Churches and their spectacular ceiling paintings

Entering an old Catholic church can be a heady experience, intoxicating first one’s vision of his environment and sending a wave of surrealism from one’s head to his toe. Church pillars may be intricately carved, enough to send one to marvel at man’s ability to create beauty within his environment. Walls may have fissures borne from the force of winds and rains banging on their solid strength for years. And when one looks up, the ceiling may be lit with colors on heavenly figures, as is often the case, with hues and shadows that make the heavenward canopy of the church appear as a spectacular tableau of luminaries who are enjoying their place in God’s dwelling place, beyond the first and second heaven.

These ceilings of churches in the Philippines, its marked history and curious evolution for hundreds of years, was the topic during the first Casa Gorordo Museum (CGM) talk on February 22, as part of the museum’s efforts to make heritage accessible to the public, nurture the Cebuano identity, and cultivate pride of place. Prof. Jay Natha Jore, coordinator of the Jose T. Joya Gallery at the University of the Philippines Cebu, led the discussion titled The End of a Tradition: Trompe ‘loeil Ceiling Paintings in Cebu and Bohol Heritage Churches, unraveling in the process old and new information generated through his master’s thesis.

A Love Story by Gilda Cordero-Fernando

A Love Story, a short story by Filipino writer Gilda Cordero-Fernando, is one of the tales in her collection of stories titled The Butcher, The Baker and The Candlestick Maker (1962). It is the first short fiction I have read this year that shows a strand of Filipino life in America. In A Love Story, a boy and a girl, both young adults and both often misunderstood by their families, meet in a small town museum, their safe haven, the container of their dreams.

#readPhilippines: Trip to Hesperides by T.D. Agcaoili

Garden of Hesperides Philippines short story T.D. Agcaoili

Trip to Hesperides, a tragic short story by Filipino writer T.D. Agcaoili included in his first volume of collected stories, tells the story of a homeless man with a quick and almost senseless grudge against people. This grudge is borne from anger toward his dead father and deep-seated hunger in his stomach. Without food fueling his common sense, he treats a passing woman with disrespect, a Chinese merchant with arrogance, and a cop on duty with prejudice. Without food fueling his five senses and only anger at the world feeding them, he ultimately places his life in danger.
The suspenseful short story reflects the nature of Agcaoili’s work, which often tackles social problems like poverty and consequently hunger. Little information can be found about Agcaoili online. What can be found shows how notable his works are such that he is among the remarkable literary figures recognized in the 1950s along with Nick Joaquin, Amador Daguio, Maximo Ramos, and Florentino Valeros.
What is also interesting in the Trip to Hesperides is the use of the term Hesperides, which, in Greek mythology, refers to the nymphs of evening and golden light of sunsets. The offspring of Titan Atlas, they are called Daughters of the Evening or Nypmhs of the West. They tend a beautiful garden in a far western corner of the world. According to the myth, it was from this garden that the Goddess of Discord, Eris, obtained the Apple of Discord, which eventually led to the Trojan War. Why is Hesperides used in the short story? Is it a place where the protagonist can ultimately quench his hunger?
Meacci, R. (2013, October 29). The Garden of Hesperides [Drawings & Watercolours (1894)]. Retrieved February 10, 2019, from

#readPhilippines: Secret Scent by Erma M. Cuizon

Philippine literature Filipino short stories writers

Secret Scent, a short story by Filipino writer Erma M. Cuizon, tells the bittersweet reunion of a heavily pregnant woman named Carissa with her mother during the latter’s 70th birthday and with her brother Jim who came home from the US. The occasion also meant meeting again her mother’s friends, the welcoming and talkative ones who recount some of Carissa’s adventures of her youth, way before she married and moved out of her parents’ house.
This is, for me, an all too familiar scene. I have moved out of my own parents’ house when I got married several years ago, but each time I went back for a visit, home smells of home, of past life, of nostalgia, of days with less worries of the future. In the story, Carissa feels the same, although more painful because her father already died and, for her, there is one less person to share her stories with.
In Filipino households, no matter how poor or how sick or old some members are, there is always the effort to cook traditional food, such as pancit or lumpia or hamonada or all three at once, during birthdays, holidays and anniversaries. In Carissa’s mother’s house, there is humba or braised pork belly cooked by Jim who learned the secret of the delicious recipe from her mother who learned it from Carissa’s father. Carissa has come to the party alone; her husband neck-deep with work, a sentiment understood by Jim who has family troubles of his own.
Secret Scent may mean the smell of humba, but it may also mean the secrets one hold to keep families together. Whatever it may mean, the story itself is one of the enjoyable, straightforward piece published in Ala Carte: Food & Fiction (2007) edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard and Marily Ysip Orosa. I bought my copy of the book and had it signed in one of the Cebu Literary Fests.
Erma M. Cuizon was an award-winning Cebuano writer, one of the few people I truly admire in the literary scene. I briefly worked with her when she was working as editor and columnist of SunStar Cebu. She was one of the founding members of the Women in Literary Arts-Cebu. I am no stranger to her work, having read her weekly essays published in the community paper and her novel, Women in the House. She passed away on November 9, 2017.
Adderley, C. (2018, November 22). Croissant Bread on Clear Glass Cake Stand [Digital image]. Retrieved January 13, 2019, from

#readPhilippines: We Filipinos are Mild Drinkers by Alejandro R. Roces

Philippine short stories in English literature

We Filipinos are Mild Drinkers, a short story by Alejandro R. Roces, blends well humor and seriousness like a good lambanog in a bamboo tube. In the story, the Filipino writer described lambanog as “a drink extract from the coconut tree with pulverized mangrove bark thrown in to prevent spontaneous combustion. It has many uses. We use it as a remedy for snakebites, as counteractive for malaria chills, as an insecticide and for tanning carabao hide.”
You can just imagine how strong it is. The strength of lambanog is tested on an American soldier in the story and he passes out after the third drink, which is amusing because, before succumbing to the hospitality of the Filipino host who is a farmer, he boasts how he drinks anything and everything, from whiskey to shaving lotion. But the farmer, used to the drink, does not falter nor even blink at the fierce taste of it. He even sends the American soldier back to barracks on top of his carabao (water buffalo).
I like this story very much for how close it is to home. My late grandfather is a cacao farmer. I drank tuba (coconut wine) at his encouragement. But I was warned that the lambanog is five times stronger. I have not tasted it; my physical constitution may not be able to take it. When I mentioned it to my father and my husband, they did not even make the effort to hide their repugnance at the drink, the menacing taste of it etched sharply in their memories. You may want to try it for yourself. But the commercial lambanog may or may not be as strong as the ones naturally made in our mountain farms.
Other elements found in We Filipinos are Mild Drinkers made me love the short story thoroughly: the reasons Filipinos drink (the same reasons exist today, I think, and the same reasons for the descriptive “mild”), the carabao who does half of the farm work, the cultural meaning of palm trees, and the close relationship between man and nature. Given my background, I can dive into a long and detailed cultural comparison between the Filipinos and the Americans during the American colonial period in the Philippines through this short story, but I won’t, simply because I want to enjoy it in its entirety.
Roces (1924-2011) is a short story writer and essayist and is considered as the Philippine’s best writer of comic short stories. He is National Artist for Literature in 2003.
Budiarsana, T. (2018, March 18). Coconut Trees Under Blue Sky During Daytime [Digital image]. Retrieved January 1, 2019, from