We Filipinos are fond of fairy tales. The wedding of celebrity doctors Vicki Belo and Hayden Kho in 2017 was nothing short of a fairy tale. At least in the place and setting where it happened.
I was waiting for my invitation to that great event but I think the mailman misplaced it. On second thought, maybe I was not really invited.
So I did the next best thing, I visited the place where the wedding reception was held. It was in the Opera House in Paris, or also known as Palais Garnier.
This 19th century architectual masterpiece was built by Charles Garnier and opened in 1875. Today, it is home to Paris Ballet, and besides being a venue for great art performances, it is also open for visitors to tour. Well, I guess it can be rented for a wedding reception too.
It was almost closing time when we got to the Opera House, and so we did not have much time to roam, but just enough to get a feel of this grandiose place.
Here’s the majestic staircase where Belo and Hayden did their magical wedding dance.
Of course I had to climb up those steps as if I’m in a fairy tale story too. My wife and I did not dance though on those stairs for we might stumble and fall, and end up in a tragic tale instead.
Here’s the grand foyer (photo below) where the wedding banquet and tables were set up. The newly wed couple and their guests dined under these intricate painted ceilings and opulent lights.
As I said, this is an Opera House, so here’s the auditorium that can sit 2000 people and where the real magical performances are happening.
Below is an interesting Christmas tree made up of ballet shoes which was displayed during our visit. I have no idea what the golden tractor tires are for.
There is also a mystery surrounding the construction of this palatial edifice that facts and fictions are blurred. The famous tale of the “Phantom of the Opera,” a classic novel by a Frenchman, Gaston Leroux, a story that was retold in so many ways was inspired from the history of Palais Garnier.
We roamed around the halls perhaps looking for traces of Belo or perhaps searching for the phantom, until a lady with a bell called everyone still inside the opera house announcing that it was time to close. We were among the last ones who exited the place that night.
I know this place was already enchanting even before Belo rented this place. Maybe someday I’ll have my birthday bash or a wedding anniversary here. Alright, I’ll dream on.
From Belo’s wedding reception place, albeit two years too late,
(*photos taken with an iPhone at Palais Garnier, Paris)
Over the history of mankind, people have built structures that have become landmarks. They are a testament of the people who constructed them. Here’s a few that I have visited.
There are landmarks that are enduring and have lasted the passing of time.
There are landmarks that are flawed, but that only make them more endearing.
There are landmarks that symbolizes what a nation and its people stands for.
And then there are landmarks that are very popular and have become cultural icons.
I am not saying that I have created a monument of such significance as of the structures above, for that will be delusional. However I am proud to say that this blog is now 10 years old which I consider an achievement, for that is way more than the average life span of a blog site. My writing has flaws and is far from perfect, but I am still a work in progress.
This blog represents my personal ideas and nobody else. Moreover, I stayed true to my original purpose to keep this blog for the mere joy of writing – no ads, no commercials. If you should know, I still haven’t made a single cent from blogging.
I have posted more than 900 posts and this site has garnered more than half a million views. I know that is really not considered a very popular or a viral site that can have million of views a day. Yet I hope that like a landmark, I am leaving an impression in this blogging world in my own little way. I owe this though to you my dear readers.
And as long as I am enjoying this journey, I will keep on blogging. Thank you for your continued visit.
She probably has the most recognizable face. I am not her secret lover nor am I looking for an affair. I’m not even a devoted fan, but I just got to meet her to discover for myself what is this madness about her.
It was a cold and cloudy morning with intermittent drizzle, but that did not deter me from meeting her on our appointed date. The subway transit, known as the Metro was not running due to the labor force strike, but that did not stop me either. I could walk, or I could use Uber.
So I went to the palace where she resides. They even have these aesthetic glass pyramids in the inner court (photo above).
When I entered her royal residence, I passed through some naked guard statues. I thought to myself, if our medical mission is here, some of these guards could avail of our “operation tuli.” But I get it, circumcision was not in vogue in that era.
Some of the sculptures were really huge.
And so were the paintings.
The palace was enormous with more than 60,600 square meters to roam around. You could get lost here. I climbed up some majestic stairways and passed through several long hallways in search of my lady.
