Tuesday, November 18, 2014


BURY ME BENEATH THE DAISIES. Tombs in a Philippine cemetery are decorated with traditional circular wreaths called "coronas", following the traditions of All saints Day. ca. early 1900s.

 One of our more enduring traditions is the honoring of the dead every first of November with prayers, candles and flowers placed on their tombs. Flowers served to honor not just the memory of the deceased, but in the distant past, they were also used to mark and identify places of burial.

 In the West, flowers were imbued with meanings, and were used as forms of non-verbal communication, often to express sentiments of love and affection. Thus, three red roses meant “I love you”, while a bunch of forget-me-nots meant--well, forget me not!

 Conversely, there were flowers that signified remembrance and mourning, of sadness and grief. These often became staples in fashioning bouquets, wreaths and funeral coronas, embellished with black ribbons, with the words “Recuerdo”, also created from tiny blooms.

 Everlasting (Helyschrysum bracteatum) were top favorites as they lasted long and kept their brilliant colors for days. Known also as “altar flowers”, we got our supply from Baguio, through relatives living there. The same relatives also sent bunches of calla lilies few days before the undas, which we kept in the coolest part of the house--the bathroom--to prevent browning. As one knows, lillies stand for holiness, faith and purity—appropriate floral offerings for All Saints’ Day.

 The fragrant ilang-ilang (Cananga odorata) meant “paglingap a tapat” (loyal care), while azucenang dilo or romantically called ‘caballero de europa’, stood for greatness. On the other hand, palomaria, locally known as bitaog (Callophylum inophyllum) symbolized care.

 The pink and purple pensamiento (pansy, of the viola family) sent a message of “atiu ka lagi keng isip” (you are always on our minds). Butones (locally known as botong, Barringtonia asiatica (linn.) kurz) , especially the purplish ones siginified “kapayapan”—peace and tranquility. Inclusion of white chrysanthemums or manzanillang puti in the flower arrangement meant a casual greeting of “komusta na ka”(how are you?).

 Perfumed jasmines presented at the tomb meant separation, but its variant—milleguas—or Tonkin jasmine, leaves a promise of “e mawale ing kekang ala-ala” (your memory will not fade away.) The passion flower—pasionaria—represented holiness, while the white adelfa meant, “magpasyal ku”—I will visit.

Orchids expressed profuse love, while sampaguita, profound sentiment. Used in context, the laurel signified a triumph over death. Of course, today, not much thought is given to the concept of floral philogy, or the language of flowers, which was all the rage from the 1920s-40s.

All that is lost in the bewildering variety of foreign-bred flowers now available to the florist (Malaysian mums, Holland tulips, stargazers) and in recent innovations in flower arranging (the use of mixed fruits-vegetable- flowers, artificial blooms of paper and plastic, why, even castaway driftwood!)

 True, there are many ways to affirm our love for our dearly parted, who will always remain sacred to our memory. But none as special as expressing that feeling with the “flowery” language of flowers!

Sunday, November 2, 2014


A GEM OF A GIRL. Gemma Teresa Guerrero Cruz, daughter of Carmen Guerrero and the late Ismael Cruz, is crowned Miss International 1964 at Long Beach, California, the First Filipino world beauty titlist. Shown with pageant host and actor Hugh O'Brian. 

When my second book, “ARO, KATIMYAS DA! A Memory Album of Titled Kapampangan Beauties 1908-2012” was launched in July 2013, I had the enviable privilege as having Gemma Teresa Guerrro Cruz-Araneta as my Guest of Honor and Speaker. A friend, Ivan Henares, president of the Heritage Conservation Society of which she is the chairperson of the Board of Trustees, had made the arrangement possible.

 A heavy downpour has delayed her arrival, but when she strode in, resplendent in an antique black and gold baro’t saya that once belonged to her lola Filomena, she got us all starstruck. I, myself was mesmerized by her patrician beauty, tall and regal was she, that led actress Arlene Dahl, one of the judges in that 1964 pageant to observe: “she had an unmistakable air of class that set her apart from others. I think that regality, so evident in her breeding and bearing is what gave her the judges’ nod.” 

Of course, I was thrilled and giddy with excitement at her presence—never mind that she was not a Kapampangan beauty like the subjects in my book; she was, after all, our first world beauty titlist, Miss International of 1964, a crown she won in Long Beach, California back in August, 1964.

But it took Gemma Cruz to provide the Pampanga connection, in a “kiss and tell” story of sorts, that delighted the audience no end, warning the audience that she won’t mention names, “lest you think I am being rude or unladylike”, she quipped, further eliciting more laughter. Let me give way to her own recounting of this event in her life:

 “In Alex Castro’s book about Kapampangan beauties, there is a chapter about beauty queens who had something to do with Pampanga. As I was reading it, a thought crossed my mind: why am I not included here? I had connections with Pampanga! 

 After all, I had two ardent suitors from Pampanga, one from Lubao, and the other from Porac. The one from Lubao was the quiet type, but I didn’t mind doing all the talking because he was very tall ( a basketball player) and was a good dancer. The one from Porac was very conservative, so he was horrified when I won the Miss Philippines and immediately broke off with me. 

 Both are in heaven now, I hope, waiting for me and raring to ask whom I love the best, Porac or Lubao?” 

 With a that, the witty Gemma closed her talk, leaving us “bitin” with a cliffhanger of an ending, what with her intriguing blind item revelations. Maybe she left enough clues to help uncover the identities of her two ardent Kapampangan swains.

Dare you, dear reader, venture a guess?