Filipino Yuletide Season

MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS PAST. Since Miguel Lopez de Legazpi celebrated the first Pascua de Navidad in the Philippines sometime in 1565, Christmas became the most awaited fiesta in the country. The Christmas season in the Philippines is said to be the longest in the world because by tradition, at the start of the Ber months Christmas carols are played in public centers and holiday decorations are gradually put up in homes.

The traditional sights, scents and tastes associated with the Yuletide season bring a lot of nostalgia of endless crowds, celebrations, and coziness but because of the health risk brought by the Corona virus the festive mood of the season that we got used to doing changed this year. Here are curated memories of Christmas past:

CHRISTMAS CARDS. Fondest images of the Christmas season as a child were illustrations of local Christmas scenes on greeting cards. In early 1990s, my folks write lengthy notes to relatives abroad in Christmas cards with illustrations by the artists like E. Salonga and Cenon Rivera. An entire bulk of sealed envelops were sent through slow mail at the Manila Central Post Office.

Today, we receive holiday greetings through instant text messages and emails most of the time, in a form of copied or templated greetings. We seldom write Christmas cards in all seriousness and send them via the post office.

HOLIDAY ON ICE. Illustrations of Christmas in western cultures are depicted using snowflakes, Jack Frost, Frosty the Snowman, green elves in pointy shoes and a sleigh pulled by magical reindeers.

In tropical Philippines, the cool amihan breeze announces the Christmas season. Cultural shows that featured the dance of Sugarplum Fairy in the Nutcraker and the Holiday on Ice in Araneta Coliseum complimented the nippy weather. Popular among the masses were the mechanical puppets in COD shopping center. As a child, I recall that the ice skating rink in Megamall was the closest way to experience winter wonderland in Santa’s North Pole.

CHRISTMAS SHOPPING. At the first week of December, the Christmas season gains momentum. The bonus-rich Filipinos start to crowd shopping malls and the peoples’ market in Divisoria to buy gifts, clothing, shoes, holiday food, and brand new things to adorn their homes.

In the olden days, Christmas shopping require separate trips to different places because certain things had to be bought according to tradition. During the prewar years for example, ready-made shoes and sandals were bought in Calle Gandara and one travels to Marikina for made to order leather pairs. Popular go to for pastries and sweets were La Perla in Plaza Santa Cruz and Palma de Mallorca in Intramuros. Imported fruits, dairy products like canned butter were sourced in cold storage warehouses along Calle Echague. Calle Escolta was the go to for window shopping for fashionable clothing and home furnishing. Popular stores were Berg Department Store, Estrella del Norte, and Puerta del Sol.

MISA DE AGUINALDO. The four weeks before Christmas is the preparation for the coming of the child Jesus of Bethlehem. During Advent, the theme of the gospel readings were about the terrifying events leading to the apocalypse and the homilies talked about repentance and conversion of hearts. Main altars of churches are decked with Christmas colors and a make-shift belen in one corner are adroned with pots of bright red poinsettias in lieu of freshly cut summer blooms.

By December 16, dawn masses were heard nine days before Christmas day. The tradition of misa de aguinaldo were introduced by the Spanish friars to accommodate the farmers who have to be on the fields during the harvest season. Nobody questioned this practice of hearing mass during ungodly hours in this modern times. Instead, locals associate this Christmas tradition with the granting of a wish upon completing the nine-day gift masses and swarming the puto-bumbong stalls after the service.

CHRISTMAS KAKANIN. There are over a hundred steamed, simmered, or baked kinds of kakanin. Every town and each region in the country has its singular creation. But during the Christmas season, the violet puto bumbong reigns supreme.

The principal ingredient of this Christmas kakanin is a violet rice called pirurutong. The violet and malagkit rice variety are mixed and steamed in narrow bamboo tubes called the bumbong. Traditionally, the cylindrical rice cake is served on banana leaf and it is topped with margarine, grated coconut, and brown sugar. In the olden days, the puto bumbong is usually taken with salabat or ginger tea. We love to partner the puto bumbong with Batangas brew of kapeng barako or that thick chocolate drink called by Padre Salvi in Noli as tsokolate-eh or tsokolate espeso.

PAROL STAR OF THE SUN GOD. Hanging a Christmas parol is a very old Filipino tradition. The star-shaped lantern recalls the bright Bethlehem star that guided the shepherds to the Child Jesus. It has been written in the book of Matthew that the bright star seen during the first Christmas Eve led the three wise men to a manger in Bethlehem. In 1603, Johannes Kepler suggested the Bethlehem Star was a great conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. This planetary dance reoccurred hundreds of years later during the winter solstice of December 21, 2020.

