RENDEZVOUs By Christine S. Dayrit | PhilStar, 11/11/07 –My penchant for old houses, turn-of-the-century style to be specific, often leads my sisters to remark that I truly am an old soul.
There is something fascinating about these ancestral homes that reek of luxurious antiquity. These moldering large abodes obscured by their modern environment have stories to tell. Each piece of stone and marble slab, low-anchored chandelier whose glitter is reflected on the polished, long narra dining table, chinaware and silver cutlery of yesteryear paints a bygone era of history and culture. In this mise en scene, many narratives of love and bonding by the very families who lived there reverberate in my heart and mind.
A reunion with my former grade school classmate at Colegio de San Agustin, Antonio Pamboy Pastor, took us to Batangas City to check out what is perhaps the best preserved ancestral house (98 percent of it still original) in the whole archipelago.
This home, built in 1883 by the former Gobernarcillo Don Alejo Acosta, my maternal ancestor, has been handed down to the fourth generation of the Arceo-Pastor clan, enthused Pamboys namesake, classical pianist and lawyer Antonio Toning Acosta Pastor, who welcomed us into their heritage treasure. I believe that when it comes to family, the first generation makes the wealth, the second generation enjoys it, the third either expands it or destroys it.
Such words are very familiar to me, words of wisdom my own father Ting Dayrit often shared. Our family unanimously agreed that for as long as the family respects and allows love to conquer all, nothing is impossible.
Tito Toning gave us a tour of the house, starting at the winding driveway, which leads to the front door a fine slab of thick narra. The stairs inside lead to the spacious caida (living area). Interesting to note was that there was a trap step, similar to a mouse trap which closes or shuts as soon as a living being steps on the very pedestal that follows the portals and patio of the mansions foyer. Tito Toning enthusiastically explains that the flapping down of the secret step was a deterrent for burglars, as the residents of the house would surely awaken from the noise.
The landing of the grand staircase of the Pastor Mansion has black-and-white marble slabs similar to the classical Viennese style of interiors with matching marble-topped molave wood coffee table, Bentwood chairs, and capiz shell window panels.
The mansion is really full of wisdom, love and heritage. Tito Toning shows us his musical skill as he plays Fantasie Impromptu by Fredric Chopin, and sings in his tenor voice with his brother Rafael Some Enchanted Evening. What a pleasant surprise to discover that Tito Toning and my late mom, Mila Salgado-Dayrit, used to perform together on a weekly TV show called Musical Horizons way back in the early Sixties.
Another interesting thing about the house is the bullet slug stuck inside the wooden frame of the door of the mansions sala. No one knows for sure the veracity of the story retold by their ancestors that the bullet was aimed at the late Governor-General of the US in the Philippines William Howard Taft. One thing is for certain: Governor Taft was indeed in Batangas City sometime during the turn of the century.
Do you know who this is? Tito Toning asked me, pointing to the photograph of Don Pedro Gutierrez Pastor, the financier and treasurer of the Katipuneros during the second phase of the anti-colonialist period in Philippine history.
The objets dart elicited a nostalgic feeling, as though history is alive in these photographs and surroundings.
Let us not forget that love also begets beauty. Tito Toning brought out the vintage photograph of the Manila Carnivals Queen in 1913, Julia Arceo, niece of Rosario Santos Arceo, who was married to Pedro Gutierrez Pastor. Nothing has been heard much about her up to this moment except for some speculations that she must have been the American means to quell the revolucionarios and independistas.
Reverie, thats what the panel of photos seen through the eyes of love depicting history is all about. They remind us of our own mortality, which dawns upon every soul who values family heritage lovingly preserved for centuries. The Pastor y Acosta mansion is a living legacy of Filipino nationalism, with values of respect, heroism, valor and the fight for liberty and freedom.
From the old-world luxury of the mansion, we proceeded to an edifice of new-world grandeur: Hotel Pontefino, a boutique hotel that has become a landmark in that southern capital. Lito Fernandez, general manager of Pontefino, made sure we were pampered like royalty.
Nestled on a hill overlooking Batangas City, the 60-room hotel is the first and only city hotel south of Metro Manila with premier facilities and amenities. Its façade resembles the architecture of the grand mansions of Cote dAzur laced with warm Mediterranean accents.
Hotel Pontefino is an amazing vacation place with spacious rooms styled in simple elegance and luxuriously furnished for the most discerning tastes. Designed with ones personal relaxation in mind, this property is a supreme combination of elegance and hospitality with a touch of the world-renowned Filipino warmth.
Here, you can indulge in New Batangas Cuisine, which the hotel proudly offers guests. During the sumptuous lunch, we were treated to some of chef Dennis Edillons (formerly of the Chateau Group of Restaurants) creations of delectable Batangas dishes like bulalo (native beef simmered till tender and served with nilaga vegetables); tapang Taal, deep-fried pork jerky; Batangas adobo, made with pork and chicken simmered in vinegar, garlic, pepper and turmeric powder; maliputo seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled over lava rocks; and the fusion Balayan Caesar salad, romaine lettuce tossed in Balayan bagoong-flavored dressing topped with Parmesan, bacon bits and croutons.
Sandy Javier of the famous Andoks Lechon Manok chain, who promised to tour us around his three farms in Batangas, joined us for breakfast the following day where we further indulged in tawilis, more tapang Taal, longganiza Taal, tuyo, and loads of the yummy freshly baked bonete, a local soft-bread roll.
And to burn off all the excess carbs, Hotel Pontefino has excellent gym facilities professionally managed by Golds Gym, a badminton court, and unique spa treatments to relax and delight your senses. Try the all gastronome-satiating concoctions like the barako coffee scrub and the ala-eh! tsokolate scrub. Dont forget the Taal lava-stone massage.
The merger of the old and new is definitely a fine Filipino experience that is truly gratifying. The Batangueño spirit thrives and is alive respecting heritage and identity and welcoming innovations without hesitation.
As we bid farewell to the beauty of Batangas, we read an invitation from Tito Toning to attend a very special project of their clan the inauguration of the Parish of the Holy Trinity and the installation of the first parish priest at Pallocan West, Batangas City, tomorrow, Nov. 12, at 2:30 p.m.
In Gods hands and arms we commend the spirit of Batangas and its treasures.
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Hotel Pontefino is located at Pastor Village, Gulod Labac, Batangas City. For inquiries, call 043-7233466 (in Batangas) or 635-9364, 631-8310 (in Manila), or visit www.pontefino.com.ph.