Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Odette, Lola O, O.A.

The Benito sisters, Nieves and Lourdes, the eternal Odette who liked to refer to herself as the Black Swan, were not only tall and willowy, they were the perfect hosts, each in her own fashion.

Where the more cerebral Mrs. E (the name by which Nieves B. Epistola was called by her students and proteges in the ’70s) selected her own society that hung around her porch on M. Viola street at the UP Diliman campus, Odette, the queen of hearts, flung open the doors of the old Heritage Art Center at its original location in San Juan to all and sundry. She was its moving spirit when it changed location to Cubao. And when it burned down and moved to another location, her Blue Ridge home acquired a democratic gravitational pull of its own, attracting artists, chess players, ideologues and environmentalists.

Mrs. E liked to tell stories about her kid sister: how she gifted her with Benjamin Spock’s book which became Odette’s bible in raising her four sons; how bored Odette was with being a corporate banker’s wife and how she went into a rice-selling business, to Ate Nievs’ chagrin. Mrs. E thought of giving Odette an art book this time and that started her on art dealing. The sideline turned into a main line until Mario Alcantara and sons took over the business.

Even when she was the doyenne of that mini-cultural center, venue for book launches, concerts, bazaars and plays, including Miss Rita Gomez’s unforgettable performance of The Human Voice under Anton Juan’s direction, I intuited that Odette’s heart was not into the day-to-day running of a business, even if it allowed her to interact with her kind of crazy wonderful people.

Her office opened to a balcony where she’d be seen with nose buried in a book or bent over a chessboard while a heated argument went on at the Manansala Café below. Once, I saw Mario looking totally pissed off because Odette suddenly jumped into a car with a bouquet of flowers to meet Miss Gomez somewhere and left him to handle a gallery full of visitors. It was a quintessentially Odette gesture to give artists a sense of their importance in her, and by extension, the community’s, life.

Famed for her punning, this talent of hers found a creative outlet when she and some friends formed the core of Los Enemigos. If humor could help bring down a more than 20-year-old dictatorship, Los Enemigos should share part of the credit.

It was as an environmentalist, however, that Odette hit her stride. As she said, “This is a rainbow coalition where the left, right, center can come together.” Sometimes her alliances with whoever was environment secretary at the moment, from Fulgencio Factoran to Victor Ramos to Angelo Reyes and Lito Atienza, would make her friends flinch. But if it could increase the country’s forest cover, she would’ve wined and dined the Devil itself.

She wasn’t anyone’s patsy, though. On his first day of office at the vital Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Atienza turned up wearing his signature Hawaiian shirt unlike the outgoing Reyes whose military training made him dress more formally to give importance to the office.

Odette described the incoming secretary’s shirt as “kukur couture.”

I asked, “How’s that again?”

Kukurtinahin!” she gasped and laughed.

Her commitment was so total that she turned around the awful garbage situation in her exclusive subdivision. Blue Ridge became a model community where members learned composting and waste segregation. Troops of schoolchildren would fill her sala where she, actor Roy Alvarez or her other amigas/amigos in the cause would lecture and demonstrate how easy cleaning up the environment is. There was always a feast of suman and other kakanin and juice afterwards so the children would get a firsthand exercise on how to dispose of biodegradable banana leaf wrappers in her backyard by burying them.

At one of Gilda Cordero Fernando’s parties in the mid-1990s, wary that all that would come out of Odette’s mouth would be another mini-lecture on garbage (a joke that went around was: “There’s nothing in Odette’s mind but basura!”), I made small talk, wondering aloud what the key to longevity was.

Her answer came quick: “I’m going to live long because I’ve decided to take on toxic waste. Ridding the planet of it will take forever!”

Illustration is Odette as I see her now: from black swan to green butterfly

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

‘One Brain Between You’

Based on the repeated ovations they received from last night’s audience at the Cultural Center of the Philippines main theater, the Alban Gerhardt-Cecile Licad tandem can, in all probability, expect a comeback on these shores, hopefully under a more hospitable administration.

It was not the first time they performed together, but the team work and the chemistry between the German cellist and the Filipino pianist were pitch perfect that they indeed played (I use “played” the way a child would) as though they had "one brain between" them. This term we borrowed from an enamored fan, Lex O’Brien, a jazz musician, who saw the duo perform in Maryland, USA.

We hope to see and listen to more of the same, live performances of works by Chopin, Beethoven, Janacek and Shostakovich, in other places of the country outside the Center.

