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Public servant in training; troubleshooter in action and spy in another life. I live ... I ignore warning labels. I revel in the pressure, the adrenaline ... that feeling of being on the edge and the fast pace that characterizes life ... welcome to my world!

Kind Acts and Words

© Moira G. Gallaga

(I wrote this sometime in 2011, a year and half after collapsing and being placed in ICU for a week. With this current pandemic, it just seems appropriate to recall anecdotes that highlight the good in people)

Whether it’s an unusual show of courtesy or a loving action that flows from a compassionate heart – the smile and friendly words of a stranger have the power to re-empower another. We experience this everyday, from that shy child you walk past on the street to the tireless cashier at your market….

One of the reasons I never lose faith in humanity. Strangers and friends who are just there – just because. © MGG

It reminds me of an incident two weeks ago at the Greenhills Antique Furniture shop where I was checking on some stuff for the house. Due to the heat and the large number of people doing last minute shopping for school items, I got one of those dizzy spells that plague me. I approached the nearest shop where an elderly couple seemed to be arguing about something. I asked them, “Can I sit here, please?” and pointed to one of their antique stools. The woman replied with a quiet, sincere smile: “Please do.” They asked me if I’m okay and I just said maybe it’s the heat. The two nodded and before I knew it the elderly man bought bottled mineral water, got his electric fan and set it up in front of me. When I got up to leave a while later they thanked me for the company! I was left stammering, I was so grateful for their simple, kind welcome it left me tongue tied. It hadn’t been an overly inspiring day for me, and that incident somehow offered new hope for the often-dreary present.

A quote whose author is unknown to me: “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes can last a lifetime.” I want to say thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Samonte.

26 April 2021

Upheavals

©Moira G. Gallaga

The start of 2020 was the end of one chapter of our life and the beginning of a new one. It was time to uproot ourselves once again and go home to the Philippines. It’s all part and parcel of the life we live and have chosen. It takes a lot of planning and preparation to move one’s life from one country to another, an upheaval of sorts. But this is our 5th time, so we got everything in hand. Slight difference is that our son decided to remain in Portugal, start his own chapter of his life separate from ours. No worries, we knew early on in our diplomatic posting that was his plan. If anything, it just ensured that Portugal would feature a bit prominently in our travel plans in the future.

Lisbon to Manila, 31 January 2020
Homeward Bound, 31 January 2020

Well, what we thought would have been a routine upheaval has suddenly turned into a major one courtesy of the Covid-19 pandemic. We didn’t see this one coming, and those assumptions, plans and expectations related to our return home all went flying out the window once Covid-19 went into full swing and started wreaking havoc on everyone’s lives and peace of mind the world over. It’s fair to say that no one anywhere really saw this coming, that this pandemic was a truly unprecedented situation but that still provided little comfort. The restrictions in movement, the enforced isolation, the anxiety and the mental toll this all brought about was further aggravated by decisions deemed pragmatic at the time before Covid-19. We figured we didn’t need much space in our residence as we would be taking every opportunity to be out and about, reconnecting with friends, visiting family and relatives, exploring the Philippines and the nearby region. Tension has suddenly become an uninvited guest in our home due to the nature of remote work and the setup of our cramped home. Not to mention loss and grief with their unannounced visits and rising frequency. Nothing to do but to cope, adjust and make the most of what is a truly difficult and challenging situation.

Sad to see closed restaurants … lockdowns … emptiness, both in place and soul. (Turkey, 23 December 2020 to 02 January 2021)

A year has passed and life still remains upended. However, it wasn’t without its good moments. Notwithstanding the challenges of traveling during a pandemic, the 3 of us managed to get together for Christmas and New Year in Istanbul, plus I also got to spend almost a month with our son in Portugal. Wonderful and brief moment, but well worth the effort, the risks and the cost to pull it off. A year has passed, and one is tempted to say we have slowly adapted to the “new normal” (I hate this term). Perhaps, but for me that was really just a matter of survival. We haven’t been really living this past year, at least not in my case. I am a wanderer at heart, I seek experiences, sights, tastes and sounds. I yearn for some semblance of normalcy that existed before this pandemic came around and turned everything inside out.

A challenging year behind us/No guarantees it will get better/But a new year always ushers hope/Vanishing the fear and dread/Let us strive to make it better now. © (Hagia Sofia, Istanbul)

The vaccines have started to arrive. It represents a light at the end of this constricted tunnel that is our current existence. I look forward to the promise it brings, of the opportunity to get our lives back on track. They say life won’t be the same after the pandemic, and I will agree to that. What I am counting on, however, is that life can be and will be better with the shackles gone and our spirits and being once again unleashed and free.

