Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Boom Tarat Tarat

I heard that a local composer liked the "Little Drummer Boy" Christmas song and he wanted to compose something similar. He came up with Boom tarat tarat, the sound precisely of a drumbeat.

The popularity of this song comes not only from its catchy lyrics but also from the dance steps that locals seem to know and dance by heart. Grandpa, the teacher or professional, the balikbayan, the little kids, the shy teenager, they all have their way of dancing to this music.

The first step is to pull your forearms in (like when you say "Yes!") and right knee up then tap your right behind with your right hand, then your left hand over your left behind. This follows the line, "boom tarat tarat". The second movement follows "tararat tararat", and the hands wave to the right like a hula dancer. The third movement follows "boom, boom, boom" and the foreams pull in while the pelvis pushes out. A very macho movement!

You can't imagine how many interpretations there are of this dance but each one manages to bring laughter and smiles all around.

Christmas in the Philippines will never be the same without this song played over the airwaves. It's now a classic like the old standby, Ang Pasko ay Sumapit.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas


It's Christmas Eve and I'm just now writing my personal greetings to you. As you know, I'm in the Philippines for the construction of my beach cottages on the island of Panay, just southwest of famous Boracay Beach.

We've been through 2 typhoons and I personally have faced many new challenges. But it's been a great 6 weeks and today, my hairstylist convinced me to sport a new look. It was hard to let go my long hair but now that it's done, my head fills lighter (ha ha). Angel, the hairstylist, assured me I would look younger with a layered do. (How can I doubt him with a name like that?) I'm also slimmer (according to my masseuse) from walking on the beach everyday. Don't know how long I can stay this way because I've been invited to so many lunches and dinners, sooner or later, all that eating spree will surely manifest itself in the most obvious places.

The construction of my fence is halfway finished. There was added work because the property is below the road line so they are earth filling when it's not raining. I'm so looking forward to the construction of my 3 cottages. This will start the first week of January.

Dear friends and family, Christmas will be more meaningful if we remember our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

May you and your family enjoy peace, togetherness and love today and throughout the new year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

First Honor


My sister and I had shopped for school supplies last August in preparation for my trip to the Philippines. We had planned to give a few schoolchildren at the Conrado Barrios Elementary School what they sorely need and could barely afford to buy. But only 20 children would be so lucky. We would also give them toys.

My nephew at 10 years of age has outgrown toys. He is more interested in computers and his blog. I think he knows more about software than I do because he has uploaded videos to his blog. I had asked him to set aside the toys he no longer plays with so I could give it to the poor children in the Philippines. When I came by to pick up the toys he saved, he gave me a bagful of unopened McDonald’s toys from all the Happy Meals he ate.

We chose the Conrado Barrios Elementary School because this is built on the property my great grandparents donated to the school. And recently we had donated books to its very tiny library which has six chairs, a cracked table and one shelf of books. The children here are from poor families.

Since I had only enough school supplies for 20 children, I thought it best that we award these to the Top 20 first grade schoolchildren. ( There are 120 kids in 3 sections.) So the secretary was sent out to get the brightest and most deserving of these children. They came to the Principal’s office, quiet and expectant. My cousin and I asked them to form a line, in order of their rank in class. It seemed there were too many “first honor” kids but no problem. Their teachers gave them my name and they greeted me in unison. “Good Morning, Miss Charie Albar”.

I called the first honor of Section 1 to come forward and I asked her what her favorite subject was. She said “math”. So I challenged her by asking her how much 2+2 is. She hesitated a kid. Some kid peering through the windows shouted “4 and I know better than you so I should be there”. After talking with a few more kids it became apparent we didn’t have the honor students. The secretary explained that we had instead, the poorest kids in the class. They were thinking of sending them away but I decided to keep these kids as they had already seen the school supplies and toys and I didn’t want to crush their expectations.

One boy I interviewed told me he had 15 siblings. When I asked him what his parents did for a living, he told me they cooked (in the house). Another child had 9 brothers and sisters. What was striking about these kids was their blank faces. I had to ask them to smile for the camera. Some could barely muster a quarter smile. But a child by the name of Bueno cupped his chin with thumb and forefinger and showed me his teeth.

Afterwards we took pictures together. As the children went out the door, other kids hovered and grabbed the toy of one child. She warned him to return it immediately or “I will report you to “Ma’am”.

Other children who had seen the school supplies asked us if we could give them any. They had to be content when they were told we would return in January. I’m returning in January to award the brightest first graders. I’ve ransacked my bags to scrounge enough supplies and toys for these kids. I only found supplies for 10. I told myself that next schoolyear I will find a way to give all first graders the tools they need to succeed in their first year as students.

Monday, December 18, 2006

'Ta

At the appliance store, the owner’s son and right hand man was telling me he would send the delivery boys to my apartment around noon. He told me not to worry. “They’ll be there, 'Ta”, he said. I nodded and walked out the door where light rain was falling.

I think that was the first time I had heard this word 'Ta. It didn’t fully register in my brain until I was talking to one of the younger contractors who again addressed me as 'Ta. And some days later, the classmate of my assistant came by the apartment and said “Good afternoon, 'Ta”.

In Spanish, we call our aunt, Tia. In the Philippines we say, Tita, a derivation of the Spanish word. It would seem that I have inherited a lot of nephews and nieces because the younger crowd (30 years of age and below) all address me as 'Ta.
But today, everyone calls an older woman, 'Ta as a sign of respect.

I don’t know if I’m pleased that the youth have abbreviated the word Tita to 'Ta. But I do know that I have graduated to a different age group because more and more people are calling me 'Ta.

