WHEN my colleague Luci Lizares introduced me to Mike Santos before the start of the book launching of Estilo Ilonggo (Philippine Southern Lifestyle), only a few pleasantries were exchanged between me and this fine young gentleman in the neat, impeccable barong tagalog.
It was only in the middle of the program when Mr. Santos was introduced by Luci to the audience to say a few words on the book that I discovered that he was the distinguished author himself! Actually, he is half of the knowledgeable Reynaldo "Ronnie" Alejandro-Vicente Roman Santos tandem who made this endeavor possible. How unassuming a person he was and how unaware he was of the stir he had caused among book lovers, especially those lovers of things Ilonggo. Our dear Luci had taken over the delightful albeit more difficult task of writing about Mike (which you have read in her Thursday column, of course) while I write about the book launching event.
Gentleman farmer and art patron Adjie Lizares invited me to the book launching last March 13 at the gorgeous gleaming white mansion of the Estebans with its distinctive columns reminiscent of a plantation house of the American South. The book launching is the last of three series of launches the first of which was at the Filipinas Heritage Library at Nielson Tower, Makati Avenue on Thursday, March 4, 2010; the second at Nelly Gardens Mansion along Eugenio Lopez Street, Jaro, Iloilo City on Friday, March 12, 2010.
The Bacolod event was well-attended by local society's creme de la creme. Although the attendees were from a variety of age groups, understandably many were from the previous generation who had been lucky witnesses to the legendary Negrense lifestyle. As Luci stated, "The Negrenses worked hard but played harder." And she reminisced about champagne fountains and other practices of that past era which are now deemed unimaginable to enjoy.
It was quite an exclusive affair with the just the right mixture of personalities to make it cozy with familiarity and at the same time lively enough for everyone to circulate amongst friends and strangers. The food was excellent and creatively prepared by caterer par excellence Mia Lizares-Gonzaga. We loved her tiny chorizo rolls and adobo pate served on miniature crisp bread rounds. I also couldn't get enough of the dainty sandwiches. I can't remember now the filling she used (was it tuna or chicken?) but I can only recall how she used thin slices of turnips (singkamas) between the layers to make a refreshing, unusual sandwich for that summery afternoon. There was also fruit-topped custard for dessert. Bottles of red wine were popped. Plates of native refreshments were passed around by the waiters - cassava cake, bibingka, and lumpiang ubod. It seemed that I spent the early evening eating non-stop. Why not? Not only was the whole Team Tikim there (as Dr. Cecile Nava pointed out) but the book itself was centered on food. Good food is "good food" for the Ilonggo soul.
Back to Mike Santos, I finally connected him with the gentleman who transferred his three-storey ancestral house from Calle Real Navotas to Antipolo piece by piece. "So, that was you!" I said. He invited Negros Museum curator Raymond Bayot to visit the house; I invited myself yet Mike wasn't the least offended. In fact, I think he's very proud of his achievement. Who wouldn't be when such an undertaking entails unforgiving exactness, a sense of history, and an eye for detail. If the past generation had such sentiments, many of our precious century-old houses would still be in existence and our legacy preserved for the subsequent generation.
Another interesting personality I had the chance to talk to was the famed Filipiniana designer Patis Tesoro. I remarked how my mother regretted parting with a Tesoro kimona. And I asked her if she still makes those Ninay dolls. The Negros Museum has one which Mara Montelibano bought for P25,000. Patis said that it currently sells for P35,000. She explained that each piece is hand-crafted. Meticulous work is done for embroidery and beading, and anything that is below her standard is taken apart and has to be redone. High quality work shows and is enduring.
Estilo Ilonggo is a perfect addition to anyone's library. This will also make a wonderful pasalubong to bring to relatives and friends abroad who miss our native lifestyle and the young ones who need to know their history and culture. The limited-edition coffee table book is high quality and will endure for many generations to come.