Sunday, July 26, 2009

How We Were Before

I'm composing this in Room 940 of the Peninsula Manila where my one & only husband of 25 years Rolly Fernandez & I are holed up to compose ourselves before we face loved ones at our little gathering at Cafe Juanita in Barangay Kapitolyo, Pasig City, today. In typical couple fashion, Rolly is mesmerized by ESPN's coverage of the New York Yankees versus Oakland Athletics game (no matter that it is a replay).

Last night we had dinner with Rolly's mentor, Enrique "Pocholo" Romualdez, and his wife Lita at Mikey's on Diosdado Macapagal ave., Pasay City. Every couple of minutes, Mr. Romualdez would turn to me and repeat a variation of this same question: "How do you put up with this guy?" The implication was, Rolly hasn't changed all these years: talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place. Is it any wonder Rolly's siblings call him "Rock"? He is unmoving, unchanging. The upside of this is he's reliable, dependable & nice to come home to wherever my inner-outer journey takes me. But I don't think Mr. Romualdez, the epitome of the hardboiled newsman, would like my answer so I kept it to myself.

Mr. Romualdez also shared a wonderful insight. During his and his wife's celebration of their golden anniversary (they're on their 61st year this year), people gave Lita a standing-ovation and the applause went on and on. People were on their feet cheering her for putting up with Mr. Romualdez, the last of the shouting editors. Then he winked at us, saying, "Kung alam lang nila. Ako ang tunay na martir dito!" Rolly laughed heartily; he could connect with that remark.

Following is a background about Rolly's & my relationship:

He & I went steady for five years: 1979-1984. It wasn't all moonlight & roses; Rolly pretty much left me to myself after we
officially were "on." It's because work is his wife; I'm the mistress. I appreciated it then & appreciate it now--he gave me lots of space & wouldn't call or date me for weeks on end. So I had a rich single girl's life that included going to art exhibitions, plays, movies & concerts on my own.

Which is what I miss now because there's not much of a cultural life in sleepy Baguio for all the number of visual artists & musicians per square meter. I miss ballet, contemporary dance & orchestral performances which are infrequent there.

About our preparations for the wedding 25 years ago, Rolly & I agreed that we would have a stark, simple one, aware that a wedding is just for a day or an evening but marriage is a commitment.

So he had his outfit for the occasion done by his Daily Express colleague Danilo Franco who headed the art department and was apprenticing with the great Ben Farrales. I was just gonna wear a shirt & skirt from my closet, not a gown (Jeez! The thought of wearing one still gives me the creeps), but when my mother heard Rolly was having barong & pants made pasadya, she had a nice dress made for me.

At that time, I had just returned from Mindanao where Jerry Araos & his comrades sent me on an exposure-immersion trip that had me shuttling from Cagayan de Oro to Butuan to Davao City & to a forest in Agusan del Sur where I lived with armed rebels for 10 days (not sure exactly how many days but it was long enough so I could appreciate their life). In the jungle I remember recording revolutionary songs in a portable tape recorder Rolly lent me.

When I returned to Pasig, I lost so much weight. When I was having my fittings with the dressmaker, I was probably down to 105 lbs. because food in u.g. life was strictly budgeted. I did not complain because we always had a balanced meal of fish, rice, vegetables & fruits whenever I was in an urban place. In the forest it was rice, siling labuyo, salt. Skyflakes crackers were a treat & rationed.

When the dress was finally done & I got into it, it was tight. By that time, my old appetite had returned with a vengeance; I was
eating 4-5 pieces of pan de sal at breakfast. So the dress had to be refitted & dyed a shade of tan because it was white.

I didn't like to wear virginal white. I wasn't a virgin. Rolly & I were avid practitioners of premarital sex with proper use of contraceptives. (Jerry said in his book The Garden of Two Dragons Fucking, which I edited in 1992, that parents who can declare openly that they had practiced premarital sex ought to be congratulated. So congratulations to Rolly and me!)

My original plan was to wear my office clothes: pleated, rainbow-color skirt with matching top.