It will take time for me to get used to this.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sofa


Since November we’ve managed with just four borrowed, plastic chairs and one round table. It was really nice to come home and be able to eat our meals properly. I also use the table to talk with contractors and discuss plans for my 3 cottages. Or when friends come over, to sit around and enjoy a round of conversation while munching on “pitchi- pitchi” or junk food as we say in English.

I had my assistant scout around for bamboo furniture for the living room. One day she came home quite excited over having found a sofa at the market for about $30.00. We went to the furniture store where she saw the bamboo settee but by the time we got there, it had already been sold. We browsed the shops for a sofa but none appealed to me.

The apartments next door to mine have beautiful custom made furniture. I took pictures of these with the intention of finding a furniture maker to make one for me. The apartment manager referred us to the person who made their furniture and I saw the man on Wednesday. After browsing through his catalog, I found the loveseat I liked and asked him to make me one just like it. On Friday I went to his shop to check on the progress and I was pleased to see how well it turned out. On Saturday afternoon he delivered the rattan sofa which I had asked him to stain in dark walnut. He did a great job in only three days. I can’t imagine where I would have been able to find this kind of quality workmanship and fast turnaround.

The sofa is now in my living room but I don’t use it much. It is currently where I’ve stacked my Christmas presents. I’m glad it’s full of gifts because I am a little bit hesitant to sit on it and wear it out. I like to keep it new.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Food Vendors

Living on the beach has its advantages. Besides being able to buy fresh fish, there are food peddlers everywhere. Right now I see and hear the ice cream vendor carrying a big box on his back like a backpack. He rings his bell to announce his presence and on Saturdays or Sundays when locals flock to the beach, business is good. But it should be good everyday because temperatures never seem to go below 85°F. Beads of sweat trickle down my face as I sit at the dining table eating lunch.

There are two women I’ve watched walking up and down the beach, covered from head to foot to protect them from the harsh sun. They are selling boiled peanuts in small plastic bags or “ibus” which is sweet rice wrapped in coconut palm leaves. Three “ibus” cost P10. One day my relatives bought two bags of coconut candy for P5 each. I am astounded at how “cheap” these goodies are. I know how far they have to walk to make a sale, I can’t imagine there is any profit in their work.

There’s also a guy who runs around selling something I haven’t discovered yet. He has a speaker that blares out a six note music piece. And he rides up and down the street several times a day announcing his arrival as loudly as possible.

For breakfast we buy “puto”, rice muffin in banana leaf. These are P6 for five pieces. We usually buy 3 bags and this is more than enough. Sometimes we buy the “bibingka” which is wider, the size of a saucer and flat like a pancake. It’s not difficult to know our vendor is outside because he toots his horn until he's certain he has awakened the entire neighborhood. One morning when we failed to wake up and pick up our breakfast food, the vendor left our goodies with the guard. Since then we’ve stop ordering from him, the novelty having worn off.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Fresh Catch

Everyday after lunch, I sit on a plastic stool in the back balcony overlooking the beach. I love looking at the sea, scanning the horizon for ships and wondering where they’re headed. The water is of the greenish brown hue closer to shore and teal blue beyond. It is not the color of the California coastal waters nor of the Mediterranean but the color of the tropics.

The sand is brown and shells dot the shore. Some days there are hundreds of beached jellyfish. Fishermen sail out to sea from just below our balcony. Their sails are made of blue plastic material that can be bought by the meter and sometimes used to cover a car or as a makeshift tent. One “banca” has an orange sail. It’s hard to miss it as it bobs in the sea. Four sailboats are jut now approaching the shoreline. They've come back laden with fresh fish which they put into plastic pails and vend right on the beach. One day we bought a bowlful of fish for P100.00. It was a mixed bag of 2 midsize fishes and the rest were tiny fishes which are delicious when mixed with vinegar and garlic and left to simmer on the stove for a few minutes.

After a short rest, the fishermen in groups of four, carry their bancas back to their shed, far enough away from encroaching waters.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

After the Storm

The sea was far away after the storm. The beach was wiped clean except for the hundreds of thousands of shells littering the sand. There are women and children who pick up these shells and sell them. When these shells are pulverized, they are fed to ducks. This is what makes a delectable duck a l'orange.

Further along the beach we saw the full effect of the typhoon that kept us up all night. Flimsy nipa huts lay on the ground with fallen coconut trees. Someone's steel gate was washed to our beachfront from half a mile away. Restaurant owners were busy cleaning up the debris and repairing the damage wrought by the storm.

It must have been high tide as well because the waters roared past the breakwaters and into the backyard. The apartment workers were busy cleaning the yard and putting back the stone path leading to the beach. And an antique decorative clay jar was sliced in half and carried away by raging waters.

In town all was back to normal. The "cleanest city" has a lot of work to do to make it worthy of its name.

We were lucky to have survived the brunt of typhoon Seniang.

Monday, December 04, 2006

ATM

The first time I used the ATM machine here, I was charged by the local bank $9.98. And all I got was P4000.00 ($80.00) and fast cash of P500.00 ($10.00). I tried a couple of times to get 4000 pesos and the machine blinked each time. I panicked thinking that P8000.00 was taken from my account. This is the equivalent of about $160.00. After a week I learned that I only got what I really wanted to withdraw. That is P4000.00. So much for worrying.

So I decided to open an ATM account with a local bank to avoid paying tremendous charges everytime I need money. Well this bank I chose is incredibly busy with people waiting in line for many minutes before getting the chance to withdraw their money. You can't imagine what a punishment this is if you are waiting outside in the sun. And when you gain entry into the small airconditioned room, people behind you want to join you as well. Forget about privacy. The next customer is hanging just behind your shoulders.

