Saturday, December 31, 2011

That end-of-the-year feeling

In a way, the old year ended and the new year began with my friend J, amidst the gorgeous and very elegant backdrop of the Peninsula Manila's Sparkle Ball for New Year's Eve followed by an after-party at Salon de Ning where I drank Manolo Blahnik cocktails till 3 AM or so.

I woke up on the last day of the year, December 31, with an email on my phone from J. He was still in a different and much colder time zone, although he's moved to a place where the temperatures are more pleasant if you discount the wind chill factor. And apparently it's a city where the HMV store has closed down so I don't think he's been able to buy me the DVD set I wanted.


Anyway, I'd emailed J a link to one of the dozens of entries on the Travelife Magazine blog that included him, that I'd been re-reading at year-end and that had made me smile. It was an entry written while he was somewhere exotic and sunny and I was at home in Manila -- yes, he travels almost as much as I do, so we're hardly ever in the same city at the same time; and, no, he's not a pilot for Cathay Pacific -- and he'd been sending me messages while on a tour that took him to look at some pretty boring rocks in the middle of nowhere.

Well, reading that entry took me back to exactly that evening many months ago now. So I sent the link to him thousands of miles away with a little comment: "You were so nice then."

So when I woke up on the last day of the year, his reply was on my phone email almost as expected, and it included the following caveat: "I'm still nice."


We usually just joke around all the time "to take the edge of our days," as I like to describe it. But yesterday wasn't a poking fun kind of day. Maybe it's that end-of-the-year feeling that makes some people sentimental, but I decided to send him one of the longest replies I've ever typed out on my phone, devoid of the usual teasing and smiley faces, about what was different then and now. And what followed was one of the most honest BBM conversations we've had in a long time.


If you know J, you'll understand that that usually doesn't happen because his best friend Humor is always around to make everything fun, although it can be a rather annoying three-some at times when you want to talk seriously. I've rarely ever seen Humor leave his side -- talk about loyalty here -- except for maybe three instances this 2011. Once was when he was playing badly on a hot day at a tournament at Manila Golf, and we'd been on BBM at the same time discussing where to get the best and most expensive hamburgers in Manila. The talk about his favorite restaurant in this city probably put him back into humor. The other two times I can't write about.

But yesterday, Humor was on a break. Perhaps J had sent him to the next city to see if he could find an open HMV store and finally buy me this DVD set I've been so wanting after all. So we were actually able to have a serious conversation instead of just throwing BBM snowballs at each other as we usually do.

This was such a funny photo of a guest with so many party hats on
at the Peninsula Manila last night

But, fortunately or unfortunately, his best friend Humor did return by the stroke of midnight so we also returned to the BBM snowballs after that. As 2012 arrived, I was right in the lobby of the Peninsula Manila merrymaking with hundreds of other people including Peninsula Manila General Manager Sonja Vodusek and her family, the US Ambassador and his family, and the Israeli Ambassador and his family. Or perhaps more accurately, everyone was dancing around and I'd taken off my shoes and I was standing on a chair with a glass of champagne and a noisemaker, in a long gown.


That was when I happened to look down at the beautiful long mirrored table prepared for Sonja and her guests that was now strewn with purple flowers, pink and purple streamers, champagne bottles and confetti. What a beautiful picture, I thought. You know what they say about how things look different from the top? Well, it's true. So I took out my Blackberry and went snap, snap, snap -- taking photos from above while standing on a chair.

Then I sent the best photo around the world to friends everywhere who were on BBM and email, and of course J was one of them. Lots of people replied quickly with New Year greetings, adding comments about how pretty the table was or how colorful and picturesque it was. But J messaged back saying he couldn't make out the photo I'd sent him.

I thought he was just being his usual critical self, so I replied, in between swigs of champagne from these lovely little individual Moet bottles the Peninsula ladies (who were dressed so beautifully a la Audrey Hepburn in little black cocktail dresses and pearls) had handed out just before New Year's Eve: "You're the only person to say that! Everyone else has said how beautiful the table looks."


It was true, the Peninsula Manila looked beautiful last night, and the general manager's long table for 12 was especially so. I thought that was clear enough in the photo I sent him.

J replied within a few minutes: "Ok. How colorful and what a great table. Are you happy now?" He asked, and then added: "But in truth I can't make it out and I'm the only one who says it as I see it."

