By Dom Galeon
Images by Noel Pabalate
Video by David Clarence Rivera
It was an evening perfect for the occasion. Family, friends, and colleagues came to celebrate Manila Bulletin Lifestyle editor AA Patawaran’s latest book, a collection of short stories titled Manila Was A Long Time Ago. Even the venue was quite apt, the Anahaw Room of the Manila House Private Members Club.
There’s a formula for setting up book launches. You invite guests, you make the author speak, and then you make him sign books. While all of these were present that Monday evening, there were a number of details that made it not your usual book launch. I have attended quite a number of these formulaic events, but this one was different, and I mean that as a compliment.
As far as book launches go, it stood out. Let me give you three reasons why.
A living story
Manila Was A Long Time Ago compiles 16 different stories about Filipinos, 15 of which are set in cities in Europe, North America, and Asia. One story, which is among my favorites, and I consider the piece-de-resistance of the collection, “Whatever Happened to Ines del Prado,” is set in Manila.
That evening, I was tempted to identify some of the guests present to the characters in AA’s stories. Where was Ines Del Prado, I wondered. Or maybe one of the guests fancied herself to be Diana Vreeland. Perhaps someone was counting down to a kiss or looking for a night of almost romance.
But it was definitely a romantic night, in the classical sense of the word. I didn’t really have to look for the characters in AA’s stories. In a way, these stories were alive that evening. Or you could say that we were all spending one night in the stories that AA wrote—from the beautiful guests and the fabulous venue, to KC Concepcion’s lovely reading of a three-minute version of “Almost Romance”—one of the short stories in the book—while two dancers tangoed in the middle, to the tune of Carlos Gardel’s “Por Una Cabeza.”
Topping the roster of AA’s well-wishers was National Artist of Literature F. Sionil Jose, or Manong Frankie as he’s fondly called by those who know him, who gave a short but meaningful speech. It’s not every day that you get a National Artist to get the program started at a book launch.
“Ang mga writers, mayayabang ‘yan. Parang ako, mayabang ako (Wri
ters are a proud bunch. Like me, I am proud),” Manong Frankie quips, speaking to the crowd, one arm holding firmly to AA. He then narrated how, when he first saw the manuscript for Manila Was A Long Time Ago, he imagined it to be three books instead of one.
“Pero si AA, ‘di niya ako sinunod kasi mas mayabang siya sa akin (But AA, he didn’t listen to me because he’s even prouder),” he jokes, making the audience laugh. In all seriousness, though, Manong Frankie was among the first to have encouraged AA to write a book of short fiction.
A celebration of all things beautiful
In a sense, AA tells me, the launch of Manila Was A Long Time Ago (MWALTA) encapsulated the beauty he had always sought in the world. His college creative writing teacher told him that his stories were always full of long-legged, soft-skinned, beautiful women. That remains unmistakably true in this collection of short stories, and it was particularly evident during the book launch.
For starters, it was graced by three of the most beautiful women in today’s Manila. From the simple but classy KC Concepcion, to the elegant and talented Love Marie Ongpauco-Escudero, who lent her artworks to AA’s book, and to the stylish Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi who hosted the program.
Even the guests were glittering jewels, led by the Manila Bulletin president and the evening’s guest of honor Dr. Emilio Yap III who, together with National Book Store managing director and Anvil Publishing president Xandra Ramos-Padilla, led the toast to celebrate the new book.
Also among the guests were Czech Ambassador Jaroslav Olša Jr. and deputy head of mission for the Swedish embassy Lennart Jansson, whose countries were among the 14 featured in Manila Was A Long Time Ago.
Indeed, the event was one for the books and for the pages of society magazines.
Published by Anvil Publishing Inc., Manila Was A Long Time Ago is available at National Book Store, Powerbooks, and online. nationalbookstore.com | anvilpublishing.com.