The sun shone so brightly, that even the flesh-colored awning covering the rays was useless. The light still leaked through the hindering tarp and through the tinted glass of the restaurant where we sat in with our orders. Amidst the day’s hustles, loud voices from the nearby tables and exploding steams from the bar’s coffee press, Jary, Emcie and I sat silently while waiting for our guest-of-honor.Though I have seen her recent pictures, I still have doubts if I’d recognize her in person. Will she be friendly? Accommodating? Is she going to answer our most challenging question without raising an eyebrow? Jary herself has cooked up some questions, which I advised not to be raised immediately, nor in medias res. “We still do not know her,” I told my friend and collegue. “Baka mag-walk out.”
Jary took my copy of the 1969 book, and Emcie took the one from 1987. With nothing else to do but wait and eat, I took my iPad and reviewed the questions. I have organized the interview according to the literary approaches that I know: The Work and its Author, The Work and the World it Imitates, The Work and other Works, and The Work as an Entity in itself. Nothing will go wrong, I told myself. The three of us had prepared for this meeting.
I looked at my tattered books; the few of the only remaining copies available within reach. With their yellowing and torn pages, I got them second-hand from an online bookstore, not knowing who their previous owners were. I have searched all bookstores in Manila for brand new copies. National Bookstore had two copies that was put on sale at Php 48.00 in 2011. Bookmark, the biographies’ official publisher in the 60s and 80s already has stopped printing any of the books. What was left were the old original copies buried in Catholic university archives. Two (I heard) were in UST, and three in Ateneo de Manila.
Since I have chosen her 1987 book as our selection for the book club, I have had the members photocopy the only book that we have; a stinging reminder, that if I tell our arriving guest about the piracy I masterminded, she could leave us without answering any questions with our 400-peso-pasta on our heads.
I was in the middle of this sullen introspection when I saw her outside the glaring pavement with the sun at her back. Barely 5 feet 5 inches, in an abstract checkered black and white dress, and flat shoes, she entered the cafe in silent elegance. Unlike her favorite subject in the biographies that she authored, who always made sure that she grabs everyone’s attention when the curtain rises, she bowed her head as she entered, and politely whispered to the waiter adjacent to the door.
I swallowed. The time has come.
I stood up and introduced myself with my winning smile. “I’m Orly Agawin,” I declared while offering my hand to my Filipino author for 2012.
“I’m sorry, I’m late,” was her answer.
“It’s our pleasure to wait,” I answered without thinking, still not letting go of Carmen Navarro Pedrosa’s right hand.
It was just last May when I came across Carmen Navarro Pedrosa’s THE RISE AND FALL OF IMELDA MARCOS in Book Love Pilipinas – An online bookstore by Andy Batangantang, it sells some hard-to-find used books and past editions. Since January, I have been wanting to challenge myself to read at least one biography for 2012. I have had my share of fictions and self-helps, but never had the chance to fully explore the joys of reading a life story. When Andy posted on his Wall an acquired copy of THE RISE AND FALL, I immediately reserved it for my week’s purchase.
Being a second-hand copy, I got it for only Php 120.00
I also bought another Imelda biography (also by Pedrosa) in the form of a small book: THE UNTOLD STORY OF IMELDA MARCOS (1969).
The books arrived on May 9, 2012. Not knowing when I will start reading them, I put it on my growing pile of TBRs (to-be-read). The Shakespeare group in the office were already having challenges finishing our selections, and I still have a load of books to finish, that I never found the time to open my newly-bought biographies until I went to Iloilo for a talk on Dystopian Literature. I started reading the first chapters of THE RISE AND FALL in Terminal 3 and found myself engrossed until I arrived in UP Iloilo. Being a slow reader, the book held on to me when Bong and I traveled by land from Iloilo City to Caticlan, a staggering 8-hour ride. I did not sleep, nor put it down. Each yellowing page was as exciting as the next.
The book, though tattered and torn, became more of a promise than the white sands of Boracay. Such a treat for a 120-pesos-book.
THE RISE AND FALL OF IMELDA MARCOS was published in 1987, the year after the EDSA Revolution. After being forced to exile because of a previous unauthorized biography in THE UNTOLD STORY OF IMELDA MARCOS in 1969, Carmen and her family moved back to Manila to continue their lives and rebuild relationships with their relatives. She was then asked by her publisher in New York to come up with a continuing sequel for the 1969 Imelda biography to cap the story of the Marcos regime. She obliged.
Like the forbidden book that she published 18 years ago, the 2nd installment sold like hotcakes in 1987. It was published in New York and was even translated to Japanese, Portuguese, and Tagalog. The story of Imelda continued until her flight to Hawaii in the final pages of Pedrosa’s sequel. It was a relevant piece of literature understood by most Filipino English readers in the late 80s.
This unputdownable book gripped me like cold steel for its impeccable narrative, dramatic flair and interesting Subject. It was like reading a tele-serye in Primetime Bida, or Dramarama sa Hapon. Imelda Marcos’ story starts from a pivotal point when her family once belonged to the category of “poor relations” in the rich Romualdez clan. It continues to her unlikely adventures in Manila, her days of living in the garage and ultimately marrying Ferdinand Marcos and occupying the second highest position as First Lady of the land.
When I got back to Manila, I started inquiring on Carmen Navarro Pedrosa. Is she in the Philippines? Or is she even in Manila? I even asked people if she is still with us (if you get my drift). I wondered if she has an email address where I can reach out to her and tell her how her book moved me to appreciate the democracy that our fathers and mothers fought for. As a matter of fact, I would even settle for snail mail.
The search for her became more of a need than a wish when I gave the RISE AND FALL as a suggested reading for the book club’s July discussion. After all, in our day and age of Facebook and Twitter, the web of social interconnections will help me find my way to find the Filipino author who gave me a new love for biographies. After days and hours of searching Google and Facebook, I came across Veronica Pedrosa, one of her daughters who was with her during her exile, now (like her mother) a correspondent for Al Jazeera. On July 10, I messaged her in FB, and immediately got a reply with her the elder Pedrosa’s email address. “My mom will be thrilled!” she wrote.
I immediately drafted an email to Carmen. Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor. I was slowly being led to her. Stating my objectives, I asked her if I could see her for an interview, document the event, and share them with my fellow book club members.
In just three hours, I got a reply.
And the rest became a part of my reading history.
(to be continued)
View part 2 here.