Monday, August 1, 2011

When a love affair ends

Even in a never-endingly eventful Travelife, some days are more interesting than others. And, at least conversation-wise, today certainly gets high marks for stimulating topics.

Today I had lunch at an Asian fusion restaurant with my friend E, who is the son of a very senior European diplomat stationed in Manila. We’d gotten together to exchange ideas and just catch up, and the stimulating discussions we had about almost everything in this world – from the British education system to the importance of religious relics to faith -- reminded me about the importance of good conversation in life.


“That’s what a British education teaches you,” said E, who speaks at least six languages fluently, and who went to a series of posh European day schools and boarding schools, before ending up in Oxford. “You read the classics from a very young age, and you’re taught to discuss everything and dissect their merits. Good conversation becomes second nature.”

I'm usually about 50% as talkative as whoever I'm having a meal with; but today was one of the rare times I listened way more than I talked. Over skewers of salmon belly, we had a most interesting conversation. E is an amazing repository of knowledge on everything from serious to trivia, and spending a few hours with him is just like a history, social science and world affairs class rolled into one.

"My family is really a bit geeky, you see," he explained. "We all like these kinds of information."


E is off in a few weeks for holidays in Europe that will take him to a couple of house parties in England and another house party in Southern Spain, where a good friend has a villa just off the border of Spain and France, in a very small and picturesque village. I'd driven through this area some years back, when I landed in Barcelona to spend a few days at Molitg-les-Bains, a mysterious-looking French spa town high in the mountains where the cellist Pablo Casals reportedly spent every summer and bathed in the waters everyday. The Japanese designer Issey Miyake is supposed to love this town as well.


Well, I'd gone in May, in off season, and the town was very quiet. The posh hotel I stayed in, in a secluded old castle furnished with animals furs and tapestries, was pretty alright and fully staffed in the daytime and until about 9 PM; but after 9 PM, almost all the staff left for the night except for a solo watchman -- this is the middle of nowhere after all -- and the guests staying at the hotel. And one night, I was literally the only guest at the hotel, and my room was a very spacious suite on one of the upper floors. You can imagine how freaked out I was about this -- I turned off the lights, got under the covers, and didn't emerge again until daylight -- and how happy I was to see some guests checking in to stay the next day.


Anyway, E is going to this area for his summer holidays and we both agreed just how lovely this place is. It's got the best of both worlds, being a little bit Spanish and yet also a little bit French. His friend's villa is incredibly well-situated as well. It's in Spain, but if you take a walk through her garden for a few minutes, you'll probably find yourself in France.

"And while I'm in Barcelona, I intend to have lunch at the Jockey Club," he revealed to me. "It's a really wonderful place for a great meal, and it's got the most amazing atmosphere." Of course I took out my Blackberry and made notes of the places he mentioned that interested me the most, and among these was the Jockey Club in Barcelona. I was in Barcelona just last month, but I'd spent only a few hours and had just enough time for breakfast, a quick drive around town and a light lunch. But I hope to find some excuse to get to Barcelona again sometime soon.

And still on Barcelona, E said: "And I'm taking the midnight flight from Hong Kong to London, and then there's a quick connection from Heathrow to Barcelona. So you might say that I'm having dinner in Manila and then breakfast in Barcelona."

I smiled at him. "That sounds like a real Travelife to me," I told him.


I meet lots of cosmopolitan people all the time, especially when I was living in Tokyo which is a real gathering place of amazing talents and personalities from all over the world. But E has got to be one of the most international people I've ever met -- and that really says a lot.

For one thing, he's from Scandinavia but he's actually part Italian, part Austrian and part Swiss. I'm sure if I prodded him more on this, he would reveal more ancestries even he'd forgotten himself. Then of course, he'd been to school all over Europe; and lived in Shanghai and also Manila. "One part of my family is from Northern Italy and it's a very traditional family," he revealed. "But on my mother's side we also come from an Austrian family that was at the Hapsburg court. That's where the baronial title on my mother's side comes from."

He added: "We're so connected with different families and countries in Europe. And a lot of my friends are like me. So we like to say: 'We don't have friends, we have relatives.'"


