My lola turned 100

A year and a half ago just before the pandemic, I was on a plane, heading home from Florida, bawling my eyes out after watching one quiet, but pivotal scene from the movie “The Farewell.” Little background about the movie: it’s about a family gathering together to secretly say goodbye to their dying, but oblivious grandmother under the guise of a wedding.

The scene was a simple one. No overly dramatic acting. It was just Awkwafina’s character and her mother driving away to the airport after saying goodbye to the grandmother. I remember the look of the grandmother, holding back her emotions as they drove away and then Awkafina and her mother silently weeping in the car. Yeah, I totally broke down, wet faced, runny nose and all.

Rewind to about twenty years earlier. I was at my lola’s house. Everything looked exactly as it did ten years ago when I was just a kid, spending my summers at my grandparent’s place. Maybe a few furniture moved from here to there, but otherwise, everything was exactly as they were.

It was house full of curiosities. There were chandeliers, large shelves encased in glass, filled with mementos and souvenirs from travel, seashells from the beach, dolls from foreign countries, Don Quixote and Sancho figurines, Reader’s Digest magazines, and piles and piles of photo albums which I would pore over. My lola, like my mom, gave me plenty of things to be curious about.

I remember those faded paintings on the wall, the ones that never made sense to me back when I was a kid: a group of bearded men in funny, old-timey clothes walking together in a very dimly lit background; a weird looking couple of a woman with a snide glance, sitting next to one happy fellow who I first mistook for a woman, but then realized later on he had a mustache; that strange-looking painting of what appeared to be a squiggly and misshapen outdoors restaurant at night. It was hard to tell. The concept of an outdoors restaurant in a country where it is constantly raining never existed in my mind then. Then there was that painting of a ship in the midst of a storm. On the frame underneath was a name engraved: Jose Montero.

I also remember on the first landing on the staircase, a large collection of tiny blue and white porcelain houses lining the wall. I remember looking closely through these with my sisters, picking our favorite and declaring that that’s the house we’re going to live when we’re grown up (we were planning to become neighbors too!). I always picked the tallest, fattest looking house with slanted roofs at front because, of course mine had to to look different than the rest, and also you know, the bigger the better, right?

I didn’t know where they were from, back then. They looked like European houses, so they must be from… America? (As a child growing up in a third world country, the only countries that existed in my head then were Philippines, China and the U.S. so shaddap!)

It’s not until years later that I learned where those little blue and white houses came from. You see, my lolo used to train with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. And with that came the perks of not just discount plane tickets, but also a bump to first class for my lola.  If you’re not familiar with KLM, they give away these miniature, Delft Blue houses filled with Dutch liquor if you ever fly first class with them. That’s where these houses were from.

And those faded paintings? The squiggly and misshapen outdoors restaurant at night turned out to be Van Gogh’s “Cafe Terrace at Night.”

The weird looking couple was a self-portrait of Rembrandt with his beloved wife, Saskia during happier times. (Although I was originally weirded out by this painting, the story behind it made me understand better why my grandparents picked it.)

And the one with the group of men was Rembrandt’s “Night Watch.”

What do these two artists have in common? Well, they were Dutch. It all came together, my grandparents love for the Netherlands.

And then finally, the painting of the ship in the storm with the name Jose Montero underneath. That was painted by my great uncle. And the name, Jose Montero? He was a captain of a Spanish Galleon ship and my great, great, great grandfather. It was a story my lola often told me about. Interesting tidbit.

So yeah, I have my lola to thank for why I am always curious. My love for reading, travel and art museums were all because of my mom and in extension, my lola.

Now back to that moment twenty years ago, the night my sisters and I were leaving for the airport. We had just spent two weeks at my lola’s house. Everything looked exactly as it did ten years ago when I was just a kid. I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye so I kept my eyes glued on the seat in front of me, just to keep myself from crying. When the car started, I turned to the window to look at my lola and the house one last time. It was dark, but I could still see her, holding her hands up to her mouth as if trying to hold back emotions. I couldn’t keep my eyes away and kept it there until we finally turned a corner and I lost sight of her.

And that’s exactly why I bawled my eyes out when I watched that scene from “The Farewell.” But no worries. I got to see her again ten years after.

Today, my lola turned 100. I should’ve been there, celebrating, but because of the pandemic, I couldn’t. So instead, I spent it at the nearest art museum. I figured it’s the perfect place to reminisce.

Reset

With the recent rise of anti-Asian attacks, plus the up-and-coming white supremist demonstration coming to town this Sunday, I’d scrap for any little piece of good news.

For today’s tiny piece of good news: I got my 2nd dose of vaccine today. Hooray for that! I’ve got plenty of reasons to celebrate.