But think about getting wads of bills. P4000 should be 4 or 8 bills only, 4 - P1000 bills or 8 - P500 bills. What I got and nearly lost were 40 - P100 bills. The cash dispenser was slightly concealed so while I was searching for it, a warning came on the screen that I could lose all my money in a few seconds. When I finally found the cash, it was tightly packed and difficult to take out all at once. A couple of bills were left as the machine tried to gobble these up into its inner recesses. I pulled hard to get the last 2 - P100 bills, nearly tearing these in half. Then I started to count, and kept on counting. Then I recounted because I was missing one P100 bill. I thought the machine had gained on me and eaten this. It would have been a struggle to go inside the bank and wait again with all the customers there. But the bank, I found out, closes at 3 p.m. And thankfully, I had all my money.

I still dread going to the ATM machine. I never thought the day would come that I would wish money grew on trees.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Public transportation


I have no car here in Roxas City, my new (old) home. I have to depend on relatives to take me around the first week I was here. But this gets old so I am learning to take public transportation.

There are two choices: a tricycle which is a Nazi type vehicle with motorcycle and side cab and there is the minicab.

I am not tall but here in the island, I tower over people's heads. When I get inside the minicab, I must bend very low so I do't hit the roof. This small cab fits about 12 tiny local residents. One day I was pushed all the way inside the cab. I couldn't see my stop because the windows were below my eye level. When I saw the blur of my cousin's blue house next door, I realized I was way past my stop. Imagine getting out of this cab! When I asked the driver to stop, it was all too sudden, the people around me were taken by surprise with the unexpectef stop and my loud voice asking the driver to "Para" (stop). Then as I tried to get out of this cramped, modified jeepney, I kept saying, "excuse me", "excuse me" until I could push past all the legs on the very narrow aisle while keeping my head bent to keep from hitting the roof. It is the most awkward position.

I think the tricycle is a better deal. If I pay three times the regular price, I can ride with my assistant and we could have the tricycle to ourselves. If not, I could be riding with 8 people, two of us inside the cab, 2 behind the driver, one sitting on the right wheel, and two or three standing in the back. It all sounds impossible but I happened to be riding with 8 or more people because my assistant taught we could save a lot of money. And I appreciated her concern but for 50 cents, we can travel comfortably. But not that comfortably. Because the tricycle almost hugs the ground, you feel every bump. And this means you hit your head against the thin, metal roof every time there is a dip in the road. Getting out of the tricycle is a feat because it is so low that I have to bend down, let my legs touch the ground, pull myself up by clutching the sides of the cab, then stretch out. It is always a relief to stand up again.
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Image by Rosario Charie Albar

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Pioneers in Philippine Art

By Rosario Charie Albar

When I first heard about this exhibition, I was disappointed to learn that the works of Carlos “Botong” Francisco would not be part of the show. That said, the 38 paintings and sketches by Juan Luna, Fernando Amorsolo and Fernando Zobel, now on display at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, is an impressive collection spanning 100 years of Philippine Art.

Each of these three artists studied and honed their craft in Europe or the United States. As such, their works reflect Western art trends of their respective periods. Juan Luna lived both in Madrid and Paris. His Woman with Shawl (1880-1890) and Lady at the Racetrack (1880-1890) show influences of the Impressionist style of painting. Impressionism had burst into the art scene in France in 1884, precisely the time Luna won the First Gold Medal for his painting, Spoliarium, at the Exposicion de Bellas Artes in Madrid. Luna’s later sketches of Ragamuffin and Study for People and Kings show his foray into the social realism genre, nearly a century ahead of the social realist movement in the Philippine art scene.

Fernando Amorsolo is perhaps the best known of the three due in part to the calendars which featured his paintings and which were widely distributed in the Philippines. Amorsolo portrayed his ideal Filipina woman in Palay Maiden and Balintawak Maiden with Banga (1926) with these qualities: “My conception of the ideal Filipina woman is one with a rounded face, not of the oval type. The eyes should be exceptionally lively. The nose should be of the blunt form and strongly marked. The Filipina beauty should have a sensuous mouth...not…white complexioned nor of the dark brown color…but of the clear skin…which we often witness when we meet a blushing girl.”

While studying in Europe, Amorsolo admired the works of Joaquin Sorolla who is known as the “painter of sunlight”. Amorsolo infused his idyllic landscapes with the bright light of the tropics.

Not all of Amorsolo’s paintings are happy and beautiful. From his window at his home on Azcarrraga Street, he sketched what he saw first hand of Japanese occupied Manila. The burning of the ship, Intendencia and the destruction of Rizal Avenue are immortalized in the Bombing of the Intendencia (1942) and Rizal Avenue in Ruins (1945).
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Through his works, Amorsolo gave a newly independent nation (1946) and its people a sense of identity after many years of colonization, first by the Spaniards, followed by the Americans.

Fernando Zobel brings Philippine Art to the modern period. His early works like Bridge over Charles River IV (1949) is a study in abstract art. Self Portrait on the Wall (1954) and Oriental Carpet with Paul Haldeman (1955) is in the style of post-Impressionist painter, Henri Matisse and German Expressionist, Beckmann. In White Syringe Piece. Zobel uses a hypodermic syringe to trace lines that hint of movement and emotion.

Zobel’s artistry triumphs in the Icaro, (1962). Monumental wings tell the story of a bird plummeting to his death. Zobel’s Icaro soars.

