Sunday, September 3, 2023

Silay City, a quaint city in the island of Negros stands out with its unique title which has been around for a century, "The Paris of Negros".  Silay City now stands as the gateway to the Philippines' Sugarlandia as the airport to Negros Occidental is located here.  Travelers who come in by aircraft to visit Bacolod or the rest of the island deplane at the New Bacolod-Silay Airport.

It's amusing though that people wonder why Silay City is called "the Paris of Negros".  A quick Google search churns out that Silay City is dubbed as the Paris of Negros because of its European-inspired houses which have been declared historical landmarks.  While indeed there are more than 30 homes declared as historical landmarks by the National Historical institute, and these homes showing European touches to their architecture, this is still not the reason why Silay was called the Paris of Negros.

Some have taken it literally so as to look for a replica of the Eiffel Tower within city limits to even question why such a name was pinned on Silay - which at the time of being called as the Paris of Negros was not yet a city.

As an art and culture writer, I always had it at the back of my mind that the name was always rooted in its being a center for culture and the arts.  However, I never really verified this first hand from the two main people who could shed light on this matter.

I took time out of my sched in the years before the pandemic to talk to none other than Mr. Ramon Hofilena, the respected authority in Negros when it comes to art and culture.  At that time, I had just come back from Paris and as I marvelled at the Parisian way of life most especially during the Belle Époque, or the Golden Age.

I asked Tito Mon (as I fondly called him), "Tito Mon, so why was Silay called the Paris of Negros?".

His answer came with a correction, "It was actually called The Little Paris of Negros".  Apparently through the years, the term just shrank to Paris of Negros.  But Silay's name was really "The Little Paris of Negros".  Paris was at that time the cultural epicenter of Europe.

Artists of all disciplines from over the world converged in Paris.  Even the recently opened exhibit at the Ayala Museum featuring Juan Luna's "Hymen, oh Hyménée!", submitted by Luna to the Exposition Universelle in 1889 in Paris, France, where it garnered a bronze medal attests to that glorious period and Paris' prominence as a center of culture.

As recorded by the late Beth Day-Romulo in article about Silay in Reader's Digest, "Silay's love of art, beauty and culture goes back many years. In the 19th century, ships sailing from Silay to Europe brought back Paris gowns and Spanish jamón serrano and fino sherries to the homes of the wealthy sugar barons. Their houses occupied entire city blocks and were furnished with imported crystal and silver. One planter kept his own resident orchestra. Another had a troupe of players to perform for his guests."

Furthermore, I asked the same question from the late Monsignor Guillermo "GG" Gaston.  "Why was Silay named the Paris of Negros?".  I got the same answer.  It was "the Little Paris of Negros".  Silay became a spawning ground for music and art. Every home which could afford it had its own grand piano, and the sons and daughters of leading  families were taught to stage a song, dance or musical recital on request. Over the years several artists from Silay have performed in Europe.

Talking about Silay, the Little Paris of Negros, over breakfast with Monsignor Guillermo Gaston

On the flip side, the older citizens of Silay love to reminisce about the old Silay.  Performers from Europe would come to Silay and not Bacolod. Operatic voices from the West were well heard in Silay.  This passion for music and the arts gave Silay – and the Philippines – its first international star: Conchita Gaston, the mezzo soprano who in the post-war years performed in major operas in Europe. Ms. Gaston was reportedly the first Filipina to cut a record in America.

Silay's being the a center of culture is only one side of the story to its being the little Paris of Negros.  Paris is also known as an intellectual hub.  Likewise, there are countless intellectuals who have come from Silay. There's Soledad-Lacson Locsin who translated the Noli Me Tangere into English, and National Artist for Architecture, Leandro Locsin.  In the area of the culinary, the high priestess of food writing is none other than Silaynon, Doreen Gamboa-Fernandez.  There's more to mention but time and space will not allow it on this blog.

At the end of it all, you now know why Silay is "The Little Paris of Negros".

Why Silay City Is Called "The Paris of Negros"

Silay City, a quaint city in the island of Negros stands out with its unique title which has been around for a century, "The Paris of N...

