Mission: Vuitton. A Very Specific Summer Shopping Spree in Paris

I didn’t get to spend much time in Paris this time around, just half a day on my way from Madrid to Sable, a false terrorist alarm (a middle eastern looking boy had bounced his toy ball into spaces he hadn’t meant to) keeping me trapped for half an hour at Charles De Gaulle, leaving me with exactly 50 minutes to navigate the whole metro and catch the last high-speed train of the night (was in the station with barely 8 minutes to spare, and in my seat literally 3 minutes before it sped off). I’d never been so happy to catch a train in my life. By dusk I was safe in Sable, ready to de-stress. But that story’s for another post.

is that LV in the distance?

I then got to spend a whole summers’ day in the city on my way back up from Sable to Brussels. What a difference the weather makes! Although I was lugging my trolley all along the Champs and La Defense, I felt tons lighter than I did the last winter, maybe because I was wearing 60% less clothing and there seemed to be 60% less tourists on the streets. I was so glad to be back but so sad that my return visit was so fleeting.

the mothership!

Nostalgia aside, I had a mission to accomplish. My old, dear friend Kathy’s beloved Louis Vuitton handbag had been stolen in the operating room as she was performing a C section just a couple of weeks ago. My trip’s timing was fortuitous. I had now been tasked to acquire for her a replacement LV Damier Papillon straight from the source itself: the LV flagship store along the Champs Elysees.

this photo was taken in the LV store before i knew better

So briefed by my Parisian friends Marie and Anne, and my cousin Jamie (who used to work for LV) as to how to deal with the legendarily snooty LV staff, I breezed into the store’s doors with Kathy’s euros burning a hole in my pocket and dragging my not-quite-as-expensive-as-LV luggage behind me. As Marie had briefed me, the millisecond you walk in somebody (in my case, a big tall swarthy bald guy with a radio plugged into his ear) asks you whether you’re going to buy something. The magic word of course is “yes” and that makes all the difference. The 2nd question that Marie didn’t foresee was that I was also asked (probably due to all the travel gear, airline stickers and all, I was schlepping with me) and I quote: “From where did you fly in from?” A little bit flustered by this not being in the script, I quite honestly but literally replied “From Madrid.” And thanks to that faux pas, that’s when I discovered the fun in luxury shopping.

the last photo I snapped before big bald swarthy guy waved his finger in my lens “no no no photos!”

Moments later, I had been assigned my very own personal LV shopping assistant – Angelo from Madrid! Cute and curly-haired like a cherub, but probably twice as slick, Angelo seemed a teensy bit disappointed that I obviously wasn’t really from FROM Madrid, if maybe not by how I looked, then definitely through my not-very-native Spanish accent. But he seemed legitimately happy to be able to serve someone in Spanish and as we waited for them to bring down the last and only Damier Papilion in stock (lucky girl that Kathy!), a process which took some special authorization from on high before I could get my grubby hands on it (being the last unclaimed Damier Papilion in Paris and all), Angelo kept me amused and refreshed with conversation and Perrier. I’m not one to care much for  expensive handbags but I gotta admit that the way they pamper you, it really helps make you feel a lot better about forking over that much dough for one. Or maybe I just lucked out with Angelo. It was positively surreal though being in Paris and still shopping in Spanish.

ala bryanboy – the moneyshot. yes, it’s real, didn’t just fall out from the back of a truck!

After a quick stroll up to the Arc De Triomphe and as much summer sightseeing I could squeeze into 15 minutes, I headed off to La Defense, the modern side of Paris which I didn’t get to explore much before (and because of renovation work on that particular Metro line, I got a free ride that day! Yipee!). Continuing what has now become almost like a tradition for us when in Paris, I met up for lunch with Jussi and Anne, who just happened to be celebrating her birthday that day. This I couldn’t miss as part of my 2nd Parisian Mission: to deliver Jussi’s birthday present of Team Manila T-shirts (“smuggled” in my baggage) to Anne. I’d just spent the last 3 days staying with vegetarian friends in the French countryside so the skyscrapers around and the big beefy burgers we ate really made me feel more like the carnivorous city-boy that I usually am again.

Paris’s other arc

Right after lunch (which went on till 3) Jussi gamely accompanied me through the Metro (he had an extra ticket so another free train trip, yipee again!) seeing me off to the station to Belgium (from where he’d just arrived that day, ironically, hauling tons more luggage than I). Two hours later I was crossing the border, off to another adventure, other rendezvous-es, but now with a really expensive handbag making me really paranoid about losing my luggage.