Jerry called me at my old Raya Media Services office in United 1, Paranaque, & was surprised to learn that I was still working on technically was the eve (morning) of my wedding. The wedding was set at 6 p.m. on July 26, 1984. He asked what my plans were after our Baguio honeymoon. I told him Rolly & I would go our separate ways--he to his apartment in Makati where he lived with his medyo sickly mother & I back to my parents in Pasig. Jerry said, "Ang suplada mo talaga, Babeth! You should
live with your mother-in-law because eventually she will die. After that, it's all silence ."

But Rolly was the one who discouraged me from living with him for as long as his mother was there. She was the empress
dowager type, but he knew how to kowtow to her. As for me, my attitude has always been, if you don't like me, well, the feeling is mutual. Tapos ang usapan.

So Rolly & I continued to behave like a young couple still going steady. We would meet on his day off from work, usually mid-week. We'd watch a movie, catch an art show or a baseball game at the Rizal Stadium & have a nice dinner after. When the house in Antipolo was finished, we'd go there on weekends, but he would leave for work after lunch & I'd be left alone spinning records or reading a book. Our two children were conceived there. Jerry made our matrimonial bed & some furniture which are now in Baguio.

An important detail about the wedding: of all my many friends, I chose Jerry to be present at wedding. He kept it secret from everybody else, especially the Hiraya Gallery crowd of the '80. Only he & Gigi Duenas knew that I had gotten married. Before my wedding, Gigi told me, "Babeth, ang nag-aasawa lang ay yung may balak maghiwalay." But eventually Gigi got married too & even uses her French husband's name.

There must be a lesson or two here somewhere.

Photo shows old married couple at a book fair, University of California in Los Angeles, 2008.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

For Public Consumption: A Rave for Floy Quintos' "Atang"

What is worth a six-hour trip from Baguio braving fickle weather and the possibility of losing my balance along the way due to an old ear infection? Gilda Cordero Fernando’s workshop on creativity in the classroom is one. But that deserves a story on its own.

Another worth any trouble/hassle is the last run of the musical “Atang” at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater at Palma Hall, UP Diliman, held July 18. The theater was filled to capacity with a very responsive audience of young and young-once alike. Even without much publicity in traditional print and broadcast media outlets, word got around fast through Facebook, SMS, email and new, vital media. Reservations were assured as soon as these were placed. As for the queue a few minutes before curtain time, it was orderly.

I brought Jun Calamba, our family’s occasional weekend driver for my escort, and ensured he’d take a front-row seat while I took the seat behind him. “Sige, Jun, dyan ka. Ingat ka lang na hindi ka matalsikan ng laway ng mga aktor,” I told him. Gentle Jun just smiled and sat upright.

With an audience as keyed up as this one, Ayen Munji-Laurel as Gia Almonte had us at hello. Young, tall and on the mestiza side, Gia is immediately cut down to size by an aging, trembling, hunched Atang (magnificently played by Frances Makil-Ignacio). Constantly referred to in the two-act play as unang superstar ng bayan, Atang/Frances is uncannily interchangeable; Jun actually thought Frances and Atang were one and the same person. She gives Gia her first lesson on perfecting one’s art.

On learning that starlet Gia, who is about to embark on the role of her life ( playing Honorata de la Rama in a biopic on her life) knows music by ouido (by ear) and does not take lessons from a voice teacher, Atang gives her this pointer: it is her duty to herself to better her god-given talent.

Second lesson: the entertainment industry has a short memory. In time Gia’s having worked with Bernal or Brocka and her Best Actress statuettes will be forgotten.

Third: Pursue your heart’s desire. Atang’s older sister wanted her to study pharmacy and to open a botica later. These—becoming a pharmacist and running a drugstore—were the approved jobs for women of that period. Music (voice and piano) lessons were allowed in her youth only as hobbies, not as a vocation. Atang would have none of that; pharmacy for her was like mixing poison.

Fourth: Wherever she performed the song “Nabasag ang Banga” (words by Hermogenes Ylagan and music by Leon Ignacio), Aeta, Igorot and Bagobo audiences, not just the Tagalogs, were all delighted and got the double entendre. So, Gia, never underestimate your audience.

