Penman No. 83: A Bag of Bread

IMG_20140110_155634Penman for Monday, January 27, 2014

ONE OF the most delightful gifts that Beng and I got a couple of weeks ago for my 60th birthday and our 40th wedding anniversary was a bag of oven-fresh bread, accompanied by a handwritten letter. I found the bread so literally warm, and the letter and its contents so unique, that I secured the permission of the sender to reproduce it for this column. It’s a testament to the persistence of good things and good intentions—and, of course, of good people in a world too often and too crassly ruled by the bottom line.

In part, the letter said: “I’m sending traditional pan de suelo breads which are pugon-baked on the suelo or floor of the 75-year-old wood-fired oven of Kamuning Bakery. The crust is crunchier and it should be reheated with a toaster and not with a microwave oven. Nick Joaquin, NVM Gonzalez, and others of past generations have written about this pan de suelo bread of the Philippines.

“I bought Kamuning Bakery just before Christmas, and have kept the old owners as minority shareholders so they can continue the traditions and tastes of this bakery. I also bought the land and old building. I invested here because I believe in the old owners, the pugon bakers who are artists and the staff with their unique commitment to their craft and vocation. I want to support this independent pugon bakery with their traditional no-preservative and no-additive Filipino breads, despite the huge challenges of this era of big multinationals, bakery chains and supermarkets and their mass-produced factory or industrial breads.”

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The sender of the bread and the letter was none other than my fellow STAR columnist Wilson Lee Flores, business chronicler extraordinaire and confidant of Filipino taipans. Wilson may move in those lofty circles, but his feet remain solidly on the ground—in this case, Kamuning and the oven floor on which pan de suelo is baked, unlike the more familiar pan de sal, which comes to life on metal trays. (Incidentally, many young Filipinos probably don’t know that kamuning—like the kamias that lends its name to the same street across EDSA—is a plant, Murraya paniculata, with tiny and fragrant white flowers.)

The Kamuning district is one of Quezon City’s oldest—in fact, the bakery was put up in its present location in 1939, when the city itself was established—and while modernization has inexorably overtaken many other parts of the city, Kamuning has managed to retain some of its 1940s charm and character, an effect assisted by the proliferation of antique and resale shops and even a vintage-car restoration outfit in the neighborhood.

You can’t get more original than Kamuning Bakery, which has stayed pretty much as it was when it opened. It’s been kept alive by the seventy-ish Ted Javier and his sister Beth Javier Africa, the son and daughter of the late Atty. Leticia “Letty” Bonifacio Javier, who co-founded the bakery with her husband Lt. Marcelo Javier. ?Wilson tells the rest of the story: “It was President Quezon’s close ally Alejandro Roces, Sr. who suggested to the Bonifacio family of Los Ba?os Bakery that they open the new city’s first bakery. So?they sent their newly-married daughter Atty. Leticia Bonifacio Javier and her husband Marcelo, who founded Kamuning Bakery.” Sadly, however, Marcelo, his father-in-law Major Miguel Bonifacio, and another of Ted’s uncles were killed by the Japanese during the Second World War.

So it fell to Letty to keep the bakery going with the help, in time, of her three young children, producing pan de suelo, described by Wilson as the “fist-sized version of pan de sal with a hard and crisp crust,”?and of which Nick Joaquin wrote “colegialas got their gums toughened on their segundo almuerzo in the morning and, with hot chocolate, their meriendas in the afternoon.”

Indeed it was all the crunchy goodness that Wilson and Mang Nick promised, but don’t take it just from me. Just last month, a blogger named Tummy Traveler reported, after receiving her own gift bag of the bread, that “The pan de suelo was toasted just right. Just the right amount of crunch on the outside yet the bread still had that delicious moistness and softness on the inside. It had a faint hint of sweetness that went well with the salty corned beef together with my freshly brewed coffee and sausage.”

If all this sounds like a shameless plug, it is. Let’s help Wilson Lee Flores help keep a family and Pinoy tradition alive. I’m already planning a sortie there this weekend with Beng to stock up on the good stuff, and to visit an antique shop or two while we’re in the area. Kamuning Bakery can be found on 43 Judge Jimenez corner K-1st Street, one street inward on the left somewhere between EDSA and Tomas Morato, telephone 929-2216. They also have a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/kamuningbakery1939.

