Anita Linda, the ‘Pambansang Lola’ and memories of Alhambra

The late actress Anita Linda should have been called the  “Pambansang Lola” who gained critical acclaim for her portrayals in maternal or elderly roles.

Born Alice Bueñaflor Lake onNovember 23, 1924, her movie career spanned seven decades until her demise at the age of 95 on June 10, 2020.

This year’s Cinemalaya Film Festival paid tribute to Anita Linda through the online screenings of two of her films, Adela and Circa.

At the age of 74, she became the oldest actress to ever win a FAMAS award in 1998, when she was named Best Supporting Actress for Ang Babae sa Bubungang Lata.

At age 83, she was named Best Actress in the 10th Cinemanila International Film Festival in 2008 for her portrayal of the main character in Adela.It is a heart-breaking story of a woman who longs for the company of her loved ones. Her children all fail to show up and greet her on her 80th birthday, prompting her to spend the day alone in Freedom Island, a bird sanctuary where mangroves are abundant.

At age 84, she tied with Rustica Carpio for Best Actress in the 33rd Gawad Urian for the 2009 movie Lola. Driven by selfless love, Lola tells the parallel stories of two elderly women who scrape the bottom of the barrel to raise funds for their respective grandsons.

In her last film Circa, which was shot and released in 2019, Anita portrays Doña Atang, a once celebrated film producer from the earlier years of Filipino cinema. To celebrate her 100th birthday, she simply wants a reunion with all the actors and staff that she has worked with in the past. The preparation showed the glorious years of cinema from its workers—fragments of a colorful past filled with faded memories.

Whenever I watch Anita Linda on TV and the big screen, I miss my Lola Maria.

I belong to the 45 grandchildren of Damaso Reyes and Maria Santos. I never met my lolo who died before I was born, but his absence was greatly compensated by the love and caring that Lola Maria has given to her grandchildren. Their 10 children followed the proverbial phrase “go forth and multiply”—thus out we came, the 45 grandchildren.

One of my vivid recollections of Lola Maria was her habit of inverted smoking of the Alhambra cigar—the lighted end was inside her mouth.

It is amazing to see old women, particularly women from the provinces, having  the capability of oddly smoking this cigar with the lighted end inside their mouth.

Years before she died in the 1980s. I asked her why her mouth served as an ashtray.

My lola said that the burning sensation in her mouth adds stimulation in the rather monotonous act of smoking.

With the lit cigar in her mouth, my lola could even roll her tongue and still talk at length only to stop to spit the ash from her mouth.

One urban legend was that this practice started during the Japanese war era when many Filipinos went into hiding.

The only way the people could smoke without being discovered from their hiding places was to put the lighted end of the cigarette in their mouth.

The Spaniards earlier introduced tobacco when they colonized the Philippines.

The cigar type cigarettes were blends of dark, air-cured Philippine tobaccos principally sourced from the Cagayan and Isabela provinces where the stronger flavor tobacco was harvested.

These were more commonly called as the Regaliz type of cigarettes, which were wrapped in dark brown sweetened paper imported from France.

The tobacco industry created a demand for female labor called “kahistas,” eventually making their work in the factory ranked first among the occupations of women in the Philippines.

The packing process was done by the scoop of the kahista’s hand as mold in bundling the sticks in 30s and hand-packed them in swift and continuous motion.

The cigarettes were sold under popular brands like La Campana Largos, Ms. Philippines Fat, Ms. Philippines Thin, La Flor de Filipinas Fat, La Flor de Filipinas Thin, Marka Niyog Fat, Marka Niyog Thin, Malaya Largos, La Dicha, and La Flor de Luzon. I just remembered one brand used by lola: Alhambra.

I recently watched the K-drama “Memories of the Alhambra” which touches on a series of mysterious incidents surrounding a new and intricate augmented reality game inspired by the stories of the Alhambra Palace in Spain.

One landmark intellectual property case was decided in 1916 by the Supreme Court involving the mark “Alhambra Isabelas” wherein it was held that the name “Isabela” was a geographical and descriptive term and incapable of registration as a trademark. A manufacturer cannot be enjoined from using the word “Isabelas” on similar packages sold by it, the term “Isabela” being the name of the province where the tobacco used in making cigarettes of this quality had been grown.

As there are few left who belong to my lola’s generation, the tradition of inverted smoking is also slowly fading into oblivion.

Kule is the monicker of Philippine Collegian, the official student publication of UP Diliman. Atty. Dennis Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail info@sapalovelez.com, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.


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