Istanbul to Lisbon, January 2021
Marsaxlokk, Malta (December 2018)

25 April 2021

Her Dreams of Travel Surpasses Everyone

© Moira G. Gallaga

Her dreams of travel surpassed our own

Talking of adventures in the north, as kids

Laughing and boasting and drinking until day

And bringing her to her knees in laughter

It was Verona she longed for

My birthday lunch, camping at the Sahara Desert

In the darkest nights she drove, breaking the speed limit

Longing for the wind in her hair

Down to the harbour, where the boats would leave

And she watched them fade away in tears

Waiting for another place

North African meal for my birthday lunch

She would walk for miles down the highway

With a flashlight and a backpack

Looking for the little boy she called her man

Who’d promised her everything

Her spirit skimming along the shadows and the tarmac roads

Imperator Furiosa leading the way to freedom © (Quad Biking in Morocco)

And dreaming in her bed she’d see great pyramids

Under an endless red-orange evening sky

European towers and the river on a cool night

Desert villages filled with spices

Waking up with the window wide and a beating heart.

My travel spoon collection representing all the travels I made. This is not complete, as I only started when I was in college and there are countries without travel spoons as part of their souvenir items. ©

24 April 2021

Rebooting

© Moira G. Gallaga

Home Office

Hello Friends and welcome to the Diplobugs blog. Its been a while, hasn’t it? I can hardly believe it’s been a whole 7 years since we were last here. As you know, I started this a little over a decade ago during a time of inner personal transition. A point in my life where I sought to rediscover my creative side, to not only bring it to the fore but to also give it a voice. This blog is my own space online, an outlet for my creative expression and a journal. 

Through this site I share and express my thoughts, feelings, opinions and insights related to my passions and broad range of interests. It is also a chronicle of adventures, travel and experiences, relayed through a variety of means: poetry, prose, essays, images, and articles.  

Following a hiatus, this site has been rebooted to reflect the growth, changes and new content that have accumulated since the start of this blog. I am thankful for the support I once received from all of you, and I hope we can now take things from where we left off.

So back to normal programming. Feel free to browse around and enjoy!

22 April 2021

Homeostasis on Skid Row

© Moira G. Gallaga

The click-clack of a jump rope. The drumming of a speed bag. The cold air of a morning jog. The smell of leather.

Bruised knuckles. Black eyes. A bloody nose. Sprawling in a bath of salt.

If you lose this one you’ll be a journeyman. They’ll pay a couple hundred dollars for some slick prospect to come in and beat you up. You’ll be a record-padder, a stepping-stone, a joke, a nobody. You’ll need a new career, kid.

Raised in poverty. Surrounded by criminals. Tempted by mediocrity.

I enter the ring. I am alone. There is nobody to help me, and I have never been good at helping myself.

With every opportunity I seize, I am forced to destroy the dreams of another just like me.

06 January 2014

Gastrodiplomacy in Madeira

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Food is the best way to explore and learn about other cultures. Take risks and try something new with food. Love and make memories with food as well. When I travel, the smells, textures, and tastes of all the different foods that I experience stay with me.

This is a flat bread made without yeast, which is SOO delicious served with garlic butter, and goes well with sopa de tomate e cebola.

Food when put in the context of a particular country or culture becomes so much more. It is an entire tradition of a place and a people that is so much different from who you are.

“Carne de Vinho e Alhos” is a typical Madeiran dish and consists of small pieces of pork meat marinated in wine for at least a day before it is cooked with garlic. The dish is normally served at Christmas time, namely on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8th December.

Food is a means of expression. It is social,funny, and fun. You will always find some new flavor to experience, a new cuisine to sample, a new friend to cook for, and a new restaurant to toast to the high heavens.

Lagareiro Salad (Octopus salad)

Food is poetry. It is playful, assertive, sweet, and irreverent. It can make the worst day in the world all better. We use food as fuel, but it is so much better to see it as more than that.

Coquetel de camarão (Shrimp cocktail)

Food is fun. It is fluid and keeps changing. It can spark an idea, a conversation, and a completely creative way to experience life.

Everyone enjoys food and relates to it on so many levels. Social justice, creativity, and matters of the intellect can all be related to food. There are those who even say that it is the stuff of life.

Sopa de Tomate e Cebola: traditional soup of Madeira, made of tomatoes and onions topped with a poached egg. Great to pair with Boca de Caco bread.

Most of all, I find food most unique because it can connect diverse people from all four corners of the planet. It lives in a place between past, present, and the future. Food is a way to escape from the humdrum of life and make it extraordinary–even for just one meal.

Bife com um ovo a Cavaco: Portuguese steak with sunny side up on top of the steak. It is cooked in a wine-based sauce and served with fried potatoes, rice or salad.

