Category: Culture & History

This, too, might one day be forgotten

I don’t remember anymore who taught me to sing Pinoy folk songs, such as Bahay Kubo, Leron Leron Sinta, and Paro-Parong Bukid; it must have been my Lola, my mother, or my kindergarten teacher. However, I learned to appreciate such songs about the simple life on the countryside: there was a the typical nipa hut in the middle of a vegetable garden, a young man named Leron unsuccessfully picking papaya fruits from a wobbly tree, and a barrio lass metaphorically referred to as a butterfly (paru-paro).

I wonder what kids nowadays sing at classrooms apart from the usual ABC and Twinkle Twinkle little stars, especially at private pre-elementary schools. Do parents and teachers, especially those who insist that their kids speak only English, still teach their kids to sing folk songs? Or do we only find it cool when foreign choirs sing our Bahay-Kubo, and whatnot?

That Filipino Look

He was heard to say: “There’s a very attractive girl in the second row, dark… and dusky. We’ll maybe put a wee word out for her.”

Mr McAveety went on: “She’s very attractive looking, nice, very nice, very slim,” before adding: “The heat’s getting to me.”

The MSP also said: “She looks kinda… she’s got that Filipino look.

“You know… the kind you’d see in a Gauguin painting. There’s a wee bit of culture.”

Frank McAveety quits over ‘attractive girl’ remark (BBC)

I’m confused about the racket that this quip generated. So is it wrong to admire “that Filipino look” now? Is it a slap in the face of Glutathione beauties/manufacturers/endorsers? Is there anyone married/in a relationship, man or woman, who has never found another human being other than their spouses/partners attractive? Is that so wrong now?

A cursory search on Google Images for Paul Gaugin paintings showed the following in the results:

Dusky ain’t so bad.

This is what we are commemorating today

“Twenty-one lang ako noong magka-giyera. Nasa Aurora ako nung dumating yung mga Hapon. Nang ipinatawag kami ni MacArthur, nagpa-alam na ako sa mga magulang ko kasi hindi ko alam kung magkikita pa kami uli. 

“Pumunta ako ng Maynila para mag-report sa headquarters. Nung maging ‘open city’ na ang Maynila, nagpunta naman kami sa Bataan. Doon na kami inabutan ng mga Hapon. Mahirap ang buhay namin doon at kung ano-ano na lang yung kinakain namin.

“Nung sumuko kami, pinag-martsa kami papuntang Tarlac… Bago kami dumating ng Pampanga, tumakas kami. Minamalarya ako noon, pero sa awa ng Dios, nakaligtas naman ako. Yung isang kasama ko ang minalas; namatay sya habang tumatakas kami.  Lumabas na lang yung tubig sa ilong at tenga nya. Pitong araw kaming nagtatago noon, tapos tatakbo lang kami pabalik ng Tarlac sa gabi para hindi kami makita ng mga Hapon.”

Thus my grandfather shared while we were watching the video documentary “In the Hands of the Enemy” which my friend Peter, a teacher and historian based in Florida, sent me a few years ago. This is what we are commemorating today. For my grandparents.

It’s difficult to verify everything now, as only oral history has been passed on from one generation to another. Word has it that my great great grandparents were Katipuneros.  However, although Lola might not have heard of Tandang Sora’s exploits when she was in grade school days, she eventually participated in the guerrilla warfare as a nurse when Japan invaded the Philippines. Suffice it to say that her hands-on medical training was conducted without any modern equipment but only bandages, herbs and kind words to comfort the wounded and the dying.

One of these days, I’m going to scan all the pre- and post-WW2 photos that my grandmother had painstakingly saved in her photo albums. Lola (Tagalog for grandmother) kept dozens…hundreds, maybe…of photographs of years past that told so much about what life was like in those days when everything was simpler but people knew how to live well. Tom Brokaw called the World War II-era generation as his nation’s greatest, and I could probably say the same about those who witnessed and fought through the same war from here.  It’s too bad that their children and their children’s children have all but forgotten whatever progress was made when the country attempted to rebuilt itself after the war.

Damn Good Woman!

This is the eulogy that Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist and formerly ardent critic, Conrado De Quiros, gave at last night’s necrological services for President Corazon Aquino.

I’ve written a good many things about Cory this past couple of weeks. I guess it’s time I got a little more personal.

I wasn’t an ardent fan of Cory at the beginning, I was an ardent critic. I came from the ranks of the red rather than the yellow, and looked at the world from the prism of that color. It got so that in one program Kris Aquino invited me to (I don’t know if she remembers this), she took me to task for it. It was an Independence Day show, and during one break, Kris turned to me and said: “Why are you so mean to my mom?”

I was, to put it mildly, taken aback. It’s not easy finding a clever answer to an accusation like that put with breathtaking candor. I just flashed what I thought would be a disarming smile. I don’t know if it disarmed.

What can I say? Maybe I’m just naturally mean. Or maybe I just say what I mean and mean what I say.

Years later, when the world had turned, and not for the better, I got an unexpected phone call. Cory was at the other end, which awed me. She said she was calling just to express her appreciation for something I had written about her. I do not now recall what it was. What I recall was mumbling something about not being the best person to say those things in light of what I had been saying before. She said that wasn’t true: I was the best person to say those things because of what I had been saying before.

I appreciated the appreciation.

