Friday, January 31, 2014

Love 'em, love her

"Be thankful for those individuals that help you keep your head on straight and your smile in place. Love them like there's no tomorrow." - a tweet from Terry Alex who believes that "positivity is contagious. Compliments are priceless. Encouragement and praise should be endless.Faith brings them all together."

During her last visit to the thunders of Pasig (code for tanda), The Button plucked the santan flowers off the hedge planted by her great grandfather in the 1970s in a kind of counting game. There are new flowers to greet the Year of the Blue Wooden Horse. My smile is in place again. Photo by Babeth Lolarga

Voice from heaven as human as anyone else | Vera Files

Voice from heaven as human as anyone else | Vera Files

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Del Tolentino's book art

Comfy with uncertainty

"When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life." - Eckhart Tolle

More than a decade ago, I stood to watch the sun rise on an open field in Clark, Pampanga. Then Inquirer travel editor Chato Garcellano had sent me there to write about and take pictures of a hot-air balloon festival--I think it has become an annual thing every February. And February is only "three sleeps" away--that's American Anglicizing of the Pinoy phrase tatlong tulog na lang.

Alice M. Sun-Cua, physician, poet and essayist, has this book of travel tales with a title that never fails to make me smile: Riding Towards the Sunrise. So thank you, January, even though we're not done with you yet. February and Year of the Horse, here we, who are still around, here we come riding to more risings of the spirit and of the sun!

Here's to uncertainties, possibilities and mornings like this. From the smudges you can tell it's an old print, not something digital. Photo by Babeth Lolarga

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

To Oscar, happy trails

"There is protection accorded by the bill of rights not just to freedom of the press, but to freedom of expression in general." - Harry Roque

I'm always on the lookout for a boost that'll put me on the right track for the rest of the day. Or even for just this new morning. Attorney Roque's latest commentary in Vera Files has just given me the boost I need that caffeine no longer can give because I am slowly lessening its intake until my system fully rejects it. Aging requires some changing.

Because the day is new and ripe with possibilities, I am reminded, too, that it is right to put a song in one's heart when one wakens. Puwede bang bumati o magpaalam man lang kay Ginoong Oscar Dipasupil?

Oskie, bro and friend to Ester, skipped this life on the 24th of January and has become a heavenly intercessor to his two surviving sisters (the other is Dipsy who's from Oz) and other beloveds. Today is his cremation and inurnment day.

I have good memories of that chap, among them how he carefully read the lines, especially those in the newspaper his sister continues to work for. He was doing the Reader Advocate's duties unofficially. To Oskie, now that you're beyond the bluest sky, thanks for the times I hitched a ride in your car, those times you pointed this and that out in my article in your quiet, measured tones while I sat in Ester's garden or your living room while I waited for her to waken.

More than anything, thank you for being that old reliable steadfast pillar in Ester's life. She'll be all right in time and back to doing the work she loves in the hallowed Dipasupil tradition of being press guardians and fighters.

Some trees my Dad and another old family reliable, Mang Cabiz, planted. Blogger sends thoughts upward to mingle with The Saints and Intercessors. Photo by Babeth Lolarga

Monday, January 27, 2014

Unafraid of the creative overflow because we're fueled by faith

"You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them. If it seems to you that I move in a world of certitudes, you, par contre, must benefit from the great privilege of youth, which is that you move in a world of mysteries. But both must be ruled by faith." - Anais Nin in a letter to an aspiring writer

I often wonder if I am in any way living up to my role as a teacher, even if I'm only part-time. Most times I have to mind my duties as someone who happens to know how to write a little or over-much, depending on the reader. Somehow I can still make a shaky living out of writing. It doesn't matter anymore that the earnings still add up to a little below the poverty line at month's end, and I always need a lifeline extension from family in Pasig and in Baguio, especially my partner of close to 30 years (I silently thank Rolly Fernandez and the heavens in my morning rituals).

There isn't much of a difference between me and the help that my family in both cities hires to do house chores. Part of my work sometimes involves cleaning up other people's manuscripts, making sense of them, even if these sometimes cause me symptoms of stress like falling hair and growing irritability.

In one of the articles I found in the Web, it said that those who serve--nannies, domestic helpers, gardeners, care-givers of the sick and dying, dishwashers--they are the truest philanthropists in these times. The work I do forces me to sit for hours and hours. I don't know how long I will hold out, but I always finish, or try to anyway, what I begin. Nothing ennobling about lengthy sitting and enlarging one's avoirdupois, but I'm grateful just the same.

