Life is beginning again

Doreen Fernandez

It’s oddly prescient of our food-loving relationship that Marlon and I met in the freshman English class of Doreen Fernandez, the Philippines’ foremost food scholar, food writer and food critic.

Both of us loved Doreen, although perhaps we didn’t appreciate her as much as we did after we left her class, and especially after she passed away in 2002. Maybe because in our classroom, she wasn’t the Philippines’ foremost food writer, scholar, critic and all those amazing things—she was simply Ma’am Doreen.

Her Facebook page, run by her relatives after her death, says:

She has taught us that food writing can be a scholarly pursuit, eating an erudite experience, and the celebration of Filipino cooking an affirmation of our national identity.

But what she taught me was that I was good at writing, that I could take it beyond the formal theme books of high school, and do more with it than impress teachers with my precociousness. I’m a writer today because of her generous marks on my essays; because she called me to read my writing out loud in front of the class; because when I wrote about a creepy supernatural thing that happened to me, she believed me (and told me to contact Danton Remoto and join the Spirit Questors); because of her gentle ways and ever-present smile.

It was a delicate time in my life, but I didn’t know that then. At the time I needed it most, she gave me the stimulus I needed to write, a structure within which to write regularly, and the gentle encouragement to keep writing well.

As chair of the Communication department, her door was always open for a chat. I remember talking to her about wanting to live in Europe, and if I should do it as a singer or as an English teacher. “Sing!” she said without hesitation. “If I could sing, I would! You can teach English when you’re old, like me.”

I’ve been rediscovering her food writing, or at least trying to. Her books are hard to get hold of outside the Philippines, but some of her wonderful essays are excerpted in this blog. That’s how I found this quote, which I think is a wonderful way to start the week—or any day for that matter. The reference to food makes it uniquely Doreen, and resonates with a foodie like me.

So, happy start of the week, everyone! I wish you a fresh and hopeful day, an upbeat spirit, and life that begins anew. Oh, and good food, too.

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Rested, refreshed and ready to blog

I’m back!

Riga and Jurmala Instagram summer

I’m back from a two-week trip to Latvia, and a quickie city trip to Vienna just before that. Now I’m happy to say I’m not just back from my holiday, but I’m back to blogging, too. Thanks for waiting for me, encouraging me, and maybe even missing me!

Time away from the computer has done me good. I managed to accomplish an important career milestone (landed my first Dutch client!), enjoy the beautiful summer we’ve been having in Amsterdam, allow thoughts (future ideas for blog posts?) percolate in my head. I’ve had time to read, rest and refocus. And of course, travel.

Travel is such a re-energizing force for me. I enjoyed my Latvia trip so much, and feel so inspired to share more about this underrated travel destination. Because I traveled to Latvia to spend time with dear friends from back home, this trip also allowed me to reconnect with a part of me that I left behind when I moved abroad seven years ago.

Finally, choosing to travel at a slow, relaxed pace gave Marlon and myself the space to savor long conversations and comfortable silences, to talk about our future and dream together. This is exactly the kind of thing that keeps us going.

And these are the exactly the kinds of things that keep me going (and writing): music, friends, food, travel, laughter, love, life. So I’m back. I’m not hopping back onto the relentless hamster wheel of the editorial calendar, but I’m back and I’m here to stay.

In my next few posts, I will share about my time in Vienna, Riga and the Baltic coast—and perhaps a few things I’ve realized along the way. Time to get writing!


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When blogging fatigue strikes

Getting over a blogging slump

You may have noticed that it’s been quiet around here lately. You may have also noticed that the blog’s been sporting a new look, but that I haven’t said anything about it yet.

I suppose I wouldn’t be a blogger if I didn’t get to the point where I wanted to stop blogging. I’ve been blogging since 2003, and I never really thought it would happen to me, but here it is: the dreaded blogger’s fatigue. Perhaps it’s inevitable in a blogger’s life, like a rite of passage.

