Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Packing lean

There’s something about leaving and escaping into an unfamiliar place that stirs panic in a luggage-toting traveler’s heart. Forget unplanned expenses when happily “lost” in the confines of souvenir markets or late-breaking weather reports that all too often dampen the adventurous spirit. For the modern nomad who can’t board a plane without dragging an entire closet behind, it is the packing part that is most painstaking.

I have been raised in a household where traveling light is elevated into an act of science – precise and uncompromising. “If you can’t wear it in at least three different occasions, it shouldn’t have any place in your luggage,” my mom advises, like a no-nonsense camp leader, each time she hears me brew a weekend jaunt.

Before I could even think of decidedly over-stuffing a carryon or two, I’d mechanically find myself filling out the “to-bring” list, weeding out the “can-live-without” column and mixing and matching pieces until the gamut of possibilities run dry.

Sure, like any other girl with an affinity towards hair-setting gizmos, giving up a blow dryer is always heartbreaking. But between an untamed crowning glory and a nagging back pain, I wouldn’t have any qualms showing up for brunch with an unruly, tousled hair.

So who can condemn this hapless girl, able to hop on a cruise ship with a mere paper bag in tow, for failing to empathize with those whose definition of weekend packing equates three wheeled suitcases and a pair of zipped-up duffels?

Like most light backpackers, I am a lonely minority among a throng of travelers who would need divine intervention to get the rigorous business of packing done. In fact, seeing friends who shudder at the mere mention of light packing, I’ve always felt there must be some sort of comedic cosmic force that draws an excess-baggage traveler to an easy, no-nonsense backpacker like me.

I’ve been tormented by desperate friends who would endlessly nag me how in the world I have survived Boracay with only a couple of swimwear to wade me through. “I’ve tried keeping your advice, but there are just too many seaside occasions that might arise during this trip,” a friend complained, trying to justify a pile of resort clothes she deemed necessary.
In fact, with all the pieces spewing out of her trolley bag, this girl can accidentally win an Oscar, and she would still have the perfect red carpet outfit to slip into.

Whether it’s that “packrat syndrome” where giving up familiar comforts become unthinkable, a case of obsessive compulsiveness where over-preparation is never “over” or, just simply a lack of skill in the art of packing, the young, well-traveled and adventurous is well aware that some things can never be zipped in a luggage nor thrown and tossed into a carousel.

For one, how do you pack a delightful souvenir called memory? Where do you stash emotions – bliss, thrill, exasperation, amazement – that usually define an experience? Can you possibly stuff in your berry-dyed Samsonite duffel the names of acquaintances who, like you, sought momentary refuge in some unknown shore?

In the end, whether we travel light or drag along a trolley massive enough to fit an heiress’ closet, one thing is certain: we come home towing more than what we had when we first set off to discover unfamiliar grounds. All too often, we return with a beautiful baggage of excesses – cherished memories, newfound friends, and a fleeting reward called “sweet solace”.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Lost gypsy

When it comes to directions, I’m Jack Sparrow’s compass: broken, north-challenged, pathetic.

I’ve resigned to this conclusion after the 13th interstate trip I’ve ventured on with a group of road trip junkies while on a nearly three-month stint in the States. Never out on the road without a travel “bible” (read: Map Quest), we often appeared armed and ready like a bunch of cookie-peddling girl scouts each time we march out for a road adventure. And yet, we still find ourselves naturally lost somewhere at some point.

Perhaps the most lingering experience was when we headed for King’s Island, a popular theme park at Ohio. Unable to stick to the convoy plan, we ended up somewhere but near the amusement park – maneuvering barren fields, stopping over secluded park by the lake and circling roads that looked too familiar after the 8th U-turn.

What would normally have taken three took us six exasperating hours before we finally saw a glimmer of Son of the Beast, King’s Island’s most “dangerous” attraction and the world’s longest wooden roller coaster. If there was any saving grace to being completely oblivious of where we were then, it was that gorgeous and buffed hard-hat worker in tight white shirt who graciously offered us directions.

Despite being conspicuously far off the right highway, I would never dare decrypt a Map Quest, unless of course my life depended on it. I once did it while lost in Atlanta, and I ended rattling off street names as if these were Da Vinci’s cryptic codes. But who could blame this poor diva from drifting between “Take I-75 N” and “Slightly turn right on exit 29“ when, to begin with, I could hardly recall street names?

For someone who is inflicted with street-name amnesia, I usually end up hyperventilating in the passenger seat each time a road-savvy taxi driver asks me which street, road or corner to take. “Would you rather that we take Bag-ong Dan and head to Hippodromo or turn along Escario to proceed to Archbishop Reyes?”

