Flying the Roads of Tuscany

When we talk about Italy’s countryside what comes to mind are the picturesque rolling hills and bountiful vineyards of Tuscany.

And there’s no better way to tour this scenic place than the iconic Italian way – riding the Vespa or the Fiat. Well, you could do it too with a Ferrari convertible but that would cost you an arm and a leg.

During our visit to Italy we did the Tuscany Vespa Tour. (This is not a sponsored article though I would gladly accept even a free pizza if they offer.) Some of us rode the Vespa scooter while some of us rode the classic small Fiat car. I did the Vespa.

We picked up the Vespa and the Fiat from the tour’s office parking lot. After a brief tutorial, as I have not ridden a motorcycle since more than 25 years ago, I became more comfortable of riding it. I was at least confident that I would still be alive after the tour.

Then off we go!

Our first stop was at a local vineyard.

After parking our motorcycles and cars, we toured the place which includes wine tasting. I am not really into wine, but they had prepared free pasta lunch too, so I was more than happy. Plus I don’t think indulging in wine and riding a motorcycle afterwards was a good idea.

I even saw a black cat at the winery. Was it a bad omen? Should we not continue on our trip? Nah!

After the vineyard tour, we were back on the road again.

Our next stop was a quaint town. We parked our vehicles and walked around the small town. Here we tasted free samples of truffle spreads, different kinds of cheese, and balsalmic vinegar offered in the local stores. Their balsalmic vinegar tastes good that it rivals the sukang Iloco (being a half-bred Ilocano, I’m still biased for the sukang Iloco).

After hitting the road again, our last stop was an old fortress. Its medieval courtyard was transformed into shops and eateries. There were no sword-wielding knights nor jousting tournament though. The closest we had to a battle were tourists jostling to buy the ever popular Italian gelato. Of course we had some too.

Overall, it was a really fun ride. You may think that this small scooter is under power, but it is not. Yes it is not as muscular as the Harley-Davidson, but this Vespa Sprint model with its 125 cc cylinder can still fly through the Tuscan hills.

It was a swell experience to fly the Tuscan roads with the sunlight on my eyes, wind on my hair (even though I don’t have much) and bugs in my face. Wait…..what?

Actually “flying” has a double meaning here, as this includes the flying insects that may hit your face as you zoom through the hills. I must be in a state of exhilaration with my mouth wide open that one insect hit my teeth. Good thing I was able to spit it out.

Italian bug tasting? Not included in this tour.

From the roads of Tuscany,

Pinoytransplant

(*All photos taken with an iPhone. Thanks to my unofficial photographers who took some of the pictures. A shout out to JDC Private Tours, who made our tour of Italy such a pleasant experience.)

Kanal, Eskinita at Sinampay

Kahit na bumibisita sa isang banyagang lugar, bakit kaya mga pamilyar na bagay pa rin gaya ng aking kinagisnan sa Pilipinas ang tumatawag sa aking pansin?

Noong isang araw ako’y natuwang maglakad sa tabi ng mga estero o ng malalaking kanal…….

Naglagalag at sumuot sa mga maliliit na eskinita…….

At tumanaw sa mga pinapatuyong sinampay (ngunit hindi ko naman ito sinungkit).

Pero may pagkakaiba rin naman sa bansang ito. Dahil dito, kahit sa kanal ay may mga namamangka.

Kahit na tabing-kanal ay maari palang maging romantikong lugar.

May mahuhuli kaya kaming dalag?

(*photos taken with an iPhone in Venice, Italy)

Flower-Strewn Pathway

I was going out for my morning run a few days ago and as I got out of the front door I noticed that our walkway was covered with flower petals.

Beautiful morning. Flower-strewn pathway. What else could I ask for?

Maybe our crabapple tree was treating me as royalty, shedding and laying its flowers on my path.

I remember an old movie “Coming to America,” where the character played by James Earl Jones, the king of Zamunda, a fictional wealthy African nation, visited the United States, New York City, to be exact. He was looking for his son, played by Eddie Murphy, who is the crown prince of that said nation. In one scene, as the king steps out of his limousine, royal attendants strew flowers on the ground where he would walk on. I know, I am no royalty.

Come to think of it that is what flower girls in a wedding do too. These cute little girls would scatter flowers in the path where the bride would walk on. But I am no bride either.

By the way the tradition of flower girls scattering flower petals has its origin from the Greek and the Romans. The young girls walking before the bride in ancient practice, scatter herbs and grains to wish the bride fertility. But nowadays it is replaced by tossing flower petals as a wish for happiness for the bride. And maybe fertility too.

Our journey in this life though is not always filled with happiness or a flower-strewn pathway, so to speak. Or perhaps it is, as our path could be littered with roses but including its thorns. Maybe the flower vase is thrown in the path as well with its broken pieces of glass!

