Sunday, January 22, 2017

Before you're not little anymore

There's this saying that I find applicable to our Not So Wee One Anymore, our grandchild Kai, and her relatively new dog, the moxie puppy Nutmeg: "Let me love you a little more before you're not little anymore." Every time I visit family in Baguio, I find my husband Rolly has grown more gray hair--the inevitable "trophy" of old age--and I don't think it's from too much stress. He loves what he's doing whether newspapering, leisure reading or gardening. Kai has "shark teeth"--two permanent teeth emerging behind her lower front teeth while Nutmeg, in his playfulness, is running up and down the house and has all of us in a tizzy. Just wonderful to come home to. Photo by Kimi Fernandez

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Yasmin Almonte's bed of flowers

Painter and art teacher Yasmin “Jigs” Almonte isn’t called a survivor by friends for nothing. She has gone past the pain of cancer that claimed part of her jaw and prevailed over other physical and psychological challenges. If there’s a song to describe her, it may be ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All” because she has the mind-set, determination and tenacity of a winner.

In her ongoing 20th solo show, “My Garden,” at Sining Kamalig, Almonte celebrates her 60th birthday by showing 60 paintings of flowers done in acrylic on 400gsm heavy acrylic paper. Like the cockeyed optimist that she is, she said, “After all is said and done, my life is still a bed of flowers.”

Her paintings were done alla prima (“of the moment”) or in one sitting. She explained, “I painted this way because I don’t have the luxury of time. I painted in acrylic so the works would dry fast. I don’t have the space for oil paintings to dry.” (She lives in one of the walk-up apartments at the University of the Philippines Diliman where she teaches at the College of Fine Arts.)

She chose flowers as her subjects because, she said, “The flower’s life, beauty and purpose is so ephemeral. Here today, gone tomorrow. It blossoms, then it dies. There is so much activity in the flower as it goes through its dying stages. I see it dance. I am a flower.”

Almonte turns 60 this month, adding, “I want to create my garden: sixty paintings, sixty years. I want to surround myself with blossoms. Flowers that live, bloom, die—each one is beautiful.”

To her flowers stand for the fleetingness of life, for youth, purpose, beauty. She considers them “symbols of love at weddings, for giving at Valentine’s Day, for celebration birthdays, for grief and death at wakes. They’re all beautiful, fragrant, pungent, dichotomous in being.”

Asked what her favorite flowers are, she answered, “The ones that are past their bloom, flowers that are nearing their end. They have served their purpose, but they are still there, clinging to life, bringing memories of the giver and what they are for. I am this flower.”

She continued, “There is beauty in decay. There is the hastening dance of death. The colors change. There is movement. Leaves are lifted, petals drop and fall. The meaning of beauty is redefined. The flower will soon rejoin the earth and will serve another purpose for another life. Hopefully, the memory of it remains.”

Due to the serious illnesses she has gone through, the painter looks at herself as “the dying flower.”

She said, “I still have so much to give. There is this frenzy. There is so much that I want to share, to leave behind. In these last chapters of my life, I feel more beautiful than ever, more vital because of the wisdom that I have accumulated and want to share, because of the patience that I’ve developed through the years. I feel compassion and understanding because the love I have is unconditional, because I have forgiven. I have forgiven me.”

Sining Kamalig is on the second floor of Ali Mall, Cubao, Quezon City. The exhibit runs until the first week of February. -- Elizabeth Lolarga

Photos by Yasmin Almonte

This article was originally published by on Jan. 14, 2017.

Friday, January 13, 2017

25 years gone but unforgotten

Yesterday was our Dad's 25th death anniversary. I stayed away from this space on that occasion, thinking that I might just get all weepy, senti and emo while recalling him. But at past 4 a.m. today while I write this, I am stone cold sober. Twenty and five years may have passed since he left for eternity, but I carry this man's image intact in my heart. These days whenever I find myself in a fix, the question I immediately ask myself is, "What would Dad (and now Mom who has joined him) do?" Lemme tell you, they combine forces to aid me in my struggle, no matter how minute or insignificant to the world. And when I'm sick, I call on Dad, too, and somehow I surmount the situation. So thanks, Dad. I know we will be together. In the meantime, I've still got a lotta livin' to do.

