A large portrait of Vitalis done in his pointillist manner, painted by children and signed in the white ribbon below his portrait
A French kindergarten school named after Pinoy painter Macario Vitalis
Ofelia Gelvezon-Téqui (The Philippine Star) - January 6, 2020 - 12:00am

My husband Marc and I were excited to have received a bilingual invitation (French and Breton) to the inauguration of a kindergarten school in Plestin-les-Grèves, Brittany, that will carry the name Macario Vitalis.  From our village in the Dordogne to the Atlantic shores of Plestin the voyage meant almost 800 kilometers in a long, eight-hour drive, but we couldn't miss this important event.  We woke up at the crack of dawn to be on time for the 3 p.m. ceremony in spite of our GPS leading us astray in the first few dark hours.

We arrived on time to see the name “Macario Vitalis” written on the façade of a low, sprawling building nestled within a complex of primary schools and athletic grounds. Joining the crowd in the recreation hall, soon small children lined up, all dressed in white T-shirts commemorative of the inauguration.  They sang a “welcome-maligayang pagdating” first, then in French and in Breton, hesitantly in the beginning but with more confidence the second time around. They gathered afterwards around the mayor of Plestin, Christian Jeffroy, assisted by the Philippine Consul Hans Siriban for the unveiling of the marker.

Speeches followed in the presence of a senator, a congressman, important regional officials, educators, the technical team and all those responsible for this enterprise. The mayor gave a touching speech and summed up why the name of Vitalis was chosen for a school. Though he didn’t know Vitalis personally, he noted how the people of Plestin had embraced Vitalis. First of all he was a foreigner but it was important to inculcate in the young the respect for others whatever his origins are, whatever the color of his skin, his language as a necessary opening to the world. Vitalis was an artist. Many great men have spoken of art as an antidote to violence. Vitalis had been teaching art to Plestin’s schoolchildren transmitting his knowledge of painting, sharing his love of art. He integrated himself in the life of the town and won the hearts of its inhabitants with his simplicity, discretion and generosity.

The artist’s love affair with Plestin manifested itself in 1975 when he was made honorary citizen of the town.  For his 80th birthday, his friend Lucien Prigent made his bust in wood and this sculpture now stands  in the school. The 80th milestone was a feast as then Philippine Ambassador Felipe Mabilangan came with his family;  future National Artist BenCab was there, too, and our three kids loved the lechon that Yvon and Nicole Daniel, best friends of Vitalis, roasted especially for the occasion.

It was past 4 p.m. when the mayor invited everyone to move to the school canteen for canapés and drinks as parents would soon arrive to fetch their children.  Flutes of bubbly awaited us and tables were laden with delicious and colorful petites fours. The atmosphere, like the drinks, was effervescent. Vitalis, normally discreet, would exceptionally have approved of all this fuss.

Flashback to the very first time we met Macario Vitalis.  He had exhibited in the National Museum, Manila, in 1963 and I knew he lived in Brittany. In the summer of 1978, while spending the holidays at my in-laws’ vacation home, we drove to Plestin and sought him out. We knocked at the door of his stone cottage. The quizzical look on his face softened when he recognized a kababayan even if we were still complete strangers. He asked us to come back the next day for lunch. I still remember the damask tablecloth he had on the table that contrasted with the joyous mess of his interiors, the crystal stem glasses (that needed some dusting), the sea bass fished that morning and grilling on the embers outside in the garden and the unforgettable strawberries from Plougastel. 

I am sure we toasted to the start of a long friendship.

* * *

Email: ofeliagelvezontequi@gmail.com.

 

 

MACARIO VITALIS OFELIA GELVEZON-TéQUI
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