I don't know where or how this morning's blog entry will end. I wanted to begin with re-telling how Teacher Maite dela Rosa and I accompanied some high school students enrolled in the Community of Learners creative writing class on a field trip to the Ateneo Library of Women's Writings and the Ateneo Art Gallery upstairs this past Saturday.

Born in the late 1990s, the students are part of a generation that woke to a digital age. Something like the notebook of poet Angela Manalang Gloria, with the Bureau of Education's logo stamped on the cover, looked supremely exotic to them.

As I carefully opened a page (for me the experience was close to touching the shroud of Turin, having worshiped for quite sometime at Manalang Gloria's altar, though invisible), there were audible gasps and comments like "Look at her penmanship!" I asked if they knew what a fountain pen looked like. A boy answered, "It's something you have to constantly refill."

I turned another page that showed Ms. Gloria's handwritten draft for a poem that left clues to her creative process: how she crossed out some lines, then replaced them with another. That detail started a short conversation on the process of revisions and discouraging the use of correcting fluid. But sometimes one or two kids can't help being obsessive about erasures--part of a young writer's quirks that I have to respect.

We saw the typescript of scholars Doreen Fernandez and Edilberto Alegre's interview of Edith Tiempo. It led to a brief discussion on what a typewriter looked and sounded like, how it used to be the writer's tool. A girl said, "My lola still uses one." And I saw that lola in my head composing her lines to the clackity clack of an Underwood or a Remington.

Maybe in my next life, I shall be working in the stacks, meaning, become a library chick.

Seated around the first table at ALIWW: Mark Lee, Bea Buenaventura, Julian Zapata, Teacher Maite and Miki Cabochan. Girls at the next table: Isabel Arellano, Mika Mamauag and Joan Torres. Standing are Gio Gutierrez and Janrick Razon.

That's us at the gallery with part of Rodel Tapaya's exhibit behind us. His show "Bato Balani" will be the subject of our next writing exercise.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The kind of loving Sumi Jo does

From the concert organizers of "Sumi Jo in Manila":

Sumi Jo, the celebrated Korean opera singer, sings in a one-night concert for causes close to her heart on Feb. 1 at 8 p.m. at the new Samsung Hall of SM Aura Premier, Bonifacio City of Taguig. Her Manila debut is her first stop during her 2014 Asian tour that will take her to Hong Kong, mainland China and Singapore for more performances. Her collaborating artist is Najib Ismail.

For her Manila concert, she is donating her honorarium to a home for disabled children and a local animal shelter. The proceeds after production expenses are also going to Tanging Yaman Foundation's rebuilding projects in post-Yolanda Samar and to workshops by international teachers for talented voice students in classical music.

She sang the aria in Eat Pray Love in the scene where Julia Roberts was shown eating spaghetti in Italy. She also sang for an HBO drama starring Kate Winslet.
She says, "I do all this because it is a way to have my voice heard by this bigger audience. I feel very, very flexible to not just use my voice the classical way. I am also challenging what I can do with my voice."

Jo hopes that other singers will also similarly expand their musical careers, saying, "Classical singers live a bit of an isolated life because we are the divas and the prima donnas--you have to think about protecting your throat. But if you open your thoughts and mind and look around you, you can do more with your music to give to society. That is a message that I would like to send to other musicians--make not just beautiful music but use our talents to make the world a better place."

She supports human rights causes, women's rights movements and pushes for greater protection of animals. She once said, "Women are often so underpaid and there are so many working mothers and they are having a difficult time. But at the same time we need to think about animals-we need to defend them because they cannot defend themselves."

For tickets to "Sumi Jo in Manila," call 782-7164 or 750-0768, cell phone numbers 09183470053 or 09209540053.

Shoutout to Dad: Happy 85

"I just fed the turkeys, the geese and the chickens this morning. They keep following me wherever I go, asking for more food. The are like soldiers marching, making a lot of noise, honking. I look forward to seeing you again this afternoon. I miss you all, so with your sister. I miss your Lola very much. How I wish you are all here with me. Perhaps this summer, Kimi. - last diary entry written by Dr.Enrique Lolarga Jr. from a farm in Pangasinan, dated Jan. 2, 1992, and addressed to his eldest granddaughter Kimi. Dad died 10 days later.

