Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Baguio We Know

Coming soon at a National Bookstore (NBS) or PowerBooks branch near you: The Baguio We Know, a collection of essays by 15 writers, most of whom are residents of this highland city. Edited by drinking pardner Grace Subido, this Anvil book features reminiscences, vignettes, historical accounts, recipes that define a Baguio that is evergreen in everyone's minds. Unlike the template volume that came before it, The Manila We Knew, this one, the editor insisted, must carry the verb in its present tense. And we agree on that score.

No matter how visitors disparage the city for having lost the scent of pine and its hill-station charm, longtime residents like Cecile Afable, Nonnette Bennett, Merci Dulawan, Priscilla Supnet Macansantos, Baboo Mondonedo, Padmapani Perez, among others, will stake a pair of kitschy gigantic wooden spoon and fork in defending Baguio's indisputable place in their personal and the country's affections.

The book will be lauched on Sept. 2, Wednesday, at 6 p.m. at the NBS branch in SM City Baguio.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Perfect Timing

On July 26, 1984, a singing quartet serenaded a newly married couple, one Babeth Lolarga and one Rolly Fernandez, at their reception at Nielsen Tower on Makati Ave. The musicians just rendered two songs: "Bayan Ko," which moved their godfather Armando J. Malay to stand up and raise a clenched fist all throughout the singing, and "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree," a lighthearted ditty that took the edge off the first song.

Forward to the same day and month 25 years later. There were more than 25 songs sung that evening at Cafe Juanita. Days before, the fretful newsman in Fernandez worried that GMA might just spoil everybody's plans, including ours, by declaring a state of emergency at her hopefully last SONA. His fear never came to pass. But six days later, the death of Mrs. Aquino began galvanizing Filipinos again to unite against injustice, corruption and the assorted excesses of GMA. And once again I see yellow ribbons wherever I turn--around pine trees, at the Volante Pizza parlor's posts, etc.,--and the cheesy song about receiving a letter telling me I'll soon be free is so very in again.

One of our anniversary singers, journalist Vergel O. Santos, once winked at our First Draft group of women writers, saying: "Don't you just think that getting married is all about perfect timing?

These poems from Edel Garcellano's blog www.theworksofedelgarcellano.wordpress.com do not quite follow the line cuts he did. My stubborn computer refuses to follow the cuts and stanzas that Edel used to fashion these three verses. So they appear here like prose poems (sorry about that, Edel):



In a cafe, 
they are all smiles
 as she confides 
over the microphone
 she & her groom 
leave well enough 
each other alone – 
neither too near
 nor too far –
 unlike igneous rocks 
that upon close contact 
spark a fire.
elective affinity of desire? 
the secret of the feast
 that stood the text 
of their own conjugal times.
 & If the merrymaking 
among friends,
 who open doors
 for the bride’s flair,
 tells a story 
for all to learn,
it must have been
for a bonding
 to steer clear
 of short-lived passion,
embracing instead
 the cool danger
 of reason.
 Gold medal
 for him 
visible with ascetic grin?
 Applause for her 
who collates goodwill
 of kith & kin?
 A toast to hearts 
who beam
 at the fairy tale
worked out 
with delicate precision.


At 11pm 
the celebration 
was almost 
 but the singers 
were still belting out 
as if they had 
just begun
 to feel the heat
 of fun.
 Outside Cafe Juanita
 of post American
with old world air
 & yellow lights
 from lamps 
wrapped by 
silk gowns,
the rain had stopped,
emitting a scent
of late-night 
& after the formal
 settling of the bill,
 rearranging of chairs,
plucking of wine bottles 
off the tipsy tables, 
the couple 
would drive home
 a few blocks away, 
as if overwhelmed
 by love’s 
strange declaration.


