If you dream you can make it. And more! And better! I was supposed to be a star
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The Independent Culture
Does the road of excess lead

to the palace of wisdom?One

woman should know: Imelda.

Certainly, Mrs Marcos has a

reputation to live up to, and a

bizarre set of beliefs to put to

the voters of her home island

AT TWO in the morning, Imelda Marcos said: "What did I ever do wrong?" And she walked across the living-room of her country home, towards the terrace and the Pacific Ocean, and looked down on the private stone stage where, she says, Nureyev once danced, Domingo sang; she has an unusual, unsteady, balls-of-feet walk, like someone tiptoeing on the deck of a ship that is pitching in high seas. A hot, heavy breeze caught the former First Lady's beachside palm trees and, in turn, the orange, flared Hanae Mori trousers she was wearing in conjunction with clear plastic - or glass? - high heels. Servants hovered. She said, in a frowny, baby voice, "What did I do?"

You might say: steal, graft, shop. You might mention the 24-year jail sentence for corruption against which she is now appealing; or the raging vanity that put such pressure on contractors working on Manila's Film Centre in 1981 that, when it collapsed, many workers (perhaps hundreds) were buried alive in setting cement; or the two jumbo jets with which she used to travel, one for her, one for her kit; or an eight-week, $3.3m, trans-American shopping spree in 1968; or the hundreds of millions of dollars generally agreed to be lodged in Swiss bank accounts; or the Old Masters, the jewels, the bullet-proof bra, the shoes... Or you might, more generally, point to 20 years' participation in a kitsch, corrupt, economically disastrous, and sometimes brutal his'n'hers dictatorship of which she is still very proud.

I asked her about extravagance. She organised her face into something Sad But Strong, and said, "I am at peace with my conscience - and my creator." A young man brought drinks.

IN 1986, US helicopters clattered down on to the lawn of the Malacanang Palace in Manila, and picked up Ferdinand Marcos and his First Lady and carried them, via Guam, to Hawaii. ("Kidnapped!" Mrs Marcos says now. "An unpressurised plane!") Cory Aquino's People Power was victorious, Mrs Marcos's footwear was found, and a reputation for intemperance - already widespread - now blossomed into a full, fabulous, international myth of excess and ambition; Lady Macbeth in Gucci. (The fact that the myth may have been helpful in siphoning attention away from Ferdinand himself, and from his American backers, does not mean that it was untrue.) A trial in New York in 1990 on charges of racketeering - this featured 350,000 documents, black widow's weeds (her husband had died, in exile, in 1989), and the defendant coughing blood in court - did no damage to the myth, although Mrs Marcos was acquitted.

In 1991, Imelda Marcos returned to the Philippines; in 1992, she tested her standing among her "little people" by running for President. Despite some near-idolatrous popular support, especially in her husband's home district of Ilocos Norte, Mrs Marcos came only fifth in a field of seven, "a few hundred thousand votes", she says, (or three million, more accurately) behind the successful candidate, Fidel Ramos, once a key Marcos loyalist. That same year, she finally brought home the frozen corpse of her husband, whose hair she stroked for the photographers.

Now, at the age of 65, almost 10 years after she was separated from her palace and her 200 (unopened) Marks & Spencer girdles, Imelda Marcos is running again. Tomorrow, 8 May, Filipinos vote in elections for almost everything but the presidency - they vote for mayors, vice-mayors, councillors, senators and local "board members" ("Moron for Board Member" reads one set of posters). Shrugging off attempts to disqualify her for failing to meet residency requirements, the former First Lady (the friend, in her time, of Mao Tse-Tung, Saddam Hussein, Margot Fonteyn, Alexander Rutskoi and George Hamilton) will be standing tomorrow as an opposition, KBL party, congressional candidate in the island of Leyte (Lay-tee). This is a rural, lush place, an hour by plane south of Manila. The posters in the sweltering town of Tacloban - Leyte's largest - say: "I Imelda".

