Thursday, August 12, 2010
on the flyleaf of a non-fiction book written by a woman about her time in the spanish civil war, del tolê wrote half-jestingly, half-pleadingly, "babeth, please be kind to me when you write your memoirs." the "please" was underlined.
it isn't memoir-writing period yet. i have about a quarter of a century more of living to do, with goodness, grace and health permitting, before i sit down to do a proust while nibbling on madeleines. in lieu of kindness and sepia-tinged reverie, let me get on with getting even.
it was at 39 m. viola street in the diliman campus where we were first introduced by one of the epistolas in this manner (i've forgotten if it was nieves or sv intoning the intro): "you two have something in common. your fathers are doctors."
& then this chink-eyed fellow got up from where he was seated so my first impression was: "oh, a gentleman." he wore a plaid shirt with a collar & a deceptively ascetic aura. i don't recall if we conversed at all, but what remains in my blink-blink (pundido) memory is his getting up, turning his head to the right. & a half- smile to acknowledge me.
del's name would drift in & out of conversations with the epistolas but in association with his long-time girlfriend lumen. i heard of their breakup but was disinterested since the parties involved were not known to me.
& then lumen found another guy, the marrying type, who one fine sunday marched her down the aisle of santo domingo church. nieves couldn't get over it—marching down that aisle, not the breakup of del & lumen—because the church was full of sunday worshippers and all eyes were on the members of the wedding (she was a godmother). as for my innocent query why a steady couple would break apart, nieves pierced me with her bright owl's eyes.
del & i had friends in common. when ogot sumulong, pet cleto & i went up to my grandmother's house in lower brookside, baguio, for a weekend in 1979, ogot spent a day looking for del, climbing a hill & returning disappointed. he collapsed in exhaustion on my lola's sofa. i wondered who was worth that effort.
del wouldn't reappear in my life until '89 when i visited baguio on writing assignments for the sunday times magazine of the manila times. apart from my job of tracking down retired professor dolores stephens feria to write the magazine's cover story & getting tommy hafalla to take the accompanying photos, there was a del who, his friend bobi valenzuela said, was the guy i ought to meet since he would know where to point me in my search for stories .
& so we met & conversed & drank coffee & snacked on kamote bread &homemade spread in that multi-level house on a hill named leonila.
when that issue of the magazine was published & circulated, the feedback i got was how aghast some people were at the "opulent" lifestyle of a former member of the underground. at least four pages of the magazine were devoted to the interiors of his house & the story behind
his assorted collections (baskets, for one). there remains a wide divide between opulent & tasteful. del's place is secure on the tasteful side.
the image that stuck in my mind from that visit was a framed cameo photo of pianist cecile licad on a bedside table & beside it, a framed aphorism attributed to st. augustine: "lord, make me pure but not yet."
from then on, it wasn't hard to figure out del & for whom he carried a torch...or a hard-on. & it wasn't for st. augustine.
i sensed a few years ago, as he grew increasingly remote & reclusive, that fun & games with del, whose nickname had morphed to tolê (shortcut of his surname of tolentino & may also mean "circumcised", but that has to be verified), were temporarily on hold.
people who had become familiar with his wickedly funny ways & remarks had to wait until he climbed down the ivory tower, in a manner of speaking, & rid himself of his kagalang-galang mien.
all the way to hanoi & siem reap, his fellow travelers in near faint, pursued by the merciless summer heat of '05 and flapping about like ducks out of water, he maintained his cool administrator's exterior. knowing that he is familiar with the meaning of masks & their origins not just in drama, i wondered then how much of that acquired formality was required of his position in the university.
i was missing tolê, the master of riposte, who, when asked by his barber upon seeing his bandaged, injured middle finger,"basketball?", answered, "hinde. jakol!"
or, the tolê who, when first-time visitors to mirador hill, stepped into his kitchen & inquired who the woman in the enlarged oval frame was, grandly said, "ang aking lola anastasia!"
or, the tolê who showed his ilustrado upbringing and summoned jovy, his secretary, with a bell when there was just a few feet & an open door separating them. so incensed was a colleague at this practice that she accused him of being feudal. not batting an eyelash, he said, "this is with jovy's permission." so the tinkling went on throughout his term as dean.
or, the tolê who, upon learning i was nearly trapped in a mudslide with cecile licad's party in banaue in '03 & we had to wade through the muck to get to safer ground, texted: "i read licad stories. if i were you, those would have been tales of chivalry. sa bawat yapak ni cecile sa putik, pupunasan ko ang kanyang hita at binti, at siguro habang ginagawa ko yun ay binabasbasan niya naman ako ng sagradong usok ng kanyang sigarilyo!"
& the clincher that is repeated at the dawn of a new year, a sign that the tolê of old is just waiting for the right moment to spring out of his butt-hugging briefs: "happy new year, babeth. pinaputukan ka ba ni rolly?"
--elizabeth lolarga (baboobska to tolê)
june 25, 2010
text above served as introduction of a sort to a collection of essays honoring (with matching clearing of throat) a university of the philippines baguio professor who just turned 60. among the featured contributors in this limited edition secretly put together by ben tapang and grace subido are former students and/or drinking buddies of this prof: yason banal, desiree caluza, oscar campomanes, frank cimatu, merci dulawan, luchie maranan, maricris d. martin, bong ramilo, leo romero, pinky schultz. since i wasn't present at the launch-cum-roasting of the august-born honoree last monday, i can just guess the degree of intoxicating felicity that went on. lookin' forward to what type of 69-er you'll turn out to be, DLT!
Photo by ROLAND RABANG shows DLT blowing 60 birthday candles.