What is the best thing I ever ate?

I am watching one cooking show after another on the Food Network and in between, this short feature of people simply describing the best thing they ever ate pops up. I love listening to what they say, each one waxing poetic about something different, all of them the same in that they describe the dish with a love and passion that is almost palpable. The camera makes love to the food, the audience (in this case, me, sitting on the sofa in our living room) is mesmerized, and gets pulled right into the romance. I so love looking at the way their favored dish is being prepared, but second only to how hungry I get listening to them describe it.

Continue reading

A homecoming to God

I saw him many times in church before I actually met him.  Tito Vinci was one of those who easily belonged to the old world, and not because he was well-advanced in years but because he had the ways of the gentlemen of old — the kind you only see in movies and read from books, nowadays. In short, he was a rarity. He had a fluff of white hair, his shirt, which was always tucked in, was as crisp as his perfect English. He always brought an umbrella with him and, rain or shine, his shoes were always clean. Also, he had this calm about him that was reassuring, even when we talked about earthquakes and super typhoons and other sad things like that. Nothing about him seemed frazzled or alarmed, ever.

Continue reading

A family affair

I begin writing this in my mind earlier — it is 2 a.m., there were six of us that just had a midnight snack and in the car on our way home, my four-year-old nephew Valiant sits beside me. He is an old soul. He has this little red car equipped with a radio and while driving it he loves to listen to a station that plays really old songs. It seems to calm him. That amuses me endlessly. He gets my phone, goes through my playlist, and listens to half of Stacey Kent’s rendition of Manhattan. “For Valiant sleeping,” he tells me with a happy grin. Everyone in the car laughs. I try to make him listen to Etta James’ At Last — that did not sit too well with him. “Duun like (don’t like),” he says, his thumb nimbly going through the albums in my playlist. I guide him to Ella Fitzgerald’s Baby, It’s Cold Outside, a duet with Louis Jordan. He sits still through the entire song, fully attentive, the adorable old soul that he is, even bobbing his round head a bit on some parts, and I clasp his little hand in mine, thankful this very moment for the fact that Ms. Fitzgerald’s song is all of 2:40 long. It is the longest I have been able to hold his hand without him wriggling it away from my grasp.

The past few weeks have been quite lovely for us as a family. My sister Caren is here with Valiant, and so were Rica (our sister-in-law, wife of our youngest brother Jules) and their daughter, the youngest member of the family for now, Baby Julia. They left already though about a week ago. I miss her, too. I so love the pitter-patter of little feet around the house, seeing toys only little ones play with and a lot of Juliana’s old storybooks being taken from the bookshelves where they were practically just decorative, used again. I sometimes wish my own Juliana were that small again; I remember her at that age. That was back when I was her world and she wanted to come with me wherever I went. She giggles when I tell her this strange thought and ends it by saying the same thing each time: “Just reproduce again, Mom.” If only it were that easy. But yes, a little one would just be oh-so-nice to have and hold. Dear God, when can that be, please?

But for now… where did the time go? I remember myself when I was Valiant’s age, I remember how I was when I was my daughter’s age. Life was so much gentler then. I could turn over tables and chairs and already I had hills the same as Maria’s in The Sound of Music. My male playmates would wear towels as capes and already they were Superman or Batman or, if they managed to get their hands on goggles or shades, Robin. I would put on a crown and gown and right away I was a princess. My girlie friends would get tin foil from the kitchen, fold it into wide bands to be wrapped around each wrist and we could all be Wonder Woman! One time my mom left me, my sister Caren, and our cousin Johanna under the care of her sister, our Tita Liclic. By the time she and my dad came back from the party they attended, all three of us little girls had blue eyeshadow and red lips, and we wore Mommy’s half slips as dresses, our little feet stuffed in high heels. We were showgirls! When we wanted to taste wine our yayas would pick flowers (if I remember correctly they were pink bougainvillas) and use the petals to color plain drinking water.  Imagination was key, and make-believe was just as happy as reality. I remember wanting so much a playhouse. Daddy asked the carpenter to build one for my sister and me, this little wooden square that had a real roof, windows and doors. Valiant wants a nipa hut and my sister will make one for him in their backyard. She tells me tonight I once owned a blue chicken. I kind of remember picking one from the lot, calling it mine, but I do not remember it being blue. She says the feathers were blue. The cook used it for cooking some dish one day and that was the end of my making friends with any other chicken, ever. My brother Matt had a little goat he used to drag into our house during mealtime, like a playmate. He never had a name but he was part of the family. Those were definitely fun and carefree days.

