Saturday, March 12, 2011

Celebrating life after the Tokyo earthquake

I so needed tonight. After my pretty horrific experience in the past 24 hours, concerning the Tokyo earthquake yesterday, I so needed the friendship, the concern, the cheerful banter, the alcohol - and yes, the actual human contact -- that came with drinks at the home of my good friends Jonathan and Beliz and the camaraderie at the Commanderie de Bordeaux dinner attended by about 25 persons tonight at Masseto restaurant in Makati. The Commanderie de Bordeaux is a small but pretty serious group of wine lovers dedicated to appreciating and promoting the wines of Bordeaux. I went to both with the intention of trying to forget my experience via a bit of alcohol -- and, boy, did that do the job.


I arrived in Manila this afternoon after a tortuous 24 hours in Tokyo in the midst of the biggest earthquake Japan has known, which included a life-and-death experience on Tokyo's Rainbow Bridge, 10 hours stranded in a freezing bus, and a night spent sleeping on the floor of Tokyo's Narita Airport. Lots of people lost their lives and their homes in this terrible tragedy and in that context, what happened to me was a piece of cake. But everything is relative and personal; and, for me, the fact that I almost lost my life is pretty traumatic and something I needed some comfort for.

I've already detailed my experience -- one of the most terrifying experiences of anyone, at least in the Tokyo area, I think -- so I won't write more about it except to say that Narita Airport was empty this morning save for the people stranded from yesterday and the few stragglers who managed to get to the airport in the middle of the night. The latter included me, as my companions and I, via sheer determination, arrived on an airport limousine bus at Narita Airport just before 2 AM. No one else could get to the airport as the roads and the train stations were all still closed.


So I flew back to Manila on basically an empty plane, and I was very lucky as our plane was perhaps the very first to fly out of Narita after the earthquake. And this is how I am able to type this entry out from the safety of my Manila home, after a wonderful evening out with friends.


I arrived in Manila at about 4 pm and just had enough time to dress up and head over to the house of my friends Jonathan and Beliz to catch up for a couple of hours before dinner. We always make it a point to meet up at least once a week, and I, for one, was not letting an earthquake get in the way of this almost sacred ritual. It was such a comfort to see them and to just sit in the terrace of their home, just shooting the breeze and talking. Even just this simple encounter brought a semblance of normalcy to my traumatic 24 hours. Jonathan did fix me a stiff drink -- my first since I almost fell off the Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo -- which basically paved the way for the rest of the night.


I stayed for about two hours. At eight, I headed for Masseto to join my friends Edouard and Sevrine, and about 22 other people, at the Commanderie de Bordeaux dinner in honor of the visit of Aymar de Baillenx, Managing Director of Chateau Beychevelle in Bordeaux. I'm hardly around to join the events of the Commanderie, but it just so happened that I was in Manila for one night -- today -- at the same time as this dinner. So I just said yes on impulse sometime back and had decided to go solo, knowing that at least Edouard and Sevrine would be there. Later on, just a couple of days ago, I asked for the guest list from the secretariat, and it turned out that I knew at least half the attendees. So I was very happy to attend even by myself, knowing that the dinner would include some friends.

This turned out to be a great decision as I don't know what I would have done tonight otherwise. I was quite emotional because of my experience, but I hadn't really realized it until tonight. I can't describe the strange mixture of feelings yesterday, but I was certainly seeking some kind of comfort after 24 hours with complete strangers. Being with friends tonight provided exactly that. Sevrine had texted me on the night of the earthquake to ask me how I was, but unfortunately I couldn't reply as the outbound communications were just all down. All I had throughout the earthquake experience was BBM.

But the next morning, from the lounge of JAL, after I was assured that I would be flying and after communications had normalized, I was finally able to text her to confirm my attendance. "I'll so need a drink after this experience," I texted her. Sevrine texted back: "Don't worry. We'll make sure you'll have a good time."

And true to her word, she was. There were three long tables at the Commanderie dinner, and I found myself smack in the middle of one of them, surrounded by friends from the International Wine and Food Society (IWFS) including IWFS stalwarts Dong Puno and Bernie Sim, and some friends I'd met via Travelife just recently. It was a very nice mix. It was so nice to be among people I knew, and I literally found myself drinking enough Chateau Beychevelle wines for a year. I almost never drink enough to get tipsy; but tonight, after yesterday's earthquake, I left my home for the evening determined to imbibe a fair amount of poison.

In between courses, Tippi Tambunting, Michi (Masseto's GM), and I had lots of chitchat about all kinds of things and especially about the Tokyo earthquake. Afterwards, I tried to sign a check for the Commanderie fees but I was probably so tipsy that I needed to do several checks to get it right. Then Edouard joined us and, at the bar, we had one of the most frank conversations we've ever had together -- and perhaps it was because of the wines, which we continued to drink with gusto. There was a bottle on the counter and we kept asking one of the servers to pour us more -- and then, more.

"I saw you at Sala Bistro a few weeks back at lunch," I told him. "But you seemed so deep in conversation so I decided not to say hello."

"Ahh," he said in typical French fashion. "You shouldn't change your hair or your look. Otherwise, I'll have a hard time recognizing you." I don't know what I was doing differently tonight vs other nights -- perhaps it was the earthquake effect -- but he seemed to think that there was something very diiferent. "And when we had dinner in Tokyo last year with my cousin, you were so quiet compared to now," he added, a little teasingly.

This kind of banter continued among the four of us and it truly amused me for the rest of the night. I can't remember how many things we toasted to, but we certainly toasted a lot. We were all tipsy on good wine, by then, so nothing could be considered written in stone, but it was certainly incredibly good fun. Just what I needed to write off yesterday.

By the end of the evening, I'd made up my mind to join the Bordeaux tour being organized by the Commanderie later this year; and also to join more Commanderie events. I'd kept away too long and missed out on too many opportunities for enjoyable evenings.

"I'm so glad I attended tonight," I told Sevrine on my way out. She replied: "And the best part is, you won't have a hangover tomorrow because it's good wine." It was way past midnight and I had an 8 am flight to Singapore -- that's in a couple of hours, by the way -- and another full day ahead with different friends in the Lion City. I'd stayed way past the hour I'd planned, as I still had to pack and I had a bunch of checks to sign and store layouts to look through before heading once again to another airport and onto another plane and another city. Tokyo the other day, Manila yesterday, Singapore today, and Bali tomorrow. And the Tokyo earthquake somewhere in between all of this. Just another eventful week in a neverending -- and neverendingly eventful -- Travelife.

Interested in the Travelife Turkey Tours
for May 2011?
Click here to watch an interview on ANC
with Christine Cunanan,
Travelife Magazine Publisher
Angel Aquino in Bora
for Travelife Magazine last week


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