One of the most important Madeiran delicacies this Christmas season is their famous “Bolo de Mel” (Honey cake). It is made of sugar cane – cane honey, the rum and molasses. This is the oldest pastry in the island, due to the fact that it dates back to the times when Madeira was an important sugar cane producer in all of Europe. Another variation is called “Bolo de Mel Cana” or in English cane honey cake. Honey in Madeira is made from sugar cane.

Another variation is called “Bolo de Mel Cana” or in English cane honey cake. Honey in Madeira is made from sugar cane.

Most common denominator in the food, cookies, jam, drinks, etc. in Madeira is sugarcane. Amazing and very impressive how they make creative use of sugarcane. The last time I munched on fresh sugarcane was when I was in elementary in Masbate. In Madeira, whenever you buy fresh juice you can ask for a small piece of sugarcane to munch on.

© Moira G. Gallaga

Statues Around Funchal, Madeira

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The sculpture is meant to commemorate the many workers who lost their lives building the early tunnels and in the construction of the many “levadas” in Madeira.

Sculpture just outside of Santa Catarina Park in Funchal, Madeira.
“Sisi” the longest reigning Empress of Austria (44 years) championed individual identity and independence and was a free spirit who traveled the world and wrote poetry. She spent a lot of time in Madeira trying to escape the stress of life at court. She made a very good choice.
Mermaid statue along the marina in Funchal, Madeira with her arms spread to how show immense the sea is.
The statue “Paz E Liberdade” celebrating peace was conceived in 1988 by Manuela Aranha.
Statue of Peace and Liberty

I agree, Madeira is the place God kissed the world after creating it.

Moira G Gallaga©

Ode to Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moor)

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The Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors) is situated on a top hill overlooking the village, it is part of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra, recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Head to the edge of the hill and walk along on the pathway inside the wall for views of the surrounding area and marvel at the construction itself.

Over a thousand years of sun, moon, rain
have kissed the rocks, moistened and misted the
turrets of The Castle of the Moor.
Atop the hill are
Vistas.
Breathtaking; we are
Here, in Sintra, Portugal.

You walk along
and feel
it; romance from the time when
Moorish monarchs summered
here (Was it a summer place for Moorish royalty or just a military stronghold?)
With the Reconquista the Castle traded Islam for Christian rule.
Then there was a period
when the Jews of Sintra recited ancient prayers within
the space.
Another type of worship, all within one
Place.

And then, my friend,
There came
1755.
A great shake in Lisbon which
was felt as far as Sintra, a quake
of the earth and the old stones trembled. They shook
to the very foundation — yet
they held.
It is a fortress;
it is meant to hold.
Wonder.

And then there was –
Silence.
Neglect. Disrepair. The gentle
wear
the tear
of the elements.
A champion arrived in 1840. Ferdinand II of Portugal brought
the attention
and craft
to shore up this magnificent carapace.
He wrought
workmen to shore up, to gather –
Oh the dusty bones!
And caused a tree,
yes
a tree, to bloom, in the courtyard to honor the
Time,
the passing of time, which had seen
Kings and conquerors,
lovers and warriors, worship and walk in meditative
Silence.
And us –
Illuminated
by a modern light and an ancient sun.

Oh what land!
Changed hands
And hearts,
which pounded At
the view
from the crest — the great heights of
the Sintra Mountains.
From the pinnacle,
you can…
See
across the way
on a day clear, to Mafra, Ericeira and
Further out, the sea

Here
For us, to be here now.
For us to be –
Here.
Now.
In friendship
holding
our own familial bond as we look upon
the twining,
snaking walls –this is
a monument, a
fortress, castle, sanctuary.

We are the
ones who walk now upon the paths
cleared by
helping hands
clasped in –
Wonder!

Castelo dos Mouros,
The Castle of the Moors
It is
a site
for sight into the distance
and back into time.
Reflecting upon, and honoring, those who brought this
Place into being.
And we are here and that is part of
the story of our hearts and spirits.
Souring from the views, from the heights
which are not for the faint
of heart
but were built as
Fortress
Palace
Castle
Home
Temple
Burial
Site.

We are here now,
walking in this sunshine
which paints
Us
Golden.
We are not conquerors
we come in
Peace.
We come in excitement and love and curiosity and gratitude
to walk these sinewy paths and to play;
to pray
that the memory of
the extraordinary beauty of
The Castle of the Moor in Sintra, Portugal,
stay with us –
and that we be strong
and beautiful
and noble.
Cared for in the memory
of such
Beauty

A history
That we add to with each step
we take
upon the path.


© Moira G. Gallaga

In 1147, after the conquest of Lisbon by King Afonso Henriques, the Moorish garrison of the castle surrendered to the Christians without resistance as part of the liberation of Portugal from the Moors.