Imelda Marcos has refused to be ruined by her ruin, and this makes for quite a spectacle. Meeting Marcos in the Philippines is like meeting someone who has somehow survived their own death. Disgraced dictators are expected to stay disgraced, and to ail in damp bungalows in non-aligned countries. They are not expected to run for Congress, or give beachside interviews about brands of French perfume and their former husband's tactful golf defeats in matches against other world leaders. But - in some style - Imelda Marcos has decided not to disappear: this is partly because she is gloriously untroubled by any sense of embarrassment; and partly because she is keen to stay close to the Philippines (and therefore in touch with some of her assets). But it is also because there are many in the Philippines, even among her detractors, who do not demand her disappearance. Imelda's name has not been erased from her monuments. You can still buy handsome postcard portraits of her husband in the lobbies of smart Manila hotels.

In Leyte, especially, many people will not believe the worst of the charming, generous Marcoses; but even among those who do believe it, there is little energy for a fresh start, for a line to be drawn under the Marcos years and the Marcos traditions of vote buying and ballot-rigging. Indeed, as many fleshy-faced posters remind you, "Bongbong" Marcos - Imelda's son, who is remembered for a gun-toting, playboy youth - is running as a candidate for the Senate; and for this he needs, and has, a national following. Former President Cory Aquino leads a despairing organisation called ABB: Anybody But Bongbong.

The law, however, has not been entirely forgiving. In 1993, the first of scores of suits against Mrs Marcos eventually came to trial in Manila, and she was convicted of corruption over the leasing of state property. (She is currently on bail, pending an appeal.) Other cases will follow. In such circumstances, as Imelda's half-sister, Victoria Romualdez, explained to me. "You have to fight back from a position of strength." Mrs Marcos's best defence is political counter-attack. A seat in the 250-strong House of Representatives may help keep her out of prison.

But Marcos's continued desire for office is not just a matter of self- preservation - nor, simply, residual dynastic ambition (that kind of ambition that can be fed into Bongbong's career). Rather, Mrs Marcos has an interesting kind of addiction to politics. At the start of her husband's career, she told me, the pressures of being a politician's wife brought her close to a breakdown. She was made ill by her unhappiness, and sought treatment in the USA. But she began to brainwash herself - this is her phrase - into thinking she was enjoying her role. And she did begin to enjoy it: opening hospitals, greeting VIPs, embarking on a lifelong campaign of glamour diplomacy. Now, as if in wild overcompensation for her initial resistance, Marcos seems unable to escape the lure of the handshake and the gracious smile. "She is a politician," Imelda's daughter, Imee, said to me. "It is her life. What else can you do? Unless write novels like Jeffrey Archer."

However, these are reduced political circumstances. The island of Leyte is where Imelda Marcos was brought up as a girl (at the underachieving end of what Imelda's daughter calls a "nouveau pauvre, shabby genteel" family). In a political culture that counts on familial and local loyalties far more than party or ideology, Leyte looks like a sure bet. But to help her chances, she has had this amusing idea: she will meet the electorate. To hear her talk of it, it is as if nobody had thought of this before; she will campaign in remote villages, show an interest in the country's smallest political units - the barangays - and hear what people have to say about water, power, transport. Imelda Marcos's Big Idea: to pretend that politics is something to do with local representation and public service. Her catchphrase: "I am a Leytean."

IMELDA MARCOS wears fearless perfume cocktails ("I want to be able to smell it too!") and brightly coloured clothes. She likes to make a big entrance. So it seemed proper that when she made her appearance, she caused an eclipse of the moon.

In keeping with tradition, she had been three days late. Mar- cos lives mainly in Manila, and her commitment to Leytean politics has not caused her to move. "Madame will definitely be coming tomorrow," I was told. Then: "Tomorrow". Local officials clearly shared my impatience - and my slight surprise when she did, in the end, show up: on Easter Saturday, on a scheduled flight, with luggage that featured alligator skin and Louis Vuitton, and a score of three-foot Virgin Marys (election-time gifts for local churches) that she would later place in a bragging line in Palo Cathedral, where they looked ready to be shot at with air rifles.