I wonder, now, at what point did life get so serious? After college? Did it just escalate and escalate through the years, reaching its peak… when? I do not even know. There are just days when it is so much easier to be a child, or at best even just have a child’s heart — all-trusting, all-believing, all-forgiving, all-loving, detached from all things sad.  I thought about the latter a few nights back when I, unfortunately, got dragged into watching The Fault In Our Stars. I say unfortunate, not because the movie is bad (it is beautiful, as a matter of fact), but because it is just oh-so-sad.  See, when you are an adult, with responsibilities, work-related stress, TFIOS is not the kind of movie you watch unprepared. The story and the dialogue is so beautiful, in a heart-wrenching kind of way, and the boy… Oh. That. Boy. Adorable. How could he have that fate at so young an age? It breaks me. It is the kind of movie that makes you steep in sadness, one that cruelly encourages you to ponder about all the other sad what-ifs the world has to offer in this day and age. Truly, for me, that day at least, when I was not exactly having a very easy work week because there were numerous little kinks I had to iron out and set in place, watching the movie felt like attending 10 funerals. I had to make pag-pag after. As I was eating quesadillas I could not really taste because Gus Waters was still on my mind. Juliana, on the other hand, gushed about how I should read the book, too, just like she did. After watching the movie and soaking in all that sadness, how can I? That will just be plain masochistic. The only way I got through it in one piece was because I purposely diverted my attention by scanning through IG posts on my phone while the film was playing. Only teenagers can emerge from a movie like that in one piece, the memory of it brushed off and gone by the time they leave the theater. Adults, on the other hand, tend to be less resilient.

They say there is that place inside every person that no one can touch, or put a lock on, much less take away. That place is almost magical, like a fort you go back to for refuge, for some healing, some rest, a defense mechanism for when the day gives you something a little rough to bear. I find that is not always true when you grow up. Because then you somehow unlearn what it is like to believe in magic, you don’t dream as often, and you tend to process everything by breaking them down into real facts. There are times when you don’t even leave anything for yourself, and the only way you get through today is knowing that the same is all that is required of you, anyway.

By the time we enter the village I have allowed Juliana to roll down the window. She and Valiant, sticking their faces almost out but not quite, looking up to the night, the summer breeze rendering its magic on their faces. I see two pairs of round cheeks silhouetted in the dark, Ms. Fitzgerald has stopped singing, I have a few more hours till sleep and right this very moment, I realize just how happy it must be to be a child.  I have much to relearn from them.  Maybe I can start tomorrow.

An eggs-cellent journey

I love eggs. I cannot remember the first time, at what age, who first fed me and in what way it was cooked; all I know for sure is that by itself, and depending on how it is prepared (there are maybe more than a dozen ways), eggs can be some really nice kind of wonderful, and that folded into sauces and soup, cake batter and cookie dough, something delicious happens.

Continue reading

London is love

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.Samuel Johnson

Sometimes life gets a little bit dusty, or feels beat.  No biggie, just this general roughness around the edges — like worn-out shoes, a bad hair day, or a chipped plate —- all manageable, except that it can pile up.  And how. We go through days packed with hours upon hours of things we both need and want to do, except that usually the former far outweighs the latter. You work yourself to the ground, until tired just feels like busy, and becomes nothing more than a feeling — not good, not bad, just one more thing to make peace with before the sun goes down.

