Sunday Lifestyle

Louie Ysmael on his late brother Hansi, beloved mom Chona, and Missy, the only woman he wants to grow old with

Ching M. Alano - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Last Sunday, Louie Ysmael posted this message on Facebook: “My brother Hans Kasten, or Hansi as most of you know him, sadly passed on this morning. He was a kind and gentle soul who didn’t have a mean bone in his body. May he rest in peace in God’s hands where he will surely be happier. We shall miss you bro!”

Johann Carl Friedrich “Hansi” Kasten V died of stroke resulting from complications sustained after a bad fall.

“I was shocked, it was unexpected,” Louie sighs. “He had seizures which developed from an accident in the gym. The cable from the bar snapped while he was pulling it down and it fell on his head. After a while, medication could no longer help his seizures.”

Naughty but nice

Hansi was the only child of Chona Kasten with her second husband Hans Kasten Sr. Hansi had half-brothers Johnny, Ramoncito and Louie Ysmael, and half-sister Techie Ysmael-Bilbao from Chona’s first marriage. Techie Ysmael-Bilbao endearingly called Hansi “Bebeleta.” “He was the last of Mama Chona’s children after four Ysmaels — the only half-brother. He was a bit naughty but really a good little brother. He idolized Ramoncito and Louie like they were the world to him.”

Being his dad’s junior and only son, his dad doted on him, but not for long. Hansi saw the light as he discovered his father’s true color. Soon, Hansi with his wife Jaki was being booted out of the Forbes home, where he grew up, by his own father who had sold the house. With assorted bills to pay and their pursestrings running thin, the couple had to rent living quarters from a friend. Meanwhile, the expenses for his epileptic seizures became so unaffordable Hansi had to sell an Amorsolo painting of him as a child at a really low price just so he could afford more medication. But after a while, even medication could not help ease his seizures.

“Basically, his wife Jaki was the best, taking care of him all the time,” says Louie. “She’s such a wonderful person.”

One day, after killer typhoon Ondoy struck, Hansi and Jaki went looking for something to replace their already warped sofa which was further damaged by the typhoon. They ended up at the doorstep of Balikbayan Handicrafts since they knew the owner and thought they might get a discount. Lo and behold, they saw some of the shop’s collections, which they thought were bought during Chona Kasten’s era when she was living at 14 Tamarind, Forbes Park. True enough, the owner told them those items were for consignment, brought to the shop by Flor Kasten and her twins (after Chona died, Hans Sr. had twins with the maid Flor, sister of Chona’s trusted personal maid). Flor and Hans Sr. also bought a condo in Global City, Fort Bonifacio, where more of Chona’s collections are believed to be housed.

Techie says that Hansi’s dad, being an atheist, made sure Hansi did not attend catechism classes. He brainwashed Hansi against Mama Chona when their marriage took a turn for the worse.

Hansi turned into a health buff and did personal training in the gym — he ran a healthfood/vitamin business. And then he met that fateful accident in the gym.

Techie laments that Hansi’s dad never told them about this accident, denying him of proper medical attention, treatment, and insurance claims. “He continued fending for himself while his dad continued to bamboozle our paraphernal properties from the Ysmael side and the Recto side ... pulled off his siphoning prowess and soon there was none...”

Despite being brainwashed by his dad against his mom Chona, Hansi became even closer to her especially during her last months, when she was battling colon cancer. Left with no financial means by her husband as her cancer took a toll on her frail body, Chona had to depend on friends who passed the hat to help her with expenses for her chemo treatments.

The disco king reigns

On a balmy Tuesday, Louie accompanied his little brother Hansi to his final resting place. The day after, we visit Louie in his cozy home in Pasig. He warmly welcomes us as he whisks us to the living room and lets us into his life. Sinking into the thickly cushioned sofa, we’re surrounded by precious mementoes that Louie holds closest to his heart.

Louie Ysmael (or simply Louie Y) reigned supreme as The Disco King back in the stormy Seventies. He was one of Manila’s most eligible bachelors, a man about town, a ladies’ man. Did you know that Louie Y once dated Isabel Preysler, Filipina socialite once married to best-selling Latin music artist Julio Iglesias? But that’s getting ahead of Louie Y’s (romantic) history.

 â€œThis was Mom (Chona Recto Kasten) when she was 19,” says Louie, pointing at a lovely painting by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo on a wall at the landing of the stairs.