Among Dad's classmates in medical school, they had a tradition of contracting one another's surnames and turning them into their nicknames (e.g., Bascara became Basky; Lolarga became Loly). Somewhere along the way, Loly was how Enrique Lolarga Jr. also became known to his in-laws. Junior was what his parents and siblings called him. Loly became father to eight kids. Loly expanded to the Lollikins to include Mom, my siblings and I, our spouses, our children and now our own grandchildren.

Dad and Mom flank their five grandchildren. This is dated 1987 judging by how young that kid in the baby carrier is. The last three apo, Sara, Christian and Bianca, were born after Dad departed. The kyootie patooties in this photo provided by my sister Embeng are arranged according to age (from eldest to youngest): Carlo, Paolo, Kimi, Marga and Ida.

We're missing brother Junic here in our near-complete family portrait (he took the picture) and the three sons-in-law of Dr. Lolarga (Rolly Fernandez, Obet Trinidad and Rod Susi, also acknowledged according to age). Today we say to you, Dad: Mabuhay ka! At mabuhay din ang mga Lollikins!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ravioli night at Italianni's

An early supper (we gathered at a quarter before 5 p.m.) at Italianni's on Tomas Morato Ave., Quezon City, gave four women a chance to listen to one another while nibbling from a platter of greens, another filled with deceivingly small ravioli baked with cheese, sidings of potato wedges with truffle-infused dip.

There was pizza with wild mushrooms, but as the most senior in the group said about that tiny appetizer that could pack a wallop, one piece of ravioli, no matter how slowly, mindfully you chew it to let the cheese's richness fill your mouth, once that thing lands in your tummy--oh dear, it does feel like a heavy stone. There wasn't space for a slice of pizza, not even for toppings of fresh leaves that I thought would be my atonement for the carbo binge.

Forgive us for this rare indulgence for we knew not what we did. We should be busy with what we've committed ourselves to doing in our respective areas for the rest of the year. By chance we also discovered that we've individually promised ourselves in the new year to cut down on the socializing or discourage others' encroachments on our private time, but this Thursday we exempted ourselves from futile promises like those. For one reason: it has become increasingly rare for these four women plus one chap who dropped in after three hours to pick up his partner to be on one floor area together.

The seated woman in a bright crochet top over a blouse paired with pink pants and a gray furry bag (she claims it's cat's hair!) is always the most stylish. Arrayed around Gilda Cordero Fernando we look like a new grunge band (from left): a ravioli monster, filmmakers Keith Sicat and wife Sari Dalena and sculptor Julie Lluch. We all look pleased to be pals with she who radiates hopefully contagious "youthening" light.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Paris Review - The Art of Journalism No. 1, Hunter S. Thompson

Paris Review - The Art of Journalism No. 1, Hunter S. Thompson

I haven't the vaguest idea

"Interviewers and students of literature like to ask poets to reveal the secrets of their trade, as if they were famous chefs on television cooking shows eager to share their recipes, and say something like: Buy an Oxford English Dictionary, featuring 600,000 words and 3 million quotations at a reputable bookstore. Have your butcher trim a 4-5 pound roast from its pages and place it in a roasting pan, etc… And are disappointed and visibly annoyed when informed by the poet that he hasn’t the vaguest idea how or why his poems were written." - Charles Simic in "Short Days and Long Nights,"

It was a choice between a banana and a fried bangus with some rice this breakfast. But I espied a can of 555 sardines, spicy and hot, and decided to pound a few pieces of garlic that I later fried in virgin coconut oil. After I poured the whole simmering red glob into a bowl, I squeezed two pieces of calamansi over it.

I relished everything as though it were again a last meal and thought of the manuscript I had to mend, the students' compositions I had to check.

The world is constructed that way. It is equipped to interrupt at certain times one's inner equilibrium with its demands on one's time. But I heed the world's voice because how am I to pay my share of the bills, how am I to keep myself in the style I am accustomed to (hearty ha ha ha there)?

I haven't the vaguest idea why I do this. It's enough that I still haven't run out of something to fill the box of a blog, and the blankness of a page doesn't intimidate me as much anymore. Maybe because I'm heeding Julia Child, too, who I love as a writer and character (I draw the line on signing up for French cooking lessons though).

Let me just say there's joy in doing this although Mr. Simic may not exactly agree to my typing out words while a Korean lyric soprano sings a heart-rending "Once Upon a Dream" from Jekyll and Hyde.

