Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Lunch with friends of Austria

Today, I had a wonderful lunch at the residence of the Ambassador of Austria, as the guest of Madame Yan Donko, wife of the ambassador.

She'd invited about 20 ladies to lunch, and they consisted of ambassadors' wives and diplomatic ladies like Madame Kazuko Siazon, wife of former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Domingo Siazon; and ladies involved in charities, business and the arts.

It was a very nice gathering, and not your typical diplomatic function. All of us walked into Madame Donko's living room thinking we knew about half of the ladies, and the rest would be new friends. This doesn't happen very often in this very small town where everyone knows everyone else, by the way.


Before lunch, we stood around greeting friends and introducing ourselves to those we didn't know. Some of us had just seen each other at the opening reception for the exhibit of the Chilean artist Claudio Bravo at the Met last night, hosted by the Ambassador of Chile.

Then Madame Donko struck a gong to make a speech.

She said: "When I started inviting friends for this lunch, I kept getting asked if it was my birthday or what the occasion for the lunch was. There is no occasion. I just wanted to invite my friends over. Everyday I keep saying to myself that I must invite this person or that person over someday, but it doesn't happen as we're all busy. So finally, I said to myself that I would host a lunch and invite everyone to come."

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Although it was a "no occasion" lunch, the special guest of honor was Madame Siazon, who was in Manila for two days in between a trip from Tokyo and a trip to Singapore.

Incidentally, former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Domingo Siazon was one of my first bosses, along with the late Ambassador Ramon del Rosario Sr. I always tell people that I learned a lot from both of them.


Lunch was buffet style, and we all enjoyed various Austrian dishes including goulash and sausages, as well as salads and sauerkraut. For dessert, Madame Donko served fruit and pastries. Everything was home-made by herself and her staff.

We all sat around her very long dining table, or else in one of the round tables in the terrace. I was happy to sit next to a Japanese lady who I knew but hadn't seen in a while; as well as the wife of the former Philippine Ambassador to Austria, who was now living in Manila.


I'd visited the Ambassador and his wife when he had been stationed as our representative in Vienna many years ago, and I still remember their kind hospitality. I had a wonderful time as their guest at the start of Vienna's winter season.

They took me to all the fancy parties -- including pre-Christmas cocktails at Schonbrunn Palace -- and when we weren't attending parties in Vienna, we were going out to dinner.

One afternoon, this kind lady picked me up at my hotel and we went off to Demel's, one of Vienna's most famous coffee and pastry houses, for afternoon tea.

This lady was very well-known in Vienna, you see, so we were immediately given the best table in a very busy restaurant. And while Demel's is basically only a cake and coffee shop, it's one that has served generations and generations of Hapsburgs over the centuries, so it's quite snooty.

When you enter, they immediately size you up, especially if they're full. Regulars, VIPs and people who look like they're going to blow a fortune on cakes get front-row ground floor tables, and the tourists all get shunted to the second floor.


Within minutes, a TV camera had come and -- to my surprise -- they started filming us having tea, and telling us that this would be shown on the evening news. Apparently, this lady had become a celebrity in Vienna because of her friendliness, her flair for fashion, and her winning smile.

Reminiscing about my visit to Vienna many years ago, over lunch at the residence of the Austrian ambassador to the Philippines, made me long to visit Vienna again sometime soon. I was just in Linz and Salzburg last June, but I haven't been to Vienna in at least seven years.

If only there were more hours, days and weeks in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.


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