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The distinctive pop of the oxy-acetylene torch lid-up in the hands of Carlito Ortega as he casually asked our group “So who wants to try brass welding?”
It was a hot and humid day as our van sped south in a journey aptly named “Viaje del Sol” as organized by the Filipinas Heritage Library of the Ayala Foundation. Together with a group of about 20 writers, the 100 or so kilometer journey across the provinces of Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon promises to spark interest in the arts as well as excite our palates.
Surrounded by a garden of greenery, Carlito’s spacious workshop is dotted with finished and unfinished masterpieces. On one side of the wall hung wooden hammers of various sizes, small sheets of brass littered on the working table, carved bole use for molding sits in a corner, and a small speaker emanating the artist’s favorite music permeates the air. At the center stands a figure of a woman with a half finished skirt, while several completed heads of carabao in various incantations lies nearby.
Being a sculptor (he prefers to be called a welder), Carlito works in welded steel and brass, as well as old hard wood. He creates figurative works with inspirations derived from Philippine folklores. In between demo, Carlito talks about his humble beginnings, his passion and inspiration for his works, his love and appreciation for the arts, and his zest for life.
Our visit with the master sculptor ends with a taste of his aromatic rice coffee and warm kalamay in the specially built garden patio with its ceiling adorned with the artist’s works.
The Sulyap Gallery Cafe, located in Brgy. Del Remedios, San Pablo, Laguna is a classic bahay na bato (stone house) that was originally from Tiaong, Quezon. Owned and operated by Roy Empalmado, who also meticulously decorated the place with old Filipino antiques with a modern twist. Most conspicuous are the window panes that make use of the translucent capiz shells while the upper horizontal beams are designed with stained glass that gives them reflected colors of green, blue, yellow, and red in the form of fans; protruding shades are likewise embellished with wooden or metal laces. Various traditional ornaments decked the interiors, among which are oil paintings, ceramic plates, wooden sculptures, and old gas lamps. The whole place is lighted using incandescent lamps, giving it a warm yellowish ambience.
The three story building that houses the gallery was actually a school. Outside the main doors one can see two old-generation motorcycles and a real Volkswagen beetle properly restored to perfection. The gallery functions as a dining hall as well, serving only traditional Filipino foods and delicacies.
After the hearty breakfast, most of us agree that the afritada (sautéed beef) was very well done, taken together with hot pandesal over tabliya (native chocolate soup) they were simply delectable!
“Everything here is for sale.” Quips Roy as he toured us around his gallery – beds, trunks, chairs, dining wares, wooden figures, drums, jars, cabinets, chandeliers, and even a mounted stag head; the place was a veritable warehouse of antiques. So are they expensive? I didn’t ask. But like any work of art, there’s an intrinsic value attached to every item and anyone interested can always try to haggle on the price.
From the charms of Laguna we then headed toward the province of Quezon into Lusacan in the town of Tiaong. It was a little past 2 in the afternoon as we arrived in the compound of potter Ugu Bigyan.
Primarily into pottery, Ugu’s works include bowls, plates, wind chimes, and strings of intricately carved ceramic jewelries. One can either select to buy any of the myriad of readily available items on sale at the shop or have them custom made.
Apart from pottery, Ugu’s place is also known as a gastronomic haven. With food prepared from family recipes served on beautiful ceramic plates and bowls, art, as well as food lovers will surely be in delight!
A cooking demonstration for a well known salad – kulawo, where the main ingredient is from a banana flower was facilitated by Ugu himself. The ‘heart’ of the banana tree was grated and mixed with burning charcoals in order for it to cook, a distinctive way indeed of the dish’s preparation.
With our stomachs satisfied from a late lunch consists of clam soup, salads, grilled fish fillet, fried squid rings, honey glazed ribs, and curried crustaceans; Ugu again showed us the art of pottery making – from a slab of clay, transformed into perfectly symmetrical bowls and jars.
As the sun slowly dips toward the western horizon, bathing the sky in reddish iridescence; the realization that we only managed to visit 3 places out of the 20 or so destinations of the viaje del sol itinerary left us all a little wanting. The thought that the rest of the places in the map must surely offer the same level, if not, a completely unique experience; has already excited my senses. The only question left, is which of the remaining destinations should I go next?