La Défense’s Dark Tower

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first posted 2008

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Chic Lit: Reading for the Red Carpet

photo by Tata Tuviera

Sometimes it’s not what you know but what you have. It’s not about the books you’ve read, but the books you own. And to some people’s eyes, luxury reading means expensive books about expensive things. However, true class is a different beast from mere conspicuous consumption. A catalog of rare Star Wars memorabilia cannot compare to a registry of vintage cars. If you want to impress, it takes more than a pair of Armani reading glasses to show that you’re a connoisseur of the printed word and the hardbound book. You need to have a kick-ass library (or coffee table at least) to back up your wardrobe and wallet. Past the medicine cabinet and baby pictures, most dates and prospective mates progress to ransacking one’s bookshelves. Barring librarians and literature majors, this roster of weighty tomes ought to raise your lux-factor considerably.

Cabernet: A Photographic Journey from Vine to Wine by Charles O’Rear, Michael Creedman

Part travelogue and part oenologue (just a fancy way of saying wine-book), the authors take us on a worldwide tour of the regions where the Cabernet grape is grown. Get drunk on stimulating panoramas of vineyards, grapes, oak barrels, and photogenic locals. Wordiness-wise, there’s just enough red meat in the text, including a foreword from renowned vintner Robert Mondavi, to go well with this particular vintage. Now you can better sip and smooth talk your way through a wine list. Just say, cabernet (that rhymes).

ART of the 20th Century (Paperback) by Klaus Honnef, Schneckenburger, Fricke, Ruhrberg

Cover of "Art of the 20th Century"

Cover of Art of the 20th Century

This attention-grabbing boxed set aims to be the end-all and be-all guide to the art of the past 100 years, a tall order for any work. Full of eye-popping pictures of modern art’s usual suspects like the crisply named Klimt and Munch, who you can now match to their respective tersely titled paintings (The Kiss and The Scream). If the art won’t work you up, at least the writing won’t put you to sleep.

Annie Leibovitz: American Music by Annie Leibovitz

Cover of "Annie Leibovitz: American Music...

Cover of Annie Leibovitz: American Music

Leaf through revealing portraits of rock stars, folk singers, and their elaborate accoutrements as shot by Vanity Fair’s top photographer. The compositions are alternately nostalgic and naughty, showing off Leibovitz’s knack for capturing icons at their most relaxed and real. Seeing these gods of cool brought down to earth will do wonders for your own cred.

Film Noir by Alain Silver, James Ursini

This ultra-stylish book even features white text on black background to go with its dramatic collection of black and white stills from classic crime movies. The elegant imagery is a stark contrast to the sordid themes, vulgar dialogue, and depraved characters of the typical noir film. Possessing this book lets you point out and congratulate yourself on how far above you live from the humble criminal lowlifes such as gangsters, hitmen, and corrupt politicians.

The Rulemakers by Sheila Coronel

Knowing about the wealthy and well-born is a step closer to being one of them (but then if you’re reading this magazine and this book then you probably already are). Although rather deceptive and academic, this is the closest one can get to a comprehensive inventory of the reigning political dynasties of the Philippines. Whether you’re wooing a militant activist (reading the PCIJ’s work earns you major radical points), or a silver-spooned scion (pointing out their family name in the power list is sure to charm), you can’t lose.

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

Cover of "The 48 Laws of Power"

Cover of The 48 Laws of Power

Power is the ultimate luxury. And Greene’s guidelines read like Machiavelli and Sun-Tzu spiced up and simplified for modern readers. With such ruthless gems of advice as “Get others to do the Work for you, but Always Take the Credit” and “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy”, once you take these 48 rules to heart you can give even the Rothschilds and the Medicis a run for their money. Merciless ambition always impresses, maybe as long as you aren’t dating your boss, or his daughter (if she doesn’t idolize Lady Macbeth that is).

Modern Sports Cars: Roger Bell Evaluates the World’s Top Driving Machines by Roger Bell

Full of enough acronyms and jargon to intimidate the casual car enthusiast, and brimming with glossy shots of shiny hoods, gleaming engines, and plush interiors to make the hardcore auto-eroticist blow his load a few pages in. Who cares about erectile dysfunction when your hands are fondling the gear shift of a Ferrari at 203 miles an hour? If you don’t, then this motor show is for you. Just take care to mop up the saliva (or whatever) stains.

New Complete Sailing Manual by Steve Sleight

Cover of "The New Complete Sailing Manual...

