Thursday, October 30, 2008

Who's the Fairest of Them All?

Hands down it’s Celso, the fellow in yellow Lacoste shirt with black abaniko and our friend working at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. He blew into town last week and rustled us girls (Lynett, Chato and me) for what he called a “wicked lunch.” Mindful that among us was a vegetarian, we chose healthy items from the Ayala Museum Café and didn’t venture beyond the appetizers of crab cakes, which he declared more full of extenders (potatoes and flour) rather than crab bits, sushi and salads. Strangest of all, we were reluctant dessert eaters. When he rose to go to the Gents, he asked me to hold on to his black leather bag. “Is this a Prada?” I asked as I gingerly touched the soft smooth leather and marveled at the zipper work. “No,” he replied. “Emporio Armani lang ‘yan.” Heads at the next table swiveled and gaped at the well-accessorized man. Count on Celso to deliver the best punch line of the afternoon.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Advertisements for Ourselves

Toottee Chanco-Pacis, our fellow Baguio Aquarelle Society member, invited us to do an on-the-spot painting session at her recently cleared greenhouse in Happy Homes. My teacher Norman Chow always likes to visit Toottee as his form of relaxation. Her cottage seems straight out of a storybook . Inside are her collection of miniature tea things, strawberry figurines, including a dining table that she handpainted with strawberry fruits and vines. Firsttime visitor Roland Bay-an, who doesn’t do flowers and similar still lifes as his subjects, was inspired to paint a bundle of strawberries for the Strawberry Lady herself who fed us pancit with the distinct and delicious aftertaste of Chinese sausage (she gets her supply from Sunshine Supermarket although she said U-need’s is also worth a try; Norman swears by the savory sausages in Santa Cruz Manila). This was our society’s first get-together after the opening of our ongoing exhibition “Baguiong-Baguio” at The Manor of Camp John Hay. A recent visitor there, Marilyn Cayabyab, commented that my paintings had wit, character and looked whimsical. Would that her words translate to sales, Toottee and I and the rest imagined. I’m posting my painting “Get Me to the Church on Time” and Toottee’s what else but “Strawberries.” Photos by ELMER CHRISTIAN DAUIGOY

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Passion for Pasta

I remember the simple pasta served in a deep white plate at the Cantinetta, an Italian restaurant at Camp John Hay. It is made up of angel’s hair noodles, olive oil, toasted garlic. I don’t recall any other ingredient or dash of color on this very plain dish. In other places, there are usually strips of basil included.

I want to try the Osso Buco, but when my husband notes how much it costs, he raises his eyebrows. The occasion is his 58th birthday, and he earlier tells me and our daughter that we can order anything. He doesn’t forewarn us that there is a price limit.

So I settle for something simple, cheap but utterly satisfying. No other pasta dish that I’ve tasted in Baguio compares to this particular aglio y olio. I use the piece of bread to sop up the last trace of oil.

In our pantry at home, we have a pack of angel’s hair noodles. Hanging over the sink is a long braid of garlic. There is a gallon of extra-virgin olive oil trickles of which I use to fry rice with. What has kept me from replicating the Cantinetta experience? My husband asks the same thing—what’s stopping me? What is stopping me indeed?

I like Cantinetta’s mahogany tables with the grains of wood showing, the view of pine trees from the window, not bearing the heat of the kitchen, not having to wash dirty dishes later. Yes, the whole experience of dining out, being served by an attentive waiter and having someone else take care of the bill—all these add more flavor to aglio y olio.
Daughter is shown enjoying her panna cotta. Photo by BABETH

Monday, October 6, 2008

Life in a Day

Alone in the house for three consecutive days, I padded around in my slippers and nightgown, channel surfing and bagging some good movies on cable: Beethoven’s Copyist with the great Ed Harris as the maestro; Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow and Toni Colette who proved to be a surprise in a period movie (I’ve a stereotype of her doing edgy roles); Notes on a Scandal with Cate Blanchett as a lonely art teacher who embarks on a disastrous affair with her 15-year-old student and Judi Dench as the self-described “battleaxe” who gets wind of it and uses it as a leverage to get closer to the Blanchett character with whom she is enamored; and finally Heartburn, starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson enacting the fictitious characters based on Nora Ephron and Carl Bernstein. All in a day.