Pioneers in Philippine Art reveals, not surprisingly, that Philippine art as represented by the works of Luna, Amorsolo and Zobel could hold its own when hung next to a Manet or a Sorolla or a Pollock.

The exhibition will be on view till January 7, 2007 at the Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin Street, San Francisco. For more information visit www.asianart.org.

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For more information on the works of these artists check out these websites:
http://www.lopezmuseum.org.ph/bio_luna.html
www.fernandocamorsolo.com
www.fernandozobel.com

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Back Where I Started

On my first day in Roxas City, my cousin took me to the appliance center where I bought a bed, an airconditioner, a fridge, a TV set, an electric fan and a stove. I had been traveling for 24 hours and wanted so badly to get some sleep. I asked the store owner to please deliver the bed to my apartment by noon so I could get some sleep. The delivery truck arrived as we had arranged. Rain was pouring heavily as the workers unpacked the crates of new appliances and installed the airconditioning unit and connect the stove to the gas line. By 3:30 p.m. they were done. I took a warm shower using the new pink, plastic pail I had just bought. My "butler" made some hot water and mixed it with the water in the pail. That was my warm shower. Shortly after I fell asleep in my air cooled room and woke up momentarily because my cousin came by to make sure all was well. The sound of the sea roaring as it lashed against the breakwater in the backyard woke me in the early morning hours. I thought what a good thing I had decided to build a small cottage across the beach and not on the beach.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Halloween Adventure



by Rosario Charie Albar

The night was dark and dreary
I was tired and weary
The air was far from cheery
I felt a little leery.

I heard a faint knock, knock
Like the tick tock of a clock
Not the pounding of a rock
But the turning of a lock.

I went to open the door
And beheld not one but four
And in the distance many more
Ghosts so scary I fainted on the floor.

"Come with us for a jaunt"
"To places we will haunt"
I cowered and said "please don't"
But they dragged me as was their wont.

Our first stop was at a bar
Where men were drinking by the jar
Ghosts appeared and it was war
But the drunks merely laughed har, har, har.

To a parked car we went
Where love was heavenly sent
The ghosts screeched and gave full vent
But the lovers were to each only intent.

Then we crashed into a party
Kids in costumes how teenie boppy
The ghosts in unison howled eerily
"Cool" said the kids and danced merrily.

The night was being pared
Yet not one victim had been scared
The ghosts frustrated but dared
One more trip before light bared.

We swooped into a house
Found two old folks half drowsed
The ghosts in full regalia ready to joust
Noises of the night they doused.

Grandma and grandpa didn't stir
Neither had their vision gear
Nor wore their hearing aid to hear
They sat content and had no fear.

All too soon came dawn
I found myself on my lawn
Chilled and tired I heard a moan
A cold body beneath my bone.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Food for thought


Great minds discuss ideas
Average minds discuss events
Small minds discuss people. Eleanor Roosevelt

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

What's in a name?

In the rose garden of the Filoli estate, I have an amusing time reading the names of the hundreds of roses that are grown and bred here. There is an Ingrid Bergman, a Dolly Parton, Secret, Double Delight, Iceberg and yes, Bacardi. I’ll drink to that! And the fragrance that permeates the air is a French parfumerie’s dream.

The rose garden is just one of many in the property. There is the Knot Garden, the Perennial Border with rows of purple lavender, the Sunken Garden, Yew Allee with its stately yew trees, the Fruit Garden, the Walled Garden and meadows and terraces! Colors change with the seasons.

The house and gardens with the Crystal Springs watershed at its backdoor couldn’t be better situated. But there’s more to discover about Filoli. When Shakespeare asked “What’s in a name?", little did he know that centuries later Mr. Bourn, the first owner of the estate, would pack so much into a name. Mr. Bourn’s favorite maxim was “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.” Take the first two letters of the key words Fight, Love, Live and it spells Filoli!

www.filoli.org

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Images by Rosario Charie Albar

Monday, September 11, 2006

Favorite Eats in Oahu


I arrived in Honolulu late in the evening on Friday and all I could think of was saimin. From the airport my sister and a friend drove me to Zippy's where I satisfied my craving. It was as I remembered it. Slices of char siu, fish cake and green onions added a bit of flavor to plain noodles. After dinner I bought apple fritters from Zippy's own bakery.

I was in Honolulu for the weekend to close a chapter in my life. Famished after two and a half hours of hard work emptying my storage space of 20 years (!), sweating as if we've been soaking in a sauna, my sister, her friend and I found ourselves in a dive in Kalihi for some heavy duty lunch on Saturday afternoon. The crab wonton was a revelation. Inside the crisp wonton was crabmeat dipped in cream sauce.

After lunch we drove around the island, stopping to ring the bell for good luck and happiness at the Byodo-In Temple in Kaneohe. Continuing along Highway 83, we got out of the car to view Chinaman's Hat rising from Pacific waters and admired the beautifully carved walls of the Koolau Range. Then we treated ourselves to ice cream and mango smoothie in the North Shore.

On Sunday we met for a well deserved brunch at my favorite restaurant, Michel's at the Colony Surf. As we sat by the open window overlooking the beach, we helped ourselves to grilled salmon on a bed of almond rice pilaf and asparagus spears sprinkled with mango cubes over a thin but rich layer of sauce vierge. Lance chose the medium rare beef tenderloin and he couldn't stop extolling how "it melted like butter" in his palate. He was quiet for a while as he savored every bite of the exquisitely prepared steak served with Lyonnaise potatoes and portobello mushrooms.

I decided not to eat dessert although my guests shared a dark chocolate cake with compote of berries and vanilla ice cream. I had been dreaming of malasadas and wanted to save my appetite for that.