A poem by Annie Johnson Flint said this, “God hath not promise skies always blue, flower-strewn pathway all our lives through.”

The author of the poem, Annie, was only 3 years old when her mother died while giving birth to her baby sister. Her father who also had an incurable disease decided to give Annie for adoption as he couldn’t take care of her, and he died not long after that. Annie was sent to school by her adoptive parents and was able to finish her education and became a teacher. However she developed painful and debilitating arthritis at a young age which extremely limited her mobility. She was resigned to a wheelchair most of her life.

Yet she still penned this poem:

WHAT GOD HATH PROMISED

God hath not promised skies always blue, 
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain, 
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

God hath not promised we shall not know
Toil and temptation, trouble and woe;
He hath not told us we shall not bear
many a burden, many a care. 

God hath not promised smooth roads and wide,
Swift, easy travel, needing no guide;
Never a mountain rocky and steep,
Never a river turbid and deep

But God hath promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labor, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above, 
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.

What a great reminder for us indeed.

As for my morning run that day, it did start with a flower-strewn pathway though it got a little thorny especially on the last mile. But I did fine.

I am thankful for the promised strength for the day. And I don’t mean just for running.

(*photo taken with an iPhone)

We’ll Be Alright

We had a very cold winter this past season. It was among the snowiest too that I can remember. According to the weather almanac, this past winter in Des Moines set some records in snowfall.

In the 15 years that we have lived here in Iowa, this last one was the most brutal winter we’ve experienced.

But winter is gone. Everything is forgotten. Above photo is our front yard in mid March when snow and ice were beginning to thaw.

Here it is today:

Life is like seasons. You may be undergoing harsh winter now, yet keep in mind that winter will not last forever. Life will flourish again.

Just like what the song “Leaves” of Ben and Ben (a Filipino indie/pop band) says:

Leaves will soon grow from the bareness of trees,
And all will be alright in time,
From waves overgrown come the calmest of seas,
And all will be alright in time.

In this case, flowers grew too from the bareness of trees. Yes, we will be alright in time.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

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Here’s the official lyrics video of the song “Leaves.”

Abangers: Endgame

(No spoiler alert for Avengers: Endgame movie.)

Tumabo na naman sa takilya ang pelikula na tungkol sa ating mga paboritong superheroes, ang Avengers: Endgame. Sa panahong sinusulat ko ang akdang ito ay hindi ko pa napanood ang naturang pelikula, kaya’t hindi ko pa maibibida ito sa inyo.

Pero ibang superhero ang aking tatalakayin sa post na ito. Sila ang mga superhero o nagpapakabayani na maghintay at mag-abang – ang mga Abangers. Opo tinalakay ko na sila sa post ko noon, Abangers: Infinity Wait, pero sana’y pagbigyan ninyo akong muli na pag-usapan natin sila.

Sino ba ang mga Abangers na ito? Sila ba iyong nag-aabang ng nagtitinda ng puto o balut? O iyong nag-aabang ng jeepney o bus? O kaya nama’y nag-aabang ng kinsenas o katapusan ng buwan na suweldo? O nag-aabang sa kanto ng away o kaya’y sa kalye ng tsismis? Hindi po mga ‘yan ang tinutukoy ko.

Ang mga Abangers na aking tinutukoy ay ang mga taong nag-aabang na mahalin sila ng kanilang iniibig na may mahal namang iba. Sila ang mga taong umiibig ng boyfriend o girlfriend ng iba, o mas masaklap pa asawa na ng iba. Iyan ang mga super bayaning Abangers.

Siguro may kakilala kayong Abanger? O baka ikaw ay isang Abanger din? Kaibigan, siguro kailangan mo nang mag-isip-isip at baka ikaw ay nag-aabang lang ng wala. Ika nga, naghihintay na pumiti ang uwak.

Noong ako’y bata-bata pa ay maraming kanta akong nagisnan na nagsasaad ng ganitong damdamin. Sa katunayan naging sikat ang mga kantang ito. Dahil kaya marami kasing mga tao ang nakaka-relate sa mga awit na ito?

Ito po ang isang lumang kanta. Sa aking pagkakaalala ay si Jaime Rivera ang orihinal na umawit nito, pero noong makailan lamang ay may cover din si Morrissette Amon ng kantang ito – “Mahal Naman Kita.” Sabi ng kantang ito:

Pangarap ka na lang ba o magiging katotohanan pa,
Bakit may mahal ka nang iba,
Ngunit ‘di bale na kahit mahal mo siya,
Mahal naman kita.