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WHILE I’M writing about bread and giving thanks to friends, let me thank another fantastic baker, Theresa Juguan, who with her family and husband Herwig hosted me and Beng in their home in Puerto Princesa over the post-Christmas break. A few months earlier, we had been first-time guests at their seaside villa just outside Puerto, and we struck up such a rapport that Theresa and Beng now call each other “sister.” I’ve also urged Theresa to write her cookbook-cum-autobiography, with her life-story being as remarkable as her cooking and baking.

What I most enjoyed about this second visit, though, was playing “Tito Butch” to Theresa’s granddaughters, particularly five-year-old Zanique and her elder sister Zitroenne and cousin Zantelle, who amazed me with their precociousness. Since the in-house wifi was down, my MacBook Air—hooked up to cellular Internet—became the center of the girls’ attention. “Tito Butch,” they cried, “we want to play! Can we use your computer?” “Sure,” I said, “where do you want to go?” And here’s what floored me: these girls knew what a URL was and could recite it by heart: “W-W-W-dot-Y-8-dot-com!”

So I keyed in the address and sure enough, a website for online games popped up. “Go to Games for Girls!” shrieked the kids, and so we did, and they quickly zoomed in on “Cooking Games,” which featured the step-by-step cooking and baking of everything from spicy corn and shrimp salad to tiramisu. “You cook this,” said Zanique, “and I’ll cook this!” And so they did, in all earnestness, arguing over the sequencing and the measuring of the ingredients. (Beng and I had watched Zanique stick by her grandma in the kitchen, helping with the making of fresh lumpia and admonishing a tita who was going about it the wrong way.)

Thus are great cooks and bakers and great traditions made.

 

Flotsam & Jetsam No. 35: New Pens for the New Year

THE HOLIDAYS and turning 60 this month gave me all kinds of excuses to acquire new pens, and here are two of the best ones: a Montblanc Oscar Wilde, issued in 1994, and an Onoto Magna Classic in tortoiseshell, handmade in the UK just last month. I’m broke but happy ??

They do look good beside my old mainstay, the Agatha Christie. It’s like having three gorgeous girlfriends to take out on a date (shhhh, don’t tell Beng!).

Penman No. 82: A Man Called Nik

IMG_2939Penman for Monday, January 20, 2013

IT WAS with great sadness that I received the news a little over a week ago that my friend Nik Ricio had passed away. We knew that he had been ill for some time, but as these things go, you hope for the best, and never really think people could leave so soon.

He was, to me, indisputably the best Filipino book designer of his time, and one of the finest Filipino artists to have wielded a brush or a technical pen. More than that, he was a friend to me and to many other artists and writers, the kind of friend whose company you didn’t only enjoy but whose talent you felt enriched by and actually learned from.

I got the message about Nik’s death from another old friend, Tere Custodio, with whom Nik and I had worked on the massive, 10-volume Kasaysayan project back in 1997-98. The three of us would collaborate on other book projects after that, but nothing before or since matched Kasaysayan in its scope and intensity. We had been commissioned by Reader’s Digest Asia and by A-Z Direct Marketing to come up with this anthology in time for the celebration of the Philippine Centennial in June 1998; we had our first meeting in January 1997, and in exactly 18 months, on schedule, the anthology was launched—a compendium of 3,000 pages, a million words, thousands of photographs, and the labor of around 200 writers (not just historians, but economists, poets, scientists, priests, and artists, among others) whom we tapped for various essays. Tere oversaw the logistics and execution of the gargantuan project; I edited the text, advised and assisted by the late Doreen Fernandez; but it was Nik who almost literally shaped these ten books and gave them their final look, working with what even then was already an aging pair of Macs and PageMaker.

I recall that effort because of what I learned from Nik, with whom I sat side-by-side, going over those many thousands of pages on his computer screen. I was a rookie editor, something like an infantry captain suddenly ordered to command the Battle of the Bulge; Nik already had many coffeetable books to his credit, chiefly with Gilda Cordero Fernando’s GCF Books, sumptuous productions which Beng and I coveted but could then scarcely afford. I decided early on—sagely, as it turned out—to let the design lead the text.