Primitive men believed that the waning sun died during the winter solstice and begins to wax again and resume its upward climb. For ancient Romans, December 25 is the birth of the sun god Mithras. An anting anting medallion in Quiapo has the text Horam JHS Natum that links to the hour of Jesus’ birth with the image Mithras in the center.

CRECHE. Christmas trees were not considered as the proper Christmas adornment until the 1920s. The oldest Christmas symbol in the Philippines is the belen or creche. The focal figures in the creche are Saint Joseph, the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus that is added to the scene on Christmas day. The figures of the three magis are added later on during their feast day.

The tradition was introduced by Saint Francis de Assisi in 1223 who celebrated Christmas using live donkeys and oxen. By the 17th century, the custom of putting up a creche in one corner of the home reached Spain and spread around the Philippines in the 18th century.

EPILOGUE: TULOY NA TULOY PA RIN ANG PASKO. The year 2020 will forever be remembered by our generation as the year that changed the way we live and how we celebrate the happiest season of all. But as the song goes Ngunit kahit na anong mangyari. Ang pagibig sana ay maghari. Sapat ng si Jesus ang kasama mo. Tuloy na tuloy pa rin ang Pasko.

Travel on Foot is wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous and Healthy New Year!

– Christmas Day 2020

Published in: on December 25, 2020 at 10:10 pm  Comments (1)  

Museo ng Katipunan

BONIFACIO RELICS. The veneration of relics are a combination of body parts, earthly possessions, and other objects associated to a saint or a hero. Relics are kept in decorated reliquaries that are displayed in shrines and museums. Along with tombs and monuments, relics are often the subject of pilgrimages or annual commemoration ceremonies.

Every 30th of November, the nation celebrates the birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio with a holiday and wreath-laying ceremonies in monuments and in other historical places associated with the revolutionary hero and the Katipunan, the separatist society where he served as its popular leader. But unlike Jose Rizal who left us with a massive collection of memorabilia that are scattered around in different museums, including a part of his vertebrae preserved in a glass urn and his remains that were buried under his monument in Luneta, Bonifacio relics are scarce. Some were auctioned off and are kept in private antique collections like the Katipunan flag and a few letters bearing the Supremo’s signature. His alleged remains that were dug up in 1918 got lost along with other artifacts in the pre-war National Museum and Library when the Legislative Building was bombed during the Liberation of Manila in 1945. What is left for public viewing are reproductions and copies of the original objects and documents.

PINAGLABANAN AT THE POLVORIN. The Museo ng Katipunan in San Juan del Monte was built near the site of the Spanish gun powder and ammunitions depot or polvorin that protected Manila’s water reservoir or el deposito.

Leading the overthrow of the Spanish colonial regime, Bonifacio’s plano de combate was to isolate Manila from the rest of the colony and terminate the capital through different attack points. Some time in the last days of August 1896, the Katipuneros attacked the Spanish garrison at the San Juan polvorin. The plan was to hijack el deposito and dry up the water supply in Intramuros. Although the Katipuneros outnumbered the Spaniards, their crude and short-ranged weapons were no match to advance rifles of the guardias civiles and the adobe walls of the garrison. The Katipuneros retreated when reinforcement from the capital arrived in the morning. Around 200 Katipuneros perished in the battle and 200 more were captured. This first bloody encounter of the Katipunan was called the Battle of Pinaglabanan. A shrine was erected on the battleground with a bronze sculpture by Eduardo Castrillo.

FOUNDING OF THE KATIPUNAN. The museum’s collection includes brass sculptures and pastel portraits of key figures of the Katipunan by sculptor Esmeraldo Dans and painter Pancho Piano.

Probably shocked with the sudden arrest of Rizal on July 6, 1892 and confused about the direction of the La Liga Filipina, five men gathered in the house of Deodato Arellano at No.72 Azcarraga Street in July 7th and founded a secret society aimed at overthrowing the Spanish government through arms struggle and revolution. The Katipunan went through different leadership but Bonifacio became its most influential political and spiritual leader who attracted more membership from all walks of life.

HOW TO BE A KATIPUNERO. Reynaldo Ileto in Pasyon and Revolution explains that the initiation rites to the Katipunan outwardly appeared to be Masonic. But since majority of those joining the separatist society were workmen and peasants, the rites were simplified to suit the cultural level of the members. Ileto describes that when a person signified his intention to join the Katipunan, he was sponsored by a member who brought him, blindfolded, to a secret place where initiation rites were performed.