Which makes nodding off at night a bit of a problem as the scenes replay in my head. Last night I distracted myself with success, reading Doris Grumbach’s memoir Life in a Day (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996) from cover to cover. She opens with this truism: “…I have decided to explore twenty-four hours of ordinariness. The common day is more representative of the contents of most of our lives; disastrous ones are rare.”

A negative review of her book sets her back, nearly paralyzes her, and the rest of the day is a study in evading her routine of facing the computer, encoding and editing her words. She describes her situation as an “osteoporosis of the will” that “kills off the desire to write.” I identify with the way she finds a thousand things in her house to delay her duty to craft. Accidentally, she finds a credo from an old man who used to work at a handpress. Studying it, I think it is worth adopting. Here it is:

I. Work slowly.
II. Make no promises.
III. Take frequent coffee breaks.
IV. Set no line before its time.
V. Accept imperfection.
VII. Observe the cocktail hour.

There is no sixth instruction, and Grumbach surmises it might be any of these: “Make changes without rancor or resentment. Or: Take a nap after lunch. Or: You have done enough for this day. Or: Ignore whatever you have done thus far…”

I also liked how she and her companion mutually agree to dispense with preparing supper and washing dishes and instead hie off to the Morning Moon Café (a lovely name). This part made me envious. How many times I have wished for a nearby café in our neighborhood where I can sneak in for a meal instead of preparing one.

To poet Luisa Igloria who gave me this book, thank you for passing on the wisdom.

Now Showing

The way Baboo Mondoñedo tells it, the Baguio Aquarelle Society began when her painting teacher Patric Palasi couldn’t meet her because he had spilled hot water on his foot. He advised her to seek out Roland Bay-an so she wouldn’t miss a lesson. When Roland saw her, he wondered aloud how come, in a city of visual artists, there was no watercolorists’ group? That was all Baboo needed to lasso people and make an appointment with a more than cooperative Heiner Maulbecker, general manager of The Manor, Camp John Hay. He acquiesced to everything she requested. As he put it, how could he say no to four women? And that is how the ground level of the hotel today carries whiffs of Baguiong-Baguio—in the lobby, at Le Chef, along the corridor, beside the elevators. There the works of the other members hang, capturing the spirit of place. In this photo are the members (front row, from left): Toottee Pacis, Baboo, Norman Chow, Roland, Merci Dulawan and me. Second row: Rishab, Patric, Jenny Cariño and curator Erlyn Ruth Alcantara. The huge painting we're holding is an interactive work with our guests. Photo by ELMER KRISTIAN DAUIGOY

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Death in the Family

“Honey, nobody dies of a broken heart,” my friend, a jaded journalist, likes to tell people who come to her with tales of breakup and separation.

But I’ve always felt that it was possible, that a heart can shatter into a million pieces no matter the brave front you show. This was the case of my godmother, Jane Server Banzhaf. When her husband Hans passed away two years ago, Jane, already weakened by emphysema, grew progressively fainter, a wisp of her old, chain-smoking, coffee-drinking self.

Last Sept. 27, my sister Evelyn, brother Dennis and I visited her at the ICU of Asian Hospital. Jane’s youngest child Yammy was keeping watch. I lost count of the tubes connected to the patient whose chest was the only part of her moving. Everything was still. Her eyes seemed pasted shut, the eyeballs unmoving. We hoped that she would wake for a few minutes. She never did.

Back home my brother gave his prognosis to my mother who is very attached to Jane and who considers her not just a favorite niece but another daughter and dear friend. When Jane entered widowhood, my mom kept her company on some weekends—they’d eat together, watch TV together, sometimes play mahjongg and sleep on the same bed. Dennis, a doctor, said Jane was being kept alive by the whole enchilada of life support. Mommy whirled as though struck by a blow. By that time I had let Jane go, wishing her what a poet called the peace of all things.

When the confirmation of death came Monday, I was prepared. Telling Mommy was a different story. She broke down and was nearly hysterical. It was sometime before she quieted down. She had hoped for a miracle.

Jane was cremated that same afternoon. In the evening my siblings, daughters and I rode to her home in Ayala Alabang to pay our respects. Her jolly older brother Shorty arrived at the same time as we did. He brought my hand to his forehead, and everyone chuckled. “Why are you laughing?” he asked. “My sister has just died.”

Earlier, he told Evelyn and her husband Obet, “Please don’t wait until I’m in the ICU before you visit me.” The humor and the truth in that statement weren't lost on us.

In this old picture are Jane, who was the middle child, her brothers Shorty and Fritz and their mama, Nazaria.