London is definitely one of those places you go to when you are weary. That was the very thought playing in my mind as I sat in one of the easy chairs of the Café Royal lobby, magical as it was in its golden glow at any given time of the day. The look is contemporary, but with classical features, and walking through its revolving doors feels like entering a jewelry box.  It is almost impossible for anyone to look ugly in lighting like that — naturally golden, as if perpetually kissed by sunlight, and at night the tasteful color and sheen of the walls enhanced by clusters of candlelight shyly glowing from within hurricane lamps. Always there are fresh flowers, an impeccably-dressed doorman or two with faultless manners, and so much fine attention to non-living detail — furniture and accents that speak of the old without looking staid, or stuffy, in a world that is so new. Ah. Beautiful.

That is how every day felt like during our stay in London. Just beautiful. It was the first trip I have taken since typhoon Yolanda hit, made even more special by the fact that it was one enjoyed in the company of both family and friends.  Together we enjoyed long meals and took even longer walks, combed favorite shops, found new stops, came together for many warm and funny conversations and for lovely birthday celebrations. In what was a very cold season, we were thankfully very warm in our hearts. It was all good.

When I was younger, travel was mostly about shopping, stumbling upon all these things to love and yes, wanting very much to take most of it home. But as I grew in years I found that travel shifts: it becomes a gentler and even more rewarding experience. There is a change in preferences that sort of just happens, maybe one brought about also from what I learned from and with the people I usually travel with, and there is much joy to be found in that it no longer has the power to whip me up to greater speed. The whole journey then becomes a lot more about paying attention to every beautiful detail and being thankful that you are there to behold it, steeping in the sights and sounds, eating food not just to satisfy a literal hunger but to enrich the senses. It all becomes very experiential.

Instead of rushing through each stop, I prefer now staying for several days in one place, so that the pace is languid and I can be more present in every moment. I want how being away from home (as much as I love home) can calm and still all that is frenzied about me — yes, even if it is just for a very short stretch of time.  We all do need a little time away. I like being enthralled by the many pleasures that abound in a place like London — familiar yet not exactly mine to have every time I want it. There are many random ones that shift with every visit: the meals that are as beautifully plated and presented as they are delicious; a gorgeous middle-aged couple nibbling each other’s lips as if they were teenagers, the woman with flowing blonde hair thrown back, her back arched and kept steady by the strong hand of her man, he looking imposing and dapper in a dark coat. They were absorbed in their own lovely corner, oblivious to the way people, myself included, gave them a second look. Oh, they were a scene straight out of a beautiful film. And then there are all those colored doors that pop out unexpectedly from very traditional spaces, cast-iron lamps I am endlessly fascinated with, the grand gates fronting real palaces, flower-decked windows and perfect cups of coffee, beautifully rich museums.

We went to Borough Market and by the time we packed our suitcases to fly back home, half of mine was filled with jams and biscuits and wedges of cheese, packets of dates stuffed with either almonds, candied ginger or oranges. We wandered around that bustling market, eating paella dished out steaming hot from a paellera the size of a big, round tabletop.  We tasted jams and marmalade that won gold and silver medals, went through pedigreed oils and vinegars that had been flavored with fruit, scoured through mounds of different kinds of bread. We slurped the thickest and most decadent milkshakes, making rooms in our appetites for more empanadas and freshly-shucked oysters even after eating (and taking home for midnight snack in the hotel) yet another award-winning meat pie. Award-winning food abounded, cheap, too; it was show-and-tell time for the proud merchants.  What is not to love about the place?

Perhaps with each of our travels we seek the same things — that quiet time that will potentially afford us the much-needed second wind, the opportunity to think objectively, the grace to be more grateful for all that we already have, and the rekindled passion to softly keep on praying and working for all that we still need to carry on in each of our journey.

I am thankful for that escape, that time I had to run away from myself — the me that replies to emails about fishing boats deep into the wee hours of the morning. The me that worries about this and that. The me that thinks too much. The me that can get easily disheartened when people are cold or mean. After that respite, it is easier to remember that, really, it all works out in the end.

