Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Naalaala Nila si Uncle Junior

From the cousins (Lolarga side) scattered in North America came these reactions to "Diary," the recent episode of the ABS-CBN television program "Maalala Mo Kaya," based on the life story of Enrique C. Lolarga Jr. He was better known to them as Uncle Junior. The Lollikins referred to are his wife and children.

From Erline Valdellon Mendoza of McLean, Virginia:

"MMK was recently added to our ‘must know’ set of acronyms. Rudy and I and Mommy and Beng drove to Maryland to watch MMK last Saturday at Nini’s house since they subscribed to TFC.

"Maalaala mo kaya…Opo, naalaala ko ang kabaitan at kagandahang-loob ni Uncle Junior.

"Naalaala ko, the mornings when he came and checked on our Mommy after Papa died. Pinky reminded me when she visited us last May - when she and her siblings quietly and patiently waited in their car parked outside our gate in Little Baguio – before being dropped off at school when Uncle Junior came to see Mommy with his doctor’s bag – checked her blood pressure, etc.. Later, our Ninang Ening also consulted with him. Naalaala ko that those morning visits were very assuring and comforting to me as a young teenager.

"Ako – naalagaan din niya – can you imagine being almost 18 years old, starting college in UP, being more independent and taking care of my own hot bath and falling whole holding the caserola of hot water to the banyo – second (maybe third) degree burns on my face and neck – Eby rushed me to Trinity Hospital – before I knew it – Uncle Junior was there. Naalaala ko when he carefully put the dressing on my face and neck with the medicine and when he carefully removed it later. In his soft manner, he assured me that I was going to be ok. Naalaala ko, I did not even think of being concerned about my face. I started my freshman year in UP two weeks late and wore a scarf over my neck.

"Ayan, your Daddy, Kimi’s 'Lolo Daddy,' our Uncle Junior, so beloved, not only by family and friends but also by others not known to us.

"Maraming salamat for sharing your Daddy with us.

"Maraming salamat, Lord, for dear Uncle Junior.

"God bless the Lollikins! Our warmest regards to your Mommy!

"Take care always."

From Telly Lolarga Valdellon of New York City:
"yes, maraming salamat.

"the MMK episode was truly a tribute to uncle jr. & whoever watched it will learn something. no matter how life is there is something we can share to others. and that it'll make us happy.

"all of us (lolargas) have been under his care for a long time. from birth till we were working. no need for health insurance. we could always rely on uncle jr & no matter how sick we were, he was always calm & assured us we would be ok. home service pa.

"pinky & i studied in baguio together in lola's care, and i don't recall nagtigas ulo siya. hmmm? aside from uncle jr., im also proud of lola. she took care of us, too. alam ko na kanino nagmana si uncle jr. kay lola. i'm proud to be a lolarga.
as erline has said, thanks for sharing ur dad to us, lollikins.

From Ramon L. Romero Jr., better known to us as Sonny, comes this email from Windsor, Ontario, Canada:

Today is Sunday 4:30pm . Yesterday at noon Baby and I had lunch before we watching the tele-movie about Uncle Junior’s diary. As we were having lunch, I told Baby that I'd bet that it wwould be about the vow that he took after medical school that he would help the sick and those who would ever need his services. Baby reminded me about Uncle Junior’s letter which had written us when Junic lived with us briefly in Windsor. Baby remembers how touching it was and how appreciative and sincere his words were which ended with 'Thank you for taking care of my Junic.'

"As we began to watch the movie, the scene where he said what would be happier than to fulfill life’s mission brought a tear to my eye. There were more scenes like that until Baby and I emptied Nanay’s box of tissue. The scene where they were playing mahjong, I still remember as a young boy. Now I understand.

"I have always respected Uncle Junior and Auntie Nene, how they were able to raise a big family, and I admire them more for their forgiveness and the sacrifices they made.

"I called Junic after watching the movie and told him the scene when he got home was probably when he was out with Ferdi and Melito. Uncle Junior did not have a moustache, and he was better-looking than Christopher de Leon, but kidding aside he did us proud in his portrayal of our Uncle Junior.

"I will watch the movie a second time. It will be a few days before I feel normal again. We did not have a MMK party here in Windsor, but I felt like we had one.

"Love and regards to all,


Response from Daddy's pet, my youngest sibling Gigi:
Dear Cousins,

"Thank you so much for all your kind words about Daddy. I'm sure wherever he is, he is at peace and overwhelmed by the thought that he was able to touch our lives in many ways.

"At a young age I already knew that Daddy was not ours alone. That we share him with other people, too. Sometimes it was difficult to understand, but as MMK creatively put it in one of Christopher de Leon's lines: 'Hindi na niya kailangang ipaalam kung ano ginagawa ng kanang kamay sa kaliwang kamay.' He never owed us any explanation; what he left behind said it all.

