This article was written as part of the prologue of our new anthology, Alta: A High Society Romance Anthology. I had so much fun coming up with the world of the Aritzes with Bianca Mori and Suzette de Borja, and I can’t wait for everyone to read it!
The Last Grand Dame:
Doña Carmen Aritz’ Life and Legacy
By Penelope Fili-Watson, Editor in Chief
A rush of panic sweeps through the Molave Country Club every time Doña Carmen Aritz makes an appearance. Those are the days when the hefty membership fees we have to pay yearly feels absolutely worthless. Nothing like an Aritz to remind you of your status as a mere mortal.
Guests and staff alike stop and pay proper homage to the last Grand Dame of Manila High Society. She’s impossible to miss too, with her towering height, and a temper that has, unfortunately, passed down to her grandchildren. She carries an air of authority and oozes privilege, and I’m sure we all wished to grow up like her.
Born in 1921 in Maria Grasya, a young Carmen spent her childhood at her Batangueño father’s side, learning the ropes of his abaca business. When she met and married Don Eduardo Aritz at the end of 1946, the world was only just recovering from the ravages of WWII, where she served as a nurse and he an apothecary. At the time, despite Don Eduardo’s Basque heritage, he raised his family on the earnings of a small botika—a place where he put his chemistry degree to good use and where he sought his fortune after leaving Spain during the Spanish Civil War. When he passed away in 1958, it was up to Doña Carmen to take over, and the Aritz Corporation as we know it was born.
Now that we got the boring stuff out of the way, let’s get to the juicy bits. That’s what you’re here for, right?
Doña Carmen was only thirty years old when she was widowed. Can you imagine, being widowed at thirty with three kids, and one more on the way? She certainly couldn’t. Because I’m sure you know that it was around this same time that she started her passionate affair with painter Timoteo Aventado. If you’ve ever seen those paintings of vague shapes in hotel ballrooms, that’s probably an Aventado.
They were always spotted arm-in-arm, Doña Carmen heavily pregnant with Connie, making a usual Sunday rigodon at Molave as if to make sure that all of society knew they were together. Timo, as everyone remembers him, would always be sure to explain that they were just friends, but we all know better. Everyone knows Connie is an Aritz in name only, just look at how short she is compared to her siblings!
A good affair is only worth talking about when it ends, and boy did this one end. Friends of the Aritzes still remember Timoteo’s tearful entreaty to the cool Carmen at Manila International Airport to leave the kids behind in Manila. Carmen, sporting a bouffant that would have made Jackie O jealous, put on a pair of large sunglasses, simply said, “Goodbye, Timo,” and walked away.
The stuff of telenovelas, yes. You may have seen this moment recreated in classic movies like “Leaving on A Jet Plane” and “My Alta Affair.”
But more importantly, this was the moment that created a permanent rift in the family—the kids never quite understood why their mother would have an affair so soon after their father’s death.
But life went on, and the children have since seized power over the Aritz throne. At the helm of Artiz Corp is Mike Aritz, eldest son and uncontested CEO. Poor Fredo, in true fashion as the second born, is mad for being relegated to the “experimental” side of the business (remember the awful rash cream for your eyes launch in 2005?). Sonny decided to skip town and join an ashram after properly “sowing his seeds” in Maria Grasya and poor Connie never could shake those “rumors” about her supposed father.
We could go on and on about the scandals in this family (second wives! Secret children! Congressmen punched in the face!) but then we can’t afford to print this the size of a novel.
So to the Grande Dame herself, happy ninetieth birthday. We’re keeping our eyes peeled for the drama.
Is there any truth to this article? What will Doña Carmen do to exact her revenge on Penelope Watson? You’re going to have to pre-order a copy of Alta and see!