Thursday, August 19, 2010

Faith and Fishballs

Can anyone understand the concept of a couple not going to church together?

In fairness, Voltaire tried to join his wife when she found her god in a Christian church. He even enjoyed the initial experience, feeling closer to his Maker. Especially in the first half of the service devoted to singing Him praise.Amazing Grace was, and still is,  a favorite.

Until one Sunday, the pastor started badmouthing Voltaire's and his parents faith. He and his parents, his brothers and his only sister - -  the entire family grew up as Roman Catholics.  Offended, he sought permission from his wife for him to skip the rest of the sermon. And found himself eating fishballs on barbecue sticks outside the church premises. There were at least two ambulant vendors, their carts just on the edges of the huge parking lot facing the building. That became pretty much the routine - - - singing praise, and fishballs. Eventually Voltaire skipped the routine altogether.

Meanwhile, his wife became more deeply involved. And soon enough enrolled in Bible school. She always does well in anything she sinks her teeth into and her mentors thought she could help spread the word better if she became a leader. Now, she delivers talks about how great God is, and never gets tired trying to convert non-believers.

Voltaire does not find this strange, and even discusses the matter with her. He is supportive of her chosen path. Because he sees her happy doing so. And he doesn't have to have fishballs every Sunday.


Isabella is the biggest blessing to the couple, completing the family.

Talut doted on Isabella. She was a princess. She would have everything money could buy. She will have everything she wanted to have, do anything she wanted to do. Her crib was special. her walker was special. She was nursed with her bottle of milk on her mouth while watching cartoons she enjoyed. She was in front of the television most of her waking hours. 

Voltaire had to throw the feeding bottle away, even while daughter and wife were protesting.  He thought it was insane for a girl to be bottle-fed at 7 years old. And Talut always gave in to what Isabella wanted. Voltaire would have none of this nonsense. Soon enough, she had to learn to eat, albeit slowly, and with great difficulty. Better than trying to wean her away from the bottle when she gets to college.

The couple wanted her to grow up one fine young lady. So she was going to be equipped. She took piano lessons, violins, and dance. Oh, how nervous she was on her violin recital. But parents were nervous-er.

Isabella took after her mom. She said she wanted to be a businesswoman when she grows up, like her. Unlike dad who went to the office all his life until he retired. 

On her high school graduation, her parents were more excited than she was. And they both went up the stage when she was given an award. Like most students, she and her best friends decided to stick it out together in college, and decided to take up Law. Her school is famous for producing top notch barristers. But seems to enjoy being in a band more. She plays the guitar and drums. In the new house her parents are building, a home theater has been fitted with a stage so her drum set would have its official station in the house. And her friends can watch them perform for them, too. Can anyone imagine a guitar player with a bottle of milk on her mouth?


That is how her nieces and nephews call Voltaire's wife. Short for Tita Luchie.

Luchie is the youngest daughter of Policeman Nemesio and wife Minda. She grew up in the neighborhood where actor Edgar Mortiz lived. Near where probably 80% of all lechons in Metro Manila come from. Their house was also a convenient stop when Voltaire's uncle who lived in Guam decided to go to the Cementerio del Norte one Todos los Santos

The couple met in an industry function. Both of them worked in the same industry, doing essentially the same type of work.

Talut left work way before normal retirement, unable to hack office intrigues. Her decision, on hindsight, was inspired. Doing work from home, with herself as her own boss, she earned in one month what she would earn as a media buyer in one year. And there was no stopping her. She ventured into her own line of beauty products using a toll packer and engaging an exclusive distributor. No factory, no warehouse. Neat. And she can do all these while wearing dusters at home, sans make up. Trading is her latest experiment in business, using still another novel business model - - nephews and nieces are her suppliers who bring the products direct to the clients. She finances the purchase of items at a pre-determined cost per unit, and her nieces and nephews earn the difference between their own suppliers' price and the cost specified by their Tita Luchie. As they say, "everybody happy".

She now lives the life she wants to live. Attending to her business from the comforts of their home. Meeting friends for coffee, ensaymada, lunch or dinner when they feel like meeting up. Going to Bible school. Attending the Sunday service. Stress free, and feeling good about herself serving the Lord. 

Home Alone

Voltaire's sister migrated to Australia when she was barely out of her teens. She did so well that, soon after, brother Romeo followed suit. One by one they left - - Garry next, and Willy finally. Mom also migrated. All of them are now citizens of the land down under.