They came,
singly or in packs, 
to be with the couple
 despite the heavy 
 They, who stood 
through thick & thin 
of accounted years:
 laughed at the same
 tried jokes;
 exchanged warm toasts;
 heard the chorus
 of ersatz troubadours 
that drew 
the night to a close.
What is there
 to expect 
after the celebration 
of beatitudes?
 Another 25 years
 of magical struggle
 & passionate hope.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

August Moon

I’ve always had a distaste for politics, but I love my liberal, libertarian, socialist and communist friends. Long ago, too, I learned that the act of writing is already a political act in itself. One cannot hide behind the journalistic code of objectivity all the time. In the end, you have to make a choice: are you on our side or on the enemy’s? Whether in the home with the threat of domestic violence hanging on one’s head or out on the streets where cruel traps are laid, we face the challenge of choosing, of making a stand.

Dying is easy; it’s the living that’s hard, so a wiseacre said.

Today how I can pose like a placid fence-sitter while I await former President Corazon Aquino’s casket to pass by, not too far from the lobby window of the Manila Diamond Hotel? I’ve been here since 12 noon. People with yellow shirts or yellow ribbons tied around their arms have been lining up the sidewalk since the sun rose.

I’m on a comfortable seat; my need to constantly pee has kept me from joining them. Yellow banners with the silkscreened image of Sen. Aquino festoon the street lamps. Manila is Cory City, Mayor Lim, whom she endorsed as her presidentiable in 1998, has seen to that. Suddenly, Dirty Alfred Lim smells clean

My partner Rolly and my friend Anna Leah Sarabia rushed out, he with an umbrella and still-intact power of observation, she with her camera and feistiness, to await the six-wheeler truck carrying the casket.

We never thought we’d make it this far—Rolly, Anna, me. We had other plans for the day. Rolly wanted to get back to Baguio to be in time for his pet dog’s dinner and his 7 a.m. class tomorrow at the University of the Philippines there.

Anna was supposed to give me a pep talk and repeat her old line about women’s rights being human rights. After which I was scheduled for a 2 p.m. meeting with Anvil Publishing’s Gwenn Galvez to map out the launching of The Baguio We Know, a two-year-in-the-making anthology of essays by Baguio’s finest, timed for the Sept. 1 celebration of the highland city’s centennial.

But all good plans were thrown in the waste basket. We decided to bear witness today. As we ate a hurried lunch at a nearby Vietnamese restaurant, memories of the August 21, 1983, assassination of President Aquino’s husband Ninoy came back vividly. So did the anger at the current lying and thieving Presidency. At one point, Anna thought aloud, “Gosh! GMA makes Marcos and Erap look like saints!”

Rolly tried to be facetious to deflect the tension. Perhaps, he surmised, the Filipinos are just longing for a happening like today’s march. No, I said, they had been waiting for the right time and occasion. Anna agreed, pointing out that we are moving towards a full moon, a lunar eclipse is going to happen. The moon, ah, for me who swears by its inconstancy, is what moves the masses. The sun represents the leaders, the moon moves the masses. Expect something to happen to an awakened people.

It was the same Anna who said, around the time the Marcos’s star was dimming, that the Filipino is like a carabao—hardworking, patient, etc. But once pushed to its limit, it gores its own master.

Two months ago, another friend said, half in resignation, half in bottled-up exasperation, that people were thinking, “Gloria (Macapagal-Arroyo) has a year to go. They just want to ride it out instead of protesting. Maybe change will come after the 2010 elections.”

Apparently, we’re near breaking point like the time Sen. Aquino was treacherously “salvaged,” to use Sen. Saguisag’s so very apt word. I never thought the line “Tama na, sobra na, palitan na” would resonate again with such vibrant, refreshing beauty, rid now of its cliché quality

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Unrestrained Ranting in Behalf of a Pianist

We haven’t buried the heroic widow yet. Nor have we gotten over the proclamation of Carlo Caparas, Cecile Guidote Alvarez and ilk as National Artists. Suddenly my email inbox is filled with the diplomatic exchange of correspondence between pianist Cecile Buencamino Licad and certain Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) officials, outgoing and incoming.

The gist of this latest controversy, all reflecting how this country is run, is this: The CCP artistic program committee refused to honor Ms. Licad’s commitment to do a provincial outreach concert at Holy Angel University in Pampanga scheduled in the first week of September.

On what grounds, you ask?