Monday, January 9, 2017

2016's Christmas card loot

The season's over, and I have to stash away my increasingly paltry collection of hard-copy Christmas cards. In my computer hard drive and Google Drive, I've saved the letters and cards sent by email.

I sent out over 20 cards and postcards by what's known as "happy mail," complete with stamps, as early as the first week of December. The addressees acknowledged my letters by email and text. I'm almost tempted to enclose a SASE, remember those? SASE stands for self-addressed stamped envelope.

Handwriting allows me to slow down. I guess it also brings down my blood pressure. It calms me. I'm able to reflect, rue, remember, regret, rejoice on paper. Not unlike keeping a journal only this time there is someone at the other end of the conversation. A friend asked me to send her a private message via her Facebook, which is faster, because she's "poor in snail mail." I assured her that sending mail by snail or donkey delights me so much so she needn't worry if my message is delayed by a week, 10 days or a month. She lives over in Western Australia and comes home twice a year at the most.

Here's the last year's mail, the last hand-delivered by the sister concerned.

Handmade's the best. This one's the handiwork of three-year-old Sophia, daughter of Liwa Araos and Archie Espanola. Made of dried leaves and shiny stickers. I like Liwa's penmanship--it indicates her lightness of being and overall cheerfulness.

Cousin Tess Lolarga Romero in Chicago is religious about her cards. They arrive as early as November. Perhaps she knows my husband is a stamp collector so she sticks assorted stamps on the envelop.

Beth Quirino Lahoz, president of the Technological Institute of the Philippines, unfailingly sends a yearly card. Sometimes, when I respond in kind, she emails quickly back upon receiving my card: "Despite the distance (not seeing each other), the connection thrives because you have also worked at it with your gracious letters."

Coming home from Baguio via Subic on New Year's Day, I found this on my desk--a card from my sister Gigi and inside were crisp 20-peso bills. She and our adopted sister Ruth Terania know my prepaid phone's limits and how I direly need the gadget for text blasts when supporting assorted causes. Thanks, baby sisters.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

‘A national opera company is a no brainer. We can sustain it’ – Arthur Espiritu

Arthur Espiritu

“We can sustain it. But it would take a village.” This was international tenor Arthur Espiritu’s response to the idea of an opera company that would accommodate the boom in young, classically trained vocal artists in this country.

While preparing for “Opera Gala with Arthur Espiritu,” one of the activities to open the first Bonifacio Global City Arts Center Festival on Jan. 15 at 5 p.m. at the GlobeTheater of the Maybank Performing Arts Center, BGC, Taguig, he said, “It is not a competition to see who can be the bida, who can do this and that better. It takes people working together and putting something together. Hindi rin yungningas kugon. It takes sustained efforts not just from the beginning. It has to be strong both by the cover and content, the quality of content. People appreciate good quality and good content. They will come back for more.”

For “Opera Gala” he will sing with friends and students with Dingdong Fiel serving as accompanying artist. Espiritu had kind words for the singers, some of whom he privately tutored while he was on sabbatical from his commitments abroad.

Of Kay Balajadia Liggayu, he said, “she has developed into a fantastic lyric soprano—great musicality, very smart, has a very beautiful voice that can be agile and powerful. Her voice has this very sweet quality that no one has.”

He said Marielle Tuason is “a fantastic young coloratura soprano. Her voice has acquired shimmer and strength. When she sings, she has a beautiful, cool and pleasant timbre to listen to. It has a soothing effect in one’s ears. She is such a great kid, one of the best coloratura voices I’ve heard (from her age group).”

Stephanie Aguilar and Tanya Corcuera

He continued, “I have just started working with Krissan Manikan-Tan and over the short period of time, she has picked up so much already. She is a fantastic lyric mezzo soprano in my book. So much power in both the dark and lighter part of her voice. A rising star indeed. She can deliver quite a good punch with her voice.”

He said of Erv Lumauag: “He has a beautiful leggero to lyric tenor voice. He reminds me of Tito Schippa and Luigi Alva. Quite soothing to listen to and such a nice guy.”

