Thursday, March 29, 2007


It starts as soft whimpering, ah-ah-ah. We take sharp breaths, listen for more sounds. We hear stirrings. He must be rubbing his eyes, kicking off the blanket. My husband and I freeze. We are in bed. It is 1 a.m. We are listening to our grandson who is in his porta-crib just eight feet away. If we are quiet; if we do not rustle the bed sheets; if we stop breathing, he will go back to sleep. But the whimpering rises, turns into crying — wah-wah-WAHHHH. If we keep our eyes closed, pretend we are asleep he will shut up. But the crying gains momentum, becomes more vigorous, and aside from that it is now sitting up fully awake and it is screaming its lungs out. Still we are hopeful; if we ignore it, if we do not acknowledge that the noise it is making is truly nerve-wracking, it will go back to sleep. We turn into stiff boards, dry planks of wood, laying side-by-side on the king-size bed like giant sardines, dead giant sardines, exhausted from having spent hours singing and rocking it to sleep just two hours ago. But now it is awake again. The sound it makes ricochets all around the room, fills every single corner, shadow, crevice, fills our inner ears like some kind of penetrating screw.

How can a tiny thing like that make such a gigantic, captivating, excruciating noise? It is relentless, will not stop. It does not even pause to breathe, but screams right on, so the noise it makes is one prolonged agonizing scream. There is no denying; it is up.

If I do not move, if I keep my eyes closed, my husband will think I am asleep, and he will have to deal with it. I turn limp. I can feel my husband doing the same thing. We are two relaxed human beings, totally asleep, dead to the world this early morning while our grandson is screaming. I snore a little bit. I have him on this one because he does not snore. He is always making fun of my snoring; he does not snore, so he cannot now snore. But I am snoring, so deep into sleep and I am dreaming of Machu Picchu; I am walking along the Inca trail.

“Stop pretending to be asleep,” he says.

I snort a little, make the sound that he finds repulsive.

He sighs. His eyes are open now, staring into the black ceiling. He has to get up tomorrow and go to work. But this early morning, his grandson is demanding milk or attention, or both. He gets up to go downstairs to get a bottle of milk.
And I open my eyes, slide out of bed, and walk to the porta-crib. “Grandma’s here,” I whisper. Tiny arms fly up in the air. I pluck him from the crib. The crying stops. Like something synchronized my husband appears with the bottle of milk. Together we change our grandchild, and feed him, and rock him once again to sleep.

(Written 2003. Above pictures show Dylan, and Dylan and Alex his Dad)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


By the time I was a teenager, the Philippines had been a colony of Spain and the United States for a combined time of some four centuries. The dominating concept of beauty was Western; “white” was beautiful, “brown” ugly. When Gemma Cruz came around and won the Miss Universe contest of 1967, she changed the idea of beauty in the Philippines. Before her, all other Filipina beauty queens sent to international contests were mestizas, very European-looking. Her victory marked the decline of the colonial idea that fair was beautiful, and dark evil. Even Disney images showed blonde Snow Whites and Cinderellas, and dark-haired wicked stepmothers and witches.

Unknown to many, there were several foreign visitors to the Philippines who wrote about the beauty of the Filipina. I’ve put together here some excerpts of those writings.

As early as 1521, Antonio Pigafetta, Italian chronicler of Magellan’s voyage around the world, made some interesting observations about the women of Cebu. He wrote: “The prince led them (Spaniards) to his house, where he had four very beautiful girls, and almost white like ours, and he had them dance to metal cymbals, with them all naked, and he gave them refreshments, then they returned to the ship.”

Of the queen, Pigafetta reported, “The queen was very young and beautiful, covered with a white cloth, her mouth very red, a hat on her head with a crown on top of it like that of the Pope. And the hat and crown were made of palm leaves, and she goes nowhere without this crown.”
“One day,” he said, “the queen came with great pomp to hear mass, three young girls went before her with three of her men, hats in hand. She was dressed in black and white with a large gold-bordered silk veil on her head, which covered her shoulders. And on top of it she wore her hat. And many women followed her, who were barefoot and naked, except around the shameful parts, and a small kerchief around their heads, their hair loose.”
Antonio de Morga, a Spanish official in Manila from 1595 to 1603, wrote the history of the Philippines during the sixteenth century (Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas). He has interesting descriptions about the inhabitants of Luzon:
“They are of average height, are the colour of cooked quinces, and both men and women have fine features. Their hair is very black...they are very clever at anything to which they put their hands, they are sharp, hot-spirited, and determined.”

Even though he was not appreciative of the native custom of blackening their teeth, De Morga continued his respectful description:
“The women in the whole of this island wear jackets, with sleeves of the same stuffs, and of different colours: these they call varos (baros), they do not wear a chemise but have a white cotton wrap around the wasit, falling down to the feet. They also wear other coloured garments around the body, like mantles, which are very graceful. The principal women wear crimson ones, some made of silk, and other of cloths woven with gold, trimmed with fringes and other ornaments. They wear many gold necklaces, and have bracelets on their wrists and wear huge wrought-gold ear-rings, besides rings of gold with stones upon their fingers. Their hair, which is black, is gracefully tied up in a bowknot at the back of the head... The chieftains wear braids of beaten gold of varied design and many of them wear shoes, and their womenfolk also have dainty footwear, many using gold-trimmed velvet shoes, and white petticoats.
“Both men and women, especially the chief people, are very clean and tidy about their person and garments, and of goodly and graceful carriage. They are very particular about their hair and take a pride in having it very black; they wash it with the boiled bark of a tree called gogo and anoint it with oil of sesame mixed with musk and other perfumes.”

The Frenchman, Guillame Joseph Hyacinthe Jean Baptiste Le Gentil de las Galasiere, published in 1769 A Voyage to the Indian Seas, a record made shortly after the British troops pulled out of Manila. Le Gentil preferred native and mestiza women to the Spanish women in Manila whom he dismissed as deformed.

“For my part,” he said of the Filipino, “their color seems to me even more strange, and I find it difficult to compare it with anything. To me, it seems to approach more closely a light dead leaf color. The color of the women is lighter. They have beautiful black hair, of which they take great care, washing it with perfumed oil. They say that they do this to keep if free from dandruff, which, without the oil, would be quite considerable; but it is possible that a little vanity enters into this. However, the fact is that I have never seen among any other people with such beautiful hair as that of the native women of Manila. They wear it very long. It is by no means unusual to see women with very thick hair, so long that it touches the ground when they stand upright. They take pride in having long hair, and it would be impossible to inflict upon them a greater misfortune than cut it off. They do not use any ribbons or bands to die up their long hair. The men as well as the women braid their hair and tie it in a knot on top of the head. They have beautiful eyes, well shaped and black. Some of them have gray eyes...”

“They wear a kerchief, with a red border, around the neck. These kerchiefs are a great luxury in Manila...Wealthy women wear one over the hair, another around the neck, and carry another in the hand...
“The women’s chemises do not come down as far as the men’s shirts, and they are also worn very loose. They are made open at the throat and very low cut, so that they barely cover half of the breast. They are not made with cuffs like the men’s shirts, and are not fastened with buttons.
“For the rest of the body the women use a length of cloth which they wrap around themselves, tucking one of the ends in at the waist. This covering is called a tapis. The tapis is worn by all the native women of this archipelago. It is ordinarily made of silk and only comes down to the middle of the calf of the leg.
“...One sees women who have skirts of Indian cloth, made with tucks almost like those of our women, but they never go out without putting a tapis over the skirt. The foundation color of the tapis is chestnut brown, sometimes solid, sometimes with thin red stripes, and sometimes traversed by large red bands, occasionally embroidered. Over all this the women wear a sort of cape made in the Spanish style, with which they cover the whole body from head to foot. Around their necks, on their breasts, on their wrists and on their fingers they wear gold jewelry. A woman must be poor indeed not to have any. When they go out they wear very clean slippers embroidered with gold or silver. I do not understand how they can keep them on, for these slippers are as narrow and short as can be. They are in fact made in such a way that only the four big toes can be put inside, the little tow being left outside; and they are so short that these women have more than half of the heel projecting beyond the slipper. They wear a very large pin of gold or silver, very cleverly worked, which they use as an ornament for the coil they make of their hair.”

He contradicted a Franciscan friar’s statement that the native women wore modest clothes. “For my part, I take the liberty of not being entirely of this opinion. These garments are perhaps the most immodest which one could imagine...In order to get an idea of this clothing, outside the church, one must imagine a very pretty mestiza girl with a fine figure (as almost all of them have), whose beautiful black hair is piled up in a coil on her head, and the coil fastened with a gold pin. She wears a magnificent kerchief, embroidered and fastened so that it stands upright and goes around the head in such a way as to leave almost all the hair visible. The chemise, over which they put nothing, is loose fitting and made of a fabric so fine that it conceals nothing. Furthermore, this chemise is cut so low - that is to say, so open at the top - that it leaves uncovered the upper part of the shoulders and half of the breast. It is true that almost all these women wear an embroidered kerchief over the chemise; but this kerchief, to my mind, is nothing but a refinement of coquetery - indeed, it is not fastened in front, as our women wear it; the two sides and two bands hang carelessly under the arms.