Finally, I entered the room where she was (photo above). For some reason, there was not much crowd around her that day. I think I was fortunate, I don’t have to navigate through a long line. Or perhaps I was favored, and she set aside a time for me to meet her.
In the end, I was face to face with her, my lady, Mona Lisa.
I was a little disappointed though. Maybe I was expecting more. Maybe I was thinking that it was something more grand, and not a tiny 30 x 21 inches affair. Or maybe I was just hoping that she would break into a full smile when I meet her. Maybe.
Now I cannot forget her enigmatic smile. And just like the sentiments in the song “Mona Lisa” by Nat King Cole, I felt the same:
Do you smile to tempt a lover, Mona Lisa? Or is this your way to hide a broken heart? Many dreams have been brought to your doorstep. They just lie there and they die there.
Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa? Or just a cold and lonely lovely work of art?
(*My wife took these pictures, and this rendezvous had no intention of being disloyal to my real lady. Photos taken at Louvre Museum)
Malamig ang simoy ng hangin at magpapasko noon, mahigit dalampu’t limang taon na ang nakalipas. Namamayagpag ang mga kanta ni Jose Marie Chan mula sa kanyang album na “Christmas In Our Hearts.” Bago at hindi pa gasgas ang mga kantang ito noon. Pero alam kong kahit na hanggang ngayon, hindi pa rin kumukupas ang mga awit na ito dahil pinapatugtog pa rin sila kapag buwan na ng “Ber.”
Kakatapos ko pa lang ng medical internship at wala pa akong matinong pinagkakakitaan. Ang matalik ko namang kaibigan noo’y may maganda at matatag nang trabaho sa PAL (Philippine Air Lines). Maaring sabihin na ako ay sa PAL din noon – PALamunin. Isang gabi, niyaya niya ako at ang aking nobya (ngayo’y asawa na) na samahan siya sa kanyang pakay.
Kami ba’y mamamasko? O baka magka-karoling? Magkakaraoke kaya? Pupunta sa Boom na Boom sa CCP Complex (meron pa kaya nito ngayon)? O kaya’y hahaluglugin ang Metro Manila para hanapin ang kanyang nawawalang ninong?
Hindi po, ang sagot sa lahat ng ito. May kakaibang trip sa Pasko ang aking kaibigan. Kami raw ay magpapamudmud ng munting “aginaldo” sa mga taong nangangailangan.
Aking sinilip ang loob ng kanyang kotse at sa likod na upuan nito ay naroon ang maraming supot (plastic bag ang ibig kong sabihin at hindi ibang ‘supot’ na nasa isip mo). Laman ng mga supot ay ilang gatang bigas at mga de lata. Dahil daw nakatanggap siya ng Christmas bonus kaya ipinambili raw niya ito ng bigas at mga de latang pagkain para ipamahagi sa iba. Feeling Santa Claus lang. Napabilib ako sa kanya.
Kami ay nag-drive sa kahabaan ng Quezon Avenue at doon kami naghanap ng mga kaluluwang mabibiyayaan.
Nag-park kami sa isang tahimik na parte ng kalye. Naghintay kami ng mga dadaan. Hindi nagtagal ay may isang batang paslit na dumaan. May bitbit pa yata itong cell – hindi cellphone kundi cellophane. Ano kaya ang nasa cellophane? Rugby kaya? Singhot boy pa yata siya. Subalit wala naman kaming pinipiling pamaskuhan.
Tinawag namin ang bata. Lumapit naman ito, dahil hindi naman kami mga mukhang pulis. Tinanong namin kung saan siya nakatira. Tumuro siya sa isang dako, pero baka sa ilalim lang ng tulay ito natutulog. Inabutan namin siya ng aming pamasko. Natuwa at nagpasalamat naman siya at dali-dali nang umalis.
Maya-maya pa ay dinumog na ang aming sasakyan ng mga batang palaboy. Siguro nagtawag ng kanyang katropa ang unang batang aming binigyan. Mga madudungis na mga palad ang nakalahad at naghihintay sa aming bintana. Buti na lamang at marami kaming nakasupot na ipamimigay. Matapos naming abutan silang lahat, mabilis na kaming tumakas at baka isang baranggay pa ang dumating.
