In her new book, a kind of sequel to the autobiography Myself, Elsewhere, the writer Carmen Guerrero Nakpil continues to fascinate with her amazing memory and vivid stories of postwar Manila. Here, an excerpt courtesy of her daughter Lizza Nakpil.
"In 1975, as a member of the amen battalion, I was assigned to write the text for two, big pictorial books (one on the Philippines and the other on Manila) by Gina Lollobrigida... The world at that time was unaware that, to her many accomplishments, Miss Lollo had added that of professional photography. She had been able wangle a whale of a contract, befitting her status as "sexiest woman alive" of the last decade.. The stage was set, from the very beginning, for cultural battle.
"I spent a few days as houseguest of Miss L. in her fabulous villa on the Via Antica and met her German boyfriend, about the age of my sons. I was thence transported to a hotel in glorious Florence, queen of the Italian Quattrocento, a city of marvels. I went daily to the printing press, where the staff knew little English, to read the proofs and approve page designs.
'Who are you calling a pygmy,' I said looking down my nose. I knew it had all come from Lollobrigida's photos of the Tasaday.
"In one of the photos, I recognized a classmate of my oldest son. He was scantily clad, exhibiting a lot of musculature. I said, "I think I know that boy. He goes to school with my son." It must have been the only remark that pleased G.L. because she quickly turned sweet and trembly and asked if I could get on the phone to Manila to call him. I refused, of course. That service entailed a profession I had not signed up for.
"The Italian pressmen at the printers also suffered from culture shock. The first day I was there, they took turns coming up to my desk to ask questions about my nationality. When I told them I was Filipino, they pressed:'But your father must be Spanish." Following my reply, that I was full-blooded Filipino, they insisted, "But you surely had a Spanish grandfather." I lost my patience. "I know what's bothering you: that I am whiter and taller than you." And I was. They were swarthy, crusty, little men about half my size. "But it was in our schoolbooks, that you are descended from pygmies." I stood up and drew myself up to my full height of five-eight, dwarfing them noticeably."Who are you calling a pygmy," I said looking down my nose. I knew it had all come from Lollobrigida's photos of the Tasaday. If she'd had her way, all the European readers of her books would have thought of Filipinos as stone-age pygmies. When I think of the rank racism in that print shop in Florence in the 1970s, I dread what our Overseas Filipino Workers must go through among the alien corn."
More about the book here.