• A letter from Long Island

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    Hi folks! I’m writing you all from Long Island, New York, in a place called Great Neck, a small town nestled in sprawling, hilly woodlands very near the waters of Long Island Sound. This is where my daughter Len, her husband Joel and wonderful mom-in-law Marilyn Goldstein live. I’m visiting for a few days, with the purpose, among others, of doing some editorial work on the book that Len and I are co-editing for Anvil Publishing in Manila. A Taste of Home, forty-six essays by Filipino expats around the world, their memories of food, of family and hometown rituals associated with food. Len’s doing the book design, artwork and layout, and she’s shown me exciting studies for the cover, and ideas for thematic graphics for chapters and pages. She’s an expert in hand-made greeting cards—her relatives and friends have been receiving one-of-a-kind “bespoke” birthday and Christmas cards through the years—and I know she’ll be able to do wonders for this book we’re working on. I kind of like one particular design she’s come up with: cloves of garlic, peppercorn and laurel leaves on plain white textured, handmade paper. That gives a clue to one of the greatest dishes in the world, mentioned quite often in the book—the national adobo of the Philippines.

    But maybe we’re not focusing as much as we should? Since she and her husband took out their 35-foot sailboat Quickbeam from winter storage, they have been refurbishing and outfitting her for this year’s sailing season, which for them starts now, timed with my arrival in Long Island. Today we tested Quickbeam’s water-worthiness, brought her from her mooring on the deeper part of the water to the dock where these two intrepid sailors, chafing from the hot summer sun, re-installed her boom (to which is attached the mainsail), and tomorrow we take her out along the stretch of Long Island Sound to skim the waves amidst the boats and yachts and sloops of the sailing set, and we hope to keep at it until evening when we could watch the fireworks along the coast all the way to Manhattan, in celebration of the Fourth of July.

    Sometime in the near future, perhaps by next year they plan to take Quickbeam down to the Bahamas, then right through the Panama Canal, westward to the Hawaiian islands, then back east towards Seattle, where they could eventually relocate. They would then be joining a growing community of the Maranan clan establishing a tiny foothold in the Pacific northwest, from Seattle to Vancouver and Victoria in British Columbia. That sailing voyage will take of six months, and they hope to invite some relatives and friends to join them in certain legs of the odyssey.

    I still have two days left before going back to London. Maybe Len and I can still put in a few more hours into this book to get it nearer to completion. But we’re not actually goofing off. Sailing is really part of the work we’re putting into the book. We’re thinking of having our father-and-daughter-as-co-editors photo taken while on board the boat, with a trace of land and the wide-open sea in the background, and ideally with both of us holding barbecued chicken on sticks. Overseas Filipinos on an endless voyage, missing the taste of home. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Cheers, and wish you were here.

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    Postscript 1: Adobo
    The other night I cooked chicken wings adobo for Len, Joel and Marilyn. They liked it! If there’s gonna be enough time before I leave, I’ll treat them to my chicken afritada. If not, I’ll just enjoy the wonderful dishes that Marilyn prepares or the feasts she treats us to when we’re out on the town.

    Postscript 2: The Shupes
    The other day Len and I visited my American foster parents, Jasper and Jeanne Shupe, who live in Fishkill up in the Hudson River valley of the Empire State. They used to live in nearby Beacon, a city right by the river, and where the train station is. We took the Metro train from Grand Central in Manhattan, and it carried us to upstate New York, chugging along the Hudson which boasts fantastic river views of mountains and rock formations along the other shore.

    On the river were barges, tugboats, jet skis, launches and one-person kayaks which seemed the best way to travel on this placid river. I have warm memories of this river which I first saw in 1963, when I came to New York direct from the mountain city of Baguio in the Philippines, as the country’s delegate to the New York Herald Tribune World Youth Forum. The Shupes were my first host family, and there would be two more. But I guess I had the most fun living with this family in the city of Beacon. Their house was atop a hill overlooking the Hudson. I still remember the address: 94 Tompkins Avenue. It was winter when I came to their place, so the place strikes me now as so different. Apart from it being summer, changes have taken place, although the city seems not to have lost its small-upstate-town charm. The Shupes sold that house many years ago and now live in a more compact place in a residential community with a view of the Beacon mountains.

    The last time I saw my host family was two years ago when they—Mom and Dad and my foster brother Jay and his wife Wendy—attended the wedding of Len and Joel at the former Guggenheim estate at Sands Point, a resort near Port Washington on Long Island. Before that, it was way back in 1985, when I visited them after my stint at the Iowa International Writing Program. That had been the first time I saw them again after 1963, and I’d wished I had visited more often. The Shupes are now in their eighties, like my parents, but age has not kept them from enjoying life — especially now that they have a month-old great-grandchild, with another one expected in December. They also drive down to Florida for the winter, and come back to Fishkill in the spring.

    I was so happy to see them again, and the sight of them waiting for us on the platform of the train station is a memory that will always be with me. We swapped stories as they showed us around the house, and over a marvelous lunch which Mom prepared. They showed us photos of me as a 16-year-old visiting student at Beacon High School (I still remember the cheer and chant of the champion Bulldogs basketball team.) Dad recounted the time he was with the US Navy, and the landing they made at Leyte during the closing months of the Pacific war. His connection to the Philippines goes as far back as the day he was born. His full first name is Jasper Admiral George Dewey.

