Friday, March 23, 2012

4 + 1 doesn't equal 45

Late last night my mobile rang and again another strange number showed up on my screen, so I figured it was an international call that needed to be answered.

"5 instead of 45," my friend began, without even a "hello" or a "It's me." It was my new friend since last month who lives mostly in New York, but who has lots of influential Filipino connections through school and work, and who just loves talking -- or lamenting, actually -- about the state of Philippine politics. And without even waiting for any sort of answer or greeting from me, he asked: "Can Filipinos actually count properly?"


Sigh. Politics again, and I'd just been talking about culture and beauty at the home of the Pakistani ambassador awhile earlier. And now I had to contend with this. But my friend's conversations are interspersed with jokes and talking about fun stuff like food and travel, so I put up with the political stuff he always begins his conversations with. But this time I decided to try and keep it light.


"At least one of us has been reading the newspapers," I said. I'd stopped reading the papers long ago when I figured out lots of people were writing politically-charged articles and not bothering to doublecheck their stories for accuracy before printing them; so it was definitely my friend in New York who was more clued in about what's happening here in terms of politics. But at least I did know what he meant by "5 instead of 45," and I'm just as outraged as a lot of others are, that some people are wasting taxpayers' money and senators' time with wrong data.

In case you're just tuning into this blog now, I met this friend from New York by chance at the JAL lounge at Tokyo's Narita Airport last month. He was a complete stranger then, but we'd sat side-by-side having breakfast before our respective early morning flights, and he'd caught my attention because (a) it was about 745 AM and he was impeccably dressed for a flight, looking like he'd walked straight out of a Ralph Lauren catalog, (b) he was having a very strange breakfast, and (c) he was reading an old issue of the Philippine Star. And there we were in Tokyo.


So we'd struck up a conversation and it turns out that he'd been in Manila the previous week, spent a couple of days in Tokyo and was heading back to the States. Meanwhile, I was on my way back to Manila.

We talked a bit about politics (actually, he talked while I just listened), and then we ended up being kind of friends. At least friends enough to talk on the phone long distance every once in a while, and to plan on meeting up for a tafelspitz dinner in Vienna in a couple of months or weeks. Yes, somehow, the talk about politics turned to tafelspitz and fortunately, we both love tafelspitz and are prepared to travel a very long way for a good one.


Tafelspitz, by the way, is basically boiled beef which the Viennese have with horseradish sauce, creamed spinach and potatoes. When it's very good, it's the best thing you can ever have in the world; but when it's bad or even mediocre, it's just plain boiled beef. So far, my favorite tafelspitz place is the city center branch of Plachutta, a rather fancy traditional restaurant in Vienna. This branch is a short walk from St. Stephen's Square and they have branches in other parts of Vienna. I've eaten in all of them, and nothing has ever come close to the one in the city center.

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Back to last night. He continued: "Pretty amazing circus going on there. Numbers coming out of nowhere and politicians with bags of magic tricks. No wonder so many people are confused about the truth -- and that's exactly what they want."

Then it was my turn to ask: "Who's they?"

Silence except for a clickety-clack, clickety-clack sound. I had a feeling he was either driving into or out of Manhattan and he'd put me on his speaker phone again. He likes talking to me about Philippine politics when he's doing a long drive, for some reason.
Maybe it de-stresses him while driving to stress me out a bit...

But instead of answering my question, he asked me: "Plans firmed up for Vienna and Prague?" Aha. Now he was changing the subject. But I was happy not to talk politics, as if we were in a Chaine des Rotisseurs dinner instead, where conversations about religion and politics are taboo.


"Almost. My dates are set and I just got my ticket this afternoon," I replied. Yesterday, I'd been working on four trips simultaneously, all while trying to finish up our next issue. It was a pretty crazy Travelife sort of day. My Sri Lanka trip had been completely redone, I'd confirmed my Silversea cruise at the end of April and decided on the 10-person Travelife team we're sending to Malaysia in May, and got my tickets for Europe sorted out. I'm going to Europe via Istanbul in June.

Anyway, since we realized we're going to be in Europe at the same time, this friend is going to fly in from a work thing in Geneva to Vienna at about the same that I'm landing in Vienna, to take me to dinner at what he says is the best tafelspitz he's ever had in his life.


And then from there I go on to Prague and he returns to New York. But this is still like a dozen trips away so I'm not really thinking about it yet, except for the airline ticket I had to get yesterday to make sure I have a flat bed confirmed all the way to Europe.

"Get set for the meal of your life then," he said. Then he added: "And make sure you're in the mood to eat."

I replied: "I will be in the mood -- on one condition."

He paused. Then he said: "What's that?"

I almost sighed into the phone when I replied: "That we don't talk about politics that night."


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