Monday, April 19, 2021

Feliz cumpleaños, Amadis

Amadis Ma. Guerrero Photo courtesy of Philippine Daily Inquirer Lifestyle He has always struck me as modest and self-effacing. This is borne out in an article that Inquirer's Eric S. Caruncho wrote about Amadis Ma. Guerrero, arts and books and travel writer. Amadis was quoted as saying, "I’m not a critic, I’m a feature writer. My approach is reportorial rather than critical." I could very well say the same thing for myself. Which is why he and I get along famously, the kind of relationship where we can even trade gentle insults. The late Prof. Nieves B. Epistola bestowed the highest compliment on him, addressing him in French as Le Cheri Guerrier. He likes to say in jest that he is the lovable warrior to Jose Ma. Sison's alter ego, Amado Guerrero. My compadre is also known for his deep loyalty to kin and friends, especially to his aunt Carmen Guerrero Nakpil. Even at the height of the anti-Marcos dictatorship movement when Mrs. Nakpil was still identified with the administration, Amadis warned my office colleagues in a tight voice to back off from her. If memory serves, his words went: "Who's saying something against my Tita Chitang? Let me just pull his hair out of his head!" I am amazed at his stamina in writing reportage and the occasional fiction. He is also in demand as a writer of art books, the latest among them Philippine Social Realists and SYM, Galicano and PASPI. He takes down notes longhand or sometimes tapes the interview. Then he does his drafts on his portable typewriter and has someone encode and email the piece for him afterwards. He's old-fashioned that way. He's the only person I know who still buys typewriter ribbons. Needless to say, he's not in social media although there are occasional sightings of him in Facebook when he's singing with Jerry Dadap's Andres Bonifacio Choir. Whenever I am sick and in despair, his message to me is unwavering and unchanging: "Keep on singing, soprano!" On his 80th birthday, I greet him: "Long may your voice ring, El Tenor!"

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Sweet banana

"Writers are like those good thieves. They take something that is real…and by a trick of magic they transform it into something totally fresh." ~ Isabel Allende I live with some kind of sinusitis that gets going in the morning, especially after I've eaten breakfast. I am assured that my poor sense of smell isn't a COVID-like symptom. But I need to do something about it because this morning, as I was preparing lunch, I didn't notice that the pot where my husband Rolly Fernandez was cooking plaintain bananas in sugar syrup, minatamis na saging, was about to dry. There was steam all over the kitchen. I was so focused on dicing the carrots and slicing the cloves of garlic that were supposed to go into my own pot of chicken with pineapples. My back was turned to the stove. Plus my ears were listening to the CD album of cellist Yo-Yo Ma. I even had a fleeting thought about how peaceful these all felt--the meditative gestures of dicing and slicing. Rolly rushed down the stairs holding the walis tingting and dustpan containing Satchi's poop, shouting that the house was almost on fire. I rose abruptly from my seat and quickly turned off the knob of the gas stove. He got rid of Satchi's leavings first before returning to scold me. We opened the pot and looked inside. The sugar had caramelized to a dark brown around each of the banana slice. I'm a girl who looks at the jug as half full so I told my partner, "We have banana cue for dessert!" Still much shaking of Rolly's head.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

More Mario memories

Indulge me, please, as this is the way I manage my grief over the loss of writer-patriot Mario Ignacio Miclat. I met him and his family a few years after they returned to the country following 15 years of political exile in China. I was assigned to write about him for The Sunday Times Magazine, supplement of the then Gokongwei-owned The Manila Times. I don't have a copy anymore of my article, but I do recall the magazine cover of that issue--two photographs of Chinese landscape and architecture taken by Mario himself. I vaguely remember the article's title as "Bayan-bayanan sa Beijing." What struck me upon visiting their first home, a condo unit at BLISS Pag-asa in Quezon City, was how orderly and clean it was. Fast forward to the time they moved to another condo on Quezon Ave., QC. I entered the hallway and just perfunctorily left my walking cane on a corner. Then Mario showed up and in a strict and annoyed tone wondered aloud what the cane was doing on its spot. I realized that he was like my husband Rolly Fernandez in seeing to it there's a place for everything and everything's in its place. When the Miclats make a trip to Baguio in December during Alma Cruz Miclat's birth month, instead of us treating them to a meal, they play gracious hosts to us. In the inner group are Mario's fellow UP academics Del Tolentino and Ben Tapang and their family friend Mitos Benitez. Over Japanese dinner at Hamada at the Baguio Country Club, we used to watch Raj's antics. Talk would last until the restaurant's closing time. In this photo Mario is shown with his Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas award for his lifetime's literary output and with his family and Church Cafe confreres. From left are Mario, Alma, Raj in the arms of mother Banaue Miclat-Janssen, Fe and Pastor Sunil Stephens, Roger and Fe Mangahas and myself. Happy times--so many to look back on to lessen the sting of his departure.