There’s another painting of a leaner Chona in her 40s, truly an ageless beauty. And there’s a stunning one by top Filipino painter, dahlin’ Oscar Zalameda, who found a muse in Chona. Louie proudly keeps in his possession all of his mom’s portrait paintings.

The late fashion legend Maria Priscilla “Chona” Silos Recto was the daughter of nationalist Senator Claro M. Recto. She married business scion Juan  “Johnny” Ysmael, heir to the Magdalena Estate and Ysmael Steel. They had four children: Johnny (Piqui), Teresita (Techie), Mario Ramon (Ramoncito, who died of accidental drug overdose in Spain at age 24), and Luis Miguel (Louie).

The lovely young couple traveled the world, dined and wined with the rich and famous, and even double dated American matinee idol Tyrone Power and Linda Christian.

Johnny Ysmael died of tuberculosis at 32. Louie, who was only four years old when his father died, never really got to know him. But he fondly remembers that at his dad’s funeral, when his cortege passed by, his dad’s horse Don Juan bowed his head down as if to pay his last respects to his master.

“My dad passed away before his grandmother, Magdalena Hemady (after whom a street in New Manila, Quezon City was named), who started the Ysmael fortune,” Louie relates. “My great-grandmother was the one who bought all these properties — in Manila, Batangas, etc. — when they cost centavos only.”

Louie adds that his dad’s younger brother Felipe “Baby” Ysmael ran the family company well until he made a lot of wrong business decisions and ran the company to the ground, squandering the family fortune on the gambling table.

“When my father died, we were under the care of an inheritance, money in trust left by our great-grandmother,” says Louie.

A charmed life

Louie led a charmed, peripatetic life, serving as his mom’s constant escort on her trips abroad. “We’d sit in outdoor cafes in Europe, look at the people passing by and make funny comments,” he says with a laugh. “We would hang around in Madrid together. When I was studying in Switzerland, we’d meet in the summer and get together in Spain, we’d go on a cruise around the Greek islands. My mother was my best friend.”

Three years after her husband’s death, Chona married Hans Kasten of whom Louie says, “In the beginning, he was caring and doting, but towards the end, he became a different person maybe because of his disagreements and falling out with my mom, which he took out on us the children. As we were growing up with him, he managed our inheritance money for us and put up a house in Forbes. When things started going downhill between him and my mom, he would charge us for rent for staying in our own house. He would basically neglect Mom and stopped support. And they were living under the same roof without talking to each other. So, it was kind of a tense atmosphere and I decided to get out and get my own Casa Blanca Apartment.”

When things got really bad at home, Louie, having graduated from La Salle Grade School, and his siblings were sent abroad. Only the eldest Johnny stayed behind. Louie went to boarding school in Connecticut in a place called Cheshire Academy. Techie went to fashion design schools in New York and California. Ramon went to Boston University. Louie went to junior college in Massachusetts called Dean. He also went to the American College in Switzerland and lived in Europe for close to seven years. Then he went to Schiller College in Paris and American College of Paris.

“I was a professional student running around Europe and living the life with my inheritance,” says a beaming Louie.

First job, first paycheck

After school, Louie got a job from a friend who was working in sales at Paris-Match magazine. “With the little French that I knew, I was peddling advertising space,” he says.

Louie was earning a thousand French francs for a month’s work and he spent his paycheck mostly on food. “That’s where I learned how to cook, living in four to five different apartments. I love to cook! The first dish I learned to cook was a pot-au-feu (French beef stew).”

With the first million that he earned, Louie bought — hold your breath now! — a Ferrari! “I bought it in Switzerland; I was in boarding school and I had to hide it because we were not allowed to have a car. I hid it in the garage of the summer home of a famous actress. I paid a caretaker to be able to garage my car. The name of the actress is Ursula Andress. I didn’t know the actress, I just befriended her caretaker.”

Looking back at his European/American adventures/misadventures, Louie Y remembers getting thrown out of school for two weeks for having a girl in his room. And in New York, he and his whole bunch of classmates checked into the Americana Hotel and destroyed the suite like a whole bunch of animals. “No, we didn’t do drugs,” he confesses. “At the time (’63-’64), there were not many drugs. It was all alcohol.”

Louie returned to Manila in 1973 to take care of his own personal properties. “I put up my own small trading company and worked at the Manila Stock Exchange. I did different things. One day, Biboy Enriquez and I were sitting around in Silahis Hotel and he had that club upstairs called Stargazer, but it was kind of sleazy, cheesy. It was a good location, a good opportunity to do something.  So, the real nice Stargazer was born in the late ’70s.”