Heto pa ang isang lumang kanta ulit. Si Martin Nievera naman ang unang kumanta nito, pero may version din si Regine Velazquez. Ang kantang ito ay ang “Ikaw Ang Lahat Sa Akin.” Saad ng kanta:

Ikaw ang lahat sa akin, 
Kahit ika’y di ko dapat ibigin, 
Dapat ba kitang limutin, 
Pa’no mapipigil ang isang damdamin, 
Kung ang sinisigaw, 
Ikaw ang lahat sa akin. 
At kung hindi ngayon ang panahon, 
Upang ikaw ay mahalin, 
Bukas na walang hanggan, 
Doo’y maghihintay pa rin. 

Mayroon pa akong alam na kanta, sinalumang awit ulit. Isinulat at inawit ito ni Rey Valera. Pero may bago-bagong version nito si Piolo Pascual. Ano ba yan, bakit yata puro recycle na ang ating mga kanta? Ang kanta ni Rey Valera ay ang “Walang Kapalit.” Sangayon sa kanta:

At kung hindi man dumating sa ‘kin ang panahon,
Na ako ay mahalin mo rin,
Asahan mong ‘di ako magdaramdam,
Kahit ako ay nasasaktan,
Huwag mo lang ipagkait,
Na ikaw ay aking mahalin.

Pero heto ang mas matindi. Isang lumang OPM ulit na ang orihinal na kumanta ay si Basil Valdez, pero may cover din si Sarah Geronimo. Ang kanta ay ang “Hanggang sa Dulo ng Walang Hanggan.” Sabi ng kanta:

At kung sadyang siya lang ang ‘yong mahal, 
Asahan mong ako’y ‘di hahadlang, 
Habang ikaw ay maligaya ako’y maghihintay, 
Maging hanggang sa dulo ng walang hanggan. 

Talagang matindi ano? Maghihintay hanggang sa dulo ng walang hanggan! Subali’t maganda bang gawin iyon? Para po sa akin, ay hindi yata tama.

Ang kanta ay natatapos. Ang ubo ay nauubos. Pati nga liwanag ng bituin ay nauupos, kaya nga may black hole. Lahat ng bagay ay may katapusan. Kung ang paglalakbay ng alon sa dagat ay may dalampasigang hangganan, ang bus ay may terminal, at ang pasada ng jeepney ay may boundary, kaya ang mga biyaheng one-way na pag-ibig sana ay may hangganan din.

Kahit po sa mga Abangers, dapat may Endgame.

Noong makalawang araw ay naghalughug ako ng mga bagong OPM na mapapakinggan. Alam kong hindi na mga bago ‘yung iba, pero para sa aking pandinig, ay mga bago ito. Kahit mahigit dalawang dekada na po akong wala sa Pilipinas ay patuloy pa rin naman akong nakikinig at naaaliw sa mga awit na sariling atin.

Dito ay natuklasan ko ang dalawang “hugot” na mga kanta. Ito ay nagsasaad rin ng mga damdamin ng isang Abanger. Pero sa halip na sila ay umaasa nang umasa ng walang hanggan, o kaya’y umibig kahit na walang inaasam na kapalit, ang mga kantang ito ay nagpasyang may katapusan ang kanilang paghihintay. Ika nga Endgame na.

Ang unang kantang aking napakinggan ay kanta ng Ben and Ben. Ito ay ang “Kathang Isip.” Sabi ng kanilang kanta:

Pasensya ka na,
Sa mga kathang isip kong ito,
Wari’y dala lang ng pagmamahal sa iyo,
Ako’y gigising na,
Sa panaginip kong ito,
At sa wakas ay kusang lalayo sa iyo.

Heto pa ang isa. Kanta ng Muni-muni, “Sa Hindi Pagalala.” Wika ng kanta:

Kakalimutan na kita,
Siguraduhin mong hindi talaga pwedeng tayo,
Napagisipan mo na ba, 
Dahil kakalimutan na kita,
Eto na, eto na.

Tulad ng aking nasambit na noon, ako’y naging superhero din. Ako ay minsa’y naging Abanger din noon. Pero buti na lang at ako’y nagising sa aking kathang isip at kusang nag-endgame. Dahil kahit superhero o may superpower, may panahong dapat tayong sumuko, lumayo at lumimot na.

Mga Abangers, Endgame na!

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Here’s the official music video of Kathang Isip:

(*photo from web, video from youtube)

Sneak Shot

One afternoon, a deer quietly wandered in our yard near the front door. They are usually timid creatures and are easily spooked by just about any motion or noise.

Hiding behind the curtain, I sneaked to get a photo of the deer. However, I think it sensed that she’s being watched, so she quickly moved away, but not after I was able to take some shots.

The deer disappeared probably muttering “Those pesky nosy neighbors!”

What’s funny is I did not know that I was also being sneak up on. And she was able to take some shots too.

Am I also timid and easily spooked? I could have turn around and gave my deer-in-the-headlights look.

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(*photos of me sneaking a photo were taken by my wife)

Unburdened

It has been rough going for us in the past few weeks. Our work group is limping with regards to our coverage of clinic duties and hospital calls.

