Friday, March 21, 2014

All Blown Up

We've never ever had formal studio portraits.  All we had were those taken by Thom at home when he had these kick-ass lights from a friend with whom he does wedding photography rackets.  It's just that I prefer family pictures when we travel over staged production number types in studios.  But then Blow Up Babies came up with this promotion, and Thom highly recommended it, and I usually just go along with whatever my friends say as part of my strategy to make my life easy.  Which explains the presence of my entire brood one Saturday afternoon at the Blow Up Babies studio in Serendra.  (Thom is actually also the culprit behind my current obsession with Photobooks.  Groan.)

Of course, I had to bribe the boys with a good meal at a resto of their choice to make them cooperate and behave for the whole hour or so it took to shoot 60 million pix.  They got into the spirit of it well before the shoot, actually.  Boots decided he wanted to wear his Captain America costume, so we figured we'll have some pix revolve around the US or travel theme.  I wore my Boston Strong shirt, of course, and brought along my favorite Cath Kidston suitcase as props.  

Ate:  Naka-USA shirts kayo, pero made in the UK naman suitcase mo!
Me:  E hindi mo kase ako binibili ng suitcase made in Boston!


It takes some explaining that the pix have something to do with our being The Traveling Austria Family, tho, so I asked our photographer Bea to Photoshop one version to make the travel theme more obvious.  She came up with the one with an old world map as a background.  Cool.  I love it.

Yoshi for his part wanted to wear his beloved Batman wings.  So then we thought maybe we could have something like a Cupid/Valentine/sweetheart theme, with the boys as good and bad angels and Ches and I the sappy lovebirds.  Boots borrowed the studio's  little angel wings.  We should have had a pose with their wings all spread out and a red backdrop, but oh well.  Perfection is lame.

Bea:  Wow, you even brought your own costumes and props!
Me:  Oo nga e.  Pasenya ka na, hindi kame masyadong prepared, gumising lang kame na ganito na!


Our last set was Chester's idea.  He thought it would be cool if all three of them boys posed shirtless in just their jeans and shades.  Dang, if I had Chester's abs I would've gone shirtless, too!  Hahaha.  I told him next time he's getting pregnant.  Groan.  Anyways, the boys' bulging bellies are much cuter than Chester's abs can ever hope to be.  Like I always say, flat tummies are unnatural, pretentious, and severely overrated.  Hahaha.

We call this last set The Gangsta Family.  As much gangsta as you can get wearing a studded, screaming pink Hello Kitty watch and a ballerina necklace, that is.  I love Yoshi's angas look best of all.  So snarky like his own true self. He didn't even have to pose at all.  Hahaha.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014


Pops and I have been planning to go to Pila, Laguna since after our Taal trip, but somehow we didn't get the chance until this weekend.  My friend Dr. B knows I love heritage towns and recommended this place to me. Pops has been there several times, of course, and was excited to do a Laguna road trip.

We started out early at 7ish and stopped by our favorite joint at Slex, Hungry Hippo.  Its branches across the metropolis are few and far between, so we take every chance we can to eat there.  I remember Pops bringing the burgers home as pasalubong way back when I was still in high school or college.  I think Hungry Hippo and Tropical Hut are his favorite burgers. I'm not a burger person myself, unlike Ches and the boys, but I like that Hungry Hippo's burgers taste home-made and not all commercialized like McDo or the usual.    

And then we were off to Pila and it was every bit as exquisite as I expected it to be based on my online research.  Pila's claim to fame is that it is the only town in the Philippines that is officially considered a historical landmark by both the church and state.  Yes, I make it my business to know these things on the off-chance that a plane I'm in gets hijacked and the hijacker offers a single parachute to anyone who can give him the correct answer.

Hijacker:  What  is the only town in the Philippines that is officially considered a historical landmark by both the church and state?
Me:  Pila, Laguna!!!

And I am saved.  Yes.  Hahaha.  

The town center is typical of old Spanish settlements, with the municipal hall and parish church fronting the town square, and the ancestral houses of prominent families lining the plaza or located nearby.

The parish church of San Antonio de Padua is reportedly the first Antonine church in the Philippines.  It doesn't say that in the historical marker, but it does mention the printing press and Tomas Pinpin, whom we were all supposed to have heard of in grade school if we were listening to our History lessons.  That printing press in Pila is the second oldest in the Philippines and produced the first dictionary in the country in the early 1600s.  Cool, huh.    