Nag-drive na muli kami at sa ibang lugar naman kami nag-parking. May mga paisa-isang bata o matanda kaming nakita, ilan ay naghahalungkat ng basura. Inabutan din namin sila ng aming aginaldo.
Sa isang bahagi ng Quezon Avenue kung saan kami nag-park, ay dalawang dalagita ang lumapit sa aming sasakyan. Mukha lang silang mga teenager. Kusa silang lumapit sa aming kotse kahit hindi namin sila tinawag.
Hindi ko alam kung anong gusto nila. Siguro nakita nilang dalawa kaming lalaki na nakaupo sa harapan ng kotse. Mga kalapati kaya sila? Siguro napansin din nila ang aking girlfriend na nakaupo sa likuran ng kotse. Pinagkamalan ba nilang siya’y kalapati na aming na-pick-up? Kawawang girlfriend.
Paglapit nila sa aming sasakyan ay nagpakilala naman sila. Sila raw ay si Salbe at si Lable. Siguro Salve at Lovely ang pangalan nila, pero ang pagkakabigkas nila ay Salbe at Lable.
Hindi namin alam kung anong kwento ng buhay nila ngunit hindi na namin masyadong inusisa pa. Ano kaya ang dahilan kung bakit sila gumagala-gala sa kalsada kahit gabi na? Ano kaya ang nagtulak sa kanila para pasukin ang buhay na iyon?
Kung anumang ligaya ang inaakala nilang aming hinahanap ng gabing iyon ay hindi po ganoon ang aming balak. Sabi lang namin sa kanila na kami ay nagbibigay ng mga pamasko at ito ang nagdudulot sa amin ng ligaya. Inabutan na lang namin sila ng aming naka plastic bag na aginaldo at binati sila ng Maligayang Pasko. Tinanggap naman nila ito, at kami’y umalis na.
Iba-iba ang ating estado sa buhay. Iba-iba ang ating kalagayan sa Paskong ito. Habang ang iba sa atin ay maginhawang pahiwa-hiwa lang ng keso de bola, ang ilan nama’y nahihiwa sa mahigpit nilang pagkapit sa mga patalim. Maaring ang ilan sa atin ay palunok-lunok lang ng cherry at ubas, habang ang iba nama’y pilit na linulunok ang mapait na katotohanang sa kanila’y gumagapos.
Lumibot-libot pa kami hanggang sa maubos nang tuluyan ang aming mga pamasko. Kahit naubos na ang aming mga munting aginaldo, hindi naman naubos ang galak sa aming mga puso. At kahit mahabang panahon na ang lumipas, ito’y nagdudulot pa rin ng saya kapag aking naaalala.
Napihit ba namin ang gulong ng palad ng aming mga napamaskuhan upang ito’y magbago? Marahil hindi. Kung mayroon mang nagbago ito ay ang aming pakay at pananaw sa buhay.
Ilang mga tao pa kaya ang nag-uukay-ukay sa mga basura ngayon? Ilang mga bata pa kaya ang namamaluktot habang natutulog sa ilalim ng tulay. Ilang mga Salve and Lovely pa kaya ang gumagala-gala sa gabi?
I had a short visit and spent two nights in Nashville, Tennessee. I went there for training. No, I am not changing career to be a country singer. My training was about navigational bronchoscopy.
Even though my visit was brief, I still was able to see parts of Nashville.
Here’s Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.
This iconic hotel offers guests all the excitement and energy of a music city like Nashville under one roof.
It has climate-controlled glass atriums with bending river, falls, fountains, rain forest and an extraordinary selection of dining, shopping and recreation options for a perfect getaway.
I also visited downtown Nashville and explored Lower Broadway, a major entertainment district well renowned for honky tonks and live country music.
Here’s Johnny Cash’s joint.
Below is Kid Rock’s Honky Tonk place.
The one with the tower is the popular Bridgestone Arena, home to famous country music concerts.
What is a Nashville visit without hearing a live country music band? So I did. I skipped the line dancing though.
However, the best part of my visit to Nashville is not even displayed in these above photos. For the best part of my trip was that I was able to see my best friend in college and medical school. He is now practicing near Nashville as a Pediatrician, and we have not seen each other for more than 20 years. We had a lot of catching up to do and two days was merely not enough.