From the time he got home to the 1980s, Louie admits his world was in complete chaos. “It was a world of hard drugs, chasing women, and being very irresponsible. We were in our early to late 20s and I had a group of friends who did nothing — I had time for everything, it was a crazy life. I had several girlfriends. I had three very long relationships in 1973-1978.”

Though he never considered himself marriage material, he thought he was ripe for marriage at the time. “Good thing we never got married,” says Louie with a long sigh. “We were better off going out than getting married. We both got cold feet. I guess they were not ready to marry somebody like me. They’re all married now so I don’t want to mention their names. If I had married then, I’d probably have three or four failed marriages by now.”

Puppy love

And what about Isabel Preysler?

“I was 19 and she was 17 when we went out,” says Louie. “She would make takas and I was thrilled. No, she didn’t become my girlfriend. I thought it was love — it was only puppy love. She left and went to Spain, and eventually married Julio Iglesias.”

So, what went wrong with his past many relationships?

“Sometimes, I was naughty,” Louie opens up. “We just drifted apart.”

Hasn’t he found the girl of his dreams?

“I never had a girl of my dreams,” he reveals. “I learned in life that you don’t go around and look for a girlfriend. Cecile (his former wife) fell on my lap. She was 28 and I was 50 when we got married. We had eight, nine years of marriage, we’ve remained very good friends.”

Louie is not romantically linked to anyone (at the moment, that is). And he does not see himself as marrying again. “For me, the only woman I want to grow old with is Missy,” he strongly declares.

Missy is Louie’s 10-year-old (turning 11 in June) adopted daughter who is a special child. Given his busy schedule, what with dinners and socials he has to attend, Louie tries to spend as much time with Missy as he could because of her condition. “She doesn’t have friends, she can’t communicate,” he explains. “It’s just Daddy or her yaya.”

From the twinkle in his eyes when he talks about Missy, you can see how much Louie loves his little angel. Missy has traveled all over the US and Asia with Daddy. This Holy Week, father and daughter went to Benjie Toda’s Hermana Mayor Island in Zambales for a whole day of fun, sun, sea, and sand.

Louie’s bucket list

He can only regret not having spent enough time with those close to him who have departed.

“I don’t think there’s anything in my bucket list though I’d like to go to Costa Rica, Chile, and South Africa,” Louie shares. “And I’d like to drive one lap in the Nurburgring race track in Germany (a twisty devil of a race track located southwest of Cologne), that’s surrounded by forests — it’s called The Green Hell. I want to do it while I still have the reflexes.”

With Missy around, Louie hardly misses the nightlife he used to enjoy a lot of. His life now revolves around Missy. No matter how late at night (or how early in the morning), he goes home, his day starts when Missy runs into his room and wakes him up.

“I used to be more of a party animal than I am now,” he says. “These days, I have limits to my drinking. Yes, I have mellowed. And I watch my health. It’s not that I’ve done and seen enough partying in my lifetime. Everything I used to do before is down to about a half now.”

He clarifies, “Don’t say, ‘in my time,’ simply refer to it as the earlier part of my life. Because today is still my time.”

The Disco King is not about to hang his dancing shoes. For those who may not be familiar with the word, Louie points out, “Disco is short for discotheque, a nightclub for dancing to live or recorded music (played from vinyl discs, thus the word disco).”

Back then, the good places to go to were Stargazer, Coco Banana, and Where Else. “Everybody knew each other, it was more of a niche market. Now, with the proliferation of clubs and because of the population explotion, I always say there will always be a market for the nightlife scene because somebody turns 18 every day,” says Louie.

Louie has had a long history on the club/dining scene. He once had Kuya Pare on Mile Long with Tito Rey Bautista, then he did Euphoria (the old Where Else), Venezia (which became V Bar), then Nuvo. “Now, I’m partners with a whole dynamic bunch of people at Prive and 71 Gramercy,” he enumerates. “I have a new project coming up called The Palace at the Fort. I also opened a new resto just three weeks ago called One Way on Salcedo corner Benavides St., Makati. It specializes in sourdough — sourdough pizza, sourdough bread, good mussels and cream, lamb shank, osso bucco, steak, pasta. Our chef is Harold Nilooban, former chef of Savoy and Maria Luisa Garden Cafe.”

With all the eating he does, Louie hits the gym twice a week and works out at home and does Pilates. He takes his vitamins and sleeps eight hours.

Surely, The Disco King is in the best shape of his life. Long live The Disco King!













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