At some point, everyone was convincing him to join the re-settled family. That it would be simple, and approval was guaranteed as the "last remaining family member".  He decided to stay and was quite happy visiting them every so often. Christmases become heat-wave Christmases, with images of Santa on the beach. Some trips happened when snow still capped the ski resort of Thredbo. Voltaire tried to learn to ski, the operative word being "strived". He just fell all over the snow covered plains and made do with toboggans. 

Left on his own, he converted the family house into a bachelor's pad. The floors were done in black and white. Furniture followed the new theme. Sleek, and appropriate for a guy living alone.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Free Territory of Freedomland

The sign on the gate proclaims it. Admiral Tomas Cloma, the discoverer of Freedomland, now called Spratlys, is sure that no one can take away his property the way Freedomland, or the credit of finding it, was taken away from him. Way before this story made it to the news, the community was already abuzz with talk about these faraway islands "discovered" by the men of Cloma who owned the Philippine Maritime Institute.

The property stood out in the neighborhood. It had a high fence, and must have been nearly half a hectare. It had a putting green. A Malaysian-inspired house stood as the property's centerpiece. But a more practical, more convenient smaller house stood at the corner. There is where they actually lived. The local boys and girls get to see the property around Christmas, when the master of the house allows the Banda 24 to sing Christmas carols, to collect funds for the group's various community projects.

Early evenings, the concrete benches on the Freedomland gates served as the meeting place of the boys. Over beer or pan de sal from the nearby Asuncion Bakery, stories would flow. Then the boys would either call it a night, or move some place for more beer, or more pan de sal.

Maggie de la Riva

One weekend, Voltaire and his schoolmate Florante were attending to their plots in the garden, under teacher Mr. Lorenzo's Gardening class. The garden was well laid out, fenced in by the 1x2x6 pieces of wood each student had to bring. Rows of plots were planted to eggplants one time, to pechay another time. And to lettuce and radish some time.

While attending to their garden plots, the two were talking about the recent sensational rape case that happened within the neighborhood, and was the headline in all newspapers and the biggest news on TV and radio. The
beautiful young actress Maggie de la Riva was raped. In a hotel along Luna Street, near where the boys lived. 

Everyone stayed glued to the news for weeks on end. And the boys would walk to the street where the crime happened, shaking their heads. In their young minds, such cruelty was unimaginable.

Fast Forward. The rapists were sentenced to die by electric chair. Maggie de la Riva has survived the incident and is back on television, hosting a program on the government TV station. She also did the lecture circuit talking about how people are born champions, able to rise from problems. Such a brave and beautiful woman.

4th National Jamboree

" We are sending you to the National Jamboree" said Scoutmaster de la Fuente.

Tenderfoot scout Voltaire did not know how to react. He has not been away from home long. He has not been in an actual Boy Scouts camping. He does not have a Type-A uniform. And he does not know if his parents can afford it. Mrs. Bajet, the school principal, said the school was spending for his participation. Yes, even the Type A & B uniforms.

The pre-jamboree training was at the Nichols Air Base Elementary school. Patrols were created, organizing the boys scouts into groups of eight. Scoutmasters from the different schools acted as trainors. There was Mr. Bagsic from the Gotamco Elementary School. Mr Bueno from the BSP Pasay City Headquarters. Mr Santero from Southeastern College.

The training took three days. There were lectures on pioneering, on knot-tying, fire building, semaphore and morse codes, formations and drills, how to wear the uniform properly, and several boy scouts songs were learned. Voltaire made friends with Geoffrey from South Eastern College, and a certain Rogelio from Zamora Elementary School. They were patrol mates. 

One of the more difficult sessions was the hike to somewhere unknown to the boy scouts, with only signs to guide them where to go to. Pretty much like an ancient version of Amazing Race. Signs could be a bent cluster of weeds, stones in an arrow formation, etc.

With all the training that corresponded with merit badges, scout Voltaire moved up from tenderfoot to second-class before D-Day.
The Jamboree was held in Camp Atate, Palayan City. Then first-son Bongbong Marcos was brought in by chopper to address his fellow boy scouts on the opening ceremonies.

There were activities everyday, with each activity earning the boys merit badges. Including firing on a shooting range for a merit badge on marksmanship. Whether or not you hit the target.

