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Opening up—and just thankful to be alive

We’re like the survivors emerging out of Noah’s Ark, each trying to regain our space in the world out there, each with a story to tell

No matter the time of day and the color of the sky, we greet the world with a grateful heart. This is the photo of Manila Bay taken at sundown during the 70th birthday celebration of Nes Jardin. (Photos by T. San Juan)

DIARIES

As the world opens up, you’re now trying to get used again to stepping out, but with your mask on and your vax card, alcohol, hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial wipes, tissue packet, anti-viral spray, and, what else? Honestly, I was content with shuttling just between my bedroom, living room, and den (the kitchen is not part of my life’s vision/mission—my sons have accepted that by now), and to go the physical distance, the tennis court in the club. But now I find myself having to contend again with regular traffic and get into road skirmishes with megalomaniac bike riders. The malls are back to being—malls. Our daily calendar is filling up.

But who’s complaining? We should be thankful just to be alive, and have survived the stress, ache, and pain brought by the pandemic, and can only lift our hands in prayer for those who didn’t. We’re like the survivors emerging out of Noah’s Ark, each trying to regain our space in the world out there, each with a story to tell.

“I experienced the stigma of COVID,” a friend told us during a private cinema viewing last week, visibly eager to share his story about how he lost his sister to COVID. She was a front-liner and was engaged to be married. Even if he watched over her in the hospital, he didn’t catch the virus, luckily. But while he was spared the infection, he experienced being ostracized on account of it. It was as if their family—which suffered two deaths in a year, one to COVID and another, not COVID-related—had been marked in the condo they were living in.

“You have a friend asking how you are, but you know she was actually just out to contact-trace,” he said. Even some time after his sister’s death, the mark lingered— “You’re about to take the condo elevator, but the resident already in it would motion you not to enter.”

Indeed, you wonder to what extent life would be back to the way it was before COVID. My guess is—not fully. If our country were smart, and if we’re smarter than our government, we’d carry over the pandemic’s lessons, life habits, and health protocols into the post-pandemic era to prevent another pandemic, since this current one isn’t conclusively over—not yet.

‘You have a friend asking how you are, but you know she was actually just out to contact-trace’

Whether or not it’s considerably safe out there, people are going out, doing as they please. There’s a line outside the LV store at Greenbelt 3. A bigger Hermès store is about to open, also at Greenbelt 3. The spacious Univers at Greenbelt 3 is seeing a continuous stream of shoppers, even in its bigger Thom Browne, the OffWhite next door, and the first-in-Manila Officine Universelle Buly. Buly’s scents for masks are sought after. Tickets to the BTS Global Viewing of Permission To Dance–Seoul, to be shown in SM Cinemas (in 36 branches), were gone online in 15 minutes after selling started. The Le Petit Chef dinners at Grand Hyatt, with media invited by our good friend Pepper Teehankee, are reportedly booked until April. Solaire holds the year’s biggest barbecue event on March 12 to celebrate its 9th year anniversary. Nuwa Hotel goes all out with Haliya, a restaurant devoted to well-loved Filipino dishes such as kare-kare (made with Angus beef), adobo (with foie gras), Bicol Express, pako salad, but all done with a twist—“yet not overworked or overwrought. Certainly not pretentious,” said our friend, Marco Protacio, a hotelier-turned-beauty industry executive. We were guests of Charisse Chuidian, the City of Dreams PR executive.

Salcedo Auctions and Leon Gallery Auctions are as busy as ever, Salcedo with its Important Philippine Art, whose preview was well attended two weekends ago. We saw friends we hadn’t seen in two years (which is just about everyone) like Lulu Tan-Gan and Frannie Jacinto, who continues to look after Taj, the young boy left orphaned by Frannie’s good friends Ito Curata and Bob Miller. Frannie is doing it with Ito’s friends, like Ann Puno.