I should stop at the fourth lesson. From my brief stint in corporate communications at San Miguel Corp. 20,000 years ago, Winston Marbella and Art Cariaga taught me to stop at three points. Why? They’re easy to communicate and easy to remember if you stop at three.

But I will insist on a fifth point connected to the relationship of Atang and Amado Hernandez: that what is more important is not romance but understanding. Amado insisted on bayan muna (country first) but with Atang, who found it hard to love a hero, by his side at all times.

That said, I shout “Bravo!” again to the wonderful cast who worked with the equally wonderful director Alex Cortez.

Alex crossed the fingers of both hands, wishing that the production of “Atang” would have a move-over engagement at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in November. Hear that, Mr. Nes Jardin?

For cultural workers like Gia who learned from Atang, it is necessary to create one's story, to cultivate one's own mystery.

Photo courtesy of Frances Makil Ignacio, from her Facebook profile

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Her Name Is Bianca , and She's 7

Below is a composition by my seven-year-old niece Bianca, daughter of my sixth sibling Pinky and her husband Rod. Bianca was seen by my daughters this week typing away on this very laptop where I am composing this blog.

She's on Facebook because she likes the games there (Pet Society being one), but her Internet access is timed and for a limited period only. Why? Because she is a schoolgirl, a child and must enjoy the outdoors on sunny days like today.

She's also listed as a public figure in FB at the rate she appears in my blog and my daughters', nephews' and nieces' Multiply and FB accounts. Ida, my youngest and a child development and education grad of Miriam College, is of the opinion that Bianca's fan page should be shut down. We haven't figured out who is the fan page's administrator. But if it were me, no way. We'll watch Bianca grow through the years that way.

This aunt almost failed to mention that Bianca is serious with her piano lessons, and she agreed to escort me to the Cecile Licad concert in September at the Cultural Center. On condition that she and I take a long siesta before the evening performance/s.

Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrreeeee's Bianca in her own write:

My name is Bianca Ysabel. I live at 45 Oriole st., Francisville subd.,
Antipolo City.

My mother’s name is Genevieve.
My father’s name is Rodolfo.
My brother’s name is Juan Paolo.
And my sister’s name is Margarita.

My birthday is on April 28.
I was born in the year 2002.
My birthday day is on a Tuesday.

I study at Assumption Antipolo.
My best friends are Lianna Margarita Manlutac and
Marian Juliet Manrique.

My lolas’ names are Mama Mermaid and Lola Ines.
My lolos’ names are Lolo Endong and Lolo Daddy.
My titas’ names are Tita Babeth, Tita Embeng, Tita Suzy, Tita Gigi, Nanay Mely and Tita Carol.
My titos’ names are Tito Junic, Tito Dennis , Tito Eric, Tatay Boyboy and Tito Sonny.
My cousin ninang is Ate Kimi and my cousin ninong is Kuya Carlo.

My cousins are Kuya Christian, Ate May, Kuya Rex, Ate Sara, Kuya Justin, Kuya Daniel,
Kuya Ted, Ate Ida, Ate Carla, Ate Monet and last cousin Kuya Marc.

My niece and nephews are Paopao, Myah, Miko and Marcus.

I love you all, my families and friends.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Other Writer in the Family Speaks Up

From cousin Enrique L. Romero Jr. in sunny California comes this letter, post-haste, after he viewed Maalala Mo Kaya's episode on his godfather, Dr. Enrique C. Lolarga Jr., a.k.a Uncle Junior. Enri, as my cousin is known to us, is father to Rica and Dino and husband to Trina "Pem" Jacob:

I am probably one of the last to see the movie since I had no access to The Filipino Channel. My thanks to Junic for providing the internet link after my frantic e-mail. Still, due to my un-techy-ness, it took numerous clumsy attempts nights thereafter before I finally got it. I hope that Junic could still send me a clear DVD copy once available so that the rest of us can watch it.

Whatever controversies certain dramatizations in the movie may have spawned, rest assured that those of us who knew him know better, and we believe that the movie achieved what we hoped it would--a lasting tribute to your father.

