Friday, April 30, 2010

Talks with Myself and Another

On March 3 this year at 4:50 p.m., a friend interviewed me by email when he learned I was preparing for my third solo exhibition in April. The show “Bling Blings and Lucky Me” is still up on the walls of Taumbayan, a bar at 40 T. Gener and K-1 streets, Kamuning, Quezon City. The bar is open from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Exhibit ends on May 8.

And this was how that online conversation went:

How does this coming exhibit differ from your previous ones?

I’ve always worked with themes when preparing for a show. This time I focused on bling blings, those fashion accessories that you and I are not into (I can only buy genuine ones if I hit the lotto jackpot, but the thing is I don’t gamble). These branded bling blings are the stuff of the lives of some senatorial, congressional and landlords’ wives. Even the salesladies at Louis Vuitton in Greenbelt Makati were quoted by the Inquirer as saying they missed the Ampatuan ladies during the Christmas season because they used to make multiple purchases and paid in cold cash. You can say that this third exhibit is my first that is tweaking a social theme: the obsession over brand names and luxury goods contrasted with the typical diet of the urban poor (instant noodles and canned sardines).

What do you think is the added advantage of writers going into visual arts, if there is any?

The writer’s advantage is his/her capacity to articulate ideas and feelings. It’s not just “Wala lang. Type ko gawin.” That kind of answer used to be a no-no to my fine arts teachers on my first year at UP Diliman, the exacting ones like Bob Feleo and Nestor Vinluan. They constantly challenged us.

Many writers paint or draw, among them, Gilda Cordero Fernando, Tita Lacambra Ayala, Cirilo Bautista, Edel Garcellano, the late art critic Leo Benesa, the late Larry Francia. In Baguio, the names I can think of are mostly women: Baboo Mondoñedo who’s a columnist of the biggest circulating community paper there; Merci Dulawan, a multi-lingual writer; Jenny Cariño, my hijada who also composes poetry, lyrics and music for her songs; Toottee Chanco Pacis, a cookbook author and theology lecturer; Chi Balmaceda Gutierrez, a magazine publisher.

How does your creative moment (s) look like? You paint at any time of the day and night?

I paint in the daytime. I rest at night. I paint because it is so pleasurable. I regret that I didn’t turn to painting earlier and concentrated on writing, but that’s how life is. Midlife allows me to pick up the “dream deferred.” I loved doing art in my grade school days; it was work education I abhorred (needlework, cooking and the like). But I won’t be a hypocrite--I never liked home arts or home economics. The things in the pantry and China cabinet—for me they’re no more than models for still life paintings. My partner will admit that I am the worst hausfrau in the world. And I won’t apologize for that. I’d much rather write or paint. And if I had to choose between writing and painting, I’d still much rather paint.

Is pursuing the visual arts anything like writers pursuing their assorted muses?

I never chased after a muse, male or female. With writing, it’s the deadline, even if it’s self-imposed, that drives me to finish an article. The same with poetry and fiction—I have an idea, feeling, an experience or I overheard unforgettable snatches of conversation. And that’s when I write. With painting, it’s the totally pleasurable, almost hedonistic, feeling of the brush in my hand, moving it across the canvas. And when the work is finished, be it a feature story or a watercolor, that’s my reward. That’s why hindi tayo yayaman, My values are different; work is its own reward.

I had a grandmother, Telesfora Lolarga, who kept herself busy always. She had a career, yes, but Lola had this gift of transforming any house she lived in into a home because of her artistic touches, her flair for setting this object against that, her appreciation for fine music. So if I have a muse, it must be her. She would’ve been proud. She kept my, my siblings’ and our cousins’ paintings, drawings, letters from childhood.

What have you learned from your past exhibits?

I learned how much fun a visual arts exhibit can be in a way being published can’t approximate. You wait long for feedback for an article or anything written and published. Most times feedback doesn’t come at all. You feel like you just “talked” into the void. At an exhibit opening, you see the people who matter in your life instantly reacting and giving immediate feedback.

What are the new works in your exhibit?

Everything is new whenever I have a solo show.

Is Baguio the best place to paint and why?