"Maraming salamat sa pag-gunita sa lahat ng kabutihang ibinahagi niya sa inyong lahat. Life is short indeed. It is never enough to fulfill one's aspirations. But all the kind words, the sharing of one's gift of talent and love shall sustain the lives of other people he left behind.

"Again thank you and may we never forget Daddy's legacy to us, his children...and that definitely includes all of you, dear cousins. May we learn to live following his example, even in our own little ways.

"Love & prayers,


Inset photo shows Eric and Pinky Lolarga with our Lola Purang (Telesfora C. Lolarga) at the old family residence in Lower Brookside, Baguio City, in the 1960s.

Top photo is the last taken of Dr. Lolarga alive (in striped shirt and dark glasses) and together with his children, grandchildren and sons-in-law taken in Pasig City, July 1991, after he survived his first heart attack.

Pahabol from Rose Romero de los Reyes, the oldest grandchild of Lola Purang and Daddy's oldest niece on his side; she is based in Ontario:

"Uncle Junior introduced me to a hobby of caring for love birds. He encouraged me to raise love birds, which i did. I was able to come up with 16 different colors of love birds which I later sold to pet shops in Manila. Your Dad really loved pets and nature. this is why I miss him."

Monday, June 29, 2009

I'm a Bipolar Bear, and I'm Lovin' Every Minute of It

Some members of my immediate family are reacting (expectedly) in a hostile fashion to the airing of our family's story in Maalaala Mo Kaya’s Father’s Day episode “Diary.” Tell me about it, I can hear you saying.

One sister said, how come there are twists here and there bordering on fictional story-telling? There are other variations of these comments, and I’m just about ready to literally throw the new books on creative non-fiction and old volumes on New Journalism at these persons.

What I haven’t counted on is the outpouring of congratulatory text and Facebook messages. Although my dear kid brother Eric’s condition was handled sensitively, my own private hell from early childhood to adolescence, all the way to mid-adulthood was not tackled. But then I’ve long ago promised and submitted my essay on the family disease—bipolar disorder—to Dr. Margarita Holmes. She has it in her files to be put out in a volume someday.

Just so to appease these family members who think I haven’t come clean with my own occasions of mania and depression, here’s my daily maintenance dosage (how more open can I get about this?):

Depakote Sodium extended release, 500 mg.;

Rivotril, 2 mg. ;

And for the nights when I twist and turn, I take Dormicum, 15 mg.

Again I have to thank my father, Enrique C. Lolarga Jr., M.D., for seeing me through difficult phases in my life. He it was who brought me to Dr. Leonardo Bascara in college when the first waves of seemingly overwhelming depression left me floundering. To these other psychiatrists, I owe a debt of gratitude that can never be fully paid: Dr. Elizabeth Rondain, Dr. Lourdes Vera Lapuz and currently, Dr. Gilda Manalo Wong of the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center.

Also being part of a twice-a-month Sufi mediation group, an aquarelle society and a Saturday prayer group led by Oscar and Toottee Pacis have helped calm me.

Happy now?

My consolation after the MMK episode is this message from writer Gilda Cordero Fernando: “Anyway, all the bipolars I’ve met are much more interesting than the normals.”

Photo shows Dr. Lolarga leading his kids in singing the theme from The Sound of Music

Sunday, June 21, 2009

I've Never Sung Enough for My Father

Going through my friends' Facebook notes about their own fathers today, I couldn't stop the tears from filling my eyes.

I realized that yes, my previous piece on Tatay Rolly, the father of my daughters Kimi and Ida Fernandez, now reads like an exercise in evasion although I took great pains to wake up early this Sunday to compose it.

Being the firstborn of eight children and the one on whom Daddy lavished the most attention, I find it difficult to identify with those who rebelled against male authority figures in their families.

Whatever rebellious streak and unmanaged anger I still have has my Mom and all she stands for (traditional Roman Catholic piety, conformity, holding down a steady job, being beholden to one's employer no matter how much sh_t is thrown one's way, being fussy about neatness and order in the house, a judgmental character, etc.) as its focus.

So when my beloved Dad died, I felt like I lost both an arm and a leg. Baldado talaga. Mahirap na nga mabuhay sa mundo, mawalan ka pa ng kakampi.

So here's to you, Dad, and all the tenets you lived by: keeping your head low and out of the limelight, kindness to those who have less in life, a pared-down lifestyle, rage at any form of injustice (call it a return to your original Protestant faith). You and your mother, Telesfora Cariño Lolarga, are, and will always be, my heroes.

Photos show Babeth at age two being held by her father, Enrique C. Lolarga Jr., in 1957 and at one month in 1955

Timeless Reminder for Tatay

It is 5:40 a.m. on a quiet Sunday in Baguio. Strangely, there is no rain but a faint buzz in the air. All I can hear in our room is the turning of the pages of a book and a gentle tapping on the keyboard. Another Sunday in the lives of Rolly and Babeth. He gets up to check the Major League Baseball schedule and on learning the next game isn't until 7 a.m., resumes reading Asuncion David Maramba's Beyond the Classroom: Essays on Living.