“The skirt comes under the chemise and does not prevent it from floating loosely. A clean tapis is put over this skirt; but as it does not come more than half way down the leg, it exposes all the lower part of the skirt; and the tapis is wrapped so closely that from behind one can see the shape of the body. Add to this the tiny slippers the native women wear and which, with the tight-fitting tapis, perhaps require them to adopt their peculiar style of walking, and you will get an idea of the modest garments of the native women of the Philippines!”
Another Frenchman, Paul P. De La Gironiere, who lived in the Philippines from 1820 to 1840, wrote Twenty Years in the Philippines, in which he described his adventures in the archipelago and the estate he created, Jalajala. He too admired the women of the Philippines:
“In the evening, Spaniards, English, and French, go to the promenades to ogle the beautiful and facile half-breed women, whose transparent robes reveal their splendid figures. That which distinguishes the females half-breeds (Spanish-Tagalogs, or Chinese-Tagalogs) is a singularly intelligent and expressive physiognomy. Their hair, drawn back from the face, and sustained by long golden pins, is of marvellous luxuriance. They wear upon the head a kerchief, transparent like a veil, made of the pina fibre, finer than our finest cambric; the neck is ornamented by a string of large beads fastened by a gold medallion. A transparent chemisette, of the same stuff as the headdress, descends as far as the waist, covering, but not concealing, a bosom that has never been imprisoned in stays. Below, and two or three inches from the edge of the chemisette, is attached a variously coloured petticoat of very bright hues. Over this garment, a large and costly silk sash closely encircles the figure, and shows its outline from the waist to the knee. The small and white feet, always naked, are thrust into embroidered slippers, which cover but the extremities. Nothing can be more charming, coquettish, and fascinating, than this costume, which excites in the highest degree the admiration of strangers. The half-breed and Chinese-Tagalogs know so well the effect it produces on the Europeans, that nothing would induce them to alter it.”
Robert MacMicking, a Scot who lived in Manila and wrote Recollections of Manila and the Philippines (during 1848, 1849, and 1850) had his own opinion:
“A number of the women are very beautiful, for although their skin is dusky, the ruddiness of their blood shows through it on the cheek, producing a very beautiful colour, and their dark, lustrous eyes in general lit up with intelligence and vivacity of expression, than those of any Indians I have seen elsewhere.
“A very pleasant trait, to my taste, is the nearly universal frankness and candid look that nature has stamped upon their features which, when accompanied by the softness of manner common to all Asiatics, is particularly gratifying in the fairer part of creation.
“Their figures are well shaped, being perfectly straight and graceful, and nearly all of them have the small foot and hand, which may be regarded as a symbol of unmixed blood when very small and well shaped, as although the mestizas gain from their European progenitor a great fairness of skin, they generally retain the marks of it in their larger bones, and their hands and feet are seldom so well shaped as those of the pure-bred Indian, even though the Spaniards are noted for possessing these points in equal of greater perfection than the people of other European countries.

He too made note of their hair, “as one of the most remarkable beauties in the native and mestiza women, being very much longer and of a finer gloss, than that of any Europeans.”
The reader should not be misled into thinking that all foreigners’ accounts recorded Filipinas as beautiful because there were critical ones, curiously by Americans who visited the Philippines at the turn-of-the century. But for now let us glory in these early reports of admiration for our Filipino women
Recollections of Manila and the Philippines, by Robert MacMicking, originally published in 1851 by Richard Bentley of London; reprinted by the Filipiniana Book Guild, Manila, 1967;
A Voyage to the Indian Seas, by Guillaume Joseph Hyacinthe Jean Baptiste Le Gentil de la Galasiere, originally published in France in 1779-81 under the title Voyage dans les Mers de l’Inde; reprinted by the Filipiniana Book Guild, Manila, 1964;
Twenty Year in the Philippines, by Paul P. de la Gironiere, English translation published by Harper & Bros., New York, 1854; reprinted by the Filipiniana Book Guild, Manila, 1962;
The Voyage of Magellan, by Antonio Pigafetta, originally published in 1525; this edition translated by Paula Spurlin Paige, Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, 1969;
Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, by Antonio de Morga, originally published in 1609, Mexico; this edition translated and edited by J. S. Cummins, Hakluyt Society, London, 1971
(Article was written in 1998)

Monday, March 12, 2007


THIS is how my husband Lauren tells it:

Cecilia wooed me under false pretenses. When I was in the Peace Corps, I got sick and had to be hospitalized in Cebu, Philippines. Cecilia and her friends visited me, and they had a platter with leche flan, and she led me to believe that she made it. It was the best leche flan I ever had and I couldn’t stop thinking about it even when I returned to California…”

I’m remembering that summer day in Cebu, trying hard to recall if I claimed to have made the leche flan. I’m certain I didn’t; I wouldn’t have lied about that. But I’m jumping ahead of the story. Let me back track.

During the summer of 1966 I was in the Island of Cebu. I loved Cebu. I was born and raised there, but my widowed mother had transferred me to Manila for my high school and college studies since she worked there. Manila was crowded, dusty, noisy, and the lifestyle was more hectic than Cebu’s. When the holidays came around I couldn’t wait to take the plane South to return home to Cebu. I loved our home there; I savored the quiet slower pace of life. And there were my friends, and food — I couldn’t wait to eat Cebuano food. I found Tagalog food too strong — too salty or too sour, too bitter, too intense. Cebuano food was more subtle, more flavorful. There was a directness and simplicity to the dishes: kinilaw, lechon, grilled fish, roasted chicken. The delicacies especially were wonderful: scrumptious rich tortas, soft buttery ensaimadas, crispy Titay’s Rosquillos cookies, and other delicacies that contribute to Cebu’s culinary fame.

That summer I did what I always did in past summers: I slept in, a luxury I could never do in Manila since it took me an hour each way to get to school and so I had to be up by 5:30 a.m. In Cebu, I could loll around until past 8 and by around 8:30 a.m. I was having breakfast with my brother and his family. Even though my fried eggs, over-easy, were somewhat cold, I loved the fried chorizo--Cebuano, scrumptious sausages special-ordered from the old woman who had made them for my grandparents. It was like that in Cebu — we had our favorite vendor for food like tableya Chocolate, bibingka, budbud kabog, even chicharon. The chorizos we got were huge and plump and glistened red-brown with the lard rendered from pork fat. Remember this was in the 60s before we thought of cholesterol; the chorizos were heavenly. Sometimes the cook prepared fried dried fish, such as dangit, small, crispy, salty, and as sinful as a potato chip.

After breakfast, I read or played with my nieces and nephews or did errands with my brother or sister-in-law, just for the ride. Soon it was lunchtime, which was an elaborate affair with several courses. Soup could be malanggay soup with chicken, followed by fried crablets, estofado, pork adobo, rice, and seasonal fruit or something more sinful like sansrival or leche flan. Hmmm – leche flan – our cook Menggay made the lightest, creamiest, tastiest flan in the entire world – but more of that later on.

After lunch, instead of taking siesta as the other members of the family did, I usually took off to see my cousin and friends. The seven of us (we actually called ourselves the Magnificent Seven) would either hang around in someone’s house where we practiced putting on makeup or fussed with our hair, or we would go see a movie. Afterwards, we had merienda in someone’s house — favorites were fried bananas or linusak (plantains pounded and mixed with brown sugar) or ginataan (plantains, sweet potatoes, langka and other fruit and roots cooked in coconut milk). As I write this now, I wonder how we managed to remain trim. It must have been the dancing we did at night, because practically every night, we were out to a party or to a club, dancing until 2 or 3 in the morning.

It was in one of these parties where I met my future husband. To be exact, we were in the Casino Español, and everyone who was anyone in Cebu was there. Earlier that day, our group had gone to the beauty parlor, had put on makeup, wore our flashiest dresses, and there we sat around a table in the second floor of the Casino Español, trying to appear sophisticated. We were silly of course, and young and prone to giggling fits at the slightest provocation, and it was during one of these giggling moments, when someone tapped me on my right shoulder. I turned and saw the tallest American I had ever seen. He was nice-looking, with reddish-brown hair. I didn’t know whether to talk to him or ignore him.

At this point, let me explain my ambivalence: in 1966 the Vietnam War was going on and nearby Mactan Island had an American base. This meant that American soldiers were all over Cebu. Our mothers warned us to stay away from the soldiers; however we were allowed to socialize with the American Peace Corps Volunteers. Our mothers felt sorry for the young volunteers who lived in remote towns without running water and electricity, and who seemed devoted to their duties of teaching or doing community work. We saw them tramping through the streets, riding jeepneys and buses to get to places, and couldn’t help but be touched by the sight of them.