I like to paint anywhere but home. The best places there are the greenhouse of Toottee Pacis in Happy Homes, Baguio, and the extended work place of Baboo in Pinsao. I like it in those places because of abundant natural light. And those women are foodies like me; they love good food. Conversation is always light. Our teacher is Norman Chow who is extremely patient with all of us. He deserves his own show, but we, his students, are more excited about booking our own shows.

What stages have you gone through as an artist thus far?

Formal fine arts studies from 2004 to 2009, private art lessons with Bob Feleo in the early 1990s, with Pytz Santos in 2004-05 and Norman to this day. Never-ending apprenticeship with Jerry Araos who is exacting in his demand for a well thought out idea for a show before mounting anything.

What do you want to achieve as one enamoured (is this the right word) with the visual arts?

More explorations of other media I don’t have mastery over yet, more exhibits that'll challenge me.

How was your 2009 and how do you see 2010 in your creative life?

2009 was a good year. I joined the Baguio Aquarelle Society in its group shows, and I had one solo at Cafe by the Ruins in Baguio. The partners there were happy, I think, with my show because I helped brighten up their walls. I can’t say what the future holds, but I hope to continue writing, painting, helping friends put together projects, including parties, and having fun while doing all of the activities I just cited.

Anything else you want to add in connection with your exhibit?

I have to thank my fashionista daughter Ida Fernandez who doesn’t throw away fashion brochures and similar print materials. These served as my visual references. I owe my partner Rolly Fernandez a big blowout; he supported my fine art studies at UP. I thank family members and friends who continue to believe. They know who they are.

Photo by ANNA LEAH SARABIA shows the painter with friends Frances Makil Ignacio and Eyelectric president Rey Araos who gave the winning bid for the work "Oh, My Señorita, Sweet Sweet Lady." The four feet by four feet work is a collaboration with Chino Chow, a computer science student at the University of Baguio.Proceeds of the auction went to Noel Cuizon, Brenda Fajardo and Rey Rimando.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Wow Wah Wah

Willie Revillame's noontime show on the ABS-CBN free channel, also seen by Pinoys abroad through The Filipino Channel, has often been accused of contributing to the dumbing down of a nation apart from being the cause of the ULTRA stampede wherein 71 people lining up for a chance to hit the jackpot in a live Wowowee broadcast were killed.

Yesterday, I received this email from two different sources. Once, I joined a Facebook group more or less called "Wowowee is an insult to the dignity of Filipino women." I thought it was a lost cause so I left the group.

This Q & A from the show speaks for itself.


These are questions and actual answers of contest participants!

