Saturday, June 22, 2013

A thousand twangling instruments

The rain was supposed to fall. It was predicted to fall, and it looked as if it would fall. But it held off, thus giving friends of Rosa de Leon Gardiola a glorious day to celebrate her 80th birthday.

Crews of workers and caterers created a side-yard party space with seating for about 60 in classy yellow-and-white-draped tables. The caterers, about ten in all, invaded at about 9:00 a.m., setting up positions at the buffet line, and establishing a dish washing station behind a curtain in the corner of the yard. Two employees, probably those with the least seniority, worked this station full time. 

A quick regression: the night before Inay's party, the neighbor across the street blared his karaoke machine at full blast from about 4 p.m. to exactly 15 minutes past midnight. The author embraces a to-each-their-own attitude when it comes to neighbors, especially neighbors in foreign countries. But this guy was out of control, screeching power ballads, disco hits and songs from various local artists. In the author's mind, revenge and retaliation were considered, and rejected by the slimmest margin.

Now back to Inay's party. It's 10 a.m., and who now comes carrying huge karaoke speakers from across the street? The same neighbor! As the French race car driver from Talladega Nights says: "Now the matador dances with the blind shoemaker."  

At about noon, the bar was officially open (cold San Miguel's in the indoor fridge, and black label in the corner with Margie's colorful cousins, a group led by Kuyas June, Joseph and Boy). Father Ricky got things going with "You are my Sunshine." The author followed with a tasteful "Lay, Lady, Lay," and things advanced or deteriorated, depending on one's point of view, from there. 

In the sober morning, it's clear that three award winners from the Karaoke slam were: 
• Honorable mention: Cuya Boy -- not talented vocally, but he put his heart into it, and he was generous with cigarettes.
• Runner-up: Bart Barretto -- our own mini-Arnel Pineda. Fueled by San Miguel, our beloved brother-in-law powered through several classics late in the afternoon.
• Champion: The guy who looked like Pacquio. He sat there quietly with his young family for most of the morning and early afternoon, but when he stepped up to the microphone and selected U2's "With or Without You" the field took notice. And when he turned loose his pipes, the very ground seemed to shake, and a thousand twangling instruments hummed about our ears.

Also, the food was delicious, and all the guests were fantastic, warm and friendly -- even the guy who seemed to sneak in and sat by himself the whole time. 

Inay's house, transformed.

The author sings: "Girl, You'll be a Woman Soon." Father Rickey at right.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

At Pico de Loro in Batangas Province

Our beloved cousin Gillian, at the hotel lobby.
Here we are today waking up at Pico de Loro, a remote Batangas beach resort that cozies up to the South China Sea, the bathwater warm and gentle shore. Is it the best beach ever seen by the Clark Family? Dear reader, Pico de Loro deserves serious consideration for that title.
How we got here is a long story, involving family connections and the Catholic church's great resources throughout the Republic.  But we are here, and if there is a finer beach anywhere, well -- as Golden State Warrior coach Mark Jackson says: "Call my bluff."
Such is its beauty, one is reminded of Marc Antony's great line to Cleopatra: "Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the great arch of this ranged empire fall. Here is my place."

 Daddy, standing in the South China Sea.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Upon looking at Taal Volcano for the first time

The Clarks of New Jersey finally left Manila, a crowded city of intense traffic, drove south and discovered the charms of Batangas province. 

We arrived in the town of Talisay, the ancestral home of the Gardiola clan, on the same day that matriarch Rosa De Leon Gardiola celebrated her 80th birthday. A large catered event is planned for Saturday (it's Thursday morning as I type), so more on that later.

Among the other early highlights in Talisay were a stroll to the water-front market, where the entire town buys fruit and vegetables, fish and meats. (No Walmart here. The largest grocery store is the size of a small bedroom.)  Beng-Beng's husband Bart cooked up some locally grown Tillapia for breakfast, and everyone laughed when I declared it "masarap" -- a routine that never seems to get old among native speakers of Tagalog. We also enjoyed a ride in a "tricycle," the misleading name for a sidecar motorcycle taxi. And we spent $16 per head to enjoy a beautiful swimming pool at Talisay's resort of Balai Isabel. We had the entire pool to ourselves, and then we got most of our money back, because of the wash out. 

"Inay" has discouraged all portrait photography up to this point, but this blog has acquired a fantastic picture of the two Clark ladies staring off at the largest active volcano in the Philippines. It's called Taal, two syllables. Shortly after this photo was taken, Neptune shook his gory locks in our direction with 60 mile-per-hour winds. Then, as in any one of a number of Joseph Conrad novels, the mini-typhoon was gone as quickly as it came. 

Caption: Margie, left, and Natalie, with eagle eyes stare at Taal volcano.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

In the Footsteps of Magellan

The Clarks of New Jersey are about to embark and an incredible journey to the other side of the world, to the land where Ferdinand Magellan gained immortality, but lost his life.

Natalie and Theo on their way to Manila, 
via Dubai.
Our trip won't be quite that exciting, but look at these faces, gentle reader. Natalie, 8, and Theodore, 11, are about to spend 24 hours or so up in the air on a United Arab Emirates based Emirates Air jumbo jet. Look closely, and you'll see the high-tech seat back video monitors and television screens that one comes to expect from an oil-rich nation governed by a hereditary monarchy. (I cannot say for sure, but it's my understanding that the TVs broadcast only two channels: the Al Jazeera network; and a continuous loop of Rambo III.)

On Monday night, the entire family will meet again in Manila at the charming Hotel H20, which according to the brochure, "draws its inspiration from water, the elixer of life." I suspect they serve beer in the bar, but again, I cannot say for sure.