Journalist Yvonne Chua, whom Rolly supervised when she was a young reporter at the now defunct Philippines Daily Express, once asked me, "Does your husband have a life already?" Her question is quite revealing. She took the words right out of my mouth.

But our children Kimi and Ida do appreciate Rolly for his steadfast devotion to his editing and mentoring duties. So much so that when Kimi was about to turn 24 on June 10, I texted their Tatay to please find it in his heart to surprise his eldest daughter by turning up in Pasig on her birthday. And he did, bright and early on that day. Kimi was so thrilled and happy she declared that she would treat the four of us (Tatay, Nanay and baby Ida) to a fab lunch at Claw Daddy at the Shangri-la Plaza Mall and dessert afterwards at her and her sister's fave froyo (that's frozen yogurt, Tatay) place.

So here's another one of my reminders (bordering on nagging) to the man my children declared many years ago "The Best Tatay in the World." Go get a life, Rolly. On the other hand, we like and accept you the way you are.


Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant- they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are a vexation to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.

But let this not blind you to what virtue there is: many persons strive for high ideals and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself, especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love for in the face of all adversity and disenchantment, it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.

YOU ARE A CHILD OF THE UNIVERSE. No less than the trees and stars, you have a right to be here and whether or not it is dear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be and whatever your labors and aspirations.

In the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham and drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful, strive to be happy.

And with the permission of poet Jose L. Lacaba, another hard-working tatay, I am reposting his translation of the poem above to Filipino. This version can be found in his book Sa Daigdig ng Kontradiksyon. He also did a salinawit of this poem, but he feels that the version below remains truer in spirit to the original poem in English.

Salin ng tulang "Desiderata"
Ni Max Ehrmann


sa gitna ng ingay at pagkukumahog, at alalahanin
ang kapayapaang maaaring makuha sa katahimikan.

Walang isinusuko hanggat maaari, pakitunguhan
nang mabuti ang lahat ng tao.

Sabihin ang iyong katotohanan nang tahimik at malinaw;
at makinig sa iba, kahit sa nakayayamot at mangmang;
sila man ay may kasaysayan.

Iwasan ang mga taong mabunganga at palaaway,
sila'y ikinaiinis ng kalooban.

Kung ihahambing mo ang sarili sa iba, baka
yumabang ka o maghinanakit; sapagkat laging
may lilitaw na mas mahusay o mas mahina sa iyo.

Ikalugod ang iyong mga tagumpay at saka mga balak.

Manatiling interesado sa iyong hanapbuhay,
gaano man kaaba; ito'y tunay na ari-arian
sa pabago-bagong kapalaran ng panahon.

Maging maingat sa iyong negosyo; sapagkat ang daigdig
ay puno ng panlilinlang. Subalit huwag maging bulag
sa kabutihang makikita; maraming nagsisikap
na makamit ang mga adhikain; at sa lahat ng dako,
ang buhay ay puno ng kabayanihan.

Maging tapat sa sarili. Higit sa lahat, huwag magkunwari.
Huwag ding libakin ang pag-ibig: sapagkat sa harap
ng lahat ng kahungkagan at kawalang-pag-asa, ito'y
lagi't laging sumisibol, tulad ng damo.

Tanggapin nang mabuti ang mga payo ng katandaan,
buong-giliw na isuko ang mga bagay-bagay ng kabataan.

Pag-ibayuhin ang lakas ng loob at nang mayroon kang
pananggalang laban sa biglaang kasawian. Subalit
huwag ikaligalig ang mga haka-haka.

Maraming pangamba ang likha ng pagod at pangungulila.

Bagamat kailangan ang sapat na disiplina, maging magiliw
sa sarili. Supling ka ng sandaigdigan, tulad din naman
ng punongkahoy at bituin; may karapatan kang manatili rito.
At malinaw man sa iyo o hindi, walang dudang
ang sandaigdigan ay bumubukadkad na tulad ng nararapat.

Kung gayon, pakisamahan ang Panginoon, anuman
ang pananaw mo sa kanya, at anuman ang iyong
pinagkakaabalahan at minimithi,
sa maingay na kalituhan ng buhay,
pakisamahan ang iyong kaluluwa.

Sa kabila ng lahat ng pagkukunwari, kabagutan
at gumuhong pangarap, maganda pa rin ang daigdig.

Mag-ingat. Sikaping lumigaya.

Jose F. Lacaba


Friday, June 19, 2009

The Cecile and Alban Show

From music writer Pablo Tariman comes this announcement about the cello and piano events of the year.

In a duo debut recital
Cultural Center of the Philippines Main Theater, Sept. 15, 2009, 8 p.m.

Program: Beethoven’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in A, Op. 69; Beethoven’s Cello Sonata 5, No. 2 in G Minor; Janacek’s Fairy Tales (1923 version) and a Prokofiev sonata

Program on Sept. 16, 2009 with the Philippine Philhamonic Orchestra under Oscar Yatco

Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major

Andante; allegro
Theme and Variations
Allegro ma non troppo

Cecile Licad, piano

Tchaikovsky’s Roccoco Variations

Alban Gerhardt, cello

Proceeds of the concert will go to the projects of the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines.