The boys roamed around and exchanged souvenirs with fellow scouts from the different regions in the Philippines. Voltaire swapped his green beret with a cap from a boy scout from Zamboanga. The cap had a mother-of-pearl inlay.

The boys also planted trees. The trees must have made a forest out of Atate.

Bathing and washing of clothes was an adventure in itself. The boys had to rappel down a cliff  to the river below. But no, the boys were disciplined enough not to use the river as a toilet. There were kybos in the camp site. KYBO means Keep Your Bowel Out.

There were many stories to tell. Most of all, the boys moved another rank higher because of the merit badges they collected from the various activities. And Tenderfoot Voltaire emerged from the National jamboree a First Class boy scout.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Caltex Spelling Bee

Voltaire topped the spelling competition in his school. He went on to compete with other schools and emerged the winner. He would next compete in the National Finals.

His coach was the Assistant Principal, Mrs Maria Alcantara. The coaching was continuous, and extended on the weekends with Voltaire going to Mrs. Alcantara's house in PAE. For a grade school student, words like baccalaureate, pneumatic, scythe, ichthyology were completely alien. But the drill included those words. Mrs. Alcantara was a good coach. She didn't settle for Voltaire to just know how to spell, but to understand these words and be able to use them in a sentence.

There were also lessons on how to spell the word by just listening to how it is pronounced. Tough. 

Came D-Day. The process was round-robin, where each contestant who misspells a word is eliminated, until only one is left. There were 12 contestants. One by one, they were eliminated, until only three were left. Voltaire, Romeo Solis, and Ronald Bregandahl (the son of Ms. Rita Gomez).

Voltaire went back to school crying. He lost. And his waterloo? A very simple word : QUORUM. He misspelled it as QUOROM. 

Boys & Girls Week

Voltaire and the top girl student Guia Velasco were sent by the school to City Hall for the Boys & Girls Week. Voltaire was appointed City Engineer, Guia the Assistant City Treasurer. The boy City Mayor was the top student from Arellano High School.

Voltaire had a blast. The city engineers office was his for one week, signing documents, inspecting buildings, knocking on concrete as if he could tell if the structure was good or not by just knocking on the surface.

The week ended with a poolside party hosted by the mayor at his house. 

Miss Santos

Miss Santos was a reliever-teacher. She was young, petite, and very beautiful. And she was very nice. You could really fall in love with her.

On weekends, Voltaire and Rodolfo and the other members of the dance troupe would be in school practising. One day, Miss Santos brought with her one who seemed like her niece. Her name was Marilou, and she was a beauty. The boys fell for her. One day, I saw both Voltaire and Rodolfo with the name Marilou tattoed on their arms, using ballpen ink.

Miss Santos came and was quickly gone. Voltaire would not let the memories be lost forever. One day, many years after, he went to the address of Miss Santos which he kept in his memory. Until one day, she was gone, having moved to Europe. Sad.

Best Friend

Rodolfo was his best friend in grade school. He came from a middle class family 3 blocks away. His dad, Mang Ruben,  was the president of the Kapisanan, the homeowners' association. Mang Ruben, to my mind, invented the "kornik" business, way before the branded ones became popular.

Voltaire naturally became close to the family, spending time in their place during fiestas and other family gatherings. Almost like a member of the family. Rolly, the elder brother taught the boy scouts in grade school boy scouts songs, assisting the scoutmaster Mr de la Fuente who was also taught Music, PE, and was the dance coach.

Rodolfo had 2 sandwiches with him everyday, prepared by his mom. One for him, and one for his friend. They were like brothers - - were in the dance troupe together and, on summer breaks, would still be in school, assisting Mr de la Fuente in his role as the school's property custodian, making an inventory of the books.

Grade School

The school was named after the great plebeian. His parents went up the stage every graduation day to pin medals to him as the consistent First Honor student, Model Student, Boy Scout of the Year, etc etc.

One time, he was going up the stage the next day for such honors. But he didn't have anything new or "stage-worthy" to wear. Hearing this, his dad's friend Mang Albert pulled out his wallet and gave a few hundred pesos to buy "barong" material. Mom rushed to the market. A friend's mom made the barong. The next day, Voltaire was up the stage for the nth time, reaping honors and medals. 