A diorama in the Museo de Katipunan illustrates the sanduguan which was part of the Katipunan initiation rites where an incision was made on the new members left forearm with a knife then with the blood that flowed, a brother-in-arms to be signed his name on the oath of membership.  The final rite was an emotionally charged moment  where the Katipuneros embrace their new brothers exclaiming “Kapatid!” and ending with a reminder to pledge mutual protection and redemption of the Motherland. 

BANDITS OR HEROES. The flame of rebellion quickly spread to the countryside of Central and Southern Luzon especially among peasants who fled to the mountains to escape oppression from the colonial regime. Isabelo de los Reyes stated that the Katipunan was an association to be feared, because it was composed of common ignorant people, yet although the plebian thinks little, for this little he will die before giving up. The illustrados and principalias, on the other hand were hostile to the idea of separation from Spain. Thinking that the local elite would be forced to support and join the cause of the Katipunan, Bonifacio devised a scheme of implicating them by preparing documents that listed leading citizens of Manila and nearby provinces to be contributors and leaders of the Katipunan. These documents were easily discovered by Spanish authorities when the secret Katipunan society was revealed. Mass arrest followed. Many were executed for simply being on the suspicious list.

Paintings by Juanito Torres depict a group of Katipuneros drawing up plans of their attack and another doing an inventory of weapons that they acquired through agaw-armas.

TEACHINGS OF THE KATIPUNAN. In one corner of the Museo ng Katipunan were copies of the Decalogue and Kartilya ng Katipunan.

The Katipunan’s first commandment was true love for country and complete brotherhood with one another. The teachings of the Katipunan was embodied in Bonifacio’s Decalogue which aims to eradicate the distinctions between the rich and the poor and reduce the influence of the Catholic friars to the people. The Kartilya was penned by the law student, Emilio Jacinto as a primer containing the teachings of the society. It espoused the principal ideas of liberty, patriotism, and equality.

LEADERSHIP MEDALLIONS. leadership model of the Katipunan was patterned after the Masonic lodges, of which many Katipuneros were also members. It has the Supreme Council, Provincial Council, and Popular Council.

Members of the Supreme Council wore medallions that were also borrowed from Masonic traditions. Replicas of these are displayed in glass shelves in the Museo ng Katipunan. Bonifacio as president wore the sun symbol. Emilio Jacinto as secretary wore an open book pierced by the sword, Pio Valenzuela as fiscal wore the crescent moon pendant, and Enrique Pacheco as councilor wore the crossed key.

KATIPUNAN ANTING-ANTING. One of the main attractions of the Museo ng Katipunan are its collection of anting-anting in form copper or bronze medallions engraved with religious symbols and Latin text. There is also a vest shirt hand-drawn with folk-Catholic symbols and magical incantations.

Anting-anting played a significant role in the motivation of the Katipuneros. It is said that Bonifacio would distribute pieces of black cloth allegedly been cut from the vestments of the martyred priest GOMBURZA.

EPILOGUE: BONIFACIO RELIC HUNTER. In search for Bonifacio relics, I got a hold of the handsomely package coffee table book, Tragedy of the Revolution to scrutinize a reproduction of a letter signed by Bonifacio. I braved crossing the high traffic rotunda to see the magnum opus of Guillermo Tolentino in the Monumento up close. I trekked the dirt road to the Bonifacio execution site in Maragondon to see an empty tomb.

30 November 2020
Bonifacio Day

Published in: on November 30, 2020 at 5:17 am  Leave a Comment  


DEADLY LANZONES. Best memories of travel are those involving quick encounters with death. Me and my friend, Jamie were heading out the town from Paete when I yelled ayun, lanzones! pointing to a solitary fruit stand by the roadside. 

Jamie slammed on the breaks, made a sharp turn and abruptly skidded down the side of the road to avoid an approaching truck from the opposite side of the highway. We’re both alive and ready to buy lanzoneses.

LANZONES OF PAETE. In the olden days, Paete in the province of Laguna was popular for their lanzones harvest. Those were the days when the hilly slopes around the lakeshore town glowed with amber lights at night from the bon fires that were lit to keep bats away from the fruit during lanzones season.

Like the rambutan and the chico mame, the lanzones is considered as a wild fruit whose tree grew in backyards or along the roadside. It was not grown commercially but comes at its sweetest and most abundant in October.

A FOLK REMEDY. The round, elongated fruit freckles darkly as it ripens. Its edible part is the juicy pulp around the seed. The seed has an awfully bitter after taste when one accidently bites into it.

Old timers use the lanzones seed and the peelings as folk remedies for certain illnesses. Herb doctors used the sticky sap from the peeling to treat sore eyes while the bark and leaves from the tree are boiled to make a potent concoction to treat stomach ache and kabag. The dried lanzones peelings were burned to fumigate homes. The fumes are said to have a soothing effect on asthmatics.

