Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Travelife's Editors-at-Large, Part 2

Domestic Editor at Large Gabby Malvar is spending a year traveling all over the Philippines for Travelife Magazine.

Domestic Editor at Large

The other side of the Editor at Large coin is modern-day corsair Gabby Malvar, a former multinational corporate man. This Atenean and ex-University of the Philippines Conservatory of Music enrollee has often gone the extra, unbeaten, mile to see the world. In one particular case, that extra mile has ended up stitched on his face and arms. He's also battered a couple of cameras and computers along the way -- an Apple computer, for instance, ended up in a ravine, we heard, when his motorbike skidded down some steep roads. But he’s living the life doing it and writing about it; just as we’re having a great time editing and publishing it. We hope you will enjoy as much reading about his adventures.
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Click here to read about the rest of the Travelife Editorial Team:
Christine Cunanan, Publisher & Editor in Chief
Dexter de Vera, Creative Director (coming soon)
Jon Vicente, Managing Editor (coming soon)
Rafe Totengco, Global Editor at Large

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You are rough and ready when it comes to travel. Has ‘five-star only’ ever been an option as a mode of traveling?
Gabby: I’ve only travelled five-star when someone else was willing to pay for it. I consider myself a budget traveler. I will stay in hostels and bed and breakfasts. To get around, I will ride trains, buses, tricycles, motorcycles. I’ve even been known to get on a horse or two.

What would you consider your primary survival tool when traveling?
Gabby: I would have to say a tripod, but for more than just good photography. Personal safety is a key concern especially when you’re in isolated areas. You can use a tripod to defend yourself. And it hasn’t set off alarm bells in airports yet, but I’m sure they’ll get to that.

Which do you prefer: Concrete Jungle? Or jungle, jungle?
Gabby: Jungle, jungle. I love the great outdoors, and sleeping in a tent under a full moon or on a bench on a moored bangka (outrigger canoe). I am not much of a shopper and I try to avoid crowds. Don’t get me wrong though. I gravitate towards museums and structures with interesting architecture but the draw of glaciated peaks, wildlife and battered crags is just much harder to resist.

What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever had?
Gabby: A parillada in Buenos Aires, which is a plate of grilled meats such as chorizo, chinchulines (intestines), bife de lomo (tenderloin), chicken and morcino (blood sausage) dipped in chimichuri (a kind of salsa) with a hint of lemon and washed down with Malbec, an Argentinian red wine.

Travel destination you’d return to in a heartbeat, and why?
Gabby: Kyoto, Japan. I am fascinated with Japanese culture, its feudal history and the samurai tradition. I’ve been to Kyoto several
times already but for some reason have always failed to bring a camera. Now I know there must be something wrong with me.

Read about Gabby's travels in every issue of Travelife Magazine, the Philippines' leading travel & lifestyle publication.

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Click here to read about the rest of the Travelife Editorial Team:
Christine Cunanan, Publisher & Editor in Chief
Dexter de Vera, Creative Director
Jon Vicente, Managing Editor
Rafe Totengco, Global Editor at Large


Friday, March 26, 2010

Travelife Magazine's Two Editors at Large, Part 1

Travelife’s two Editors at Large couldn’t be more different—which is fine because, while destinations may be the same, perspectives and experiences never are. One man’s outdoor adventure could very well be another’s boot camp. Whatever. We’re just tickled by the clever counterpoint of it all.
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Click here to read about the rest of the Travelife Editorial Team:
Christine Cunanan, Publisher & Editor in Chief
Dexter de Vera, Creative Director (coming soon)
Jon Vicente, Managing Editor (coming soon)
Gabby Malvar, Domestic Editor at Large

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Global Editor at Large

The refined and urbane designer Rafe Totengco now tries his hand at crafting something decidedly different from his internationally renowned bags and shoes, that have found their way into fashionable closets in neighborhoods as diverse as Park Avenue, Forbes Park and Hollywood. The creations of Rafe New York, of which he is President and Creative Director, combine functionality and purpose with style and creativity, a character that is reflected in his column.