Happily Nik and I shared a traditionalist aesthetic—a sense of pleasing balance, squared corners, fine detail, and subtle suggestion (this was before book design got all postmodern funky, splashy, and edgy). I could see that Nik was going for a certain look; he’d tell me, “It would be nice if all the last lines on the page ended here…. Let’s get rid of all widows and orphans (lines that hung out all by their lonesome)…. I need a subhead here, to balance the subhead there…. Could you make sure that all the subheads are at least X number of characters and Y at the most?… You see this white line running down the page? That’s a ‘river’ and it doesn’t look good. Help me remove these rivers by adding a few words here and deleting some there….”

As meticulous and painstaking as he was, I never once heard Nik raise his voice, even as the rest of us were at our wits’ end doing our darnedest to make sure we hit our deadlines. Our tie-up with Reader’s Digest afforded us a substantial budget, and as art director Nik could have had his pick of hotshot photographers to help him illustrate our books (Nik insisted that there be a picture in every spread, over ten volumes). But when he had to, no-nonsense Nik—a talented photographer himself—went out with his camera to shoot, say, a rash of rust on a GI sheet or a patch of moss on a rock to use as pictorial motifs.

There’s an ongoing retrospective until the 27th of Nik’s work as a designer, illustrator, photographer, and painter at the Liongoren Gallery on 111 New York Avenue, Cubao, and aside from his book designs and paintings, there’s a wall of his photographs, taken on Manila’s streets in the 1960s and ‘70s: an armless man playing a guitar with his toes, a dog standing his ground in front of a Mercedes-Benz, an old woman staring out a concrete window. He had the eye of Lino Brocka, but unlike Brocka, he went past the real to the romantic, insistently seeking beauty in a decidedly un-beautiful world. He never gave up; even toward the end, no longer able to hold a brush, he used sponges to create large tree paintings.

Nik sponge painting

Flashback to another New York, the real one. In October 1999, Nik had one of his finest and happiest spells when an exhibition of his paintings opened at the Philippine Center in New York. I was happy to write the text of the brochure that introduced Nik and his works to viewers, and this is what I said then:

“After more than three decades of working as one of Manila’s leading graphic designers, photographers, and illustrators, Nik Ricio returns to an old love—painting.

“This exhibition—surprisingly enough, only the first one-man show of his long career—shows Nik returning to his artistic and spiritual roots. Those roots lie deep in romantic myth in a sense of beauty and order to the natural world, in faith and hope in the regenerative power of Art. Ricio’s works are a veritable garden of the Muses. The lushly detailed foliage that has become a virtual trademark of Ricio’s graphic design is more than pretty in these paintings; every leaf and flower is an affirmation of life, which all Art aspires to achieve and to sustain.

“Ricio made his mark early by winning first prize for two successive years, 1966 and 1967, in the prestigious Shell National Student Art Competition, before graduating in 1968 from the University of the Philippines with a BFA, majoring in commercial and editorial design.

“In Manila and around Asia, he is best known and much sought after as a book and graphic designer. His book projects include the celebrated Turn of the Century, The Streets of Manila, Being Filipino, Dances of the Emerald Isles, Rizal the Saga, Tide of Time, and, most recently, Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People. He counts among his clients some of the Philippines’ largest corporations, as well as Readers’ Digest Asia, the World Bank, the Ambassador Hotel in Hong Kong, and the Manila Hotel.

“As an art director, he has been described by a critic as ‘a submarine commander, a visionary of the deep who gives out consummate orders with the minimum of tantrums.’

“Both the mastery and the modesty should come through in these paintings. They are as close as we can get to what Nik Ricio—so much of whose work has been to realize the dreams of others—really dreams of, all by himself.”

It was no great secret to those who knew him that for many of his last years, Nik was estranged from his family; there was great pain on both sides, and ironically it took his terminal illness to reunite him with his wife Tes and their children, also accomplished artists.

Beng and I went to Loyola Guadalupe for Nik’s very brief wake, to condole with Tes and the family, and with Nik’s many other friends. He lay in an open casket, like Beng’s brother had many years before, preparatory to cremation. I remarked to someone how I would probably end up the same way in the same place, having bought a funeral policy for Beng and myself there. Many tears were shed and regretful words spoken. Walking back to the car, it felt as if you had closed a well-written book full of engaging events and lavish illustrations, leaving you wishing only that it had gone on for a bit longer and had a happier ending.

Godspeed, Nik, and may you meet with all the beauty you tried to give us an early glimpse of.?