OLD-SCHOOL FUMIGANT. Making lanzones peeling as a fumigant involves drying out the seeds and peelings under the sun until they are completely shriveled. The dried lanzones peelings and seeds were spread over a heap of burning coal to produce an odorous smoke. The fumes were used to rid off bugs and cockroaches as well as fleas and mosquitoes in damp and dark nooks.

With dengue mosquitoes bringing havoc nowadays, this old-school fumigant is a natural alternative to the commercial and chemical-based insecticide.

LANZONES AND SAINT AGNES. The legend of the lanzones has to do with the name of the fruit.  Lanzon sounding like lason or poison in Filipino, it is said that the lanzones was once inedible and poisonous until one day a beautiful woman visited a sickly little girl who had long been suffering from an unknown illness. The mysterious lady plucked a lanzones fruit from the tree, pressed it between thumb and finger, and instructed the child to eat it without fear. The child did not die and was immediately healed.

It was believed that the magical woman who charmed away the poison from the lanzones was Saint Agnes or locally implored as Sta. Ines, hence the name lanson-Ines

EPILOGUE. DEADLY OR NOT. Yes. the lanzones can taste like poison and I discovered it myself as a child when I recklessly sank my teeth into its bitter seed.

Published in: on October 21, 2020 at 6:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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Art of Marrie Saplad

Photo by Ysobel ArtGallery

SAPLAD STILL-LIFES. Architect Mies van der Rohe was talking about building design when he stated that God is in the details. But this profound proverb also applies to the art of Marrie Saplad.

Central in Saplad’s paintings are recognizable everyday objects that are isolated in black and white backgrounds. In 2017, Saplad started her still-life compositions that feature transparent glass bottles on white surfaces and pieces of linen that are casually draping a hairline, or almost invisible clothesline. As still-life subjects, glass and fabrics require technical dexterity and keen eyes to apply the lightness and darkness of a color.

Photo by Ysobel ArtGallery

A WORLD OF BLACKS, WHITES AND GREYS. Color is observed as an object’s immediate property. It has the power to affect the emotion and influence the mood of the viewer. In her world of blacks, whites and greys, Saplad uses realistic colors to capture the glow from glass and the texture from delicate fabric.

Saplad’s rendering of basic colors and simple compositions on canvas are compelling enough to hold the viewer’s attention, but remains vague in the story that it narrates. Looking at Saplad’s latest creations for her solo show at Ysobel ArtGallery in Taguig City, one is confronted with questions about their meaning.

FILL THE EMPTY. WARM THE COLD. As a self-taught artist, Saplad is first to say that her works is not hyper-realism because she excluded certain pictorial elements but her still-life paintings has formal resolution with emphasis on the details and the subjects.

Fittingly, Saplad’s works for the show entitled Sympathy, Fill the empty, Warm the cold, takes us to a quite vista of her own that narrates her simple hopes of extending kindness and generosity to those who are impacted by an ongoing global emergency.

EPILOGUE: GOD IS IN THE DETAILS. Franz Kafka believed that art like prayer is a hand outstretched in the darkness, seeking for some touch of grace which will transform into the a hand that bestows gifts… [Both] are passionate acts of will.

God may be in the details of Saplad’s art, but it also invites the viewers to act with sympathy into the world by filling the empty and providing warmth to the cold.

Published in: on July 31, 2020 at 2:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Objects and Nostalgia: An Introduction to the Assemblage Art of Glenn Martinez

Museum Tour
16 x 16
Glenn Martinez

SERENDIPITOUS TRAVEL FINDS. Collector of colonial antiques and modern arts Dr. Jaime C. Laya, in his introduction in the book Consuming Passion, Philippine Collectibles explained that it is embedded in the human gene to hunt, gather, hoard and keep objects that are meaningful and sentimental. But aside from thrill of the hunt, nothing can be more exhilarating than a serendipitous travel find. That’s why I include in my travel itineraries trips to antiques and segunda mano shops, local handicrafts workshops and artist’s studios.

When I started my travel and culture blog in 2008, I was also beginning to fill my young family’s living space with art and along with it, object traffic also increased in our home. Every trip, I come home with all sorts of heritage memento: A sculpture from Ermita, a painting from an artist’s studio in Laguna, various kinds of anting-anting from Quiapo, disparate body parts of wooden religious statuettes from Bacolor, tribal and folk arts from the cultural communities of the Cordilleras, historic relics and artifacts from a roadside swap meet in Baliuag, Bulacan.

