Archive for the ‘Philippines’ Category

I’m sharing pages of one my favorite books, “The Governor General’s Kitchen, Philippines Culinary Vignettes and Period Recipes, 1521-1935. The book is a classic and important book of Philippine food history and is by Felice Prudente Sta. Maria. Published by Anvil. If you are in Manila, get one! I got mine for 1500 pesos at National Book Store. Some recipes and menus are in Spanish, some in Tagalog.

I apologize for the quality of the scans.


Christmas 2

Christmas 3

Christmas 4

Christmas 5

Christmas 6

Christmas 7

Christmas 8

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Dear Readers,

I wrote a book!

It is called, “Through A Glass Darkly” and it is probably best described as a memoir set amongst supernatural incidents.

Here’s the link for the Kindle version.


and here’s the link for the print version:


I hope you read and enjoy the book, because all the stories are true.

Best always,


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Back in 2011,  I wondered whatever happened to William Cameron Forbes after he died. I looked into the newspaper archives and the last mention is of his memorial at the chapel at Harvard on December 26, 1959. He died on Christmas Eve at his last residence, the Hotel Vendome, in Boston.

I married into an old Yankee family with a mercantile history. Great-great grandfather William G. Bell formulated and manufactured Bell’s Seasonings, an icon on the Thanksgiving table. I know how the old families operate, on a subdued channel, never ostentatious, hardly publicly curious. Well, I suppose my husband is lucky because I am unceasingly curious and he enjoys this part of my personality.

Because Forbes was the founder of Baguio, the man who went and lived in a thatched roof hut and dreamed of a city in the pines, I thought there would be some mention of Baguio in his will.

So I trekked over to Baker Library at Harvard Business School on a hot afternoon.

I filled out forms and had an interview, and after a long while which I spent looking at the pictures on the wall and the lawn outside, a big box was set in front of me.

William Cameron Forbes’ Last Will and Testament. I looked through it. Mostly family bequests, he seemed very devoted to his nieces and nephews, and dear old friends.

“I bequeath Emilio Aguinaldo’s dagger to Harvard College,” the document said.

I was startled. Emilio Aguinaldo’s dagger? The first president of the Independent Republic of the Philippines? Really? Where was it? Did it make its way to a national museum? Was it still at Harvard?

I quickly wrote an email to the reference librarian and received an answer.

“The dagger is here,” it said. “You can check it out like any book in the archives. Here is the call number.”

The following day I went into the archives and requested the dagger and the letters that accompanied it.

There was a makeshift procession that emerged from the back. A librarian carried the dagger in its case and place it in front of me. Another librarian carried bound volumes of typed journals, and the third carried a box of folders with original letters in Spanish, and their English translations.

My heart started beating so fast and my eyes welled with tears at the sight of the Filipino sun on the dagger’s hilt. In my mind there was a violin and the mournful tune of “Bayan Ko.” I remembered my own great-grandfather, Modesto Joaquin who was a colonel in Aguinaldo’s army. I can tell stories for days about the effects of war on generations of children. But that is for another day.

I looked at the letters, first a serious but cordial letter in Spanish from Aguinaldo asking for concessions for prisoners in his native province of Kavite.

Then some entries on the Forbes side of visits and conversations with Emilio Aguinaldo.

On August 10th, 1907 (I read this on August 10th 2011), there was an entry by Forbes saying that Aguinaldo had visited and given him the dagger, and he had received it with the knowledge of its significance.

Aguinaldo and I called on each other quite often and occasionally played chess together; and finally I went to the States and had made a handsome set of ivory chessmen with an appropriate box, which I presented to the General. Some time after this he called on me, and drawing from his inner pocket a bundle wrapped up in silk, he presented it to me and told me it was the dagger he had carried at his side through two insurrections, that the silk handkerchief in which it was wrapped was of Philippine silk and bore his initials, and that the dagger was the first weapon made in the Philippine Armory after the insurrection was started.

I hesitated gravely about taking the gift. I knew the Spanish practice of making gifts with the expectation of their being refused. And yet Aguinaldo had come to my house purposely to make this present and it didn’t fall into that category. I did tell him, however, that I felt the memorial was so valuable to his children that he ought to keep it for them; he said that he wanted me to have it. I then asked him if he would write me its history, which he did.

Dear readers, I apologize for the picture’s quality. I was shooting through glass and didn’t know about the anti-glare setting. I can go back and photograph everything again, but for now, I wanted to share this discovery.

Click on this link to see the rest of the photos. All photos are courtesy of Houghton Library at Harvard University.


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The letter is beautiful when read in Spanish. Heartbreaking when read in English. The reason we read in English instead of Spanish is woven directly into the letter. Only about one hundred years ago, the history changed. The Islas Filipinas fell under a new flag, the old flag – ragged and bloody was hardly used.