1. Q: "Ano sa Tagalog ang teeth?"
A: "Utong!"

2. Q: "Kung ang light ay ilaw, ano naman ang lightning?"
A: "Umiilaw!"

3. Q: "Kung vegetarian ang tawag sa kumakain ng gulay, ano ang tawag sa kumakain ng tao?
A: "Humanitarian?"

4. Q: "Sina Michael at Raphael ay mga..."
A: "Ninja?"

5. Q: "Ano ang karaniwang kasunod ng kidlat?"
A: "Sunog!"

6. Q: "Magbigay ng sikat na Willie."
A: "Willie da pooh!"

7. Q: "Ang mga Hindu ay galing sa aling bansa?"
A: "Hindunesia?"

8. Q: "Anong hayop si King Kong?"
A: "Pagong!"

9. Q: "Magbigay ng mabahong pagkain."
A: "Tae!"

10. Q: "Saang bansa matatagpuan ang mga Canadians?"
A: "Canadia!"

11. Q: "Kumpletuhin - Little Red..."
A: "Ribbon!"

12 Q: "Ano ang tinatanggal sa itlog bago ito kainin?"
A: "Buhok?"

13. Q: "Magbigay ng pagkain na dumidikit sa ngipin."
A: "Tinga!"

14. Q: "Anong oras kadalasang pinapatay ang TV?"
A: "Pag balita?"

15. Q: "Ano ang tawag mo sa anak ng taong grasa?"
A: "Baby oil?"

16. Q: "Saan karaniwang ginagawa ang mga sweets na ginagamit sa halu-halo?"
A: "Sweetserland?"

17. Q: "Sinong higanteng G ang tinalo ni David?"
A: "Godzilla?"

18. Q: "Ano ang mas malaki, itlog ng ibon o sanggol ng tao?"
A: "Itlog ng tao!"

19. Q: "Anong S ang tawag sa duktor nag nago-opera?"
A: "Sadista?"

20. Q: "Blank is the best policy...."
A: "Ice tea?"

22. Q: "Saan binaril si Jose Rizal?"
A: "Sa likod!"

23. Q: "Fill in the blanks - Beauty is in the eye of the ____."
A: "Tiger?"

24. Q: "Ano ang kinakain ng monkey-eating eagle?"
A: "Saging!"

25. Q: "Kung ang suka ay vinegar, ano naman ang Inggles ng toyo?"
A: "Baliw!"

26. Q: "Anong tawag mo sa kapatid ng nanay mo?"
A: "Kamag-anak!"

27. Q: "Saan nakukuha ang sakit na AIDS?"
A: "Sa motel?"

28. Q: "Kung ang H2O ay water, ano naman ang CO2?"
A: "Cold water!"

29. Q: "Sinong cartoon character ang sumisigaw ng yabba dabba doo?"
A: "Si scooby dooby doo?"

30. Q: "Heto na si kaka, bubuka-bukaka."
A: "Operadang bakla?"

31. Q: "Ilan ang bituin sa American flag?"
A: "Madami!"

32. Q: "Ano ang tawag mo sa taong isa lang ang mata?"
A: "Abnormal!"

Thursday, April 22, 2010

True Confessions of Gonzo: What Makes Me More Happy, Less Angry

EVERY day since I came down on April Fool’s Day, I've observed my mother, who is 83 years old, do her morning rituals—praying the rosary, opening her pile of novena booklets, lighting votive candles before the image of the blessed virgin.

Despite these exercises in piety, some of my siblings, daughters and I agree that this matriarch who has dominated our lives is increasingly growing narrow-minded, judgmental, almost unforgiving of hurts that go back more than 50 years ago, strutting about like she’s everyone’s moral superior, a superwoman who can do no wrong.

I admit that I see bits of myself in Mom's pronounced traits, but since I learned that being happy is a conscious decision, I’ve also realized that my redemption lies in heading in Mommy’s opposite direction.

Nowadays, I want to be the type of middle-aged woman who has and keeps friends with people who are my children’s age or even younger. My best friend for the summer of 2010 is my niece Bianca who is turning eight this week.

We write side by side in our respective diaries when she sleeps over in Pasig. When we paint side by side, we talk about anything under the sun.

A few weeks ago, I taught her some basic wet on wet watercolor techniques that enabled her to paint clumps of bamboo on the left side of her sheet of watercolor paper. Then I let her be, telling her to think of any image she may want to put on the right side.

After slightly dipping her brush confidently into a small plastic jar of water, she mixed black and white pigments to produce gray. All this time I was painting my own thing. Strange, but I can’t remember what my own subject was because I was looking from the corner of my eye what it was Bianca was up to.

Before I knew it, the right side of her paper was full of tiny elephants, a herd of them headed in the direction of the bamboo grove. Curious, I asked if there was a stampede about to happen. (By the way, Bianca’s term of endearment for me is Tita Elephant.)

Her answer was so logical it floored me: “They’re hungry. They’re going to eat some bamboo leaves.”

In the noontime of my life, I’ve decided to find snippets of joy in incidents like this.

No longer is there a great need to be independent by holding down a full-time job or to maintain the veneer of a solid family with father, mother and children under a roof. Whatever projects come that I can have spare time for, I accept.

I’ve also decided that I don’t have to put up with the things that the grouch I’ve lived with on and off for over 25 years says and does. If he hits the 10 over 10 mark on the grumpy old man scale, I can always hop into a bus from Baguio to any point of Luzon now that I’m done with school and earning some pin money again. When he and I have cooled down, we can again do things we enjoy doing together like eating out at the newest "in" place in town or reading our own books in bed, sharing one adjustable lamp light between us. Who's to say that ain't rock-solid love?

Beyond that, I’ve kept my sight on just three things that make me happy, grateful and less agitated these days in the sweltering lowlands: writing, painting and being with Bianca.