You obviously travel well and in style. Has ‘roughing it’ ever been an option as a mode of traveling?
The last time I roughed it was 20 years ago. Before I left for New York in 1989, I went to Boracay via Aklan on a non air-conditioned bus and a small rickety banca. Despite the tortuous journey I’m glad I persevered because I will always have the memory of an unadulterated Bora and it was paradise!

What would you consider your primary survival tool when traveling?
Hands down, my iPhone! Thank God for the Google Map, Currency Converter and Yelp applications.

Which do you prefer: Concrete Jungle? Or jungle, jungle?
Well, both are just as dangerous but I would have to say that I would prefer to be in the real jungle because what you see is
what you get. In the concrete version, the animals hide behind designer suits!

What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever had?
Last year in Kyoto, a friend took me to a fabulous restaurant in the heart of the Gijon district for a Kaiseki Ryori dinner. Every bite was so heavenly, I wanted seconds! Our server was so graceful and elegant; we were entranced the entire evening. Our bouches were definitely amused!

Travel destination you’d return to in a heartbeat, and why?
I love Bali. You have the mountains, the rivers and the beaches all within driving distance from each other. The people are so
warm and open, the food is delicious and the accommodations are superb. Fortunately so many words in Bahasa are the same in Filipino so I can bargain like a local! The best part is the whole island is so photogenic; I have yet to take a bad photo there.

Read Rafe's column in every issue of Travelife Magazine.

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Click here to read about the rest of the Travelife Editorial Team:
Christine Cunanan, Publisher & Editor in Chief
Dexter de Vera, Creative Director
Jon Vicente, Managing Editor
Gabby Malvar, Domestic Editor at Large


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Of Barbie Dolls and Art Speculation

Yesterday afternoon we joined a group of friends for a private tour of an art gallery in Pasay. We'd almost never imagined going to this part of the city for art, but someone had organized an afternoon of wine and pica-pica, and we liked the people (mostly serious wine drinkers!) who had confirmed attendance, so we decided join in the fun. The email said bring wine and snacks to share, so we arrived with a red and a white, and a platter of cheese and cold cuts.

Getting there was a major hassle of narrow roads and EDSA traffic. However, once we drove past a bright red gate, we were instantly transported to another era and an utterly charming place where civilized living and gentility reigned. It was probably a lively and happy post-war family compound in a past life, with its wooden clapboard two-storey houses, iron grills and all; but now it's a community for artists and designers that is maintained with great taste rather than lots of money, and an oasis of quiet amidst the chaos of this old and rather rundown part of town.

We were immediately enamoured. And the giant photographs of flowers on the house’s whitewashed walls -- this month's exhibit -- weren't bad either.

Then we met the very charming gallery owner, who then took us up to see half of his collection. Everyone was going on a full tour in a while, but I had asked for a sneak preview of some works since I was on a tight time deadline to make it to the Ballet Philippines Gala closing cocktails at the Peninsula Manila, which also included an auction of over 200 designer-clad Barbie dolls. Having been a big Barbie doll fan many centuries ago (I was one of those little girls who saved all their allowance to buy Barbie dolls at the International Bazaar), this was something I definitely wanted to see.

But upstairs in the gallery, a striking painting by the modern master Lao Lianben -- a quiet version of his Buddhist television series -- and a pair of wooden sculptures of a couple in some kind of yoga pose by a Filipina artist based in Germany, caught my eye. The Lao, in particular, was just what I was looking for to partner with a Buddhist TV series already hanging on my dining room wall.

"I'd like to think about this," I told the gallery owner, and gave him my business card. He looked at my card, then quizzically at me, and asked, "Did you study art as a child?"

I said I had studied art as a child. I'd gone to Saturday art school for years.

"I remember you!" He almost exclaimed. "You used to throw sand on my paintings when we'd go for on-the-spot painting sessions. Our teacher would bring us somewhere like Tagaytay and advise us to paint closer to nature – and instead you’d throw sand at our paintings to make these closer to nature!"