From Tacloban airport, Marcos was driven for three-quarters of an hour, at speed, to her seaside home in Tolosa. Here, on one side of high gates, is a local population that mostly lives without access to electricity, air-conditioning, telephones. On the other, there is a long drive through a nine-hole golf course, then handsome, low, airy buildings, a vast derelict swimming pool (dead frogs, coconuts), and the Pacific. The house is in a perfect little bay: a private beach, palm trees and pale sand.

Here she withdrew to her private rooms, and a court gathered: 30 or 40 people, some of whom were local, some from Manila. Unsteady old women wore ambitious Imelda colours. One bodyguard was armed with a pistol, another with an Imelda Marcos wristwatch (they stood just outside the pool of light, with a vigilant nonchalance on loan from the Corleone compound). Madame, we gathered, would speak to us later.

While waiting, some members of Imelda's court drifted 50-odd metres to an open-air, barn-like building set back from the sea: a strangely public- looking structure to find in a private setting. It had a stage, and on the back wall of the stage, and the side walls, to a height of about 20 feet, there were scores of curling colour photographs of the Marcoses and their achievements: bridges and airports, celebrity golf championships, Imelda's beloved Cultural Centre. In front of the stage was a wooden dance floor, a snazzy PA system, a disco mirror-ball, and row upon row of white plastic seats. And there were odd touches of domesticity: flowery curtains tacked on to the concrete columns, carpets, and implausible pieces of domestic furniture - bright synthetic sofas looking beached and static- charged in the impossible heat and humidity. It was the hidden jungle encampment of a religious sect with a soft furnishings angle. The PA started playing a segued rock 'n' roll compilation. "Hound Dog" and "Rock Around the Clock" competed with the creaking-door noises of late-night lizards.

Nearer the sea, most of Madame's court waited in a stone-floored room open to the air on two sides. A frightening, glowering woman introduced herself to me. Her name was "Baby", and she was about 70 years old: "I give my service, spiritual and physical," she said. Then she began repeating, again and again, muttered prayers of thanks for Madame's safe delivery. Another woman joined in, also muttering. It was getting very late.

And then Imelda joined us from her private rooms - scent-first, tall and scarlet. She invited us to look at the moon. And the moon was mid- eclipse, and we were all very impressed. Baby tried to snatch a word with her, but failed. Madame airkissed for a while, with her lips drawn inwards as if afraid of infection. You could feel power being redistributed through the room as she had a hushed word with one man, ignored another. After a little while, she shook my hand firmly, and pointed to a pink PVC three- piece suite - more indoor furniture marooned outdoors. We arranged ourselves stickily below plastic bas-relief images of herself and her late husband. She sat in a rather masculine pose, with her legs apart.

I asked how her campaign was going, and she said, in a fairly strong accent: "I've never been as excited in a campaign as now, and this is one campaign where I am going to each and every barangay, which is the smallest political unit that Marcos has conceptualised, and the barangay is an extended family, and the family is the foundation of every given society, and I am looking at each and every political unit. You see the polarising ingredient there is love, the family, giving, the other name for love is giving; the opposite of love is not hate, it is selfishness..."

This is how she talks, not particularly fast, but forever. She continues: "...People say 'She was luxurious, she was extravagant, she was frivolous, building the Cultural Centre...' but this country, the last 500 years, had lost our identity - the Spaniards, the English, the Americans, the Japanese, the Chinese. One way or another we were colonised and the taking out of Marcos was really the neo-colonialists, because Marcos was elected in the election, Marcos won in that election, and Cory, just to confirm this, had to proclaim a revolutionary government. What was very interesting about this man was that he had three levels of vision, vision for the individual Filipino, to maximise his potential, his wholeness, his fulfilment, and dignity as a human being, second vision was for national greatness, third vision was a global vision to bring about a new world order for all of humanity. So he really terminated the Cold War..."