Cover of The New Complete Sailing Manual

What, you don’t own your own boat yet? Then at least own this book. It’ll be handy for bluffing your way through affairs on a yacht or at the yacht club. This comprehensive manual teaches the basics of sailing from navigation to boat care. Get a tan, blow some wind into your hair, learn which side is port or starboard, and you’re all set for the next regatta (or at least the next clothes shopping trip to Regatta).

The Horseman’s Bible by Jack Coggins

Cover of "The Horseman's Bible"

Cover of The Horseman’s Bible

The original luxury conveyance, purebred horses trump sports cars or yachts any day. There’s something primal and sensual about horse-riding. In terms of prestige and sex appeal, a man on a horse evokes such noble imagery as polo matches, fox-hunting, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Horse racing isn’t called the sport of kings for nothing. Besides, having this book lying around provides you with a great back-up explanation for owning all those Mane & Tail products. Since horses don’t usually come with their own instruction manual, this classic guide is the best one you can get.

The Architecture of I.M. Pei by Carter Wiseman

Here’s a thorough retrospective on one of the most important architects alive. To even the most architecturally clueless people, you can always point out that he’s the guy who designed the Essensa towers at the Fort. This thoughtful and detailed look at Pei and his work is heavy on the textual content, sketches, and diagrams, but a bit skimpy on the color photos. If it’s a good enough hobby for Brad Pitt, then maybe there’s something sexy about blueprints that we guys ought to look into.

Hip Hotels series by Herbert Ypma

Herbert Ypma seduces us with a procession of the world’s chicest and quirkiest boutique resorts and hotels. These slickly designed paperbacks give readers a peek at the lush interiors of the ultra-modern getaways that are Ypma’s focus, while dozens of detail-rich thumbnail shots help capture each hotel’s interior mood. Although the vivid layout might skirt the edge of sensory overload, Ypma’s writing remains immensely readable and full of flair. Fortunately, some of the establishments he highlights are so hiply obscure, you can get away with talking as if you’ve been to them without having even set foot on the same continent.

photo by Tata Tuviera

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Manual magazine, 2005 

Heaven For Little Girls

first published in Manila Bulletin, 2005

Cheerful but comfortable, fun but functional, the rooms of the young Abalos girls show how kids can make a space their own.

It has been said that all little girls are princesses. However, Charlene and Corinne Abalos, grandchildren of former mayor Banjamin Abalos, and daughters of former mayor and current congressman Benhur Abalos, can easily lay claim to being Mandaluyong royalty. But it’s not like they’re putting on airs. On the contrary, the kids are good-natured, chatty, and fresh-faced, full to the brim with energy and ideas. During the recent holiday season, the girls were bubbling over with excitement planning the Christmas party for the family and household staff, and organizing the Kris Kringle exchange gift logistics. It turns out that the Abalos girls are not only budding event organizers, but promising interior designers as well.

Charlene and Corinne can actually take the credit for much of the conceptualization of their rooms’ interiors. Their mom, Mrs. Menchie Abalos, gave them both free reign to think of how they wanted their rooms to look like. With the guidance of their Tita Myla Tirado, who also helped design the rooms of their other siblings, they were able to realize many of their whimsical decorating ideas. Left to their own creative devices, the girls came up with a cozy combo of Neverland, Wonderland, Oz, and Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Each room is a little girl’s personal dreamspace, a tribute to a child’s imagination, a special playground for kids and by kids. They’re best described in the words of their visiting friends, who say that once you’re in Charlene and Corinne’s rooms, you never want to leave. The rooms glow with bright hues and quirky patterns. Wooden molding and shelves in pastel colors accent the walls of warm cream. As an added fanciful detail, flowers have been delicately hand-stencilled onto every wall, geraniums for Charlene, lilacs for Corinne. Most of the furniture has been made to order, from the uniquely shaped beds to the plush chairs with the fuzzy upholstery. Continuing with the floral motif, the mantelpieces, armoires, and side tables displaying the girls’ assorted knick-knacks follow a scalloped petal outline. While in Charlene’s room, a gigantic exotic pink blossom holds up her entertainment system, its counterpart in Corinne’s room is a large dollhouse of salmon and peach, within which resides a clique of Bratz dolls. Not one to be outdone, since Corinne had her dollhouse, Charlene asked for a vanity table in the shape of a castle complete with towers from which hang her school medals. But what the kids are really proud of though are their specially-made, one-of-a-kind beds. If there was one thing that Charlene had her heart set on once she started planning her room, it was a heart-shaped bed. Her Tita Myla was able to oblige her and then some, creating a curved headboard covered in velvet, and having the mattress custom-cut out of Uratex foam to the desired specifications. For Corinne, she put together a shooting star with a rainbow tail, finishing off with flower-shaped mattress and base. Lying down on these elaborate confections, sweet dreams are guaranteed. As a convenient space-saver, full-length mirrors double as sliding doors for the girls’ wardrobes.