Lauren extended his right hand, and I stared at it. It was my cousin’s boyfriend, Pete, an American Peace Corps Volunteer who solved my dilemma. “That’s Lauren, another volunteer,” Pete said. That meant it was all right for me to greet him. I took his hand, but — and to this day I have no idea why it happened — words escaped me: “Pleased me to meet you,” I said. I shook my head, tried to correct myself, but he already had me out on the dance floor. He stood 6’5” and I stood 5’4” — everyone watched, and a number of girls were snickering. I felt self-conscious, embarrassed, but Lauren was funny and cute, and so I did not mind dancing with him again.

He was based in another island, in Maasin, Leyte, but when he was in the city, he hung out with us. Then curiously, near the end of the summer, we didn’t see him. He simply vanished. We speculated he found a girl friend. I felt awful about this, but tried not to show my unhappiness. The truth is I missed him terribly; I’d grown accustomed to his stories and jokes.

It was Pete who informed us that Lauren was in the hospital. “What happened? What happened?” we gushed. Pete said something about surgery on his leg. Then we started to feel sorry for this young American, away from his home, alone in the hospital, waiting for surgery.

We decided to visit him. Just as we were leaving, I saw that our cook Menggay had a couple of platters of her famous leche flan in the kitchen. I grabbed one and brought it with us to the hospital. The seven of us marched into that hospital room that reeked of alcohol. There Lauren lay, on that cold steel hospital bed, with one leg hoisted up on some contraption. The doctors had cut into his leg. There is nothing more pathetic-looking than a huge man lying helpless on a hospital bed with his leg dangling up in the air. I imagined how miserable I would have felt if I were sick and helpless in a foreign country. I could have wept. I was so caught up feeling sorry for him that my cousin had to nudge me to give him the flan. He perked up; he tried to sit up to take a good look at the flan. It was a beautiful golden brown flan; a masterpiece. He beamed and smiled at me gratefully. He didn’t look as fallen as he had when we had walked in. I have no recollection of what I said that day. I don’t believe I claimed to have made the flan myself. But Lauren’s memory is that I made it, and to this day, he insists that I said I made that flan. “You wooed me under false pretenses,” he jokes.

Years later, when we were married and living in San Francisco where he was a law student, he kept badgering me to make leche flan. We were young and poor and lived in an apartment house directly across the Levi Strauss factory in the Mission District. He attended Hastings School of Law, and I worked as an Executive Secretary at McCormick-Schilling Corporation on Montgomery Street. “I can’t; I don’t have the leche flan mold,” I said, excusing myself. The truth is that beyond frying hamburgers, I could barely cook — I don’t know why he had not noticed that and still nurtured the belief that I could actually make leche flan. I never cooked when I lived in the Philippines; our cooks did all of that.

“Oh,” he said, “discouraged. “Maybe you can find it here.”

“I don’t think so,” I replied.

When we had a son and I brought him to the Philippines for a visit, he reminded me, “Be sure and find the flan mold.”

Back in Cebu, I made it a point to ask our cook Menggay for her leche flan recipe. She turned coy and with a smile said, “It’s very easy, some eggs, milk, sugar, that’s all.” She was an ageless, plain woman, who usually wore a scowl, and who now had a vile little smile.

“But what do you do with them?” I insisted.

“You mix them together, and then you double boil it, that’s all.”

I wasn’t getting anywhere, so the next time she prepared leche flan, I made it a point to stand right beside her to observe her. True enough, she mixed 4 eggs, 1 can of evaporated milk, 1 cup sugar, some vanilla, and did she throw in another cup of water? And then she placed sugar at the bottom of an empty metal Magnolia ice cream can, which she held over a low flame to carmelize the sugar into a rich golden brown. Afterwards, she poured in the mixture and placed the can in another container with water. She double boiled it for around 40 minutes. She tested it by pricking the flan with the tip of a knife; when it pulled out clean, it was done. After allowing the flan to cool, she got a knife, ran it between the pan and flan, to separate the flan. Then she placed a serving platter over the can, and flipped it, so the flan would fall onto the platter, bottom-side up. It looked like some kind of sunset; it was breathtaking.

That seemed simple enough, and backat home in the States, I bravely informed my husband I would be making leche flan. “You found the mold,” he said, happily.
I held up the Magnolia ice cream metal can.

“That’s the ice cream container in the Philippines,” he said, with a tinge of disappointment.

“That’s what we use.”

“Oh,” he said, “I thought the flan mold was a special dish or something.”

I did my best to imitate Menggay. I carmelized the sugar, burning my hand while doing so; I double boiled it; and I flipped the flan onto a pretty platter. The flan was a disaster. It didn’t look anything like Menggay’s at all. My carmelized sugar was too dark so the entire top of the flan was muddy brown. The worse part was that the texture of the flan was not right; it was bubbly and grainy, not smooth and creamy like Menggay’s.

Lauren took one look at it and said, “You didn’t make that flan, did you?” He looked disappointed.

“It’s a bit burned, but it’s okay,” I said, scraping off the burned top of the flan.

“I mean, you didn’t make that flan when I was in the hospital.”

“I never said I did.”

“But you said you did.”

I shook my head emphatically. “I didn’t know how to boil an egg. The cook did all the cooking.”

“The cook? Menggay? Menggay made the flan?”

“Of course Menggay made it.”

He looked sadder still and I became sad with him. I hadn’t realized how important that flan had been to him. Clearly it meant something greater than the flan itself; and what this meaning was I had no idea. I’m not sure he could have verbalized it either. In its simplest form, this was it: in 1966, he was young, and sick and alone, in a foreign country, and a young woman had given him this perfect delicious flan, and it had made life better for him. It was probably then when my lifelong love affair with leche flan began. I resolved I would learn how to make good flan.

It was my cousin, Manny, who considered himself something of a gourmet cook, who told me to do away with the Magnolia can and use small custard pyrex dishes – “Throw it out, I never want to see this again!” He taught me how to carmelize sugar in a pan and pour it onto the dishes. He also taught me to double boil for around 35 minutes. My presentation was great; and the texture and appearance of my flan improved a lot. It soon became my specialty. Indeed it was a favorite among my family and friends, especially during holidays.

I had another breakthrough when our family went on a holiday to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. We were staying at a multi-level seaside mansion called Villa Tres Vidas, where we had our own driver and cook, courtesy of the wealthy Newport Beach owner of the mansion. One evening the Mexican cook made leche flan. I was certain it would be inferior to mine and was surprised (and humbled) to discover it was better. Using my broken Spanish, I extracted her recipe: 4 eggs, 1 cup condensed milk, 1 cup evaporated milk, 2 tablespoons vanilla, sugar to carmelize the bottom of the container. Leche Flan Villa Tres Vidas became a family favorite until I had another breakthrough.

This event happened when Lauren had a bad bout of flu. To cheer him up I offered to make leche flan. Cranky, with stuffy nose, and a horrible cough, he grumbled and said he probably couldn’t taste it all. “But, go ahead,” he said.

I had the den TV on to the cooking show channel while I gathered my materials in the kitchen. I was about to crack the eggs when I overheard the program host talk about – of all things - leche flan. I leaned over the counter so I could watch TV better. It was a Vietnamese woman and she was talking about a custard made in Vietnam that was almost exactly like my Leche Flan Villa Tres Vidas. The only difference was that coconut milk took the place of evaporated milk. Right then and there, I ran to the market, bought a can of coconut milk so I could follow her recipe. The result was wonderful! This was the best flan I had ever made: smooth, creamy, and incredibly light. My husband was in bed, coughing and somewhat feverish when I presented the flan. Cranky as he was, he lit up when he saw the perfect golden top. “Go ahead, try it,” I urged him. He did and smiled broadly. “Hmmm, it’s pretty good,” he said, giving his imprimatur to this new recipe.The Vietnamese version is now the favorite among my family and friends. But regardless, I’m always on the lookout for another recipe. In fact I have another leche flan recipe I have to try, one with coffee in it.

(2006 - This article is part of a collection of food essays, by Anvil. Above pictures show Lauren and Cecilia in Devin, Bratislava, and 1967 photos of Lauren as a Peace Corp Volunteer in the Philippines.)

Read also:
Cooking with Cecilia Brainard - Quiche
Cooking with Cecilia Brainard - Linguine with Clams
Cooking Lengua Estofada
Food Essay - Fried Chicken Caribbean-style
How I Learned to Make Leche Flan (or How I Met my Husband)
Cooking with Cecilia - Leche Flan (Vietnamese Style) 
Recipe of Balbacua Cebuana from Louie Nacorda
Easy Filipino Recipes from Maryknollers
Cooking with Cecilia - Beef Bourguignon
Cooking with Cecilia - Chicken Soup for my Bad Cold 

The Rats and James Dean's Porsche 
The Schools I attended, Part 1, St.Theresa's College
The Schools I attended, Part 2, UP & Maryknoll
The Schools I attended, Part 3, UCLA

Saying Goodbye to Papa
Where the Daydreaming Came From 
Death of a Carnival Queen

 tags: food, wine, cooking, recipes, love, family, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, leche flan


(Concepcion Cuenco Manguerra collapsed on November 7, 2002, and was on life support until her heart gave way on December 1, 2002, in Makati, Manila)*
BY the time I was aware of things, my mother, Concepcion Cuenco Manguerra, had shed her Carnival-Queen ways, mostly because of circumstances – marriage, children, World War II, and my father’s death – one could not be frivolous under those conditions. But at nineteen, she had been a beauty queen – Cebu’s Carnival Petit Queen of 1931 - a title that conjures glamour, power, and the romantic notion of a bygone era.

