Monday, September 29, 2008


I just learned from my sister-in-law the following:

From Terry Manguerra: "Val Sandiego and some of his friends are planning a big happening on Oct. 11 with a fashion show and a musical all to be held somewhere near his house. They are trying to get the Lim Bonfing bldg. if they can manage to fix it. Ace Durano the tourism secretary and the cardinal will grace the occasion. Hope this will be the start of the Parian rehabilitation. We, of course , at the Cathedral Museum are all for it."

I'm delighted to know about this. The Zee Quarterly Magazine, a slick magazine in Cebu is also running an article of mine entitled, Life in Parian Now, with pictures of Parian sites and some women ancestors of mine.

I am so excited at the gentrification of the Parian in Old Cebu!

Top Photo shows a mural of Colon Street, on the 17th century Yap-Sandiego House;
Bottom Photo shows a painting of Colon Street in my apartment in the Parian, Cebu; it is criticized because the figures are from different historical periods, but I call the painting "The Ghosts of Colon Street."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Maryknoll College 68 classmates at home

Maryknoll College class of 1968 classmates were over for some good old Filipino comfort food and catching up.

Top photo shows: Lucy Adao McGinley, Maria Ciocon, me
Bottom Photo shows: Lucy Adao McGinley, Med Villanueva, Maria Ciocon

Friday, September 26, 2008



Michael Genelin, author of Siren of the Waters, will be doing a literary reading/book signing as follows:

October 20, 2008 - Monday, 7 p.m. - Traveler's Bookcase, 8375 West 3rd St.,323-655-0575

October 21, 2008 - Tuesday, 7 p.m. - The Mystery Bookstore, 1036-C Broxton Ave., 310-209-0415; 800-821-9017

The book is also easily available from

Michael Genelin is a graduate of UCLA and UCLA Law School and has worked for the LA District Attorney's Office. He has served with the US Department of Justice in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. He has also written for film and been an adviser to television series. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Paris.

Siren of the Waters
Michael Genelin. Soho Crime, $24 (336p) ISBN 978-1-56947-484-6
When seven women die in a van that skids off an icy highway and bursts into flames near Bratislava, Slovakia, at the start of Genelin's chilling debut, evidence suggests that the victims were murdered, pawns in a human trafficking ring. After a nightclub is blown up, Slovak police commander Jana Matinova discovers that a vicious criminal, Ivan Makine (aka Koba), may be involved in the women's deaths. The author deftly interweaves Matinova's investigation with the somewhat tragic backstory of her relationship with her husband. Past intersects with the present when Matinova has a chance meeting in Strasbourg, France, with her daughter's husband. From there, multiple murders lead to a mysterious man whose reason for the murders may be more poetic than practical. Matinova's no-nonsense personality anchors the action throughout.

Top photo shows me with Michael and Susie Genelin in Paris
Bottom photo shows Michael, Susie, and husband Lauren at an outdoor concert in Paris

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Salman Rushdie pictures

I found these pictures of me with Salman Rushdie at a PEN Conference in Barcelona. He was hiding at the time these pictures were taken. I checked the net to see if he's still hiding and got the following information:

"Rushdie won in 1988 the Whitbread Award with his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses...

"The novel was banned in India and South Africa and burned on the streets of Bradford, Yorkshire. When Ayatollah Khomeini called on all zealous Muslims to execute the writer and the publishers of the book, Rushdie was forced into hiding. Also an aide to Khomeini offered a million-dollar reward for Rushdie's death. In 1993 Rushdie's Norwegian publisher William Nygaard was wounded in an attack outside his house. In 1997 the reward was doubled, and the next year the highest Iranian state prosecutor Morteza Moqtadale renewed the death sentence...

"However, on September 1998 the Iranian government announced that the state is not going to put into effect the fatwa or encourage anybody to do so. According to interviews, Rushdie has decided to end his hiding. On February 1999 Ayatollah Hassan Sanei promised a 2,8 million dollar reward for killing the author."

Hmmmm, sounds like he still has to be careful.

Monday, September 22, 2008

US Politics and Marcos Dictatorship

I find myself growing more uncomfortable at what is going on in US politics. There are a lot of issues really, but the recent incident that made my antennae go wild is the matter of Governor Palin.