Penman No. 81: Hello, Seniorhood

ButchBeng1974

Penman for Monday, January 13, 2014

THIS WEDNESDAY the 15th, Providence permitting, I’ll be marking two milestones I frankly never thought I’d reach: I turn 60, and Beng and I will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. (That’s right, we got married in Manila’s City Hall on my 20th birthday. It seemed a cool idea at the time, but I’ve regretted it ever since—the timing, not the marriage—because it deprived us of an excuse to party twice.)

I’ll admit this only now, but I’ve been looking forward to seniorhood with growing anticipation over this past year. At 57 or 58 you might still be in denial, walking with a pronounced spring in your step to convince yourself and everyone else that all you need is a new pair of Merrells to unleash the inner tiger in you, but the fact is, within six months of 60, you can’t wait to get there and have the inevitable done with.

The last time I knew I had to be a senior soon was just last month, when I stood in a long line in the unseasonably sweltering heat at the DFA to submit my expiring passport for renewal. Taking pity on me, a guard came up to me and asked, “Sir, how old are you?”, obviously thinking to bump me up to the express lane where a few imperturbable seniors sat smiling. “I’ll be 60 in three weeks!” I said. Not good enough. I waited three hours.

I know something about seniors—I live with four of them in the house; I know their moods, their ailments and medications, their favorite TV dramas, their exquisite skill at swallowing fish heads and spitting out the eyeballs.

And there’s no diplomatic way of putting this, but for the past three years, I’ve been married to one (Beng’s folks didn’t know she was marrying a young innocent until we were in the car on the way to City Hall; I had to get parental dispensation). But to her enduring credit, elfin Beng often has to be “carded” in the restaurants, as they’d put it in the States, while all the salespeople and cashiers have simply albeit solicitously assumed that I have a senior card to show for a discount.

So I’ve been mooching off Beng’s seniority, tagging along with her when she goes to the head of the line come boarding time at the airport, or when we queue up for movie tickets. That’s when you realize that the next best thing to being a senior is marrying a card-carrying one. But Beng doesn’t find it funny when I tell her what a shock I get to wake up in the morning beside a lola. Well, I guess we’re even now.

Of course, in a sense, you can never get old enough, maybe not until you hit 80. At 60, there will always be writers in their 80s or 70s who can’t wait to remind you what a bumbling tyro you are compared to their accomplished selves. That’s all right, because having older people on your shoulders could be the only thing that will keep you young, or at least younger, not counting strange potions meant to stiffen, uhm, one’s resolve.

It’s a pleasant surprise to get this far, because ours was a generation that was supposed to die before we even hit 25. After stepping out of martial law prison at age 19, I’ve taken every breathing moment since as a kind of grace note.

As it turned out, the grace note was my marriage, running four decades long, another unexpected, shamelessly undeserved blessing. When Beng and I stood before a CFI judge—my mom’s boss—that nippy January in 1974, it was after just three months of being together. We were in love, surely—truly, madly, deeply—but we were also gasping for breath, seizing happiness when and while we could, thinking that the State’s long and murderous hand could break the spell at an instant. As it turned out, too, the predictable State was hardly the enemy, but the inconstant self. Some of those forty years proved hard and lonesome, thankfully not too many nor too long.

As we start the count toward our golden 50th, Beng and I have come to realize that there are a few things we need and want to do in the years ahead.

With some regret, we will seek and keep fewer friends—the real, not the Facebook, kind. We’d like to focus on family, work, good health, our private charities, and, of course, more time together. This will mean socializing less and staying home more, which will be all right, because we both have so much work to do and always less time to do it.

On the other hand, lest our world become too small, and with whatever we can spare from our perennially meager savings, we will travel up a storm—march up headless hilltops, wind through strange alleyways, and wander down foreign boulevards while our knees can. This May, I hope to realize a longstanding dream, which is to bring Beng to Venice, where I had a magical moment three years ago but where she’s never been (of course, she’ll have to stay with me at that dinky hostel in Mestre, across the water and next to the Asian food store that was my culinary lifeline in heathen Italy).

We might not even need to go that far. One of the most enjoyable dates Beng and I had over the recent holidays was in front of the TV, watching a late-night screening of “Funny Face” with Astaire and Hepburn in Paris and singing along to the Gershwin score. And then another day we took our quarterly stroll around the Quiapo area, imbibing the Oliver-Twistian energy of the hardware and music stalls on Raon and Evangelista, cherrypicking the dustiest of Avenida’s ukay-ukays, and consoling ourselves with cheap mami and siopao at the Pinsec place on Recto, because Ramon Lee’s chicken house was still closed for the New Year break. We’ve been to dreamier places like the Grand Canyon and Bellagio (the Italian and Vegas versions) but it’s these slumdog sorties that we’ll remember for the fun.

