Chitang, idol

By Jullie Y. Daza

She explained the Filipino psyche to Filipinos and the world in ten words. Filipinos spent “300 years in the convent and 50 years in Hollywood.”

Not every one quoting her words knows whom they are quoting, not that it mattered to the Carmen Guerrero Nakpil who was a god to students of literature, journalism, and history, and before whom genuflecting was the only correct pose to assume. Back when writing meant more than stringing words together whether they made sense or not, Chitang was infallible, authoritative, an intellectual force but snappily readable. She was a goddess to many but she was my idol, the idolatry a result of my mother’s instruction that I read her columns in the original Manila Chronicle. Mrs. Nakpil was an interesting lady that I should meet, if only I knew where to bump into her.

The chance came – a miracle! – many years later when we seemed to, ahem, move in the same newspaper circles, though from my point of view the distance in lightyears made her an unreachable star. We met socially a few times – the Chronicle threw more parties than the Times – and then, another miracle, she invited me to be her traveling companion (Paris to Prague!). My idol the worldly traveler became my friend; I was not ashamed to have serious fun with her.

Her bosom buddies were JV Cruz and Adrian Cristobal, writers like herself whom she would outlive by decades. Chitang wrote elegant essays with a sardonic turn of phrase, but when she was talking with you, she was earthy, human, aha!, gracious, frank but not unkind. Her sentences were crunchy like chicharon flavored with vinegar and spices, yet her sarcasm was not bitter. She gaily mocked important people with the hilarity expected of a stand-up comedian.

There was a celebrity who tried very hard to be a Celebrity by dancing sans underwear on tabletops. Chitang said, “She’s not pretty enough.” Filipino men, she noted, “don’t have nice legs.” Separation a fact of life? “The No. 1 cause is not infidelity but stinginess,” spoken with the certitude of a papal bull.

Lord, give Chitang a seat near You for some of the best conversations You will ever hold with a mortal.