I am not comfortable with how the Republicans have insured that nothing (or very little) that is palatable about Palin is known by the public. It's a major coverup to insure that Palin's image remains tinseled. The Republics have made her off-hands to the media - what was the term they used - until the media treat her with "deference?" They limit and/or choreograph her interviews. About Troopergate, the Republicans have made sure that those who have been subpoenaed by the Senate Judiciary Committee of the Alaska investigative committee refuse to testify. McCain is well aware of the popularity and draw of Sarah Palin, and this is why he is doing everything he can to make sure she remains an attractive archetype to voters.

I've heard some people shrug the above matters as "politics" but frankly it reminds me of how Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos acted before Marcos became a fullout dictator. They controlled the media and played up their image as the "Jack and Jackie" (referring to the Kennedies) of the Philippines. In fact, the Marcos coverup of their misdeeds continued even when they were the Conjugal Dictators. Many journalists lost their lives, or jobs, or had to go into exile because they had written something that displeased the Marcoses.

What I recall with the Marcoses was that their takeover happened slowly, at least in the beginning. They controlled the media; they placed their cronies in power; they silenced the opposition; they built a strong military; they changed the constitution - and by the time the world knew what was actually going on, Marcos was entrenched as a dictator.

So, when I see the Republicans cheat during elections (I still remember how Gore "lost" that election to Bush who has essentially bankrupted this country); when I see the controlling of the media; when I see the manipulations to present a tinseled image and not the truth - I worry. I have not even mentioned Guantanamo and the human rights breaches there; and the stacking of the Supreme Court so most of them are Republicans.

All I can say is that Americans need to be vigilant and should not dismiss matters as "politics." They should be very, very jealous of their democratic system and challenge every little thing that goes contrary to democratic principles,no matter how small. The small matters that we allow to get by become big, and uncontrollable. I have seen this happen in the Philippines. What I learned is that despots are in their place because enough people allowed this to happen. I think the same can be said for any situation, whether we are referring to Hitler, Stalin, or Amin - enough people allowed them to become despots.

The American people must be very careful with what is going on.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


What is going on?????

1. In 2006, George W. Bush family bought a 98,842 acre farm in Paraguay; Bush, Sr. owns roughly 173,000 acres in the same area (Argentina;

2. In 2007, Halliburton (Cheney-connection)relocated from Houston to Dubai;

3. September 21, 2008: "A federal judge on Saturday ordered Dick Cheney to preserve a wide range of the records from his time as vice president. The decision by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in a setback for the Bush administration in its effort to promote a narrow definition of materials that must be safeguarded under by the Presidential Records Act..." - Aol News



Gallup Daily: Obama 50%, McCain 44%

September 20, 2008
Gallup Poll Daily tracking from Wednesday through Friday finds Barack Obama maintaining his lead over John McCain among registered voters, by a 50% to 44% margin.

Rasmussen Report: Obama 48%; McCain 47% - Sunday, September 21, 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008


(I found this essay in my files. This was first published in Filipinas Magazine.)
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

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Marily Orosa sent me pictures of the Anvil Booth in the book fair in Manila. Some 40 authors, Marily and I included, have their photos featured. Our picture is sandwiched between the photo of Felice Sta. Maria, looking intent and sultry, and Linda Panlilio in a formal dress. I think I have a double-chin in the picture, but Marily says, "We look nice. We look young and natural and happy and confident. No, I dont think you have double chin." Marily is my good friend, you can guess.

I'm assuming that the books Marily and I co-edited, A La Carte Food & Fiction and Behind the Walls: Life of Convent Girls are featured, plus my other books by Anvil: Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America, Cecilia's Diary, Journey of 100 Years, and Growing Up Filipino (Philippine edition).

Friday, September 12, 2008


(I found this essay in my files.)

During a recent visit to Rome I was surprised at the large number of Filipinos in St. Peter’s Basilica. In churches, metros, there were Filipinos; and at night, clusters of Filipinas sat around the Piazza di Navona, chattering away in Tagalog.

Art specialist John Silva, whom we ran into in Rome, also shared his story about being in a bus full of Filipinas on their way to work as domestics in an expensive area of Rome. We wondered where these Filipinos came from in the Philippines, why they migrated to Italy, and how they were adjusting there.

As my husband and I continued our journey through Italy, I observed these Filipinos at a distance. In a park in Florence around 30 Filipinos gathered for a picnic. They were in their thirties. Some men clustered around a table, gambling. I saw some infants and young children. Only one woman among them smiled a greeting at me; the rest ignored me. And so I simply smiled at the woman and did not talk to them. My curiosity about them was left to grow.

