Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Cup of Coffee - A Short Story

This is my first foray into writing a short story. I wrote it for a literary contest about breakfast; but after I completed it, I found out they wanted essays instead of short stories. I have been urged by friends to share it with a wider audience, so here goes. Please remember that this a work of fiction and  a product of my imagination so any similarities to people, places and situations are purely coincidental. 

Illustration by jojo sabalvaro tan

by jojo sabalvaro-tan

I can already hear Aling Meding clattering about the kitchen preparing for the start of a new day. Through eyes I could hardly open, I checked the time on the alarm clock by the bedside table... 6:30 am. My body feels stiff and heavy against the bed. I can hardly move a muscle, my head's in a haze... addled... confused... I command myself to wake up. "Focus!", I instruct my brain. The message is flatly rejected. I shut my eyes tightly, willing the memories of the previous night to disappear or just be a horrible nightmare. I slowly opened my eyes again. My fingers found their way to massage the pressure points on both sides of my head to ease the painful throbbing. I'm overcome by a wave of nausea.

"Oh, God, help me, please..", I intone silently, making the sign of the cross.

Jake is laying on his side of the bed still asleep... Peaceful, like nothing's happened...nothing's changed.. Except, it has all changed, everything is different... Our world as we know it is shaken and shattered. "Who are you?" I wanted to shout out. My husband is all of a sudden a stranger to me. He appears to be the same Jake who shared my bed every night, the loving father of my children who attended every school play... every game , the one who has breakfast with me every morning, the Jake that calls me everyday to say " I love you." What happened

I met Jake in college. He was studying to be a journalist - one that would make an impact on the world stage. I majored in Food Technology and was keen on inventing new ways to feed the poor people of the Philippines, the world. Our shared idealism was boundless and was what brought us together at the start. Like many other students of our time, we joined anti-government demonstrations and rallies trying to be catalysts of change. We were comrades- in - arms. We became fast friends , then lovers. 60s Free love and all that.

I found myself pregnant. I was afraid and did not know what to do. Jake wanted to get married and insisted we elope. Our wedding took place in a small church in Jake's province of Tarlac, witnessed by his brother and cousin. After the wedding, we went to see my parents who met us with stone faces and stern disapproval.

Jake and I made a go of it on our own while he continued his studies, living off the meager sums he got from his parents and selling articles to various newspapers and magazines. Francis, our first born brought us immeasurable joy and made us forget the hardships that surrounded us. I proudly sat in the audience with Francis on my lap as Jake received summa cum laude honors when he graduated. He got a full time job at one of the most prestigious newspapers in the country. Through the years, he rose up in rank until he eventually owned the newspaper and several other media outlets - TV, radio, cable.

We were happy and blessed with a supportive circle of family and friends who were all around for our annual Christmas parties. We have more than we need - our house in Makati, another house along Kaanapali Bay in Hawaii, a brownstone in Manhattan and a condo in Malaga, Spain. For holidays, we sometimes take our 40 footer sailboat to Hongkong, Singapore, one of the South East Asian islands or the Australian coast. Both of us suffer from high blood pressure that is controlled by medication, otherwise we are lucky to be relatively healthy at our age. Now that our two children are grown and have kids of their own, we have talked about Jake slowing down on the business end and semi-retiring . We fancied spinning the globe and living in the place where our fingers rested - new adventures, a new chapter in our already fulfilled life.

Last night, two sentences changed all that. We had dinner at home, leftovers from the day before. We had some of the chocolate cake I baked that afternoon with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side - Jake's favorite. Our conversation was light and involved news about the grandchildren and the progress of the charity event I am chairing.

We retired to our bedroom to watch TV. I was curled up in the couch. Jake sat next to me and held my hand.

"Darling,' he silently said to draw my attention from the show I was watching, 'I'm in love with someone else. I am leaving you." I was too stunned to respond. My heart constricted, I started gasping for air. Then the room started to sway.

"Are you joking?" I said, incredulously.

'No, I am serious. I met this woman and we fell in love. It just happened. I still love you but it is different with her. I want to spend the rest of my life with her.'

I gave out a big wail... All I was feeling was in it.... frustration, anger, confusion, surprise, sadness, disappointment, and everything in between. "How could you? How could you?' was all that I could say as I pounded on his chest as hard as I can until he took my arms and held me at bay. I broke into sobs. He says he's sorry but this is for the best. 'The best for whom?' I asked. I wanted to hurt him as much as I was hurting, slap him silly until he came to his senses, but I  realized that was impossible. Of all the times I needed strength and coherent reasoning, this is the time they fail me. I was a blubbering idiot.... I blamed myself, there were tell tale signs I'm sure. How could have I missed them. I could not do anything but cry. Until finally exhausted, I cried myself to sleep.

