Sunday, April 20, 2014

Holy Week in Bacolod

If the number of places one has visited in his country were an indication of patriotism, I might be one of the most unpatriotic Filipino yuppies in this day and age. I have a credit card and local airlines frequently have seat sales that go as low as P1, so there's no reason for me not to be able to fly and explore our 7,107 islands. And even if I couldn't chance upon affordable airline seats, online or otherwise, there are always those places I could reach by land. As in many things, however, I'm a late bloomer. I've always dreamed of traveling the world, even moving to a temperate country, but the desire to get out there and actually explore, starting with the Philippines, never truly awakened in me until friends introduced me to mountaineering last year. My mountaineering gigs have been put on hold because of the Bontoc accident my closest mountaineer friend Cams got into in February, so while waiting for her broken bones to mend (they're healing well, I'm happy to report) or for the next hiking invite to come along, I'm filling my calendar with out-of-town trips, and Bacolod, impulsively (thanks to a friend), is what I started with.

My friend and I arrived at Bacolod-Silay International Airport at around 6:30 AM of Holy Thursday, took a shuttle to East View Hotel where we were staying, and managed to still fall into a comatose despite all intentions to explore the city early.

At lunchtime we went to sample real chicken inasal (literally "cooked over fire," in other words, barbequed) at Chicken Deli just along 8th Street. I ordered one pecho (thigh) and some spareribs. The latter was so-so; it should have actually been labeled on the menu as "liempo." The inasal was, of course, great, flavorful. We saw a couple of Mang Inasal joints later and noticed hardly anyone dining in them. Granted, it was a holiday, but I wondered who in Bacolod would eat inasal at a commercial inasal place when they could have the real deal at other places in town.

Chicken Deli's chicken inasal

Because we slept, we missed the only time The Ruins was open the morning of Holy Thursday. We consoled ourselves instead with coffee and cake at Miren Desserts Cafe along Lacson Street. Lots of cake, actually, delicious and reasonably priced at around P85. I especially loved their chocolate mud pie and red velvet cake.

Miren's cafe latte

Chocolate mud pie, opera cake (has liquor in it) and red velvet cheesecake

Praline cheesecake, blueberry cheesecake and chocolate chip cheesecake

There wasn't enough time to go hike at Mambukal Resort anymore so we just stayed in our hotel room, ate the leftover cake from Miren (of course we couldn't finish all six slices), and watched Zombieland on cable. This was when I was truly grateful for booking a fairly decent hotel, despite initially looking for a mere backpacker dorm room. Why pay a huge amount for accommodations when you'll be out and about exploring the city most of the time? Turns out you'll need to for a Holy Week vacation, because not all tourist places are open to the public.

An hour-long bus ride from the city, Mambukal Resort offers lots of activities such as butterfly watching, lagoon boating, swimming in their pools or getting a relaxing massage, but it was mainly a good venue that Good Friday for curing my itch to hike through their Seven Falls trail. It was the giddiest I had been in a while, even though I didn't like natural bodies of water in general. The young tour guide we hired told us the fifth and sixth falls were closed (he probably meant the trails leading to them) but that there was an eighth waterfall an hour's hike away from the seventh one (which technically renders the name of the place inappropriate). Good thing we opted not to go to the eighth one because we almost missed the last bus trip back to the city.

The first waterfall in Mambukal's Seven Falls trail

As it was the last bus trip from Mambukal to Bacolod, there were a lot of passengers onboard. Five minutes of being cramped inside and we told the conductor we'll just ride "top load" (on the roof rack), something I've long wanted to do. It was the best bus ride I've had in my life so far.

We had dinner at Italia Restaurant, which our cabbie didn't know about and kept referring to as "Italian Restaurant" when he radioed his cab company. It was my kind of dining establishment, quaint and cozy, filled with art in the form of paintings on walls and also sculptures in a small gallery they have called Charlie's Art Gallery. Their current exhibit is called Diskarte ni Nunelucio Alvarado, which runs until May 12, 2014.

Nunelucio Alvarado's works hung all over the place

All the pieces were beautiful, but my favorites were paintings of Hermes Alegre (beautiful portraits of women, perfectly capturing Filipina beauty from the skin tone to the contour of their faces) and welded brass sculptures of Michael Cacnio (still speechless about their beauty, especially the Balloons piece). Visit their website at, or better yet, drop by the art gallery at 1 Ranol Bldg., 23rd San Agustin Street, a street otherwise known as "Artekalye."

A painting by Hermes Alegre

Welded brass sculptures by Michael Cacnio, my favorite of which is the rightmost one

Italia's food is moderately priced and they don't skimp on serving size. I ordered saltimbocca alla romana, which is tenderloin beef roulade with ham and cheese served with rice pilaf. It was sinfully delicious, good for sharing, but as my friend was fasting from meat I had to finish it by myself.

Italia's saltimbocca alla romana

Italia's wine collection

After checking out of East View Hotel yesterday, we went out for lunch, but this supposedly amazing Latin American resto called Fogo was closed for Black Saturday, so we went to Bob's instead. I'm not ageist but their staff seemed as old as Bob's itself, which meant slow service. The food didn't compensate for this. I ordered fillet mignon, well done, but it just wasn't tender enough and it was just a tad better-tasting than any regular steak served on a sizzling plate and slathered on with gravy.

Bob's fillet mignon

We had desserts at Calea Pastries and Coffee in The District (a mall), Northpoint, which was finally open. As beautiful as the cake store's interiors were, the service was bad. We couldn't make any waitress pay attention to us the first ten minutes we were there, and the blank menu display and unlabeled cakes didn't serve their purpose of helping us decide on our orders while waiting.