One partner is on maternal leave. There were sickness in our ranks as well for two of my partners went down with flu at the same time and they were incapacitated for a day or so, and we scrambled to cover for them. Then another partner underwent surgery and have limitations on doing procedures that we have to switch around our rotations. And with recent spring break season, there’s always one of us that is out of town for a vacation that has long been scheduled.

But life goes on and we managed.

I am in-charge of the ICU for almost two weeks now. It is awfully busy and I am in a lot of stress to say the least. My wife have noted that I’m in a foul mood in the past few days. Perhaps I’m becoming a grumpy old man. Or perhaps it’s male menopause, if that’s even a thing. I still blog though, partly to de-stress.

Then a couple of days ago I received an e-mail from our group’s Risk Manager forwarding a letter from the hospital’s Guest Relations Office.

When the hospital’s Guest Relations Office is involved, it is mostly to pacify disgruntled patients and families and to hear their grievances. And when Risk Management contacts a doctor, that’s not a good sign, as most of the time it means a patient is complaining or worse yet, filing a lawsuit.

This is at the heels of a recent local news of a patient that sued a doctor and the jury awarded the complainant several million of dollars for damages. The compensation was so steep that most medical doctors could not earn that amount of money even in their whole lifetime. As a physician it bring shivers down my spine. I am not saying that the doctor in that case is not at fault, but this is just the reality of the world we lived in.

The e-mail I received said that the call came from the family of a patient that I took care in the ICU. It was an elderly woman who became severely ill and died under my care. She was one among the recent strings of our hospital fatalities.

I am already under a lot of pressure from the ICU’s workload and I don’t need any more bad news or added stress.

But as I continue to read the letter, my yoke was suddenly lightened. In fact my burden was lifted and turned into joy.

The letter said that the patient’s daughter reached out to the hospital’s Guest Relations Office and recommended that her experience be forwarded to the appropriate leadership body. And it named me specifically.

What the patient’s daughter wanted was that me and two of my residents “be recognized for our hospitality, warmth, and kindness.” She shared, “they were wonderful in explaining my mother’s circumstances. I cannot even find the right words to express what they did for me. It was so heart-warming.”

God knew I badly needed some encouragement. And I am so grateful He provided me one.

(*photo from the web)

Old Man

I had another birthday. If you don’t know it yet, my son and I share the same birth date. But as he is turning into a young man, I am growing into an old man.

We did not have a big celebration though, and in fact during our birthday, we drove more than 100 miles to my daughter’s university to watch her perform during a competition of their school’s top music students. So we just had our birthday dinner at my daughter’s university’s cafeteria. But we still grab an ice cream treat from there.

Even though we did not have a party or a fancy celebration, the best part of my birthday is that we spent it together as a family. I know as our children gets older and they go to college or move out and have their own lives, gathering together can get more and more infrequent.

It’s getting warmer in our part of the world, so we can spend more time outdoors again. And last night, my son and I played some basketball in our driveway hoops, perhaps inspired by all these NCAA March Madness. I know the NCAA basketball championship is all set between Virginia and Texas Tech tomorrow.

We spent many summers playing in our driveway hoops. It is here that I taught my son how to dribble the ball, how to drive into the basket and do a lay-up, how to do jump shots and some other fundamentals. Maybe I taught him more than just basketball here, like how to whole-heartedly compete and yet staying gracious in win or defeat.

photo taken 9 years ago when my son was 7 years old

But this time it is different. My son is now taller, even taller than me maybe by half an inch, and he is way more muscular and agile.

When we played one-on-one, it did not take me long to realize that I cannot compete against him anymore. I was just no match to his quickness and strength. He kept on blowing by me when he drives to the basket, he jumped higher to get the rebounds, and I can’t even reach his pull-up jumpers.

I tried all the ‘old man’ tricks I know, which in our language is called ‘gulang,’ but it was still a no contest. I was clearly overmatched. And every time he blows by me or make a basket, he lovingly teased me, “Come on old man!”

In spite of that, I can say that I could still run, jump and play basketball. Or at least a semblance of playing basketball.

Last night was a ‘passing of the torch’ moment for me.

I humbly accepted defeat. Not necessarily from my son, but from father time.


No Bird’s Nest

It’s spring time and all the snow are gone, but I have not put away our Christmas lights at our front door. Well, it is still cold. That’s my excuse.

Then this morning, we have noticed a lot of bird activity in our Christmas light topiaries. When we peaked, we found that a bird was trying to build a nest in our topiary.

It was flying back and forth with some small twigs in its beak. However, it sensed that we were watching through the glass, that it stopped working and dropped the twig from its beak.

It eventually flew away and abandoned building the nest in our topiary altogether. Perhaps that is a good thing as I don’t think it would be a safe place for a bird’s nest anyway.

Needless to say, it forced me to finally put away our Christmas topiary lights.