Thursday, October 6, 2016

Not getting to Bellagio

Bellagio is a place of great beauty on Lake Como. Best known for the residence of Rosemary Clooney's nephew George, hyper-paparazzified and with a campaign against his liberal views on refugees by the execrable but sadly popular Daily Mail.

Here is the wonderful auntie of George Clooney. As we heard her when I was pre-teen

Less well know is the important Bellagio Centre of the Rockefeller Foundation.

We have no plan to go there.

But I have begun reading the Rosales saga of Francisco Sionil Jose, a highly praised historical novel series on the path of Filipino nationalism from the 1880s. A very important popular door to identity for a nation still in search of its independent place in the world. There are big time gaps in my attention to literature, places, friends, because of illness.

Dusk, or Po-On  in the Philippines, the first novel in the series, was drafted in a month at the Bellagio Centre but it took three decades to complete.

we were younger in 1965
When I arrived in Manila at age 21, on my first diplomatic posting, I walked back from my first appointment in the Foreign Ministry down Padre Faura and browsed the Erehwon Bookshop and then was gobsmacked by the shiny, new, packed with everything Solidaridad Bookshop with Frankie's lovely wife Tessie at the counter. Coming smiling from the back room was Frankie - Francisco Sionil Jose.

While so warmly received by them, I did not know immediately that this was my first really substantial, worthy, independent adult friendship, with this lovely family, life shaping, integrity prodding, in a very quiet way. Somewhat undeserved, I think. They gathered us up and included us in many things including family trips. And, he the renaissance man, writer, political and social activist, bookshop owner and soon to be publisher, steered me one day cheerily to a copy of Masters and Johnson's very new and astonishing Human Sexual Response which he assured me I needed. Which I did. How innocent and ignorant of so much the world then.

Frankie is an Ilokano, behind the gentleness an intensity and passion. A medical orderly in the resistance in the jungle in World War 2, in the way of many Filipinos of that era and with that experience of guerrilla war, he carried a small gun openly. Marcos banned that, the biggest banner of weapons before John Howard... see also this other dimension, the careless bravado of going to war. (Unlike some I spoke against the Iraq war before it began.) I'm sure there's a thesis in that dual antithesis, but not here.

Frankie and I saw each other only a few times after those days. I would go back to see him now but he's 90 at least and deserves recognition not bothering. Hurry please, Nobel committee.

We last saw Tessie and Frankie in January 1986. We were on leave from the embassy in Beijing. We dropped into the bookshop unannounced and Frankie characteristically seemed to have nothing else more important to do than, as ever before, gathering us all up, putting us into his car to drive around Tondo with its huge population and desperation while talking from the heart of the social issues; also expressing some of his chuckling pleasure mixed with anxiety about safety as he persisted in writing satirically about Imelda Marcos.

Of Bellagio he writes in the introduction to Dusk:
To reach Bellagio [early 1960s] you take a car from the airport closest to Milan and drive through a scenic route, the roads hugging the sides of the mountain, and on the left, through turns and dappled foliage, the shimmering Lake Como. I got to the villa before noon, and there at the entrance was the entire staff lined up-as if royalty was coming to visit...
I think we need get no closer.

I also think I should invite you to this first para of the Dusk narrative:
Dusk is the day's most blessed hour, it is the time when the spirits of darkness lift slowly down the bright domain. The acacia leaves droop, the fowl stop their cackling and fly to the boughs of the guava tree to roost, and as the light starts to fade and the shapes of trees and houses and even the motions of people seem shrouded, the essence of time, of change, and the brevity of life itself is realised at last. 
I find in that the character of the author, especially his gentle exhortation to go outside and be glad to be alive... alive.

I bought Po-On as usual from my favourite bookshop Better World Books. Part of the thrill of buying there is you sometimes find the history of the book, especially if it comes from a library. This one has a receipt I now use as a bookmark. It was bought in the Borders bookstore in the New York World Trade Centre on 26 September 1998. It reached me looking like it had never been read. The receipt records that it was sold along with a copy of the DVD Perfect Storm...  Go back to the end of that last quote.

No comments:

Post a Comment