The recent event Tunog at Lasa ng Kalayaan at the year-old Gypsy Baguio by Chef Waya at the foot of Quezon Hill, Baguio City, was a night tailor-made after a patriot’s heart. Our red, white and blue hung prominently near the entrance. By it was a table of books and t-shirts staffed by writer-impresario Pablo Tariman—poetry collections by him (Love, Life and Loss During the Pandemic) and his late daughter Kerima (Sa Aking Henerasyon).
It was heartening to see the audience, usually in smart casual get-up, dress up for dinner and a concert. The pandemic has almost put a stop to live concerts and face-to-face poetry readings.
First to come out of the kitchen were big round plates of Chef Ed Bugia’s Blue Marlin Gravlax with Kesong Puti, Micro Salad and Mango Tarragon Vinaigrette. I sought stronger hints of the vinaigrette, but missing that, I mopped up my greens in the amount that I liked them to be.
The appetizer, in a deep wooden bowl, was eye candy—the purple yam complementing the yellow corn. It was the first time I paired local blood sausage with the softness of mashed ube, a contrast in textures.
By the time my main course arrived—Lamb Caldereta (with just enough savory fat) with Cheese Risoni and Honey-roasted Vegetables, the dining audience had focused on the reading starting with improvisational artist Gabe Mercado’s rendering of A Poet Is a Lonely Hunter, dedicated by Tariman pere to young American poet laureate Amanda Gorman.
As the poet from Pasig surmised:
Still there is nothing
Like a poet’s voice
To remind us
There is something inherently human
In all of us.
Baguio-based actor-director Karlo Altomonte had the audience eating off his palm–his stage presence filled the room—with his interpretation of Kerima’s poem in Filipino, Ano. It jibed with the celebration of Independence Day, as he asked in Iluko, “Annia ti nagan mo, kaddua?” To mean “What is your name, comrade?” The answer: “Waya-waya” which in the northern language means “freedom.” That was also the name given the restaurant owner by her father, former political prisoner and sculptor Jerry Araos.
The evening’s piece de resistance was Karlo’s bold delivery of Ka Amado Hernandez’s Kung Tuyo Na ang Luha Mo, Bayan Ko which had Chef Waya in tears
A face and presence long missed on the culture stage is Rl Altomonte. Would there be more opportunities to see her onstage? What could be said as the evening’s piece de resistance was Karlo’s bold delivery of Ka Amado Hernandez’s Kung Tuyo Na ang Luha Mo, Bayan Ko which had Chef Waya in tears.
By the time the long rectangular plates of strawberry-themed desserts arrived, served almost furtively by the restaurant staff so as not to divert attention from the evening’s star (classical guitarist Aaron Aguila), we were close to sated from Chef Ed’s feast for the senses.
Edith Piaf’s love plaintive L’hymne a l’amour made my seatmate hum quietly—perhaps a remembrance of an old romance? Aguila’s Amazing Grace put us back in a solemn mood, I remembering the life that once was Kerima’s. When he announced next he was playing Bayan Ko, a man applauded loudly in appreciation. To cap the evening (sorry, there was no encore) was Tarrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra.
Chef Waya Araos-Wijangco, who earlier read Tariman’s On Being Caught Quoting Travolta’s Ode to Life with such flair, led the curtain call and singing of the national anthem “while we can still remember the lyrics,” she said.
Would that every Freedom Day in the important capital cities of the nation be observed with such meaning!