Scattered neatly around the premises are an assortment of stuffed toys, memorabilia, and play figures. Disney princesses and M&M candies for Charlene, Spongebob Squarepants and furry animals for Corinne. Charlene is also an accomplished golfer. She was introduced to the sport by her grandfather, an avid linksman himself. Her room displays a trophy and a few framed articles and pictures showing her enthusiasm for the game.

Eventually the kids might begin to opt for more sophisticated designs for their quarters, maybe something similar to their elder sisters’ tastes. But for now, Mrs. Abalos isn’t at all worried about the kids out-growing their rooms’ décor yet, not when she sees how much they’re enjoying themselves. At their age, there’s still a lot of time for play and toys. The fun has just begun for Charlene and Corinne, and they’ve clearly got the rooms to grow.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

Crash Chords: Rant and Rave

first published under music column “Crash Chords” in Manual magazine, 2005

Toti Dalmacion

“We are not hip, we are trendy,” and with that devastating statement music guru Toti Dalmacion effectively dismisses the nascent Filipino music scene that he himself has carefully helped cultivate. In an era of unlimited downloads, overstocked record stores, and competing music channels, it’s ironic how most Filipinos continue to stick to what’s popular, safe and familiar. What started out as a casual chat about different music genres morphed into an impassioned manifesto regarding all that is wrong with the local music scene. Toti did oblige us by offering a few pithy notes on the various genre definitions, but not before expounding that the labels are little more than shelving categories for the stores to use, and for record companies to slap onto compilation CDs that usually offer an inaccurate or watered-down version of the particular genre that they’re supposed to represent. Toti just wishes that things were less about the money, less about the image, and more about the music.

Differentiating the sub-genres of techno music is all about listening to the layers. It all started with the invention of synthesizers and drum machines. Which meant that an aspiring musician no longer needed to be a virtuoso or even play an instrument to make music. The grand history of techno, its sub-genres and all related electronic music that reside under the catch-all term ‘Electronica’, deals mostly with the ping-ponging of ideas across the Atlantic ocean, with one side embellishing the other’s inventions then throwing them back for another round.

Acid House

Cover of "Everybody Needs a 303 1"

Cover of Everybody Needs a 303 1

This dates back to the 1980s, a style that was played at the club “The Warehouse” in Chicago. This is where the characteristic synthetic plip-plop sound often heard in dance music comes from. The sound popped out when DJ Ron Hardy played around with a small synthesizer called the “Roland TB-303 Bass Line” which was originally meant to be used by drummers to emulate a bass guitar.

Example: Fatboy Slim’s “Everybody Needs a 303

Acid Jazz 

It’s actually a fusion of old and new classic jazz riffs and scat vocals with funky hip hop beats and modern techno sounds. Its attributes include hip-hop or house rhythms, live instrumentation, silky smooth arrangements, and an easy, fluid, soulful energy.

Examples: Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai

Ambient

Brian Eno

Brian Eno (Photo credit: Scott Beale)

During raves, those with battered eardrums could rest by going to a chill-out room where ambient music was played. Associated with the experimental and avant-garde, it features lots of dreamy soundscapes, with a very discreet rhythm or none at all.

Example: Brian Eno – the godfather of this style

Eurodance 

This is the most popular dance format in Europe. You’ll be sure to hear happy synth-tones, perky vocals, a catchy refrain, and short parts of crap-rap in between. This sub-genre dominates every chart and dance floor in the European Union.

Examples: 2Unlimited

House

House is what disco used to be, but with new machines having modernized and updated the sound. It is the musical core of today’s dance music. Emerging from clubs in Chicago and New York in the mid 1980s, it can be recognized by the 130 electric beats per minute big bass lines and hard drum loops.

Lounge 

It’s music that’s so bad it crosses over to hip. The appeal is in appreciating the irony of it. It’s associated with coffee, beatniks, swingers, the jet set, the Rat Pack, Bacharach, and elevator muzak.

Lounge pushes a retro aesthetic restyled for the contemporary. Computers may be used to add that 21st Century Modern flava. It’s very jazz-influenced, and sometimes spiced up with ethnic flavors such as bossa nova.