On the pale pink sofa, Imelda Marcos slides from the local to the national, the international, the cosmic; she mixes humility with wild boastfulness; diplomacy with New Age commentary; history with gossip; ("One of my greatest compliments was from Chairman Mao... I said to Nancy... I was in a helicopter with Saddam Hussein, and he said, 'Imelda, why don't you become a Moslem...?' ") She will answer impertinent questions - she denies, for example, an affair with George Hamilton - but aims quickly to return the conversation to phrases like "Freedom, Peace and Democracy" which she tends to use, rather blankly, as if they were the names of advertising agencies. Her late husband, "Marcos", saved the country and the world; she was his ambassador. She brought principles of "beauty" and "nature" to bear in politics. She gave the nation the monuments it needed. She taught the United Nations to look at the "whole man". And so on. She smiles, and tilts her head. "People say, 'Why are you so good and generous...?' "

For those who have not always thought her good and generous, Marcos has a bold personal defence. "If you dream," she says, "you can make it. And more! And better! All I dreamt of as a little girl was to have a little house with a picket fence by the sea. Little did I know that I would live in Malacanang Palace for 20 years and go to all the major corridors of power in the world, live in the Kremlin, go to Buckingham Palace. And who was I? A little third-world country girl." Her life, therefore, became "something to be inspired by. I was supposed to be a star."

The shoes? She says that when she was Governor of Metro-Manila, she caused shoe manufacture to rise from one million to 78 million pairs a year, "and of course when there was a shoe fair, they would insist on giving me pairs..." She points to the shoes she is now wearing, which are blue espadrilles with heels. "Even in Malacanang Palace, I would use these espadrilles, because they are comfortable and would not destroy my feet. Because I am a working First Lady! Three dollars each!"

While the court talks softly at a distance, and the waves crash, and the rock 'n' roll thuds through the palms, Madame Marcos answers all charges with continuing good grace and apparent creativity. On the subject of the Marcoses' massive personal wealth, and alleged total theft of $10bn (this gets Mrs Marcos into the Guinness Book of Records), she argues that by the time her husband became President in 1965, he had already amassed a great fortune in gold. Well before his presidency, she assured me, "We could afford to do anything under the sun." She says that her husband had 7,000 tons of gold, or something like "a quarter, a third, of the world stock"; in fact, he had so much gold he had to build walls out it at home, a DIY development that he did not explain to his wife. She could not understand why the house was so over-partitioned - "like toilet cubicles". While her husband was out, she did him the favour of knocking a partition down, and tossed the bricks into the garden. Ferdinand came home. "Where," he asked with surprising urgency, "is the wall?"

As the night drew on, we left the pink sofa, and moved to Imelda Marcos's inner sanctum - and to a handsome, airy, wood-floored sitting-room which she has decorated with cushions in the shape of penguins. I could see a magazine rack full of copies of Hello! On top of the CD player was Solitude Standing by Suzanne Vega and 24 Best of Ballroom. The anecdotes became more relaxed. She talked about Ninoy Aquino as her stuck-up young suitor ("He talked too much even then") and about her ringside view for the "Killer in Manila" bout between Ali and Frazier: "Very close. Boom. And the splash not only of perspiration, but blood! Boom, boom, it was so close. Terrible." But as it got later, her anecdotes lost ground to nebulous philosophising. "God is energy," she said, "love is energy, positiveness is energy. This is the reason perhaps why I have so much energy. Because I am in love with everything." She asked one of her maids to fetch a copy of a privately- printed book, The Circles of Life, by Imelda Romualdez Marcos, and read the contents page aloud, as if she were translating from a foreign language. By now, there was an

urgency in her voice: "Human order, cosmic order, attitudes and values, infinity - there are many gods, there is only one Creator - mother, beauty, song, light, politics, love, suffering, eternity, circle of man, a father's ideology..." She turned to the end of the book, where the text gives way to symbols - infinity signs, triangles, upside-down hearts. She said she had arranged these symbols into a series of equations that explained much to do with men, women, politics and computing. She was now standing, and swaying slightly.