Our fervent hope doesn’t end there. My personal prayer is that the prodigies who grew up to be world-class musicians will not be held down by someone invoking the pull of utang na loob to a former patron, and they will not live to again see the day when they will be trotted out like “a carnival of animals,” as one pundit referred to the tribute to the Imeldific One. These musical and performing artists are not indentured servants.

The CCP management will do the country a service by reviewing the clause in a visiting artist's contract that disallows her/him from doing provincial engagements before a CCP show.

Tonight’s performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26, with Ms. Licad as soloist under the baton of Oscar Yatco, is worth the wait. Writer Pablo Tariman quoted the pianist’s mother, Rosario Buencamino Licad, who “compared the energy needed by the concerto to a couple making love. ‘When your partner is about to reach a climax, you can’t let that energy down. You have to sustain it. Otherwise, everything about this piece will just fall flat on your face.’”

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Woman Who Would Not Be Dame Vanessa

Today I'll do a Frank Cimatu by posting a photo and a short paragraph, barely a story. Just follow these links:

"If I think of a woman of truth, of loyalty, of integrity, of passion, of compassion, a woman with a great heart and a woman of all elements, I think of Vanessa Redgrave."--Ralph Fiennes in presenting Harper's Bazaar's Women of the Year award to Vanessa Redgrave

Suffice it to say I've followed her from Camelot to Evening and all the pictures, teledramas, news items and films in between. How she met up again with her ex, Franco Nero, is straight out of the lyrics of "If Ever I Would Leave You."

Somewhere in my files and unopened boxes is a photo of her marching on a London street and taking up the Palestinian cause. I can't think of an actor who comes close to her. Magic Meryl maybe?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Heavensent on a Weepy Sunday

From my Facebook inbox comes this Sunday gift, perfect reading for rainy weather that’s keeping most of us indoors. The letter comes from Heather O’Hara of The Watermark Poetry Group which anyone signed into FB can join:

One of our members, Joan Wheaton, recently sent me an email with a most beautiful message for poets… I have just posted it on our discussion board and want to make sure that all of you have an opportunity to read it—it is exquisite!

TOPIC: An Exquisite Moment That Breaks Boundaries of Thought

Also, my dear friend, Rick Beneteau—co-founder of Ten Million Clicks for Peace—is looking for poetry on peace to add to a newly created peace blog. If any of you have poems about world peace that you would like to submit to Rick for consideration you may send them to me or directly to Rick via his Facebook email.

Wishing you all a magnificent weekend!

Warmest Regards
Heather K. O’Hara
Co-founder, The Watermark Poetry Group
HEAVEN #3211 An Exquisite Moment That Breaks Boundaries of Thought, September 9, 2009

God said:

How you seek poetry in your life. No matter how hardened you may be, you seek poetry. The sun shines for all. The stars sparkle for all. Apple trees blossom for you. And you seek more than the eyes can see. You seek that which you don't quite remember, and yet you seek it. You may seek you know not what.

Whatever you seek, you are seeking poetry. You are seeking an exquisite moment that breaks boundaries of thought.

Poetry has you jump from one word to another with a remarkable jolt. From one world to another. How you want to jump out of daily life and enter the world of poetry. No matter how obscure a poem may be, it makes your heart leap. For a moment a metaphor carries you over a river from one bank to the next. For one moment a metaphor takes you from one galaxy to another.

A metaphor is the magic carpet you ride on. A metaphor switches you from one subway to another in midstream. One moment you were lollygagging along, and the next you are transported.

Everyone wants elves and fairies to exist. The staunchest realist in modern life wants to be surprised. No matter how close to the ground someone stays, he also wants to take flight. Everyone has had enough of the mundane.

It is not so much that you want to escape the dailiness of life. It is more that you want to return to an escapade you were in the middle of and yet seemingly forgot all about. Just as a name stays under the surface and you cannot remember it, the name stirs within you, and one day it pops to the surface.

Is it a metaphor that the sun is your heart, or that your heart is the sun? Is it a metaphor that your cheeks become roses? Is it a metaphor that you sail across a sea of life? Are metaphors perhaps more true than that the grass is green and the sky is blue?

Facts are details, and you seek Wholeness.

More exists than what you have seen, and you seek that more. You are entitled to it. You are supposed to have it. Your life is more than the stew cooking on top of the stove.

You not only seek to see wonders, you seek wonders to perform. However illusive that which you seek may be, it is Truth you are seeking. The greatest-seeming exaggeration has more Truth than the most staggering fact.