Examples: Groove Armada

Trance

Not Toti’s favorite subgenre for sure, he terms it as music that has no soul or credibility; white, blank, and wimpy. Trance evolved from German Techno, using the rolling bass and sizzling keyboards of techno to give the music a hypnotic flowing effect, yet retaining all the driving, pulsating energy of its true techno roots.
Examples: Paul Oakenfold

Trip-Hop

Produced by taking hip-hop and fusing it with moody psychedelic electronic rock sounds over a down-tempo beat.

Usually melancholic in nature, the mainstays of Trip-Hop are R&B vocals over smooth Hip Hop beats/scratching layered with Rock and Jazz.

Examples: Massive Attack, Sneaker Pimps, Portishead.

To sample the abovementioned ear candy, pop into your nearest respectably-sized record store, browse online shops such as Amazon, or check out download tools Limewire or Soulseek (but don’t tell the RIAA that you heard of them from us).

More info at: www.ethnotechno.com/defs.php

-text by Jude Defensor, photos courtesy of Toti Dalmacion or the Internet, some rights reserved

Life On The Astals Plane

 first published in Manila Bulletin, 2004

In a real estate realm saturated with pretentiously packaged condominiums, or squeaky-clean suburban developments, not too many addresses remain that possess both character and cachet. The Syquia apartments in Malate, with its art-deco trappings, vintage elevator, heavy wooden staircases, and pinstriped doors is in a class all its own. Home to artists, art lovers, politicians, pundits, kooks, weirdos, and various combinations of the abovementioned, the Syquias’ walls provide refuge for personalities that are just too large to live behind any gated community, no matter how exclusive. And from the very start, Cita Astals seemed to fit in just fine.

“The first time I came here was in 1983 with some friends. It used to be like a giant dormitory, a lot of fun,” she reminisces.

An encounter with Cita Astals may not be the best thing to prescribe for the easily intimidated. Her stentorian voice and arched eyebrows definitely add to the daunting Astals Aura. Once inside Cita Central though, the longtime Manila councilor and lifetime artist is a very welcoming and accomodating host. Cita is puzzled why out of all the building’s notable residents, we’ve chosen to feature it’s self-professed “craziest one”. But of course, why should we settle for anyone less?

“I moved in with my boyfriend in 1989. And then I kicked him out and ended up staying,” Cita states succinctly. And who wouldn’t stay? The high ceilings, huge windows, polished hardwood floors, and capacious rooms evoke an era when space wasn’t a luxury, and luxury wasn’t in short supply.

Even with her ex out of the picture, she didn’t always keep all that space to herself. “For a time I’d share the place with friends. If I liked them they’d live in one of the bedrooms for a few months.” She also had the company of her much beloved pet dog, who unfortunately passed away. She tried breaking in a new puppy as a replacement, but that one grew too chew-happy and was returned to sender. Right now, besides her staff, the apartment also shelters several ancient plants that stubbornly thrive on in Cita’s makeshift lanai area.

Cita admits to not really having a plan or philosophy when it comes to fixing up her abode.“I prefer a simple setup. It’s a pretty simple place.” When asked to elaborate about her approach to interior design, she takes on a deer-lost-in-headlights expression. “It’s not meant to be anything. I didn’t really design the house, since I’m not much of a homebody,” she surrenders.

That simplicity also carries over to Cita’s concept of entertaining. “We don’t have big parties since I’m not really a party-thrower. The other people in the building are into that. Although sometimes we have dinners or I hold meetings here.”

Like in her life and career, Cita’s apartment has seen its share of radical shifts. One room in particular has undergone several transformations according to Cita. “It used to be where me and my boyfriend slept together. It was technically his room. One of my conditions if we were to live together is that I have my own room.  Although I never slept there for the 5 years that we were living together. I had, as you may call it, a room and a half!” states Cita, cackling merrily. “The room became an office for a while. It was where I made my book compiling all the ordinances of Manila. But now it’s my bedroom,” she asserts. The room still contains her infamous ex’s bed, which she continues to sleep on.

Cita’s onetime decision to brighten up her walls produced near-incendiary results. “I just wanted a change of color, I was getting tired of white. I wanted a mixture of yellow and orange. I experimented with this wall with the painters, then when we got what I wanted, I left them for a couple of hours.” She returned to find her entire apartment awash in flames, of yellow-orange paint that is. In a fit of creative zeal, the painters had left no wall untouched. Not really wanting to go home to a cabaret every night, Cita left one wall on fire, but had the others repainted a more sedate white and yellow-orange tone.