Photo of bright kid and her pink elephant taken by ANNA LEAH SARABIA in July 2009

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The A(m)patuan Ladies Go Shopping at Greenbelt 5

This spoof was performed at the opening of Babeth Lolarga's exhibition of paintings “BLING BLINGS & LUCKY ME,” at Taumbayan bar, 40 T. Gener and K-1 streets, Kamuning, Quezon City, on April 9 before an audience of journalists, writers, visual artists, singers, friends and family members. The exhibition of paintings is still on view until May 8. The venue's business hours are from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Cast in order of appearance:

1. Frances Makil Ignacio as Princess Leia

2. Kate Sabate as Princess Minor Key

3. Joel Saracho as Himself

VOICEOVER: This is a fictitious skit inspired by a Philippine Daily Inquirer item in the Lifestyle section published in December 2009. In that item, the salesladies of a luxury brand boutique in Greenbelt, Makati City, voiced their sadness, saying how
much they missed the women of the A(m)patuan clan. These women are their favorite customers. They are world-class shopaholics known for buying high-end clothes and accessories in bulk and paying for these in cash. Last Christmas season, the women were sorely missed because they were lying low. Public opinion was strongly against the clan and its men who were considered the criminals behind the massacre of more than 50 people, most of whom were journalists. Today, nearly five months since
the massacre, public outrage seems to be waning as most people are keener on the outcome of the 2010 Philippine Presidential race. This morning, however, two members of the A(m)patuan clan slipped out of Maguindanao province by chopper to exercise retail relief.

Two princesses (wearing crowns but regular designer clothes, not Muslim royal wear) descend from the second floor of Taumbayan. Joel rushes to meet them.

JOEL (approaches ladies, extends hand to help them with bags): Gandang hapon po. May I help you?

PRINCESS LEIA (raises eyebrows and chin, straightens back to full height after handing bags over to Joel, then speaks with a thick Visayan accent): Anu ba tong ples na itish? Bar, bestro, galiri, ol op
d abob? Ba’t waray air-con? Enet pa. Kagagaleng lang namin ng sester ko sa Mekati. We jes want a cool drenk bago kami umuwi sa condo. I don’t want to leb our things sa chopper. Maherap na ang panahon. Dameng break-ins. Bagung bele ko pa naman etong Luis Vetoon bag.

PRINCESS MINOR KEY (imitates stance of Leia as she also hands shopping bags to Joel): Iced tea for me, please. Are you the head waiter?

JOEL (smilingly leads princesses to center table for two, puts bags gently down on the floor, signals to waiter to send iced tea
to the 2 customers): Chong, 2 glasses iced tea para sa kanila. Ako po si Joel Saracho (bows, then turns to audience as though awaiting applause). Isa ako sa mga partner dito sa Taumbayan. Yes, it’s a bar, bistro at alternative art space.

PRINCESS LEIA and PRINCESS MINOR KEY (bristling upon hearing the word Taumbayan and echoing one another, swiveling heads and eyeing the audience suspiciously): Taumbayan? Taumbayan ka mo? (turning to one
another, clasping their hands across the table in fear) Taumbayan?

PRINCESS MINOR KEY (in chiding, I-told-you-so manner): Sis, we don’t have our close-in security with us. You told me to leave them behind coz nobody but nobody recognizes us.

JOEL (rubs the back of Princess Minor Key in gesture of assurance): This is a safe place po. Our politician and millionaire friends leave their armed guards at home. Again, I’m Joel. And you are?

PRINCESS MINOR KEY (squirms when Joel touches her back, shrugs him off and speaks in English with an American twang): Who we are? We are the princesses A(m)patuan of A(m)patuan town, Maguindanao. That there is my
older sister, her royal highness Princess Leia. I am Princess Minor Key. We just flew in today in our Papa Doc’s choppper to seewhat’s new at Greenbelt 5. We couldn’t shop till we drop last Christmas, you know. That killing field—all media-manufactured stories. This summer is our chance to shop now that the palms of the
men in our family are being greased because of the coming elections. Our order for iced tea is taking a teeny weenie bit too long, Joel (crosses legs and looks at Joel snootily from head to foot).