It bothered me whenever I hear that there were some who mistook his shyness and quiet ways as aloofness and arrogance, and I was always quick to rectify these mis-impressions when I catch them. I felt I knew him well enough to do so.

In the eighties when he was our company physician at Trans-Pacific Properties, we saw each other regularly and always retired to my office after the employee consultations to share stories and jokes. Perhaps, because we shared the same name, two seemingly serious individauls found themselves unabashed by their openness and laughter.

We also had our solemn moments, such as the time when Pem, Rica, Dino and I went up one weekend to Baguio following Lola's operation. Entering the hospital room, we found Uncle Junior alone gingerly attending to Lola. Later in the hallway, his shoulder drooped and his voice cracked when he told me that it was a quick open-and-close procedure because it immediately became apparent that the cancer has spread beyond cure and that only a few months were left. We were pleased that he rode with us that weekend back to Manila, and we stopped by Vilmar in Tarlac so that he can have what Pem distinctly remembers him saying as his favorite--tortang alimango. That ride home was pleasant, but there were some moments when Uncle Junior could not seem to find peace in the thought that through the years he always did the best he can for Lola.

Our most endearing moment with your father came after Dino, barely 3 years old, fell and hit his head on our bedroom floor one evening, and shortly therafter started vomiting and felt sleepy. We took him to the emergency room of GSIS hospital on East Avenue and later wanted to transfer him to St Luke's but were strongly advised not to by the resident physician. Anxious that this might be worse than anticipated, I phoned Uncle Junior to consult him but instead he insisted outright, despite the very late hour to take a cab and come. None of us slept that night because we needed to ensure that, until the x-ray results cleared him, Dino did not sleep, eat nor drink. And to partly quench his thirst, Pem will always remember your Dad for showing her how to moisten Dino's lips with her fingers and a wet towel.

Uncle Junior and I reminisced about a lot of things that night on the balcony. It is during these rare moments that you appreciate the depth of his emotions, the vastness of his heart, the kindness of his soul and his dedication to his calling. My anxieties were long gone by then because I felt what my mother did whenever we got sick as kids, how quickly these disappear by his mere presence, reassuring voice and untiring attention. I brought him back to Barrio Kapitolyo at daybreak, hugged him tight and, in near tears, thanked him and Auntie Nene. As always, he expected nothing, even detested any thought of it. His unselfish ministration always was his reward.

It was this bond and friendship that kept me going to the Heart Center each of those nights of January 1992. I could almost feel then his pain each time he had seizures, and my heart would quiver each time the doctors brought him back numerous times. On that Sunday, I remember my Mommy, who already arrived from Virginia, and I returning home from the hospital only to receive a phone call. We rushed back and still found him in his room with the attendants who had already wrapped him in white linen. I remember Mommy and I sobbing, calling his name and embracing him. A part of us left with him that day.

I have read all the e-mails and am so glad at the outpouring of affection for Uncle Junior. These are rare glimpses that otherwise would have remained unspoken, something often felt but seldom verbalized. We are able to finally express the tributes we could not utter in our grief at the time of his passing.

Looking back at my 57 years, I can only find a morsel of good decisions I have made. One was in 1979 to request your Dad to be our Ninong at our wedding. It was a role he played earnestly in the years to come, and it drew us closer to him as much as he already was to us, and probably to countless others, some of whom we may never know given the many he heeded to. I realized later on how extremely happy my Mommy was that the brother she admired and loved so much became our Ninong.

Our appreciation goes out to Auntie Nene and family for allowing, even enduring, your Dad's unending desire to pursue his laudable calling. Indeed, he was a blessing to many.