She lent me the book, said goodnight and walked away. She had already invited me to stay the night in her guest quarters, and her housekeeper now led me down a corridor, where the choice was great: she opened doors on the left and the right, ocean view or coconut grove view. In one room, she decided the bedding was not right, in another the air-conditioning too noisy. We at last found a room, and the housekeeper promised to wake me at six, in time to join Madame's campaign trail at 7. It was now 3am. From The Circles of Life, I read the chapter on "Friends": "Let me give you a few names," Imelda Marcos writes: "Muammar Khadaffi, Saddam Hussein, Mao Tsetung, Deng Xiao Peng, Richard Nixon, Andrei Gromyko, Fidel Castro, Doris Duke. Have they not all been pictured at one time or another as ugly creatures, to be avoided as 'monsters'? How then did they become our friends...?" Perhaps because they understood. In the House of Lost Reputations, Imelda Marcos is Queen.

THE IMELDA Marcos Roadshow: a jeep lurches into a tiny silent village an hour from the nearest tarmac. There are speakers on top of the jeep, and from them comes a shrieking jingle of manic good cheer: I-mel-da! I-mel-da! I-mel-da! Ikan ang makakatulgong! Ikan ang magmamahal!" Only you can help us, only you can love us.

It's 90 or 95 degrees. A man gets out of the jeep and takes a microphone and stands in a howl of feedback next to a poster that reads: I - Insurance M - Medical E - Educational L - Livelihood D - Development A - Assistance. The village members have never been canvassed before. No one has ever brought an election to them, and their children, at least, are excited. The man with the microphone shouts above the feedback: Imelda is coming! I-mel-da! And now two more minibuses have arrived, with tinted glass and air-conditioning systems that are louder than their engines; behind them, more jeeps with young KBL enthusiasts. These vehicles don't park, but stop in the middle of the road that runs through the village: any other traffic can wait. In the bus, Imelda's silhouette is unmistakable: as ever, the shoulders of her dress are built up almost to the height of her ears. She looks as if in mid-shrug.

And now she makes her appearance - carried on a blast of air-conditioning and perfume, a giant of a woman with amazing, firm hair and a bright red dress. "Baby" and the others follow, fussing, imitating her body language, fanning her and shading her. Baby tries to speak to Imelda and fails. The man with the microphone lines up some children and they compete in a game that involves shouting the word "Imelda" very loudly. Winner and losers alike are given 100 pesos (£2.50), the amount I was generally quoted as the price of a rural Leytean vote.

When Imelda spoke - in a mixture of English and Tagalog - it was a compressed version of what I had heard the night before. She told her audience of her commitment to the barangays, and to local requirements for power and water, but she coupled this with jet-set bragging, and veered off into hazy theories about mothering and beauty. Her audience was struck by the spectacle: a flurry of election fliers, a man with a camcorder, and Imelda Marcos - herself - seducing them in the blazing heat. But it was not certain that the spectacle would convert into votes. I spoke to one man who had been desperate to claim a handshake with Imelda, and had been wildly happy when successful. I asked him who he would vote for. He gave the name of Marcos's opponent, the incumbent congressman. "Montejo" he said, smiling.

By lunch, Marcos had done seven or eight of these events - each time, 30 or 40 people had piled out of the vehicles and piled back in again. (A blind man wearing a Ferdinand Marcos T-shirt did not pile in or out. He just slept all morning.) To the smart ladies in the bus - Marcos included - the day was a great adventure, and marked the delivery of a great favour. "Me!" said Imelda Marcos, "Imelda Marcos 20 years First Lady! In the barangays! How wonderful! This is democracy!" She did a little practice canvass, in Margaret Thatcher's caring voice: "What's your problem? How can I solve it?"

This was not entirely insincere. While it lasted, Marcos seemed genuinely drawn to the idea of challenging grim local conditions, even if only in the old Marcos way - by funding an Imelda Marcos Memorial Roof, rather than by implementing a housing policy. But when the locals showed their gratitude too strongly - for instance, by screaming "Imelda! Imelda!" through the open window - there seemed to be a whiff of real disregard in the laughter that this generated on the bus, as if there could be nothing more pitiful than an excess of idolatry, nothing more silly than to believe all this stuff.