In our ancestral house in Cebu, the picture of her as Carnival Queen sat on top of our piano. It was encased in an elaborate antique brass frame, and although the picture had faded so the colors were dominated by sepia and brown, I could still discern my mother’s face – round, youthful, with a fresh smile, with some coyness in her expression. She looked alien to me. By the time I paid attention to this picture, my father had died and my mother had surrendered the persona of “Beauty Queen” for “Widow.” For the rest of her life, she referred to herself as the “pobreng viuda” – the poor widow - words that sometimes evoked mirthful giggles from her four children who knew her well. We knew that despite her martyr-expression and sighs, she was quite a tough women and entrepreneur.

My mother was born February 18, 1912, in Cebu and she grew up in the Parian District. She told me stories, especially in her later years, and she used to say that the family home in Colon Street was chaotic and noisy. The men were always arguing; and the printing press shook the entire house. The men she referred to were: Mariano Jesus (her father who later became Senate President), Jose Maria (her uncle who later became Archbishop of Jaro), and Miguel (who became a Reprentative). And the printing press was the Imprenta Rosario, started by my great-grandfather Mariano Albao Cuenco and later managed by his young wife Remedios upon his death.

Aside from having a passion for the written word, my mother’s family also had political aspirations. Right around the time of my mother’s birth, my grandfather (Mariano Jesus Cuenco) embarked on a political career, first as an assemblyman, then governor, senator, cabinet member, and at the highest point of his career senate president.

My grandfather was governor of Cebu when my mother became Carnival Queen in 1931. The karnabal, or carnival, which had its roots during the American rule in the Philippines, started as a series of trade fairs, and part of the festival activities included selecting a queen and her court, a tradition that captured the imagination of the public and which quickly dominated the annual trade fairs. Cebu, like Manila, had its own carnivals. Cebu hired the company of Churchill and Tait, which provided a circus, animal shows, and thrill rides. Festivities went on for fifteen days, during which time the candidates for queen participated in various public events. Coronation night was the culminating point of the entire carnival.

I have no doubt that being a Carnival Queen was one of the happiest moments of my mother’s life. Surprisingly she didn’t talk much about it. She was too busy being a wife and mother, and after my father died, was overwhelmed at being responsible for four children. The only reminder in our household that she had been Carnival Queen was that solitary picture on the piano. I learned about her “beauty queen status” from other people who even in the 1960s still marveled over her coronation. They talked about my mother’s fabulous gowns, in particular a mermaid outfit decorated with large coins, and made by a Spanish couturier. There too was Mama’s handsome coronation consort; and people always clucked over their thwarted romance. People regretted that most pictures of my mother as Carnival Queen had been destroyed during the war.

It was not until I was a grown woman that my mother talked to me about those carnival days. Sometimes, she mentioned her handsome consort. Apparently he kept a huge picture of himself and my mother hanging in his living room until his daughter took the picture down. “I saw him at the dentist, and he begged me for a copy of that picture,” my mother related. “I told him, ‘Don’t be silly, that was so long ago.’” But in her face I saw a glimmer of that nineteen-year-old, and I could imagine again her headiness at being young, the beautiful daughter of the governor, and being Carnival Queen.

In her ninety years of life, my mother did many things and accomplished much. She became a real estate tycoon; she loved her children and grandchildren; she loved to travel; she loved home-cooked Cebuano meals; she liked movies (“Pretty Woman” was a favorite); and she had many friends from all walks of life.

When she was no longer young, my mother enjoyed being the queen of various service groups, and we have numerous pictures of her wearing ternos and with a crown on her head. Music and dancing was something of a passion. Before dance instructors became fashionable, she already had dance instructors. Even when she was deep in her eighties, she moved and twirled so gracefully. No matter how chaotic her life was, there was always some serenity in her when she was on the dance floor.

Reflecting on it, perhaps while dancing my mother imagined herself as the nineteen-year-old Carnival Queen once again, when things seemed perfect, when Life had not yet touched her. For indeed Life had much to offer my mother, with its ups and downs, and pains and joys, but while she was Carnival Queen, even for just a short while, Life was good.

Go in peace and rest now, dearest Mother!

(This article by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard appeared in Sunstar Weekend, Cebu, December 15, 2002 and Filipinas Magazine, USA, April 2003. Above pictures show Concepcion Cuenco as Cebu's Carnival Petit Queen of 1931)


tags: Cebu, Philippines, history, travel, Cecilia Brainard, Concepcion Cuenco Manguerra, Cuenco Family

Sunday, March 11, 2007


(Note: This article was written in 1998, before Katrina)
MY fascination with the city of New Orleans goes beyond the Mardi Gras festival, although I must admit that I’d gotten a glow looking at the pictures of the fanciful floats and happy people in costumes and feathered masks. A dozen years ago, I had read that the first Filipinos in the United States were galleon seamen who jumped ship in Mexico and later found their way to Louisiana back in 1765. A Filipina living in New Orleans, Marina Espina Estrella, had corrected the historical misconception that the first Filipinos in America settled in the West Coast in 1903.

The first time I visited New Orleans a decade ago, I interviewed Marina who is Full Librarian at the University of New Orleans. I learned that these “Manilamen” married Cajun women, started the shrimp-drying industry, traded at the French market in the Quarter, and fought with Jean Lafitte in the Battle of New Orleans. They formed communities called “Manila Village” and “St. Malo.” Having left the Philippines in 1969 to settle in California, I felt a connection with these “Manilamen.”

That first trip to New Orleans was a rushed visit; my husband and I were there for four days on one of those great package tours you couldn’t refuse. We lived just outside the French Quarter, in an aging once-elegant hotel - part of the package deal. Aside from dining with Marina, we took a ferryboat ride up the Mississippi to see the site of the Battle of New Orleans. We toured the Garden District and scoured the French Quarter. The Quarter, the old section of New Orleans and tourist spot, is the area that the Frenchman, Bienville, had staked out at the curve of the Mississippi River for France in 1718.

Recently, my husband and I visited New Orleans. Because of a convention, we had difficulty finding an hotel room and in a fit of desperation I checked the internet, punching in “New Orleans Lodging.” Miraculously we found “Bed and Breakfast and Beyond,” and ended up in a huge suite in a three-story mansion built in the 1850s and fully restored with antiques and a delicious dripping three-tiered fountain on the patio.

The house even had ghosts, three of them - a 16-year old girl who had hung herself during the American Civil War, and a gay couple who had quarrelled and shot themselves. That was perfect as far as I was concerned; New Orleans and ghosts go together. Even though I did not experience any ghostly encounter during our stay, I walked around that house in a childlike state, expecting some ethereal appearance, or moan, or clatter - but no such luck.

When a girlfriend heard about her trip, she confessed that she hates New Orleans; she hates the seediness, the edge, the aura of danger, the Gothic quality of this old city. I think all these are part of the enchantment of the place. It’s no accident that Anne Rice, the author of Interview of a Vampire and other spooky novels, lives in a mansion in the Garden District of New Orleans.
After dinners, when my husband and I walked around the old narrow streets of the Quarter, I would suck in my breath at the sight of pale gaunt people lurking under the flickering gas-lit lamps. And whenever horse-drawn carriages came clopping by, with their drivers wearing dark flowing capes and huge felt hats, I thought of Anne Rice. I wondered if she copied New Orleans people or if the people mimicked her characters. Anne Rice has, by the way, an enormous fake police dog looking down from her second-story balcony; real dogs patrol her yard. And yes, her mansion is reportedly haunted.

Natives of the place pronounce New Orleans “nor-luns,” and Burgundy Street is pronounced “bur-GUN-dee street.” New Orleans is one of few American cities that is multicultural and multilingual. American Indians were the first settlers. The French showed up, and undaunted by the yellow fever that killed many, carved a city out of the swamp land fronting the Mississippi. African slaves were brought to work the plantations in the late 1700s, then the Spaniards had a 41-year turn at running the place. It was because of this Spanish connection that Filipinos have a history in New Orleans.

The Americans took over New Orleans in 1803. The Irish and Italians also migrated to the area. Then in 1861, the “battle of the Northern Aggression” as our tour guide said, occurred; he meant the Civil War.

So there you have it: patois, Cajun, and English are some of the languages spoken by the people; Cafe Du Monde serves heavenly beignets with cafe au lait; street signs are in Spanish and in French; there are buildings of stucco and brick with balconies of intricate iron grillwork like lace; and on the outskirts, antebellum homes hearken plantation days.