I couldn't resist going back to business-as-usual even if we'd had our serious discussion just a few hours earlier. I replied: "I was just thinking that you either had bad eyesight, too little imagination or very old Blackberries. Or all of the above."

It's true. J can probably indulge himself and buy a small country in the Pacific if he wants to, but he has two of the oldest Blackberries I've ever seen. And it's kind of an urban legend among people who know him that he never carries anything himself except perhaps his credit cards -- a rumor he takes great pains to refute to me, by the way -- but I can personally attest to the fact that he does carry his two phones himself. And sometimes a bottle of wine when he has to.


But for once, J certainly had no illusions about himself: "All of the above. Plus great honesty. Nobody else indulges you."

Indulges? That word stuck out like a sad thumb on a happy New Year's Eve, and I was pleased I could now turn the tables on him and BBM him a line he uses all too often and just too slightly condescendingly with me. I asked him: "Do you know what that word means? Is there such a thing as 'indulging with honesty?'"

J sends me a message like this probably every few days, especially about words I use in this blog to describe him. He once asked me if I knew what "paraphernalia" meant; and just the other day he'd objected to being described as "notorious."


And last night, he gave himself a pat on the back as we'd talked about how some people can't stop reading this blog because of the references to and content about him. He thinks he's single-handedly brought our ratings up, as we are among the most avidly-followed travel & lifestyle blogs these days, especially for a certain sector with adequate disposable income.

I was so tempted to reply: "That bump in the ratings is probably just all your friends wondering if it is actually you I'm talking about. Or worse. They're probably just all the girls you've jilted in the past who want to see whether karma has finally overtaken you."

But it was New Year's Eve and we'd just had a serious conversation a few hours ago, so instead I decided to indulge him. I texted: "I think the blog is irresistible to some people, but it's not because of you. But let me indulge you for a moment and admit that you're irresistible to write about."


It's true. It's fun to write about him because he has all these one-liners that he pulls out of a hat at a moment's notice and they can be really funny or outrageous. Maybe his steady sidekick Humor keeps a stack of flashcards ready for use anytime. I've already written how J never carries anything but his two Blackberries on a daily basis, so I'm sure the one-liner flashcards aren't in his pocket.

But J wasn't one to let up even on New Year's Eve. Without even skipping a beat, he asked me: "Or maybe I'm just plain irresistible?"

I still remember how I was walking across the lobby of the Peninsula when I read this particular BBM and how I almost tripped on my long gown. But my reply itself was pretty easy to type out: "Don't push your luck. I was just indulging you." Then I added: "Gosh, I love that word."

It wasn't New Year's Eve yet in his part of the world, so obviously he was still his same old self. He replied: "I guess I will see the words "indulge" and "irresistible" in your next blog entry."

I then asked him, rather grandly: "Which of these two words do you wish me to indulge you with in my blog, on this very first day of a better year for both of us?" During the serious conversation episode earlier in the day, we'd discussed how we'd both had a pretty challenging 2011, and we'd already sincerely wished each other a much better 2012.

I could almost detect his sigh across the Blackberry lines across the oceans as he typed out: "I never have any say whatsoever in what you write. I just know what you're going to write."

And for some reason, it wasn't a sad face at the end of this, but a smiley one. Let's leave it at this for now.

From all of us at Travelife Magazine, our best wishes for a new year of irresistible friends and a life full of indulgences.




Friday, December 30, 2011

The beautiful voyage

We at Travelife Magazine, the Philippines' leading travel & lifestyle publication, wish all our readers and friends a new year full of wondrous journeys and happy adventures. On the eve of 2012, as we all bid farewell to a most eventful year, allow me to share with you one of my favorite poems about life as a journey full of adventure, written originally in Greek by the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933).

As I live my life and go through the days and weeks and eventually years, his poem is never far from my mind. May we each live a life that is a beautiful and wondrous voyage, and may we all eventually find and understand our own Ithaca.


from Poems and Prose

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.

The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon -- do not fear them.
You will never encounter them,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many,
when, with such pleasure, with such joy,
you will enter ports seen for the first time.

Stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber, and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
Visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca on your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what these Ithacas mean.

Best wishes for a most wonderful year ahead
from all of us at TRAVELIFE Magazine.

* * *




A good Italian dinner

Last night I had dinner at Paparazzi, the Italian restaurant of the EDSA Shangri-la. The Ortigas area is usually out of my general five kilometer-comfort zone radius but traffic was light with the holiday lull and the promise of a good Italian dinner beckoned.