Somehow I didn't recall the sand escapades, but I did remember the wonderful art workshops conducted by Fernando Sena, that shaped my eye (and the eye of many young students, some of whom have become very famous like the now highly-sought after Elmer Borlongan, who sat next to me drawing still life for years) for design and appreciation for the beautiful. And right there and then, a friendship going back 30 years -- if you can call throwing sand at someone's paintings a form of friendship -- was re-kindled in five minutes.

Unfortunately, it was then time for another kind of event so I left the group with hurried goodbyes. I rushed over from Pasay just in time for the Ballet Philippines event organized by board chair Margie Moran-Floreindo, who was one of my travel mates to South India several weeks ago. The Barbie dolls on display were just beautiful, and every future fashionistas dream. I spied many lucky little girls, brought by their mothers and aunts, already holding paddles and waiting eagerly for the auction to begin.

There were so many masterpieces, but I remember especially the bejweled Barbie -- probably the most expensive in the lot -- created by jeweler Hans Brumann. Those of you who've read the latest issue of Travelife Magazine (please pick it up at the bookstore! we're releasing the new issue in a few weeks and this really wonderful Feb-March issue will be off the stands) may recall that Hans and his wife Maria, and my friend Marivic and myself, had spent a wonderful summer painting the picturesque lakeshore towns and hilltop villages in the Ticino region of Switzerland. We'd done lazy days by the lakes, watched a spectacular performance of the Aida in the open-air ampitheater in Verona, and even managed to hit both the flea markets in Zurich and the summer sales in Milan. Regarding the latter, Marivic and I had done so much credit card damage -- at 70%, wouldn't you do so as well? -- that Hans had had to help us close our overstuffed suitcases for the flight back to Manila. This trip still ranks as one of the most wonderful and enjoyable trips I have ever taken.

"We're going on another painting trip with Margarita," Hans told me, when I finally got him away from the throngs of well-wishers. Margarita was our art teacher from Milan. "But this time to the South of France."

Then I met Tippi Ocampo, who had generously and creatively designed about four or five very versatile looks. One of her dolls was in a lovely gown, for instance, while another was in a very modern get-up.

I saw some of my other India travel mates admiring dolls at the other end of the room and trying to decide which one to bid for. One of them, L, went for a Barbie in a striking gown with a puffed cream-colored skirt that had lines of poetry on it. Meanwhile M had placed a bid on a doll in a short gold-colored dress. I wanted one in a jusi creation, but there were just too many bidders already.

After the auction, I motored back to Pasay, hoping to catch up with the conversation and the wine. Unfortunately, all the bottles were empty and the long and very stately-looking table I had last seen at 5 PM that afternoon, laid out so lovely with candles and tableware, was completely and messily covered with tasting glasses. Everyone was in such a state of inebriation that I was surprised they actually noticed that I had walked in.

Apparently I had missed a very lively discussion on hotshot art collectors buying up art as investments and driving the prices up with their wealthy eagerness. One of my dear friends, for example, present at that discussion and tipsy, had just purchased a painting from an upcoming young and highly collectible artist, sight unseen. Such "statement" actions are bound to generate equally strong opinions from others. But personally, I think it’s hard to judge something like buying art sight unseen as indecent or unethical because it’s honest money and an honest hobby – and as my eloquent managing editor Jon Vicente likes to say every so often back at the Travelife office: “Hey, whatever floats your boat.” At the very least, my art investor friend was certainly keeping a couple of young artists alive and well.

And buying anything is highly personal. I don't think I'd ever buy a painting without seeing it first, but I can certainly imagine calling in my credit card details for a Birkin bag that fits my specs. I’ve been looking for a crocodile Birkin in old rose for ages – I saw it only once on the arm of a very fashionable-looking lady in the Upper East Side and instantly fell in love – and if my Hermes store in Tokyo had it, yes, I would fax my credit card without seeing the bag.

