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Highly unrecommended book – Luis Francia’s A History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos

Akala ko ok kasi Philippine history written by a poet/creative writer, or simply put, a non-historian. Pero nasayang lang pera ko.

Bland, stale, unimaginative, pedestrian and in some portions, poorly written even, stylistically stilted by some measure.

There is nothing new here other than what has been already presented. No new research or stories. And the stories are presented conventionally, with old rusty predictable lenses, considering that the author is a creative writer.

I grit my teeth for not knowing any better that such a pompously grand attempt to paint such a magnificently wide historical canvas in so few pages should have made the book suspect – A History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos.

(Leon Ma. Guerrero actually devoted an entire book to illustrate the conceptual beginnings of the Filipino identity, first laid down by Jose Rizal.)

Nasayang pera ko kainis. Ang mahal pa naman.

Remembering Cafe Indios Bravos of the ’60s (or where General Hans Menzi furtively asked an unsuspecting painter where to get pot, in a place where a waiter could “parry about literature.”)

-Hans Menzi asking for Pot-

(From Caroline Kennedy, a visiting writer then)

After raising a convivial glass or two of his favourite drink, Menzi leaned over towards Alcuaz and whispered, “Do you know where I can get any pot around here?”

The chatter came to an abrupt halt.Some people froze on the spot. Others stampeded towards the loos to flush their own incriminating evidence down the one working toilet.

-A place where a waiter could “parry about literature”-

(From Betsy Francia, who owned the cafe together with husband Henry)

Memorable events at Indios? The night Lorna and Taboy quarrelled at the cafe’s mezzanine gallery and everyone craned their necks to watch their drama, as if it were a Shakespearean balcony scene. Villa or Nick Joaquin would preside at the center table and keep the rest of us in fits of laughter. We had one jam where this Pakistani sufi played his tabla with other musicians and he admonished us how through music we could change our environment.

*

Our waiters were wonderful – Mang Ben, Cesar (who was like an elegant English valet), would parry about literature sometimes with our regulars …

*

Someone wrote in the late sixties that so many people dominating the high-brow, entertainment and scenes in Manila then were Indios regulars and alumnae that practically comprised a cartel.

Who were they? Virginia Moreno, Nick Joaquin, Hernando Ocampo, Adrian Cristobal, Andres Cristobal Cruz, Abe Aguilar Cruz, Federico Aguilar Alcuaz (I love that sequence and confusion of names), Domingo Abella, Pepito Bosch, Erwin Castillo, Ninotchka Roska, Pete Lacaba, Marra Lanot, Gelacio Guillermo, the Rodriguez family of painters, Greg Brillantes, Penny Patañe, Joe Ayala, Larry Francia, Leonie Benesa, Kerima Polotan Tuvera, Johnny Tuvera, Armando Manalo, Manansala, Lee Aguinaldo, Malang, Ang Kiukok, Aviado, Galang, Tiny Nuyda, Mike Parsons, Jaime de Guzman, Johnny and Charlie Altomonte, Gigi Dueñas, Eric Casiño, Lino Legaspi, Cesar Legaspi, Bob Fox, Eddie Elejar, Tony Fabella, Jorge Arago, Nonoy Marcelo, Willie Sanchez, Krip Yuson, Sylvia Mayuga, even Lino Brocka, Bencab, Laida Lim Perez, Peque Gallaga, Delia Javier, David Cortez Medala, Tita Muñoz, Lucrecia Reyes Urtula, Jose Nadal Carreon, or JoeCar, Recah Trinidad, Lolita Rodriguez, Linda Manalo, Offie Gelvezon, Abueva, Dauz, Bibsy Carballo, Romy Vitug, Mario Co, Joe Joya, Bernardo Bernardo, Sol Jose Vanzi, Ben Payumo, Behn Cervantes, Anthony Juan, Tani Morabe who opened Mango Bay in San Francisco and planned to open another restaurant in Amsterdam, Leo Martinez, Noel Añonuevo, Joonee Gamboa, Danny and Julie Dalena, Freddie Salangga, Joey Smith, Agnes Arellano, Sonny Tolentino, Alex Cruz, Pabs Dadivas, Bing Labrador, Kuku Grewal, Ishmael Bernal, Jolico Cuadra, Prof. Jose Maceda, Mang Amado Hernandez, the list just goes on and on …