In Stressa however, I had the chance to talk to a Filipina. While waiting for a train for Milan, a Filipina approached me and introduced herself. Her name was Yolanda and she took care of a wealthy Italian woman who had cancer. It was Friday, and Yolanda was off for the weekend. She was on her way to Milan to join relatives and friends.

Petite and wiry, Yolanda looked ten years younger than her 53 years. She was adamant about guiding us from Stressa to Milan, stamping our train tickets for us, and telling us where to sit, and when to get off. She was starting to annoy my husband, but I saw an opportunity to interview a Filipina in Italy. She didn’t mind my questions at all; in fact she thoroughly enjoyed telling me her story.

When she was 33 years old, in Manila, her 31-year-old husband died of a heart attack. She tried supporting her four children by selling bananas and other small business ventures. She was so desperate that she considered becoming a singer/performer in Japan – a Japayuki. Her mother and other relatives discouraged her from doing so. An agent suggested that Yolanda work as a domestic in Saudi Arabia. She left Manila for Saudi on December 23. She said she was still nursing her youngest child and her breasts were full of milk. She wept all the way to Saudi. Her employers met her at the airport and brought her to their house. Her job was to take care of their children. Yolanda said, on Christmas day, she continued to cry, but even then, she added, my hands were full of grapes.

Her employers were kind, and she even had holidays in the Philippines. She was in Manila when the Persian Gulf War broke out, and she decided not to return to Saudi. The pay was not that good anyway, she added.

She still had to figure out how to support her children who were being raised by her mother. An agent suggested going to Italy. Apparently the agency could falsify an Italian visa. She was drilled well, Yolanda said. She had to know what the airports looked like, where to go, what to do. She had to dress well, to pass for a tourist.

In France, the French immigration officials questioned and delayed her. They finally released her when she insisted they had no right to question her since her final destination was Geneva, Switzerland.

By the time the French let her go, Yolanda missed her flight to Geneva and had to take the plane to Zurich. She was terrified, she said because the agent’s contact was meeting her in Geneva.

In Zurich, she didn't know what to do. She approached a teenage boy whose mother was Japanese and whose father was Caucasian, figuring he spoke English. She asked him to call a telephone number for her, which the boy did. After, the boy said, “You look hungry, come eat with us.”

She continued her journey in this way, asking for help from Filipinos or people who spoke English. Finally after a long and frightening journey, she made it to Italy. She reported that her journey was not as bad as others who had to go to Germany (I think she meant Austria) and swim across a river. There was a group of Filipinos, she related, who swam the river, but one had a heart attack, and they had to leave her behind.

Yolanda considered herself lucky because ten months after her arrival, the Italian government offered amnesty, so now her papers are legal. Her children in Manila have all gone to school. The youngest, she reported is in art school – a useless major, commented Yolanda. And her life seems full in Italy. Aside from taking care of her employer, she has sideline work – selling insurance, and swatch watches, and so on.

In Milan, Yolanda wanted to take us to the Duomo, to make sure we wouldn’t get lost. I understood that she was repaying the kindness that others had given her during her journey to Italy.

We’ll be all right, I said. And so at the train station in Milan, we said goodbye. I have a scrap of paper with Yolanda’s name and cell phone number; but she and I knew we will never see each other again.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Remembering 9/11

The terrorist attacks that took place in the United States on September 11, 2001 were the most horrific events I had ever seen. I felt as if I were in a dream that Tuesday. Our contractor called to say he could not be in that morning, and he told my husband to switch on the news. I was at my desk and I checked the internet; then my husband and I sat and watched TV, stunned at the images of destruction. I felt as if I were in a dream. I felt as if I were watching a movie – the airplanes smashing into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the fire, the smoke, people jumping off the building, the buildings crumbling. The news about the attack on the Pentagon and the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania came next. One horror after the other followed. I felt as I if I were witnessing Armageddon.

Saturday, September 6, 2008


Dylan is wearing red; Luke has a white shirt; Robert is on the floor; Lauren is holding a happy Kiki. The mask is from Bali


(I found another essay in my files. This I wrote after our last visit to Italy in 2006.)

"There are ghosts here," I say. My husband and I are seated in an outdoor restaurant on the Campo of Siena. “What do you think?” I prod him.

“Uh – nothing,” he replies. “It’s nice here,” he continues, and sips his beer.

The view is magnificent – the plaza stretches wide with the imposing Palozzo Pubblico and Torre del Mangia at the far end. But I can’t help thinking about the plagues, the numerous dead, the medieval ghosts.