So here I am this morning feeling like I went through hell and back. As I lay in bed, I realized I can not allow Jake to leave me. I resolved to do everything I can to keep him with me.Think! Think! Eventually, as my brain slowly got into gear, a plan started to formulate. I decided that the best thing to do right now is to pretend last night did not happen. This thought renewed my energy, I rose, showered. The warm shower was invigorating but not enough to wash away all the physical aches and mental anguish from last night. I put on a sundress and applied some make-up to mask the puffiness of my face from crying all night and went to the kitchen. I will prepare all of Jake's favorite breakfast foods. I told Aling Meding to go attend to the laundry and I will take care of preparing breakfast...

First, I put fresh water in the coffee maker and ground some Kona coffee beans, placed them in the filter and started the brewing process. As the whiff of fresh coffee enveloped the kitchen, I prepared crepes from a recipe a chef at one of our favorite Parisian restaurants shared with us. It was a simple recipe using flour, sugar, salt, milk, eggs and melted butter. With the crepes, I planned on making French breakfast galettes filled with sautéed diced onions and ham and grated gruyere cheese with a sunny side egg on top. Additionally, I minced some garlic for the fried rice and fried up some pungent dried herring - a favorite meal, especially during our early years when we were practically penniless. For the side condiment, I made a salsa mixture of fresh diced tomatoes, mangoes and onions with some finely chopped cilantro leaves.

I just finished setting the table when Jake walked into the kitchen, freshly showered and shaved, in need of a haircut, I thought.

"Good morning, he said as he sat at his regular place at the table. "I'm very sorry about last night. There was just no easy way ..... ", his voice trailing off in a crack.

"I'm sorry also", I said and I brought him his coffee just as he likes it, more warm frothy cream than coffee, two teaspoons of sugar and a sprinkling of cinnamon. But this time, for a special touch, I added a teaspoon of finely ground blood pressure medication.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Juan Luna - Filipino Artist Extraordinaire

Juan Luna - Self Potrait

On my latest visit to the Philippines, a group of my classmates from high school treated my husband and I to a trip to the Ilocos Region. I was so excited and thrilled since this fulfills one of my long time goals to visit this area of the Philippines, composed of the provinces of Pangasinan, La Union, Ilocos Norte, and Ilocos Sur. And best of all, I get to have this experience with some of my dearest and closest friends.

Every Ilocano I have met, displayed regional pride that is unmatched by any other group of people from the different regions of the Philippines. It seems to me, there is something about this area that evokes this distinguished air surrounding Ilocanos which produced several presidents, heroes and artists. Ilocanos, as a group, are known to be hardworking and thrifty and this trip revealed to me why. They are blessed with such surroundings that are awesome in both their beauty and harshness, that they learned to appreciate and love this land and make the most of it.

Driving through the region, we found picturesque vistas sandwiched between the South China Sea and the Cordillera mountains. La Union, which was our home base, is the most commercial of all the provinces but also boast gorgeous coastlines and beaches. We stayed at my classmate's, Ruth, seaside villa which afforded us to indulge in the coastal advantages of the province - beautiful sunsets, nice breezes, water activities and of course, fresh seafood.

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The Garden and Pool Area of the Flores Seaside Villa

Luna Rock Beach and Watchtower in La Union. The area is famous for the smooth rocks found on the beach.

As we entered the two
Ilocos provinces, we were struck by how clean and beautiful the little towns were. Each one had distinctive tricycles, both in design and color. My favorite were the ones from Vigan, which they referred to as Calesa-style since they resembled the ornate chrome laden and colorful Calesas (horse-drawn carriages) which have been an important means of transportation in the area since the Spanish times.

A calesa-style tricycle

Calesa on the cobbled-stone streets of Vigan, Ilocos Sur - a town on the World Heritage Preservation list.

And then, there were the old churches, each town with its own treasure seemingly more outstanding than the next town's. The churches set the region alight and from these churches alone, how can someone grow up in this region and not be in awe and proud. It was very hard to pick a favorite, each had their unique charm and features. But if I were forced to chose one, it would be the imposing Paoay Church. Built beginning in 1694, the church is an unusual combination of Gothic, Baroque and Asian designs, It's facade reveals Gothic affinity, the gables show Chinese elements while the niches topping the walls is reminiscent of the  Boroboudur temple in Java.
Sorry, I really digress here. This blog is really about Juan Luna but I couldn't help waxing poetic about the beauty of the Ilocos Region. I will try to devote more time to the churches in a later blog.