St. Louis Cathedral is walking distance from the site of the house of the voodoo queen, Marie Laveau. Marie Laveau, it is said, went to church at St. Louis. She is buried in St. Louis Cemetery I. We went there and saw crosses and other inscriptions on her grave marker. In front, there were lighted candles and offerings of food from voodoo practicioners asking for her intercession. Voodoo practicioners also visit Our Lady of Guadalupe Church to pray to the statue of St. Expedite because he “delivers.” In fact there is no saint by that name. When the church was being built, some statues arrived in big crates. One of these was an unidentified statue with a sign on the box that said “Expedite.” And thus did St. Expedite come to be.

In the Quarter, the Ursuline Convent stands as the solitary French building because of a fire in the late 1700s. The other buildings in the Quarter have Spanish architecture. The Ursuline nuns, people relate, had prayed during the Big Fire, and a wind came along and shifted the fire away from the convent. These same nuns had prayed for Jean Lafitte’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans.

On Pirate’s Alley, a stone’s throw from St. Louis Cathedral, stands the house where William Faulkner lived in when he wrote his play Soldier’s Toy; it’s now a bookstore. A couple of blocks away is the house where Tennessee Williams wrote A Streetcar Named Desire; one can almost hear Stanley bellowing from the second story “Stella!” To my disappointment, there is no streetcar named Desire.

But there is little in New Orleans that causes disappointment. There are endless nooks and crannies to explore - an interesting brick courtyard, an unusual “cupid-design” iron grillwork, a “fish” water spout, a clump of lush banana trees, a voodoo museum, the building where Andrew Jackson and Jean Lafitte met, bookstores, antique shops, jewelry shops, poster shops. There’s famous Bourbon Street where many bars have live music, mostly jazz because New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz. Preservation Hall, training ground for early jazz players, still holds jazz performances. And it is quite legal to walk around the Quarter with alcoholic drinks in your hands, so long as these are in plastic cups - beer and Daiquiris are favorites. There is an eternal Mardi Gras atmosphere along Bourbon Street.

You can take a trip to a plantation, explore swamps, or take a ferry ride on the Mississippi River. You can gawk at the fabulous mansions at the Garden District, go antiquing on Magazine Street, and indulge in world-famous restaurants - Nola’s, Antoine’s, Broussard’s, Galatoire’s, K-Paul’s. And don’t forget the downhome Praline Connection for mouth-watering fried chicken, jambalaya, and gumbo. (A favorite pasttime in New Orleans is planning where to go for your next meal.)

The list is endless. Four days was not enough to explore everything; but it was enough time to see another world as well as imagine another time and place. New Orleans feels familiar to me. Everywhere I went, I got the feeling I knew the place, a kind of deja vu.

Mark Twain, or someone said, the similarity between New Orleans and Asia is that in both places people eat rice and worship their ancestors. It’s that, and more, that I pick up.


FOR years I believed what many people probably still say today, and that is that the Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, sailing for Spain, discovered the Philippines. Magellan was the first person to circumnavigate the world, I used to say. Only as a grown woman did I stop to think that Magellan had not "discovered" the Philippines; people had lived in the archipelago for centuries before his three ships showed up - the "Trinidad," the "Victoria," and the "Concepcion" - to irrevocably change the lives of the people born there.

It also took a while before I realized that Magellan was not the first to go around the world. The first European given this credit is Juan Sebastian del Cano, one of Magellan’s crewmen who ironically had participated in an aborted mutiny against the iron-fisted Magellan, but who later led the battered "Victoria" back to Seville from where they had departed. Del Cano and seventeen others, a ragtag group, marched barefoot to the churches of Santa Maria de la Victoria and Santa Maria Antiqua to thank God that they, out of 265 men, had suvived the tortuous three-year journey.

Even longer did it take me to understand that the first documented person to circumnavigate the world was Magellan’s Malay slave. "What an amazing moment, one of the most remarkable in the history of mankind!" wrote Stefan Zweig, author of Conqueror of the Seas, a biography of Magellan. "For the first time since our planet had begun to spin upon its axis and to circle in its orbit, a living man, himself circling that planet, had got back to his homeland. No matter that he was an underling, a slave, for his significance lies in his fate and not in his personality. He is known to us only by his slave-name Enrique; but we know, likewise, that he was torn from his home upon the island of Sumatra, was bought by Magellan in Malacca, was taken by his master to India, to Africa, and to Lisbon; travelled thence to Brazil and to Patagonia; and first of all the population of the world, traversing the oceans, circling the globe, he returned to the region where men spoke a familiar tongue. Having made acquaintance on the way with hundreds of peoples and tribes and races, each of which had a different way of communicating thought, he had got back to his own folk, whom he could understand and who could understand him."
Most historical documents have assigned Enrique a background role, often summing him up as a footnote. However, if one reads between the lines one can see that Enrique was a major player in the events that took place between 1519 to 1521 in Spain, the high seas and the archipelago later called Las Islas Filipinas. My interest in Enrique lays in the fact that he spoke the same language as the people of Samar and Cebu, which in my eyes makes him my kababayan. I was, after all, born in Cebu, the land of the pintados (tattooed), a major turning point for Magellan and his crew.

Let me backtrack here and start from the beginning.

Ferdinand Magellan, also known by his Portuguese name of Fernao de Magalhaes e Sousa, was born about 1480 in Northern Portugal. At the time, the Portuguese were eager to corner the spice market. They sought a seaward route to the East Indies to transport the coveted spices from the east to Portugal. They were also engaged in an expansionist program whereby they captured trading posts along the African coasts all the way to the Far East. Magellan served in several East Indies expeditions - wars, one may more accurately say.

Several important events happened during those military forays: Magellan received several wounds, one in particular was a lance-thrust to his left knee so that he walked with a limp; second, Magellan struck a close friendship with Fernando Serrao, who later deserted the Portuguese navy to live in Ternate as captain-general of the local king. In exchange for his services as military advisor, the King of Ternate gave Serrao his own house with slaves. Serrao acquired a native wife and had children, and overall he lived an idyllic life, prompting the Zweig to comment, "Down to the day of his death, nine years later, the refugee from Western civilization never quitted the Sunda Islands, being not perhaps the most heroic, but probably the wisest and the happiest of the conquistadors and capitanos of the Great Age of Portugal."
After seven years in the East Indies, Magellan served in Africa where he and another officer had the important job of looking after the horses and cattle taken from the Moors. An incident occurred where a dozen sheep vanished and Magellan and his companion were accused of secretly reselling the sheep back to the Moors or allowing the enemy to steal the sheep. Magellan packed off to Portugal to clear his name. His encounter with the king regarding this matter and a subsequent meeting regarding his proposal to go Westward to reach the Indies were disagreeable ones. Magellan finally asked King Manuel permission to serve another country. In an act that had deep repercussions, the king did not object. After a year of quietly gathering navigational information in Lisbon, Magellan with Enrique in tow, left for Seville. There he quickly married Beatriz Barboza, who as daughter of the alcalde of the Seville arsenal and Knight of the Order of Santiago, provided Magellan the necessary connections to make his dream a reality.

Magellan’s idea was to sail west to reach the Indies, a vision inspired by his friend Serrao’s enthusiasm for his adopted home: "I have found here a new world, richer and greater than that of Vasco da Gama." Serrao’s letters gave precise geographical and statistical information about the Sunda Islands, which triggered in Magellan the thought that perhaps it was closer to go westward, instead of eastward, from Portugal to reach these same islands. It was this proposal that he parlayed to the Spaniards; and Magellan being the thorough person that he was had even astonished the Privy Council, a group of four councillors of the King of Spain, by presenting Enrique, a woman from Sumatra, and a pair of "Orientals," the sight of whom made the fabled Spice Islands that much closer acccessible to the Spaniards.

The Spaniards financed the journey, not out of love for this Portuguese navigator whom many perceived as a traitor to his own country, but out of love for money. So expensive were spices in Europe that peppercorn was worth its weight in silver and was sold corn by corn. The way politics were at that time, Portugal owned the East, and Spain owned the West. If Spain could find a backdoor to the East via the West, well, they would have followed the rules and still get their spices. Magellan’s proposal was accepted but to check the Portuguese navigator, four high-ranking Spaniards were assigned captains of four of the five ships.

On August 10, 1519, the flagship "Trinidad" along with the "San Antonio," "Victoria," "Santiago," and "Concepcion" sailed down the Guadalquivir Canal and on to the Atlantic. Members of the crew included Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, Greek, Catalan, German; and two Malays (one of them Enrique). With a few exceptions, the crew was a rough, uneducated bunch, who basically had little to lose. "Weeks and weeks had passed before they had been gathered from the alleys and the taverns. They arrived in rags, dirty and undisciplined," wrote Zweig.
Surprisingly, one of the passengers was an Italian nobleman, Antonio Pigafetta, around 28 years of age, whose wanderlust compelled him to join the expedition. Most of what we know about that historic trip came from Pigafetta who was like a camera recording what transpired, in his famous journals.