We drove to Leonard's on Kapahulu Avenue for their famous Portuguese pao doce. We bought some puff malasadas as well as a dozen of the plain version. I chose the haupia (coconut) filling, my sister had the custard and another friend wanted to try the pineapple filled malasada. We couldn't wait to eat the goodies which were still hot from the oven.

Later that evening, I would have gone to Keo's Thai Cuisine for dinner but we were pressed for time. We had to catch a flight back home so I'll have to return for the pad thai.

I must say that visiting Honolulu was a walk down memory lane happily sprinkled with visions of saimin, the incredible view from Michel's dining room and their 4 star cuisine, sugar coated malasadas and Kauai Kookies (to take home). That's my paradise!

Images by Rosario Charie Albar

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www.michelshawaii.com

www.emerils.com/recipes/by_name/malasadas.html

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Q Prague

The beautiful city of Prague on the banks of the Vltava River will be the venue for the weeklong Philippine Products Exhibition from October 3 – 8 of this year. The event is the brainchild of renowned Filipino fashion designer and Prague resident, Noubikko. The exhibition will feature Philippine made products which will be displayed at the Q Prague near the Hilton Hotel. Exhibitors are encouraged to contact Noubikko at info@noubikko.com for this fee free products expo.

Q Prague
The Q Prague is a three-story club with a bar, disco and cellar for private conferences. Each floor is equipped with its own sound system so guests can sit where the music moves them. In the summer its terrace is the place to gather and enjoy warm evenings. Q Prague opened in early 2006 and has a decidedly modernistic feel. The Q is at 44 Pobrezni, Karlin, Prague 8.

About Noubikko
Noubikko is a former Bay Area resident who was smitten by Prague’s baroque splendor. As a couturier whose designs have been paraded in the runways of San Francisco, Seattle and Paris, to list a few, Prague appealed to the artistic sensibilities of Noubikko. Among his many projects, Noubikko is involved in the restoration of the Church of Our Lady Victorious, home of the Infant Jesus of Prague. This is also where the Filipino community of Prague gathers on Sundays to listen or sing with the all Filipino Choir.

Noubikko continues to reach out to the Filipino community. The Philippine Products Exhibition will feature Philippine cuisine which will be prepared by resident Filipinos. This event is a fine example of Filipinos working together to show the best of the Philippines. It’s one more reason to visit Prague this fall.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Adrift on the Nile


We drifted leisurely on the Nile, from Luxor to Aswan, and marveled at the temples and tombs of the kings. Every morning I woke up to a spectacular sunrise and the promise of new discoveries. Our guide took us to a historical site early in the day (before the crowds arrived and while temperatures were bearable) and there he would nourish us with interesting vignettes on pharaonic civilization. The evenings were devoted to sampling delectable Egyptian cuisine and colorful local entertainment. The unhurried and gentle life on the Nile with tremendous views of green riverbanks, bordered by sand and rock, will stay with me always.

Images by Rosario Charie Albar

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Martun



The Martun (Toilet) Restaurant in Kaohsiung, Taiwan has given new meaning to the words, "comfort room". Glass-topped sinks serve as tables, diners eat from toilet bowl shaped platters, urinal sconces light up the room, knick knacks of and about toilets are displayed prominently, and the open toilet is next to your toilet seat.

Bon appetit!

For more info http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8417691/

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Head Turning Sculptures



The sculptures of Igor Mitoraj were no less breathtaking than the backdrop, the snow capped mountains surrounding the city of Granada. What a lucky break to have seen the exhition of selected ouevres by Mitoraj, a sculptor of Polish descent, schooled in Krakow and Paris and now divides his time between Italy and France. His works, not surprisingly as you can see from these images, turned a lot of heads.

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Images by Rosario Charie Albar

Monday, August 14, 2006

Ah, Yosemite

When I first laid eyes on Half Dome, I had a frog in my throat. I thought of the artist whose hand sculpted it, painted the landscape with towering trees, sketched waterfalls and streams where his pets could quench their thirst and drew expansive meadows where they could frolic under big, blue skies. Ah, but there’s more to feast your eyes on in this great museum of nature but you’ll have to go and pick the artwork you like best.

www.nps.gov/yose

Images by Rosario Charie Albar

Friday, August 11, 2006

Images of Portugal


For far too long Portugal has taken a backseat to its neighbors. This has proved to be a windfall for the visitor who happens by. There is so much to explore in the land from whence great explorers set forth on their voyages to the then unknown world. Now travelers are discovering the quiet simplicity and unspoiled charm of this unassuming country which has as much, if not more, to offer the discerning traveler.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Venice is a Visual Feast


To write about Venice is to tell only half the story. For Venice is a sensory feast. It is not easy to convey in words all that it offers. Rather it must be experienced. How do I explain what I felt on seeing it for the first time?

I heard the bora fiercely making its way across the islands drowning the alto voce of the gondolier. I hungrily followed the scent of freshly baked pastries in the early morning hours when the locals were still dreaming in bed. And I got hopelessly lost in the labyrinthine alleys only to find myself in a quiet piazza only a stone's throw from the hordes of visitors in Piazza San Marco.

Venice seeps through the bones leaving an indelible impression.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Foreign and Irresistible


Michaelangelo's David is quite a man! Thank goodness he's in a museum. There are enough hunks out there to add spice to travel. My friend Vero fell for the tour guide she met on a Nile cruise. The best part is that he liked her too. But there's more. He is at least 15 years younger! Sweeeeet!