18 x 19
Glenn Martinez
In the collection of Marcel Antonio

RUMINATIONS. I wanted to live with more art as a source of inspiration for my write ups. Also, I wanted to train my eyes and taste for my creative growth so I refused to keep them in the bodega because I believe that people can forget things when they are out of sight. I put them on display in glass shelves, coffee tables and gallery walls to remind me everyday of memorable trips.

While going through therapy from depression in 2019, I discovered healing through making assemblage art as an alternative to blogging and writing social commentaries. Unloading thoughts and expressing through creative ways take away the anxiety and that uncertainty of our purpose on why are we keeping discarded objects in the first place? From my hoard, I put together objects to narrate my ruminations about our society’s mental health. In Insomia, I placed a metronome under a wooden head and a pendulum in the foreground to call out how an apathetic society tried to use all sorts of self-hypnosis to put their troubled mind to rest.

Be Still. All Steel.
Assemblage under glass
11 x 9
Glenn Martinez
In the collection of Dengcoy Miel

TRIP TO QUIAPO. Much like Ricky Lee‘s script writing textbook Trip to Quiapo, I worked on my assemblage pieces with no formula, no set rules but I’m guided by traditions, which I bend to make them timeless. I arranged, categorized, layered, and curated found objects according to the convenience of retelling their old histories and how I can incorporate moments we are living in.

A put together of rusty keys, Commonwealth Era coins, a page torn from antique prayer booklet, anting-anting in a bottle and the Brown Scapular,  Be Still. All Steel alludes to the neo-Gothic San Sebastian Basilica in Plaza del Carmen, Quiapo where since the last century until to this day its all-steel interior turns golden in the afternoon, just perfect for prayer.

Patroness of Daily Commute
8 x 11
Glenn Martinez

HORROR VACUII. A decade of gathering travel finds occupied all available space in the home. It is generally expected for Filipinos to be maximalist in the way we do things. From our fiestas, food, dance, art and everyday objects to the way we decorate every corner of our homes, we leave no empty space.

Horror vacuii applied to most of my assemblage pieces. The Patroness of Daily Commute is a multiple layered shadow box. It is an allusion to the Virgin of Antipolo as the traditional patroness of travelers and the Filipino folk art on wheels as represented by endangered jeepney pasada.

Midnight in my Studio: Inanimate objects that come to life at the strike of midnight
16 x 12
Glenn Martinez

BURAOT INVENTORY. I owe my creations to my collection of buraot.  Buraot is common term in the local antique trade when referring to objects that are not of collectors’ standard. These disparate everyday things from different periods, places, and cultures that I scavenged at about the same time I started blogging find their way into my assemblage.

They rouse my curiosity and creativity on how mixing unrelated objects and unexpected combination of things can coexist in pseudo bas-reliefs, make-shift altars and shadow boxes as works of art. Midnight in my Studio: Inanimate objects that come to life at the strike of midnight describes my restlessness when creativity peaks during ungodly hours.

Antepara ni Tia Paula at mga
Eau de Toilette ni Tia Candida
Assemblage under glass
11 x 7.5
Glenn Martinez

AUDITIONING. Designing an assemblage project is trial and error and adventure. Part of my creative process is to gather from my collection of buraot, travel finds, and storied objects and arrange them as a blocking for a final act in a stage play. The editing process begins when I select the main objects that fit the role for the assemblage project and those that make up the chorus of supporting finishing touches.

In Antepara ni Tia Paula at mga Eau de Toilette ni Tia Candida, I selected objects that reminisce the main characters of Nick Joaquin‘s literary masterpiece, A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino.

Gabinete de Fisica
16 x 12
Glenn Martinez

MUSEUM BOXES. A series that I remain interested in working on are museum boxes as they pay homage to nineteenth-century curiosity cabinets, which were then meant to showcase the world as recreated, reinterpreted and reveals by early travelers. Gabinete de Fisica is a casual reference to the first museum in the Philippines established by the Dominican friars in 1871.

My assemblage is borrowed from the traditional Wunderkammers and inspired by those artists who made assemblage and mixed media collage a personal diary as well as a way of showcasing their taste: Joseph Cornell, Alfonso Ossorio, Hannalore Baron, Federico de Vera, Mario de Rivera, Pewee Roldan and Ling Quisumbing.

Assemblage mixed media under glass
18 x 16
Glenn Martinez
In the collection of Sidney Snoeck

EPILOGUE: TOF OBJECTS AND NOSTALGIA. This blog is an introduction to my online gallery: TOF Objects and Nostalgia.

Published in: on June 28, 2020 at 5:51 pm  Comments (4)  
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