It is at this moment that everything seems to move in slow motion. Sarao jeepneys that usually whiz by suddenly appear to crawl at snail’s pace. Pedestrians who often rush to the other side of the road seem to leisurely stroll on the yellow lane. And as the driver continues to mechanically recite street names while my head spins from desperately trying to make sense of the barrage of unknown places, I hear nothing but Greek.

Neither does it help that I have been blessed with a paranoid family who, perhaps reading on the daily news too many cabbie assault stories that usually take place anywhere else but in Cebu, have long warned me never to drop hints to a stranger about being clueless and lost.

But when salvation is required, I usually slick my way out of my navigation dilemma by calling a human GPS.

“I’m standing in front of a street post next to a ‘No urinating’ sign,” I’d inform my cousin in between panic attacks.

“Do you have any idea how many street posts with ‘no urinating’ signs are there around Cebu?” my cousin would shoot back, clearly exasperated at my poor choice of landmark. “Can you be any more precise? Anything else that may help hint where you are?”

I would pause and look around. “There’s a two-storey green house.”

Despite the fact that my compass magnet needs a bit of tweaking, I remain undaunted. If Jack Sparrow can travel to world’s end with a compass that doesn’t point north, what’s to stop this navigation-challenged diva from conquering the world?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sole searching

What has the world of footsies come to?

First, came the Havaianas, Brazilian rubber slippers that swept both the fashionable and the comfort-seeker on their feet.

For someone who has seen the ridiculous beeline – all in the name of getting first pick privilege or simply snagging a pair – it was apparent what these imported flip-flops have done to the poor fashionista. It has possessed her, lured her out of her chic platforms and into what everyone else called "comfort zone".

In limited stores were in-stock "metallics" or "highs" were bound to fly off the shelves swifter than a flick of Harry's wand, even the most sensible may morph into a demented shopaholic, unremorseful about jostling any competition in sight or, if called for, snatching a pair from someone else's manicured fingertips.

I knew the flip-flop fever has escalated into insane retail proportions when Sun.Star travel editor and occasional shopping companion Kristin Lerin began placing long distance calls imploring me to hand-carry her Havaianas from the States back home. She lamented, in a manner only a deprived can, how it takes a James Bond to get hold of a pair of gold or silver high Havaianas anywhere else. Desperation led her to

Dutiful friend that I am who incidentally has a good grasp on the clutches of obsession being someone who hordes objects of desire myself, I lugged her prized possessions, carefully tucking these, like fragile China, in between pairs of skinny jeans to ensure that, after running into a rough day at the airport, her Havaianas won't emerge out of my suitcase like some poor, badly-battered wife.

But while the Brazilian slippers were the must-have all along in this side of fashion town; half-way around the globe, Ugg was the status piece. When I spotted the Aussie invention prevalently on the pedestrian streets of Los Angeles sometime last year, I prayed – for two compelling reasons – that it won't invade home in similar fashion the Havaianas have.

First, furry boots are mortal faux pas in a tropical country where dry spells equate national calamity. Secondly, unless you're Sienna Miller, you can never get away with it.

Instead, what I didn't see coming was the "attack" of the Crocs. At a glance, Crocs look frighteningly cumbersome, what with the predator-like side profile which incidentally inspired the name. And without a glimmer of doubt, unattractive.

Yet despite its unwieldy looks, Croc fanatics swear by its comfort. Apparently, a pair feels as light as cotton candy that, advocates of this fashion cult promise, it feels walking barefoot.

As opposed to "heels from hell", a pair of comfy Crocs may seem like the way to salvation for badly battered soles. But not everyone is born ready to wear Crocs.

Would the likes of Victoria Beckham be spotted wearing a pair of wild cherry-colored Crocs someday? I doubt it. Did the former Spice Girl flinch when she had to undergo foot surgery from a platform-caused injury, and give up on heels all together? Not at all.

Will this writer, a heel-obsessed strider, ever betray a pair of bondage-like stilettos to become another Croc convert?

Until I get to slip these vagabond soles into a pair of bulky-looking, perforated Crocs, I'd probably never know. Yet masochist that I am, I'm pretty sure that – for the time being – I'd rather endure the pleasurable pain of walking in a pair of red pumps than be caught dead wearing what one online article referred to as "hideous comfort".

But then again, this is an irrational girl speaking from a bunion-free perspective.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Skinny jeans in the time of Carbonara

A pair of denim jeans, since its debut on the racks of Levi Strauss, has seen far more makeovers than Michael Jackson’s surgically pieced-together body parts.