This is my second visit to Siena and I'd visit it again. I like the place. My connection with the place is multilevel. First, there is the matter of the name, Catherine of Siena’s name that is; my second name is Catalina. My parents had taken two patron saints for November, my birth-month, and named me after them – Cecilia and Catalina. So the first time my husband and I visited Siena, I was very curious about the place and, gruesome as it may sound, I looked forward to seeing St. Catherine’s head in St. Dominic’s Basilica in Siena. Her body parts are scattered in different places: her torso in Rome, her foot in Venice, and her right thumb and head in her birthplace of Siena.

The truth is that even though she was my patron saint, I knew little about her, confusing her even with the other St. Catherine (of Alexandria). So it was the trip to Siena that made me read up on Catherine of Siena. Born in 1347, she became a Dominican Tertiary, which meant she stayed at home instead of a convent. A mystic, she had visions of heaven, hell, and purgatory, and communicated with God. One day God ordered her to enter public life. She wrote heads of State and the church for peace and she was instrumental in returning the papacy from Avignon, France to Rome. St. Catherine of Siena was named Doctor of the Church, a title bestowed on only one other woman saint, St. Teresa of Avila.

During my first visit, I hurried to St. Dominic’s. To my surprise her head was not in the main altar, but was on a side altar, within a glass case, and perched on top of the retablo. If you did not know it was there, you would simply take it for a bust. Maybe it was the distance, but her head looked small, and maybe it was the lighting, but it looked, well, like a decomposing corpse’s head.

The Benincasa house where she had lived was walking distance and my husband and I trudged to it, climbing down to her house which is now a chapel/museum with a bookstore. It was small, but lovely. Even though the place had been fixed up and was probably unlike what it had actually been in the 14th century, the place still had a special feeling. It felt good to imagine that she actually lived and prayed where the chapel was. There is a portion which is glassed off, which shows a statue of St. Catherine in ecstasy.

Aside from St. Dominic’s we also saw the Duomo, said to be one of Italy’s greatest cathedrals. There was reconstruction going on, and we were barred from visiting sections of it. My overall impression of it was that it was a huge cathedral, dimly lit, with huge elaborate altars and statues. Up along the ceiling were statues of popes looking down.

For this second visit to Siena, I read more about the history of the place, and learned that Siena had been hit by the Black Plague during 1348. Out of a population of 40,000, only 8,000 survived. The plague was reportedly so ferocious that people died, standing up. Pits were dug from mass graves. Siena, which had been as wealthy as Florence, never recovered. In fact Siena was ravaged by subsequent plagues: 1363, 1374, 1383, 1389, and 1399.

This is why I'm certain ghosts linger in Siena. I wonder where the Sienese of the Middle Ages had dug their mass graves. Outside the city walls, I decide. Not here, where the elegant Fonte Gaia flows. This fountain has been flowing since 1343, and the Sienese would have kept dead bodies away from it.

My husband continues drinking his beer oblivious to my ramblings. The Campo is starting to glow like a gem. The sun has gone down, and the night sky is darkening. In Siena, the night sky does not turn black; it turns blue, like the crayola blues in Giotto paintings. And so it’s really quite beautiful to be sitting in a restaurant on the upper corner of the Campo, and looking across at the glowing buildings all around. The golden buildings plastered against the Giotto blue sky is incredible.

I take a deep breath and silence my musings on medieval ghosts, and just take in the night sky and air, all of Siena in.

Friday, September 5, 2008


(I'm working on a couple book projects and have been busy, thus the lack of diligence in blogging. I found this Food Essay with recipe in my files and thought of sharing it.)

FRIED CHICKEN, Caribbean-Style
Recipe for Fried Chicken, Caribbean-Style
1 chicken, cut into parts
Oil, for frying
1 big lemon
Salt, pepper

Wash chicken parts and place in a bowl. Cut a big lemon and squeeze lemon juice on the chicken parts. Leave juice in bowl with chicken. Add salt and pepper. Cover and leave chicken in the mixture for at least an hour. Heat oil, and deep-fry the chicken until nicely brown. Pour liquid from bowl over the chicken. Serve hot.

I’ve discovered that cooking shows can be entertaining and this afternoon, before I start fixing supper, I catch my breath and sit in front of the T.V. As if seeking for inspiration, I click on the Food Channel. A heavy-set black woman talks about fixing fried chicken the way her mother fixed it. What’s so special about fried chicken? I think. I can go to KFC any time. I’ve even learned to heat up packaged Honey Garlic chicken wings from Costco — and fool guests into thinking I cooked them myself.