This blog is brought to you by Charles Simic, Julia Child and Sumi Jo in that happiness-is-a-Wednesday-with-some-music order.

In the same essay I quoted earlier, Sumic wrote: "I’m always scribbling something in secret. Once my wife caught me chewing the end of my pencil and said to me: 'I hope you’re not writing more of that boring doggerel you call poetry?' 'No, sweetie,' I replied, 'I’m just balancing our check book and getting ready to write you a little love note after that.'" Photo©Richard Drew

Here's how I visualize operatic and crossover superstar Sumi Jo flying down to Manila next week for her Feb. 1 concert at Samsung Hall, SM Aura Premiere.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Today I consecrate to Claudio Abbado

I can't believe I just cancelled a luncheon appointment with an old friend who had been at it, wanting to reconnect with me and pick my brain on a subject (with what's left of my brain, that is). My reason: I'm mourning for Claudio Abbado. It is foremost in my mind alongside a more practical but minor concern--unmet deadlines.

Buon viaggio, Maestro! Photo from Opera and Classical Music News

What more can one add to the accolades heaped on this man? In one recording, the description went: "Claudio Abbado, one with his orchestra, delivers a very moving interpretation which rises like the most beautiful prayer."

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa described to the BBC his "quite amazing" method of conducting by heart. "Because he didn't have to look at music, he could absolutely concentrate on you."

Another BBC report quotes Mark Wilkinson, president of Deutsche Grammophon, a record label, as saying, "The world has lost one of the most inspiring musicians of our era, a man who put himself entirely at the service of the music he conducted and, in doing so, made listeners feel that they were hearing it properly for the very first time."

Aside from being among the finest conductors of any century, Abbado will always be remembered for encouraging young talents, among them our country's Cecile Licad.

Priceless album

The BBC report said of him: "He was passionate about young musicians and founded youth orchestras across Europe."

A few days ago, Joseph Uy, one of my music chums, told me of a nightly routine of his--listening to music to banish the discouragement and frustration from the hours that went before. Just hearing Sumi Jo's version of Caccini's "Ave Maria" consoles him before sleep overtakes him.

He signed his note, "Haaaay, why do we love music so much?"

Love it so much that even someone such as I has insanely re-prioritized my life so I can move my activities around music. How does one do that? Ask this near-impoverished woman, and I'll tell you how my soul has riches even the foolish Napoles couple and cohorts can't count.

I wrote to Joseph, "Naku, music is in some way the voice of God. Ang hirap mabuhay, kung wala pang music, paano natin kakayanin?"

His reply was swift: "Tama ka! I tried to get away, but hindi ko talaga kaya to live without music."

Here's to Cecile Licad, Sumi Jo, Claudio Abbado. They come but once in one's lifetime but how they have blessed all of us!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Even though you're far away

I used to hear the song "You Are Always in My Heart" a lot in those radio days of my childhood and youth. I think I also heard it from my mom who used to sing or hum it to a younger sibling whom she was trying to put to sleep. Another favorite lullaby of hers that my children were sung to was "Que Sera Sera."

The first song begins with these lyrics: "You are always in my heart / Even though you're far away / I can hear the music of / The song of love / I sang with you / You are always in my heart / And when skies above are grey / I remember that you care / And then and there / The sun breaks through."

So you see I've not forgotten although increasingly these days I've had memory lapses, but they have more to do with where I've lately misplaced my eyeglasses or a notebook full of reporter's notes that I need very badly to guide me in writing a story. Yeah, it's that bad, especially when I depend on those notes for what I call "hanapbuhay articles."

There's a pretty flower called forget me not, blue it is. It makes me wonder if it can be used as an amulet or talisman against the forgetfulness that comes with aging.

And when I forget, I simply pray, "Lord, help me remember where to find them."

I've been endlessly sweeping clean my online files, ensuring only the vital ones are retained. Today I found a letter from my youngest of two children, the overseas Filipino professional (OFP-- new acronym I thought of this moment). She sent me some photos last month. I dunno if she was the one who took this shot of a Chanel exhibit called "The Little Black Jacket" at Singapore's ArtScience Museum.