He predicted that Christian Nagano is “a Star in the making. He has such power and color in his voice that he can sound dark and pleasing at the same time. Has the looks, the height and has the voice to show for it. He has charisma and steel in his singing. Great guy.”

He praised Tanya Corcuera for being “a powerhouse. She would make a perfect Tosca. She can also sing a mean Mozart aria. She has all the essential qualities in a full lyric soprano going to dramatic, if she chooses. (She can also be a) Wagnerian soprano. It’s virtually limitless in possibilities.”

Espiritu considered Stefanie Quintin “one of the most beautiful voices I have heard here in Manila. She has all the natural abilities and the gift from God that no one else can have, and that is her amazing musicality. Some voices just have the ability to affect the listener, and Stefanie has that. She can communicate her emotions literally with her voice. She is a good listener and picks up so fast. Always a treat to listen to her.”

He said among the many talents of Lara Maigue “besides composing and her stellar career here as a solo performing artist, she finds time to keep her voice honest by going back to classical singing. Like Stefanie and Marielle, she has a very beautiful high coloratura. She’s a smart singer and multi-faceted, fantastic composer. I just love hearing her soothing sounds during our lessons. She has beautiful arches in her approach to the high notes, sweet color and timbre in the voice. I have lots of respect for this kid.”

He evaluated Nomher Nival as someone who “has improved so much, thanks to the guidance of Maestra Nelly Miricioiu. He has more power and squillo in his sound. He is on his way to becoming an international tenor. I have full confidence in him that he will continue his quest to mastering the tenor voice. He has one of the most promising sounds for tenors here in Manila.

Marielle Tuason and Krissan Manikan Tan

Espiritu spoke of the rewards of teaching: “To see the results after having taught them is reward enough. Getting a chance to see them grow and become the singer that they are destined to be—that’s just priceless. The pride in giving back and sharing what you have learned and seeing the results with your own eyes and your ears—nothing compares to that.”

Asked what it takes to conquer the international stage and the sacrifices entailed, Espiritu said, “It takes lots of patience and determination. I had to sacrifice the feeling of having a home. I live out of my suitcase and have an unstable body clock. I don’t have too much time with family and get sick from long journeys.”

He added, “Being an opera Singer is not as glamorous as one would imagine, especially now that we have so much competition. There are no guarantees in this business. Having to spend money on travel and lodging just to sing at auditions are considered ‘calculated risks.’ It takes guts and passion to do this, most of all, a lot of hard work to get to where you need to. I have always sung with a huge chip on my shoulders. I’m not one of those singers who had the luxury of good marketing. I have been cast out by many people that I have grown very thick skin. You just have to keep going and going.”

Concerning the Philippine audience and its low exposure to operatic music, he said, “We are modelled after the American system. Most of our performing arts ventures are funded primarily by private entities. Europe and some parts of Asia sustain their Art through government funding because these governments believe that art is a necessary tool for a good society. Through education and exposure to these different types of performing arts (live theater for example), the society has greater propensity for success. Country and community are much more important to them.”

Globe Auditorium at BGC

He added, “It takes continuous efforts and support to want to expose our children, the next generation, to this. It will take years and probably funding from the government. If it has to be privately funded, we need more philanthropists in the country. We need individuals who are willing to help sustain the arts. It’s a long shot since the society now here in the Philippines is not ready for it. With proper exposure and education through outreach programs and implementing music/theater/creative writing/Dance and other performing art forms in their curriculum, it can happen. It has to be a relentless effort.”

When asked about the pool of classical vocal talents in this country and the need for them to be gainfully employed through an opera company, he said, “We have the talents. It’s just sad they don’t have much platforms to practice their craft. It will take people working together to form a national arts organization. They have to be able to work together, not work separately or make it a competition. It takes a village really! Almost every major city in the world has a National Opera Company with a good budget. It is possible, but it will take people with different opinions and concepts to come together and work as one.”

He continued, “Vietnam has a National Opera House. We don’t. The Philippine GDP is higher than Vietnam’s. Why don’t have a National Opera House that can hire not just international artists but sustain our local artists by employing them more permanently? It does not make sense to me. If we educate our future performers and audiences, then we won’t have a problem shaping the future of our society for the better.”