But this seemed to incense the art gallery owner who understandably didn’t like the very clinical approach to the business of buying creations that are supposed to move and inspire you -- not make you think of profits. In a way, it does change the art collecting landscape completely as prices are driven up and young artists are turned on their heads by the attention and the frenzied buying up of their works. Some of them become quite difficult when they realize the whole world literally wants them, and a couple of them are up to their ears in future orders. They haven’t even lifted a paintbrush and already there is a line of buyers for paintings that haven’t even been imagined – much less painted or seen. Indeed, that's got to affect art's quality control.

Anyway, by the time I reached the art gallery at about 930 PM, the furor had died down and the conversation had returned to jovial, more agreeable banter about food and wine. We all agreed it would be nice to have another meeting there, but this time a progressive dinner that moved from beautiful, art-filled room to beautiful, art-filled room, from interesting house to interesting house within the compound, with each course.

“I like that idea,” said my art investor friend, seated next to me, with a grin on his face. Ever the maverick, but a truly wonderful person and travel companion (we'd been to Paris together twice in a space of months and had a fantastic time, and we'd done an eating trip to Tokyo as well), he obviously had enjoyed throwing a monkey wrench into the evening's discussions. “Do you think he’ll invite me again?”

The gallery owner at the other end of the table overheard and he answered, more teasing than serious, before I could say anything else: “You’re always welcome to join us and enjoy an evening here. I still like you. Just don’t buy my art.”

PS: The photos of paintings here are not from the said gallery. I just thought this blog entry would look nicer with some art photos.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Art of Travel

TRAVELIFE Magazine Editor in Chief Christine O. Cunanan reminisces about a painting trip around Europe’s lake district

In the Ticino region of Switzerland, the area closest to the Italian border, there’s a tiny and ancient hilltop village of stone and wood called Soazza, that holds special memories for me. Many years ago, I spent two blissful weeks here in July indulging very compatible interests of art and food.

My friend Marivic and I joined famed Manila jeweler Hans Brumann and his wife Maria, both former Swiss nationals, for a two-week watercolor workshop in Soazza conducted by a contemporary artist from Milan named Margherita who lectured entirely in German. Neither Marivic nor I spoke the language, but somehow we managed through the class of Swiss and Germans including a spinster from Neuchatel and two young girls from Basel.


It was the ultimate girls’ trip of enjoyment and indulgence, as far as I was concerned, and one of the happiest holidays I have ever taken. Marivic and I flew on KLM from Manila and spent most of the long ride to Europe via Kuala Lumpur, giggling like schoolgirls and mapping out three weeks of painting, exploring and shopping. Since we were already going for the workshop, we’d decided to spend an additional week driving through the lake districts of Switzerland and Northern Italy, including Lake Como, Lake Garda and Lake Lugano. We planned to paint the lake towns and the beautiful churches and town squares along the way. Several days in Milan, Italy’s fashion capital and mecca for Europe’s summer sales, was also on our itinerary.

Upon landing in Zurich at 6 AM, we hired a car and drove directly to Zurich’s Sunday flea market for a morning of bric-a-brac hunting and a lazy walk around town. Afterwards, we found our way to Regensberg, a quaint walled village in the outskirts of Zurich, where we had reserved rooms at an 800-year-old inn with lovely antique furniture and handpainted flowers on the walls. We spent our first evening at a local restaurant in the next village, and I can still remember the taste of the lamb we feasted on in the restaurant’s garden.

After that, time passed all too quickly. We visited a friend’s family in a skiing hamlet in the Swiss Alps, lazed along the shores of Lake Como with sketchbooks in hand, and attended an open-air performance of the opera Aida in the coliseum of Verona. In Milan, we succumbed to so many sales at 70% off that our purchases covered every inch of our hotel room floor.

We ended our holiday with our watercolor workshop in Soazza, a little village with a population just under 400, about half an hour’s drive from Lake Lugano. At the Ristorante al Cacciatore, an impeccably-furnished 13-room hotel and restaurant run by a local aristocrat that was the center of Soazza’s social life and that also served as our workshop base, I experienced the pure joy of being able to discard all mundane cares and focusing all day solely on observing and recreating beauty.

