Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

pop goes the world: holiday serenity

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 23 December 2010, Thursday

Holiday Serenity

Only in the Philippines, I think, is Christmas celebrated for practically an entire month. Work slows down by the first week of December. Malls, offices, and other public establishments evoke the holiday spirit by decorating, some lavishly, others simply, each according to their inclinations and capabilities.

Ayala Avenue this year is more brightly lit than ever before, with thousands of blazing white lights festooned like strings of  glowing pearls from the trees that line the center of the road, and damn the power bill because it all looks so splendid.

Ayala Avenue this Christmas 2010. Image here.

Shopping is always a favorite pastime of Filipinos, and especially so during this season, when cultural norms of gift-giving are observed. A person would sort the groups of people he knows into several categories – work (bosses, officemates, clients); friends (schoolmates, friends made elsewhere); family (immediate and others); and so on.

The nearest and dearest receive the most expensive presents, while officemates one isn’t close to get the gaily-packaged brownies or cookies bought in bulk from friends who “make negosyo” during the season. And so on. Hierarchy is a cultural meme, maybe even a survival imperative in our DNA, some thinkers suggest, and exerts influence even as we perform this pleasant chore.

It is a festive time, with food playing a major role in providing a sense of comfort and security and adding that extra fillip of extravagance that sets occasions like these apart from the ordinary.

When I was a child, Western fruit like apples, grapes, and oranges were to be had only at Christmas-time, along with chestnuts and walnuts which we cracked against door jambs. My mother made certain dishes only during the holidays – deep-dish one-crust apple pie sprinkled with parmesan cheese on top and fruit salad made with canned US Del Monte fruit cocktail that was mostly peaches, never the local kind that was mostly pineapples and made the salad too sour, and she would add a squeeze of calamansi to cut the sweetness. For an appetizer she would lay out plates of Edam cheese, some slices plain, others fried in butter.

Through the years, she’d mix up the menu, sometimes whipping up Caesar salad dressing from scratch with egg yolks, extra-virgin olive oil, and crushed peppercorns, while her entrees would include falling-off-the-bone roast crown of pork, fondue, beef stew, shrimp tempura, and one of my favorites, chicken marinated in Pepsi, ketchup, and secret spices then grilled over charcoal.

We lived in a series of small apartments that were easy to decorate, and my mother made sure that wherever we were, we always had a Christmas tree with ornaments and silver tinsel and colorfully-wrapped presents underneath, and garlands of evergreen with pine cones and red-and-gold ribbons on the walls.

I’ve kept up our family tradition of a tree. Mine is soft and warm and fuzzy with handmade quilted and cross-stitched ornaments from snail-mail swaps or bought at bazaars. No glitzy tinsel and metallic balls for us, just homespun decorations made with love.

Presents back then were simple – an Enid Blyton book, a kitchen playset, t-shirts. There were no electronic gadgets with their beep-boops and flashing lights distracting people from interacting with each other.

Today, with all the bustle and swirl of activity, the rampant commercialization by merchants, and the over-the-top keeping-up-with-the-neighbors, some might feel the need to slow down and find a quiet place.

Where is yours? It can be an actual location or inside your head. It is wherever one may retreat into calm and peace.

University of the Philippines professor emeritus Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo recently shared with us, her graduate students in creative writing, an essay she wrote titled “In Search of Stillness and Serenity.” In the piece she revisits all her quiet places in the different countries she’s  been to.

Here’s an excerpt, where she tells of an oasis of stillness in the mountains of war-ravaged Lebanon:

“I remember our being invited by Frieda, a member of Tony’s staff, to her family’s old villa in the small Druze town of Abey, up in the mountains. Her great-grandfather had been the village blacksmith and had built the house in the late 19th century. It had walls of thick stone, deep windows, a high, vaulted ceiling, beautiful rosewood furniture, hand-carved and inlaid with nakkar and mother-of-pearl, and lovely old rugs, lamps, pipes, copper coffee pots…

“Frieda walked us through a small forest of oak trees, to the olive orchards, where her father was cutting off large branches and putting them into baskets—the white (green) olives to be made into araq; the red, into vinegar; and the black (the sweetest of all), to eat as part of the traditional Lebanese mezze. And then we came to the olive press, and were offered some freshly baked Arabic bread to dip into the freshly pressed oil, which was delicious.