Of course, the marker also does not disclose that the church and town are settings for some episodes of the popular teleserye Be Careful With My Heart.  If you befriend the local kids hanging out in the plaza selling delicacies, like Chestnuts did, they will tell you exactly where the shootings took place and which artistas they saw doing what.  

The interior of the church was clean, brightly lit, and well-maintained.  I must admit I was expecting something grander, tho, considering it looks massive from the outside.  I thought it would be cavernous and would have something special on the ceiling or altar.  There was none of that but just the same, I'm glad that it's still standing and looking good.

 I liked that the words in the stained glass windows are in Filipino rather than Latin or English.  

The bell tower is supposedly also one of the oldest in the country.

Like in San Agustin and other ancient churches, there are tombstones on the floor and walls of the church.  I was fascinated looking at all the old Spanish-sounding names, not to mention the dates of births and deaths, from way back the 1800s.  It's like being in Noli Me Tangere or El Filibusterismo.  I took a couple of interesting pictures, but I feel weird posting pix of tombstones of actual dead people in my blog.  I don't know, it just feels morbid.  

The houses lining the plaza are fantastic.  Some look better maintained than others, a few look dilapidated but at least still not completely falling apart, and several have been converted into commercial spaces.  Papa told us along the way about how one old house was converted into a 7-11, and we were all skeptical and chalking it up to his usual tall tales, but he was so right, it was right there in one street corner.  You already, Pops!

My favorite out of all the ancestral houses we saw was this white one facing the center of the plaza.  Amazing.  It looks fabulously old and yet spanking new.  Just look at all that intricate detail in the porch and eaves.  It comes with white picket fences, too.  Gasp.  I told Ches it reminds me of the old houses we saw in Sandwich - the only thing missing is the mailbox.  I'm so willing to move to the province if I could live in a house like this.  Take me tomorrow.     

Me, to the two boys:  It was Papa who taught me to love heritage, you know.
Boots:  What's heritage? Old things?  Eeooww!
Yoshi:  Oh, so it's his fault we always go to these lame old places!


Pila also has a museum that's free for everyone.  It was closed when we got there, tho, and this was already mid-morning.  

Me, to vendor in front of the museum:  Ano'ng oras po magbubukas?
Vendor:  Depende po kung ano'ng oras dumating yung nagbabantay.  Nakipag-inuman kase kagabi, may hang-over siguro.

Sigh.  Equals more fun in the Philippines.

I read that some descendants of the town's founders have been actively working together to preserve the town's heritage.  Which should explain why many of the ancestral homes are in excellent condition, and they have a museum with free admission (albeit minus a curator).  There is even a new, spacious, and clean public toilet right by the side of the church.  I'm sure it was built with tourists in mind, bcoz if you were a local, then you'd do the deed in your own home, right?  It was miles better than some of the toilets we had to pay P5 to use on our way to Sagada.

Less attractive to the eyes is this salon right on the ground floor of an ancestral house directly fronting the church.  A store selling local delicacies or handicrafts would have been ok, but a salon?  And with a tacky name like that?  Seriously?  I could practically hear my heart breaking at such desecration.

It turns out Papa had other plans aside from Pila.  Since we were already in Laguna, he wanted to take us to Liliw and Paete as well, to shop for slippers and wood craft, respectively.  We've been to these places several times in our childhood, of course, but I wasn't about to say no to an extended family road trip.

The first sight that greeted us in Liliw was this majestic old house, right in one corner of the street where all the footwear shops are.  Gasp.  You almost expect to see Dr. Jose Rizal coming out on the porch.  How wonderful it must be to be truly old and still eternally beauteous like this?       

I love the funky store signs.  You can see the effort to put some local flavor into them rather than just using the same old lame neon store signs.

Papa's suki for slippers is Badong's.  That's one of the funny things about him - he always seems to know someone wherever we go.  He called a friend to see if we could visit their house in Pila but that friend was out of town.  And then he knows Badong, and in Paete he also introduced us to this lady who owned one of the wood craft stores.    He's like The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of The Window and Disappeared (by Jonas Jonasson), who knew everybody everywhere.

Ano'ng sinabi ni Manolo Blahnik sa mga stilletoes ni Mang Badong?  I much preferred the native-looking thongs, tho.  Love the colorful and intricate bead work on these beauties. I still have 60 million pairs to use up, tho, so I had to pass and move along.  Sigh.  