The cow did jump over the moon, and your heart does leap over ordinary life.

Ordinary life has its wonder, and ordinary life is good. And yet ordinary life is not all there is. There is an indefinable more. It cannot be defined, and yet it can be located.

Your heart is a garden. Your mind is a pool. You leap from one to another and back again. But, oh, the leap, beloveds. Oh, the leap.

You are one who transcends the mundane. The mundane is simply not enough for you. No matter how wonderful, no matter how fulfilling, there is that within you that seeks a greater horizon. You seek a greater horizon because you are bound to have it. If you must be bound, be bound to that which is boundless. Break boundaries. Break even the boundaries of words.

There is a blaze of light in your heart. There is something in your heart that you are leaping over. Your heart must be the moon even as it is the sun. Impossibilities become true. You are a leaper, and now you leap. You are a reaper, and now you reap.

Permanent Link:

"Resthouse," watercolor by Babeth Lolarga. (Photo by IAN DAUIGOY)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Government Friendly to Criminals, Especially RAPISTS

I received this new toe-curler and hair-raiser in one from my in-box today, enough to strengthen an old conviction that men and the patriarchal system they represent are the enemies. If you find a nurturing partner or father, not to mention a rarer fellow who is not threatened by your innate strength and unique voice, consider those creatures the exemptions. Otherwise, proceed like they are the enemies. Don't hold them up like idols, don't give them slack, or else you set yourself up for heartbreak...or worse, as a lot of rape and domestic abuse survivors have found out. In the case of rape, the criminal is usually someone known to the woman or child, often someone trusted. Even if these crimes are reported and the criminals hauled to court, don't expect much from this old boys' club called the Philippine government.

Statement from Women's Groups:

Is this Government Really Criminal-Friendly?

We, women’s groups, are outraged by the impending transfer of convicted rapist Francisco Juan “Paco” Larrañaga to a penal facility in Spain to serve the remainder of his life sentence for the rape and murder of the Chiong sisters in Cebu in 1997.

Not many Filipinos are aware that a RP-Spain Transfer of Sentenced Persons Agreement has been signed by our government in May 2007, and supported by a domestic law that became effective in January 2008. The local law was authored by Rep. Antonio Cuenco (Cebu, 2nd District).

First, may we ask the responsible legislators as to why they prioritized the country of Spain for this treaty? In November 2007, while this bill was being deliberated on, the Chiong family already expressed objection to the passage of the RP-Spain TSPA for favoring Larrañaga. During the same period, Larranaga was appealing his conviction to the Supreme Court.[1] Is it pure coincidence that the rapist is a “scion of the powerful and wealthy Osmeña clan of Cebu”[2]?

Second, why prioritize Spain when 128 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are languishing in Kuwaiti jails compared to seven (7) detained in Spain? Then Executive Director Ed Malaya of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) Legal Affairs Office commented that the law will benefit Filipinos serving their sentences in other countries. The Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur reported that the most number of Filipino detainees is found in Malaysia with 1,600. DFA itself reported that as of June 2007, there were 4,770 Filipinos languishing in jails in 63 countries and territories. Following Malaysia was Japan with 734, with 130 in the Osaka area; Qatar, 554; U.S., 406; Abu Dhabi, 198; Saudi Arabia (Jeddah only) 161; Hong Kong, 127.[3]

Let us not forget the cases of Romeo Jalosjos, Claudio Teehankee Jr., Chavit Singson and other criminals who got executive pardon for financial and political reasons. When government favors convicted rapists or simply “reprimands” its appointed officials accused of wife battering, who all come from the elite, where do ordinary citizens turn to for justice? Yet, we must remain vigilant and pursue perpetrators of sexual crimes against women, even as they may be protected by this government itself.

We stand in solidarity with the family of the victims. Justice must be served to the end.


Jean Enriquez, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific (CATW-AP) and World March of Women - Pilipinas

Marlene Sindayen, Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL)-Women

Atty. Cristina Sevilla, WomenLEAD and ECPAT-Philippines

Lotlot D. Requizo, KAISA-KA

Ana Maria R. Nemenzo, WomanHealth, Philippines

Liza Gonzales, Bagong Kamalayan Collective, Inc. (BKCI)

Monina Geaga, Sarilaya

Mercedes Fabros, Welga ng Kababaihan

Anna Leah Sarabia, Kababaihan Laban sa Karahasan Foundation

Yuen Abana, Task Force Subic Rape (TFSR)