Saturday, December 26, 2020

Living apart but zooming together

Screenshot by Gigi Lolarga The year 2020 taught me how to be at home in a Zoom room. So when the primary movers and shakers behind the Lolarga Virtual Reunion announced that we would attempt to lasso all the surviving first generation, second, third and fourth gens in one room, I was more than game. Spinning in my mind was the Burt Bacharach song from the '70s, "Living Together, Growing Together," from Lost Horizon as I asked, nagged, cajoled my siblings and my immediate family members in Baguio and Los Angeles to please show up. We were requested to come in our festive best. Rolly picked the color red for our outfits. Kimi and my grandchild Kai turned up in matching Mickey Mouse PJs. I was assigned to give a message to the Lolarga-Romero-Valdellon clan spread all over North America and Hawaii, and it was one of remembrance of the woman who started it all and kept the family together. Welcome to the first Lolarga reunion on Zoom. Let us honor our grand matriarch, Telesfora Cariño Lolarga. She was Mamang to our parents, Auntie Purang to nephews and nieces, Lola Purang to the rest of us. We owe this formerly annual tradition of gathering the clan to her. The parties were first held in her home in Sampaloc, Manila. Then the venue moved to the home of her son, Uncle Esting, on Malumanay Street, Teachers’ Village. Auntie Linda and Uncle Esting hosted reunions with aplomb. Tandang-tanda ko pa! They danced the singkil complete with umbrella and clacking bamboo poles. For a child like me, nothing that the Bayanihan Dance Troupe did could equal the spectacle that I watched up close. To Lola reunions are important. They enable us to see the latest family additions. Above all, they are occasions for thanksgiving. We the grandchildren and even the great grandkids believe so, too Especially during this pandemic, we long to see one another’s face on the small screen as an assurance that we have survived. Not just survived but prevailed over whatever our circumstances are in, whatever region of the world. Thankful we are, Lola, for the great example that you set. Thankful again for this opportunity to make another set of memories, to have a load of fun. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The soulful lass from Bataan

Alma Cruz Miclat with a copy of Soul Searchers and Dreamers, Volume 2 Below was my introduction to the author of Soul Searchers and Dreamers, Volume 2, at last night's Zoom book launch-cum-birthday celebration. Even before she retired from her day job as a business executive, Alma Cruz Miclat has been dallying with words. I first encountered her words, not Mario's, not Maningning’s, the other writers in the family, in the anthology The Writers’ Wives edited by Narita Gonzales. I noted that she was a diary keeper during their long, 15-year exile in China. But Mario, as she wrote it, “did not want me to record anecdotes in my small diary. He was afraid that if found by others, the diary would be misconstrued as notes of a spy, or a class enemy, or a counter-revolutionary.” Nonetheless, Alma’s essay in that year 2000 collection stood out in my head, especially when she waxed lyrical in describing “the first snow in our life. Snow was not only a most beautiful sight in winter. Its whiteness covered the coal-blacked smokestacks, the dusty red bricks, the withered leafless trees, the pavements sullied by frozen spit.” I came away impressed with the writer’s command of language and her sharp memory. Since then I have followed her writings in Inquirer and other anthologies the latest of which is To Be in History: Dark Days of Authoritarianism edited by Melba Maggay. I found out that she was the daughter, one of eight children, of an ex-USAFFE medical attendant who became a fisherman after the war and a mother who helped sell fish in the market. Alma wrote in an understatement, “It was not an easy life.” But she came from a generation that valued education as the key to getting out of hardship. She went to the University of the Philippines where she became an activist and met the love of her life, Mario, whom she married in an underground ceremony where they exchanged bullets instead of wedding rings. O, sino-sino sa atin ang may ganyang bragging rights? Maraming pinagdaanan sina Alma at Mario. Kasama na ang pag-aaruga ni Alma sa kanyang asawa hanggang bumalik ang kalusugan nito upang mabuo ang pangalawang nobela kasunod sa Secrets of the 18 Mansions. Tumungtong ngayong araw na ito si Alma sa edad setenta. Mukhang napapanahon na para siya rin ay lumikha ng mahabang istorya. Kaya mo, Alma. Ang tingin ko sa mga maikling ulat mo sa Soul Searchers and Dreamers ay marikit na mga practice pieces para sa mas malaking obrang susunod. Am I scaring you off on such a happy occasion as tonight? No intention to do that. But my dreams for you, dearest Alma, are as vast as the Great Wall of China that you once traversed. May your 70s be the start of something big! NOTE: The book can be ordered through or 09189057311. Payment for the book can be coursed through BPI Savings Account No. 0326-0448-45; or GCash: Banaue M. 0999-5042898. Delivery charge will be on the buyer.
Family and friends at Alma Cruz Miclat's Zoom event hosted by Dr. Orestes P. Monzon (third from left, top panel)