First, after being labeled a male worker’s down-and-dirty uniform, denim jeans have found their way out of the miner’s cave and into a woman’s closet, defying clear-cut gender delineation in the then-conservative fashion world.

No sooner could Paris Hilton bolt out of her prison cell, jeans were dyed – washed, stoned and turned acid. The hipline dipped, low enough to show pierced belly buttons and – to the chagrin of the uptight – way too revealing to clog poor daddy’s coronary veins. And then came about the worn-out look.

This was one of those fleeting trends that ruffled by mom’s practical feathers. Not even a nuke threat could coax this stubborn, tightfisted woman from shelling out hard-earned hundreds for a pair of deliberately torn and distressed fresh-off-the-shelf jeans. “Why spend when you can get that look for free from your cousin’s three-year-old hand-me-downs?”

But it’s not just the wash nor the premeditated de-stressing that makes denim jeans a chameleon. Designers have also been sharpening their tailoring scissors to reinvent the cut. The designer’s pick of the hour? The taper cut.

Otherwise strutting by the glamorous name “skinny jeans”, these ankle-hugging, leg-clinging, butt-defining pants have stirred more points of arguments than the much publicized word war between Rosie O’Donell and Donald Trump.

It isn’t clear to me who started the fad but I’ll bet our neighbor’s cat that Kate Moss, throwing a hissy fit over wide-legged trousers that refuse to stay put around her set of lanky legs, one day threw on a pair that would finally cling to her hamstring. And so the much raved-about skinny jeans were finally spotted. First by the paparazzi. And later, by the watching world.

It’s easy to see how this trend has caught up like wildfire among the fashion-forward. Skinny jeans, when worn on a pair of long, lean and shapely legs (think Cameron Diaz), can work wonders. As stretchy meters of fabric delicately cling to every slope and curve, silhouettes are defined. With V-like tailoring that clearly puts emphasis on toned derriere, wearing a pair makes channeling one’s inner Jessica Alba effortless.

But these jeans are named “skinny” for obvious reasons. Unlike the stretchy leggings, a pair is not your regular one-size-fit-all closet-filler. In fact, on some body types, skinny jeans can be unforgiving. The very same clingy fabric that shape curves is the very bane of bulges and swollen calves too.

Since the arrival of skinny jeans, we’ve spotted all leg shapes and sizes. Some long and straight. Others, crescent and stout. A few misguided bloated calves have been seen unabashedly wandering around, looking like, any minute now, veins with blood unable to circulate from all the restriction beneath gripping fabric will unrestrainedly pop like kernels in the oven.

It’s hardly a surprise that, along with the return of skinny jeans, diet has become the fad’s other pea in the pod. Why else would desperate fashion followers skip a plateful of pasta if not for the promise of finally fitting into a pair of leg-hugging jeans? But should Atkins be proven wrong and giving up carbo eventually fails, one may always take comfort in the fact that fashion is as fleeting and fickle-minded as the September storm, and that the wide-legged pants are about to make a comeback.

Perhaps then, being able to wiggle with ease into a pair that dared not to cling to bulges like leech, a plateful of Carbonara would no longer taste as guilt-peppered as in the time of skinny jeans.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Toxic cup

First, there’s the wild palpitation. The heart, suddenly agitated and nervy, throbs to the beat of inaudibly deafening bass drums. Thud. Thud. Then, comes the involuntary convulsion of the sweat-drenched hands chased, not too long, by the spontaneous illogical rambling that would put even wasted Britney to shame.

As pathetic as it may sound in these days of Starbucks and Coffee Blends, when it comes to caffeine, I sadly have the threshold of a four-year-old on a lactose diet.

For someone conceived in a womb where dark liquids of espresso had long displaced the placenta, it baffles me to my wits why every inch of my body repulses the slightest hint of caffeine when my mom’s bottle of Pierre is a cup of Arabica blend.

Whether this was a genetic fluke or a matter of unique biological makeup, this 90-pound body is not built to survive a cup of dark espresso. Sure I could give it a shot to validate my contention, but my brother would probably have me write off my last will and testament before the first sip, certain of my forthcoming death by caffeine.

“Please leave me your Toshiba laptop before caffeine poisons you to the core,” would most likely be his ruthless joke.

In the gossip circles, I may go down as the only “diva” who orders a cup of steamed milk during coffee breaks, but this is not to ultimately say that I have never attempted to sip a cup of rich, freshly-brewed coffee at least once in my pitiable lifetime. I have, but each valiant attempt has left me with nothing more than a momentary case of cluttering – slurred speech, distorted syntax, erratic rhythm.