Scattered about the apartment are “An assortment of stuff I gathered from my travels and what friends have given me.” These range from images of Hindu deities, to Indonesian puppets, Grecian sculpture, oil paintings by local artist-friends, and even a sheepskin rug from Australia. And yet Cita remarks that visitors never seem to fail to zero-in on a set of figures depicting couples engaged in rather lascivious poses.

As we go about poring over her knickknacks, Cita realizes with some amusement that almost all of her furnishings and decor used to belong to friends “All except the electronics and appliances”.

Even her hefty low-slung sofas and seats weren’t sourced from a store. “I bought the furniture from a friend of mine who was leaving the country. He had brought them in from Nepal.  It’s very strong, old wood. This set is around 30 years old. It spent 10 years in Nepal, and 20 years in the Philippines. All I did was have the cushions re-upholstered.” The couch in the hall is upholstered in leather and is for visitors to sit on, while the couch in the sala has cushions of katsa for the lounging comfort of close friends.

Her favorite piece is a solid wooden coffee table set in front of the couch. “You don’t need nails to assemble it. The pieces lock into themselves, like giant wooden Nepalese lego blocks!” Cita exclaims with a throaty laugh.

While we take photos, Cita wonders whether the bright pink top she wears could clash with her blazing walls. “Pink is my working color,” she explains. “Notice that I don’t have anything colored pink in the apartment. This is so that I won’t blend into my furniture!” And with that we unearth yet another one of her rare and quirky design rules.

Although a bit hazy as a homemaker. When it comes to her role as a public servant, Cita’s ideas and contributions are very concrete. “I’ve opened a road. We cleared it, partially put in the drainage and cement. But there’s still another 600 meters to pave. I would like to see that completed,” she states. “I also have an ordinance now to regulate the caretelas. So that they don’t cheat the tourists or be cruel to their animals.”

Cita’s big vision for Manila literally lies on the horizon. “I dream of having a beach in Manila, a Boracay-style beach,” she reveals. Backing her aspirations with action, Cita has actually been working to make her dream real. “We’ll have to treat the water for that to work. That’s why for my latest ordinance, I filed the Manila Water Code charter. So for the first time we’re going to have laws for our water.”

As we steer the conversation away from home and on to city hall, Cita sheds her giddy daze and regains the steel and focus that has made her such a lustrous presence on stage and screen. “The mayor and all the councilors are working together towards the same goal of improving the city,” she proclaims with some pride. “But there’s still a lot of work to be done. We’re always hoping to have more new buildings, new developments in the area. Little by little things get done.” If and when the day comes when it really all gets done, then maybe Cita can finally find the time and inclination to indulge in a bit of domesticity. But politics is impossible to predict, and Cita is just plain unpredictable.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

Sea In The City

first published in Manila Bulletin, 2004

A Porthole Peek Into Karen Padilla’s Private Pulo

ABS-CBN reporter Karen Padilla drops anchor in her new home. Marooned in the middle of land-locked Quezon City, Karen decided to build a little island cove of her very own. With the help of her loved ones, especially her mom, pulling off the quirky design feat turned out to be smooth sailing. Karen’s airy sala feels more like a beach side park than the inside of a townhouse. Instead of the expected couch and coffee table, we have a park bench, a lounge chair, and an abaca rug stamped with nautical patterns. But what Karen is most proud of is her little strip of beachfront property. It’s not an actual piece of real estate but a unique floor decoration composed of wood, glass, shells, and sand that she thought up herself. She had the wooden base for the sand made of old planks, then topped it with her personal shell and starfish collection. Behind it stand a row of empty bottles, like you might find littering the sands at an island resort, gathered from the remnants of various celebrations through the years. This provides a clever example of turning would-be discards into wonderful decor.

The seaside motif extends to the next floor where a miniature lighthouse beams down through the balustrades. The second floor (or upper deck) is also where we find Karen’s not-so-buried treasure in the form of an antique pull-out sofa bed. This ancient piece of furniture, which Karen utilizes as a couch, is of an indeterminate age, but its solid craftsmanship and richly textured wood attest to it definitely having seen several generations of use. “It’s gone through three different houses already, passed on from one family member to another,” Karen confirms. “The stories this sofa can tell! But we’re keeping them all secret,” she jokes. She’s probably hinting that it contains a hidden stash of pirate’s gold secreted within the old timbers. Although a simple piece, it’s sturdy construction hearkens back to the days when furniture was meant to last. “We’ve had it re-finished and re-upholstered. Because of its simple design, we decided that a simple material like katsa, or cheesecloth would work best for the cushions. It’s very comfortable.” Standing beside the venerable couch is an equally aged-looking bookshelf, containing a collection of racy bestsellers that would do very well as beach reading.