Tickets prices:
Orchestra Center and Left: P3,000
Orchestra Right: P2000
Balcony 1 Center: P1,000
Balcony 1 Left: P500
Balcony 1 Right: P500
Balcony 2 Center: P300
Balcony 2 Left and Right: P200

For ticket inquiries, call tel. 357-3811 or text/call cell phone no. 0906-510-4270.

Photo of the cellist courtesy of Mr. Tariman

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Behold the Woman

I wish I had written or said this.

Quote of the day: "Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater. If you give her sperm, she'll give you a baby. If you give her a house, she'll give you a home. If you give her groceries, she'll give you a meal. If you give her a smile, she'll give you her heart. She multiplies and enlarges what is given to her. So, if you give her any crap, be ready to receive a ton of shit."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My Boy Carlo

How Carlo Jose Lolarga Trinidad became CJ today I haven’t quite figured out. I guess he TRANSFORMED! That’s the only answer I can think of. When he came into our lives in 1979, I called him by many names like Moopsie, Carlo Warlo, Carl and other forms of endearment that only a doting aunt-godmother could think of. When my own kids were grown, they wondered why I liked giving him personal hygiene products (men’s deodorant mainly) as my Christmas gift. It was for the pleasure of writing on the card the message “Keep on rolling, Carlo Warlo!” Here’s the boy as a boy with his toys some of which are collector’s items and are part of the roving exhibition of "Transformers" robots at different malls in Metro Manila. Keep on rolling, CJ!

Here is the rest of the toy exhibit schedule:
June 20-21 : SM North Edsa (Sky Dome)
June 20 : Robinson's Galleria
June 21 : Shangri-La Mall

June 26 : Mall of Asia

June 27-28 : Robinson's Galleria
June 28 : SM Megamall
June 28 : Glorietta 3

This is a project of Cybertron Philippines and Solar-UIP. Display cabinets will feature Transformers and G.I. Joe collectibles

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bayan Ko in English

With the kind permission of poet Edgar B. Maranan, I'm reproducing his English translation of the nationalist's favorite, "Bayan Ko."

Bayan Ko (1929)

(Lyrics by Jose Corazon de Jesus, music by Constancio de Guzman)

Ang bayan kong Pilipinas

Lupain ng ginto’t bulaklak

Pag-ibig ang sa kanyang palad

Nag-alay ng ganda’t dilag

At sa kanyang yumi at ganda

Dayuhan ay nahalina

Bayan ko, binihag ka,

Nasadlak sa dusa.

Ibong mang may layang lumipad

Kulungin mo at umiiyak

Bayan pa kayang sakdal dilag

Ang di magnasang makaalpas!

Pilipinas kong minumutya

Pugad ng luha ko’t dalita…

Aking adhika

Makita kang sakdal laya!

In the book Bayan Ko! Images of the Philippine Revolt, published soon after the “People Power EDSA Revolution” of 1986, an English version of the song accompanies the original Filipino lyrics of Jose Corazon de Jesus. This translation by Ed Maranan -- with the title My Country -- is different from other existing translations because it can be sung in English, following the melodic line of composer Constancio de Guzman. A revised version of the translation appears in Dream Chasers, the Grade V reader in Anvil Publishing’s Our World of Reading series.

My Country (1986)

Philippines, my country, my homeland

Gold and flowers in her heart abound

Blessings on her fate did love bestow

Sweet beauty's grace and splendor's glow.

How her charms so kind and tender

Drove the stranger to desire her...

Land of mine, in fetters kept,

You suffered as we wept.

Birds that freely claim the skies to fly

When imprisoned mourn, protest and cry!

How more deeply will a land most fair

Yearn to break the chains of sad despair.

Philippines, my life's sole burning fire,

Cradle of my tears, my misery...

All that I desire

To see you rise, forever free!

Open Letter to a Young Director

Dear Raya,

Your tita has to get these things off her chest before she risks those unhealthy things that happen when one “holds a fart in,” as the expression goes.

Yesterday morning , maybe at the hour you just arrived from Europe, I left Pasig City for Bataan on a community outreach project and made sure I could hitch a ride back to Mandaluyong City so I had enough lead time to line up for the 8 p.m. screening of your much-lauded Independencia.

I arrived at the Shangri-La Plaza Mall at a little after 4 p.m. There was a reasonably long queue already for your film. I felt immediately happy for you. I asked a fellow to save my space while I ordered something to eat at a snack bar.

The long and short of it is I totally lost it at some point during those four hours that I and a couple of hundreds of others did who patiently expected we could get in because we were there bright and early.