Warm regards,

Photo shows Enri as a boy in Baguio (first row, right) with his older brother Sonny and sisters Rose and Toots, his mother Pacita Lolarga Romero, his aunt and my mom Gliceria D. Lolarga and me.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Their Uncle Junior, Our Uncle Celso

From Lolarga cousins in the Philippines and an aunt in the US come these reactions to the “Maalaala Mo Kaya” episode last Saturday aired over ABS-CBN. These are mainly recollections of our Daddy, Enrique C. Lolarga Jr., known to them as Uncle Junior and Manong. Manang Nene is my mother, Gliceria D. Lolarga. My relatives' letters make me feel I’m sitting at his wake again, listening to these lovely memories

From Jocelyn “Jing” Lolarga-Deco, our cousin and daughter of Celso C. Lolarga and Josie Geslani:

Alam mo we really felt so proud watching your dad's story at MMK last Saturday. My kids know Kimi and Ida, but they never knew Uncle Jr. Kako yun binabanggit na Celso is their Lolo. They were both really there for each other. Your dad was always around when Papa got sick or was hospitalized.

“We can really attest to Uncle Jr.'s service. It was as if he and Papa made it their commitment to make an impact on and improve the lot of those barrio folks.

“Wish though we were able to document those services, pati yung mga pag improve ng park and kalsada. Well, it's their legacy that counts here.

You should have seen your dad at work whenever he went to Canan Sur. The barrio folk somehow know that he has arrived with free medicine. And they would come in droves, and he would start treating them. No fanfare, no ceremony. To them, he was their lifeline to treatment of their illnesses. He would just quietly work away, examining each man, woman and child. He would calm and softly assure them they will get well.

“It was obvious he was really enjoying it because he would have so much medicine with him, yet he would take the bus to Dagupan.

“I hope you can give me a copy of the DVD. I intend to give them copies there of the show para sila rin, MAALALA rin nila si Uncle Junior.”

From Jose Mari G. Lolarga, Jing’s older brother:

“Like Jing, I was so proud for you guys, having Uncle Junior (who is my ninong sa binyag ) featured on TV. And MMK pa!

“I texted my friends, carpool and office mates to watch it. Several of them did, in fact! Our HR manager, who is a Hamada from Baguio, asked me Monday if I was related to Uncle Junior. And to think hindi ko siya na-text to watch it! He was elated to know relative ko pala yung na-feature.

“There were a lot of revelations while watching the show. I didn't realize he was almost run over by a car. But it did bring tears to my eyes , that scene with him in the living room came, about medicine being his 'calling.' A very simple mission in life, rare in these times we live in.

“I felt so much longing for them, Papa and Uncle Junior after. They were really close. I even texted our tenant-farmer who watched it. Kilala niya si Uncle Junior. I hope I can get a copy so I can give one to the people in Canan Sur. They benefited from your father's generosity. “

From Auntie Josie, mother of Mari and Jing Lolarga, comes this letter. She is now based in Roseville, California. The manong (elder brother) he refers to is Dr. Lolarga:

“Thanks for conjuring up the memories we all share of Manong. His precious quiet trips to Canan Sur in Malasiqui, Uncle Cel's little fort, were welcome treats for his little brother and the rest of the barrio folks who received his full medical attention free of charge. They would trek to our nipa hut to have their blood pressure checked and linger on to chat with the doctor, asking a lot of simple questions pertaining to their medical issues. They could not afford to make trips to a doctor who charged fees.

“I remember that after he had saved enough drug samples to bring, he would take the bus to Dagupan and excitedly hop into our jeep for the rugged ride home. He spent his last New Year there, playing tong-its with Uncle Cel and Julius. He came out mostly winning!

“The story was not only a tribute to him but also to Manang Nene for rallying behind Manong and you, her children, so that you could get education for your own eventual use.

“When I go back to the Philippines and Malasiqui to retire next year, let's picnic in Canan Sur and plant a fruit tree in honor of Manong Junior, a testimonial to his ‘rooted-ness’ to his principles and mission.

“In behalf of my three munchkins, Mari, Jing and Julius and their children, I send each one of you my love and prayers.

“Honestly, I would have wanted to post this in your blog, but I don't know how to. This is an ooops moment for a senior citizen, no matter how computer literate I claim to be."

Photo shows the Lolarga family of Pepin street, Dimasalang, Sampaloc, Manila. Uncle Celso stands far right on the second row; Daddy stands second from left on the same row. Complete tagging/caption to follow in my Facebook. Photo shared by ERLINE VALDELLON MENDOZA from her IPhone