Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Travels with Martina Day 3 - Ile de la Cite, Notre Dame and Ile Saint Louis

On our first full day in Paris, we were still jet lagged and somewhat bleary eyed from our 24 hour journey.  But still, we managed to drag ourselves out of the apartment to visit a few sites to give Martina her first real glimpse of our favourite city in the whole wide world. 

You run into such interesting finds around the neighborhood  -- Papier Tigre is a stationary shop in the Marais with such cool and distinctive items, all of them drool-worthy for stationary addicts (thank goodness I'm not one of them).   Sadly, no photos inside please  but anyone can pose beside the giant pencil outside. 

Paris' Metro system is efficient and affordable (one fixed fare to go all around the city).  The apartment was just a few hundred meters from the Filles du Calvaire station on line 8.

Jay's favourite metro station happens to be Cite which is right in front of the marche aux fleurs (also one of his must see, must go to spots).  This flower marker dates all the way back to 1830
There are open air displays and covered arcades selling potted plants, flowers, gardening supplies, small antiques and all sorts of curiosities.  

Photos at the marche are no longer allowed -- there are big NO PHOTOS signs all over the place.  Most likely due to the crowds of non-customers, all taking selfies and perhaps knocking down some merchandise in the process. 
So that you can see how charming and quaint the marche is, here is an old photo taken some winters ago, on one of our Christmas holidays in Paris.  There are a number of these covered iron pavilions, built during the early 1900s. Crowded with all kinds of vintage and irresistible knick knacks -- we could never leave here empty handed. 

The only photo I could take was of this stone statue -- is it a bench, a planter?  It was adorable and one of a kind but definitely too heavy to bring home.

Aside from the marche aux fleurs,  the Cite Metro stop takes you right out to Place Louis Lepine, named after a former prefect of the Paris Police.  The Police headquarters used to be in a building
by the Seine, very near here but they moved out two years ago.  Across the square is the Palais de Justice  and beside it is  the amazing 14th century royal chapel of St. Chappelle.  

From the Place Louis Lepine, it is just a hop and a skip to Notre Dame.  Miraculously surviving the horrific fire in April, it was amazing to see that from certain angles (and with wishful thinking)   you could actually imagine that the fire never happened. 
Here's Martina holding a mini figure of the cathedral.  Before we left, we had bought her a book that came with figures of the different landmarks of Paris -- we tried to visit as much of them as we could.

When you cross the bridge and look beyond the trees -- you will see the fire's extensive damage. 
It is a truly a miracle that the Cathedral is still standing.  The entire roof is gone. 
Seeing Notre Dame was a reaffirmation of faith ... she has stood for more than 850 years and I know she will be restored. 

We took the steps down to Quai de Montebello to walk by the Seine
In the background is the Pont au Double, a cast iron bridge dating back to the 1800s. 
It used to be a connecting bridge between two parts of the Hotel Dieu, which is located beside 
Notre Dame.  The Hotel Dieu is one of the oldest hospitals in Europe and  is still used to this day.
The bridge gets its name from the two silver coins that were levied as toll for those who crossed the bridge,  hence the name Pont Au Double
No toll is exacted these days but the bridge is closed due to the reconstruction work at the Cathedral. 

Behind the Notre Dame is the Pont de l' Archeveche, a  bridge that links Ile de la Cite with the 5th arrondissement. A few years back it was most famous for the sheer number of  "love locks" tied to its metal railings.  At some point in time,  part of the bridge's rails collapsed due to the weight of all the metal locks. 
Good-bye locks and good bye pledges of eternal love!  Now, glass panels cover the railings -- no one can attach love locks anymore.  Is romance dead in the City of Love and Romance?

At the end of the bridge, a small memorial to all the locks (and love) lost has been set up.  Note though that this portion is fenced off, to prevent any lovestruck couples from attaching any more locks. 

Paris was in the middle of the canicule or heat wave -- what better reward after traipsing under the hot sun than a pit stop at the city's best glacier ... Berthillon!  You can't miss it, it's right end of
Pont Saint Louis, the pedestrian-only bridge that connects the Ile de la Cite with
Ile Saint Louis.