In medical-speak, this verbal mumbling and rambling may easily qualify as logorrhoea. In diva-terms, it’s simply Paris-Hilton-on-novocaine. Since then, I had better sense to steer clear from a cup of dripping, brewed coffee.

But drowning curiosity has not been easy, especially when everyone you know worships Starbucks like a religion.

Our illustrator, Janice, is one of the many. She could be in her death bed and her final wish would probably be triple shots of espresso intravenously fed into her.

It was she who introduced me to the world of French press, espresso doppio and cafĂ© macchiato. At first, I was a reluctant companion who wasn’t at all contributing to the Starbucks cash register, but was unremorsefully swaggering her way to the free condiments corner with a free mini cup of unlimited supply of non-fat milk.

Soon though, Janice threw in her pitch for the coveted Starbucks planner. Still, I was unaffected, believing that a leather-bound planner would hardly be enough to make me a Starbucks convert. But her overzealous devotion to her daily gourmet coffee fix and tiny star stamp in exchange for a limited-edition planner was infectious.

To earn my Starbucks stamp, those regular Starbucks visits made me discover a different addiction – hot chocolate.

I still recall my first queue among caffeine-starved Starbucks regulars. I was literally attacked, like a witness in a court room, by a barrage of questions.

“What would you like for today, maam? Something hot or cold?” asked the perennially perky Starbucks barista.

“Something hot please,” I replied with the same amount of perkiness.

“Coffee, choco or tea?” he shot back.

“Chocolate would be nice,” I retorted.

“Classic or signature?”

A long pause ensued while weighing my options. “Signature, I guess,” I finally decided.

“And what size would that be? Short, medium or tall?”

I was ready to burst into tears and beg, “Please, I just want a nice cup of hot choco!”

Never mind that I may have accumulated an additional 167 calories each day I indulged myself at Starbucks. Who could complain when it was a sinfully delightful way to earn my first Starbucks planner?

But don’t be fooled. Though I may now be spotted at the coffee place with a sleeved cup on one hand, I remain decaffeinated. Coffee, for this caffeine-deprived soul, continues to be an unwelcome concoction in my discriminating system. It will still be this expensive “toxin” that momentarily short-circuits logic and leaves me more jittery than a slow-as-snail soccer mom driving on a freeway.

And yes, pardon me if I’m rambling again like an incoherent Britney. It’s the lousy three-in-one decaf kicking in.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Seconds from (kitchen) disaster

“How do you expect to keep a marriage whole when you can hardly keep an egg yolk in tact?” my mom instinctively berates like a broken Beatles record each time she is reminded of my pathetic culinary skill.

I admit, I’m no Martha Stewart. When it comes to whipping up a wok-load of dishes, disaster is more like my middle name.

Throw me a mauve-dyed apron, and I’d maladroitly stain it with a reckless spill of tomato sauce. Toss me the pasta, and it comes out of a simmering pan looking like strands of poorly rebonded hair.

Thankfully, I’ve since mastered the art of sarcasm. “If all a man ever wants from me is Pasta Vongole and Oyster Rockefeller, then he better marry Wolfgang Puck!”

I have never truly appreciated the practicality (and gratifications) of cooking until I had to move far from home for a two-month training, and practically learn to feed myself. Not that I’ve never attempted to hold a skillet and a ladle previously in this lifetime. I have, and each time I do, my brother gets this sudden urge to leap out of Mactan bridge.

“Eat that, lest we both be punished by mom, no cable TV viewing for a day, for unceremoniously wasting food!” I would order my brother in Fidel Castro fashion, arms akimbo and hovering in front of him before the dining table.

With a jolt of culinary itch to whip up something mouthwatering at home, I snatched a pasta-in-a-box while on a grocery spree, believing that it was as easy as the instructions at the back of the box promised.

Apparently, I was misled.

“This looks like food served on Fear Factor,” my “genie pig” would lament without taking his gaze off the overcooked pasta drenched with sauce that looked as unappetizing as murky river.

“Should I’d suddenly twitch and freeze lifeless here from your crazy kitchen creations, my solitary death wish is for you to never hold a ladle again,” he would throw a punch line, hoping that a dash of humor might miraculously sprinkle some good taste into my dish, and perhaps some good sense into me.

After the many kitchen disasters, little brother has since been mortified at the thought of me anywhere near the oven. In fact, in one of my long-distance calls, I informed him that I had been among the food group’s designated cooks, frying bacon and hotdog for lunch. “Woe to them!” he said with a genuine concern to the people subjected to my cooking.

His statement is nothing short of prophetic. After the 23rd bacon meal, the boys—Joe Rhoniel, Jason and Kim Kessey–metamorphosed into disgruntled “groupies”, threatening to mutiny at the sight of another fried freezer meal.