Monday, November 30, 2020

Rewarding myself

When I work hard, I play harder. Playing includes writing and mailing letters, scribbling in my diary and reading or looking at art. Last week my daughter brought up a package I ordered from Nina L. Yuson consisting of her book Nina's Travel Sketches: Europe, a set of her postcards and another set of her heart-shaped, hand-sewn thingamajigs. The last will be trimmings for our 2020 Christmas tree, and yes, we're going all out in trimming the tree as an exercise in joy during an especially harrowing year. My husband Rolly and I take very good care in turning the pages of Nina's book. We find her drawings and watercolors delicate and fragile, even the way the book is constructed with a ring binder. But oh! We gasp at her skill in rendering, from a dog's, person's and bird's eye views, the places in the European continent that we working stiffs can only aspire to visit one day. Those spots remain an unreachable goal, never to be achieved in this lifetime given the swath of the COVID19 virus and our combined budgets. Even the artist, the founder of the Early Learning Center and the Museo Pambata on Roxas Blvd., has her own wish. She wrote in her foreword, "Although this is my fifth collection of sketches to be published, it is still my fervent wish that one day some of them will be chosen to adorn the menu covers of an airline, perhaps, our flag carrier, and what more I could see them on the side of an aircraft!" So what are you #reading this weekend? I'm reading, I'm looking and I'm unusually content.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

I shall eat pie every single day (or until it runs out)

My family members are fans and followers of Sweets and Greens in Baguio. We relish its home deliveries of lemon pound cake that gives the taste of sweet and sour a new definition. Baguio-ites, hear this. They have a new product: Rhubarb Strawberry Pie. It is billed in their FB page as "juicy, sourly sweet, tangy and tart all wrapped up in a flaky, buttery crust." It's all that and more. It brings back memories of earlier times in my youth when the family gathered around the table for pie with a half gallon of vanilla ice cream waiting to turn it into a la mode. I distinctly recall the apple pie of Goodies N' Sweets at the old Greenhills Shopping Center that was the centerpiece of special gatherings. It came with a caramel sauce that was drizzled over the warm pie. Yesterday's pie arrived at exactly 11:32 a.m., right before we went down for lunch in the dining room. The family had been waiting for it since Friday. There was a miscommunication between the pie seller and me. I failed to check the order delivery date (Nov. 27, it said), expecting the pie on Nov. 20. You can't imagine the groan of disappointment from my family, especially from Rolly Fernandez, when I announced that our order had been moved back. I pleaded with seller to please move it by a few days forward. My plea was accommodated. We declined the custard that was supposed to be paired with the pie, saying we'd have ice cream on top of it. And that we did with matching rolling of eyes till the whites showed. Yeah, I know, a bit exaggerated in comparing the eating to an orgasmic experience. But it was. Photos by Kimi Fernandez

Monday, October 26, 2020

Missing Manny

I will leave his surname unsaid in deference to the family's wishes for privacy. But since one of his bosses in the publishing world, Maria Karina Africa Bolasco, has paid her respects to him in this forum, I will follow with my long-delayed tribute of sorts to he who was both colleague and friend, my candy buddy who'd hand me a cube of cloyingly delicious caramel after a blah lunch. Manny became Manni, then switched back to Manny and finally M.G. in the book credits. I was happy and honored to do quick edits for him and Gilda Cordero Fernando, the perfect pair to ever grace the Philippine book universe. For he was that rare creative director--he read the raw manuscripts, gave his insightful inputs (no wonder GCF gave him co-author status in the Bench-sponsored landmark tome Pinoy Pop Culture). In what seemed to have been his last design job (correct me if I'm mistaken, Katya Guerrero), the volume on the life and art of Constancio Bernardo, Manny just had the old man's abstract work wrap both front and back covers, no text whatsoever. That spoke volumes. I will miss opportunities to again be handmaiden to geniuses. For you were one, Manny, and somewhere, sometime I will again play the long-playing vinyl you gave me of Sarah Vaughan singing Michel Legrand compositions. Adieu!