Berthillon's creme glacee is sure to bring a smile to anyone's face.  They may not have 31 flavours but what they do have is some of the best ice cream in Paris

From Ile Saint Louis it is 2 kilometres more or less to the Marais and back to the apartment. 
We crossed the Pont Louis Philippe which gave us a good view of the Pont Marie, one of three bridges that connects the island to the rive droit or right bank. 
Blue skies, the Seine flowing calmly beneath ... c'est parfait!  Paris ... you never disappoint.

Traveling with Kids Tip #3

A long flight through different time zones is bound to hit anyone with jet lag.  Take it slow on the 
first full day in a new place.  While you may want to cram as many sights and sites as you can in the short time that you're on vacation, kids need to acclimatise too.  A short but productive excursion 
of a few hours followed by an early bedtime will help them recover and adapt quicker. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Travels with Martina Day 2 - Apartment-ing in the Marais

After a 4 hour breather in Schiphol (where we stretched our legs and exercised our stomach muscles) we were soon on a plane again, this time headed for our real destination -- Paris.  

Martina surprised me -- this was her first long haul flight and what a looonnngg haul it was.  Two hours to Taipei then twelve and a half hours to Amsterdam.  While she did get a good night's sleep on KLM's comfortable lie-flat beds, she had been travelling for almost 24 hours when we finally boarded our flight to Charles de Gaulle airport.

"Where is the Eiffel Tower, lola?  I thought Paris was a city, why are there farms?"  I had to explain that the airport was somewhat out of the city and the view from her window was not yet Paris.

"Paris Vous Aime" -- Paris loves you.  Yes she really does! And we love her right back. 

We had contracted  a van  for our airport transfers.  Our apartment, home for two weeks  was strategically and conveniently located along a main street in  the upper Marais area. 

Located on the 3rd floor of one of the many old buildings you'll see all over Paris, the apartment has two large windows which let the breezes in.  Perfect for this summer when Paris was in the middle of a record shattering heat wave.  The apartment had no air conditioning --  having one would deface the facade, something that apparently the government has a say on.  Old structures are protected and owners are not allowed to add anything that will affect the building's look, they can only improve the interiors. 

And so we opened the curtains and looked out onto more residential buildings across the way --
all of them seemingly without the advantages of air-conditioning too.  

While the apartment was relatively small -- 34 square meters all in all, it did come with a complete and compact kitchen.  A four burner induction range, microwave, coffee maker, refrigerator ... there was even an automatic washer and dryer.   We would make good use of this kitchen and the laundry facilities during our 14 night stay in this apartment.

The apartment was small and the building was definitely old but the bathroom was spotless and clean -- a big plus in my book.

Sleep quality was good too - we didn't miss the air conditioning as we opened the windows wide at night -- and would have to close them during the cooler early dawn hours. 

Here's Martina standing in front our building.  Her first impression was of the ubiquitous graffiti --
" why is Paris so dirty, lola? "  But then she said in the same breath "but it's so beautiful too!"  

Traveling with Kids Tip #2

Get the child adjusted and comfortable in the new environment as soon as possible.   Whether you're staying in a hotel or a rental apartment, take her on a tour of the place, explain what to do, what not to do, how things work and just how much like home it is (or isn't).  If there's time, take a quick walk around the neighbourhood to show the child that this is a friendly and hospitable place. 

Travels with Martina Day 1 - A long day's journey into night and day again with KLM

It started off as our 40th wedding anniversary gift to ourselves.  We would commemorate the milestone by travelling to favourite places and making new memories.  What could be better than that?  Well, we could bring along our one and only grandchild -- Martina, at 8 was  at that age where she would remember the places she'd see and the things she would do.  And at 8 she would still be willing (and unembarrassed) to hang out with her grandparents.