With our only child Demi well set in her own career in Southern California and well loved and cared for by her own man, we can and will help others achieve fullness in life by putting them through school and giving them the same kind of guidance we gave our daughter (“Don’t worry too much about grades, enjoy your education! Make your own mistakes! Learn to think on your feet! And never forget where you came from.”)

Where she came from, I think, was us. As I turn 60 and Beng and I turn 40 (which Demi, too, will be, come October), I’d like to think that beyond all the books and paintings we ever created, Beng and I did nothing better than produce Demi, whom I named—while Beng was still in a post-partum haze—Dalisay Emilia Poticar Dalisay, “Emilia” being my mother’s name. Demi loves her lola, but wasn’t too thrilled to grow up having to explain her redundant name to her classmates, with the anciently Shakespearean “Emilia” wedged in between. “Don’t worry,” I told her, “don’t you know that Demi Moore is really Dalisay Emilia Moore?” It didn’t fly. But hey, her name seemed like another cool idea at the time.

A couple of years ago, I wrote her this poem titled “To Our Unica Hija Demi, Born Dalisay Emilia Poticar Dalisay”:

It matters not if our names end with you

If no more Dalisays walk the earth

You were all we wanted in this world

Our most joyful blessing was your birth.

When at times we seem too far apart

Remember that we are your blood and breath

And that your name to us is like a distant bell

That you bore twice, and bore it well.

Here’s to the three of us, anak. We’re all growing older, but we’re doing it together.?

Butch Beng2013

Penman No. 80: Men of Letters (2)

FCPenman for Monday, January 6, 2014

I CAN’T remember now how the poet Fidelito Cortes fell into our circle of beer-guzzling, Yeats-quoting friends in Diliman back in the early 1980s, but I do know that he was there, on December 10, 1984, when my very first book (Oldtimer and Other Stories) was launched without much fanfare in UP. I know that, because after the event, we went for more drinks in a restaurant on Katipunan (where serving beer was still illegal then, because of some silly ordinance), and Fidelito was with us.

Also there was the late Ernesto “Cochise” Bernabe II, a popular figure on campus and an English major who had been fortunate enough to visit Stanford, and who had come back with some application forms for that university’s famed Wallace Stegner fellowship. We all feigned indifference to Cochise’s offering (who needed Stanford?), but weeks later, we would discover that at least four of us had applied for the Stegner-me, Krip Yuson, Fidelito, and I think Mon Bautista (not the currently telegenic one, but a gifted fictionist from Mindoro).

Imagine our surprise and envy when, come April, we heard that it was Fidelito whom Stanford had accepted for the one-year, well-funded fellowship, with nothing much to do but write and attend workshops on Stanford’s plush campus in Palo Alto, California. But then we shouldn’t have been surprised, as Lito was an extraordinarily good poet, whose work resonated with a deep and quiet melancholy.

Lito flew off to Stanford in August 1985; I would follow to Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1986, having snagged a Fulbright. Mon Bautista got a fellowship to Kansas, I think it was. (In an even more remarkable turn, our friend and beermate Gina Apostol wrote a fellow named John Barth directly at the University of Maryland, showing him a short story that she had written, titled “Earthquake in Mexico”; Barth wrote her back, offering her a scholarship, and thus began the Leyte?a Gina’s long and continuing sojourn in the US). It was, in other words, a time when another generation of young Filipino writers began looking abroad, and specifically to the US, for opportunities to broaden their horizons (before we would discover Australia, Singapore, Japan, China, and other places closer to home).

Lito, in a way, had always been prepared to go Stateside; he’d never been there prior to the Stegner, but he had imbibed its pop culture so well that he routinely beat the crap out of us in Trivial Pursuit, particularly in the sports category, where he seemed to know all the NFL teams and their key players by heart; not to be outdone in colonial education, I commanded the geography portion, having memorized the US states and their capitals since my grade school days.

On January 18, 1986, I wrote Fidelito:

Dear Fidelito,?