    A few hours later, we were all on that platform again, as they waited with us for the 2:50 train going back to Manhattan. We hugged as we said our goodbyes, and I was all choked up. I don’t know when I’ll see them again. I will always remember them as among the kindest, warmest people I have ever known—same thing can be said about my two foster brothers Jay and Don— and I am fortunate to have had them, for a brief period, as parents. The Beacon experience, and my relationship with the Shupes, are very important to me. On the most personal level, this was a high point in my youth—it opened up the world for me. At the World Youth Forum in New York, we were 60 youth from as many countries learning about each other’s country and culture.

    But not everything was sweetness and light during the first week of being together and getting to know one another. Even as the hormones raged (some of the guys and dolls had started pairing off into cuddling couples, after only a few days of acquaintance!, no doubt inspired by the warmth of Sarah Lawrence College while the wolves of winter bayed outside), an even hotter encounter was raging among some of the other youth. All by his lonesome, the delegate from Israel was in constant animated, often heated debate, with the delegates from Syria and Jordan, who were speaking up for the Palestinians who had no representative. The rest of us, whether knowledgeable or ignorant of the issue, were a captive audience.

    One could have imagined the worst out of raised voices and flushed faces, yet the conflict in beliefs never went beyond intense, highly intelligent debate; and we, the youth of the world representing—in various degrees of self-awareness – the discordant ideologies of mankind, did we fully realize that those debates between youthful patriots from opposing camps were only echoes of a conflict rooted in thousands of years of history, and could we have imagined that such a conflict would lead to the tragedy in New York City many years later, on September 11, 2001? But at Christmastime 1962, at Sarah Lawrence, in “the greatest city on the planet”, we were all sweet birds of youth alighting on the New World, waiting for our host families to collect us.

    The homestay with an American family was a good example of the bonds of lasting friendship that can develop between people coming from different races, climes and cultures. We got exposed to the positive values that underlie the American way of life—which clearly differ from the values of empire which have for generations caused bitter resentment and resistance against the United States in many parts of the world, including the Philippines. (A year or two after My Great American Adventure—the actual title of my memoirs of the Forum—there I was with a throng of university students demonstrating lustily, in front of the US embassy in Manila, against America’s Vietnam War and getting pummeled by the truncheons of the riot police.)

    And finally, to end on yet another happy note, I find comfort in the knowledge that apart from my relationship with the Shupe family, a part of me is already forever American —my daughter Len, married to an American. Here’s hoping their life together will always be, for most of the time anyway, like smooth sailing on the Long Island Sound, and on to the seas beyond.

    Postscript 3: The Sound, Fourth of July
    We’ve just come back from a day cruise on Long Island Sound! I bought a Sony DVD-205 camcorder just for this, and I’ve got some terrific footage. I’m very proud of Len, she’s very knowledgeable now about sailing, i.e., steering, boat maintenance, nautical terms, etc. I felt like Odysseus on the prow without even feeling nauseous, aiming my still camera and the videocam at anything that moved on the water and on the horizon, but most especially at my sailing companions, the couple and Marilyn.

    We had lunch on board—while anchored in the middle of the Sound, with Manhattan’s towers looming in the mist in the distance—of ox tongue, turkey and pastrami sandwiches and whole pickles, with the Beatles belting it out from the cabin stereo below decks. Oh man, how I dread the thought of going back to London tomorrow to my garret of an office .

    . . and this evening we cast off again, this time to watch the fireworks of the Fourth of July, all along the coast from Manhattan to New England across the water. Needless to say, wish you were here.

    Postscript 4: Fireworks
    Towards evening, we go back to Stepping Stone Marine Park where all the watercraft are moored, and we cast off on an easterly direction, parallel to the northern shore of Long Island. Len and Joel take turns steering. The boat runs on both engine and wind power, but the engine’s on to make better time, the sail’s furled to the boom. We navigate between buoys and the reefs, and try as much as possible to avoid the waves caused by the wakes of big powerboats. (There’s an item of memory apposite here, one that will always remain with me, words from the inaugural address of President Manuel Roxas on July 4, 1946, the day we officially became nominally free as America’s neo-colony: “Our safest course, and I believe it is true for the rest of the world, is in the glistening wake of America whose sure advance with mighty prow breaks for smaller craft the waves of fear.”)

    We head towards the town of Newport in a bay-like cove, where a flotilla of other craft has already anchored, full of people in holiday and partying mood waiting for the fireworks to be set off on a spit of land jutting out into the water. The moon is out, but it is not full. All along the coast—and definitely all across the continent—the sky is lit up by parasols and pinwheels of state-of-the-art pyrotechnics, computer-guided blossoms and explosions celebrating a nation’s birthday. Heading home in the dark of night, but with some moonlight and buoys showing the way, we bounce on the rough water made a little more turbulent by other returning craft – at one point I lose my grip on a guideline, slip off my perch when the boat lurches and I hang on for dear life, but I’ve spilled my glass of precious port. The rest of the way, Marilyn and I recite poems we know by heart, until the welcoming sight of Stepping Stone’s marina heaves into view. Exhilarating is the only word for tonight’s experience.

    Wonder if I could make it back in October, in time for the wondrous colors of New England’s fall?

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