One of the more monumental events that occurred was the mutiny led by the Spanish captains. Early in the trip, Magellan had been warned that the Spanish leaders would mutiny if they did not get their way. At Port San Julian, off the coast of South America, they staged their rebellion and demanded to turn back. Magellan dealt with the matter swiftly and surely. Pigafetta summed up the event in a few lines:

"We remained about five months in the port of Saint Julian. And as soon as we had entered the port, the captains of the other four vessels treacherously wanted to kill the Captain General. And they were Juan de Caragena, the treasurer Luis de Mendoza, Antonio de Coca, and Gaspar de Quesadea. The treachery having been discovered, the Treasurer was killed (by dagger blows) and quartered. Gaspar de Quesada was beheaded and quartered. Juan de Cartagena was left behind in Patagonia with a priest."
Very slowly, very painfully, the journey continued. They lost one ship, another abandoned them, and down to three ships, they traversed the "paso" - the Strait of Magellan - on to the huge body of water they called Pacific because of its unrelenting tranquility. Pigafetta reported: "We sailed out from this strait into the Pacific Sea on the 28th of November in the year 1520, and we were three months and twenty days without eating anything (i.e., fresh food), and we ate biscuit, and when there was no more of that we ate the crumbs which were full of maggots and smelled strongly of mouse urine. We drank yellow water, altready several days putrid. And we ate some of the hides that were on the largest shroud to keep it from breaking and that were very much toughened by the sun, rain and winds. And we softened them in the sea for four or five days, and they we put them in a pot over the fire and ate them and also much sawdust. A mouse would bring half a ducat or a ducat. The gums of some of the men swelled over their upper and lower teeth, so that they could not eat and so they died. And nineteen men died from that sickness..."

They came upon two barren islands, which offered them nothing and which they called the Unfortunate Islands; but they had better luck on March 6, when they found a lush island, which they called Ladrones (Guam) because the natives stole their things. It had never occurred to Magellan that they too were guilty of stealing, that the very notion of splitting the world into two - one-half for Portugal, the other half for Spain, that they were "ladrones" all the same; and so with vengeance, Magellan and 40 men taught the natives a bitter lesson. They burned a village of 40 or 50 houses and killed people. "When our men hit some of them with arrows that passed through their flanks from one side to the other, they pulled out the arrows so that they could look at them; and when they had pulled them out they wondered greatly and so they died," - from Pigafetta again.

March 16, 1521, was the day they hit Samar, which was populated with friendly people. Refreshed and delighted at the "reasonable" natives, they proceeded to explore the surrounding islands, which Magellan named the Archipelago of San Lazarus, but which was later renamed the Philippines.

And now we come to the part of the story where Enrique plays an important role. Despite his lowly position, Enrique was probably the man closest to Magellan. Acquired by Magellan when he was only 16 or 17, Enrique had spent over a decade as Magellan’s companion. When Magellan was one of the conquerors of Malacca in 1511, there was Enrique; when he was disgraced in Africa, there was Enrique; when he returned to Lisbon and was so poor he had to endure a lot of redtape to increase his pension by a few marvedis, there was Enrique; when he went to Seville to play the necessary game to get his expedition financed, there was Enrique; and when he finally sailed westward to waters and lands unknown, there was Enrique.

The slave/master relationship must have diminished in time, so that Magellan, before leaving Seville, wrote in his last will and testament: "I declare and ordain that from the day of my death thenceforward for ever, my captured slave Enrique, mulatto, native of the city of Malacca, of the age of twenty-six years more or less, shall be free and manumitted, and quit, exempt, and relieved of every obligation of slavery and subjection, that he may act as he desires and thinks fit; and I desire that of my estate there may be given to the said Enrique the sum of ten thousand maravedis in money for his support; and this manumission I grant because he is a Christian and that he may pray to God for my soul."

On March 28, by Pigafetta’s reckoning, the explorers came to an island where Enriquez could understand the people’s language and be understood as well. "They saw a fire on the island," Pigafetta recorded, "and they saw a small boat, and eight men in it, which approached the Captain’s ship, and a slave from Samatra, which is called Traporbane, being in the Captain’s ship, spoke, and they understood at once, and quickly came to the port of the ship, and did not want to board her."

This was a landmark moment not only to him but also to Magellan who must have realized how close he was to reaching the Spice Islands and who understood the historic significance of his journey.

History books give little information about Enriquez, but he had probably been yanked away from his village by slave traders when he was young. For centuries, slave traiders sailing in their prahus raided coastal villages and kidnapped people, some of them mere babies. They were sold in slave markets in the same way Enriquez was sold in Malacca. As Magellan’s slave, he travelled far from his own people to places where the weather, people, and foods were alien to him. How strange he must have felt when Europeans looked at him as if he were an exotic or a freak. How cold he must felt when the clammy Iberian winters came. How surprised to note that Europeans rarely bathed unlike his own people who bathed daily in rivers and in the sea. How lonely he must felt when he found no one of his own kind to talk to.

When they crossed the Pacific, and even before they reached the Ladrones, he must have sensed a shift in humidity, a change in weather, signalling that they were entering the tropics; memories of his past must have drifted back to him. When he saw the people of Guam, his pulse must have quickened at the sight of their brown faces; and in Samar when at last he met people with whom he could converse with, his happiness must have been boundless.

They were "handsome people," wrote Pigafetta about the people in Samar. "They go about naked and painted (tattooed), they wear a piece of tree-cloth over their shameful parts. The women are clothed from the waist down, with black hair reaching the ground. Their ears are pierced and full of gold. All day long these people chew a fruit that they call areca, and it is like a pear...And when they have chewed it well, they spit it out, and it makes their mouths red."
Using Enrique as interpreter, Magellan inquired where the best place was to stock-up on food and supplies. The local kings named three places, one of them (and the largest) Cebu.

Magellan and his crew went there. "On the seventh day of April at midday, we entered the port of Zubu (Cebu), passing by many villages, and seeing many houses on tree trunks, and we approached the city. And the Captain ordered to ships to approach, and to lower their sails and arrange themselves in battle formation and to fire all their guns. Wherefore these people were greatly frightened."

Pigafetta recorded the events that led to Magellan’s death as follows:

"Instead of stocking up on their necessities and leaving for the Moluccas, Magellan and his crew tarried in Cebu where Magellan befriended the king. They exchanged gifts; they had a blood pact. The King of Cebu, called Rajah Humabon, even gave the Spaniards a place in the square to bury their dead. The Spanish crew traded their goods in Cebu’s market. Magellan talked of Christianity and insisted that the people burn their idols "made of wood, hollowed out behind...with bare arms and the feet turned up with bare legs, and a large face, with four teeth as large as boar tusks and ... painted all over."

The king, queen, and many of their subjects were baptized. The queen, by the way, received a statue of the Child Jesus, which Magellan did not perceive as an idol. This same statue exists and is revered as the Santo Nino de Cebu.

Despite the seeming acquience of the people from Cebu, a village from nearby Mactan Island refused to obey Magellan; and the Spaniards burned down that village and set up a cross there.
Shortly after, Zula, the chief of Mactan, sent one of his sons to Magellan to ask for one boatload of men to help him fight Lapulapu who refused to obey the king of Spain.

Magellan sent three boats with 60 men; and he himself would fight to teach these natives a lesson. Even though Rajah Humabon was there with 20 or 30 boats, Magellan told him to stay put and watch how Spaniards fought. The Portuguese veteran of many wars was counting on European cannons, muskets and crossbows overpowering the natives with their charred bamboo and charred pointed stakes. They had done this many times before, go ashore, burn the village, kill people, and get back on their ships; they had done it effectively at the Ladrones. There was one matter that Magellan had missed, a question of logistics. He had not figured on when low tide or high tide was in this particular island. Specifically, he was unaware that the shallow coral reefs of Mactan extended far during low tide and boats could not navigate these extremely shallow waters. The coral reefs were as good a barrier as a moat, or a high wall or cliff. Magellan discovered this fact too late, when he and his men leaped into the shallow water and had to wade a long distance so that their boats were so far away. The shooting of the muskets and crossbows from the boats were totally ineffective, a fact that Lapulapu and his 1,500 men quickly noted and which made them shout louder and hurl their weapons at Magellan.

Hoping to frighten the natives, Magellan ordered some men to burn their houses. But this only infuriated the natives further. "And so great a number came upon us that they pierced the right leg of the Captain with a poisoned arrow, wherefore he ordered that they gradually retreat, and they would follow them, and six or eight remained with the Captain. These people aimed only at their legs because they were not covered with armor. And they had so many spears, darts and stones that Magellan’s soldiers could not withstand them, and the artillery of the fleet was so far away that it could not help them. And our men withdrew to the shore, fighting all the while, even up to their knees in water, and the natives recovered their own spears four or five times in order to throw them at us. They recognized the Captain and so many assailed him that twice they knocked his sallet from his head. And he, like a good knight, continued to stand firm with a few others, and they fought thus for more than an hour and refused to retreat. An Indian threw his bamboo spear into his face and he immediately killed him with his own spear and it remained in the Indian’s body. And the Captain tried to draw his sword and was able to draw it only half way, because he had been wounded in the arm with a spear. When our men saw this they turned their back and made their way to the ships, still pursued with lances and darts until they were out of sight, and they killed their native guide," lamented the Italian who hero-worshipped Magellan.

Eight Europeans died with Magellan; four Christian Indians died from friendly fire from the Spanish ships; fifteen of Lapulapu’s men died.