His favorite teacher was his Grade 4 teacher, Miss Rosalinda Victoriano. When she married, Voltaire was her only student invited to the wedding. She became Mrs. Rosalinda Victoriano-Carrera.

Banda 24

No, Voltaire wasn't a member of a band. But he belonged to a group that called itself Banda 24. Another group called itself 16 1/2 or Disisais Y Media. Yes, that is how they spelled it, and the Spanish Embassy never complained.

His friends gave him this alias. He was seen as the community's version of Voltaire Garcia, a street parliamentarian in those days. His friends admired Voltaire Garcia and honored him by calling him by this name.

The acknowledged leader of the group was a guy that goes by the name Totoy. He came from a family that was considered well off in that community of the poor.  They had a car, a billiard hall, and had a jukebox that was a real business in those days.

His cousins Ramon and Bong were also members of the group. The rest were Voltaire's sister Josie, Josie's girl friends Elena, Gloria, Inday, Nita, the brothers and sisters Florante, Laura, and Narding, and neighbors Turo, Romy Katawan,  and Ariel. The group would inevitably sing whenever they are gathered. All the boys except Voltaire and Romy knew how to play the guitar. Ariel would always be given the floor to sing the end line of what became the group's anthem, the church song "All My Trials".

As the "good group", the membership grew and included what others may call either as honorary members or "sabit". Friends of friends, girlfriends and boyfriends of friends, and their friends. No real roster. Just a group of people who the community would label "Ah, yung mga mababait". We could have said "eat your heart out, Grupo Disisais Y media". We never did. Even the bad boys were friendly to us. We must have affected them, too.

A Poor Man's House

Voltaire was born to a carpenter father and a mother who did the neighbor's laundry. Their house shared the same address as maybe 10 others in the neighborhood in an alley in Pasay City. That address doesn't exist anymore. The place now sits in one of the center islands of the road that extended Buendia from Makati to Roxas Boulevard.

It was a 2-storey house made of wood, some good lumber but mostly made of old discarded materials brought home by his carpenter father. Maybe some where from homes being renovated.

All the four boys shared a mat on the floor and a big mosquito net. Their only sister, the eldest, had the luxury of her own mat and a small mosquito net all by herself. Their mom and dad slept on an improvised bed at the ground floor - - the plywood panel that divided the living room and the dining room  is un-nailed every night, laid down on three long wooden benches - - one on each end and a third bench in the middle.The main door served panel, when open during the day, served to conceal the open shelves that served as the linen cabinet where blankets, pillows, mosquito nets, and the mats are kept. Closing the door at night automatically "opens" the linen cabinet, with its contents ready for use that night. A cabinet door would be another expense that could take away maybe the budget for a week's meal.

Food was barely adequate. On good days, the kids will have cheese on pan de sal. A whole loaf of cheese would be cut in half, the other half kept for the next day. One half is then cut into pieces so that each family member - - all five kids, mom and dad, and grandma will have 1/8 of of the 1/2 loaf of cheese.

Voltaire one day planted ampalaya on the ground outside of the kitchen. It grew such that the vines crept to the "paminggalan". One day, he decided to have it for lunch, dipping the freshly picked ampalaya leaves in bagoong to go with boiled rice.

Mom did her share of keeping the house pleasant ebough to live in. She constantly painted the walls to conceal its age, and to hide the crevices from the uneven portions of discarded wood. She must have repainted so frequently the kids felt like the house was getting smaller each time, from the thickness of the layers of paint. Oh, she also did carpentry work on her own. She herself laid out bamboo halves on the kitchen floor to replace the already rotting wood panels, while dad was out earning a living.

The road in the alley was unpaved. When it rains Voltaire had to wear rubber boots to keep his feet dry to go to school. And wore his socks and shoes when he got to the main road.

When the place gets really flooded, some floor panels float in  the flood water, inside the house. Some nails have rusted and the wood panels are unable to hold on to the trusses.


A movie I watched when I was young greatly impacted how I look at life. At successes and failures.

Even butterflies who live no more than three weeks have life partners
The movie was "Mahogany" starring Diana Ross. Remember the song "Do you know where you're going to ... ?". That song was the movie's theme. And the blurb was Success is nothing without someone you love to share it with". Ergo, each of us must have someone to love. Or our successes may not mean anything. In fact, succeeding without someone you love to share it with is a complete failure.