Still years later, I would have cause to appreciate yet one more thing. That was February this year when, from out of the blue, Cory visited at the wake of my mother. I did not bother to ask, “Why are you so kind to my mom?” I knew by then it was her nature to be so.

She stayed for about an hour, and did much of the talking. Boy, could she talk! I didn’t know that before. But I’ve always been a good listener. She talked, I listened. What we talked about is best left for another time. But afterward, I thought: What strange directions life takes. What strange forks, detours, and crossings life takes.

I’ve seen activists who began by serving the people, or exhorting the world to, end up serving only themselves. And I’ve seen students who thought only of saving their families end up saving the world, or trying to. I’ve seen the best and the brightest turn only into the worst and greediest. And I’ve seen someone who was walang alam, or who was made out to be so, teach the world a thing or two about honor and courage and grace.

Maybe it’s not so strange that people who start out being enemies on grounds of principle end up being friends on those same grounds. And people who start out being friends without principle end up being enemies on that same ground.

I wondered, like someone who had come back to where he started and saw the place for the first time: Maybe colors are there to unite us more than separate us. Maybe red is just the blood that pulses in the veins in love and war. Maybe yellow is just the pages of a letter from a loved one that magically bring him back to life. Maybe blue is just the sky, however cloudy, when looked at through the bars of a prison cell. Maybe green is just fields promising plenitude. Maybe black is just the tangle of our fate, the twists and turns of our life, as we grope our way forward. Maybe white is just the grace to push on, amid the darkness.

I wondered with the wisdom of innocence and the naivete of age: Maybe we’re divided only into good people and bad people. How people are so, or become so, I’ll leave others to divine. Maybe they are just born that way, maybe like scorpions they sting because it is in their nature to sting. Or maybe they are made that way, as much by the circumstances that mold their character as their character that molds their circumstances. But bad people are there; we know that only too well. Just as well, good people are there too; we know that even more so.

We know the latter because we had someone walk with us who was so. Someone who was so disinterested in power she accepted it gravely as a matter of duty and gave it up gracefully as a matter of trust, for which she remains an awesome force even in death. Someone who, while she lived, showered not very small kindnesses on others in their hour of need or bereavement, having known bereavement herself and the comfort of empathy as much as the empathy of comfort, for which she continues to live with us even in death. Someone who proved once before as Joan of Arc and who will prove once again like El Cid the terrifying and wondrously prophetic vision of her faith: The exalted shall be humbled and the humble exalted.

In life and in death, Cory has been—pardon my French—one damn good person.

Good persons of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your bane.

Two more very good and touching eulogies were those by Teddy Locsin and Mel Mamaril.

From Teddy Boy Locsin, Cory Aquino’s former speech writer:

Because she doubted my capacity for self-reformation, she made it effortless for me by being herself. I did not notice that I was doing right by serving a woman who never did wrong. I am not sure how to take this moral self-discovery. It is so unlike myself. But if it will bring me before her again, I am happy.

More on Jessica Zafra’s blog.

To me, the most touching eulogy was that of Cory’s close-in security of 23 years, Mel Mamaril. After his eulogy, he gave the flag-draped coffin of “Ma’am Cory” a salute for the last time.

Inspector Mel Mamaril, Aquino’s security detail, recalled one afternoon, in 1998, shortly after she had become Citizen Cory, “we arrived at her home after coming from her painting lessons in Forbes Park, Makati.” When they arrived, there was no food for the household help and Cory prepared the food and served them herself.

“She takes care of people around her no matter how big or small. She didn’t treat us like employees but she treated us like a mother who took care of her children.”

Even when she was very sick, Cory “was always very concerned about us,” he said. (Business Mirror)

“Nahihirapan na nga sa kanyang sakit, kami pa rin ang iniisip.”

The Café Scene

“The story of how Paris became what we now think of when somesays ‘Paris’ is the story of men and women who were able to reinvent the wheel in many different domains because they understood the fundamental importance of these two concepts: Stick to the high-end and forget the low. Never underestimate the importance of décor and ambiance. Take, for example, the café. The coffeehouse became an institution in England, the Netherlands, and Germany in the 1650s and 1660s. The original coffeehouses were fairly modest affairs; men frequented them to drink coffee and beer and to smoke. This concept had no appeal in France. And then, in 1675, the humble English coffeehouse was reinvented and quickly became an essential part of the new capital Paris was then becoming.

“Francesco Procopio transformed the coffeehouse; he made it exquisite. His peers referred to him as an ‘artist’: he had, after all, created the formula that made the café a way of life in Paris. Elsewhere, cafés featured nothing worthy of the name décor, whereas, at Café Procope, the tables were made of marble, crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, the walls were decorated with elegant mirrors, and coffee was served from silver pots. Beer was banished from these elegant surroundings; patrons sipped exotic cocktails instead. And they could snack on delicate pastries and sorbets in flavors such as amber and musk. The Procope, was, in short, the original chic café.

“Its example was quickly emulated: by the turn of the eighteenth century, the world’s first café scene had been created in the newly fashionable Saint-Gemain-des-Prés neighborhood. Parisian cafés attracted a very different clientele than their counterparts elsewhere in Europe–elegant women, who would never have set foot in a coffeehouse, frequented cafés to see and show off all the latest fashions.”

–de Jean, Joan. The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafés, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour. New York: Free Press, 2005.

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