“And there was a serenity about the olive grove, and the day, and the village itself, which seemed far removed from the ceaseless strife that plagued Lebanon.”

In Philippine culture, the holidays are full of rituals to be observed and traditions to keep up, and we do these joyfully, because it is when the past connects and extends into the present that we feel the tug of the bonds of family, society, history, and culture that define and shape who we are.

Yet in the midst of the maelstrom remember to visit your quiet place, wherever it is, to rest, recharge, and reconnect with yourself and all that you are, and all that you can be.

Happy holidays from my home to yours, and I wish for you blessings of deep peace, utter happiness, and boundless love. ***

Olive oil and bread image here.

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holiday wish list

My younger daughter came home from school the other day with a copy of their school magazine. A page carried the holiday wish-lists of third-graders, which contained things like “a big car when I’m 18 and a private jet”, “a puppy because it’s cute”, and “for my brother to be well-behaved.” Aww.

So I tapped into my inner third-grader and came up with this list of mostly fun and frivolous things. What’s on yours?

iPad 64 GB – Steve Jobs and the rockin’ ‘n’ rollin’ design team at Apple have been consistently hitting balls out of the park with their latest offerings, with the iPad being a stellar device for Internet media consumption. It’s on top of many wish lists this season.

Fluevog shoes – with their funky styling and colors, what’s not to like?

Tokyo Milk scents and cosmetics – the names alone of their scents are intriguing. “Let Them Eat Cake” is a “touch of decadence: sugar cane, coconut milk, vanilla orchid, and white musk”; “Ex Libris is “an age-old tale: fig leaf, magnolia, bronzed musk, and cardamom.” From parfum to candles to kissing kits, indulge your love for fragrance and erudite vintage-inspired labels here.

For me to be well-behaved – because it all starts with the man in the mirror.

Caran d’Ache fountain pen ink – the colors are vibrant and alive and will crawl all over your paper! Choose from Carbon Black, Blue Night, Sky Blue, Saffron Orange, Caribbean Sea (turquoise), Stormy Violet, Grand Canyon (brown), Amazon Green, and Sunset Pink (more like scarlet red).

A supernova – like this one, a remnant in the Large Magellanic Cloud. A framed photograph will do.

World peace – because you can’t enjoy all these things if you were in a middle of a war.

J. Herbin sealing wax and a personalized signet ring – nothing else says “you’re important to me” with such drama and flair as when you send a letter in an envelope sealed with wax and your own crest.

2010 Mercedes Benz GL350 Bluetec SUV – because German engineering is still the benchmark for automobile quality.

Roots Canada Small School Bag – because everyone and her maid has got Vuitton, and because there are other brands of handbags in the world. Roots uses “tribe leather” which gives a worn and distressed look to the item. Perfect for writers who carry around pens, ink, notebooks, and laptops.

Sophie (played by actress Amanda Seyfried) carries a Roots Small School Bag in the movie “Letters to Juliet”. Image here.

Nordic track treadmill – pro version with gradient/incline and heart rate monitor, so I can exercise without leaving the house, rain or shine.

Crane personalized stationery – creamy cards and notepaper make it a joy to write letters and send them via snail mail.

A house with an indoor pool and water slide from the second floor – COWABUNGA! (Image here.)

World fish – another way of saying “end world hunger”. Because you can’t enjoy all these things if you were hungry.

I can think of more stuff, but I look around me and see that I have all that I really need. I’ll indulge my inner third-grader with a cup of marshmallow cocoa and a nap now.

Happy holidays!

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the significance of trees

The Christmas tree is a ubiquitous and uber-commercialized symbol of the holiday, yet the etymology of its use could hearken back to old animistic practices. In many ancient religions, trees were worshipped as sacred, held to be the homes of gods or spirits, or believed to be capable of bestowing enlightenment on mortals.

My aunt Nana Barcelona’s tree, decorated with ornaments collected through the years. The hand-painted eggs are actual eggs from Chechoslovakia; the gilded glass spheres, Philippine-made.

In today’s context - festooned with winking lights, laden with colorful ornaments, circled by wrapped presents – a Christmas tree certainly has the power to bring smiles to children’s faces.

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Ik’s wide grin makes all the preparations worth it!

