BELOW THE LINE
By JOSE ABETO ZAIDE
An old man remembers.
The lift at Laurenzenberg 2 in Vienna opens to a third floor corridor leading to the Philippine Embassy. The artist was drilling away at the left wall of the corridor, when my secretary, Vencie Franco, gushed, “Ang ganda-ganda… dyan mo ba isasabit ang painting?” (How beautiful… will you hang the painting [on those holes])”?
“Hindi…, ito ang painting.” (“No… this is the painting.”), said the monosyllabic artist without taking his eyes off his Black & Decker drilling machine.
Gus Albor pock-marked the wall from north to south. But not with helter-skelter stray bullets. There seemed to be a Deus ex machina that only the artist knew where it was leading to. Gingerly, I tried to unravel the conundrum.
“Can you count the number of holes?” He gave me a clue. Then he dabbed swatches of red, blue, and gold. There weren’t 7,107 holes… but they ran from Aparri to Jolo. It was the year 1998, and Gus Albor gave us the ultimate gift on the Centenary of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence!
Well, not exactly. Gus always gifted us with several works and sketches. But that time, I commissioned him to do that piece. And he did a fresco of oil-cum-cheese-holes to create a mural of the Philippine archipelago for the Embassy Chancery. I ordered a quarter-inch thick plexiglas, 3 x 1 ½ meters, to shield it from curious hands.
But, then again, Ime Benito, our finance officer, whispered to me. “Sir, we do not own the building. What happens if the next ambassador wants to transfer the Chancery?”
“Of course,” I rationalized, “we could always have it peeled off like they do in the Vatican and the Louvre with works of masters ….”
Then, on second thought, the Philippine foreign service could never afford that kind of expertise. And, even if it could, how do you peel off the holes?
“Gus,” I asked, “can you give us that small painting.”
“Of course,” Gus complied, without batting an eyelash.
“Ime, this [1’ x 1 ½’ painting] is what you are paying for. The mural is free.”
And so it is in our auditor’s books. The Philippine Embassy in Vienna has the most expensive per square inch Gus Albor painting. And if a foolish Philippine ambassador were to leave Laurenzenberg, he would bequeath to the next tenant an archipelagic mural.
Our son Renato Paolo did the poster of the Philippine Madrigal concert at the Musikverein in celebration of the Philippine Centennial – apropos, it showed empty chairs. It was autographed by O. A. Veneracion, the founder and choirmaster of the Madz, and by the 21-member ensemble; and I had it hung at the reception. One day a strong wind blew open the window and smashed the glass frame. I asked our driver cum utility man Iye Cruz to replace it with a new glass plate.
But Gus Albor had another thought: He saved the broken glass and ordered another fresh glass plate over it. He said that “The Madz struck such a high note that they shattered the glass…!”
We saved the piece as Gus defined it, placing another sheet of glass over the original one that shattered thataway. I was so proud of that happenstance interaction between Gus and the wind, and brought that trophy with me in my cross-postings.
But in one of our transfers, the local packers didn’t appreciate the artist’s message and discarded the shattered glass.
Not everyone thinks like Gus.
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