Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dutch Treat


The second course was a lovely gazpacho.

Around lunch today, I was passing somewhere in this city and I saw my friend J's vehicle parked on the road, complete with accompanying paraphernalia. Actually I knew he would be there because we'd been on BBM until about 15 minutes before that time I'd seen his vehicle. I hadn't told him I'd be there as well (when he reads this, he'll know now...), but I'd tried to time my arrival so that I wouldn't have to bump into him.

Don't ask me why, but I just didn't feel like seeing him today although we'd certainly had a very nice BBM chat about the usual this morning. Save that for another day, I said to myself.

TOO MANY WALLS

Tonight's delicious appetizers.
My favorite was the fresh dates with cream cheese filling.

Then while I was in my car, I heard a very nice rendition of the song "Too Many Walls" by Cathy Dennis, except that it was sung by a guy. I really liked it because it was slower and sung with more emotion, but in a cool way; so right there and then, I emailed my assistant at work (yes, she's used to unusual requests by now) to ring up the radio station and ask who sang it. It turned out to be Reuben Laurente, formerly of The Company. And, yes, it's my song for the week now.

SINGLE-BOOKED AND LOVING IT

A crab and grapefruit salad to start.

There were many things happening in the city tonight but I'd only booked one this evening, as it was a sit-down dinner hosted by H.E. Robert Brinks, Ambassador of the Netherlands, at his lovely home in Makati. I'll hop around town for a series of cocktail parties; but if someone takes the time to make me dinner or to invite me to dinner, I make sure that's the only thing on my agenda unless I know it's dinner for 50 people or so and I won't be missed.

I go to a lot of diplomatic functions, but tonight for some reason I was reminded of exactly why I like them. The conversation is so interesting because almost everyone has lived in at least 3 or 4 different countries and can speak at least 3 or 4 other languages! And most are knowledgeable about culture, politics and history -- some of my favorite subjects.

Tonight was exceptionally so, and all praise goes to Ambassador Brinks for assembling a dinner party composed half of usual suspects and half of unusual suspects. So I met a mix of old and new and the result was a very stimulating evening.

SAME TIME, DIFFERENT PLACE

The Ambassador's dinner table tonight.

The usual suspects were so usual, in one sense, that I'd seen almost all of them at the dinner of the Iraqi Ambassador last night in his home in Forbes Park. Yes, out of all the people in Manila, the seven or so usual suspects that the Ambassador had chosen for his dinner party for 13 people -- it was 13 because one couldn't make it -- had all seen each other last night.

But the other half of the party were people I'd never met before although they were all famous in their own right. Ambassador Brinks sat me to his left, and in front of me were the Indonesian Ambassador, a former international top model, and a famous television personality.

Next to me was the Mexican Ambassador, and we had a very nice conversation about the history between the Philippines and Mexico, Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and about Mexican cuisine.

THE REAL DEAL


Everyone thinks Mexican food is all about tacos and enchiladas, but it's not so at all. And the lady who taught me about this was the famous Diana Kennedy, the widely acknowledged Queen of Mexican Cuisine. We'd had lunch together at the New York Grill of the Park Hyatt Tokyo years ago, and then she'd also cooked me a proper Mexican dinner at the Girandole restaurant of the Park Hyatt. I never forgot how different and yet how delicious the food was.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the table were a mayor, a very famous architect, and one of Manila's most popular couples -- and I consider the wife one of the original guardian angels of Travelife Magazine.

I told the famous architect how he'd designed the house of a friend of mine, and it was so big (and beautiful) that when I first visited, I thought I'd driven up the driveway of clubhouse of the subdivision. He certainly laughed about that. All in all a very nice mix, and it was way past 11 pm when I finally walked out the door.

GOODBYE, DIRECT FLIGHTS


We talked about all sorts of things, but one topic I did bring up was the fact that KLM, the Dutch airline, will be stopping direct flights from Manila to Europe (Amsterdam) from April next year because the taxes being charged by our government to the airline are just too horrendous in view of the tight business situation. The taxes are high for all foreign airlines, but particularly so for KLM because this is computed based on distance traveled -- and KLM's flight originates in Amsterdam.

It may not be so easy for the government to change this ruling, but the implications of this loss are just enormous to the tourism industry so I hope someone gives it a second thought. First, the Philippines will lose the only direct flight to Europe it currently has. This puts us on the same status as Cambodia and Myanmar, as some of the few Asian countries without direct flights to Europe.

Aside from the psychological impact of becoming such a minor tourist destination that we don't even have a single direct flight from Europe, this will actively discourage tourism from Europe to the Philippines.

MANILA'S LOSS, HONG KONG'S GAIN

Also, I quickly did the sums for related business losses and it's very sad for our economy, indeed. KLM maintains two crews at luxury hotels in Manila on a daily basis, and the board and lodging business from this -- which comes up to quite a hefty amount of over a million dollars annually -- will now disappear. At the same time, KLM will close its pretty large office in Manila and operations will revert to Hong Kong.

We also talked about all kinds of things -- from interesting travel to political situations to the fact that the Miss Earth pageant will be suddenly transferred to Manila from Bangkok because of the flooding in Thailand.

A WONDERFUL DINNER

The other wonderful aspect of tonight was the food, and Ambassador Brinks has an excellent cook who always does a simply delicious dinner. I had seconds of the main course as usual, and I think I was the last to finish up. My friends all know that I eat incredibly slow; but tonight, with such congenial company and really interesting conversation, I was really the tortoise for the night.

My beef main course. Yes, I had seconds.

Just another interesting day in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful, Travelife.

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