Thanks a lot for your Christmas card and the Stanford forms. Unfortunately, I only got the forms yesterday (you mailed them Dec 16-a month ago!), so their users will have to wait till next year…. The “US or bust” fever continues, probably because it’s application time; we’re getting deluged by inquiries about getting into a US university, any university; the GRE and TOEFL people are raking it in…. Still no news about my acceptance; I’m hoping for either Michigan or Colorado…. We’re running out of rumors, unless you count election-fever rumors, one of the most persistent (I hear it every night, in my dreams) of which is that as a token of the American government’s displeasure with the travesty of democracy in this country, all educational assistance grants are to be terminated forthwith…. Seriously, there’s a tremendous outpouring of effort and initiative here these days, even among the most unlikely people, in support of the Cory-Doy duo; it looks like everybody’s going to be voting; the boycott boys are unusually quiet; still nearly everyone agrees that while Cory has a real chance if the votes are counted straight, there’s just no way the old man’s going to yield his seat with a smile; the US is taking a beating in the crony press; there’s even talk of declaring Bosworth p. non grata…. I hope they declare me and Beng & Demi personae non grata, and ship me out on the next plane. So don’t be in too much of a hurry to get home. By the way, Isabel plans to do her MA paper for Abad’s class on your poetry. Keep it up-statistically speaking, there’s got to be one beach blonde out there somewhere who’s into football, Yeats, and Filipino poets.

A few months and a couple of letters later, Lito wrote, on April 13, 1986:

Dear Butch,

Thanks for the letter and the snapshots. I wish I could say I’ve been busy and productive these recent months… but such is not the case. ‘Tis laziness, I’m afraid, that’s responsible for my silence-that, and a more than trifling case of sensual (not sensory) disorder called hedonism. The California spring is gorgeous, the weather mild enough for tees and shorts (cherchez les femmes), the sun is always there where you want him. “In short there’s simply not a more congenial spot for happ’ly-ever-aftering than here in Palo Alt(o).”

…. As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to be happy when the Stegner-ship is over. I’ll hate leaving Stanford, of course, which has such breathtakingly beautiful women, and San Francisco, and ditto, and ditto scenery, but to balance these, I’ll be glad to get away from the pressure of the workshop. I was kidding when I said that I had been doing nothing lately; on the contrary. I’ve always felt the pressure to produce, to bring something to class, and I’ve been prolific like I’ve never been before. Of course, I’m not being ungrateful-after all, I’m writing poems and they’re all before me, but I’d like to relax. Hence I’m applying for a seven-month fellowship in Provincetown, Mass. Where the only thing I have to do is write at my own pace. I hope I get in.

Denise Levertov has left. I say this not without a sigh of relief, for she has been hard on our poetry and hard on us as poets. She insists on precision, and with great justification, but boy! It’s difficult to sit still while she’s working on your poem. We became friends, mainly because as a leftist intellectual-and with a wonderful revolution going on in the Philippines-she was glad to have an actual Filipino in her class. But she still fills me with awe, and of course she’s scarred us, one way or another, with sharp criticism. I think that the inevitable consequence of studying under such a famous and demanding teacher is not that your work necessarily gets better, but that you become demanding yourself, and unfortunately more so upon those other than yourself, and you tend to take as your own your teacher’s biases and peculiar orientation. I’m afraid, Butch, that when you see me again, I will have become more opinionated and dogmatic-hence obnoxious-about craft and art. Denise has supplied me with ammunition (30 rounds on line breaks alone; 40 on the poem’s sonic structure; etc), and you will find that I can’t wait to pull the trigger.

Being here has allowed me to experience a lot of the literary life, I’ve heard Joyce Carol Oates, Adrienne Rich, Thom Gunn, Wendell Berry, Michael McClure, Robert Duncan, Alex Haley read and lecture. I had lunch with Berry. Muriel Spark and John Irving are coming in the spring to lecture and read. If it’s possible to OD on the stuff, I would’ve done so, but I keep attending readings and classes. I’m reading Leon Edel’s Henry James, and I’m beginning to understand what commitment to literature is…. Two girls have offered to marry me, to keep me here, can you beat that? But I’m too proud, I guess, although pride is for swallowing. Write soon, Butch, and keep on writing. Yours,

Fidelito

Lito and I exchanged hello’s over Christmas-me from Manila and he from New York, where his lovely wife Nerissa teaches at Stony Brook. It was great to be in touch again after all these years-I had to warn him that these incriminating letters were coming out-but as fast and convenient as email is, nothing beats a scribbled signature and a postage stamp.