“Slice me some onions and I’ll cook sinigang!” ordered Rhoniel, ostensibly aghast by the run-on-the-mill food we’ve been guiltlessly feeding them. For the first time in three weeks since we arrived in an unfamiliar place, thanks to his homemade sinigang, we finally got a taste of home through his labored sour stew!

But alas, his secret ingredient got lost in airport oblivion along with the “jetsetting” luggage – where a dozen packets of instant flavoring was stashed in and was supposed to replenish our dwindling supply – of unfortunate colleague Dexter! And yet, with or without a drizzle of flavors in a pack, the glaring disparity of kitchen skills between us and the boys was becoming apparent.

Crushed but hardly broken in spirit, I vowed to take up the culinary crusade as soon as I got home.

Announcing to my brother that I’ll once again be slipping on the apron to cook a borrowed dish from one of our engineers incidentally named in jest after him, “Adobo ala Mark Vic”, little bro froze half-way through my statement, perhaps conjuring images of him – being the poor younger brother that he is – forcibly muscling his way through a burnt piece of meat that could possibly taste and smell no different from a pair of two-week-old socks.

“Imagine the aroma of goodness wafting through the kitchen, the sweet taste of meat pillowed by rings of succulent pineapple, the delightful explosion of flavors on your taste bud,” I said, coaxing him into the idea. “It will be fun! I’ll do the cooking, you’ll do the tasting.”

Please, stay away from the kitchen,” he desperately implored.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Collecting glass slippers

Even when I was a naive and dowdy little nine-year-old, I’ve always suspected that Cinderella and her wicked stepsisters couldn’t possibly be fighting over prince charming. Instead, they all wanted what every girl covets – the glass slippers.

A woman’s love affair with her “sole” mate is a tangled web of complexities. The most brilliant minds have found a way to split an atom. Geneticists have unraveled the intricate convolutions of DNA. But not even geniuses can fathom the incomprehensible degree of obsession most women have over shoes.

Could mommy’s bedtime story of a beautiful princess being found by her prince through a lost slipper be to blame? Has that splendid image of a pair of luxurious glass shoes, sparkling like polished diamond under a masquerade ball’s spotlight, been perennially ingrained in our inner psyche?

Or, must we all fault Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City’s fashionista protagonist, for single-handedly introducing us to Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo? Never mind that the once mega-hit TV series is so last season now, it has already marked its “damage” on women who now intimately talk of Manolo and Jimmy like they are every woman’s first-degree cousins.

I first realized of the show’s aftermath on me when, stepping into The Venetian Hotel at Las Vegas for the first time, I asked where the Jimmy Choo boutique was instead of the famous indoor Grand Canal. Not that there’s any possibility for this shoe lover to afford herself of an expensive pair, but – like a little girl who have yet to hold her first Barbie –caressing a ridiculously expensive pair of Jimmy Choo is always blissfully surreal.

Of course, men – including those in my family – would never be able to understand this worldly obsession. “Why do you need all these pairs when you only have two feet?” is the standard question each time my cousin and I whine about not having enough.

Unfailingly, we try to defend ourselves from the onslaught of guilt attacks. “Shoes have personalities. You can’t pair a Sienna Miller boots with an Ashley Simpson shirt. It’s just not right!” my cousin would counter.

Besides, I would add, swing moods dictate which pair to slip on which justifies the need to constantly stuff the shoe rack. On perky days, purple ballerina flats. On dreary mornings, black pumps. While flirty evenings call for some red hot stilettos.

But the assault would go on. My brother, for instance, the proud owner of only three pairs of footwear, complained how his shoes – despite being a minority in number – have been displaced like another war refugee because I have guiltlessly hogged all the rack space.

Fearing that my soul will soon rot in “shoe” inferno, he desperately tries to pull all the stops to keep me from stepping into shoe stores like Schu, Charles and Keith, Janylin and others, on the few occasions that I get to convince him to shop with me.

“It will just be a quick glance,” I’d come up with an excuse without taking my gaze off the gold-dusted wedge on So Fab!’s display rack.

A hasty ten minutes after, we left the place with a pair of fancy wedge – and a set of Dorothy-like red pumps.

Now, grownup and with an expanding shoe rack, I must say I have gained perspective. I no longer look at Cinderella’s stepsisters as ruthless and wicked. After all, if I were the stepsister, and I’d chance upon the bedtime tale princess prancing around with a pair of gem-embellished Jimmy Choo’s, no way will I let her out of the courtyard without snagging the precious pair off her pretty feet!