But right before I change the channel, the woman declares that her mother is from the Caribbean. Something about the word “Caribbean” makes me pause. Ah — fried chicken with a twist — something exotic and different.

I decide not to click her off and sit back instead.

She brings the round bowl with the chicken parts under the faucet and proceeds to wash the parts. “You haf to clean de chicken,” she says, with a charming lilting accent. She drains the bowl. “Afterwards squeeze lemon to get rid of all de bad smells, and bad tings.” She picks up a lovely fat yellow lemon from the counter, slices it in half, and squeezes the juice over the chicken parts. Her fingers deftly turn each chicken part over so the juice coats all the pieces. Lovingly, she pats the breasts, thighs, all the pieces.

She could be a priestess performing an important ritual. I’ve never thought of cooking in this way. I tend to throw chicken parts into a bowl and drown them with soy sauce, vinegar and spices — and I avoid touching slimy parts.

“Put some salt and pepper and lef it for a couple of hours,” she says.

The camera zooms in on the bowl with the chicken parts soaking in the lemon juice and getting deliciously speckled with black and white grains.

My mind drifts to a childhood memory when we were all eating chicken, six of us around the glass-topped rectangular table. Papa loved chicken, and Mama made it a point to fix chicken with care. This was before supermarkets were around, and my mother would personally go to the open market to pick out the chicken. The unlucky chicken had to be fat and lively. Back home in the dirty kitchen, the cook would unceremoniously whip out her machete, catch the chicken and place his neck on the chopping board, and with one stroke chop off its head. The headless chicken ran around for a few seconds, but eventually slumped down at the end of a bloody trail. The cook would dunk the chicken into a cauldron of boiling water, and proceed to yank out its feathers. The feathers were saved for stuffing for pillows. The chicken would then be cut up and cleaned. She cut the chicken into small parts so the parts soaked the sauce better. She also washed the chicken parts, but just with water. She drained these and placed them in a big pot.

At this point, my mother took over. She crushed garlic and rubbed the macerated garlic on the chicken parts. She poured some soy sauce and vinegar into the pot, added salt, pepper and bay leaves, and cooked this is in medium heat. Basically, she boiled down the liquid and then she added oil and fried the chicken parts, along with the delicious brown residue of the soy mixture.

Every time we had chicken my father would grow lighthearted. He was 13 years older than my mother, and he was a formal man. But while looking at the crispy brown chicken laying on Mama’s huge white platter, he would recall his older brother, Kuya, who loved chicken breast, and who marked these pieces (so to speak) by spitting on them. (As I’m writing this, I realize this sounds disgusting, but that was how Papa told it.)

After, he would crack a joke. It was in Tagalog because he came from Laguna, Philippines. “Ano and masarap sa manok?” — It was a question with two meanings: What part of the chicken is delicious? And what is delicious to the chicken? We four children who grew up in Cebu and whose Tagalog was limited, would only catch the simpler meaning of the question: What part of the chicken is delicious. And we would shout out — “The leg,” or “The breast,” of “The wing,” projecting our own favorites.

Then Papa would shake his head, and we would all quiet down, and suspense hung in the air. When we were absolutely still, he would say with some flare, “Maiz (corn)!” — and all six of us would laugh at the double-entendre, and we children repeated the joke for the rest of the day.

The woman from the Caribbean is back on the screen, and now she’s pouring oil onto a skillet, and she tenderly lifts each chicken part from the bowl and lays each one on the sizzling skillet. She browns the chicken and covers the pan so the middle portion of the chicken cooks. When she lifts the cover, I think she’s done with her Caribbean chicken — but no — she takes the leftover lemon juice and drizzles this over the chicken. The juice mixes in with the oil. Using a metal spatula, she scrapes the crumbly brown parts that cling to the skillet and which make my mouth water. In a short while, she lifts the fried chicken parts and places them on a platter. “Serve with rice and beans!” she declares.

Even when I resume my work, I still consider how this woman lovingly handled the chicken parts, as if she were blessing each part, as though conscious that the chicken had surrendered its life to become food. I tell myself I will have to do that.

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 
Cooking with Cecilia - Chicken Soup for my Bad Cold
Cooking with Cecilia - Beef Bourguignon

(Photo shows Cecilia with her father and one sister. Cecilia is the one standing.)

tags: food, wine, cooking. Philippines, fried chicken