On our way to Laoag, we got a phone call to make sure not to miss the Juan Luna shrine. We all studied about Juan Luna and his works. As a matter of fact his most famous work of art, the Spoliarium, resided just in the next building from our high school and we were able to visit it at will. But as in any high school kid, we probably gave it a cursory look and never thought about it again except when it comes up in class discussions and exams.

So off we went looking for the shrine. We spotted a small sign that indicated we were close by but we still drove a considerable amount of time before we came to the town of Badoc where the shrine was located and where Juan Luna was born. During our search, we started referring to Juan Luna, delightedly, by the English translation of his name, "Johnny Moon". We finally found the shrine after a few stops for directions. We were all excited at the sight of the Juan Luna house which now houses the museum and shrine. It is a two story brick building, clearly belonging to an affluent family in the 1857s when Juan Luna was born.

We were led by an enthusiastic guide who showed us the copies of all of Juan Luna's works as well as brief histories of each one, such as what one was sold for at a recent auction and where the originals are now located. We also learned about his family history and there was a family tree in the museum showing descendants to present time. An artist myself, I liked seeing his paint brushes, palettes and paints. There was an out of print coffee table book, 'Luna, the Filipino as Painter, which is currently on loan to the museum and is probably the only book in existence on the artist. We were particularly intrigued by his account that, in a jealous fit, he shot and killed his wife but got off Scot-free since she was presumed guilty of adultery.

Museum with articles used during the time of Juan Luna and family photos.

Outdoor Museum with Sculpture of Juan Luna

Juan Luna's Bedroom Furniture

Juan Luna y Novicio was an Ilocano painter. sculptor and a political activists of the Philippine Revolution during the late 19th century. He became one of the first recognized Filipino artists. He started to study painting in Manila and one of his mentors who was impressed by his skill urged him to travel to Spain to pursue his studies. In Spain, he was discontented with his school and studied with painter Don Alejo Vera who exposed him to Renaissance paintings. It was in 1878 when his artistic talents was established after winning a silver medal and second place in the first art exposition in Madrid, Exposition Nacional de Bellas Artes,for his painting, The Death of Cleopatra which is now at the Museo del Prado.

In 1883, he submitted a large canvas painting to the exposition entitled, The Spoliarium and was the first to win three gold medals. For this and the accomplishment of fellow Filipino artist, Felix Ressureccion Hildalgo who won a silver medal. he was celebrated by members of the Propaganda Movement and fellow Ilustrados, including the Philippine National hero - Jose Rizal. The Spoliarium is now at the National Gallery in Manila.
Resulting from his friendly relationship with the King of Spain, he was commissioned by the Spanish Senate to paint a large canvas which was called The Battle of Lepanto.

He moved to Paris in 1885 and set up his own studio. In 1886, he completed a piece depicting the blood compact ceremony between Datu Sikatuna, a lord from Bohol Island and the Spanish conquistador, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. El Pacto de Sangre, is now displayed at the Malacanang Palace.

Continuing to win awards for his works, his paintings are generally described as vigorous and dramatic with a style showing elements of Romanticism as influenced by Rembrandt, Daumier and Delacroix. He painted in the manner of the French and Spanish academies of his time.

Among my favorite paintings of his are:

Espana and Filipinas, a painting representing Mother Spain leading the Philippines to progress.

La Bulaquena, a painting of an unidentified woman wearing a Maria Clara gown - a traditional Filipino dress that is composed of four pieces, a camisa (blouse), a saya (long skirt), a panuelo (neck cover or scarf) and a tapis (knee-length overskirt)

Nena and Tinita, a mother/daughter potrait. I love it because of my penchant for Madonna and Child paintings

I am most fascinated by the guide's explanation of the allegory behind painting called The Parisian Life, 1892. According to the guide, the woman has a geographical likeness to the mirror- image of the archipelago of the Philippine and has a dark neck. The placement of her head in a window joint resulting in having the effect of a the woman being strangled with a noose, conveying that the Philippines was victimized. But it could just be a painting of a beautiful courtesan whose life unfolds under the watchful eye of three men identified as Juan Luna himself, and his good friends, Dr. Jose Rizal and Dr. Ariston Bautista Lin. Luna contributed several illustrations for Rizal's books, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterisimo.

A few months after this particular painting was completed, both Rizal and Lin went back to the Philippines to play out their role in the Philippine Revolution, Shortly thereafter, Juan Luna, hounded by personal tragedy, left Paris for Madrid and then returned to the Philippines where in 1896 he was arrested for being involved in the Katipunan revolutionary army.

Living in this beautiful region and with a fellow Ilocano to emulate like Juan Luna, no wonder the Ilocanos are filled with pride.

And thank you, treasured friends for more memories that will last forever.
The group of classmates who toured the Ilocos Region together - priceless!