I did enjoy gazing at it again early today and wondering how my girl who's far away is doing. Take care of yourself, Ida Pooh. You are always remembered and in my heart.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Observing ourselves and others

The creative journal team of Merci Dulawan Javier, Baboo Mondoñedo, myself and hopefully Jenny Cariño, too, is preparing for our second workshop, when it will be, the winds will tell us. Fore sure it will be a sisterhood (all-women) venture/adventure. It comes after the productive first leg, "Journey to Self: A Creative Journal Workshop," conducted with some help from the Baguio Writers Group, in November last year.

I'm re-posting some photos taken by our secretariat head Sacha Weygan who documented a workshop that combined explorations in art and writing. The activities were geared towards a greater understanding of the self, issues in life, work and personal relationships.

I can't wait for the next workshop to happen. Meanwhile, patience and study. Thank you, newly wed Sacha, for these memories.

I had to post these after reading a paragraph from the book An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris by Stephanie LaCava (Harper Perennial Edition, 2013).

She wrote in this collection of illustrated essays: "...challenge sadness with words and a belief that what you experience isn't what is simply handed to you. Maturity means allowing for change and ephemeral feelings. It took a study of objects for me to see that if we are patient and gentle in observing ourselves and others, we will find connection. This has been the greatest comfort of all."

Baboo shares how her writing and art journey has healed her and altered her view of the world.

Merci narrates how painting eventually got incorporated in her life of writing, teaching and translation work while junior facilitator Jenny listens.

Full circle for blogger: from doodles and cray pas drawings in grade and high school to lingering in journalism and the world of words, then onward to a second BA in fine arts

Jenny on growing up in the Aguilar-Cariño household where art, music and writing were everyday activities

Grandmother Roxanne dela Cuesta and grand-daughter Natalya Tantuico work on their respective watercolors.

Journalist Avie Olarte in deep concentration

Baguio's Tita Auring (Bautista) at work and looking like she's having fun.

Al Vicente, retired ambassador, realizes that yes, he can!

Ichay Bulaong turns her scarf or paper round and round as she creates texture with oil pastel, a dry media technique known as frottage.

Ka Willie Villarama creates whirls.

Miyen Versoza moves to her second or third painting.

Watercolors laid out to dry

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The unsaid quality

"You are not an artist simply because you paint or sculpt or make pots that cannot be used. An artist is a poet in his or her own medium. And when an artist produces a good piece, that work has mystery, an unsaid quality; it is alive."- Toshiko Takaezu, American ceramic artist and painter

In her everyday life, friend Toottee Chanco Pacis is a poet. The eye for beauty and wonder is unfailing; her self-deprecating humor feels like a breath of Baguio air, air that is unmixed with diesel fumes.

On the afternoon two days after the Epiphany and before I returned to Manila, we had a chance to reconnect. She greeted me at her door with a rueful but warm, "Hello, stranger!" It had been that long since the two of us sat down for girl talk.

When it was parting time, I took pictures of her home and garden to remind me how to furnish not just a physical space but the mind, heart and spirit. Thank you, Toottee Fruitti. Until the next cuppa tea and talk.

Prickly but easy on the eyes

Terracotta guardian by the fireplace

Music box with glass removed and featuring the nativity scene

Copper pan

Mini Christmas tree lighted front and back

Blue and whites Photos by Babeth Lolarga

Friday, January 17, 2014

Just being you-self

"Don’t try to be something you’re not." - advice from many women in history

It's strange how after trying on a lot of "clothes" in hopes that something would make a perfect fit (if clothes were to stand for the identities you wanna be known for or remembered by), you find you only need to be you.

And someone up there truly loves you for what you were, what you have become, what you are today. That Someone finds you actually pleasing and appealing. That assurance is empowering so no matter what others think of you, say about, do to or against you, you end up putting on a smile like this gurl.

Photo by Kimi Fernandez

Some things about Sumi Jo | Vera Files

Some things about Sumi Jo | Vera Files

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fred at 70

"Perfection and purity are not the goals of a soul-centered life. The soul craves ordinary pleasures, depth of feeling and relatedness, worldly delight that is not inimical to a spiritual practice, human scale in the making of culture, and exposure to the magic that lies just beneath the surface of familiar things." - Thomas Moore, The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life

Fred Liongoren just joined the "At 70 Club" which is better than lotto winnings because that means added years of grace. Fred has become a sep·tu·a·ge·nar·i·an (that's how the syllables are broken up). It's not that I'm rubbing it in, Fred, but last night's welcome to the 70 club was a hoot. And the way he looked last night, he could pass for an Old Testament patriarch.

