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!
(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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.