Friday, April 9, 2021

The dog who would be a reader

I just went through my digicam to check what's stored and found these pictures taken by my grandchild Kai. They're of Satchi and her master Rolly Fernandez lounging in the library where she loves to scoot over once released from the balcony that she has for her home. She loves Rolly's bed, rolls all over it before lying on her belly. She even likes to look at the books. When she wags her long, bushy tail, she knocks over Rolly's assorted knickknacks, including a framed bulletin of Bandilang Pula, a publication of the seven-day Diliman Commune, or our kids' snapshots. Once, and only once, did Satchi gnaw the spine of my book, Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story. What a scolding she received, but I doubt if she understood any word said. Something must have sunk in because there has been no repetition of the incident. She has maintained her respectful distance from the books. However, she still sniffs at them, her eyes glancing longingly over the titles. Somebody said Satchi must've been a reader in a former life. If she was, then she has found the right home.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Better than a box from Tiffany & Co.

For a week now, I've kept my ears peeled to the sound of a motorcycle or a truck. There were book deliveries due, and they have kept my level of excitement high during this ho-hum pandemic. Every time a delivery guy stopped between our house and the neighbor's, I'd yell from the second-floor window, "Is it ours?" Yesterday and today the packages arrived, and again Rolly was there to receive them. The first book I cracked open was Maria Virginia Yap Morales' Ascending the Fourth Mountain: A Personal Account of the Marcos Years. The author sought to carry out feminist Indai Sajor's exhortation: "Write about the patriarchy within." Indai was referring to the Communist Party of the Philippines. Morales' book is her attempt to say, "Yes, I will do that." The second book in the well-packed Ateneo Press bundle was the posthumously published Biyaheng Pinoy: A Mindanao Travelogue by Edilberto Alegre. In his "By Way of a Preface to These Travels," the author wrote, "After eleven months in the US, I had to face the truth: I was not where I wanted to be; I was not doing what I wanted to do. And there was nowhere else to go. I faced up. I packed my rucksack again. It was time to discover new worlds." Promising reads, indeed. The last two books were tucked into a medium-size balikbayan box full of goodies from my son-in-law Jordan and my daughter Ida. She almost returned the Julia Child collection of aphorisms to Amazon, thinking the book too small to be worth the price. The first page my eyes landed on had these words in all caps: "I HATE HEALTH FOOD." This after eating a breakfast of fried egg with Trader Joe's 21 Salute Seasoning, three pan de sal and two pieces of Goldilock's classic puto. I felt more reverential opening Joan Didion's latest collection of old essays. She wrote about Hemingway, "The peculiarity of being a writer is that the entire enterprise involves the mortal humiliation of seeing one's own words in print." I'm about to press "Post," and witness another round of "mortal humiliation."

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Antidote to cooking fatigue

It hits me, too--laziness/tiredness after weeks of planning and executing family meals. When that happens, I visit the FB pages of food outlets (those who do delivery or pick-up) in Baguio. This home cook has scrolled through Chef Mike Tatung's videos and Simpol cookbook, and I just couldn't do it anymore. Those outlets provide relief for someone who's no Julia Child, no Julie Powell (the role Amy Adams played brilliantly in Julie and Julia). What hit me was a craving for pie, particularly rhubarb-strawberry pie. But our baker Sweets and Greens informed us it's not the season for rhubarb--try again in July and August. Cherry pie? No dice. Blueberry? They promised to check the Baguio Public Market. Forward to happy ending: blueberries were found, and Rolly Fernandez received the pie when the delivery woman knocked on the door yesterday. Here's the "desecrated" pie, and the berries remind me of precious caviar. Life's good.

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)