You see, my lola is turning 100 this year, and dang, I haven’t seen her in 9 years.

9 freakin’ long years!

This was when I last saw her:

That’s her in the middle with three of her sisters and my mom. My brother was in this shot too 🙂

I remember that day so clearly, that last day I was in my grandparents’ house. I had left that very evening to the airport. But before I left, my lola had invited my great-aunts for a farewell lunch. I remember seeing them, listening to them while they chatted and gossiped, and then later giggling and squealing as they squeezed into a car together to head home. Very similar to how my mom is with my aunts and how I am with my sisters.

I remember smiling widely, earnestly waving goodbye to them with both hands and them watching me from the car window and returning my farewells with equally enthusiastic hand waving. And I thought in my head “God, how I would love to see them again like this.”

That was 9 whole years ago.

Two and a half weeks ago, my last great-aunt passed away. They were of the greatest generation. They grew up during the depression and then lived through the war, surviving the Japanese occupation. But I remember them more as those silly, giggly grandmothers. Now it’s just my lola left, the oldest in her family. And she’ll be turning 100 this year.

I know I’m being really selfish when I say I wish she could stay a little longer just so I could see her again, just as much as I wished I could’ve seen my lola with her sisters once again. I really wish I could do more.

Getting those two shots are the least I could do for now. (And dang, is acid reflux one of the side effects?)

So here’s to lots of hoping, wishing and trying. In the meantime, back to the mean-old reality.

My Lolo

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He was born from large, wealthy family of prominent lawyers and judges, the second to the youngest of a large family in Cavite, Philippines. He grew up in a lavish, historical, Filipino mansion that still stands proudly to this day.

Though he was privileged, it was difficult for him to fit in with his family. Held back twice in high school, he was picked on and ridiculed as he struggled to meet his family’s standards. But that’s ok. Because if it wasn’t for that, he wouldn’t have met this one Filipina, a spunky Mestiza, the eldest of a family of six girls and three boys and the prettiest girl in town.

Like any typical Filipino courtship, of course, he faced nothing but constant rejection after rejection. She was, after all, the most sought-after girl at the time. Even after he got accepted and started attending law school in the distinguished, American-founded University of Philippines (through family connections and most likely exchanges of certain goods, like, ohhhh… cash), this feisty Filipina would still not give in.

Then on December 7, 1941, just nine hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese came.

Philippines was under the U.S. control at that time. Even with their combined efforts, the U.S. and the Philippines still couldn’t hold back the Japanese. After a devastating defeat in the Battle of Bataan and the final defeat in their last stronghold in the Battle of Corregidor, General Douglas MacArthur of the U.S. military left the island of Corregidor with a promise to return. Philippines fell under Japanese control.

It was the worst three years for Philippines. Death, fear and brutality reigned the streets of Manila. Stories of rape and beheading were constant. By then, the feisty Filipina had lost her beauty. She had deliberately made herself look hideous in order to avoid getting unwanted attention from the Japanese.

As for the young man who courted her, he was sent to the front lines in the Battle of Corregidor. Badly wounded and inflicted with malaria, a disease common in the islands at the time, he was just one step away from death. But somehow, he survived and was taken as a POW. At some point (not sure how long), he was released as sort of a goodwill gesture by the Japanese. He, however, did not come home to a hero’s welcome. Walking home still stricken with malaria, he, instead, faced hostility from other POWs doomed to trudge through the Bataan Death March.

“Why did you let them win?”

“How could you let them defeat us?”

“This is all your fault.”

Then, he came home to find some of his older brothers with self-inflicted injuries.

Once a trickle of soldiers had began to return home, his brothers deliberately bruised and beaten themselves under the pretense that they too had just came home from battle, when in truth, they had avoided enlisting for the war by hiding in their mansion’s basement.

Difficult as all these may have been, none of it stopped him from continuing his pursuit of the lovely Mestiza, who, of course, in typical Filipino tradition, continued to reject him. Eventually, though, he got her to marry him. (He had her sign what she didn’t realize was an official marriage certificate. Go figure.)

The war didn’t end for him then. He trained with the U.S. military and was sent off to Texas to to become a fighter pilot. He was intended to fly a bomber plane over Japan, but that mission was aborted. Instead, the Americans decided to detonate a powerful bomb over Hiroshima and then Nagasaki.

He never went back to law school after the war. He became a commercial pilot instead, traveling constantly all over the world. With his Mestiza wife, he built a home with seven obnoxiously good-looking children. He got into photography, building himself a darkroom in his backyard. Then he filled his home with trinkets from his travels: a Don Quixote figurine, Dutch dolls, American whiskey, everything. The ceiling were rows and rows of model airplanes hanging on strings. On the walls were replicas of paintings by Van Gogh and Rembrandt. By the staircase, a row of blue and white porcelain Dutch houses lined the wall. He had trained with KLM, so the Netherlands had a special meaning to him (even after KLM placed him in a hotel right in the center of the Red Light District where he was given a good view of the neighborhood’s “goods”).

