Meeting Chuvaness

I can’t remember when I started getting addicted to Chuvaness. I think I had just moved to Singapore and was pretty homesick. Chuvaness was one of my connections to home, but soon became a thoroughly engrossing read for reasons beyond that: unconventional tastes, writing that’s both conversational and no-frills direct, a strong and unique point of view and a love for great design. 
Cecile Zamora-van Straten’s posts about her fascinating life in Manila, filled with fashionable friends, indulgent travels, and a happy home with her Dutch chef husband and three sons, soon became—and still is—one of my regular online haunts. Her blog inspired me to start seeing “hard-to-understand” monochromatic clothing in a new light, and introduced me to stores like Bleach Catastrophe and brands like Muji (life-changing!). I know I’m not the only one who’s been influenced by her—the “Chuvaness effect” is an acknowledged phenomenon in the Philippine blogosphere.
So when I sent her an email inviting her to meet up on her family trip Holland this summer, I didn’t think Cecile (the Cecile, in my mind) would actually agree. But she did! And that is how I found myself on a train to Utrecht one sunny spring afternoon to meet one of my favorite bloggers. 
For a woman with a huge online presence and bold (often controversial) opinions, Cecile is tiny and soft-spoken in real life. More importantly, I quickly realized that she is a fag hag just like me (mabuhay ang babaeng bading!). That made it refreshingly easy to get along with her and just hang out, walking the charming streets of Utrecht. 
We went window shopping… and Cecile did some real (I mean, serious) shopping, as she eventually ended up buying this stunning, huge painting by Dutch artist Karin Vermeer.
I met her family: chef Jeroen, Ben and Markus. Not only them, but a whole bunch of Dutch relatives to boot…
… who dragged her (physically) into a family photo. Funny.
“Meeting your family is like meeting characters from a book!” I told her. I feel like I’ve been reading about them for years, so finally getting to meet them was pretty surreal. Especially when she instructed her sons to “kiss Tita.” I’m highly averse to being called Tita at the (relatively young) age of 30, so I asked: “Pwede bang Ate na lang?” Apparently, the boys prefer Tita, so Tita it is.
Being married myself, one of my favorite things about the afternoon was seeing Cecile and Jeroen, one of the blogosphere’s cutest couples, together in the flesh. They have cute nicknames for each other, and Jeroen takes her hand while crossing the street; all these sweet little in-between moments that make a marriage, which you don’t see on a blog. When we stepped into Albert Heijn, I felt like I was going grocery shopping with a hipper version of Ned and Alice Wakefield (or your favorite fictional couple).
And of course, how could I leave out finally meeting the famous Yaya Bhing?
I don’t know many yayas who get to go to Europe, use North Face outerwear and Muji luggage, and have a travel allowance in Euros. Bongga! Naturally, we had to have a picture together. My only regret is that I didn’t ask her to braid my hair.
I walked back with Cecile to her apartment close to the city center, and spent a few minutes outside just talking and hanging out. She was bundled up in her chic mom/travel/cold weather uniform and I had to take off my coat because I felt warm (it was about 10℃, but sunny). 

Finding out how many common friends and acquaintances we have reminded me how small a Pinoy’s world can be. “How come you know everyone?” she asked me. That’s Manila for you—there’s always a connection somewhere. Besides, who doesn’t love off-the-record chismis ? ;)

Meet the Van Stratens!

It was one of those times that can be accurately be described as “surreal, but nice.” Thanks, Chuvaness, for a fun afternoon. Hope to see you back in Holland… but till then, there’s the Internet!

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