Friday, January 6, 2017

The first time I saw Monica Feria

These remembrances were read last night at the memorial for journalist Monica S. Feria at the rock garden of the Church of the Risen Lord, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City. Monica died at age 62 on Dec 30 last year. Her ashes will be brought to Cabangan, Zambales, today where these will be buried.

The first time I met Monica formally was at our employer's office, Philippine Daily Express in Port Area, Manila, in 1976. I was a new reporter assigned to the Life and Leisure section. Newspaper people in those days were mainly made up of men, the unfriendly sort whose noses were close to the grindstone. Monica went out of her way to welcome me to the team.

What bound us, apart from the Express, was we were both working students at the UP Institute of Mass Communication. She enjoyed a celebrity status there because of this and because her byline appeared with some frequency on the front page.

But she wasn't a total stranger to me. She was friends first with my older cousin, Allyn Lolarga Valdellon, a broadcast communication major. Binilin ako ni Allyn kay Monica since Express was to become the first of my many journalism jobs.

In the newspaper then, we only enjoyed one day off. Mine fell on a Thursday so it would allow me to attend classes. Saturdays and Sundays were slow news days. Nonetheless, I reported for duty to close advance Leisure pages for the Monday and Tuesday issues.

One early Saturday afternoon when the slots of the all-male news desk were unoccupied, Monica sashayed by my cubicle wearing a pair of batik wraparound pants. Then her pants, held together by a fragile string and the tiniest of safety pins, fell, revealing to me her white-as-snow panty. I half hugged her from behind and helped put on her pants back with one eye cast on the rest of the newsroom.

Monica gasped, "Mabuti ikaw lang ang nakakita, Babeth!"

I suspect that the boys in the newsroom, from the copy boy to the editor in chief, were half in love in Monica. In love but not in the leery or lustful sense, more of what William Butler Yeats wrote in his poem "When You Are Old and Grey": "How many loved your moments of glad grace / And loved your beauty with love false or true / But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you / And loved the sorrows of your changing face."

Monica and Gigi on the Bob Feleo bed at the launching of the book The First Eye

I'm grateful to Monica for agreeing to read aloud my poems at the launching of my first book, The First Eye, on Oct. 15, 1990, traditionally observed as World Poetry Day, when she was big with child. She shared, along with our actor friends Dodo Crisol, may he also rest in peace, and Gigi Dueñas, a big four-poster bed, handcrafted by Bob Feleo. Monica surprised everyone gathered at Hiraya Gallery with her passionate reading of some erotica despite a belly so huge she seemed ready to pop anytime.

Monica was also my editor when I contributed to the now defunct Mirror Magazine. I was encoding and composing at the same time my profile of then senatorial candidate Haydee Yorac in one of her office's computer terminals. Monica understood the "messiness" of the writing process. By 9 p.m., which was late, I still wasn't ready with my copy. She said she needed to go home to her daughter Jasmin and her family. Not once did she lean over my shoulders to check on the progress of my work. There was that trust between professionals that yes, I would be able to deliver.

Because she didn't apply full-blown pressure on me, I was more relaxed and reached my story's end, appending a hashtag after the last period.

One last memory of Monica: In February 1997, we attended a meeting of women cultural workers called by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. After about an hour or so of grim and determined brainstorming about arts-related projects that would benefit women (there was a budget that ran into millions), Monica raised her hand from where she was seated and said, "Bakit hindi na lang natin paghati-hatian yung pera? Happy pa tayo!"

Of course, that was said in jest and Monica meant to lighten the mood.

Ngayong gabi, paghati-hatian natin ang kalungkutan sa pagpanaw ng mahal nating Monica sa pamamamagitan ng pag-alaala natin at pagtanggap na bumalik na siya sa Dakilang Kaliwanagan sa langit. Maging happy tayo.

Monica believed in and worked for the liberation of Filipino women, of the Filipino people. Let up rejoice that she is now liberated from the world of pain and suffering, from the dailiness of deadlines.

Thank you and good night.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Iconic Via Mare

Michaela Fenix. Via Mare: 40 Years of Iconic Events Through Menus, Recipes, and Memories. Mandaluyong City: Anvil Publishing, Inc. 2016. 176 pp.