What follows intrigues me and makes me wonder if the native chiefs had conspired to get rid of the European invaders, especially after hearing stories from a Moorish merchant about the horrors the Portuguese had committed in the conquer of Calicut, India, and Malacca. Enrique, one of those who had participated in the Mactan battle, had been wounded. He lay bedridden, nursing his wounds and mourning Magellan’s death, when along came Duarte Barbosa, Magellan’s brother-in-law, to command Enrique to get up and interpret for him. Barbosa, in a vile mood because of the recent disaster, told Enrique that although Magellan was dead, this did not mean he was a freeman, and that when they returned to Spain, he would have to serve Magellan’s widow Beatriz. Barbosa threatened to whip Enrique if he did go ashore as he commanded. Barbosa’s ill temper would cost him his life. Enrique, who must have known of Magellan’s last will and testament, hid his anger. Mustering whatever dignity he could, he rose and acted as if he did not mind Barbosa’s words, and then he went ashore and told Rajah Humabon that the Spaniards were planning to leave soon, but that he ought to take the Spanish ships and merchandise.

Humabon, who had been recorded by Pigafetta all along as Magellan’s ally, sent word to the Spaniards that he had ready the jewels for the King of Spain, and he invited them to eat with him. Twenty-nine crewmen walked straight into the trap, Barbosa among them. At an appointed time, Humabon ordered his men to attack the Europeans. The remaining crew, learning what was happening, prepared to sail away. It was a disgraceful hasty departure. Just as they had abandoned Magellan’s body in Mactan, they abandoned their fellow crewmen on Cebu. One of them, Jaoa Serrao, had managed to flee to the beach, where he begged his companions to ransom him, a plea that was ignored. Ony Enrique survived the massacre; and Pigafetta made note Enrique’s "treachery."

The story continued: they had to burn one more ship, "Concepcion," and they took a circuitous route to the Indies, stocked up on spices, and surprisingly the solitary ship "Victoria" that made it back to Seville on September 8, 1511, still made money from its spice cargo.

But what happened in Cebu and Mactan? Something more happened than was apparent to Pigafetta. My premise is that, the chieftains of Cebu and Mactan did not want to the Spaniards there. Magellan had arrived shooting bombards and swinging his weight; he had refused to pay the customary tribute to Humabon; he had forced the people to get rid of their old religion; his men had raped local women; all in all they had conducted themselves in a barbaric way and, playing the diplomat, Humabon had gritted his teeth, hoping they would leave soon for the Moluccas or wherever their destination was. Seeing that they were hanging around and had even burned a village in Mactan, and warned by the Moorish merchant of Portuguese barbarity, Humabon and other chiefs had pulled their forces together and duped Magellan and his men into that coral reef trap. One thousand five hundred men waited for Magellan and his men - this large number was a result of an amalgam of armies from the various chiefs, not one chief’s army.
How surprising that Humabon, supposedly an ally of Magellan, had not warned the Portuguese about the tides and coral reefs; how surprising the massacre the day after Magellan’s death; how interesting the display of hatred for the religion forced on them by the Portuguese: "Our men see from the ships that the beautiful cross which they had hoisted on a tree was hurled to the ground, and kicked to pieces by the savages with great fury," reported Maximilian of Transylvania, who recorded another historical account of the famous journey.

As far as Enrique was concerned, I suspect he may have sensed that Humabon had not been a true friend to Magellan. He may have warned Magellan, but Portuguese arrogance may have gotten the better of the navigator who may have said, wait and see how he, Magellan, would bend the will of Humabon and his people. Perhaps Enrique may even have believed that Humabon had been bullied into compliance; but when his master was slain on the shores of Mactan, Enrique understood it all. After the battle, he assessed the situation, which was: Magellan and the whole lot of them had been tricked by the local people; but Enrique also knew that the Spanish crew had not been nice, that they had kidnapped and killed people, raped women; and he knew that if he continued on that journey, he would be probably die from the incompetence of the new captain, and if he did make it back to Seville, what faced him was a life of slavery for Beatriz. Cold dreary winters; cold harsh words; Barbosa had already given him a sample with his screaming and threatening to beat him. No thank you, must have been Enrique’s conclusion. And so he left the "Trinidad" and went ashore and threw his lot on the people who were more kin to him that those he had just left behind, and he made his deal with Humabon.

Was it treachery? Or was it a matter of survival? Was it nationalism? It all depends what your point of view is in terms of assessing the actions of those peoples in Cebu and Mactan and Enriquez. As one descended from those "Pintados" I look at the events of 1521 as early resistance to foreign domination. It was not petty tribal warfare that killed Magellan and drove the Spaniards away, but a concerted military effort by people who did not wish to be subjugated.
Of course another question enters my mind: why have historians always referred to Magellan’s death as a result of his involvement in tribal warfare? Was it very difficult for Pigafetta and other Western historians to consider that Magellan had been outwitted by the peoples of Cebu and Mactan, that in fact the people there had not wanted Spanish presence from the very start? Was it too humiliating to say that what occurred was a real battle, a war, the local people versus the Spaniards, and that in this battle, the Spaniards lost? Or was it a political manuever to say that the people welcomed them and Catholicism so that they could more easily finance future expeditions to the Philippines?

I leave it up to the readers to reflect and answer these questions
(This article appeared in the book, Journey of 100 Years: Reflections on the Centennial of Philippine Independence (PALH, 1999)

Saturday, March 10, 2007


THE first time I visited Sagada, which is in the Cordilleras of Northern Luzon, was with my friend Elizabeth. After years of telling her back-home stories, she finally went with me to the Philippines. We were determined to see out-of-the way places. I must mention that even though Elizabeth was born in New York, she spent two years in Guatamela, on a Peace Corps stint, and her tolerance for provincial life is quite high.

Our plan was to visit Manila and Cebu, then travel to Banawe, Sagada, then Baguio, the most exotic places we could think of in the Philippines.

Without prior hotel reservations, and completely on our own, we took the bus to Banawe, traveling from midnight until early morning. The so-so bus ride, restaurant and comfort room conditions didn't faze Elizabeth one bit.

In Banawe, we found an hotel near the marketplace. It was a strange room they gave us: the shower stuck out above the toilet and flooded everything when you took a shower.

We looked at it, shrugged our shoulders and declared it didn't matter because we would only spend one night there.

We spent our day in Banawe by shopping in the marketplace, buying gorgeous woven blankets for the most part, and finally having to buy woven bags to accommodate our purchases. We also visited the section with weavers and carvings. Elizabeth took many pictures and promised many of the local people she would send them pictures; which she later did.

Our only night in Banawe was spent in the hotel's restaurant that faced some rice terraces. There was a tree nearby that was filled with fireflies; and Elizabeth and I ate our supper totally mesmerized by the flickering tree.

The next day we hired a jeep to take us to Sagada. Seven hours, the driver said. The bus driver from Manila had said it would take seven hours to get to Banawe. By this time, Elizabeth and I were getting the idea that people like to say "seven hours" for a long trip, regardless of how long it really took.

We had coffee in the hotel restaurant, forgot to pay the bill, and left with our woven bags and blankets in a jeepney with God-awful shocks.

Our driver brought us to more rice terrace sites where old people in costume wanted their pictures taken for a fee. Then we took off for Sagada.

I'd been hearing about Sagada from people, artists and writers mostly, who raved about Sagada. They talked of a fantastic waterfall; they talked of memorable hikes; of lush forests; of mysterious caves with mummies. My imagination hung on to Sagada and wove all sorts of fantasies. I swore to Elizabeth that Sagada was an enchanted place, even though I could not give her details about the place.

We drove over bumpy, unpaved, dirt road, so narrow, and so high above cliffs that tumbled down into a sea of green pines. It rained, the road now turned muddy, and several times, the jeep stalled, and I was certain we would be stuck in this unnamed mountain in the Cordilleras.

But eventually, we made it to a town called Bontoc, which had a restaurant, a bathroom that didn't flush but had a barrel of water available. It even had a museum with artifacts about the people and culture of the Cordilleras. What stays with me is the display of a dead man strapped onto a chair; it had been the custom of the ancient peoples to keep their dead that way. For weeks they sat in that chair, a spirit guard now, in front of their homes. And even when body fluids oozed out of the openings, the corpses remained. At some point, the bodies were wrapped and kept in their homes. Later the bones would be cleaned and buried in a jar.

This gruesome information lingered for quite a long time.

We should have suspected something was wrong when the restaurant owner mentioned a fiesta in Sagada; but we didn't know what that meant exactly. More precisely, we didn't know a "fiesta" meant there would be no hotel rooms available in Sagada.

"There are no more rooms," the German tourist told us when we walked into the best hotel in Sagada.

"What about ..." and we mentioned the other hotels in town.

No, all full. "I took the last room here," the German said. "You'll have to go to the hospital.

The hospital?

I looked Elizabeth and said, “We should turn back right and return to Bontoc.”

There was a little fire in her eyes when she said, "No, let's take a look at the hospital."

