Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dutch Treat

Tonight I spent a very pleasant evening at the beautiful Ramon Antonio-designed home of Ambassador Robert Brinks of the Netherlands. The occasion was a dinner for 16 friends which, as he himself said at the start of the meal, was not a celebration of any sort but to just get some friends together.

The artwork

Ambassador Brinks' home is full of quirky, modern artwork that really catch the eye. Much of it is from the Netherlands, of course, but he also has on display some beautiful things picked up from various postings and his travels. My favorites include a couple of bird figurines -- the ambassador is an avid bird watcher -- and a large statue of a cow in the garden. I also like the lithograph of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in the foyer, and the very long row of KLM dutch houses all along his dining room sideboard. I thought I had a lot of KLM houses, since I have a collection of about 18 - 20 houses; but there must have been over 40 houses running the length of the sideboard!

KLM's lovely Delft houses

In case you're wondering how one gets these beautiful blue-and-white Delft houses that are actually mini-containers for liquor, you get a choice of one each time you fly business class on KLM long-haul, such as between Asia and Europe. In the beginning, I used to not pay attention to these little giveaways at the end of the flight; and I was always amazed seeing other passengers take out lists of numbers from their wallets when the stewardesses started coming around with trays of these KLM houses.

Why would anyone take a collection of little porcelain houses so seriously? I always said to myself.

"I'd like # 27," one passenger would say, while another would request: "# 16 please." If told that #16 was not available on this flight, for example, the passenger would consult his list again and say something like: "Then I think I'll have #22 or 34 instead."

KLM houses on the bathroom wall

These numbers corresponded to the different styles of KLM houses -- and I believe there are now something like 90 different styles. And lots of frequent fliers just love collecting these KLM houses and trying to get as many styles as possible. They don't want to have doubles of the same style so they keep a list of the style numbers they have or the ones they want.

On TV in Amsterdam one day, I just happened to see a feature about a guy who had about 50 KLM houses, and he plastered them all onto the wall of his bathroom so that only the facade showed -- resulting in a cute mural of blue and white houses on his bathroom wall!

Later on, the KLM house collecting bug bit me too, and now I too have my own wishlist of KLM houses to request on my next flight with them. I also regret having given away a couple of houses at the beginning when I just couldn't be bothered to collect these. If I hadn't given these away, I would probably have about 25 by now!

The menu

At Ambassador Brinks' home, the meal began with a very nice salad topped with crispy shrimp and a thick aubergine soup, followed by roast beef with vegetable sidings and a potato galette. Dessert was an assortment of cut-up fruit in a chocolate cup topped with cream and a passion fruit sauce. It was all very delicious and so professionally presented that we asked the ambassador if he had had the meal catered.

"Of course not," he replied, always the straight-talker. "My cook made everything. If I were going to have this catered, I would have invited you all to a hotel instead."

The conversation at dinner

We had a lot of interesting exchanges over dinner. We talked about the sad state of our denuded mountains, the way the Dutch are coping with ever-rising water levels, and how the structure of the European Union is changing signficantly. I was seated to the left of the ambassador, and diagonally across the Singaporean ambassador, who spoke about the impressive economic performance of Singapore in the first half of the year. To my left was the country representative of the World Bank, who is also from the Netherlands.

I was happy to note from the two gentlemen on either side of me that they had so far very good experiences and positive impressions of the new government of President Aquino, from their dealings with him and his officials. They both believed that this government is pro-active and ready to listen.

Teddy bear at dinner

But perhaps the most interesting encounter came at the start of the evening, when, after cocktails on the terrace, we had moved inside to take our seats at the long table and start on our appetizers. One seat was empty and, at the suggestion of one of the guests, the ambassador placed a little teddybear by the plate.

"This is for the superstitious who believe we shouldn't have an empty place at a dinner table," he said, with a twinkle in his eye.

We were then just starting to eat when a lady came rushing in, all apologetic and quite agitated.

"I hope I'm not too late," she said, after some profuse apologies. "Traffic was awful, and on the way here, you'll never believe what happened..."

Same street, wrong house

It turns out she'd gotten down at the residence of the Italian Ambassador a few houses down on the same street, and even got as far as the dining room where there were about eight people ready to eat as well. It was only then that she realized she'd entered the wrong ambassador's residence and quickly made a beeline for the exit.

I laughed so much when I heard this, imagining the surprised looks of Italian Ambassador Fornari and his charming wife Silvana, upon seeing their unexpected guest walk confidently into their carpet-strewn living room. I also could imagine how easily this could have happened as I'd also passed the Italian residence earlier that evening and it was indeed all lit up for the arrival of guests. It would be so easy to assume that this house ablaze with lights on an otherwise darkened street was the Dutch ambassador's residence.

"It could have happened to anyone," said one of the other guests.

"And especially in Manila, where there are a handful of parties on any street in Dasma or Forbes on any given night," I added.


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