narrate what happened to her during the course of a day. This is an example of the rigor, accuracy, precision and discipline that writing demands, qualities that our panelists have been talking about for the past two Sundays.
Our speaker has gone on to apply all these in her field of specialization—anthropology, particularly indigenous people’s rights and environmental issues.
Without further ado, here is Padma Perez!
(So to soon-to-be Dr. Perez--she is finishing her dissertation for the University of Leiden in The Netherlands--salamuchas [contraction of salamat and muchas gracias] for yesterday’s pep talk to the aspiring writers from our beloved Baguio and Benguet and the assist in putting up this blog in between mundane but necessary Monday chores.)