Via Mare and restaurateur Glenda Rosales Barretto are synonymous in having, in Felice Prudente Sta. Maria’s words in her foreword, moved “Philippine cuisine upwards onto a new and higher plane of creativity, innovation and artistry over decades.”

This book, with full-color photos by Pat Mateo, is part social history, even gossip, part legacy with the sumptuous recipes shared some of which had been served to heads of state, including Popes John Paul II and Francis.

Accounting for the restaurant’s success is, according to Barretto, its ability to “execute other kinds of cooking: Western, European and Asian. We learn from food festivals here and abroad. We exchange ideas with local and foreign chefs. We acquire knowledge from readings. And, of course, we endeavor to dine at the best restaurants to learn from them as well.”

But there is a true-life anecdote that also accounts for Via Mare’s emphasis on giving Filipino cuisine a lift. When then First Lady Imelda R. Marcos returned from the Cancun Summit in Mexico in 1981, she told Barretto what she had witnessed: how Mexican, not Western, food was served to the world’s leaders and guests. From then on, “Mrs. Marcos decided that state dinners would showcase Filipino food, but elegantly and with refined flavors,” the book stated.

Glenda Rosales Barretto, Via Mare’s moving force

To enter the catering business was not in Via Mare’s plans until it had to do the job for the silver wedding anniversary of Vicente Lim Jr. and his wife Nita Fernandez. Mrs. Marcos was present in that party. Right away she expressed her desire to have the restaurant cater a state dinner for then US President Gerald Ford. Barretto’s concern was not Via Mare’s capability but that her restaurant did not have enough silver, glassware and plates. Mrs. Marcos solved the problem, ordering her home stylist Ronnie Laing to buy what Via Mare needed.

The other international guests served through the years included Princesses Margaret and Anne of Great Britain, Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, Prime Minister Zhu Rongji of China, President Kim Dae Jung of Korea, economic leaders of the ASEAN Summit, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation or APEC, among a lengthy list.

At one time, Via Mare was contracted by Hennessy, the cognac company, for an anniversary dinner to celebrate its 250th anniversary in 2015. In the book’s narration, “the dinner menu was crafted in France, the recipes sent to the restaurant” for execution as modern haute cuisine. The menu included mussels cream soup infused with saffron, smoked salmon topped with cocoa, crab soufflé with zesty lemon, foie gras on jellied consommé, grilled wagyu with cognac and celeriac.”

The dessert was “a sorbet encased in a petal-like structure made of chocolate which opened up when hot chocolate was poured on it.” The recipe for this last masterpiece is included.

Restaurant habitués included Foreign Secretary Carlos P. Romulo and wife Beth Day Romulo. Barretto kept his gracious thank-you letters that praised her for mastering “the art of Filipino cuisine because each item revealed your gentle touch and your keen knowledge.”

In another handwritten letter, Romulo expressed appreciation for her attention to detail, her “time and effort to help us make our parties the success that they were…It is personal interest that transcends the limits of complying with a duty to a customer.”

That attention to detail extended to “the fabled Czech amber crystals used at Via Mare’s very first catering.” The aesthete in Romulo got so impressed that “he requested that henceforth those crystals be used only for his functions.”

Barretto is convinced that more than the accolades and the national and world recognition, the backbone of Via Mare, a Latin phrase to mean “the way of the sea,” are the people. An eighth of the book is devoted to the employees. Some have been there since the restaurant’s founding in 1975. Notable is Marquez “Mother” Reyes for his “keen eye for design, observing and meticulously noting the preferences of clients and how hotels and other restaurants do their settings.”

Another is Dalia Zamora who made Via Mare’s pride—bibingka and puto bumbong. Manang Dal was said not to have used any equipment to measure the quantity of her ingredients but just relied on the lines of the palm of her hand. From there she could intuit the best variety of rice for her rice cakes.

Via Mare: 40 Years of Iconic Events Through Menus, Recipes, and Memoriesought to be in the libraries of colleges and universities that boast of hotel and restaurant management programs. But more than these, it should have pride of place in every Pinoy home.--Elizabeth Lolarga

Via Mare’s famous pairing of pancit luglug and puto bumbong

This article first appeared in the Jan. 5, 2017, issue of