Chef Robby, Papaprazzi's chef only for the last few weeks, is very nice and incredibly young. But when you learn that he's been working in famous restaurants all around the world since he was 17, then you realize that age has nothing to do with cooking talent -- although, of course, I'm sure he will only get better with age.

I'd been to Paparazzi only once before, last month when Chef Robby made his debut dinner for a small group of people including the hotel general manager Henry Lee and the Ambassador of Italy. It had been a very good degustation dinner (which I've already written about in this blog) and everyone had come away very impressed with his skills for someone so young.

Last night we decided to do a degustation dinner again, although this time just a four-course meal. We arrived a little past 7 PM and the restaurant was not very full, although as the evening went on, it filled up nicely to the point where it was occupied but not uncomfortably so. They had a pianist playing last night as well, and for some inexplicable reason, he was playing all my favorite songs. Maybe he could read minds, but that certainly added to the enjoyment of the evening.


When we booked the degustation meal, we thought there would be a set course of specialties as with most other restaurants. But because Chef Robby has just arrived, he still had not created a proper degustation menu and instead he let us pick anything -- as in literally anything -- we wanted from his menu and then he just adjusted the portions to create a degustation meal.

What fun that was to be able to point to everything that looked good on the menu and taste them!

And so it happened that Chef Robby came out at the start of each course -- appetizer, pasta, main course and dessert -- and asked us what we wanted from the menu. Then he managed all our choices so that we each got a nice assorted plate for each course.

For the appetizer course, we had the fritta mista, which is basically an Italian version of tempura, slices of raw and marinated scallops, and buffalo mozzarella with special tomatoes. The last two were my choices as I'd had the scallops on my first visit (and loved it) and I really like buffalo mozzarella when I can get the real thing. I still remembered how the wife of the Italian Ambassador and myself had swooned over the scallops when we'd had a first bite of it.

Everything was delicious and the Italian tempura came with a spicy kick, which was very interesting.


For the pasta course, someone wanted carbonara. Who has carbonara as part of a degustation, right? Well, that was what I was thinking until I actually tried a forkful of it. It was wonderful and I think I ended up leaning over and eating at least a third of it.

For my own pasta, I chose the most exotic sounding one on the menu, which was a giant ravioli with a fresh tomato sauce, with buffalo mozzarella inside. It was also absolutely delicious. When I cut my fork across it, the mozzarella simply oozed out and made a lovely sauce.


By the main course I was just too full but nevertheless I couldn't resist ordering the wagyu done two ways so that I had a fillet steak on the right and a stewed rib on the left. It was very good and a specialty of the house; but, frankly, I'm still partial to the pasta.

I shouldn't have had dessert either, but as my friends know, that's one thing I can't resist ordering. "Betsu bara," as the Japanese say, which means you have a different stomach for dessert and can eat it no matter how full you are. But I did have the wisdom to order something on the light side: a simple chocolate gelato instead of the deliciously complicated other options on the menu.

Well, the gelato was just amazing. It was so full of chocolate goodness that words wouldn't do it justice, if I tried to describe it here. But I managed to ask Chef Robby: "How did you make this?"

I can't even accurately remember his reply as I was in ice cream heaven, but the gelato is done by him and it's apparently made with a very high-quality chocolate that's at least 73% cacao. It was so good that I would've had had second servings if only I hadn't been thinking of fitting into a vintage long gown for a fancy ball on New Year's Eve.

What a nice and relaxing dinner towards the end of a wonderfully challenging year. And just another evening in our never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.




Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dinner with friends at home

Just when I thought things were going to slow down between Christmas and New Year's Eve, it turned out to be exactly the opposite. It's been one event after another, and I still have to find that evening when I can stay quietly at home and perhaps turn on the television set or watch a DVD. The only place I get to watch movies these days is on airplanes, and thank goodness I do a lot of flying or I would be hopelessly behind what's happening in the world.


Last night I had some friends over for dinner. You might almost say that the evening was all about spur-of-the-moment opportunities. For dinner proper, I had some wine friends over along with a lady I had not seen for over 20 years since we both lived in Tokyo and I used to attend cultural receptions she organized.

This dinner had been planned by the wife of my wine friend and I over a wine dinner last month, and we'd both blocked out the date on our phone calendars before saying goodbye. But we'd both been tipsy as we'd inputted the dates on our phones, so I was never really sure if we were going to push through or not, and I'd been too busy to follow up. However, a few days ago, we finally got around to talking about it.


