Christmas is one time of the year when we think of loved ones who are no longer with us. They include our parents, of course. Fathers come to mind because, in their lifetime, they served as the Santa Clauses of our childhood. At least, for the most of us.
One good father, an illustrious one for both his lineage and achievement, was Don Luis Araneta, the art collector and patron, architect of such landmark edifices as Lourdes Church and the Makati Medical Center, consummate host, leader of society, world traveler, promoter of Philippine arts and culture, and a man of faith.
Having become friends with his daughter, Elvira, whom I first met because she contributed to a glossy magazine that I was editing, I asked her to share with us her thoughts on her father. This was for a book project of mine that will see fruition soon, hence this would be like a foretaste of the result of my many sleepless nights.
Elvira gladly answered all my questions. Her responses, overall, were very enlightening, and while one could feel the grandness of such a life, one could also perceive the effortlessness. The family did not “try too hard,” and neither did they do things for show. What might have been perceived as an affectation in others, or an obvious effort at impressing the onlooker, was a natural thing for Elvira, her siblings and their father.
With confidence and grace was how they lived the good life. One that could only have been a form of tribute to the ultimate creator of all these beautiful things, with whom, Don Luis, had a special relationship through his various devotions and the religious artifacts he collected. If aesthetics heightened his way of life, it was his faith that guided his every thought and action. No wonder that Don Luis was a kind, generous, forgiving and patient man. He was a good father, a perfect one, and his interpretation of this role reflected his belief in a good God, as Elvira’s stories would tell us.
When I hear the 1980s song, “Some girls have all the luck,” I think of Elvira and her sister Patty and how their father, Don Luis, had been the kind of father that could only be described as the best.
The interview with Elvira
Daily Tribune (DT): You grew up in a home filled with antiques, artworks and cultural treasures. Were you conscious of the historical significance and economic value of all these things that surrounded you? What did your father tell you about these treasures?
Elvira B. Araneta (Elvira): I was not conscious of their economic value because at the time my father collected religious and secular art, these weren’t the prized objects that they are today. But their historical, cultural and sentimental significance was relayed to us by our father. He would tell us interesting things, such as how the Filipinos chopped off the noses of the figures in the bas-reliefs out of their disdain for the matangos na ilong na kastila (Spaniard with a high-bridged nose). Or how a beautiful Murtabani jar was given to his father — an attorney by profession — by a client he had defended. He would relate the significance of an item in relation to a relative, a friend of the family, or a historical event or person. Every piece had a story. My father kept data and literature about every piece in his collection.
DT: Did you like living in a home filled with treasures?
Elvira: I loved our home in 52 McKinley Road. I thought it was the most beautiful house in the world and knew that I would never tire of it. It was actually a rather modern house. My father had installed such innovations as the first built-in wall oven in the Philippines, common now but a true novelty then. We also had a gate intercom system to speak to drivers waiting for entry through the gates of the property, something until then unknown in Filipino homes.
My father “discovered” the capiz shell and popularized its use in decoration by bringing them to the Brussels World’s Fair, the Seattle World’s Fair and so forth. But before these were displayed there, we already had capiz lanterns in our house.
DT: To what extent did Don Luis get you involved in his many pursuits?
Elvira: I remember traveling the countryside with him and going to old churches and other interesting places. We would also drive through Laguna and environs where we’d stop by the hillsides and he’d have the gardeners who were following in the pickup behind uproot orchids, ferns and elephant ears. These things were growing wild. The forest was lush and ecological conservation was a concept yet unheard of. My sister and I also remember we took a trip with him one Holy Week to the sacred Mount Banahaw as well as the churches of Majayjay, Nagcarlan, Pila and others. He took us around the country with him quite a bit.
DT: Your Dad was a gourmet. What were Don Luis’s favorite breakfast, lunch, dinner and merienda food?
Elvira: Yes, my dad loved meals as he was a gourmet. We would have courses, several entrees, and he’d introduce us to different fruit juices too during lunch, served in appropriate juice glasses. We also had a row of cutlery on either side of the plate. He taught us the appropriate spoon and fork and glass. Sunday lunch was usually cocido. We often had Jewel Salad, a pineapple-cabbage salad that was often served in their family table in the Aranetas’ R. Hidalgo (Quiapo) home when he was growing up.
DT: Does a particular dish remind you of him?
Elvira: Oh, gosh. So many things. But of dishes, I can think of steak tartare, caviar, bacalao and ceviche. Then there was Jewel Salad, a dish served in his family home in R. Hidalgo which was essentially a pineapple and cucumber salad set in gelatin. So do the customary favorites he would serve at lunches with friends or even at parties: pansit bihon with tengang daga, fresh lumpia, chicken galantina filled with ham, chicken-pork adobo rich with fat and liver, among others.
DT: What did he give you on special occasions including Christmas?
Elvira: Yes, he was quite generous to us, his children, as well as to his friends. I hear this even from his ahijadas (goddaughters) on whom he would lavish beautiful and sometimes rather costly gifts. But he was also generous to the many churches and institutions that helped the less privileged. On Christmas, he would always send Majestic ham and an envelope with monetary donation to several of these such as San Sebastian and San Antonio churches.
When we were small, my sister Patricia’s birthday, which falls on the day after Christmas, would be celebrated with a party to which the orphans of St. Anthony’s Institute would always be invited.
DT: Tell me about the parties that your father hosted. I am told they were equally fabulous.
Elvira: My dad loved throwing parties. Parties were his canvas, where he could display his whimsy, demonstrate his varied skills, express his creativity, put to use the artifacts he had acquired throughout the years and just have fun. A lot of times there was a theme to these parties – Chinese, Barrio Fiesta, Arabian Nights, Great Lovers of the Centuries costume party, formal masquerade balls, or more contemporary flower power costume shindig.
When my father threw parties, he – with his staff — did everything himself. The items used for decor were either taken from his various collections or crafted under his personal supervision (long before they became familiar Filipino handicrafts). If he lacked in something, he borrowed from close friends. He and several of his friends who also threw a lot of parties — like Conching Sunico, Chito Madrigal and Elvira Manahan — would often buy the same pattern of plates and silverware so that they could borrow from one another in the event of a big shindig. They would also share cooks. In those days, most dishes were home-cooked. Not much catering going on then. Their parties were very fun and imaginative.
DT: How would you like your father to be remembered and regarded by the millennials of today, and the future generations?
Elvira: I would like my father to be remembered as a patriot and a nation builder. During the war, he was imprisoned and tortured in Fort Santiago for his work as treasurer and fund raiser of a guerilla unit fighting against the Japanese.
But what he is known best for is for his being a consummate art collector, a cultural vanguard, a 20th century tastemaker. In this, it was his love of country that motivated his efforts. He collected not to acquire a great collection but to preserve for posterity the material culture of our Filipino heritage at a time when such values were not yet in the forefront of people’s minds.
As a man, I would like him to be remembered for his joie de vivre, his love for beauty and the finer things of life, his intellectual curiosity, his generosity and kindness, his great love for family, his great passion for justice and equity. He symbolized, to me, a time of gentility and integrity, qualities we could use more of today. Photos taken from In My Father’s Room by Elvira Araneta, Esperanza Gatbonton and Patricia Araneta. Published by San Agustin Museum.
Photos taken from In My Father’s Room, published by San Agustin Museum.