My favorite romantic writer, Marlena de Blasi, met her husband while traveling in Venice. I love her story about their first meeting (he called her from a phone in the restaurant where she and her friends were eating), his trip to the U.S. to see her, how she gave up her successful career and moved to Venice, Italy and spent "A Thousand Days in Venice" followed by "A Thousand Days in Tuscany".

A solo woman traveler I met on a bus tour of Europe several years back was having an affair with the bus driver. She couldn't understand why he chose her among the other ladies in our tour group. But she was glad he did. She was having the best time discovering Europe with a European. How local can you get?

Recently a friend of a friend called me to apologize for not getting in touch with me while visiting in San Francisco. But she had a great excuse. She met a man in the short week she was in the City. They spent that time on his boat. She will be back soon to join him in Hawaii where he lives part of the time.

I have no such luck. While cruising in Southwestern Alaska, I had to run and hide from a widower who was drinking heavily. Ugh. Guess who found a seat right next to me on our way back to the airport?

As a young college student traveling alone, I did have a really flattering experience being followed by three young Italians while walking around Rome. Then in Michaelangelo's old turf, a cute Florentine invited me for gelato. But that was once upon a time.

Putting things in perspective, solo women travelers often have to fend off unwanted and sometimes threatening advances. We can never really let our guard down. But at the same time, we can't let this spoil our trip. We have a balancing act to master.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Court of the Lions

The real beauty of the Court of the Lions lies in the harmonious co-existence of three religious architectural influences. At the center of the courtyard is a fountain with 12 lions, representing the twelve tribes of Judah. Exquisite columns form a cloister surrounding the courtyard, a typical feature in cathedrals and monasteries throughout Europe. Geometric patterns in the traditional Mudejar style decorate the rooms. Much of the bright, rich colors of the tiles have survived to this day.

Looking across the courtyard, I can understand the lagrimas of Boabdil, the last Sultan, who was exiled to Africa after the Spaniards reconquered Granada. How often had he gazed at this courtyard and appreciated the symmetry of the columns, inhaled the sweet scent of oranges that are a staple in these parts, was lulled to sleep by the tinkling of water from the fountain and awoke reinvigorated in the coolness of his opulent surroundings. Asi es la vida.

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Image by Rosario Charie Albar

Friday, July 07, 2006

Stumbling upon my Roots


I was idly browsing in the souvenir section of Madrid's El Corte Ingles when I stumbled upon my roots. There amongst tacky mementos and beautiful damascene jewelry, I found the coat of arms of my grandmother's family. According to the brief history written on the wooden plaque, the Barrios family came from Guipúzcoa in the Basque region of Spain. In succeeding years they branched out to the province of Burgos and established a new ancestral seat.

The Barrios clan belonged to an old and noble dynasty. When the King of Spain set out to reconquer Granada from the Moors in the late 15th century, the Barrios gentlemen accompanied him. This bit of history came as a surprise to me because I was on my way to Granada to see the legendary Alhambra. My journey was transformed.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Royal Palace

By Rosario Charie Albar

There I was, only on my second day in Madrid and shopping already. I had a good excuse though. I needed to buy some pantyhose because I had brought only 2 pairs for a 10-day trip. And it was freezing cold. On approach to Madrid’s Barajas airport, I could see the countryside blanketed in white. Local television reported on various accidents caused by foul weather. They also showed weekend vacationers who were stuck for hours on their way to ski resorts because the roads were closed from heavy snowfall.

The salesgirl at El Corte Ingles was very helpful. I told her I needed the thickest pantyhose they sold and she showed me two different kinds made by a famous French designer. On examining them, the 11-euro pantyhose was much thicker than the 8-euro one so I decided to buy the former. I wanted to kick myself for forgetting to buy nylons at home where it is far cheaper. The salesgirl congratulated me for choosing a really good pair and what’s more, she added, it was also very sexy with an embroidered bikini that had the appearance of lace. I told her I didn’t really need sexy pantyhose, only a warm one and if she could find me that, it would save me some money. She assured me that what I got was the thickest and warmest pantyhose they sold and the embroidered bikini came with it. Humph! I should be so lucky that my skirt would be blown away by heavy winds and reveal the elegant and sexy black nylons I’m wearing in front of Don Juan himself.

I saved my new pantyhose until I got to Granada because I saw in the news how cold it was there and I wanted to keep warm when walking around the Alhambra which is situated on a hillside above the city.

In order to see as much of the former palace of the Moors and to learn its history, I decided to join a tour which lasts about 3 hours. There were at least 30 people in my group and we viewed the beautiful rooms decorated in the Mudejar style, the courtyards with its whispering fountains and pruned orange trees, the crenellated walls and towers and the bedrooms of the Sultan, the Sultana who bore him his first son and the cubicles of his other wives. Halfway through the visit, the guide gave us a 15 minute break before walking to the Generalife, the summer palace and gardens of the sultan which is located uphill from the Alhambra. This is when my problems began.

Wearing layers of clothes is alien to me blessed as I am to live in mild California climate. On the day of the tour through the Alhambra and its grounds, I deliberately didn’t wear a half slip because on the previous day in Madrid, my slip fell to my knees and I had to hide behind some buildings in the Plaza Villa Real so I could snatch it before it dropped to the ground. It was difficult because my skirt was so tight so I couldn’t grab it from my waist, but after painstakingly pulling it from the side under cover of my long, bright purple coat, I was able to guide it back in place. There was a couple chatting there and a guard was watching me from the entrance to the Science Institute but I didn’t care because I had no choice. I suspected that a nylon slip worn over nylons made for a slippery pair. And as I had been walking since lunch, it had slowly slid down my thighs.