My understanding of independent cinema—forgive me if the definitions have changed during the past months, I’ve not managed to keep up, being situated most of the time in Baguio where we are not as privileged as Metro Manilans and, yeah, Europeans to catch indie films—is that it is an alternative to the kababuyan and superficiality of flicks churned out by the mainstream. What is more, indie filmmakers are supposedly respectful of their audience. And to produce and direct one, you just need a handful of committed staff and crew members, say 20 or 50 max (?), who share your vision.

Imagine my surprise when Martin Macalintal, who helped organize the French film festival still ongoing at the Shang, told us les girls seated by a coffee bar that 200 of the 290-something seats in the theater where Independencia was going to be shown were already reserved by the producer, Arleen Cuevas. And that these reservations were all confirmed. He had hoped that your producer would at least give due notice if even half of those seats would not be used so these could be freed and more people could be let in. I couldn’t help muttering aloud, “Is that producer Chinese?” No racial slur intended, but those were the first words that came out of my mouth.

Two hundred seats, Raya? She might as well have rented the entire cinema and called for a private screening. Why announce in the papers that there would be this screening of Independencia open to the public at that hour?

When finally the ticket booth opened at 6 p.m., only 20 people were allowed in. There was audible booing. Others just shrugged and called it a day. But there were still a sizable number of people who complained. The more enterprising others decided to contact whoever they felt malakas to in order to get in.

Soon there was this woman in black with shoulder-length hair accompanied by a man with a bullhorn who introduced her as “the producer.” As I quietly fumed on my seat—couldn’t get up because of tender left ankle from a slowly healing sprain and an arthritic right knee—my friends overhead her or her male companion say that sorry lang ang masasabi nila.

An angry mob was forming. Some threatened to blockade the entrance to Cinema 3. Before long, the lady in black announced that she had decided to free, perhaps from the goodness of her heart, those 200 tickets. People, who earlier dispersed, formed another queue which moved rapidly enough towards the girl at the ticket booth until again the tickets available ran out.

The lady in black, who was getting all the flack from outraged people like myself, should have seen that there was a huge hopeful crowd wanting to see a fulsomely praised film by the Philippines’ latest wunderkind. And since money at the box office is not an issue here, she should have quickly made an executive decision with approval from the Shang’s management that an extra screening be allowed.

Which apparently was what happened—another show time that same night was announced through SMS messaging with the tentative words “baka magka 2nd screening arnd 930. 1 hr 20 min lang ang film.”

I didn’t stick around anymore. That afternoon, a dear friend had just gifted me with CDs of Art Garfunkel, Julie Andrews and Carly Simon singing standards, and the rest of what looked like a wasted evening at the mall could still be redeemed. I went home and plugged in a pair of earphones.

Later, friends called up to report that there were three lines that formed outside Cinema 3 for your 8 p.m. screening: one line for those with reserved seats like family members, family friends, including a National Artist, actors like Alessandra de Rossi, etc. The second line was for those lucky to get the tickets let go by the lady in black. The third was for the waitlisted—if there were still vacant seats after the people in the first two lines were accommodated, the rest of those not privileged to be anak ng Diyos would be let in.

Again I point out a vital issue here, Raya. Are we living in a democracy, or are you
or your producer condoning another permutation of elitism? This had to happen on the country's 111th Independence Day, an independence gained after the waging of a revolution whose ideals were guided by the French Revolution. But let us not even get into that.

I’m still hoping to catch Independencia at some other venue, and since I have only reviews from foreigners to guide me, I’m also hoping that it is as good as they say it is. As a friend, who’s a master of irony and sarcasm combined, said, “The film can’t be as great as a Mayakovsky poem, can it? Or even an Ishmael Bernal ouevre?”

Yon lang naman.

From your concerned tita

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Frankie and Tessie in the Clair de Lune

Tuesday was one of those crazy-daisy days. But its staccato beat went andante when I ran into Frankie and Tessie Jose on the ground level of the Shangri-La Plaza. He had his cane. I had mine. He wore a transparent plastic eye patch over his right eye. The ever solicitous Tessie said, “Let have coffee,” our code over the years for “Let’s catch up.”

The Joses have always been Frankie and Tessie to me. They never made me feel that I had to address them with honorifics like “Sir” or “Ma’am,” “Mister” or “Missus.” We met when I was a college sophomore who’d occasionally pop in at the top floor of their Solidaridad Book Shop in Ermita, Manila, after I'd read a newspaper announcement about a visiting writer. The first time I climbed the stairs to that floor was when a Russian poet blew into town. On the way to the book store’s literary soiree, Rolando Tinio, who accompanied the visitor in a car, rapidly did an on-the-spot translation from English to Filipino of the poet’s work. With no rehearsal, Tinio read aloud the poem feelingly as only a poem ought to be read before an audience of about a dozen people.

Back to the Joses. Because Frankie and I were hobbling with our canes and a cataract had just been removed from his right eye, Tessie offered to join the Starbucks queue to get our orders—he for an espresso, me for a regular. His first question was: “What have you been writing?” I rolled my eyes and said, “Potboilers here and there.” He smiled, saying, “No matter, you’re still writing, and that’s good.”