In the afternoon, I met up with the Travelife TV team -- the same guys I traveled all over Sri Lanka with to shoot episodes of our upcoming TV show, The Frequent Flier. Travelife is launching two television projects soon, you see, on cable TV.

It's quite interesting that I'm working mostly with La Sallites on my RPN Newswatch project, and with mostly Ateneans on my Frequent Flier project. And this afternoon, I was with the Ateneo group. So I told one of them: "Do you know that I'm dealing mostly with La Sallites for the Travelife Style project?"

"It figures," he replied. "I don't have to ask you which one is going to be better."

The teasing is all in good fun, though, as I get the same amount of ribbing from the other side when I mention Ateneo to them. And, in truth, they both are very good and incredibly fun to work with.

Anyway, together my Frequent Flier TV team viewed footages from our Sri Lanka projects, and we had a great time laughing about our experiences and reminiscing about our travels together. It's wonderful too that the episodes so far look fantastic as well.


Meanwhile, tonight, I braved the rains to head for Makati Shangri-la to join in the celebrations for the Swiss National Day. They had a truly marvelous spread tonight and I just couldn't stop eating the raclette, which is basically a wheel of cheese heated in a specially-made contraption and then a portion of it is poured over boiled potatoes and eaten with gherkins and pickled onions. I love it, but it's very heavy. And if you eat so much of it, you're often advised to take it with lots of hot tea to ensure that the melted cheese doesn't stick to your insides. Tonight, several people advised me to take wine instead. "The alcohol will ensure that the cheese doesn't stick," they said.

It was during one of my innumerable linings up at the raclette counter that I met a very interesting pharmacologist. We started talking because he gave me his place in the long line for raclette cheese.

"What exactly do you do as a pharmacologist?" I asked him. I had a general idea what the job was all about, but I guess I was just making cocktail party talk. However his answer roused me from the usual cocktail chatter.


"I usually deal with drug overdoses or chemical overdoses from suicide," he answered. Gosh, I'd heard about chemical overdoses from suicide, of course, and how this is probably among the most horrific ways to go. And now I had an authority next to me.

"Is it really the worst way to go? If someone's going to kill himself, you'd think he'd choose a better way to do it. Or at least a less painful one," I said.

My new acquaintance sighed. He then said: "The problem is, most people who do take chemicals for suicide aren't thinking straight. The ones I've seen so far are mostly people who are distraught about love affairs and about losing someone, and so they just take anything without thinking hard about the consequences."

Again, suicide because of a love affair was something I'd seen in movies, or in the opera; at lunch, in fact, E and I had also talked about Chinese operas and Chinese movies, and how so many of them ended up with someone committing suicide because of a love affair gone awry. "Why is so much of Chinese opera or Chinese film centered on love tragedy?" We asked ourselves.

But I'd never really thought a significant number of people went this route in real life. I've always believed that if someone is distraught about a love, well, the last thing they should be doing is killing themselves. They should be getting better or getting even, rather than getting chemicals for suicide. Someone who wanted to leave a relationship in the first place won't exactly be shedding tears at the funeral.

Personally, I'd probably hire a personal trainer, buy a new dress, get a haircut or spend a week in Chiva Som instead.

The guy seemed to read my mind because he said: "You'll be surprised just how many people think about taking their lives when a love affair sours. I get called to advise on such cases very regularly. In fact, if I get a phone call after midnight, I usually already know what this means -- and it's another love affair suicide case."


This was not exactly great imagery for a cheerful cocktail party to celebrate a country's national day. Fortunately, at exactly this time, just as awful things were getting into my head, I spotted Madame Fornari, wife of the Italian ambassador, across the room. So I bade my new acquaintance goodbye and walked over to Madame Fornari to discuss an infinitely more pleasant topic: Travelife Italy Night with Margarita Fores, coming up this September 8.

Everything is going well for this very big event and we are both so excited. We've just gotten some vintage Italian cars for the venue, and these will be displayed inside the venue to enhance the experience of a wonderful Italian lifestyle.




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