For the last couple of weeks I haven’t even wanted to look at my blog. I’ve ignored the drafts on my editorial calendar, the folders of carefully selected photos on my desktop, the unwritten posts from New York, which was three months ago. It’s not that fun things haven’t happened to me in the last few weeks, or that I haven’t had great ideas; I just haven’t wanted to write about them.

What’s really sucked the soul from my blogging self is that my redesign didn’t end the way I hoped it would. After finishing my new logo and branding, and putting up a basic, functional blog in time for The Hive, the U.S.-based designer I hired just… disappeared. POOF! With a few hundred dollars of (fully paid) design work left to go.

No response to emails, no updates on social media, total radio silence for more than a month. (As a professional providing a service to a paying client, can you really ignore them for a month?!) I tried to be understanding and accommodating; I was actually worried, until I discovered that her LinkedIn profile was deactivated about a week ago. That sends quite a different message, doesn’t it?

[Read more...]

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Filipinas: an interview with photographer Isa Lorenzo

The second article I wrote for the Philippine Star‘s YStyle section has been published. I’m posting the full text below, since the link that’s up here likely won’t be around for long.

I can type fast without looking at the keyboard, and I was really grateful for that skill when I interviewed Isa (who happens to be Rina‘s aunt). If I’d been hunched over my laptop, I might have missed how fun and inspiring Isa was. I was blown away by how firmly she stood for her artistic vision in the face of discouragement, indifference, difficulty and even—drumroll please—offers to buy her work. Yes, money. (I may have sold out.) Isa had become what she’d intended the women in her photos to be: real and inspiring.

Her staff had given me a comprehensive media kit and press release, so I could have just done a couple of nips and tucks and turned my article in well before my deadline. But I enjoyed my conversation with Isa too much to be a sly, cheating shmuck.

Incidentally, I’ve actually performed at the UNESCO House in Paris, during ACS’ tour last October.

Here’s the article. See if you can guess who the “false start” was.

Filipina greats

By Deepa Paul
The Philippine STAR 03/02/2007

To the public at large, Filipinas is a series of photographs of 30 Filipina women. Having first opened in February 2006, Filipinas, the exhibit, shows the faces and stories of women who are pioneers in their respective fields, whose example paved the way for other Filipina women to become more than what was expected of them. But to photographer Isa Lorenzo, creative director of Silver Lens Photography, Filipinas is a four-year journey.

The journey began, as most do, with an idea; for Filipinas, it was Isa’s idea of an “homage to women who have reached lifetime successes.” Having heard about some of these women since childhood, Isa set out to put together a list of women who had, in some way or other, gone beyond themselves in areas that were difficult. “My qualifications for inclusion in this list were accomplishment and age—they must have done a lot in their lives and they must be old enough to not screw up their achievements.”

She intended her list to include only 12 women, but Isa soon realized that the Filipina’s power to inspire, and the number of lives that deserved acknowledgement, could not be limited to such a small number. “We have a lot of Filipinas who are firsts in Asia, like the first female mayor in Asia, the first Asian graduate of the Harvard school of medicine. By the way, she’s 97 and still practicing!” Isa says.

Getting started

List in hand, Isa’s journey had barely begun. There was the task of learning about each of the 30 women on the list and hunting down people who knew them—children, grandchildren, relatives, students, and friends—and would agree to deliver Isa’s letters of introduction and samples of her work. There was dealing with rejection for reasons of health or vanity; an unnamed patron of the arts promptly and firmly declined upon learning that she would be photographed without makeup. There was the logistical nightmare of scheduling the shoots, despite the fact that Isa only required a maximum of 20 minutes of actual shooting time. “These women are so busy, it’s insane!” Isa exclaims “The most difficult was (National Bookstore founder) Socorro Ramos – we had to schedule her 15 minutes of shooting time six months in advance!”

There were false starts, too – such as the very first subject Isa chose to photograph. “As soon as I began shooting, I knew I had the wrong woman. I felt like running away! Hindi ko siya kaya!” Isa says, laughing. “I didn’t shoot for three months after that.” Traumatized? Perhaps, but Isa is quick to say that she used the time to thresh out her artistic vision for the exhibit, and to focus on what she wanted to achieve with the photographs she would compile. The subject of Isa’s first shoot (a larger-than-life, controversial historical figure) never made the final cut – a conscious exclusion that Isa feels “changed the nature of the project completely.”