“Any new poetry?” Frankie asked as a waiter brought our orders. I poured milk into my cup, averting my eyes when I answered, “A few, all fits and false starts.”

He told me to get a copy of the latest Free Press magazine. He read a poem, he wasn’t sure of the poet, by a certain Sunico. “You must be referring to Rayvi,” I said. “Raul is the pianist, the dean of the UST College of Music.”

Frankie got the little jug of remaining warm milk and poured the contents of his espresso paper cup into the jug, then re-poured the new mixture back into the cup. He was sure it was Raul the pianist, not Ramon the poet-book designer, who wrote the poem. Frankie praised the poem's innate musicality. It was like reading something by W.H. Auden, he added.

He has always watched out for rhyme, including interior rhyme, meter, alliteration, assonance, etc., in the poems that he reads. He is frustrated with a retired Ateneo professor’s books of poetry. I played Devil’s Advocate, saying that the prof is a musicologist. I told Frankie of once dropping by the prof’s modest Quezon City apartment in the 1980s, and hearing a Beethoven concerto playing full blast in his stereo.

“Nevertheless, he is tone deaf when it comes to his poems!” Frankie insisted.

He admires certain Filipino poets in English, prefacing his remarks with “But this is only as far as the boys are concerned.” Topping his list is Cirilo Bautista followed by Krip Yuson, Gemino Abad and “that fellow from Davao,” Frankie shook his head, trying to recall Ricky de Ungria’s name which I uttered.

“Don’t you read any of the guys who write in Filipino?” I asked.

Frankie’s answer was whenever he listened to Bienvenido Lumbera speak in Filipino, he would tell this other National Artist that he (Frankie) couldn’t understand what Dr. Lumbera was saying. “I tell him, how come when it’s Jun Cruz Reyes who’s talking, I get him? And Bien would only laugh.”

Frankie struggled with reading Lope K. Santos’ Banaag at Sikat but thoroughly enjoyed Lualhati Bautista’s Dekada ’70. He once asked a Liwayway editor in the ’60s or ’70s to compile the best short stories published in the magazine for a number of years , and he'd publish them.

Frankie was disappointed with the compilation submitted to him. “They all had O. Henry type of endings! Was that what Filipino writing all about?” he asked.
He continued, “You must remember, Babeth, that I arrived in Manila from the province in 1938 with no knowledge of Tagalog.” He learned his Tagalog along with way.

He hectored on other topics still close to literary shop talk until we drained our coffee. Tessie stepped out to buy load for her cell phone so she could call the driver. Before long, we said our goodbyes, and in my mind, as Frankie walked slowly with his cane toward the waiting car, was a memory of him taking young reporter Babeth in a midnight spin in his sedan with him at the wheel singing along to the soundtrack of The King and I.

Photo of F. Sionil Jose by JULIO SAMBAJON from Howie Severino’s blog

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Number Crunching Time

How does Einosuke Rudy Furuya love Baguio? Let us count the ways. A full-blooded Japanese born and raised in the highland city until his family was repatriated to Japan in 1945, Furuya, 75, still considers Baguio his true hometown. He has spent several decades away from it working as a commercial photographer in Yokohama.

For his solo picture show at The Gallery of SM City Baguio, he presents his affection for the place that continues to haunt his dreams. His subject for this second of his “Sense of Baguio” series is numbers. This is his unique way of doing a countdown toward Baguio’s centennial as a chartered city, to be formally marked on Sept. 1 this year.

In her introduction to the exhibition, curator Patricia Okubo Afable wrote: “Furuya brings us the fruits of three years of perambulations through Baguio, past familiar gateways, hidden portals and discreetly-announced welcomes. (His) work takes the pleasures and accomplishment you get from counting and amplifies them. While historians think ‘chronology’ and demagogues point to ‘progress,’ he playfully shrinks Baguio’s past one hundred years into images of numerals. In each house number, stamped label, or hand-lettered mark, Furuya collapses time and place. Then he captures for us, in the sign maker’s momentous claim to identity, our daily striving for privacy, for belonging, and for personal art.”

The numbers are a throwback to Furuya’s innate shyness. As a boy holding a camera at age 10, he was ashamed of taking pictures of people so his first subjects were still life of stones, flowers, grass, other facets and parts of nature that early pre-war Baguio had plenty of.

Furuya said in a message at the exhibit’s opening, “The unique numbers that I found in various corners of town are more than simple numbers. They stand for personalities in a city that is very close to my heart. For this Baguio boy, they represent kinsmen and friends in the land where I was born. I have returned here in quest for these numbers... It has been like seeking old friends to talk to and exchange feelings with.”

Shooting with natural light, he zeroes in on numbers not just attached to gates or doors of private homes and buildings but numbers on the saddle of a horse, most possibly at Wright Park. But the sense of Baguio-ness is ever present.