We planned this for a number of months and everything just fell into place.  There were no hiccups with visas, affidavits, DSWD permits (necessary for children below 12 travelling without their parents) -- the Universe certainly wanted Martina to have this one big adventure.  Before we knew it, we were in the lounge at NAIA 3 waiting for our flight. 

We have always flown to Europe on one airline only -- flying blue on KLM.    But it had been quite a few years since we last flew to Europe so we were all excited to see how the newer planes were fitted out.  KLM has just one daily flight out of Manila and it leaves at 8 p.m. -- past Martina's usual bedtime but the excitement kept her up and energised.

The spacious business class seats would certainly make the long haul flight much more comfortable. 

Martina had a list of shows she wanted to see -- I was almost worried that she would be glued to the video all the way to Amsterdam!  Please note that the glass of champagne was mine.  
Just a little bubbly to celebrate the start of our big vacation!

Because the plane leaves Manila at dinner time, a light supper is served.  But don't eat too much because they'll feed you again in a few hours. 

There is an hour's brief stop in Taipei -- at past 10 pm some stores were still open, catering to those taking late night flights.  

The lie-flat beds of KLM made for a restful night.  Martina had at least 8 hours of  uninterrupted sleep.

The crew woke us up about an hour before landing.  Breakfast was served --  you can't go wrong with croissant and scrambled eggs.  

Our first glimpse of Amsterdam!  Land, ho!

Thank you KLM for a safe and pleasant ride!  

We had a few hours to wait until our flight to Paris -- Schiphol Airport was busy and bustling even 
at 7 a.m!

We cooled our heels in comfort,  with free flowing drinks and food at the Crown Lounge.  Second and third breakfasts, anyone?

As we got ready to board our plane for Paris,  I saw this timely and apt message.
Yes, hopefully we would be able to make this an inspired and truly unforgettable trip!

Traveling with Kids Tip #1

Long plane rides are a bane to families traveling with children.  Babies, toddlers, pre schoolers and even in-betweeners can be restless and irritable.  To prepare our 8 year old for the 23 hour (total traveling time) journey ahead, we made sure to inform her weeks ahead, dividing the chunks of time into understandable segments e.g. dinner, free time, bedtime, etc. She also brought along a book of puzzles, her favorite toy and of course KLM's in-flight entertainment helped pass the time. 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The (Two) Happy Folks' Home

Why do we choose to live where we live?  There are reams of  articles answering that question -- writers talk of cities or towns where they live, where the air is cleaner, where the quality of life is a few notches above where they used to live. 

Which brings me to the question -- what quality of life am I after?  Perhaps this is what I should answer seeing that I have consciously chosen to start a new life in the middle of a  couple of thousand square meters of uncleared land -- more than 3 hours away from where I currently live. 

A few years ago,  Jay and I made plans on leaving the city behind --  the congestion, the clutter, the complexities were no longer necessary nor worth it.  As you grow older, you look for the simpler, more minimalistic  life.  Our house had also become so full of "stuff" -- the things we had accumulated  through 40 years of marriage. Marie Kondo, help!  

Perhaps we took the easier way out.   Instead of looking at what we "had"  and wondering if they still "sparked joy" (traffic and noise ... definitely not) before throwing them all out --  we decided to build a new house.  Smaller, more compact --  we resolved to start fresh and keep it as spare and clear of all clutter as we could.  
This is the quality of life that we now both aspire to.  
It took almost two years of building but this month -- our clean, small house was finally finished and is now waiting for us to slowly move in.

The house has a  fairly spacious kitchen and I realized that the shelves can be transformed into a mini culinary library for my food related books.  

Early on, we said that this would be a house just for the two of us. We have never done much entertaining in our lives so the small space between the main door and the sliding glass doors that lead out to the tree filled backyard cannot be called a real "living room" area for when "company" calls. 
There is no couch, no visitors' chairs (how anti-social of us!) just two antique narra rocking chairs (that used to belong to a childhood friend's family). Perfect for relaxing and even napping on lazy afternoons.