We would probably have had dinner at a restaurant, as we usually do; but when we were discussing the details recently, I suddenly felt like inviting everyone over and cooking dinner instead -- so that's what I did.

I often have friends over for dinner when I can, so it's not a very big deal. And although I like pretty dramatic backdrops, I tend to serve food quite simply. That's what happens when you have a stressful day job and still want to entertain your friends at home every so often -- you're forced to compromise and think in simple terms and work around time and effort constraints.

But these friends coming over were real foodies who seem to eat very well every single day. And in spite of the fact that the week between Christmas and New Year's usually turns Manila into a No Man's Land with everything on quiet mode, I was having an uncharacteristically busy week with little time to blog and even less time to focus on cooking dinner. So it was just a little more stress than usual in terms of planning.

But in the end everything turned out well enough although I personally felt I could have done much better if a couple of work things hadn't suddenly come into the picture.


And before dinner -- as in literally before I was about to light the candles around my house -- my old AIESEC friend Anthony sent me a message about something and I ended up spontaneously inviting him over as well. Unfortunately he couldn't make dinner but he was in my general area and free at that very moment, so I said: "Why don't you come over for pre-dinner merienda instead?"

This just meant putting out the cocktail fare a little earlier, after all. It was 6 PM and there were still so many things to do about dinner; but I just couldn't let this opportunity pass up as Anthony and I both so rarely have a free evening to catch up at the same time. So he came over for drinks and ham and cheese, and then he literally walked out the door just as the dinner guests were arriving.

"I'm the first batch," he told them. Yes, it was sort of a pass-the-baton evening with the first batch leaving exactly as the second batch was arriving. But what a fun evening it was.


We began with champagne and prosciutto ham, with slices of Pecorino Toscana and freshly-baked bread. Then for dinner, I did a mango and arugula salad, truffle and white cheese pizza, truffle pasta with Spinossi noodles, and rack of lamb.

Everything was washed down with several bottles of very nice wine, with a 1986 Margaux as the finale. Then dessert was a luscious strawberry charlotte cake from Sweet Bella bakeshop in Burgos Circle at the Fort. The cake is not at all cheap but it's so worth it.

By close to midnight my blood pressure had shot up from all that very good wine and I was starting to feel the effects of too many late nights and too many very early mornings; but I was so happy that everyone had been able to make it and that we'd sat very relaxedly around my dining table instead of in some cramped restaurant with the waiters looking at their watches and wondering when we would leave.

I resolved to invite more friends over in 2012. But along with eating healthier, sleeping earlier and not spending too much on clothes, that's another story, and it's called New Year's Resolutions 2012.

Just another evening in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.




Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The best of 2011

It's that time of the year when I wind down and really take time to reassess my life and where's heading. That's why there hasn't been a blog entry in a while -- because I needed to think more than to write.

This week has been unusually busy in spite of the expected lull between Christmas and New Year, with not many spare moments to myself. But nevertheless I've had a few spare moments to remember the year that was and to better prepare for the year that will be.

Re-reading my old blog entries has certainly helped me put my life in perspective and made me smile reading about places, events, experiences and people I've forgotten in the course of daily life. It's also made me realize again how enjoyable my year has been and how lucky I am to be living the kind of life I truly want to live. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to a most fulfilling year for myself and for all of us at Travelife Magazine.

Here are my favorite blog entries for 2011:

click on the title to read
April 2011
The best memories of traveling with
only myself as company

click on the title to read
February 2011
The very first of many enjoyable meals with the notorious J,
who has kept me company and kept my spirits up
in a very technological way this year.
So many people still want to know who he is.

click on the title to read
July 2011
Memories of a very enjoyable trip to the Middle East.
We can't wait to go back and hit the souks.

click on the title to read
March 2011
This was literally the day before the Great Earthquake in Japan.
How little I realized then how my life would change.

There's nothing so special about this entry.
But when I read it, I could taste the kare-kare
and still remember the wine.

April 2011
This was a really enjoyable trip that helped lift a heavy burden.

October 2011
The messages on that day really made me laugh.
It helped, of course, that I was staying in one of
the most beautiful resorts in the world.

March 2011
The great earthquake of Japan was life-changing.

Remembering Sunday night dinners at home
and all over the world.

June 2011
It was such fun to trade paintings,
and I was amazed that my friend got a buyer in two hours flat.

Another travel story
from a life lived always on the edge.

It should be fairly obvious why this one's a favorite.