Walking up to the top of the castle is not for the faint of heart. The steps are very narrow and there’s no handrails.
Light as a bird & loving the freedom from up here! It was fun going from one turret to another. If somebody was coming from the opposite direction, one of you will have to flatten yourself against the wall to give way to the other.
Its position at the very top of the hill makes it a perfect defensive position. The slope will make life very difficult for any attacker centuries ago.
The hills that surround are thick, lush, and green. In the sun or the fog their views are serene.
The trail up to the Moorish Castle is part of the same beautiful forest that surrounds the Pena Palace. The air is sweet and cool and a surprising number of species make up the forest. The remains of the castle are scattered along the trail and sort of blend into the landscape.
We did a zip line that took an hour the first time we visited the Castle of the Moors. It was fun “zipping” from one platform to another along the forest canopy around 35-40 meters above the ground.

© Moira G. Gallaga

Magical Palace on a Hill: Palacio de Pena in Sintra

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King Afonso thrashed his mom, and then went seeking Moors.
And when he came to Sintra town, the signs upon the doors
Were in the heathen’s Arab tongue. The King said, “This looks right.
“I think I’ve found the perfect place to show some Christian might.
“And when I’m done, I swear to God,
I’ll plant some piece of holy sod
Upon yon hilltop, bleak and dead,
Where Mary dropped in once, it’s said.”

It happened as Afonso said; the Arabs lost their pants
And all around the city square, the pious people danced.
Upon the hill where Mary stopped, a lovely shrine was tossed
To thank the Lord and show those heathen rascals who was boss.
And from that dedicating prayer,
The Monks of St. Jerome were there
With no one else for quite a while
(It took a while to come in style.)

Ferdinand came into town, and simply loved the place.
He took an obscure little shrine and gave it a new face.
Damage from the Lisbon Quake was fixed, the shrine expanded
Into a getaway from all the stress the crown demanded.
A place of charm and beauty rare
So fanciful, the fairies there
Walk softly as they gaze around
At all the wonders they have found.

Today, the people go there still, taking lots of pictures
The Palace of the kings restored, with all the trim and fixtures
UNESCO said it must be saved, and put it on the list
Visitors are all amazed that it could still exist.
It’s one of Europe’s brightest lights
Come take the tour and see the sights,
See the gardens, fern and bower
Cool and quiet with scent of flower.

The pink and golden towers are reaching toward the sky,
The arches and the balustrades are simply for to die
And when you think you’ve reached the end, just take another door
You’ll find something else to see, and then there’s something more.
The views will take your breath away,
The sky grows bigger every day,
Some things change, but never fear,
This magic place is always here.

09 October 2013, Moira G Gallaga©

© Moira G. Gallaga

Portuguese Lunch

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Twelve:

Time for lunch.
The sun is high and the tables are full
With seafaring men who share
The spoils of their spell:
Dried, stewed bacalhau,
And sardines, salted and brined;
It is with little wonder
How Portugal is Europe’s
Pescitarian pride.

Bitter winter hails
The coming of cozido:
A cacophony con carne,
Comprised of chouriço
Being cabbage bedmates
With pork, beef, and rice,
Along with olive oil
And just a dash of red wine.

Succulent squid from John Bull pub in Cascais, Portugal

A mother prepares Francesca sandwiches,
To the delight of her young son and niece:
The cured ham is immaculate!
And blends in well with the linguiça and beef,
While the bread bookends are slowly soaked
By mother’s secret sauce
(Which their taste buds seem to sense
Is based in tomato, beer, and chicken stock).

Portuguese steak. It is extremely juicy and seasoned to perfection. Cut in a certain way, where you get minimal bone and more meat.

Using broa cornbread,
An old man slowly starts to scoop
A melted layer of goat cheese
Which anoints the crown of his soup:
Calo verde, coloured green
With potatoes, oil, and collard greens.
And while I dine,
I indulge in one of this country’s
Most beloved exports:
I begin to sip a fine young wine—
Naturally, a port.

Dow’s Vintage ports – clue was the smell of the cork and sniff of the top of the bottle.
The wine, which potentially could age successfully for decades, smelled luscious.
This port has layers and complexity.

A quarter to two:

Time to leave soon,
And yet there is always room for more.
I fill my stomach with
Nun’s bellies and angel’s chests,
In a land of milk and bacon from heaven.
Among these sweets,
A common thread of eggs does run,
As well as pinches of vanilla
And sweet cinnamon.

This sauced steak from Cervejaria Trindade came with rather large bowls of fried potatoes, which I am sure we’re just as pretty low-calorie as the buttery, garlicky, beer soaked sauce we dipped it into, hahaha.

The banquet lasts but three hours,
And yet it says so much about this place;
If you really want to explore Portugal,
Look no further than your plate.

© Moira G. Gallaga