Imaginary Miss Universe

Margarita Mon Amour was chosen Miss Philippines the previous year. Many people thought the judges should have chosen somebody fairer, with a more aquiline nose, to represent the country in the Miss Universe contest held in Athens. They said Margarita won only because she graduated magna cum laude from an exclusive girls’ school and had a grandfather who was a justice in the Supreme Court.

But Margarita – with her wide forehead, her big and intelligent eyes, her full and sensuous lips – won in Athens. Even before the coronation night, the Greek press was already gushing about the “dusky beauty from the Philippines who walked regally like a queen.” “Like Helen,” another paper gushed, “who could launch a thousand wars, errr, ships.”

And so on coronation night itself, Margarita Mon Amour went to the Parthenon in a simple silk gown the color of mother-of-pearl, her blue-black hair in a bun. She played a haunting kundiman on the bamboo nose flute, the audience stunned into silence by the sadness of the love song. She later went through the rigmarole of the Q and A with aplomb.

Bob Barker: “Miss Philippines, what is the square root of 11,250 divided by 40 then multiplied by 99?”

Margarita Mon Amour: “How much time do I have?”

And now she was here, walking on the stage of the Folk Arts Theater, while the wind from the sea cooled the audience that had already crowded the First Lady’s latest project. Manila being Manila – this mad, maternal city of our many myths and memories – everybody was jumping at the thought of the city hosting the Miss Universe contest that year. The machos were especially ecstatic, as day by day the tabloids splashed photos of their favorite candidates in skimpy bathing suits, getting their lovely tan from the glittering tropical sun.

So on this night of nights, the candidates flounced onstage, speaking in various tongues, a Babel of greetings that were beamed worldwide. Miss Brazil came in a dress whose colors could make the parakeet in her country blush. Miss United States of America came from Texas and wore the tightest cowgirl jeans Manila had ever seen. Miss Philippines was Guadalajara de Abanico, a mestiza who had the habit of turning her finely-chiselled nose up at every social function and who, Manila’s reporters complained, always arrived late. “I’m sure there’s a friar somewhere in the family line,” snapped Istariray X., mother hen of Manila’s society columnists, in her bitchy column called W.O.W. (Woman of the World).

The favorites of the Manila press included Miss Wales, Helen Morgan, because she had pendulous breasts; Miss Spain, Amparo Muñoz, the 20-year-old señorita from Barcelona who looked like the Blessed Virgin Mary; and Miss Finland, Johanna Raunio, because she looked like the girl in the Bear Brand milk commercial. The country exploded with joy when the three were called as finalists, along with Miss Aruba, Maureen Ava Viera, whom the Manila press called ‘Black Beauty’ even if she was brown, and the señorita from Colombia, Maria Ella Cecilia Escandon, who had the face of an angel.

The judges please:

1. Gloria Diaz who won the Miss Universe in 1969, just when the Americans were landing on the moon. Like Margarita Mon Amour, she was not your typical Filipina beauty queen, for she was short, brown, sassy and smart. During her final Q and A, she was asked: “If the first man on the moon suddenly materializes in front of your door, what would you tell him?” Quick as a gazelle, Gloria Diaz answered: “Well, I will tell him what I would tell any other man who would come calling on me. Please come in and would you like to have some snacks? I am sure he would be ravenous, eating as he did only pills and tablets while in outer space.” Thunderous applause. After she won, she was asked if she had a message for the three American astronauts. She said: ‘Well, the United States has conquered the moon, but the Philippines has conquered the universe.”

2. Zenaida Carajo, also called Baby, who smiled through her tenth facelift and had difficulty walking, because on her neck, arms and fingers glittered the country’s second-heaviest diamonds (after the First Lady’s). She also wore makeup so thick that people called her Kabuki Lady behind her back. Or even espasol, the dessert from the south smothered in layer upon layer of flour.

3. The young Emmanuel, bright and beady-eyed opinion columnist par excellence, thinking how soon he could sleep with as many contestants as possible.

4. And, of course, the First Lady herself, the chair of the board of judges, Her Majesty Infinitely Brighter than the Blaze of Ten Thousand Suns.

One by one the winners were called, to thunderous applause: Miss Aruba, fourth runner-up; Miss Colombia, third runner-up; Miss Finland, second runner-up. And then, only Misses Wales and Spain were left. Both held hands and braced themselves for the announcement, their eyes closed, chins quivering.

The Blessed Virgin Mary lookalike, of course, won. After she was called as the newest Miss Universe, Amparo Muñoz gave the crowd a beatific smile, tears running down her face, ruining her makeup. But never mind, for here was Margarita Mon Amour, gliding on the stage, relinquishing cape, crown and sceptre, and then the señorita walked around the stage, the flashbulbs popping forever.

Miss Universe would constantly visit Manila as part of the First Lady’s entourage of royalty and celebs, who would be flown to the city to inaugurate a massive new building (part of what critics called the First Lady’s Edifice Complex), or just have a party aboard the presidential yacht, RPS Ang Pangulo, on Manila Bay. Later, Amparo Muñoz would star in porn movies in her country, precious copies of which were smuggled into Manila and shown at the parties of the rich and the brain-dead, for they married within the family to keep their fabulous, feudal wealth intact.

Helen Morgan would play the lead role in a Filipino film where she bared her breasts, then returned to her cold, grey island after the film did dismally at the tills.

Johanna Raunio joined the Miss International contest in Tokyo and won. Ella Cecilia Escandon became a writer of Latin American telenovelas, the most popular of which was Mari Mar. Maureen Ava Viera married a wealthy Filipino, divorced him, then returned to the Caribbean, to run as governor of Aruba. She won by a majority of the votes.

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Email: Danton Remoto’s novel, Riverrun, has just been published by Penguin Books.

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