Caroline Kennedy said that the place where Indios Bravos was once located is now occupied by Hobbit House. I think she was referring to the original location at Mabini St, as Hobbit House has now moved to MH del Pilar (also a branch in Boracay I heard). I’m not sure what stands now in the place formerly occupied by Cafe Indios Bravos. Perhaps a red light club.

-Sylvia Mayuga’s eulogy to Betsy, or Beatriz Romualdez Francia-

As the revolutionary ‘60s rushed into the ‘70s, her next project to bring the world to Manila – and Manila to itself – would be Café Los Indios Bravos on Mabini Street in Malate, named after the Filipino Propaganda Movement in exile eight decades earlier.

On Filipino writing, explosions, and the local literati

What is Filipino writing? Living on the margins, a bygone era, loss, exile, poor-me angst, post colonial identity theft. Tagalor words intermittently scattered around for local color, exotically italicized. Run-on sentences and facsimiles of Magical Realism, hiding behind the disclaimer that we Pinoys were doing it years before the South Americans.

Our heartache for home is so profound we can’t get over it, even when we’re home and never left. Our imaginations grow moss. So every Filipino novel has a scene about the glory of cooking rice, or the sensuality of tropical fruit. And every short story seems to end with misery or redemptive epiphanies. And variations therof. An underlying cultural faith in deus ex machina. God coming from the sky to make things right or wrong.

*

How can anyone estimate the ballistic quality of words? Invisible things happen in intangible moments. What should keep us writing is precisely that possibility of explosions. If not, what then?

*

These are the literati of the Philippines: the merry, mellowed, stalwartly middle-class practitioners of the luxury of literature in the language of the privileged.

- Illustrado, Miguel Syjuco

How dare you scorn the explosive I employ?

- Cannibals and Christians, Norman Mailer

Tula ngayong El Nino

Gusto kong Maging Tubig
ni Adelito Nefalar

Isuuka sa gripo ng kung kaninong tahanan
Aagos ng walang pakundangan
Ililibing ng walang pangalan
matutuyong di malalaman
Ngunit magpapaligo,
magpapalinis,
magpapaligaya
sa katawan
ng hubad na dalaga
Ngunit magpapa-usbong
magpapasigla
at magbibigay-buhay
sa patay na kaluluwa
ng batang walang malay.

Sa May ER

Ni Randell Suba

Nagkakatitigan
ang mga hindi mapanatag
na kaba
habang tahimik
at palihim
na tumatakas
ang mga kamay
ng nalalabing pag-asa.
Nakalugmok
ang malamig na pagbabanta
ng unti-unting
paghina
ng mga alingasngas
ng pagliligtas.
Sa pagtakas
ng pintuan ng paghihintay,
sumalubong
ang nakatalukbong
na pamamaalam
at ang lumalangitngit
na paglisan.

Wonderful originals, wonderful covers

The Dark End of the Street

First performed by James Carr which has then remained as his defining piece.

One of many covers – Andrew Strong in the film The Commitment, about a group of English boys aspiring to appropriate soul music. Mr. Strong was only 16 in this film. Sobrang intense. (Nabasa ko somewhere na dito na-discover ang The Corrs).

A more recent syrupy rendition by the criminally sultry Cat Power.

Here Comes My Baby

First sung by Cat Stevens

A quite funky take by The Tremeloes

The Tremeloes live

Cover by indie heavyweight Yo La Tengo. (Album version sounds much better than this one).