Sunday, December 18, 2011

A great Christmas with the neighbors

It's close to midnight and my cocktail party has finally finished, so I've put on some nice chill music on the stereo and brought my Mac to the living room, where I've put my feet up on a chair as I write this out with the lights of the Christmas tree and all the candles still blazing. It's a very nice feeling, although I've been on my feet for about ten hours now, so I'm pretty exhausted.

But everyone had fun, and although my cocktail invite said 6-930 PM tonight (I figured I should make it earlier than the others as everyone will be exhausted from the endless rounds of partying by tonight), my neighbor A-- the bachelor with the big house that can fit 500 people -- and some ladies stayed on after everyone else had stuck to my 930 PM timeline.


And tonight, some people came even earlier than the invite. I'd said 6 PM, which of course in Manila means 630 PM at the earliest; but at 545 PM, just as I was about to leisurely get dressed, I was told that I had a guest at the door. It was my old friend of 20 years, XX, who isn't quite a neighbor (he lives a few blocks away) but I'd invited him anyway. And when I heard he was at the door, I said to myself: "Of course. How could I forget? I'd invited him and he's always early."

XX always comes early, and tonight he only drank sparkling water but he brought an incredibly nice bottle of wine as a Christmas gift. I put it unopened by the Christmas tree, intending to look at it after the party was done. But when he left, he said in typical understated fashion: "The wine I gave you -- it's ready for drinking." I thought it was a recent vintage then, and didn't think much about it again until afterwards. And when I finally got around to opening his package, to my surprise it was a very nice top-of-the-line 1994 Pauillac.

Then right on the dot at 6 pm came an ambassador friend of mine, who also lives down the road, about three minutes away. He came in a barong, saying: "This is only the second time I am wearing a barong. The first time was at Malacanan."

Very typical of the diplomat to be exactly on time. But I was glad because they could keep each other company while I actually attended to the last-minute details of the party.

Just after 6, my neighbor A arrived, early exactly as he'd told me he would be. He asked me as he entered my house: "Am I the first one?" I was happy to reply: "Of course not. There are already two people here." And one of them was a very big businessman, and the other was an ambassador.


After that, it was just a wave of people coming and going, as is the usual case in Manila where people have two or three parties to go to a night. I do it all the time myself so it was okay. Everyone's wanted at several places every night during the Christmas season.

But I was really happy that so many of my neighbors came to this final neighborhood Christmas cocktails for the year. Interestingly, I'd set up so many sitting areas in my living room so that people could socialize as they pleased, but everyone literally disappeared to hang around the buffet arrangement I'd set up in one part of the house. The result was that anyone arriving for the party would walk into the living room thinking there were only a handful of people for the party, as there were only a handful of people in the living room.

"It's the cheese and ham," said one neighbor, while another added: "And the beef stew."

I was glad everyone liked the food. I didn't really have an idea of what kind of buffet I wanted to do as of yesterday. But when I woke up today it became quite clear to me: I'd gotten the best Parma ham and cheese I could find in Manila -- an entire leg of ham and a whole round of cheese from Bacchus Epicerie -- and the best cakes in town (Sweet Bella at Burgos Circle in Fort Bonifacio). I was going to keep it simple, so I decided to make some things (beef stew) and also ordered some food from a restaurant that serves great food but that I know few people know about (truffled chicken, pork rice).


Everything turned out very well although this very personalized way of doing a cocktail party certainly took more effort. I could've hired a caterer, of course, but for this particular party, at Christmas, I really felt I wanted something that was really me in style rather than someone else's.

That's just how I always do things -- which is also why I never hire an events person for my Travelife events, or a decorator or designer for my home. And, with the exception of the two beautiful wreaths on my front door, which were gifts from one of my neighbors, all the Christmas decor in my home is made by me using stuff bought nowhere particularly special -- although the end-result is special, I think. I actually like doing these things myself, and putting the little touches together.

So my home in Manila is a mixture of all kinds of things from my travels, and people who've been to my home describe it as "eclectic and unusual." And, frankly, I kind of like that.

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


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