Friday, October 23, 2020

Benjie and Carina

Oil on canvas by Benjie Mallari
"Palm Sunday," oil on canvas by Mario Parial Upon waking yesterday morning, I reached for my phone instinctively, half dreading what the day's news feed would bring me. The month of October has been a period of reaping of good souls. First, there was Mario Baluyot, my husband's best friend and our compadre. Next was graphic designer Manny, one of the country's best and whose passing I could not mourn openly in this space as a gesture of respect to the family's wishes. Next came Vic Tirol followed quickly by Benjie Mallari. And yesterday, the painter Mario Parial's wife and muse, Carina. It doesn't help that the heavens are sending gusts of wind and pelting us with rain. Husband Rolly Fernandez and Benjie last saw each other at our home two months ago. He arrived after breakfast lugging a painting from his last show. No, Rolly wasn't out to purchase it. He and Benjie had a tradition of swapping art works. I overheard them laughing and exchanging stories over mugs of coffee in the veranda while I attended to house chores. The friends parted before lunch. As Rolly escorted Benjie to his vehicle, the latter's last words were, "P're, eighty thousand 'yan!" When my husband relayed this to me, I laughed inside. It was typical Benjie statement laced not with arrogance but with lightness and humor. We were glad that he had come up in the art world. Our encounters with Carina were always linked with Mario. We first made our Parial purchase at the old Heritage Art Center on Lantana Street, Cubao. I chose the Palm Sunday scene, drawn to the innocence of the children's faces and the almost naif-like style of the artist. When Rolly gained Mario's acquaintance and friendship, we would make trips to their Marikina home. Collector hubby would climb all the way to Mario's attic and rummage through old works, including a 1965 print. The artist appreciated that Rolly liked his prints and bought scores of them, later exhibited at Hiraya Gallery. In fact. before Carina passed on, she had planned on following up the book on Mario's paintings with a second one on his prints. What we liked about the works, especially where females figures were concerned, were the women had the shape and features of Carina's cameo-like face. She was truly his inspiration, and she returned his devotion in kind. I used to see her at the Fine Arts faculty room at the University of the Philippines Diliman handing out invitations to Mario's show. She had a personal word with each of the invitees. She was that gracious. On this day colored a bleak gray, my family and I send you off with wishes of happy rainbow trails, Benjie and Carina!

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Mario, we still have much to talk about

Mario at Carmel by the Sea I must confess I am unable to find the words to express my grief. Since yesterday, my family and I have kept abreast of developments after we received word that our friend Mario M. Baluyot suffered a massive heart attack. During our meals, Rolly and I talked of him as though he were with us at the table, praising him for his generosity, his wanderlust (the two top things my daughters Kimi and Ida remember about him), with the unuttered wish that maybe, just maybe, God would still give his big heart a fighting chance. Today another friend based abroad, Wilson Guysayko Bailon, broke the news that Mario is gone. With tears unshed and with a shot of adrenaline that kept me lucid in the early hours of the morning, I emailed Mario's son BJ to convey our condolences in what I hoped to be not too trite and cliche-ish words. Mario was Kimi's baptismal godfather. Before those ties, he and Rolly were already tight buddies in the journalistic circle although they worked for different newspapers, Mario at Manila Bulletin, Rolly at Daily Express. They were Upsilon fraternity brods and that sort of bond is hard to sneeze at. Later, Mario moved to Agence France Presse where he formed a union of two with Monica S. Feria, if memory serves, and which was ground for his termination. When Mario moved to California, we kept in touch by snail mail and later, by email. He sent me and the children books by parcel which kept our hours full in a Baguio house that then had no television. When Rolly and I traveled to the US in 2008, Mario volunteered to be our "taxi driver" all over Los Angeles and all the way to San Francisco via the ultra-scenic Pacific Coast Highway. We ran out of gas mid-way, but Mario was unfazed. A Mexican handyman gave us free gas and we pulled away with a wave and a "Gracias!" At each stop he and Rolly would fight over who'd pay the restaurant tab. Usually, Mario won. He also brought us to the Hearst Castle, to Oprah Winfrey's favorite restaurant in Santa Barbara, to Canterbury Records in Pasadena where we spent an afternoon picking through classical and jazz CDs, to Norton Simon Museum for my encounters with Auguste Rodin, to Carmel by the Sea where I was able to snap a picture of him among the flowers. Most of all, he brought us home to our best selves--the selves we enjoyed when the company was good, when the food was savory to our tongues, when the music soothed, when the conversation was deep and uninterrupted and provided glimpses to our souls. Truly, as your frat's hymn goes, when we meet each other in the sun, there will be much to tell.
Mario and Rolly at the centennial of their fraternity

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Sunrise, sunset

Jared wearing anti-glare glasses that make him look mature

Kai online with Satchi as saling aso

Max as Binibining Palitaw

They were the little boy and little girls I carried. And now they are testing the video and audio of their respective home computers as they attend the orientation week of their schools. Except for Machiko Susi, a.k.a. Max, who's still on an extended summer from the University of the Philippines Integrated School. Which is why she's holding up a plate of palitaw that she had prepared under the supervision of her Wowa Pinky Lolarga Susi and yaya Sherilyn.

My family is agreed that Jared Susi (first photo) looks like an ultra-young executive as he meets his classmates onscreen. Kai has a photo bomber in Satchi, the golden retriever, who's peeking through the window, curious about the girl's activity.

As I write this, I hear Kai and classmates saying "Hello" and "Hi" to one another at their post-recess resumption of classes. Kai is a wee shy about speaking up so she just types her remarks.

Earlier today, she kicked me awake at 7:30 a.m. for not rising earlier to help her prepare for breakfast and home school. I was just coming out of a dream where I saw photographers Ev Espiritu and Wig Tysmans in a bus headed for interior Cordillera. As I tried to sort out the dream's message, Rolly took over the morning supervisory duties--seeing to Kai's full breakfast and getting her ready for online class.

I hear the teacher asking "Are you ready now?" And the pupils answering, "We are ready!" I think there's something to this home schooling thingy--grandparents like me being passive/active listeners and ready to assist these young souls whom we are privileged to shepherd.