After that precaution, I was alarmed when I felt my new 11-euro pantyhose had escaped my waist and hips and was now loosely hugging my thighs. I decided to walk behind the pack so no one would see me and started pulling my hose up, first from the right side and then from the left. But with each stride, it would fall again and I was back where I started. I kept repeating the process until I finally managed to raise my hose to my hips when a couple sidled up to me and started chatting. I don’t know if they had seen what I was up to and took pity on me but they were nice and I enjoyed our conversation. For the moment my troubles took a back seat as we toured the gardens. But I discreetly pulled my hose whenever the group was engrossed in the lecture and when they were busy taking pictures while hugging the legendary tree of romance. I was too shy to hug the tree but I gingerly touched it and wished for my hose to stay in place long enough for a special someone to appreciate it.

When the guide finally released us, I walked as fast as I could to the aseos, all the while clutching my hose from behind my wool coat. The restrooms were quite a distance from the Generalife but I made it without a hitch. Once there, I yanked my hose firmly into place. After taking a few more pictures of the grounds, I boarded a public bus back to my hotel, relieved to finally take off my sexy but flawed pantyhose. I never wore it again during the rest of the trip. I didn’t really want to give today’s Don Juan the chance to smirk when, standing on top of a blower, my skirt would fan out, a la Monroe, exposing my pantyhose dangling inelegantly from my thighs. Que horror!

Friday, May 26, 2006

What's for breakfast?

Sure, I took a long walk on the beach this morning but breakfast at my cousin’s house was too good to resist. Think of crabs, alimasag (baby crab), prawns, fish relleno, bangus, exotic fruits like mango, pineapple with its prickly skin, sineguelas, and “short” bananas. And for dessert, banana leaf-wrapped sweet rice (ibus). How can I turn my back on this tantalizing spread? And the lap lap of the sea, only steps away, provided a relaxing tune to help my appetite along. Never mind that I will have to walk longer and farther tomorrow to make up for all the goodies I ate (without guilt) today.

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Image by Rosario Charie Albar

Thursday, May 18, 2006

New Paintings in My Private Museum

It sounds very rich to say,"My Private Museum". I wish I have one. But I'm not wishful thinking. Instead, I'm adding new paintings to my current collection of artworks. From Roxas City I brought home two oil paintings. Unang Apo is by Lino Villaruz and Cooking Woman is by A. Villanueva who is a former student of Lino's and is now a teacher of art himself. Cooking Woman is a very good copy of a painting done by the famous Fernando Amorsolo.

Villaruz's style borders on abstract with elements of pointillism. Notice the dots that shower his canvas. It reminds me of Seurat's paintings. I've seen Lino's other works including one in the style of Picasso's Portrait of Dora Marr.



"Ang Unang Apo" (First Grandchild)
by Lino Villaruz
Oil on canvas
18 x 24





Cooking Woman touches me because it is a poignant reminder of home. The water jar in the background is the same kind we had in our house. We played with clay pots as children and made "inedible" rice. The firewood reminds me of our "dirty" kitchen at the back of the house. In the foreground of the painting there is an almerez, where you pound garlic, peanuts, and other things your grandmother wants you to refine. The best almerez were from Romblon and made of local marble. And the plate with fish reminds me that we ate fish, prawns, shrimps, or crab everyday in the "seafood" capital of the Philippines. I am blessed with many beautiful memories of life in our little island.



"Cooking Woman"
by A. Villanueva
Oil on canvas
18 x 24

Friday, May 12, 2006

Hello BayBay Beach

Images by Rosario Charie Albar



Love this cocoon





Let sleeping dogs lie




Beached jellyfish





Dilis from jellyfish




Seashells on the seashore




Hey, those are my coconuts!





Money laundering






Good Friday at the beach






At the end of the day

Monday, May 08, 2006

Life is a Beach

My recent trip to Capiz was hardly a vacation. We were there visiting with an ailing relative who raised me as a child. How opportune that we found an inn across from Baybay beach. It gave us the chance to enjoy a quiet walk at sunrise, get our feet wet and observe how the locals greet a brand new day.

I especially enjoyed watching the children frolic in the water. And how their parents indulged them. One day I saw a baby half buried in sand. And when his mother scooped him from the sand and into her arms, he bawled and my heart went out to him.

We discovered many things along the shore everyday. There were an incredible number of seashells, hundreds of beached jellyfish, stray dogs sleeping peacefully in the sand, PE classes in the water, fishermen pushing their outrigger to sea, fish drying in the sun, tacky beachside cottages and restaurants, seafood entrepreneurs as young as 6 years old raking for clams and fingerlings and a coconut raider who was generous enough to give us some coconuts.

The sun rises fast in this part of the world and the temperature along with it. Breakfast consisted of fresh coconut juice, fruits usually mango and chico and rice cakes from vendors coming to our doorstep. For P20.00, I was well fed.

I can still hear the sweet Visayan tone of voice of hotel staff greeting us "Good Morning!" with the accent on "mor".

It was therapeutic to live at the beach. What a lucky break!

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Images by Rosario Charie Albar

Monday, April 03, 2006

Madrid Free and Easy

A T-shirt on display in a shop window in the center of Madrid proclaimed, “Life is Good”. Thinking about my recent visit to this city after nine long years of absence, I agree de todo corazon.

I arrived on Saturday morning and wasted no time in reacquainting myself with Madrid. It felt good to walk around town and find my way by getting lost along its many narrow streets. From Puerta del Sol, Madrid’s main draws such as Plaza Mayor, Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales and the Royal Palace are within walking distance.