Thank you, London. Time spent with you was a gentle reminder that the only way to take on life is with the sensuous passion that stress has managed to diminish over the years. You are love. And the way I feel about you borders on madness.

What I learned from my Lola Carmen

My Lola Carmen often said that pearls and corals could make a woman look even prettier than she already is/was to begin with.  Alongside that she would also say that a woman is most lovely under a yellow light, so much that many a man has proposed plans of ever after, or at the very least professed true love, as a lady basks in that glow.  Conversely, fluorescent lighting could make him run very far away.  She was a romantic that way.  With Lola Carmen, every story had some random detail — she could wax poetic about how the rain fell while a couple she knew danced the waltz, how emerald green or canary yellow silk looked gorgeous against fair skin, or how lips should be the color of wine. When she would break out into song — like Love Is A Many Splendored Thing, for instance — it was never just about the song.  Always, she would dreamily remember Suyen, as the heroine was named in that iconic movie of the same title, with Hong Kong as the backdrop. She loved Hong Kong, because of that movie, and also because people there are always smartly dressed, she said.

Continue reading

5 ways to live life better

MANILA, Philippines – The heat is terrible. But in some twisted way I kind of like it, to the point that I cheer it on, if only because it makes me cross items off my daily to-do list faster. Unlike the cold weather that can trick me into thinking that all I want to do is curl up in bed with a good book with a cup of milk tea on a little table by my side, this heat has a weird way of making me increase my productivity. This heat also reminds me of Marcelo, our houseboy back in the ‘90s, and his iced tea.  Marcelo was the nephew of my brother Jules’ yaya Hilda and he was very handy around the house. Plus, his iced tea was quite famous in our circle of family and friends. He would always make it in small batches, enough for two glasses at the most, and I think it all started when Daddy, an iced tea drinker, got him this stainless shaker. Marcelo would make the concoction in that perfectly ordinary-looking thing that always rendered such extraordinary iced tea. I don’t really remember anything special that he added into the potion, really, and I am not even sure if the base was one of those store-bought mixes that he just added somecalamansi or lemon to but whatever, it was good. He would shake it vigorously, as if to some tempo he probably only heard in his mind, and he’d pour the liquid ceremoniously into a glass, the froth on the rim making the whole thing look so professional.

Continue reading

A thousand lists on my mind

As I write this it is a little past midnight and I am very alert (when I should be sleeping already, as I have a 4 a.m. flight tomorrow). Swimming in my mind are a thousand little lists: of things to do, emails to send out, people to call and meet up with regarding bancas. I realize at this very moment that I am very hungry. I totally forgot about dinner. Richard is hungry, too, after having come home from sports training and for a while we toy with the idea of going out to get something to eat. But the day has been long, and thankfully, happy. We decide to raid the ref instead, in our sleepwear, in the still of the night, just as we have countless times in the past.

Continue reading

‘Mama, I’m really worried. I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up!’

Juliana is seated across from me, we are having lunch, and her otherwise bright eyes shroud with anxiety at the thought.  My first impulse was to chuckle and dismiss  her little fear, but I stop myself.  After all, I was her age once, too, and I still remember how concerns of that nature seem every bit as real as those the more serious ones adults deal with.

Continue reading

What memories will Juliana have of me?

Juliana just walked in, wearing her red football jersey. I look at her, realize how much she has grown, and all of a sudden I feel sad, lonely, and so much older than my years — all that, all at once.  I also feel very tired, the kind that makes you feel emotionally and physically weary in the same measure, as if all the stress and exhaustion since Nov. 8 when Yolanda happened came together in one big fat roll to rest on my shoulders this very moment.  I am exhausted.  Where did the time go?  And I have been so busy since Yolanda happened the days hold no distinction.  There are no weekdays or weekends — every day is the same in terms of workload, one bleeding into the next.

Continue reading