The comparisons between Imelda and Evita are inevitablemuch to the former's chagrin. "After she became first lady, perhaps. Not before," she huffs. (In other words, "I wasn't a hooker.") Imelda says she would spend an hour dressing for the "VIPs" who visited her at the palace. But when she made appearances before the masses, she spent two hours,"because they need a star, to bring light to the dark of their nights," she says melodramatically.
Imelda also claims Andrew Lloyd Webber came to her first about a bio musical, but she demurred. More recently, David Byrne and Fatboy Slim have collaborated on a show based on her life. Titled Here Lies Loveafter the epitaph Imelda wants on her tombstonethe work in progress, which was previewed this past February at Carnegie Hall, ends with the Marcoses being airlifted from the palace.
The events of 1986, which Imelda refers to as "the thing," still seem raw to her. She claims that she was tricked into exile by the U.S. government. After being helicoptered from the palace to an airbase, she says that she asked to be transferred to a small plane, reasoning its range wouldn't be farther than the northern provinces, where the family wanted to go. They arrived instead in Guam, and the entire clan was then flown to Hawaii in what she says was an unpressurized transport plane, resulting, she claims, in "busted" eardrums for most of the party. But Imelda is nothing if not a survivorand a ham. After her acquittal in New York, she proceeded to Saint Patrick's Cathedral, where she walked down the center aisle on her knees.
Perhaps the eeriest room at Old House is Ferdinand's study, which is now a shrine to the U.S. trial. Some 350,000 pages of documents sit in endless piles, all meticulously labeled. In Imelda's view, these papers are proof of her innocence. Even though she was acquitted, most of the world still considers the Marcos regime to have been one of the most corrupt of modern times. After Ferdinand declared martial law in 1972, the press was silenced and many of his opponents were jailed. There have even been accusations of murder.
But recently a degree of revisionism has taken hold of the Marcos legacy. Under successive regimes, partisanship in congress has led to endless deadlocks, chaos and economic stagnation. There's now a nostalgia for the Marcos yearsthe order, the relative economic success and the glamour.
On the final day of my visit, in fact, I witness full-on Imelda adulation. Decked out in another terno, with matching pink Hermès bag and pumps, she strolls into a bistro at a popular upscale mall, followed by her personal maidwho is ready with makeup for touch-upsher photographer and the blue-suited men who carry shopping bags printed with Imelda's cameo. Heads swivel as Imelda makes her entrance, and a buzz spreads through the restaurant. Groups of lunching ladies soon descend on her table for autographs, photos and chitchat. The former first lady happily obliges and calls for the shopping bags, from which she extracts trinkets from the Imelda Collection and passes them out as gifts. The ladies squeal with delight.