While Mama was getting slippers for the girls and Papa was scoring some lambanog, Ches and I sneaked off to visit the Liliw church nearby.  Yoshi tagged along and I was happy he did so he could take our pix.  Hahaha.  Now I have my own resident photographer.

I was intrigued bcoz the church looked positively imposing outside.  If the Pila church was a bit of a letdown for me, the Liliw one was certainly a pleasant surprise.  It's situated in a huge compound that houses several buildings.  One is a smaller chapel and another is probably the parish office.  I think all churches should have big grounds like this, considering the prominent role they have in our culture and heritage.

This must be the first church I've seen with stained glass right by the entrance and facing outside.  There were several spotlights installed by the facade, too.  I was happy for this old church that it looks like it's sufficiently funded and lovingly maintained.

The stained glass windows inside are even more exquisite.  One whole wall is solid brick with only the windows as ornament.  Ingenious.  Love it.


This is how the inside of the church looks like.  I love that they have the lights on even in broad daylight, and the way they bounce off the shiny floor tiles like that.  So dramatic.  Like the cameras were about to start rolling for an epic love story.  (I have an over-active imagination, I know.  The reality was, a hearse was parking outside and the coffin was about to be brought in.)

Off to one side was another big structure that I thought would be the baptistry or parish office or a smaller chapel. It was actually a museum.  Just like Barasoain Church that has its own museum, albeit not connected to the church like this.  Too bad it was closed and we didn't get to see what was inside.

Off to another side was a little chapel housing the Blessed Sacrament.  I love all these bricks, arches, pillars all over the church.  These are what's missing in new churches.   

Even the historical maker looks ancient.  See how it still refers to Lilio and Nagcarlang before their current names?  "Philippines Historical Committee" is the predecessor of the National Historical Commission, which is among the agencies I'm eyeing to volunteer in after my early retirement 12 years from now.  Yes, I'm very forward-looking when it comes to vacations and already counting down the years this early in the relationship.  Hahaha.  

We lucked out on a Yang Chow branch at a new mall in Pagsanjan.  Not sure entirely if it's by the same chain that operates the Yang Chow in Eton Centris and others in the metropolis, but in any case, it was new and clean and gave us the yummy Chinese feast we were after that long, hot day, so it got the job done.  Pops was too busy with his beloved pancit to pose for our family pix, so I ended up taking his solo pix with the pancit instead.  Hahaha.   

Next and last stop was Paete.  The first store we went into had these witty wooden signs similar to the ones in Main Street in Falmouth.  I got the one about Boston Cafe for Ate, of course.  What are the odds I'd find a sign about Boston in the far-flung province of Paete, right?  The one about the kitchen now hangs in one of my kitchen cabinets.  Self-explanatory.  Hahaha.  

(Just the other day I made soup for the boys bcoz Boots was clamoring for it.  So I opened a pack of Knorr chicken noodle soup and threw in some mixed veggies and eggs into the mix.  Voila - it's Mommy's chicken noodle soup!

Boots:  Wow, Mom, this is the best thing you've ever cooked!
Yoshi (rolling eyes):  It's the only thing she ever cooks.

Hahaha.  You wish your kids stay at 6 years old and easy to please forever.  But no, they grow into Yoshi and turn all snarky on you.)      

My favorite store was the second one we visited.  It had all of these country-style wooden crafts I am always hoarding at Dapitan, right down to the tall Santa Clauses!  Happiness!  The prices here were pretty steep, tho, and not like what you pay for export overruns.  I did get the lighthouse clock for our living room.  I couldn't resist.  I also coveted the 'Tuloy Po Kayo' sunflower decor.  I love that they're in Filipino, which makes them unique not to mention consistent with nation-building (hahaha).  Practically every door at home is already decorated with a Welcome sign, tho, so again I had to move along, move along.  

Pops even founds us a furniture store specializing in Hello Kitty furniture.  He demanded I take pix and send to Ate.  Hahaha.  The lady inside was kind enough to let us have a little pictorial without buying anything.  She was working on a small desk right in the store.

We found a quaint coffee shop nearby, where we stayed while Pops chatted with his friend who owned one of the wood craft stores.  We also passed by the church which from the outside looks like it's going to be grand and fabulous, but we didn't have time to go down bcoz it was getting late and the kids getting antsy.  I've already asked Ches to bring us back there next time, and maybe to Nagcarlan, too.

Who would've thought Laguna holds so much beauty and heritage?  Like I always say, these amazing sites of Pinoy pride are right under our nose - we only have to look.