As his children grew up, left home and got married, his house soon filled with toys for his grandchildren. And dang, did he had a ton of those.

Yesterday was his 100th birthday. Today is Veteran’s Day. He never once spoke of the war. He was always so happy and silly around his grandchildren. But once in a blue moon, he would open up to his eldest daughter, my mother, and tell her stories of the battlefront, of that moment in Corregidor when death was close at hand. I wish I could’ve known all these while he was still alive. I wish I had the chance to talk to him, ask him all these questions. But considering how he rarely talked about it, maybe it was for the best.

On a side note, Lola (grandma) still forces me to read every single thing before signing anything, even birthday cards. Like, seriously-angrily-yells-at-me-if-I-don’t-read-what-I’m-signing forces it. Thanks a lot, Lolo.

Bye-bye, Barcelona

So this is the last of my Barcelona batch. Gotta end it with night shots of Sagrada Famila, the one spot that got me so into Barcelona in the first place. Ever since college, I might add.

So adiós for now, Barcelona. You are still at the top of my list of cities I want to move to. Hopefully someday in the future, when all is well at your part of the world, we’ll bump into each other again.

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“Parc Güell = Zoo Para Turistas”

In the midst of all the touristy shots I have taken of Barcelona, I had also shot a few street photographs of inconspicuous spots within the city. Usually places deemed ordinary by Spaniards and tourists alike.  I’m no street photographer, but finding spots like these are great for practice.

Some are just normal streets or roadways around the residential areas.

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Others are quiet spaces seen from the loud, commercialized tourist hot spots, like this messy neighborhood from the rooftops of Palau Güell…

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Or this seemingly pissy graffiti a quarter mile down from Park Güell.

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There’s also this workshop around Poble Espanyol…

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The tram heading to Tibidabo…

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And the view of the shipping port from the top of Montjuic Castle.

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When I tell some people that I would love to someday move to Barcelona, that this is one city I can see myself living in, the response had always been the same: that I have only seen the touristy parts of the city and that I haven’t seen the actual, real side of Barcelona. And yes, they are absolutely correct. One week in Barcelona is not enough to see everything, not long enough the see the bad sides. What can I say?  But the thing is, I am a very observant person. And I love to explore. When I travel, I pay attention to everything, little things so many people don’t often pay attention to, whether I’m in a touristy spot or in a mundane neighborhood, seeing the everyday life of the locals, the good and the bad. I just don’t photograph it often enough. And from what I’ve seen of Barcelona so far, I still likes.

So yeah… one of these days.

La Pedrera

Casa Milà, aka La Pedrera, is one of the most popular hot spots in Barcelona. Too bad it was closed for the entire, freakin’ week I was there.

Anyway…

Built in 1906 and completed in 1912, this century-old structure was Gaudí’s most controversial one. Not because of any particular drama. People just didn’t like it. Disapproving citizens ridiculed it, calling it “La Pedrera” or “the stone quarry,” in reference to its weird design.

I don’t know what they were complaining about. To me, it looked just like Casa Batlló, except fatter and less colorful. My only complaint was that they wouldn’t let me inside. I was only able to take a picture through the front doors.

Hmph…

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That one fortress I kept seeing everywhere

Aside from the National Museum of Catalan Art and Tibidabo, the other hilltop structure that I kept seeing all over from the rooftops of Barcelona was the Montjuïc Castle, a military fortress that sits atop of the Montjuïc hill next to a seaside port.

It has a rich Catalan history that spans nearly 400 years. Not a lot of tourists tend to venture on these parts, so lucky me, I almost had the entire place to myself.

Gotta say, it was pretty windy up there.

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Gothic Quarters

 

As I mentioned before, we stayed right by the edge of Gothic Quarters in La Rambla. Almost everyday, we passed by Pont del Bisbe and the Barcelona Cathedral. It’s one my favorite spots in Barcelona. Lots of things to see and lots of places to eat.

On early mornings, farmer’s markets would sprout out in random squares. Afternoons would bring street performers by Plaza de la Seu. And very late at night, you can hear opera singers belting out next to the cathedral.

Then one day, we happened upon an ancient looking door by the buildings behind the cathedral. It led to what appeared to be an old building converted in an office space. Nothing interesting. But within that building in the patio area were four unearthed, ancient columns from the Roman times. Pretty spiffy!

Wish my office building could have something like that. The closest thing we can get in Cali is an ancient Native American Burial ground (or any form of cemetery for that matter) and that’s not a good thing.

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