Each morning, after breakfast and a short lecture by Margherita on that day’s painting theme, we would each find some bench or doorstep to sit and paint on, and try to capture on paper the life that was going on so naturally before us. Soazza is not a pretty village by the standards of this exceptionally picturesque part of Europe (although Marivic disagrees!), but we found captivating vignettes worth painting everywhere: an open window with a child’s toy on the ledge, a ramshackle alley with tin pots and firewood, or even just the flowers growing alongside the little church on the hill. Whatever our subject, this would often prove so engrossing that Marivic and I would frequently miss lunch or sometimes paint all night – much to the amusement of our less fired-up companions.

One evening, I’d had enough of staying up late and painting, so I retired just before midnight, leaving Marivic still working in the hotel’s adjacent studio. Then, just past three am, I was awakened by stones being pelted on my window. Marivic had been so focused on her watercolors that she failed to notice the porter had already locked up the hotel for the night and gone to bed. Unable to get in, she’d taken to climbing a stone wall next to my room and throwing stones at my window to wake me up. Luckily, she succeeded, and you can imagine my surprise to see her perched precariously on the wall outside at such an unseemly hour, amidst the darkness of the sleeping village. Even today, we still laugh about that night and wonder what she would have done if I had not woken up.

We had so many memorable experiences that summer that I can’t help smiling even now as I write this. And, for me, this trip will always be linked to the sweetness of youth, the special bonding of travel, and the joy of discovering beauty in the most ordinary circumstances.

This appears in the current issue of Travelife Magazine, the Philippines' leading travel and lifestyle magazine.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

TRAVELIFE Magazine's Feb-March 2010 Issue

Our February-March 2010 issue is one of our best yet -- and we really had a lot of fun putting it together as well.

Our issue starts out with a great Editor's Note from Managing Editor Jon Vicente, who edits wonderfully, writes wittily, works quickly, and makes us laugh all the time -- a fantastic combination, as far as we're concerned. In his Managing Editor's Note, he eloquently sums up the best of this issue, and we're going to borrow some of his copy to describe our latest issue and entice you to pick it up at the nearest bookstore before it sells out. (This photo of Jon, by the way, shows him already hard at work on his Powerbook on our April-May issue.)

Of course, the photo shoot in New York that captured the style and pace of this lively city that considers itself the center of the world was central to a wonderful issue. For our cover and inside style pages, model Richard Herrera was shot on location in New York for TRAVELIFE by Dinno Paulo Jurado and Mara Estores, with styling by Pia Campos.


In this issue, TRAVELIFE walks you through New York’s city streets. High-powered IT specialist Angelique Faustino, a long-time Manhattan resident, and designer par excellence Rafe Totengco (Travelife's Global Editor at Large) both write about what they love best about New York and recommend places for even the most jaded denizens. Angelique is all serious at work, but she has an equally serious flair for fun and fashion -- thus we have a great article from her on spending a weekend the real New Yorker way. Happily, most of it doesn't involve shelling out big bucks. Meanwhile, Rafe needs no further introduction. And we're so glad he's agreed to be a part of Travelife. Rafe's regular column, The Rafe Guide, which will chronicle his visits to fashionable and/or exotic places, debuts in this issue with (appropriately) his musings on New York, the city he calls home.


Then we skipped across the Big Pond for Eric Ramirez’s singular take on touring Europe on a hungry and enthusiastic stomach. Appropriately, we met Eric, who very successfully invests in and runs various businesses, over a delicious birthday dinner at a mutual friend's home. His accounts of his travels immediately enticed us to ask him to contribute a piece for Travelife. Together with his wife Pam, who is equally a passionate foodie, he scoured Europe's best food markets for the finest produce. We got so hungry editing "A Moveable Feast," his wonderful article full of generous tidbits on what's delicious everywhere, that we headed for the best Italian restaurant we could think of as soon as we closed our Macs. Eric's piece was so appetizing that -- right there and then -- we would have flown to Italy for pasta with clams in white wine, slices of prosciutto and a glass of wine, if we could.