Pastor Stephen Sunil's message on that happy occasion was based on Good Man Luke's Book (chapter 2, verse 52). Applied to ourselves, it was a lesson on how each of us could grow fully human and perhaps Christ-like not just physically (those days are past as we move increasingly closer to the sundown of our lives) but socially, intellectually and spiritually, too. Lest I sound like a theological school student who failed to make the grade, I will close today's entry for the day right here.

Happy 70 again, Fred Old Boy, and continue to keep calm by keeping the faith.

An American poet (forgive the lapse in memory regarding his name) once wrote this beautiful line: "Blow out the candles of your cake, they will not leave you in the dark."

Fred surrounded by his immediate and extended families. Among those in picture are his daughter Hanna, Julie Lluch, wife Norma, Alma Cruz Miclat, Imelda Cajipe Endaya, Mila Aguilar, painter Pablo Baens Santos.

Simoun Balboa opens a bottle of fizz to celebrate the good times past, present and future.
Photos, including blurred ones, by Babeth Lolarga

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Letting in joy slowly

"In a way grief is sticky like that, and when you have opened the can it’s as if you have to keep going until you reach the bottom, until there is nothing left and your teaspoon hits metal and the sound lets you know there isn’t any more."- Luisa A. Igloria, "By Ear,", Jan. 12, 2014

Twenty-two years have gone since Dad died on Jan. 12. "Expired" was the word the orderly used at the Philippine Heart Center when I reached the Intensive Care Unit to find him gone. He visits me in dreams now and then, but I am aware that it is not him. It's more of what he represented to me. When I look at his picture or just leaf through the diary he had left my eldest child Kimi, the hot tears fill my eyes rapidly. I recover just as fast and remind myself to hold on to the good the way he did with all his imperfections.

It's the same with friends who had leaped out of their bodies too soon, too soon for us who hold them dear. But no use hanging on because it would delay their upward journey.

On Dad's anniversary of rebirth to eternal life, my siblings, nephews, nieces, etc., spent some hours at Loyola Memorial Park Marikina that cool Sunday. I observed, in my own way, Dad's anniversary and Jerry Araos's babang luksa (the latter's departure date was Dec. 23, 2012).

Melen, Jerry's widow, invited me to take a walk on a traffic-free avenue with her grandkids, she holding on to the hand of Amarra, I bringing along my small camera to record some moments.

The rest of the day was unplanned and relaxed, as every Sunday ought to be observed and celebrated. The next day I shared a photo of Jerry and Melen taken at their former home at the UP Diliman campus. She said it was their last picture together.

I thanked her in writing, and she wrote back to say she loved how we closed Ama's (Jerry's) anniversary through a leisurely walk, enjoying his favorite lechon lugaw and pancit molo, and "Ravel'ling," a reference to a YouTube video featuring the great Maya Plisetskaya, then 50 years old, dancing to Ravel's "Bolero." Jerry had his own choreography of "Bolero" that a graceful daughter used to dance for visitors in the 1980s.

Someone once told the bereft not to impede a soul's journey by clinging on to the deceased. But thinking and speaking of them fondly help their pilgrim souls' progress.

Lalu (for Lola) Melen with grandchildren Alejandro and Amarra in the car that brought us to the safe walking and running zone

The family visiting one of the spots developed by Jerry, the passionate gardener

Night comes and Amarra continues to admire her Tita Mira Araos-Mariano's Christmas card while another Lola looks on.

Photos by Melen Araos and Babeth Lolarga

Monday, January 13, 2014

To those who truly love Baguio, Casa Vallejo is a national heritage site

For those who haven't signed the petition yet, please make our voices known. To help in this peaceful struggle for change, just copy-paste the link below to another window and add your name:

'Leave a bit of color for my heart to own' - F. Sinatra

"You don't have to fall in love with everyone around you, but there's nothing wrong with spreading it in all directions." - a tweet from Dhamma Girl ‏

"Love one another" as it was taught to us in convent school is one of the most difficult tenets of the Christian faith to practice, especially when dealing with the difficult people who cross your life's path and are there to teach you some lessons so your soul can be refined for the next stage in life.

But then, the late Odette Alcantara liked to point out, you yourself may be considered even more difficult by the other party. Right she is, you know.