Calea's detailed menu boards

Their cakes more than made up for all that though. We had their chocolate moist, blueberry cheesecake and chocolate cheesecake. All were to die for, but I especially loved the cheesecakes.

Calea's chocolate moist, chocolate cheesecake and blueberry cheesecake

Our last stop before returning to Manila on Black Saturday was The Ruins in Talisay, a breathtaking mansion built by sugar baron Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson in the early 1900s on a large plot of land surrounded by a sugar plantation. Entering the area was like being transported back in time, with only the dozens of tourists with their cameras slung over their necks serving as a reminder of the present.

There was a tour led by a really loud tour guide. When we first heard him speaking in front of a crowd just at the entrance, we thought he was holding Black Saturday mass. We took the opportunity to roam about while he was drawing a lot of the crowd's attention.

The restaurant at The Ruins was closed that day so we didn't get a chance to try their food. We didn't buy souvenirs at their souvenir shop, but instead opted for Bongbong's piaya (flatbreads filled with muscovado caramel or yam) as pasalubong, which we bought at The District but are also sold elsewhere, including the airport.

The Ruins figurines

"Lugar lang!" is how you say "Para!" in Ilonggo. It means, "Sa tabi lang." Most Negrenses understand Tagalog, but more often than not they'll assume you speak their dialect and if you'll be taking a lot of cab or jeepney rides, best to be understood by your driver easily when you already want to alight. As in any other tourist destination, don't give in to cabbies and their non-metered trip deals. Know the lay of the land and take public transport. And maybe go to Bacolod when it's not Holy Week so more places will be open for visits.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Book touching at Scholastic, again

It seems Scholastic has restocked. The books I previously mentioned I could not find at their warehouse sale, such as Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy and Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, are now available at 50% off their original prices. In complete box sets, even.

And apparently, there's a section of the warehouse I left unchecked the last time I went there, and it had R. L. Stine's Goosebumps, Pittacus Lore's Lorien Legacies series (I Am Number Four, etc.) and Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series at half-price.

Since I believe I'm too old to be reading Goosebumps anymore and I already have all the Percy Jackson books, I got whatever remaining Harry Potter titles they had—The Chamber of Secrets, The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Deathly Hallows. School of Fear was just P49 and I had already read the first few pages of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time at a National Bookstore years before, so I got both of those too. I spent only P964 for all five books. Cheap, considering three of those are hardcovers.

The lady at the counter said they might restock before their sale ends, so I might return to see if they have the three Harry Potter hardcovers I lack. Check out the book fair, if you still haven't, at #70 C. Raymundo Ave., Brgy. Rosario, Pasig City, between 9 AM and 6 PM, Mondays through Saturdays until April 5. Twelve days remain.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The essence of being a fashion icon

Sometimes a front-row balcony seat can be just as good as any orchestra one, especially if the set of the play you're watching spans the entire space between the left and right wings. Even more so if the stage is raked (sloping upwards). I was lucky to have had the last good balcony seat available in the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium at RCBC Plaza, Makati for Full Gallop last night. The set didn't occupy the entire stage, though. There was just a red square platform that served as the living room floor of Diana Vreeland's apartment. Lavishly decorated with wallpaper, photographs, drapery, furniture, books and vases yet to be filled by Vreeland with flowers, everything was perfectly organized and in keeping with the red color scheme.

Full Gallop's set (Photo taken by my friend Koji)

Full Gallop is set in 1971, on the day legendary fashion icon Diana Vreeland returns from her European vacation after getting fired by Vogue where she was editor-in-chief for eight years. She's dressed head-to-toe in black, with a stylish cape flowing behind her, the chic monotony of her appearance only broken by the rouge on her face and a beautiful tusk necklace around her neck. Her hair perfectly coiffed, she walks around her living room, in heels, with either a cigarette on a holder or a glass of whiskey in hand, making occasional exchanges through the intercom with her French housemaid Yvonne (voiced by G. Toengi) about the dinner party she's throwing, but mostly relating her wild opinions, funny and sad stories, and tweetable words of wisdom here and there, all obtained from being born and raised in Paris, moving to New York at the onset of World War I, her relationship with her husband Reed and her long years of traveling and being editor for two fashion magazines.

Cherie Gil as Diana Vreeland

In between the moment Gil, as Vreeland, shouts that she wants her living room to "look like a garden, but a garden in hell" and her last line, "I want an advance!" we find the fashion icon struggling—with names, an article written about her by The New York Post, finding someone to finance her own magazine, reconnecting with her sons, accepting the offer to be special consultant at The Metropolitan Museum of Art's The Costume Institute. But as she was struggling she was also shining. How appropriate that her favorite color was red, "the great clarifier," because she was, without a doubt, a woman of passion.

Diana Vreeland in her famed apartment living room

Everything I knew about Diana Vreeland I got from theater, in those two short hours last night that I watched Cherie Gil skillfully portray the former editor-in-chief of Vogue. Until I took to Google today, that is, which is what I usually do before seeing a film or a play...or going anywhere, really. Just to be prepared. But I didn't do that before seeing Full Gallop. I saw my friend Koji's review of the play on his blog, but I mostly just looked at the pictures. I just thought, booking my ticket online, "Fuck, it's Cherie Gil! It has got to be good!" And it was.

It's a shame Full Gallop only has a short run. This one-woman play written by Mary Louise Wilson and Mark Hampton and directed by Bart Guingona will have its last show tomorrow at 2 PM, in the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati. Even if you've never heard of Diana Vreeland before, watch the play, like my friend Claire said, if only for Cherie Gil.