The CCP, or Sentrong Pangkultura ng Pilipinas, from whose reclaimed land visual, musical, dramatic, cinematic, literary and other artists should ideally branch out and share their talents/skills/training with the rest of the regions and provinces scattered across our archipelago, claimed first or proprietary rights over Ms. Licad.

Raul Sunico, its newly appointed vice president and artistic director, a pianist in his own right, wrote that her planned Pampanga concert, would preempt her CCP performance with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) in mid-September, 15th and 16th to be specific.

Translation for this blogger: that ticket sales for her CCP concerts with visiting German cellist Alban Gerhardt and the PPO would be affected.

Hello, CCP public relations office, ticket sales, perhaps a third of it (and we’re being modest here), were made possible due to the almost one-man sales pitch freelance writer Pablo Tariman has been doing through his articles and music magazine since early June and through the unofficial texting brigade we started around that period. And we paid for our own tickets, take note. My four orchestra right tickets on those two nights I paid for from money earned as a freelance writer. I deposited my payment in the BPI Family account of the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines, the beneficiary of the Licad-Gerhardt-PPO concerts.

Ms. Licad is a thorough professional; she honors commitments and never makes promises that she can’t keep. More than this, she knows who and what she is, where she came from, how to acknowledge debts of gratitude and up to what point payback time is kept, her contributions to this benighted country, especially in deodorizing its bad image abroad.

In the latter, my encounters with some Fil-Ams and foreign creatures go something like this: “What, Cecile Licad is a Filipino? You have a world-class pianist, and she can afford to make New York City her base? I thought Filipina was synonymous with a maid in the US, Saudi and Europe? Sorry, ha, no offense meant.”

But here is Ms. Licad, who didn’t need to but had to explain herself to these idiots sitting in power at what it supposedly the country’s center of culture:

“I still don't believe my performances in the provinces will pre-empt the impact of the PPO concert. As earlier mentioned…, my provincial and two Metro Manila engagements last year didn't pre-empt the impact of the PPO concert; they actually sold out the CCP concert as reflected in the big revenues shared by the CCP and the Buencamino Foundation last year.

“Let me point out that I am doing the CCP program in the provinces for purely artistic reasons: this is my first performance of the Prokofiev C Major Concerto and I wanted to get to know this piece inside and out not just with technical rehearsals but with live audiences interacting with me. If I were doing Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff concertos, there is no need for provincial try-outs. I always try out new pieces many times in various places so I get the maximum result. That's the way I have worked in the last forty years of my career.

“I can see that the program committee's main consideration is the CCP investments and very little for my artistic needs; I noticed that all my points for doing provincial concerts were totally ignored.(italicization and emboldening of lines by blogger) If I may say so myself, I have given CCP and its audiences what they deserve in the last 40 years of my performing life. In this phase of my life and career, I expect no less from the CCP management.

“But your decision is well taken and I will honor my commitment. I am just sad that I cannot share my creative process with my countrymen in the provinces who have very little access to my performances. Since the CCP is financed by taxpayers' money not just in Metro Manila, I thought music lovers in the provinces need not be excluded from the CCP festivities on its 40th anniversary.”

Let’s ask ourselves: Is this any way for CCP officials to treat such a one as Ms. Licad? She is probably the best pianist of her generation internationally. Argentinian great Martha Argerich thinks so, so sure is she of Ms. Licad’s greatness which, I must add, is accompanied by humility and respect for authority.

By its gesture, the CCP has made it loud and clear that provincial engagements that come before a performer’s scheduled presentation on its stage cannot be done under its latest rules (rules conveniently dangled before Ms. Licad when no one, not even her, was aware of them).

I have just overheard an episode of the TV series “Scrubs.” One black woman character railed against a white woman who said something to the effect that classical music cannot be universally appreciated. The black woman said just because she (the black) wasn’t born in Vera Wang diapers doesn’t mean she can’t understand classical music.

Ms. Licad, I will say the words for you because you are a decent person, a darling of a musician, and everyone I know knows I'm neither of those, especially when sufficiently provoked: the current crop of CCP officials, supervisors and an underling, a certain Becca Jose, PPO manager, have not been toilet trained. That said, enjoy your visit to the motherland.