When Dhamma Girl tweeted today--I don't know her from Eve, I'm not even sure if this is a real person or a tweet generated automatically from a computer somewhere--my mind went on a split-seconds line of questioning. Why is dhamma spelled that way if what is meant is dharma? What is meant by spreading love in all directions? Apparently, dhamma and dharma mean the same among Theravada Buddhists--taking the way that is righteous, correct, proper.

As I approach the prime of my life I find I have the time of my life (here I am about to burst in song, a Sinatra favorite, at 7:30 in the mornin of a Monday), this is all I'm learning to find out and to ask. For more little slow walks on Sundays that yield certain images that I can store, later to be shared with others and with myself, my own reader of this blog. Somehow I feel this strange enchanted love thrown to the NEWS (north, east, west, south). It's that kind of non-romantic love that does keep me younger than spring.

Sky over Antipolo

Dry, fallen but still beautiful where they are Photo by Babeth Lolarga

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A bookshop where you want to spend the rest of your mortal life in

As Casa Vallejo, its tenants and lovers of Baguio as we know it in our hearts and minds continue the struggle to save a historical landmark on Upper Session Road, I'm re-posting another article with permission from Cocoon Magazine's editor Thelma San Juan. It's my way of tilting windmills, and nothing truly wrong with dreaming and reaching for a reachable star.

But before I do the re-post and punctuate it with photos from Mt Cloud Bookshop's albums in Facebook, let me give the space to anthropologist Padma L. Perez.

Ms. Perez is one of the moving bodies and spirits in the Save Casa Vallejo Movement and a partner of Mt Cloud, THE Baguio bookshop. Here she responds to an online article on the subject "Indigenous rights or heritage: Battle over Baguio's oldest hotel" found in

Dear Voltaire Tupaz,

Thank you for your article! It's helping our cause get more attention and support.

I'm writing to you now as an anthropologist that has done some research on indigenous peoples' rights and the implementation of these rights in the Cordillera region. The title of your article, "Indigenous Rights or Heritage", bothers me because it suggests that these two concepts stand against each other, and that it is not possible to have the two together. It could also appeal to certain dangerous, anti-indigenous prejudices in the public.

Heritage does not exclude or preclude indigenous rights. In fact, indigenous cultures are also part of our heritage. I think it's misleading to suggest that people can only choose one or the other, which is what your title does. It fuels misunderstanding of the issue.

The Casa Vallejo case is not simply about pitting the indigenous claimants against the interests of those who would like to see the building preserved. It is also about the issuance of similar, allegedly spurious ancestral titles over public lands and reserves in prime areas in the City of Baguio such as the Busol Watershed, Wright Park, the Botanical Garden, the Mansion House. Some of these titles are being offered up for sale, if not already sold to developers or private individuals.

So you see, there is a looming threat of loss of control over Baguio's reserves and heritage sites. The move to preserve Casa Vallejo is not a move to discredit or invalidate the rights of indigenous land claimants, as your title suggests to me. The actions of the people behind the allegedly spurious land claims, and the less than diligent implementation of the IPRA by the NCIP are doing that disservice already.

The Casa Vallejo case is also about questioning the process by which these titles were acquired without the knowledge of the NRDC, and the subsequent transfer of these titles so that they are no longer in the names of the original claimants. This information is available at the Register of Deeds, or from the lawyers involved in the legal cases. The NRDC asserts that these titles have been issued without due process.

The questions that this case raises include: How were these titles acquired? Why have they been transferred out of the names of the indigenous claimants so quickly? What are the intentions of the buyers/developers/speculators over this land? Will they respect the wishes of the Baguio community -- which includes indigenous peoples themselves -- to preserve our history and heritage and to take care of the environment? Why were some members of the clan that claimed the property unaware of the claim being made in their name? What repercussions will this case have for public land in the City of Baguio, and for indigenous claimants here too? What actions can be taken to protect our few remaining heritage sites from commercial interests that may have no regard for local history? How can integrity be restored to the process of implementing indigenous rights and issuing ancestral land titles?

This is how I understand the issue, as someone who believes in indigenous rights and who is directly affected by the Casa Vallejo case. At any rate, my deep feeling is that the historically significant building that is Casa Vallejo should outlive both the current issue as well as my personal concerns.

Thanks for patiently reading through this long letter and for giving me occasion to put my thoughts on this together. With all due respect, I ask that you revise the title of the article so that it presents the issue more accurately.

Thank you,


The children's faces say it all at this story-telling session at Baguio's premier bookshop

As mini cultural center combined, nothing beats Mt. Cloud Bookshop and the new Baguio Cinematheque, also inside Casa Vallejo.