In my last post, I already alluded that I went back to New York last weekend. Besides attending a program in honor of a retiring beloved Pastor, this trip also gave me the opportunity to visit my old stomping ground.
When we were in New York about two decades ago, we lived in “the Hamptons.” But before you think of that exclusive and ritzy place in Long Island for the rich and famous, I don’t mean that.
This is the Hampton I meant – Hampton Street in Queens, New York.
We lived in one of these apartment complexes.
My wife and I also visited “Ihawan,” one of the several Filipino restaurants in the neighborhood where we used to frequent before. We had a hearty (as in heart-attack risk?) breakfast here.
After breakfast, we walked to the hospital where I did part of my medical training. I even went inside and check out the place. There was much changes here since the time I left.
Then we hopped on the number 7 train of the New York City Metro. This line of train is on the top of the street instead of being underground, at least in this part of town.
We rode the train and boarded off here, the Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.
People here are always rushing, and time seems to be incessantly fleeting in this place. Except for us now, as we had time to kill and just relax.
We then walked through New York City midtown and end up in Bryant Park. We were also in this place last December where our kids went ice skating. This place looks very different in the summer as instead of an ice skating rink, there is lawn grass.
We just sat down here and did some people watching. There were even some ballet dancers practicing at the park.
Then we headed down to Time Square area as we wanted to see a “new” establishment there. We heard it opened in October of last year. Was it an earth-shaking institution or such an epic landmark that it forever altered the face of Time Square? I don’t know, you tell me.
Perhaps we were just hankering for that certain taste of home. We were greeted inside by this happy guy.
That sums up our short visit to the city. Until next time…….
A couple of weeks ago, when we were coming home from a week-long international camporee, we happen to drove by a sunflower farm here in Iowa. We were unaware that there’s a sunflower field here. Since we were all tired from the camping, we did not go down to check it out, but promised ourselves that we’ll come back and visit it some other time.
Last Friday, after we helped our daughter get settled back to her dorm, we trekked down to the sunflower farm, which was less than an hour drive from our daughter’s university.
When we arrived at the field, we were a little disappointed, as the condition of the sunflowers has passed its peak. Summer after all, is almost ending and plus the heavy rains earlier in the week did a number on the sunflowers. In fact some of the sunflowers had already fallen to the ground.
Since the state of the farm was not that picture perfect anymore, the $3 entrance fee had been waived, and instead a box for voluntary donation at the gate was placed. It was also free to take some flowers home.
I have to say though that overall, peak or past their peak, the sunflowers were still a beauty to behold.
I noticed something peculiar as well. I always heard that sunflowers always face and follow the sun from sunrise to sunset. This phenomenon is called heliotropism. However in this field the flowerheads were actually turned away from the sun as they were facing east, though the sun was already starting to descend in the west. Why?
I asked one of the farm attendant and she told us that young sunflowers follow the sun across the sky, but when the plant mature, the stalks become stiff already so they lost their ability to turn. So the mature sunflowers face east permanently the rest of their days.
Isn’t that like people? When we were young, we were impressionable and we follow rules without questions. But when we get old, we become “stiff neck” and become pasaway (hardheaded).
Speaking of pasaway, here’s one:
Don’t worry, I did not really “water” the sunflowers. It was all for photo effects.
For some reason while I was on this field, I had this certain Beatles song playing in my head. Maybe because I know that the sunflowers follow the sun:
One day, you’ll find That I have gone But tomorrow may rain, so I’ll follow the sun Yeah tomorrow may rain, so I’ll follow the sun.
There are places that are hard to conquer because of their natural physical barrier. Like the Masada in Israel, a fortress on top of a rock plateau 1400-feet high. This was the last foothold of the Jews against the Romans. Or the Maeda escarpment, which is a 350-foot high ridge in the island of Okinawa, Japan. The Americans lost hundreds of lives trying to capture this place, a story featured in the movie Hacksaw Ridge.
But I am not really going to talk about battles or wars today. The unconquered hill that I was alluding to was a hill in a bike route. Yes, no shedding of blood here, only sweat for it’s just a bike ride.