We had specified to our architect and to our contractor that we wanted an  industrial type of design for the house  -- the ceiling is exposed, the walls and floors are all made of concrete with just a few wooden touches. Everything is simple and spare. 
To add some flair,  we looked for and found a pre-owned crystal chandelier -- in the curvy and very feminine "Maria Theresia" style.  Named after the 18th century Empress of Austria, this chandelier gave a much needed soft touch to our otherwise "warehouse"type interiors. 

The house has a den cum guest bedroom.  Our interior designer fashioned a day bed out of a pair of antique hardwood headboards gifted to us by a friend.  This house fulfills the requirements of a wedding -- something old, something new, something borrowed -- now I'll have to find something blue!

I dread the time when I have to transfer my hoard of books -- Jay believes I have too many and in my heart of hearts, I know he is right.  Perhaps that is why he had so few bookshelves set up in the den.  

The single biggest room in the house is our bedroom.  It's also the only room where I requested for and got a wooden floor.   The floor is made of wide planks of vintage wood, sourced from old homes.   Our interior designer had the bed custom made -- if you look a little longer you may notice the headboard looks somewhat like a stylized torii.  I hope I can invite good and benevolent kami in this house.

The land needs to be cleared and cleaned up.  I love that there are so many trees and foliage but I know they need to be trimmed.  There is a cliff at the edge of the property that looks over the mountains across where there are more trees (for now at least).  It is a lovely spot for a future meditation and prayer corner.
Our new  house is a work in progress but its bones and foundations are excellent. 
I know we will have an amazing time here -- in our (two)  Happy Folks' Home!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

An Art Deco Tour of Malolos Bulacan

What do I know about art deco ...  maybe next to nothing? But that didn't stop me from joining a day tour to Malolos during Ivan Man Dy's recently concluded Philippine Art Deco Weekend.  

Ivan has a passion for art deco and he  promotes this by conducting tours of noteworthy examples of this art and architecture genre.  His 3-day art deco series of tours took participants all over Metro Manila and on the last day, the destination was Malolos, Bulacan.
Even if I knew zip about art deco, I decided to sign up since Ivan always conducts such informative and entertaining tours. Our first stop was right in the center of Malolos -- our target was that white heritage home that you see in the background -- the Don Antonio S. Bautista mansion.

The house is beautifully maintained.  Ivan mentioned that the house was notable more for its  art nouveau orientation and was a good example for us to understand the differences between art nouveau and art deco.  Do you see the graceful and elegant carvings on top of the main entrance to the sala?
Built in the early 1800s,  the house was inherited by Don Antonio S Bautista, an aide de camp of General Emilio AguinaldoDon Antonio would later renovate the house in the early 1920s,
a time when art nouveau was flourishing worldwide. 

Here are photos of Don Antonio in his revolutionary uniform and a blurred photo that included General Aguinaldo.  These were prominently displayed in the living room.

Don Antonio had excellent taste.   Notice the furniture  done in a rather muted art nouveau style.
The florals and flourishes of art nouveau eventually led to the  spare, "industrial" lines of art deco.

I peeked into one of the open rooms and had larcenous thoughts about this aparador.
The lady of the house, a descendant of Antonio Bautista, mentioned that most of the furniture
came from the workshop of Isabelo Tampinco, a Filipino master sculptors who was a contemporary of Luna and Hidalgo Tampinco created so many masterpieces from statues to furniture to church doors.  

A high point for me was seeing this beautiful window treatment between the sala and the comedor.  This was featured as the cover of the coffee table book Filipino Style, a book  that I have in my library.  You can also see the book displayed on the small coffee table in front. 

While Malolos is a big city, the grand old houses are mostly within a 2-kilometre radius making 
for an easy walk if not for the tricycles that whiz haphazardly along the narrow streets.  
Our next stop was this  post war house belonging to the family of  Dr Nic Tiongson, author, playwright and one of Malolos' esteemed sons.  

The house still belongs to the Tiongsons but is currently leased and managed by Maloleño
Leo Cloma, a high powered senior financial executive with a more than keen interest in Filipiniana art,  antiques and of course, art deco.  Leo houses part of his extensive collection in this house. 
He was a most valuable resource person for most of this tour. 