Occupying about 10 x 30 meters, the idea of opening a bookshop entered the minds of sisters Padma and Feliz Perez when they heard that Casa Vallejo was being restored.

The younger Perez, one of two daughters of Adelaida Lim of Café by the Ruins fame and director Butch Perez, said, “We immediately knew that this was where we wanted our dream bookshop to be. Friends helped us figure out how we could make it happen. Tita Mitos introduced us to the developers and we asked if we could rent a space for a bookshop, and they said yes.” 

She continued, “We imagined that the bookshop would be cozy. We wanted it to be homey and for it to have that old Baguio feel. So we opted to use a lot of wood. We liked the high ceiling, then added a small mezzanine for additional shelves. 

The sisters did not hire an interior designer to carry out their idea of the look. The suggestion of a mezzanine came from the developers though.

The mezzanine

The empty shell for the shop was turned over to the siblings, then they worked with a contractor and his carpenters to get the look that they wanted. Again friends suggested where things should go and what they should add here and there. 

CNN Hero Robin Lim at the Cloud

When the bookshop opened in August 2010, visiting friends told the shop owners that Mt Cloud looks a lot like the Mapua-Lim childhood home in Baguio that was also full of shelves and books. Since then, the Cloud, as residents fondly call it, has hosted book launchings and author’s talks, an album launch by Stella Cruz, a Swiss-Ilocana singer, a film showing of Robin Lim’s film, “Guerilla Midwife,” during the time that she needed votes for the CNN Hero of the Year, art exhibits of local artists, poetry readings, poetry slams and children’s story-telling events.

Kabunian de Guia and sons dressed as Katipuneros at the book launch of Weng Cahiles' What Kids Should Know About the Katipunan a few weeks ago

Judges, poets, audience waiting for a poetry slam to begin

The younger Perez said, “We wanted it to be welcoming. Of course, the place that you feel most welcome is at home, so that was our biggest inspiration for the Cloud.

The origami birds hanging on a window and other parts of the Cloud

Hanging inside the shop are 1,000 paper cranes the younger sister made last year “to deal with stress. I did not want to store them in some box in a storage room so after I had finished the entire thousand, I sent them to the bookshop where her best friends strung them up and hung them all over the Cloud.”

A biblio chair in the center stacked with books

Her elder sister said of the biblio chairs that double as shelves and other youthful touches in the Cloud: “There are thousands of ideas for shelves and chairs on the Internet. We did a lot of research there. All our shelves and furniture are locally made. The windows match the look of the rest of Casa Vallejo. The entire frontage had to be uniform. For the small garden we wanted half a dap-ay for people to sit around, chat and read amidst a little bit of greenery in the heart of the city. The giant gabi was a surprise. They sprouted up during the rainy season. We hope they're here to stay.”

Mural of a woman reading - favorite background of local and out-of-town visitors for their souvenir photos

The outer wall along the hallway dividing Hill Station and the bookshop is a mural of a woman in indigenous wear reading. It was designed and executed by two collectives, Dolphins Love Freedom and Trust Your Collective. 

The Cloud’s classification of books is unique. The older sister said, “We thought of titles for the different categories. We call the section for auto/biographies ‘Heroes, Heroines and Quirks.’ We have a section called ‘Folktales from around the world.’ Our young adults section is marked for ‘Young, Discerning Grownups.’ Our spirituality shelf is ‘Open the mind.’ Customers usually get it as soon as they read the headings. Sometimes it throws people off that we don't have a separate Filipiniana section. Actually, Filipiniana dominates the shop; we feel that Filipino authors deserve to be placed according to genre or topic, not all simplistically lumped together under the Filipiniana umbrella.”

Younger Perez added, “We don't put books in alphabetical order by author or by title. Part of the fun of buying books is the little surprises that you find while you are looking for a specific title or genre.”

As for customer reaction and satisfaction, opening day in August was the gauge. Not only was the place packed; people spilled out into Hill Station and even the sidewalk.

Younger Perez said, “It was great to see all our friends and the Baguio community’s support. My favorite customer reaction is the gasp of pleasure or squeal of excitement when they enter the shop or when they find books that they have been looking for or that remind them of their childhood.”

For the older Perez, the reaction that warms her heart is: “I love your bookshop. I wanna live here!” –Elizabeth Lolarga