To see Madrid’s many attractions involves little or no expense on the part of the visitor. Here are some free and easy ways to savor Madrid:

1. The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is one of my favorite museums in Madrid. This is the home of Guernica, a powerful and evocative masterpiece by Pablo Picasso. It is immense. Painted in black and white, it is an abstract representation of the destruction wrought by the bombing of Guernica, a small town in the Basque region during the Spanish Civil War. Picasso portrays the death and suffering of civilians, 1600 of whom were killed and wounded. This painting was not displayed in Spain until 1981 long after the death General Francisco Franco. Elsewhere in the museum are works by Spain’s own modern masters, Salvador Dali, Joan Miro and Juan Gris as well as international modern artists. The museum is free on Saturdays after 2:30 p.m. and all day Sundays.

2. The drawing room of Madrid is Plaza Mayor. Though this used to be where heretics were burned, today it is full of life. An equestrian statue of Philip III rides in the center of the square surrounded by inviting outdoor cafés. This is one of the best places to relax, people watch and admire the frescoes that decorate some of the 17th century buildings that surround the plaza. The Museo de Jamon on the square sells bocadillos (sandwiches) for less than 1 euro.

3. The Prado is unquestionably one of the best art museums in the world. As court painter, Diego Velasquez distinguished himself with his portraits of the royal family and ordinary people such as those he portrayed in Los Borachos. His Las Meninas is an absorbing study of the young princess and her entourage. It also hints the presence of the King and Queen whose images are reflected on the mirror in the background. And finally, it is a suggestive self portrait of the artist who has obviously “arrived”. Another Spanish master, Francisco Goya, renders a moving scene of an execution in “2nd of May 1808”. The victim raises his hands in surrender and faces his executioners with eyes full of fear. This is a far cry from the “Naked Maja” who reclines in nude glory for all the world to see. The Prado is free all day Sundays.

4. Madrid, unlike Paris or London, has no famous cathedral. It does have the Real Basilica of St. Francis which has an enormous dome that is larger than the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. For 2.40 euros, a guide takes visitors to the sacristy with its carved, wooden choir stalls (some are faux) and the pinacoteca with an original by Francisco Zurbaran. The side altars are dramatically decorated, some in rare tiles, another in the Mudejar style and each one is crowned with its own dome. In one of the chapels, Goya stares back at the onlooker from a mural.

5. The squares of Madrid are alive with fountains, equestrian statues of kings long gone, and outdoor cafés. At Plaza España, Don Quixote of La Mancha and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza look ready to “run where the brave dare not go”. The cafés at Plaza Oriente have unbeatable views of the formal French garden and the Royal Palace. It’s always delightful to see the Cibeles Fountains on Plaza del Cibeles. The drone of traffic is muffled by the sound of water as Cibeles, the Greek goddess of fertility, rides her chariot with the help of two mythical lions.

6. While there are many interesting things to see in the Royal Palace, it cost 9 euros to get in. If this is an obstacle, head over to the Cathedral of the Almudena which is across from the palace and check out the golden retablo before which Spain’s royalty prayed for divine intervention. Entrance is free.

7. The Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando is in the former 17th century Baroque palace of Juan de Goyenche. This museum showcases Spanish painters. The collection includes two self portraits by Goya, his life size canvas of La Tirana, Maria Rosario Fernandez and small paintings depicting the Inquisition, the Casa de Locos and a bullfight. There are also works by El Greco, Zurbaran and Murillo. It is free to the public on Wednesdays.

8. Join the crowds for coffee and pastry break at La Mallorquina on Puerta del Sol. For one euro, you can order from an array of tempting pastries like hojaldre or neapolitana. There are neither tables nor chairs here. This is a stand up joint. You can pile your plates of sweets on counters that take half the space of this popular pastelería.

9. For views of the red rooftops of Madrid to the suburbs beyond, head over to the 8th floor of El Corte Ingles on Plaza Callao. Arrive before 1 p.m. and beat the lunch crowd. The restaurant serves three course fixed priced menus starting at 10.95 euros but you can always order a simple coffee or beverage and sit for as long as you wish.

10. More time on your hands? Retiro Park is just behind the Prado museum. Or if it’s Sunday, check out El Rastro market for the incredible selection of “stuff” on sale. Also on Sunday, head over to the church of the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales and listen to the nuns in residence sing during mass at noon. They can only be heard, not seen. This church is part of the convent established by a member of the royal family in the mid 16th century. Notice the balconies from whence royal guests used to observe mass.

When in Madrid, do as the Madrileños do. Rest during siesta hours from 2 to 4 p.m. and stay out all night. The whole town comes to life when night descends upon the city. This is when the paseo begins. Vamos a Madrid!

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How to get there: Delta Airlines flies non stop to Madrid from Atlanta with connecting flights to major U.S. cities.

Where to stay: The Premier Hotel Santo Domingo is centrally located. It is about a five- minute walk to Puerta del Sol and the Gran Via. Plaza Santo Domingo, 13.
Phone: 34 91 547 98 00, Fax: 34 91 547 59 95, http://www.hotelsantodomingo.com/

Where to eat: Tres Encinas on Calle Preciados serves seafood ($$$). Museo de Jamon offers three course meals from 7 euros as well as ham soup, ham sandwiches, ham tortillas (omelettes) etc. They have branches all over the city including Plaza Mayor, near the Prado museum and off of Puerta del Sol ( $ ). The restaurant at El Corte Ingles (a department store) on Plaza Callao has a good selection of fish, pasta or steak dishes ($). I especially enjoyed the fish entrée, Emperador a la plancha, served with potatoes and crusty bread. La Mallorquina for coffee and pastry is on Puerta del Sol.

Images by Rosario Charie Albar