These are very solid looking chairs made of narra and solihiya (woven rattan) -- its rounded and  sleek lines identify its art deco orientation.  This kind of sala set, common during the 40s and 50s 
is called "Ambassador" perhaps because it would not look out of place in a diplomat's residence.
You can see some of the "santos" (religious statues) in the background but the bulk of the collection is on the second floor. 

Almost all of the antique santos in the house come from the talyer (workshop) of Francisco VecinMr. Vecin runs one of the premier ateliers that creates religious statues.  You can find their work in churches and in private homes all over the world.  
The collection of statues belongs to Mr. Vecin and together with Leo's own pieces, they make up this private museum called Museum of the Incarnation or Museo ng Pagkakatawang-tao.
Unfortunately, this is a private museum.  You cannot walk in, you need an invitation to view this extraordinary collection. 

Mr. Vecin's statues are very well made and the expressions, the garments and the attention to detail is just exquisite. Leo explained that all of the pieces in this museum are "retired" processional 
santos -- they all used to grace carrozzas in Lenten processions not just here in Malolos but in other towns around the country as well.

This was one of my favourites -- while most statues of Judas are stereotypically malevolent,  this one had a more human and conflicted expression. 

If you grew up attending the Good Friday prusisyon (as I did, in Orani, Bataan) you can probably guess who these saints are -- left to right,  Martha, Maria Salome ... who was the third lady?  She was not holding anything so I could not tell if she had lost her broom (in which case she would be Maria Cleofas) or was she supposed to have been holding a piece of perfumed cloth (that would then identify her as Mary Magdalene).  I was sure though that the statue on the right most was Veronica, with Christ's face imprinted on the piece of cloth. 

We had an amazing time at the  incomparable Museum of the Incarnation  -- with a tour conducted by no less than the owner and curator himself  - maraming salamat Leo!

A few hundred meters away from the museum was the well known  house of Dr.  Luis Santos in Malolos.   Ivan called it the best example of an art deco residence in the Philippines.   

Built in 1933, as art deco was coming into its full glory, the Santos mansion stands on a spacious, tree shaded lot in a quiet residential area.  You can see the structural art deco lines on
the facade.
There are two doors -- as the house also functioned as Dr Santos' clinic, one door was for patients and led to his office while the other door was for family and guests.

As with any grand old house, there is an impressive wooden staircase.  Ornately carved balusters feature touches of the graphic lines of  art deco and the flourishes of art nouveau.  

There was no question about where to take a group photo -- right underneath this mural on the
ceiling.  This was painted by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo who was a patient of Dr. Luis Santos.    It is the piece de resistance of the remarkable Santos Mansion. 

Amorsolo is not the only important Filipino artist whose work you will find here.
In the front yard,  is a fountain that was done by Guillermo Tolentino, National Artist for Sculpture.  Two wistful nymphs pose beside a pillar decorated with what seems to be lotus flowers.

From the Santos Mansion, we passed by this empty but still alluring old house.  Would you be interested in restoring it?  This house, which dates all the way back to 1904 is on the market for a not unreasonable price although I can imagine what a fixer-upper it might be.

Next stop was an old rice granary inside the compound of another old house.  Leo had transformed the granary into a mini showroom for more of his collection of santos.
This tableau of the Last Supper is brought out for the impressive Good Friday prusisyon of Malolos -- a  glorious spectacle that Leo generously invited all of us to.   All of the statues come from the Vecin talyer and are quite a sight to behold.

The entire first floor of this traditional bahay na bato is the "garage" for just a few of Leo's carrozzas -- all of these participate in Malolos' Holy Week prusisyon.  The big electric fan on the ceiling keeps everyone cool as they decorate the carrozzas with bright lights and masses of flowers for their one big turn out of the year.

This little angel has lost his trumpet but I distinctly heard the call for lunch. Vamos a comer!

We trooped up to the second floor where a carefully chosen lunch of Maloleño specialties awaited us.