PRINCESS LEIA (widens eyes at younger sister, kicks Minor Key’s leg under the table and hisses aloud): Ano ka ba, Inday Meenor? Mano bang tumahimik ka? Pahamak ka talaga!

JOEL (his turn to raise both eyebrows at the sisters, puffs his chest, frowns, seethes, fumes, picks up a beer bottle by its neck from the neighboring table, clasps and unclasps it as though holding back his temper): Kayo pala ang A(m)patuan sistahs, ha? Enjoy the evening if you can get out of this place alive! (turns his back at the two women and entertains other guests)

PRINCESSES LEIA and MINOR KEY hurriedly pick up their shopping bags. Leia trips & contents of bag spill out. Joel turns to look at the minor commotion. Picks up a shoe, examines it, turns it over and over, rubs the leather, smells the sole.

JOEL (in a voice triumphant): Tiangge ng Greenhills!!! Pa Louis Vuitton, Louis Vuitton pa kayo! (signals able-bodied waiter) Waiter, i-escort itong mga pretensiyosang prinsesita sa labas.

Waiter escorts the two women.

WAITER (in a solicitous tone): Saan ho uwi niyo? Greenhills? Alabang?
Valle Verde?

(recovering her airs): Quezon City, excuse me.

Ahh. Sa La Vista? New Manila? O Ayala Heights po?

PRINCESSES LEIA and MINOR KEY (in unison again): SA TATALON!!! AY YAWA! (stomping off to Exit, mustering as much
dignity as they can)


A version of this skit with the actors' ad libs & improvisations can be viewed at this link:
See more

Thank you, SINAG DE LEON, for documenting the performance.

'A Grace'

Daniel Boone had a hit song in the 1970s: "Beautiful Sunday." In a strange kind of way this Sunday is. Because it is full of grace that is still undefinable.

Sharing Donald Hall's poem "A Grace" from Bill Moyers's The Language of Life:

A Grace

God, I know nothing, my sense is all nonsense,
And fear of You begins intelligence:
Does it end there? For sexual love, for food,
For books and birch trees I claim gratitude,
But when I grieve over the unripe dead
My grief festers, corrupted into dread,
And I know nothing. Give us our daily bread.

In the same book, Hall tells Moyers quoting mystic Meister Eckhart, that "when we pray for something, we pray to nothing. When we pray for nothing, we pray to something. When we ask for things from God, we are doing less than nothing."

Happy Sunday, all, while I figure out the latest conundrum in my life.

Photo of Salcedo Park on a Saturday evening by SINAG DE LEON

Friday, April 9, 2010

‘Oh, My Señorita, Sweet Sweet Lady’: The Story Behind the Painting

Sometime in February this year, my youngest of four sisters, Gigi Lolarga (poker nut to me, Eugenia Celerina D. Lolarga in her birth certificate), asked me, her ate, what my birthday gift was for her. Normally, I’d pull something out of my thin wallet. But that day, all I could promise her was a portrait of Bruno Lolarga, her “son.”

The image of the playful pug Brunski stayed in my mind like an old refrain, so to speak. When friends like Brenda V. Fajardo, my former professor in modern art in the mid-1970s (gosh, this really dates me) fell seriously ill followed by Rey Rimando, math prof at UP Baguio and my children’s math tutor who made them less fearful of numbers (his aneurysm struck on Valentine week) and Noel Cuizon (a nephew of Brenda’s, by the way), there was no way my earnings as a freelance writer would contribute anything of significance to the cost of their operations, recuperation, follow-up with medical specialists, rehabilitation, etc.

By this time I was keeping mind, breaking heart and sometimes unsteady hands busy by painting in preparation for a solo show at Taumbayan bar-bistro.

I texted my exhibit proposal to Joel Saracho, former colleague from Manila Standard days and manager-partner of the bar, who was on a video shoot in Bukidnon, but he managed to reply, “That’s so Taumbayan,” meaning he approved of my contrasting blings with canned goods and instant noodles.

Summer of last year, he invited me to exhibit there when it was just a few months old. Since then, the place has been a night owl’s hub for the theater and television people who keep odd (a.k.a. vampire ) hours. I felt right at home that first time there with Gou de Jesus and Ernie Enriquez.