I participated in the RAGBRAI*, which is a popular annual week-long bicycle ride across the state of Iowa. This was my second time to join this event.
Before you really get amazed on my undertaking, I want to let you know that I only rode for one day, and not for the whole week. And I chose the day with the shortest route too, which was only 40 miles. I say only 40 miles, because on the other days, the course ranges from 60 to 88 miles.
I did not train much for this bike ride. Since I run at least 2-3 times a week and can run 3 miles comfortably, plus knowing that I have finished several half-marathons in the past, I was confident that biking 40 miles should not be a problem at all. After all, I am reasonably fit, right?
When I run for the half-marathon, I usually train for at least 2 months. But the only preparation I did for this bike ride was I performed a 5-mile exercise in a stationary bike at a gym a week before, and I rode a 10-mile road test 2 days before the real event.
That was a mistake.
My cardiopulmonary function may be alright, and my determination is like titanium, but I overlook one thing. Riding a bike uses a different set of muscles than running.
So on one of the steep uphill climb, I felt my quadriceps muscles cramping and almost giving out. They were not trained to pound on the pedal for that long. As you probably know, running uses more of the hamstrings and calf muscles, not so much in cycling.
We stopped for a while after that grueling hill, and sat at the side of the road to give my cramping quad muscles a break. This bike-ride is not a race anyway. You can do it at your own pace, and can stop several times if you want. In fact, stopping to sample the foods being sold along the way and hanging out in the small towns we passed through was encouraged.
I made it through the 40 miles ride in one piece, and without keeling over. No bruises, no fractures. Only fractured confidence.
On the bike course of that day, the last leg was a couple of hills. I don’t know why they chose a steep hill for a finish after already pedaling 40 miles and passing so many hills. But since we were already within the vicinity of what was considered the end of the route, we skipped the last hill climb and called it a day.
We then phoned for our ride to fetch us at the street before the last hill – the last unconquered hill.
(*RAGBRAI- Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa; photos taken with an iPhone)
Pompeii is an ancient Roman city near the modern day Naples in southern Italy. On that fateful moment in AD 79, it was suddenly buried in 4 to 6 meters of volcanic ash and debris during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
The city remained frozen in time, concealed under ash and rocks until it was discovered by surveying engineer in 1748. With methodical excavation, evidence of a once thriving city was unearthed.
When we visited Pompeii several weeks ago, we were able to witness the ruins, as well as take a peek at a slice of ancient Roman life.
Photo below is one of the main streets, where horse-drawn carriages or chariots pass through. It is amazing how the stone-paved road is in very good condition.
Though the pedestrians, experts believe, walk on the sidewalk and use the step-stones (big stones in the middle of the road) to cross to the other side of the road. The reason why pedestrians don’t walk in the stone-paved road was that most of the time runoff water was flowing in the road as part of their water drainage system. Plus, sewage from homes also stream through it, and you definitely don’t want to step on that.
Below is an entry way to a well-to-do home. I was impressed on the intricacy of the mosaic art on the floor.
Here is a courtyard garden inside the largest home on the block. It was believed that this residence was owned by a prominent Roman of the ruling class.
Below is an ancient eatery or food vendor, perhaps like the modern day McDonald’s or your local carinderia. The holes in the ‘counter’ are where the pots or vessels containing food were kept warm by a fire underneath.
Here is their theater (next photo) where they watch plays and concerts. I wonder what shows they have then. Maybe “The Three Roman Tenors?” Or perhaps “The Phantom of the Colosseum?”
The Romans also have public bath houses. The photo below, believe it or not, is a sauna room. A wood-burning furnace outside sends warm air under the raised floor to heat the room.
Next is a sample of their wall art. Much nicer than the modern day graffiti, I would say.
They also have some sort of sports complex. The facility below is a training ground for gladiators.
Below is Pompeii’s town plaza. At the backdrop is Mount Vesuvius, which is considered an active volcano up to this day, though the last time it erupted was in 1944.
As we walked around the ruins, I have noticed that there were lots and lots of pillars.
I supposed these columns that are still standing today, are testaments of a once proud and prosperous city, and what it stood for. Sorry, pun intended.