Furuya said, “As I’m growing older, the more I love Baguio. That’s how important a birthplace is. If I had been born in Mindanao or Manila, I wouldn’t think of Baguio so much. But Baguio is so beautiful and wonderful. It is quite different from before. However it changes, it is still my Baguio.”

“Keeping Count, Homing In,” Rudy Furuya’s exhibition of 120 photos celebrating the Baguio centennial, is still on at The Gallery, SM City Baguio, until June 14. The exhibit will move to the Bencab Museum on Asin Road during the month of September as the museum's offering for centennial month.

All photos by RUDY FURUYA

A shorter version of this article appears in the June 10, 2009, issue of Philippine Daily Inquirer, Northern Luzon Supplement.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Near, the Dear Jacqui Magno

How wonderful to listen to jazz, at last, in a cool, enclosed space. Because of a strict anti-smoking ordinance in Makati City, there was no cigarette smoke fogging up Merk’s Bar/Bistro in Greenbelt. Nor were there distractive customers chatting away while the performers of the caliber of Richard Merk and Jacqui Magno did their thing.

A great noblesse oblige gesture Richard did by being the front act of the still magnificent Jacqui. She was stalled by traffic caused by the on-and-off downpour Wednesday night. The audience of jazz aficionados waited for her and drank bottle after bottle of their favorite poison.

Richard, seated on a stool to forget the pain caused by a sprained toe, set the mood right away with songs I have not heard sung live for quite some time: “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” “A Foggy Day,” “It Had to Be You,” the even more rarely heard “It Could Happen to You,” the theme from the Nicholas Cage-Bridget Fonda romantic comedy of the same title, “Laura,” “Lullabye of Birdland,” “C’est si Bon” and “All of Me.”

I might’ve missed a song or two because my friend Anna Leah Sarabia and I came in a little past 9 p.m. Nevertheless, Richard’s unrehearsed asides about the songs were informative. The ballad “Laura” had been interpreted by Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett before and Richard surmised that this mysterious woman must’ve been so special based on the lyrics alone: “the face in the misty light,” “she gave her very last kiss to me—that was Laura but she’s only a dream.” He found it ironic that one so special should turn out to be just a dream.

Anna looked around us and saw a couple of children. “You see,” she said, “jazz is now considered safe music. You can bring along your kids and dance.”

When Jacqui strode onstage in her fuchsia and black caftan, there was no taking our eyes off her. Talk about stage presence. And all those eight de-lovely songs she meltingly interpreted! I almost swatted away an old classmate from my St. Paul College days who suddenly re-introduced herself and was eager to chat—she got in the way of my fuller appreciation of Jacqui’s “Here’s That Rainy Day.” Some other day, Jojo Juan.

And on to “Gingie,” a snappy, danceable “Fool on the Hill” accompanied with scatting, her signature “Bridges,” which, according to Anna, the singer used to close her club gigs at Birds of the Same Feather, “Evergreen,” “Our Love is Here to Stay,” “The Very Thought of You” and “How High the Moon.”

In “Our Love is Here to Stay,” Jacqui improvised a couple of times to update the song a bit: “…every IPod and the movies that we know are just a passing fancy and in time they go…”

The weather that night was, as she accurately observed, great for "snuggling, spooning, crooning or just reading a book." Not for me though. I was infected with the second-to-the-last and the last song syndrome all the way home.

Jacqui returns to Merk's, Greenbelt 3, on June 17. It's Pat Castillo's night on June 10. Expect two middle-aged groupies to again sip their vodka while nodding their heads to the beat of jazz.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ricky Lee and Other Miracles of This Season

"Weird" was how the author described his feelings at the launching of the special edition of “Si Tatang at mga Himala ng Ating Panahon:Koleksyon ng mga Akda ni Ricky Lee” Sunday at a standing-room-only section of Power Books, SM Megamall, complete with Noranians punctuating the air with cheers every time Nora Aunor’s name was mentioned.

"Weird" because he never thought that the book, which has gone into third printing since it was first published in 1988, would enjoy popular, not just critical, success despite its unconventional format with no demarcations dividing Lee’s reportage from his fiction and screenplay of “Himala.”

More than upsetting conventional storytelling forms in Filipino and ridding many feature articles of traditional punctuation marks, Lee, 61, has been able to enjoy something rare among writers: financial success and independence. Much of this has been due to the box-office appeal of his more than 150 produced film scripts, five plays, even a best-selling first novel “Para kay B.”

An early memory of his name being mentioned at a humanities conference at the University of the Philippines Faculty Center in the 1970s flashed in this writer’s head. Theater-film director Behn Cervantes recounted how he was pitching a story treatment done by Lee to a producer. The producer asked, “Ricky Lee? Any relation to Ricky Lo?”