Someone was having a birthday then—Augie Rivera, if my blinking memory is working right. We were complete strangers to one another but were quickly introduced. Like any hospitable birthday celebrator, he asked me to partake of his feast. Un-shy when faced with a rectangular slab of Estrel’s caramel cake, I cut a generous slice complete with rosebud-shaped icing. Talk of feel at home. I always like to use William Saroyan’s title for his book “My Kind of Crazy, Wonderful People” in situations like this.

To shorten this narration, one day in March this year I posted a picture of Bruno on my Facebook profile and stated that I intended to paint a portrait of him paired with a snooty señorita. The images of him with a lady were up there, still vague. Actor Frances Makil Ignacio, Nitz to those who know her, volunteered in her comment to be the model. I asked permission if I could scour her photos posted in her profile to guide me.

I zeroed in on Frances in a black and white polka dotted dress, which turned out to be her costume for her role as Lucy Brown in “Threepenny Opera” by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. Well, as Ka Universe (Gilda Cordero Fernando) likes to say, the universe has a way of stitching things together. Even Gou, freelance writer-editor by day, occasional jazz singer by night, gave the bright suggestion of singing our friends to health. An art auction with songs to up the bids--brilliant, Gou!

Meanwhile, I couldn’t think in my regular format of 16” x 20” anymore. This tribute to Bruno, his master Gigi, Frances, etc. had to be BIG to be worth anything if it were to be auctioned off to benefit the sick. So I thought big: four feet by four feet canvas on board. My private art teacher Norman Chow had to repeat the request to ensure he was reading his SMS right. Yes, I texted back, four feet by four feet and make it an order for two canvases.

“Stormy Norman,” our private nickname for him, had his carpenter in Baguio execute the specs up to the stretching and priming of canvases. With paint and brushes ready and the managing of minor assorted household crises in Baguio and Pasig not bothering me any longer, I applied myself the way my other teacher, Jerry Araos, told me how at the greenhouse of Oscar and Toottee Pacis in Happy Homes.

Norman guided me all the way, recruiting his son Chino, a computer science major who paints on the side, to help. Chino was a study in coolness while Norman and I mismatched colors, hues and tints, he scratching his bald head, me scratching what was left of my head of hair. On learning that Chino was the third pair of hands in the endeavor, Toottee, who was then in Manila attending a valedictorian grandchild’s graduation, texted: “I hope Chino knows what he’s in for.”

We will see what we’re all in for when “Oh, My Señorita, Sweet Sweet Lady” goes up for auction at an opening bid of P8,000 early this evening, April 9, at Taumbayan, 40 T. Gener and K-1 streets, Kamuning, Quezon City.

Belated happy birthday, baby sis Gi. Sorry the painting of Bruno will find a new owner. Just the same, the real deal will always be with us.

Photo of re-tooled, revised "Oh, My Señorita, Sweet Sweet Lady" by LIWA ARAOS, exhibit curator

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bling Blings & Lucky Me

Soon to be seen at Taumbayan Bar-Bistro are a baker's dozen of paintings. Following is my statement on the show"Bling Blings & Lucky Me." Exhibition runs from April 9 to May 8. Regular Taumbayan hours are from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. The place is at 40 T. Gener and K-1 streets, Kamuning, Quezon City.


“Bling Blings & Lucky Me”

Using her preferred medium of acrylic on canvas or paper canvas, Babeth Lolarga explores in her third solo exhibition of paintings the subject of the Pinoy’s obsession with brand names and accessorizing. She contrasts this against the majority’s diet of rice and fish and, in the absence of the first two items, instant noodles.

Mixing colors to approach oil’s qualities of opacity and luminescence, she lays on her statements thick and fast—thick because acrylic can have a texture that is tempting to touch and fast because it is a quick-dry medium suitable to a temperament that demands immediate results at the end of each working day.

The manipulated lack of a clear figure-ground relationship and the use of rudimentary, child-like colors project the subject’s image into a shrill visual scream.

The scream grows louder as she moves from her canvasette to two large-scale works.

In “Chief to Chief,” her last, long drawn-out scream in this show, she uses her life partner’s photographic image taken beside a figure of an Indian chief. In Baguio, he heads a newspaper’s Northern Luzon bureau, a role that is relevant.