Travel often begins with a book, many predating Travelife significantly. Col. John H. Patterson’s The Man-Eaters of Tsavo was published in 1907, but served effectively as contributing editor Buddy Cunanan’s travel guide through Mombasa, Kenya. He recalls a week spent in this former East African British Crown jewel in his lively narrative “Shining in the Dark Continent.”


Meanwhile, we don't see Local Editor at Large Gabby Malvar as often as we would like, because he is usually on a plane, train, bus or else lost somewhere on a rickety banca headed for an undiscovered paradise. However, he makes up for his absence by providing us with amazing tales of adventure. Gabby, a former corporate finance man who -- at least to us -- seems more used to managing millions of dollars rather than navigating treacherous waters in a tiny boat, has two articles in this issue. He writes about a thrilling ride down the Chico River and a solo voyage that led to self-discovery on Easter Island. Somewhere in Gabby’s childhood was a book about Easter Island’s stone heads, with pictures so vivid that visiting them made his Bucket List. He describes the long overdue meeting in his poignant piece “Over my Head in Easter Island.” (That's a photo of Gabby relaxing in one of the beautiful corner suites of the Peninsula Manila with a glass of sauvignon blanc in his hand.)


Then we have university president and war data/ memorabilia enthusiast Vince Fabella, who is fortunate enough to have cousins who share the same interest. With the efficiency of war strategists, they planned a driving trip through Europe that took in the main battlefields of World Wars I and II, and had a really good time re-living scenes from war movies in the actual villages they were based on, and hunting down bunkers in the middle of nowhere. Vince and his cousins are now planning another war trip -- but this time to the Pacific war zones.


Keiichi Miki, a Tokyo banker and fund manager by profession, looks incisively into the challenges and potential of Philippine medical tourism today in an article ominously titled "Holiday under the Knife." It's probably the most thorough look at medical tourism in the Philippines to date. What lengths he went through to “observe medical services in Japan, India, and the Philippines” are undisclosed. Judging by the article’s scope, it must have been no picnic.


One's outlook inevitably expands with travel. Take movie executive Selina Gocolea, this month’s Globetrotter, who travels the world watching movies. Selina, one of our most charming Globetrotters to date in a prestigious roster of wonderful, high-flying ladies, has been to so many countries that we've lost count. This avid wine enthusiast (we first met her over a Napa Valley wine dinner, in fact) says her dream trip is a food and wine tour of South Africa.


It's also with great pleasure that we feature an interview with Nivat Chantarachoti, Thai Airways' top man in Manila and a true frequent flier. In this issue, Nivat recalls how he got shuttled around different Scandinavian airports on his way to New York one time -- and ended up never reaching the Big Apple. We often used to describe Nivat as the second most popular expatriate in Manila -- and now that US Ambassador Kristie Kenney has left the Philippines, he probably wins the top slot hands down.


Finally, Syria is at the very top of our own travel wish-list. We've always wanted to visit the hauntingly beautiful old city of Damascus. So we ourselves eagerly anticipated this issue's Embassy Row interview, which features the very popular Syrian Consul to the Philippines Issam Eldebs. We've always believed that Embassy Row should be a section that gives readers a chance to get travel tips from the top representatives of various countries -- sort of like having the rare opportunity to sit next to an ambassador at dinner and hearing straight from him or her about what's best in his or her country. Well, Consul Eldebs certainly doesn't disappoint in this respect. He describes what's beautiful about Syria and points readers in the right direction regarding where to go, where to eat and what to buy in Syria. Don't miss his insights into this enigmatic country.

Make this a year of amazing travels

This 2010, embark on the adventure that is travel. Don’t wait. Because as Mark Twain, himself a consummate traveler, put it: “twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor… Explore. Dream. Discover." And discovering more about our fascinating world is remarkably easy: Get the latest issue of Travelife Magazine and simply turn the page.

TRAVELIFE Magazine. Simply the best travel writing around.