Thursday, February 9, 2023

I never really knew how my parents met until I was 17 years old.  I was in the UP College of Architecture when I had a classmate who said she also grew up in Bacolod, though I could not remember seeing her in the early years, given that Bacolod was a small town and that people would usually bump into each other in church or at birthday parties.

On one occasion, I asked my mom if she had known this family name of my classmate and she quickly said without batting an eyelash, "That classmate of yours, she's the daughter of your Tita Manon, the one who introduced me to your dad".

I was thinking to myself, "How small could the world be?".  So I tried to find out more about how my parents met and noticed one thing - all throughout their lives, the presence of National Artists were there all along.

The Order of National Artists in the Philippines first started as an award in 1972.  It then became an Order in 2003.  A good number of the people who were around my parents during their courtship days in the 1960s eventually became what we know today as National Artists.

My mom, loved to write things and going through her stuff after she passed away, I saw this note she made about meeting my dad in 1965.   She wrote, "Our first meeting was at the office of Robert Borja, where Manon Campos and I were working in his furniture business as interior designers.   That evening Manon and I went with Larry to see Billy Abueva's latest works in sculpture at his home in Diliman, Quezon City.  Also there were Jerry and Virgie Navarro, Robert Borja and of course, the host and hostess, Mr. & Mrs. Abueva".

Billy Abueva as we know became National Artist for sculpture many years after, while Jerry Navarro became National Artist for painting.

Art was the invisible yet highly palpable bond between my mom and dad.  My mom was an interior designer who went to school at the New York School of Interior Design with Tita Manon.  She was in New York at the same time Tita Manon was studying in Parsons School of Design.  That was after Tita Manon had studied under my dad at the University of Santo Tomas College of Fine Arts.

Mom and Tita Manon in the US

My dad, well, he was this art professor by day but ad agency creature by night.  He lived and breathed art.  He was a scholar of the Spanish government in the early 1950s to Spain together with two other National Artists in the making, Cesar Legaspi and Arturo Luz, to study at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid.

My Dad worked as one of those original advertising guys of the 1950s and 1960s

Side notes to my parents' love story include these : my mom's family name, Ramos, was also my dad's middle name.  Though both had come from Negros Island, the Ramos family of my mom comes from Bacolod and is hardly related to my dad's Ramos family of southern Negros (Kabankalan and Himamaylan). 

I viewed their courtship as an interesting one.  On one side was the small town boy coming from Kabankalan, who was very practical in every sense, having seen World War II as a teenager and stood as an elder among his kin when they were orphaned at the onset of the war.

On the other side was this petite lady who grew up in a less stressful environment when compared side by side to my dad's hardships. My dad finished high school in Kabankalan, while my mom was schooled in Assumption in Herran St.  Both were from Negros.  Both had spent time studying abroad.  But destiny had led them to meet in the melting pot of Manila, through these serendipitous events with National Artists in the periphery.

They married in 1967 at the St. Peter and Paul Parish in Makati, lived nearby until 1975 and in that year, made a monumental move to relocate to Negros despite my dad's flourishing career in art and advertising in Manila.

Billy Abueva, Jess Aiko, and my dad, Larry Tronco

Through the time they stayed in Negros, many other artist friends came by to see them in their abode.  Jose Joya helped start the Art Association of Bacolod, of which my dad was one of the founders.  Billy Abueva came by again, Cesar Legaspi stayed, Malang came by, and my dad's tukayo and compadre, Larry Alcala, eventually settled in Bacolod.  National Artists all.

Their earthly union lasted for 18 years until 1985 when my dad contracted amyloidosis, a rare disease which to date has no cure apart from treatment options focused on relieving symptoms and prolonging life.

My mom,  Joan Ramos Tronco went on to live life as a widow in Bacolod for a good 29 years.  She was reunited in heaven with her love, Larry Tronco in the early morning of February 9, 2014.

I would not be surprised if in heaven, they all gathered once again with the National Artists who had passed on.

The blogger, Lloyd Tronco, is an Artist, Writer, Entrepreneur and Designer.  He is a Negrense based in Metro Manila.

An Artsy Love Story - How National Artists Figured In The Love Story of My Parents

I never really knew how my parents met until I was 17 years old.  I was in the UP College of Architecture when I had a classmate who said sh...


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