Monday, September 06, 2010

Living la Vida Imelda

Over the years, one of the must-dos when in Manila is to join a tour of famous guide Carlos Celdran. He must be doing the tour for about a decade or so now, and he has thus gained prominence as Manila's premiere tour guide, and has appeared in countless publications worldwide.

I joined one of Carlos' tours more than three years ago. We went around the heritage area of San Nicolas (see previous entry here) and since then I've been dying to join another tour. Finally, I had the chance to do so in my recent trip to Manila.

Along with my BFF from my university days, Meredel, we went to the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) complex for Carlos Celdran's Living la Vida Imelda. It's no secret that I'm a big Imelda fan. Well, I don't approve of what she did as a First Lady and I'm completely disappointed in the Filipino people for voting her in the current Congress.

Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that Imelda has an allure for her crassness and delusion, least of all, to which I could not help being drawn.  She's the embodiment of the corrupted soul of the Filipino, desperately yearning for validation but without a deeply-rooted self-confidence to carry her through, hence, she faltered scandalously and with such tragic, and oftentimes comic, repercussions.

The tour is a journey through the life of Imelda Marcos (as well as Ferdinand) with the CCP as a backdrop of the grand myths she perpetuated as a First Lady for more than twenty years. Envisioned as the epicenter of the arts and culture of the Philippines, the CCP is considered as the apex of her and Ferdinand's "edifice complex," a hunger for grand infrastructure projects to proclaim to the world that this scattered islands on the edge of the Pacific Ocean cannot be ignored.

The life of the Marcoses has been well-publicized through the years. Carlos thus relates these facts, personal anecdotes, and wild rumors during the highly entertaining three-hour tour. Carlos' boundless energy and panache in telling the tale of the Marcoses is an attraction in itself - akin to performance art - only overshadowed by the sheer ridiculousness of the erstwhile first couple.

The tour starts at the CCP where we found our way into Box 25, the private box of Imelda and Ferdinand during the halcyon days of their regime. We then snaked through the narrow corridors of the theater, with Carlos leading the way, a cassette player perched on his head, and dancing to the tune of "Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika" and other OPM songs.

We then found our way to the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), which surprisingly has retained its glory over the years. The lobby, with its stunning chandelier, never fails to give that sense of grandeur of the building purposely constructed in 1976 for the first IMF-World Bank Meeting.

A humongous painting by Filipino painter Jose Joya also decorates the lobby and its halls are decked with Ang Kiukok and Manuel Baldemor paintings. Well-preserved furniture from the 1970s are still found all over, giving the place a truly retro feel.We were then led to the main plenary hall of the PICC where the tour ended.

I do have tremendous admiration for Carlos' handling of the tour. It is supremely entertaining and informative (at least for those who do not know the Marcoses so well). There are many familiar facts and myths retold during the tour, but he also somewhat dispels some rumors, particularly those relating to the tragic collapse of the Manila Film Center and the assassination of Ninoy Aquino.

I also admire the tour's access to many parts of the CCP and the PICC, especially coz we pretty had these places to ourselves (well, sort of).

Did I change my mind about Imelda after the tour. Absolutely not and neither does the tour aim for us to do so. At the very least, it only reaffirmed our belief that the Marcos regime was one of the most surreal and darkest moments in our recent history. But then, it is also a reminder that Imelda has given the Philippines some international recognition, only for the vilest of reasons.

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