Our driver took us to St. Theodore's which had been built by Americans at the turn of the century.

Our driver looked energized, as if he couldn't wait to return back to Banawe and report about our goings-on. "No, I'll take your bags in," he insisted.

I was whining. I know I must have whined: Let's just turn back and go to Bontoc. I'm sure there's a room there. A hospital? What are we doing here?

Elizabeth talked to the nurse behind the desk. "Oh yes," she acknowledged, "all hotels are full. We have a room down here with only three sick people." she said.

Elizabeth and I both howled. "No!"

"Upstairs I have a room that's empty," the nurse said.

We followed her up old wooden stairs that creaked with each step. Our driver was right behind us, his eyes glinting with laughter. I really wanted to race to his jeep and get out of the hospital. Hospitals are for sick people. People die in hospitals. Hospitals are not cheerful.

The nurse opened a door and showed us a huge room, dorm-style, with around ten beds. "Here it is!" she declared.

She marched to a corner of the room and pointed out two beds. "You can sleep here." She dragged two wooden dividers to section off the two beds. "Here, this is your room," she declared.
The nurse walked off to another part of the room. I stared at the sad-looking metal beds. Just then, Elizabeth gasped.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

She was whacking one of the bed mattresses. "There's blood," she said, "on the mattress."

"Quit hitting it!" I screamed.

"And here's the bathroom," the nurse said from afar, her voice sounding like it came from the deep bowels of the earth.

"A bathroom. There's a bathroom," I said, hopefully. "Is there hot water?"

"There's running water," she replied.

I left the bloody mattresses and went to the bathroom, which was built during the turn-of-the-century. Some American missionaries had traveled deep into the interior of the Philippines and had created a then-modern building with then-modern bathroom. The watercloset was above, near the ceiling, and you had to pull the chain to flush the toilet, which was a simple hole on the ground. There was running water, but the water was ice cold.

Our driver saw all this and noted our reactions. "I have to stop by Bontoc on the way back home," he tempted.

I grabbed my bags and was ready to go to the jeep, but Elizabeth looked at the nurse and smiled, saying, "We'll take it."

And that’s really when the fun began.

First, let me tell you about our supper. We went down to the hospital cafeteria and standing in line, we looked through the window to the kitchen where we saw a couple of people struggling with a dead animal. They were scraping off the skin, cleaning it, as if for roasting. I gave it a cursory glance; roasted pig is not uncommon in the Philippines. But then Elizabeth started hyper-ventilating, “Oh my God, oh my God – it’s a dog!”

And indeed it was. In this part of the Philippines, dog is a delicacy.

The person attending to us quickly said the dog was not for the guests, but only for the local staff. In any case, Elizabeth and I made sure the pansit we ordered did not have a scrap of meat on it.

Then later, after supper and it was getting dark, Elizabeth and I decided to go to the play. We had seen a billboard announcing a play in a nearby school. Sagada is cold in the evening, and we had to wrap ourselves with the Banawe woven blankets that we had with us to keep warm. Down the stairs we went in our strange get-up, and the attending nurse and doctor looked up at us, mouths agape. “Where are you going?” the doctor asked.

“To the play,” we replied in unison.
“What play?” he asked, astonished.
“The play in the school house.”

He told us it wouldn’t be good, but undaunted Elizabeth and I walked to the school. We passed by a vendor selling fried day-old chicks -little fingersized brown things with feet and beak and little wings. Elizabeth took flash pictures of those. And then the play – it was out in the yard, with a stage and numerous chairs for the audience. It was an elaborate production, a kind of local epic story that had to do with lovers being separated. We sat down, then moved because the people in front of us sat on the backs of their chairs to be able to see the stage (and never mind the people behind them). Where we moved, a drunken man sat beside us and made an attempt to pick us up. On the way back to the hospital we had to constantly check to make sure he had not followed us.

We had originally planned to spend a couple of nights in Sagada, but as we looked at our hospital beds, and listened to the wild slamming of the shutters at night, and felt or imagined ghosts in our dorm, we decided to leave on the first bus out of Sagada. Something like 5 a.m. We were on that bus, and couldn’t wait for the driver to get us out of that place.

(Above pictures show: Cecilia Brainard, Doug Noble, Elizabeth Allen, on a 2007 trip back to the Cordilleras; and a shot of Bangaan, Banawe. The Sagada trip was around 1995)

Tags: travel, Sagada, Northern Philippines, #travel #Philippines #ceciliabrainard


I grew up in the city of Cebu, in Southern Philippines, whose claim to historical fame was that the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan was killed by Lapulapu in nearby Mactan Island. This happened in 1521, and for the next 333 years, Spain controlled the Philippine archipelago. During the turn of the century the Americans took over as the colonists of the Philippine archipelago. During World War II, the Japanese controlled the country, but somehow despite the assortment of influences, there remained a quaint Spanish colonial flavor in the place. It was something I took for granted while growing up, and only became more interested in where this Spanish flavor came from as a grown woman after my mother and most of her generation had passed on. I’ve had to turn to history books to make the connections between the past and the present.

One of the things I learned was that the Jesuits had a long and rich history in Cebu. I had known that the Jesuits had founded the Ateneo in the 1800s because the Philippine National hero Jose Rizal attended that school. But I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Jesuits had been in Cebu as early as 1595.

It was the Jesuit superior, Antonio Sedeno himself who founded a house in Cebu. Sedeno was a veteran missionary of 46. Like St. Ignatius, he had been in the military when he was young. He had gone to England as a page of the Duke of Feria when Mary Tudor was queen. On March 13, 1568, he sailed for Florida with a group of Jesuits headed by Juan Bautista de Segura. In 1572, Sedeno was the first Jesuit sent to Mexico, and it was while he was acting Rector of the college there that he was informed he was chosen as superior of the first Philippine Mission. Traveling with three companions, he sailed from Acapulco on the galleon San Martin on March 29, and arrived Manila in July. There Sedeno and his company learned Tagalog. After much hem and hawing as to whether the Manila Jesuits would head the entire Far East or the Philippines, and as to what type of work they would actually do there, the King of Spain sent an order for the Jesuits to establish a Jesuit College where they would teach not only Spanish boys but also mestizos and sons of the ruling class.

Cebu, the site of the first Spanish settlement was not forgotten, and by June 30, 1595 Sedeno himself headed a small group composed of Alonso de Humanes, Mateo Sanchez and a lay brother to Cebu for the purpose of founding a Jesuit house there. The people received them warmly and promptly donated 500 pesos to them, which they used to buy a house near the beach. The city corporation donated adjacent land adjacent for a yard and garden. The trip to Cebu had been on an uncovered sailboat, exposing the Jesuit passengers to the stormy weather for three weeks. Father Sedeno became ill and passed away in Cebu on September 2, 1595. They buried him in the domestic chapel on the ground floor of their first house, but three years later, Father Pedro Chirino transferred Sedeno’s remains to the new Jesuit church.

The Jesuits went on and founded a free primary school that taught Spanish, Visayan, and Chinese students Catholic doctrine, reading, writing, arithmetic, and deportment. Grammar was added upon the Since 1596, the Jesuits had been administering a free primary school teaching Spanish,Visayan, and Chinese students Christian doctrine, reading, writing, arthimetic, and deportment, grammar.

In 1599 the Chinese Christians built a Catholic church in the wealthy Parian district and the church was said to have been decorated with gold and silver. The Bishop of Cebu ordered the Jesuits to administer this church, which they did for a while. This was the Parian Parish church that stood at the intersections of Mabini, Espana, and Zulueta. The Jesuit convent was across the street on Mabini and Zulueta.

When I was small, my mother used to visit the Parian District of Cebu to shop from an old woman who sold chocolate tablets. I used to accompany her and sitting in our car, I used to peer out at the rundown buildings in that area. After World War II, like many other residents, my family moved inland, in the more popular residential areaa of Cebu, away from the crowded and commercial downtown section. The Parian district ceased being fashionable. But when my mother was young, the Parian had been a fashionable place where the rich and powerful people of Cebu lived. My mother and her family had lived in Colon Street, known as the oldest street in the Philippines.

The shop where my mother bought the chocolate tablets was located at the end of Colon on Mabini Street – yes, the same Mabini Street where the Jesuit convent had sat. Now the Jesuit house is a warehouse, but there are vestiges of the old convent. There is a plaque that is inscribed “1730.” And outside is an old gate that has been preserved by the current owners.

So sometime, if you are in Cebu, near the Cathedral of Cebu and the Santo Nino Basilica, take a walk to the corner of Zulueta and Binacayan, and take a look at the mossy old walls and the find the old gate (on Binacayan Road); and if you ask permission, they’ll let you in and you can see the centenary enormous structural posts and plaque inscribed 1730.

(Above picture shows the Cuenco Family who lived on Colon, the oldest Street in the Philippines. My mother is the girl standing and holding a doll, on the left side); the other picture is the Val Sandiego house in Parian, Cebu

All for now,
Cecilia Brainard

tags: travel, history, Philippines, Cebu, Parian, Jesuits, Spanish Colonial, Jesuit House