Even a “sign” (in the Jungian sense) that consists of electric lights strung together in an elongated pyramid formation and decorated with various ornaments can symbolize a Christmas tree, which in turn symbolizes the holiday and all its attendant shared meanings and associations.

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A tree made of lights and ornaments greets all comers to our barangay (neighborhood community) in Makati City.

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A closeup of some of the ornaments decorating our neighborhood tree.

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“friends forever…”

The Philippines, according to Wikipedia, is said to observe the longest Christmas season in the world.

This is true. Malls put up Christmas trees and play carols as early as September. Homes are festooned with lights in November. I was aghast to learn that a cousin in the US bought her tree only a week ago; I had ours up and flashing by November 3, right after hundas or the local Dia del Muerte observances.

By the first week of December, restaurants and bars are fully booked for the seemingly endless rounds of parties. For the average employed Filipino adult, there are at least two that one can count on being invited to – the office party and the barkada get-together. The entire month is one big party, and everyone’s invited!

Work and office planning is hardly done around this time – “Magpa-Pasko na (Christmas is coming), you should’ve done that in October or November,” is something heard frequently. Most activities are postponed. “After Christmas na ‘yan, ha.” Work slows. Shopping speeds up. Stores are full of people, pockets bulging with their thirteenth-month pay and bonuses, eager to spend it all on gifts for family and friends. Employers nod indulgently as employees take two-hour lunches and return laden with shopping bags. They themselves leave early for corporate holiday affairs, golf tournaments in Baguio, and out-of-the-country vacations.

With pressure easing  on all sides, a sense of relaxation pervades. This makes the holidays a perfect time for renewing friendships. Last Friday, I met up with one of my best friends, Adelle Chua, opinion editor of Manila Standard-Today, where I am a horseracing columnist. We see each other perhaps three to four times a  year. We eat, catch up on the latest, eat, share feminist philosophies, eat. We did all our eating at the Racks’ in El Pueblo (Ortigas), where the succulent and tender sweet baby back ribs and side dishes keep us coming back for more.

After dinner, we went for dessert and coffee next door, to San Francisco Coffee Co. Die-hard Starbucks habitues, we were thinking of walking to the one at Emerald Avenue. But SFCC had an interesting sign – “Free WiFi.” We swung the glass doors open and walked in.

Not that we were able to try out the wi-fi. A delicious smell of syrup and coffee wafted us into our seats. Comfortably ensconced with coffee in mugs and an oatmeal bar in front of us, we chatted the night away. We must have covered a dozen topics, ranging from parents and parenting, DNA testing, and religion to fountain pens, the effects of aging on interpersonal relationships, and inner-spring mattresses.

Adelle and I are both writers. Bound by our common love of language, we deplored the declining standards of grammar, spelling, and technical proficiency. We drowned our sorrows over the fall of belles lettres in large mugs of our favorite brew.

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I love San Francisco Coffee’s Raspberry Mocha. The best talaga, ever!

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This is a nice, quiet place with very good coffee and pleasant, accommodating baristas who let us stay a little past closing and said not a word, letting us leave when we were ready. I wish they had more branches around the city.

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After Adelle and I exchanged goodbyes and promises to meet again soon, I trekked to Metrowalk for another reunion – this time with batchmates from the Ateneo de Manila University Regis MBA program. The invitation came from Atty. Natus Rodriguez, Atty. Noel de Leon, and Major Edmar de la Torre. How could I say no to two lawyers and a cop?

The venue was Aruba, a trendy bar-cum-dance club part-owned by Natus. It’s a terrific place that plays ’80s music, both live and canned.  The crowd is upscale. Meaning they can headbang and respect personal space at the same time.

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Natus ordered our party of ten his favorite drink. I forget what it’s called, but it’s served in shot glasses. A brown fluid lurks at the bottom while a milky liquid floats on top. Then it’s set on fire. Straws are handed round, the drink is sucked up, everyone applauds. It goes straight to your brain.

This time around, there isn’t much conversation, what with the loud music, dancing, and flaming drinks. Yet just seeing each other there was enough. Communication was achieved, the message being, “I cared enough to invite you/ I cared enough to come. We’re still friends.” We whisper into each other’s ears, catch up a bit, exchange phone numbers, find out how we can help each other.

But don’t wait until the holidays to refresh your relationships with your friends. Just like a plant, friendships can wither and die if not fed often with communication. Stay in touch. Make that your New Year’s resolution.

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