The seemingly irrelevant red Indian leader has bearing in the woodcarving village of Asin, Benguet, which is also in his area of responsibility. There the carvers produce images of Indian chiefs mainly for export to craft stores in the United States located near Indian reservations. Said carvings are passed off as products of indigenous Americans. And so it goes for kangaroos passed off as made by Maoris in Australia, lions in Africa, laughing Buddhas in Taiwan, etc.

Although the painter’s choice of subjects may be a feeble, almost lonesome way of shaking a fist at the world, “Bling Blings & Lucky Me” has given her another way of improvisational ranting and emotional release.

April 2010
Quezon City

Photo shows "Chief to Chief," an acrylic painting on canvas board measuring 4 feet x 4 feet, a collaborative work of Babeth Lolarga and Chino Severo Chow, 2010. Photo by LIWA ARAOS

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pundaquit recollected: Magic amidst a mango orchard

Serendipity is one of those marvelous words in this second language I learned. I was scouring my e-mail files when I stumbled on this report I filed in April 2005 to a newspaper after returning home from a visit to Casa San Miguel in Zambales. The piece was turned down twice in different sections of the same daily. By then, I was too tired to peddle it elsewhere. No heart broken; just an electronic file shelved.

Many mango seasons have gone by, even the data here are dated,chief of which is Coke Bolipata is no longer 40. Another is the fact that travel time to Zambales has been cut drastically with the opening of SCITEX.

But when I stumble upon old words, what am to do but give them a new lease on life (cliche-sounding though that may seem), especially because this piece was turned down on grounds of being too lengthy and too local. Once more, with feeling, the Pundaquit of 2005. And I hope Bolipata has remained faithful to his vision.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

A dozen seasons have passed since violinist Alfonso "Coke" Bolipata, artistic director of Casa San Miguel, built and opened a cultural center in the heart of a mango orchard in Pundaquit, Zambales, and the artistic fruits are falling from the trees.

Over the weekend at the Ramon Corpus Hall, Myra Beltran, lead dancer-founder of Dance Forum, and Paul Morales, artistic director of Airdance, joined Donna Miranda, Marielle Alonzo, Jethro Pioquinto, Nordic Caraig and Reagan Cornelio through five numbers, most of which danced to live music by Alvo Paert, Johann Sebastian Bach and Ernest Bloch as interpreted by the Pundaquit Chamber Players under Bolipata.

The recital, entitled "Ludus," derived from the writing of St. Thomas Aquinas, connoted movement and play as opposed to stillness, Morales said.

Morales, who referred to Beltran as the country's leading light in modern dance, said it was a challenge to choreograph for a small space or for that matter "make dances that can be performed in any venue."

Then there is the matter of dancing to live music that he said took time to adjust to the tempo. To him dance is "solace, a sanctuary where you always go back to yourself. You keep on observing yourself, pacing yourself."

Beltran, who got back last November from the University of Iowa's theater arts program, brought home sheet music for the chamber music players to perform.

She met Bolipata in 1994 after her first full-length concert that revolved around Roberto Feleo's "Tao-Tao" installation. She wanted to dance wherever it went, and Casa was one of the venues. There she became an artist-in-residence and was featured in Sari Dalena's film "Puting Paalam." She continues to produce work for the Casa once every two years.

Bolipata, 40, who recently recovered from a gall bladder operation that has left him gaunt-looking, has never been more energized with the success of the music, theater and visual arts workshops offered at the Casa this summer.

Casa has as many as 120 participants in the music workshop, the youngest being three years old and the oldest 48. They drop by every Saturday and Sunday for lessons. Some of them are farmers, fisher folk, tricycle drivers, gas station attendants and professionals.

The promising young musicians also teach the younger kids and get paid P50 for each student for every half hour's lesson. For example, the 11-or-12-year old child would teach the four- or five-year olds.

According to Bolipata, senior resident artists come to give short-term workshops. In the past, Casa had violinist Oscar Yatco, writer NVM Gonzalez who used to play the guitar, cellist Renato Lucas and Bolipata himself.

Resident artists are current college/conservatory students who come to the center on weekends to teach throughout the year. These are mostly Bolipata's most advanced students from his teaching studio in Manila.