At lunch, Baby and most of the other volunteers were left to fend for themselves, while an A-list was invited back to the relative cool of the house. At one end of a long wooden table we were joined by Imelda Marcos's 39-year-old daughter, Imee (short for Imelda). She is married with three young children - infant golf prodigies, apparently - and lives in Singapore. She was educated in England, and she uses much of the language and body language of an English upper-class young woman - she says "actually" a lot, and lifts her upper lip in mock-disgust. She was wearing jet-set tight jeans and a loose striped shirt whose tails were tied in a knot. Over lunch, she provided an odd, unruly, commentary on her mother and father - introducing a voice of teasing scepticism that seems entirely alien to the Marcos myth. You could see her mother's discomfort. "The last campaign was crazy," said Imee, "when she was running for President. It was really weird. When they started kissing her feet. It was so spooky, so culty. They were giving their babies to be blessed!"

Was her mother encouraging it?

"No! She was going 'Blearrrgh! Stop it!' It would be a bit spooky encouraging it. She's crazy, but there is a limit."



She says she was unnerved, as a child, by her mother's beauty, and therefore became "Daddy's girl. I did political things, and became a lawyer. Hard scientific stuff. None of this nebulous stuff that my mum likes." And her father, she says, "was the best. He was really cool. He was great fun..."

Imee's mother left the room. A servant brought a sponge pudding of some kind to the table, which reminded Imee Marcos of her father's inclination towards wholemeal bread and meditation. "My father was very strange. He never came anywhere near anaesthetic. So he had all these operations fully alert, staring straight into the poor doctor's eyes. I swear. He'd say, 'What time's the procedure going to be?' They'd say, 6am or whatever, and he'd start his thing. He'd put himself in a trance, start his breathing exercises, and meditating, blah blah. Spooky. Ask my Mum. It was so weird. And this poor American doctor would be saying, 'We never had a patient awake before.' "

We finished lunch, and Imelda Marcos took to the road again with great energy. In village after village, she alerted her audience to a Leytean childhood both modest and grand. "I am a Leytean" she said, often. The campaigning day ended in the rather desolate, under-electrified city of Palo, at a rally. And at the end of the rally, the blind man in the Ferdinand Marcos T-shirt, who had snoozed all day on the bus, woke up and revealed himself to be a guitarist. He was led to the stage, while Imelda Marcos was handed a microphone, and went through a little ritual of reluctance. She was persuaded: and she then sang three old-fashioned, local, nostalgic songs that made people laugh with surprised recognition. Something by Gracie Fields might have been the British equivalent.

Because Imelda Marcos is tall and slightly ungainly, and because her clothes are so startling, and because her singing voice is quite low and clipped - part Marilyn Monroe, part Frank Muir - there was more than a touch of drag about the performance. And, surprisingly, Marcos attracted a group of boldly camp fans to the front of the stage; young men in earrings acting with exaggerated femininity, swooning at high notes. Up to a point, Marcos seemed to be playing up to this - and for a while you could see her as if in double vision: the vastly rich, worldly woman, doing a turn, as she once did in the White House for Lyndon Johnson; and the Filipino politician in the middle of nowhere, singing sentimental songs from a shrinking power base. One of the young men turned to me and cried: "I love Imelda Romualdez Marcos! I love Imelda Marcos!"

THERE IS a pink building in Tacloban called the Santo Nio Shrine. It is a ludicrously grand building to find in a cramped, third-world city of wooden homes and flip-flops. There is a fountain in front; and a loggia takes you to the back of the house, where another Olympic-sized swimming pool festers (more coconuts, more dead frogs). Imelda Marcos built this house in the late 1970s; how it was funded, no one quite knows. Whether it was a public project or a private one, no one is sure. I asked several people if it had been open to the public in the Marcos years. The answer seemed to be yes, open to that section of the public that knew Imelda Marcos personally.