I was most intrigued by the okoy or vegetable fritter.  The caterer said that this was how okoy was cooked in Malolos  -- the matchstick sized strips of kalabasa and carrots has a base made of
glutinous rice or malagkit which keeps all the ingredients together.  The malagkit added a chewy texture to the crunch of the vegetables and the crisp- fried shrimp.  

In the interest of transparency, I admit that I overindulged at the dessert station.  I cannot resist any native kakanin and these were delightful.  On the right are bite sized squares of biko and on the left
is a bowl of plain bilo-bilo or glutinous rice balls.  You spoon the light coconut sauce over the bilo bilo for a scrumptious, cannot-stop-eating-it treat. 
These  traditional kakanin are still made and served during festive occasions in Malolos

We took our leave of Leo and walked to our penultimate stop of the tour -- a detour from all things art deco but who can go to Malolos and miss out on visiting Barasoain Church -- the site of the first Philippine Congress of 1898.
This church occupies such a central role in Philippine history that it once graced the back of the ten peso banknote that was legal tender until 2015.

The massive wooden doors are carved with various religious images -- on this door is the image of Our Lady of Mt Carmel who is also the patroness of this church.
While historically it is known as Barasoain Church, for the diocese of Bulacan it is also known as Our Lady of Mt Carmel parish church.

A mid afternoon wedding was underway.   From this photo you can see how clean and well preserved the interiors are, which are done in predominantly cream with gold and silver touches.    A statue of Our Lady of Mt Carmel can also be seen at the centre of the main altar.

As befits its historical significance, a small but excellently curated and inter-active museum has been set up in the old convento building attached to the church.  It is called Ang Museo ng Republika ng 1899.  We were welcomed by the museum curator, Mr. Jose Paguiligan who generously sacrificed his Sunday afternoon to personally conduct our tour.  
Behind him is  the carruaje that President Aguinaldo used whenever  he was in Barasoain.

The museum vividly captures images and stories of the Philippines -- when tumultuous events surrounded the formation of the fledgling republic.
The highlight is a 7-minute light and sound show,  an impressive depiction of the events surrounding the Malolos Congress and the drafting of the Constitution. 
This diorama accompanied by dramatic lighting and sound effects makes history come alive specially for school children who in this digital age are no longer content with paintings and statues but need more visual and acoustic stimulation.

A copy of the Malolos Constitution of 1899 is hung on the wall -- you would think that since we were declaring independence from Spain, we would choose to write our first constitution in our own language ... however we must remember that the authors Felipe Buencamino and Felipe Calderon were members of the ilustrado class for whom Spanish was considered as the lingua franca

The museum has 5 small galleries spread out over the spacious rooms of the church's old convento.  Exhibits trace the end of Spain's colonial rule and the beginning of American colonisation.
As they like to say about that period, the Philippines came "out of the convent and went into the brothel".

After soaking up Philippine history at Barasoain, Ivan had one last art deco trick up his sleeve.
This is the newly refurbished Provincial Capitol building of Bulacan.  Built almost 90 years ago,
this is one of the many government buildings designed by noted architect Juan M. Arellano.
The statue in front of the building is of Heneral Gregorio del Pilar, one of  Bulacan's most famous heroes.

The wooden doors of the Capitol building are adorned with the sleek, geometric lines that are typical of the art deco style.  

A magnificent marble staircase leads the way to the second floor.  The art deco motif is carried over on the stair railings.  An immense mural titled "Ang Kasaysayan ng Bulacan" (The History of Bulacan)  said to be one of the largest in the country, extends to three panels and covers the walls all the way up the staircase.  
It was painted by well known muralist Amadeo Manalad and was finished and unveiled in 1976.

The Bulacan Capitol building was our last stop on this tour -- my crash course in understanding art deco was done for the day.
This  exposure and immersion into the various applications of art deco did not transform me into
an expert but it  definitely raised my understanding of this genre -- it's no longer at below zero level.  
Thank you Ivan, I look forward to further excursions into the aesthetics of art deco