Sometime in the late ’70s, this writer also saw Lily Chua, an English graduate and Lee’s friend, turn over his letters addressed to her while she was in the US. She had come home for a short reunion with friends at the UP Diliman home of Dr. S.V. and Nieves Epistola. She was due to marry and begin a new life in the States.
Lee sat in a corner, reading his old letters and laughing silently. Among his written observations was how he pestered Lily to buy him a long list of books he wanted to read and how he was spending a lot of his time inside movie houses after his release from political detention.

He was so turned off by the poor quality of the movies that he vowed to Lily he would make those producers pay one day for the valuable money he spent watching badly scripted, poorly shot movies. He had more unspeakable words about the kind of acting being done by the actors.

Dr. Epistola snorted, “And now they (the producers) are paying through their noses.”

In the feature story “Tiririt ng Yvonne,” excerpts of which were read by actress Jean Garcia, the subject of the profile, a bold star, said, “Ewan ko, pero para sa ’kin, pag virgin ang isang artista hindi makakaarte ng husto. Dahil when it comes to sex nandiyan lahat—comedy, drama, lahat. Pa’no sila magri-react sa sexy scenes, paano sila makakapag-aaahh, ganyan? Tapos, virgin pa sila? Saan, sa tenga?” (Somehow the piquant remarks of Yvonne get lost in translation.)

Comedian-singer-composer Ogie Alcasid brought the house down with his reading of another excerpt from a report, “Ang Paggawa ng Himala,” through the eyes of Joel Lamangan. Lamangan was assigned as casting and crowd director of the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines-produced movie. But director Ishmael Bernal made exacting demands on him like bringing truly ill and infirm extras.

To get a flavor of the living theater of the absurd that was the set of “Himala” in Paoay, Ilocos Norte, here is Lee’s account with Lamangan as narrator (again these lines are not quite as funny when translated in straight English):
“Si Ishma ang naturo sa akin how to crowd direct. At kung paano maging magaling sa pagka-cast. Pag kailangan ng mga extra, kumukuha ako sa iba’t ibang barangay. I need 50 sick people, sasabihin ni Ishma

“I want to see the sickness, sasabihin pa niya. I have to see the disease!

“Di puwede ang me hika lang, o sakit sa puso. Kailangan nakikitang malaki ang ilong, o me cerebral palsy. Isa-isa pinahilera ko ang mga maysakit sa harap ni Ishma. O ito, sabi niya, puwede. O ito, disapproved. Hiyang-hiya ako! Sorry iho ha sabi ko sa isang maysakit, hika lang kasi ang sakit mo e!

“One time nagpahanap si Ishma ng batang maraming galis sa mukha. Para ito doon sa eksenang karga-karga ng pulubing si Aling Pising ang isang bata habang sumisigaw siyang Elsa, pagalingin mo ang anak ko!

“Ayaw ni Ishmang prosthetic lang. Gusto niya laging totoo. Nakahanap kami sa napakalayong barangay. O ayan, Ishma, sabi ko, me langib-langib pa ang ulo!
“Nang panoorin ko naman later sa rushes, full shot pala! Di naman nakita! Momsy, sabi ko ke Ishma, ba’t di mo pinakita ang sugat? It’s not necessary, sagot ni Ishma.”

Later, Lee expressed his gratitude to his circle of friends, especially the ones he met at UP Diliman and spent time with in the underground movement and in prison.

He said, “My friends were the ones pushing and inspiring me to write. I was a thin naive provinciano then who didn't know much about the world. They were always helping and protecting me, telling me I wrote well.”

Friends Jo-Ann Maglipon, Flor Caagusan, Aida F. Santos, Fanny Garcia, Lilia Quindoza and the late Romulo Sandoval encouraged his early writing attempts.

Lee was a political prisoner for one year with now National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, Caagusan and Maglipon. He recalled, “Immediately after I was released from prison, I lived at the Protestant Chapel, then later with Ninotchka Rosca and Luis Teodoro in their house at UP.”

Lee told this reporter, “Most of the short articles and journalistic pieces in ‘Si Tatang at mga Himala’ I wrote at UP, either at the Narra dormitory or in Area 1 in one of the boarding houses there. I was a working student, first as a waiter, then as proofreader and later staff member of Asia Philippines Leader while studying AB English at UP.”

He considered UP his refuge after all these years from the time he ran away from his hometown in Bicol. Every time he has a book launch, he goes to the UP Catholic chapel to hear mass first and make an offering.

A constant presence at his launchings are people who are the products of the free scriptwriting workshops Lee has been conducting since 1982. His other payback gesture is sending donations of books and similar educational items to his hometown.

In the works is a reprint of his scriptwriting manual “Trip to Quiapo” to be combined with his memoirs. Somehow, despite his success, he has managed to look homeward.

“Si Tatang at mga Himala ng Ating Panahon” is published by Writers Studio Philippines Inc. and distributed by Anvil Publishing Inc.

In a photo taken by FLOR CAAGUSAN, Lee (in white shirt) poses with Aida Santos, the blogger, Jo-Ann Maglipon and Anvil's Karina Bolasco.

A shorter version of this report appears in the June 4, 2009, issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.