At the centre of the building is a garish chapel, and leading from this chapel are bedrooms: the Lord's motel. But no one has ever slept in these rooms; rather, the guesthouse theme provided an odd, domestic framework in which Imelda displayed beautiful things from around the world: ivory carvings given by Mao, an African rug, a globe that opens - "Hah!", says the guide - into a drinks cabinet, hundreds of books on American history, marked "Fanconia College Library".

But, inevitably, this museum considers the world's most beautiful things to be images of Imelda Marcos - and there are many of these. There are family portraits done in a smooth-faced, prop-for-ministeries style; and a line of near-identical framed photographs of Imelda playing badminton: if you walked past them fast enough, there would be the illusion of movement. And set into the wall of each "bedroom", like a fish tank in a Chinese restaurant, is what the guide calls a "diorama": a ghostly little tableau peopled by six-inch painted figures representing Imelda Marcos at key moments in her life. We see her as a fashionably pale girl in Manila with her lawyer father; on the beach in Leyte with siblings and half-siblings; in Tacloban during the war, making coconut oil in a bare room while a sea battle rages outside; winning a beauty contest; campaigning, newly- married, with her dashingly successful Congressman-husband; opening the Cultural Centre of the Philippines as First Lady... In the middle of Tacloban, almost 10 years after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, all this is on public display - in a building that the Government sequestered and now runs. There seems to be no energy to counter the force of Imelda; her money, her name.

After the downstairs bedrooms, the tour takes you up a wide staircase, and you are not surprised to see things getting even weirder and grander. Bongbong's collection of cash; the "President's Room" and the "First Lady's Room" - neither ever used; Imelda's Jacuzzi - never used; and her pink hair-washing chair - never used. It's hot, and the guide is getting bored. She sighs, "OK, this way to the ballroom..."

AFTER SINGING, Imelda Marcos was driven back to her house, and changed into the orange trousers and transparent shoes and took up her monologue of self-pity, self-justification and symbols. "They robbed me of everything!" she told me. "My shoes, my pyjamas were taken, everything was taken, including my panties and my bras, my underwear - all of this was taken by Cory Aquino. Nothing was left us." A weak voice: "I survived."

She began talking at midnight, and kept talking. The house began to empty, as those waiting for an audience realised they would not get one. By half- past one, there were a couple of servants around, and Baby. Like a housepet that has learnt its limits, she kept off the polished wooden floor of the living-room, and moved silently in the corridors outside. At one point, she put her head round a door frame - Marcos had her back to her - and she scowled at me with real disgust.

At about 2am, it started raining, and huge drops banged down on the roof. Water splattered on to the terrace. Imelda kept talking: "...Self-reliance is a horizontal movement and a vertical movement..." She got a pad of paper and three pens and started drawing symbols: again, infinity signs and squares and triangles - at one point she drew a triangle cut into a circle and said "Pacman!" - this, she says, symbolises loss of freedom. Then: "...The womb of woman is 0, the phallic symbol is 1..." With her hand moving wildly, like a Spirograph, she drew symbols on top of symbols, Yin and Yang on top of Stars of David, dollar signs and Swastikas. "Watch: the cross, then you will see the four-leafed clover coming out of the upside-down heart..." Imelda Marcos, congressional candidate, is surrounded by people who nod and say yes, fascinating, at things that make no sense. I, too, am nodding and saying, yes, absolutely, fascinating.

Madame Marcos says, "Imelda made it, so each and every one of you can make it. I let my life be a symbol of hope, a source of strength. When I write a book next time I'll show in detail how to prevail, how to be on top of things in agony and in ecstasy. My life is two extremes. Nothing can touch me any more..." She says: "What did I do?"

At 2.45 I asked Madame if she had ever had therapy, and she said no.

The rainstorm ended, and the conversation soon after. Imelda Marcos pointed me again towards the guest quarters. We passed Baby, who whispered, pleading, "Imelda!" but Imelda didn't seem to hear.