Asked how Casa San Miguel sustains its yearlong program, he said there are corporate sponsors that are good citizens and know how to give back to the community.

The Casa's educational activities are made possible by contributions to the annual operating fund from Citigroup in New York, the offices of Senators Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and Loi Ejercito as well as grants from the Metrobank Foundation and the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. There are also private contributions from individual donors.

Bolipata said more infrastructure support for building and technical upgrades are made possible this year by Siemens and its affiliates, adding, "Beyond all the material support, we exist really because of the goodwill of our dedicated and loyal staff, teachers and volunteers."

Artists' residencies are by informal invitation only and chosen according to the needs of the center. Interested artists can e-mail the Casa at to make a proposal.

Bolipata said there are three young orphans in the group who signed up for therapy and are "getting better than expected." They were given additional scholarships in the art workshop for further therapy. The art teachers are Daniel Querijero and Carlo Gabuco.Bolipata admitted though that the festival is more known by Filipino-Americans abroad who come home as balikbayans after viewing feature documentaries on the place in the Filipino channel. These Filipinos tell their relatives in the home country about this special place in Zambales, and that's how visitors turn up.

Bolipata's work in the first three years of the Casa's existence was to bring people from all over the world to perform or to try the space. The space includes an amphitheater that can comfortably sit 1,000 people, and it was the site of the recent concert of the Metro Manila Community Orchestra under Josefino Toledo. There is also a shadow play theater. The Siemens company sponsored a multi-purpose
hall that can be used for exhibits, workshops and performances. The Alaska room (after the milk company) is used for practice sessions.

Bolipata has branched out to adapting folk tales. In the beginning, Casa San Miguel went into children's illustrated book publishing for which it gave residency grants to young writers to research and document local Zambales folktales. They came up with a collection of a dozen folktales from the province, with a plan to publish one each year featuring a young illustrator and a young writer. Sadly, they only went as far as publishing two stories, "Kablay," retold by Amel Zubiri and illustrated by Felix Mago Miguel, and "Pawikan," an original story by Randy Bustamante, illustrated by Katti Sta. Ana.

Bolipata said, "In the interest of bringing back to life an interest and pride in indigenous stories, hand in hand with the development of a theater program, the dozen
stories provided the necessary material to achieve the objectives of promoting arts and culture at a community level using a native story to be performed by local talents.

"I wrote the mermaid story three years ago because it had a mystical relevance in my life, details of which are too strange to relate now. The story is the universal tale of the mermaid who takes a young boy to her world, only for him (Julian) to realize that he belongs to the mortal world, to accept the fate of mortality and take on the obligation of caring for aging parents.

"The mermaid, through the human and mortal Julian, learns to love, dream and shed tears. In her world there were no shadows, no darkness, no love and no tears. The mermaid lets him go, warning him that he will have no memory of her. Upon returning, he is shocked to see that 50 years have gone by, thinking he had merely fallen asleep. In the end, Julian takes on the responsibility of making a life for his family. At times, while in fishing from his banca, he peers into its depths filled with a sense of the familiar, while the mermaid (unseen) stares back at him from beneath."

Getting there:

Casa San Miguel is on Evangelista St., Barrio San Miguel, a fishing village in the town of San Antonio, Zambales. By bus, take the Victory Liner from Caloocan Terminal, also known as Monumento. Buy a ticket headed for Iba. This will take you north to Olongapo, and upon reaching Marcelino, the bus will head west towards San Antonio. Get off at San Antonio, where you will have to get on a tricycle, right
across from the the bus station. Tell the driver to take you to Casa San Miguel. Travel time from Manila to Casa is about four hours.

By car: Take the North Expressway which brings you through the provinces of Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan. Enter the Subic Port to save 15 minutes. Upon exiting continue on the National Road through Subic town, Castillejos and San Marcelino. In San Marcelino, take a left to San Antonio. Upon entering San Antonio, you will pass the
municipal hall and town plaza, and see a school at the end of the road. Take a left here past two small blocks and a right on Evangelista St. Drive for about three kilometers and you will see a sign that says: "Welcome to Casa San Miguel." If you hit the beach, you've gone too far!

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