Art didn’t skip a beat in this pandemic. In truth, it thrived as artists and galleries pivoted to the digital platform

The Asian Cultural Council auctions at Leon Gallery features the estates of high society ladies: Nene Quimson and the Tambunting women. Art didn’t skip a beat in this pandemic. In truth, it thrived as artists and galleries pivoted to the digital platform, and for auctions, as more and more people found time to declutter their homes and to sort out their possessions to keep what they wanted and let go of what they could part with. Heirloom estates have thus become the good stories of auctions.

At preview of ‘Important Philippine Art & Furniture’ at Salcedo Auctions, the author with Richie Lerma and Victor Silvino

In the al fresco dinner of the loose grouping of friends called “wine club,” its first in two years of the pandemic, the talk veered toward another estate: the legal fight between the heirs of one of the country’s old-wealth estates and their stepmother of a few years. Interesting, yes, but messy.

At a gathering, friends jumped up to join the instant sing-along. Masks off for that—a new experience

The dinner, hosted by Cecile Ang, in the wide open and beautifully landscaped garden, was hardly into wine tasting that night but more into non-stop catching up. Christian and Tetta Bovary are just back from Cannes to spend their summer here; Tita Trillo was talking about how long it now takes to get one’s imports; Kara Alikpala is releasing teasers on the documentary on the martial law she and her team have made, to be launched in September. Kara came with husband Dondi, her brother Dr. Nikko Magsanoc, with wife Gina. Their late mother, Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, the journalist who’s so missed in this current state of affairs, was one of those behind the forming of this wine club. Annie Ringor, Anna Sobrepeña, Jaime Ponce de Leon, Carlo Calma, Robbie Santos lounged around but jumped up to join the instant sing-along. Masks off for that—a new experience.

Designer/artist Carlo Calma with his ‘Ode to Machete’ sculpture

The first big gathering that made us feel that the world is really sailing away from the lockdowns, out into the open sea, quite literally, was Nes Jardin’s birthday yacht party two weekends ago. Nes turned 70, and like his 60th birthday, he wanted to celebrate this milestone. With good friend Betty Sy, he and his guests cruised Manila Bay at sundown. It was an exhilarating moment to watch the MOA coastline recede in the background and the clear horizon heave up.

Friends gather for Nes Jardin’s 70th birthday.

His guests were the who’s who of Philippine arts and culture, the artists and arts officials who have devoted their lives to fulfilling their passion for Philippine arts and culture: among them, National Artist Alice Reyes, Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) chairman Margie Moran-Floirendo, CCP vice president Chris Millado, Tes Rances, theater artist Bart Guingona, director Loy Arcenas, ballet greats Edna Vida and Nonoy Froilan, journalist Doreen Yu, College of St. Benilde director Edu Jarque, Zonta Club head Rita Dy.

Guests danced to the hits of the ’70s and the ’80s as the colors of the sky toned down to the warm glow of dusk. The Manila Bay coastline isn’t as cluttered as we feared—the busy skyline is actually a calming sight from the bay, and the bay is clean.

Last December, before Christmas and way before the Omicron spread, we were able to go out of town—to Nina Halley’s weekend home in Matuod, Batangas. This place is actually gaining a community of Metro Manilans who want a weekend refuge from the urban noise and rush.

Nina’s home is airy yet cozy with its warm bamboo. It looks out to the sea—perfect for tranquility at whatever time of day. However, Nina and her neighbors bemoan the fact that the early morning quiet is always broken by the noise of quarrying—just how much of the surrounding mountain is left, they wonder.

That morning, we espied a big boat on the horizon—a Chinese fishing vessel, the locals said.

Such noise and sights were the only spoilers of a quiet weekend our group of BTS Armys Alya Honasan and Annie Ringor set aside for one purpose: to watch collectively the livestreaming of the BTS Permission to Dance Concert in LA.

To Nina, BTS is a healing presence, a happy pill. One of these days, we shall let RM know about that. Who knows?

Nina Halley’s home in Matuod

About author

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After devoting more than 30 years to daily newspaper editing (as Lifestyle editor) and a decade to magazine publishing (as editorial director and general manager), she now wants to focus on writing—she hopes.

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