Karen apologizes for her home appearing a bit stripped down. She explains that she isn’t completely done with unpacking and arranging her things. But as it is, the uncluttered spaces, bright colors, and nautical accents of her home create a light and breezy living area where you can almost smell the ocean and hear the waves.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

Clean and Mean: Scrubbing Isn’t For Sissies

(first published in Blubook Magazine, 2003)

Aside from hunger, thirst, and lust, one other basic human desire is the need to feel clean, smell good, and look presentable. This aspiration might be slightly more pronounced within the Filipino race. We may litter, pollute, and befoul our fair land indiscriminately, but when it comes to personal hygiene, you can’t fault us Pinoys. We’re just cleaner and we smell better than everyone else, and nobody can tell us any different. This almost obsessive-compulsive fixation with bodily sanitation is more typically attributed to the female component of our population. All the better for them to win beauty contests, and seduce less hygienically-endowed foreigners. But the Filipino male was never really a sloppy creature to begin with. And as the divisions between gender roles start to blur, and personal care corporations begin embarking on a thorough rethink of their product lines, Juan dela Cruz is faced with the opportunity to be true to his roots and embrace his inner hygienochondriac. Spotless, sweatless, and shower-fresh, that’s the ideal.

Filipinos have always been a vain lot, gender notwithstanding, but the dividing line between run-of-the-mill Pinoy vanity and the new enlightened narcissism lies across the shower curtain. Whether one’s wash-weapons of choice, a.k.a “pang-hilod”, are pumice stones (rubbed smooth by the waters of the Cagayan River), loofah pads (grown organically among the fields of Cavite) or bath lilies (manufactured in the factories of China), we Filipinos are not afraid to rub our skins raw in the name of a smoother, fairer libag-free complexion. Micro-abrasions be damned! As a people, we have a long tradition of obsessively sloughing off dead skin cells. One of our ancient legends, that of Lam-ang, deals with how the otherwise macho warrior, unable to withstand the knowledge that his pores were clogged and dirty, scrubbed himself clean in a stream, thus in a stroke of mythical biogenesis, populating our waters with a rich supply of aquatic fauna. When you look at it from an anthropological perspective, exfoliation is but a natural extension of the grand old Filipino tradition of eXtreme! Cleansing, clearly demonstrated by our penchant for laundering clothes by pounding them with heavy wooden paddles in the middle of white-water rapids, or voluntarily signing up for intensive monthly medical facials. There’s really nothing sissified about it. If you’re gonna get all cleaned up anyway, why not wash on the wild side? What could be more macho than scouring your hide with a rock?

But there are still hold-outs in the push to extend the range of beauty products for men. Marketers tend to butch up the process by using manly, terse words in naming their goods. Strong action-packed verbs like “scrub” and “sandblast”, or hard-edged ingredient names like “shell grits” and “tree bark” are preferred. Some also try get away with it by deceptively promoting their products as shaving aids. Because only manly men are supposed to have enough facial hair to make shaving a big deal, so the more shaving products you need, the manlier you are.
And so men’s grooming is going mainstream. And what does this mean for the old guard preeners and primpers? They have to ride the bleeding-edge and embrace even more unorthodox modes of vanity in order to stay ahead of the increasingly more dapper herd. They must go alternative, hardcore, left-field, or risk being labelled as “regular guys”. So what sets apart a dedicated dandy from a mere dabbler in the finer points of manhood? A “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” cast member from a temporary testosterone suppressor? Real metrosexuals exfoliate. But soon even that might not be enough. There’s only so much research and inspiration one can gather from within one’s own shower. If you’re a die-hard exfoliator and not content with what the supermarket skin product aisle and your own two hands have to offer, then it’s only natural to take things to the next level. Get cleansed by a professional.

I decided to go straight to the source, the temple of bodily indulgence, pamper central – a spa. Incognito, I hied off to the Nurture Spa for a “body treatment”. The spa promotes itself as “an oasis of peace and tranquility tucked away amidst the coffee orchards of Tagaytay, designed to be a refuge from the stress and tension of urban life”. I chose to submit myself to the Exfoliating Scrub Massage, which was billed as “a pampering treatment combination of a luxurious exfoliating treatment designed to rid the body of dead and dry skin cells to even our skin color and aromatherapy massage in one”. This was after going through a “relaxing 30 minute Turkish steam bath”. Those with a phobia of being manhandled by strangers might read the words “full body exfoliating massage” and envision being kneaded into ribbons by a sadist-for-hire wearing sandpaper-coated gloves. I interpreted it as “research for the remaining 1,000 words you need to finish your article”. This may all sound a little intimidating, and even scary to the uninitiated. But for the past few weeks or so I had become intimate with the intense processes one must undergo in the pursuit of smooth, spotless skin. And I was ready.

