Archive for the ‘Places’
After a recent conference in Vegas, our friend Juan took a road trip to San Simeon, California to see the Hearst Castle. The hilltop palace was built by William Randolph Hearst, the American newspaper magnate who was the model for Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. (More recently it was the location of a Lady Gaga music video.)
Hearst was not amused, and did everything in his power to suppress the film. He tried to stop the studio from screening it. Failing that, he forbade all his newspapers from mentioning Citizen Kane, and ordered them to smear Orson Welles.
Citizen Kane did decently at the box-office and got some Oscar nominations, but it should have been Huge. Much of what we take for granted in cinema today was invented by Welles and his collaborators, notably cinematographer Gregg Toland. Orson Welles was 25 when he made that movie, and it was his first (though he was already a stage and radio sensation, having caused a panic with his War of the Worlds broadcast). He cited sheer ignorance as the source of his nerve—”There is no confidence to equal it. It’s only when you know something about a profession that you are timid or careful.”
Ironically, Hearst is largely remembered today as the inspiration for Citizen Kane, one of the greatest, most influential films in history.
Kane reflects on his life. Reflects, get it? Citizen Kane screenshots from Movie Images.
But Welles’s career was badly wounded by the Hearst propaganda, and for the rest of his life he would have trouble getting movies made. Charles Foster Kane was a man who had gotten everything he wanted, and then lost it all—the same could be said of Orson Welles.
“The castle is a bit sad now that it is devoid of glamorous people,” Juan reports. “The most frequent guest was supposed to have been Clark Gable, who visited 42 times.”
“The longer you stayed, the farther away you sat from Randolph Hearst, who was always seated at the middle. P.G. Wodehouse had to leave when he found himself at the end of the long table one night.”
Compare the actual dining room with the one in the film. The movie version is practically minimalist.
“The conceit of the guy was not in building a castle but in building it on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere and giving it the comforts of a modern home. Indoor plumbing, lighted tennis court (first in California), heated swimming pools. Imagine the infrastructure of water, sewage, electricity that had to be built. Highway 1 had not been constructed yet so the castle was extremely isolated and difficult to get to.”
“In the late 1930s, Hearst owed $127M and had to downsize a lot. The family wanted to donate San Simeon to UCLA but the cost of maintenance was too much to bear (and there was no endowment for upkeep).”
“Paul Getty wanted to buy it and break up the art collection; the family refused. So it ended up with California government. I guess they had to do it as part of the estate settlement.”
“Randolph supposedly left control of his company to Marion Davies (his mistress, who was friends with Herman Mankiewicz, who wrote the screenplay of Citizen Kane after he’d been barred from the castle for drunkenness), but she handed it back to the family.”
“I doubt that we will ever see something of this scale built ever again.” (Don’t count out the nouveaux riches just yet.)
The connection between William Randolph Hearst and Philippine history: During the Cuban revolution, Hearst and his newspapers inflamed public opinion against Spain, and this was one of the factors that led to the Spanish-American War. Which ended with the Philippines becoming a possession of the United States—a precursor of Vietnam and Iraq.
Citizen Kane was our godfather.
A searing Saturday afternoon with traffic gridlocked as portions of the highway underwent repairs was probably not the ideal time for making the trip from Makati to Cubao for an early dinner at Bellini’s. You could say that it was a decision rooted in silliness. But if we behaved rationally at all times, life would not be as much fun. Less stressful, perhaps, but not nearly as much fun.
We take a proprietary interest in Bellini’s, having been among its original patrons. As Mr. Bellini reminded us, Today was the first paper to write about the restaurant (You can read the review, framed on his wall). We have seen it grow from a bare room with plastic tables and chairs into a cozy destination restaurant frequented by celebrities (Some of them have their names on the chairs).
And we can compute the rise of the cost of the living by the prices on the menu. In 2001 we had our birthday dinner there with 12 people, and the bill came to Php2500—just 33 percent more than what dinner for two cost last Saturday. In the case of Bellini’s we are happy to pay, because we can see where the money goes.
The quality of the food has been consistently high: pastas, pizzas, entrees, and the best orange cake in the city. If the large selection boggles you, go for the appetizer buffet and ask them to prepare the spaghetti aglio olio with seafood, which is not on the menu. It’s so rich and flavorful, your taste buds will thank you.
And the service has improved since its clunky beginnings. Mr. Bellini pointed out that the staff are all regular employees, not temps, and they know the menu in detail. We believe him because the waiters have been there long enough to pick up the rudiments of Italian so they can speak Tagliano (Tagalog-Italiano).
The wine selection is quite impressive—in the inner room are bottles of vintage barolo and chianti.
Some years ago we saw a Tagalog movie set in Bellini’s and were slightly offended that “our” place had gone public. Still, that exposure has probably been thousands of times more useful to the business than our infrequent patronage (It’s so faaaar). Mr. Bellini says one of their regular diners is the President of the Philippines, and P-Noy’s favorite dishes are spaghetti bolognese, Parma ham and arugula pizza, and scallopine marsala.
Historical sidebar: Mr. Bellini met his wife Luisa at Malacanang Palace in 1986, when she was working for P-Noy’s mother, President Cory Aquino, and he was covering the Edsa Revolution for his paper in Italy. (Roberto Bellini was a photojournalist, though he is sometimes confused with Roberto Benigni the Italian comedian.) “In 20 minutes I knew I wanted to marry her!” he declared. “So I asked her and she called me sira-ulo.”
She agreed eventually, and in 1999 Bellini returned to the Philippines for good. He looked for a spot in which to set up an Italian restaurant, and found the space at Marikina Shoe Expo on Aurora Boulevard in Cubao. The rent was Php100 a day. “One room became two rooms and then three…have you seen the new rooms?” he demanded.
Of course we were familiar with the inner dining area featuring The Mural of the Two Colosseums, Rome and Araneta. One of the charms of Bellini’s restaurant is its distinctive interior decor. Between the indescribable interior design and the effusive proprietor, the place positively radiates character.
Behold the Fontana di Trevi, with Anita Ekberg splashing about. (Where’s the kitten on her head?) There’s a branch of Bellini’s in Marikina, with an upstairs room that can accommodate 100 diners.
Whenever we go to Bellini’s we have to steel ourselves for Mr. Bellini’s expressive manner, but last Saturday he was reflective. “I opened this restaurant 15 years ago last March 4,” he said. “Matanda na ako, I am 74.”
“You don’t look a day older than 64,” we told him.
“I will put your name on a chair,” he announced.
When you go to Bellini’s, could you confirm if said name plate exists?
Noel’s latest find from the Legazpi Sunday Market: “One-of-a-kind Cleopatra-inspired Gargantilla. Pieces of Spanish brass, turquoise, mosaic sapphire,” a.k.a. a choker. The stones give it a medieval look, but the circlet makes it science-fiction. It’s beautiful. The artist’s name is Uan, and we’re going to drop by the market next weekend to find out more.
The keyhole pendant brings to mind a chastity belt, except that you wear it around your neck. Aha, a chastity belt for the head. To keep people from thinking about sex. Of course, wearing it guarantees that you will think of nothing else.
The Legazpi Sunday Market is open Sundays from 0730 to 1400 at the corner of Rufino and Legazpi Streets in Legazpi Village, Makati near Greenbelt.