The decay of decadence

“It was then that I began to understand that everything in the room had stopped, like the watch and the clock, a long time ago… I glanced at the dressing table again, and saw that the shoe upon it, once white, now yellow had never been worn. I glanced down at the foot from which the shoe was absent, and saw that the silk stocking on it, once white, now yellow, had been trodden ragged. Without the arrest of everything, this standing still of all the pale decayed objects, not even the withered bridal dress on the collapsed form could have looked so like grave-clothes, or the long veil so like a shroud.” – Great Expectations.

While being given a very unenthusiastic tour of the Santo Niño Shrine & Heritage Museum another quote sprung to mind, “Money can’t buy taste.”

The Santo Niño Shrine is one of the 29 presidential rest houses that the late President Ferdinand Marcos had built. It was designed by his wife Imelda who was born near Tacloban, and is deteriorating from the tropical heat and neglect. Her family, the Romualdez, hold a great deal of political clout in Leyte, the relatively rich neighbour of poverty-ravaged Samar.

The Romualdez still command a large political following in the area and I noted that my sarcasm and open ‘dissing’ of Imelda’s lack of taste and opulence where not appreciated by the tour guide (it wasn’t that my comments were just not that funny, impossible).

It did strike me how the bathrooms are bigger than your average Filipino’s home and that the communities work with have communal latrines and a water pump.  And here was Imelda with all this – stuff.

Stuff including: chandeliers from Czech Republic, crafts from throughout Asia, antique mirrors from Austria and my personal favourite a Louis Vuitton leather-clad bedroom for old Ferdi. Not wallpaper or paint on the walls – Louis Vuitton leather. Who thinks of Louis Vuitton walls? And the dioramas were fantastic: each guest room depicting a scene from Imelda’s life, her humble beginning, helping the poor, winning a beauty pageant, hanging out with men in lab coats. Like the many reincarnations of Barbie – collect all Imeldas today!

And how can one talk about Imelda without mentioning the ultimate collection. Next on my list is the Marikina City Footwear Museum in Manila which contains hundreds of pairs of shoes, many of them found in the presidential palace when Imelda and Ferdinand fled the Philippines in 1986.

In her own words, “They went into my closets looking for skeletons, but thank God, all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes … Filipinos don’t wallow in what is miserable and ugly. They recycle the bad into things of beauty.”

I wonder what Santo Niño would have to say.

Money can't buy taste

Money can't buy taste

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