So I change into the requisite spa attire, a petite pan-asian batik kimono and shorts ensemble, and into the Turkish bath I go. The Turks came up with this hybrid of a garrote and an isolation pod probably to intimidate invading Christians and other heathens. To add to the torture chamber vibe, I’m supposed to strip to my batik shorts, which are barely decent to start with. My attendant asks me to take of the kimono with my back to her while halfway inside the bath and hand it off to her for safekeeping. This feat of dexterity executed, I’m then left to steam like so much dimsum. You’re supposed to cook in the thing for 15 or so minutes. To flush out impurities they say. And to tenderize the flesh I think. It’s all so very Iron Chef. I steam and sweat, pant and breathe in the (not very aromatic) fumes. The attendant comes in to check on me in the middle of the steaming to ask if the temperature isn’t too high. To be honest, it slightly is, but of course I don’t tell her that. I also don’t tell her that I’ve been cheating by venting off the too-hot steam from time to time. Just when I was starting to feel courageously martyr-like, it was over. So with the tenderizing done, we were now off to apply the marinade.

Restricted to a draped room, lying on a massage bed, nothing much on, staring down into a faux-natural flower arrangement floating in a wooden bowl, no escape from the new-agey neo-classical muzak pervading the soundscape, this is not a process you’d recommend to the average young male with a standard case of Attention Deficit Disorder. Suffering from a mild form of the condition myself, I couldn’t help but squirm a bit from all the enforced relaxation. It all seemed like a way subtler, more insidious version of the classic Frankie Goes To Hollywood song (which you really ought to know, if you’ve been reading this far).

Cover of "Candyman 2 - Farewell to the Fl...

Cover of Candyman 2 - Farewell to the Flesh

There are a few other squeamish moments you have to get over first before going all Candyman 2 and saying Farewell to the Flesh. This includes the realization that you’re wearing a silly-looking batik-shorts-and-kimono combo that’s way too small for you. Unlike say, other Asians like the Japanese or Koreans, we Pinoy guys are generally not as comfortable in our birthday suits when in public. Thus the apprehension that comes with having to take off your clothes in front of complete strangers, and of the opposite gender to boot. And finally there’s the moment when you become conscious that a strange lady is scrubbing your butt. And just when you start getting used to it, she then starts inching up your groin. Just making sure you get thoroughly cleansed, of course. Having some other person washing your body for you feels unnervingly regressive. It’s like being given sponge baths by your mom as a kid all over again. Mom’s rates for her services were never this high though. In fairness to the spa personnel, they conducted themselves very professionally while seeing and touching things that would make the typical convent-bred colegiala blush. Based on what I could still discern by the fading light of day, the scrubbing compound was made up of these tiny dark brown specks which could have been ground walnut shells, kiwifruit seeds, or bits of asphalt as far as I knew. The actual scrubbing process was commendably thorough and soothing. One experiences a sensation I imagine as being not too far removed from getting licked all over by the warm, moist, and raspy tongues of two Siberian tigers. And because of the open-air nature of the spa, there was nothing to stop the chilly Tagaytay breeze from wafting all over your recently-rubbed-raw skin. It’s a strangely enjoyable chilly thrill, that is, if you get off from getting all goose-bumpy. So depending on your masochistic tendencies, there is some degree of discomfort involved, but it’s mostly overwhelmed by all the other pleasurable sensations. The process over, I felt like a whole slew of adjectives beginning with the letter S – smooth, supple, soft, sarap!

So until they can train a team of Siberian tigers well enough to be able to give full body tongue lickings without being tempted to take a bite off my kimono-clad butt, I think a spa treatment will do just fine for me to get my kicks. Some guy friends have asked why I would want to do all this silly stuff to myself. The simple answer is because it feels good and it’s actually good for you. It’s like taking in your recommended weekly dose of fiber, but externally. You’re ridding yourself of cellular debris, taking care of your holistic well-being, improving circulation, balancing your energies, and all that other pseudoscientific jazz. You know it won’t hurt, and it feels better than expected. And there’s nothing silly about the price. Let the big boys buy their toys, real men book their treatments.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

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