I think all Filipinos can feel  the audacious thrill of stepping away from the abuses of the gobierno de los frailes. Imagine creating one’s own country. Imagine winning. Imagine losing it again.

Imagine finding a friend in someone who was supposed to be an enemy. Imagine finding the fragment of hope. Imagine becoming a friend away from the limelight, away from the politicians. Imagine long afternoons on a veranda in Old Manila, with the dappled light coming through the capiz windows and playing chess with a young man whose Spanish was halting.

Look at the letters, read them in Spanish, then read the translation transcribed below.

The Honorable Cameron F. Forbes

Dear Sir:

I acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated July 29th. You are right in your statement that the souvenir which I have presented to you is of historical value to me and much, therefore, be held in high esteem by my children, for which reason you hesitated for a moment to accept it.

This dagger, my inseparable companion in the events of ‘96, is truly a relic. My children, unconscious witnesses of the vicissitudes through which their humble father is passing, are, indeed, as the apples of my eyes to me; but before this relic, and before my children comes my adored country, the most sacred of what is sacred to me in this life.

It therefore seems natural to me to dedicate this relic to you, whom I expect to be perhaps one of the first to promote, at the opportune moment, the complete aggrandizement of my country, which is worthy of a better fate.

As to the history of this blade, which faithfully reflects various episodes of my sad life, I can summarize it in the statement than I have moistened it more than once; but I will keep my mouth sealed as to whether it was wetted with noble or with vile blood.

The Tagalog names and the date engraved on the scabbard are: “Kawit”, which is the original name of my native pueblo, known now as Cavite Viejo: “August 31, 1896”, the date of the first uprising of the pueblos of San Francisco de Malabon, Noveleta, and Kawit. In the province of Cavite: “June 12, 1898”, the date of the declaration of independence proclaimed in the pueblo of Kawit or Cavite Viejo and “Kalayaan”, which means Liberty.

The triangular piece of metal means the role of the brotherhood of man. The sun engraved upon it, and the eight rays issuing from it symbolizes the idea which cast its light into the remotest nooks of this Archipelago, illuminating before all others the first eight Tagalog provinces in which martial law was proclaimed by the Spanish government, which were: Nueva Ecija, Bataan, Bulacan, Morong (now Rizal), Laguna, Tayabas, Batangas, and Cavite.  The three stars represent the Islands of Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao, of which the late Philippine Republic intended to form the “United States of Oceania”.

Yours respectfully,
(signed) Eo. Aguinaldo


Here is the link to the letters. With thanks to Houghton Library at Harvard University.


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On the wall, is a portrait of Bud’s great-great grandfather, Robert Gibson Bell. His wife’s name was Sophronia Bruce,  but her portrait is quite dour, and it just sinks the chi of a room, so she is scowling downstairs in a safe place. They were Scots, through and through. The chest of drawers came to us via my favorite great-uncle-in-law, Uncle Doug who lived into his nineties and had a debonair spirit. He and Aunt Margaret were fond of convertibles and date-nut bread. She was a housewife her whole married life and the story goes that she invested small amount of money from her household budget and when she died, she left Uncle Doug a fortune. So it goes with the unknown geniuses in a family.

One day my dear friend who is a very high up the art totem pole in the Philippines went with us to visit them at their storybook cottage in Natick, Massachusetts. He sat and ate and visited and they thought him tremendously charming and they never forgot him and to their last days they sent best wishes.

At the back of the chest you can see a big photograph of the beach at Cohasset, Massachusetts, the picturesque town my husband grew up in. It is still a lovely place to visit on a summer day.

Then you can see a clock which belonged to Bud’s great-great grandfather, the inventor of Bell’s Seasonings. The clock doesn’t run, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t aesthetically a restful thing to look at.

Two whale oil lamps one from the family, and the other from an estate sale stand at attention all the time.

The dearest thing on this surface is the photo of my grandparents, Mercy and Francisco Joaquin. This was Christmas of 1963, I think. This was at Cresta Ola their beach resort in Bauang,  La Union in the Philippines.

When I read stories about children who grow up in hotels or castles, I think of my childhood days at Cresta Ola, where the restaurant was our kitchen, and the hotel rooms our bedrooms, and the swimming pool our playground. The sun sank into the ocean every night and guests came down the driveway and added color to our march of days.

When I was back in the Philippines earlier this year, my uncle gave me the whole sequence of these photographs. When I look at them, I see so much. Most of all, I see my own small face in my own branch of the  family. My mother in her cat-eye sunglasses, my father in his blue tropical weight suit. There we were, in the most unusual place, in the most unusual life, frozen in time.

Yet, that time follows me everywhere, and my grandparents loom large over the landscape. The gifts given to me, the imagination, and the ability to dream with a huge canvas, come from this world.

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