Then came the processing of the film, the edits, the search for the paper to print the mural-sized images on, coordination with the printer, meetings with various national institutions as venues for the show, and so on. The project took roughly three years to complete.

Hitting the road

Filipinas’ opening night at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) almost exactly one year ago was not the end of the road, but the beginning of a new and unimagined path beyond the gallery. Filipinas traveled to universities all over Metro Manila, where it faced the puzzled scrutiny of students who goggled at the size of the photos and wondered what the big fuss was about these bare-faced, deeply lined, and in many cases, completely anonymous women.

What they discovered beyond the bafflement and curiosity blew them away, much to Isa’s delight. “We brought the show to Far Eastern University, where one girl remembered that she had totally hated high school. But she had one teacher, just one that she really loved, who made all the difference and kept her from just suffering through high school,” Isa recounts. “These women are like that. It then became very real to these students that just one woman can make a world of difference.” More importantly, Isa says, once students saw that, they began thinking beyond “I can never be like that, I’m not from where they’re from, I don’t have what they have” to “I can make a difference, too.”

From gallery to university to retail spaces and malls, Filipinas continued to move and inspire with its clean, stark images and powerful message. It was only a matter of time until its journey proved to be unstoppable. So unstoppable, in fact, that in December last year, one of the world’s biggest organizations came knocking with an invitation.

Paris and beyond

Upon the suggestion of Filipinas curator Deanna Ongpin-Recto, Isa had tossed off a letter to UNESCO in July 2006 – and had promptly forgotten about it. The invitation to exhibit at the UNESCO House in Paris came as a total, yet welcome, surprise. Filipinas was chosen by the UNESCO Section on Women and Gender Equality to be shown for a full week, in celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8. Isa was also asked to speak about the photographs and bring her UNESCO audience face to face with a few of the women whose photographs were part of the exhibit.

Paris marks Filipinas’ first step outside Philippine borders – and that, Isa feels, makes a huge difference not just to the photographer and her subjects, but to Filipinas and the Philippines. “The face of the Filipina known to the world is the OFW (overseas Filipino worker). But these women are not that. Not many people know about this side of the Filipina,” Isa emphasizes. “People will see that the Philippines has something more to show. It will be acknowledged on a different level, on a global platform.” It is Isa’s belief that that global recognition will pave the way for greater acknowledgment and appreciation where it truly counts – back home.

After being parked in Paris until late spring, Filipinas will continue its journey across Europe in May 2006, visiting Madrid, Rome, Geneva and “somewhere in Germany, maybe Berlin.” The Department of Foreign Affairs has taken Filipinas under its wing and put Philippine embassies to work finding places to show it in Europe; no mean feat, considering the difficulties posed by an election year. “The embassies’ minds are on anything but arts and culture,” Isa says wryly. “But Filipinas is apolitical, neutral, it’s para sa bayan (for the nation)–and they get that. That made it easier, in a way.”

The photographs have been compiled into a book to be published in June, and arrangements are being made with the Undersecretary for American Affairs to bring Filipinas to the United States later in the year. Having enjoyed a lengthy run uncommon to most local exhibits, Isa is committed to propelling Filipinas as far into the future as it can possibly go – a commitment that stands in the face of offers to buy or borrow select photographs. “This is not a selling show, where the work gets broken up into pieces for sale,” Isa emphasizes. “It was so difficult to gather all of these women. Why would I ever take them apart?”

After traveling abroad and going down the publishing route, what else lies ahead in Filipinas’ path? Isa thinks back to the beginning for the answer. She remembers assembling the list, being extra careful about inclusions or exclusions, combing through fields of society and far-flung communities for exceptional lives, and scrutinizing these lives for ethical value. “It was so hard to find good people who are still good and still at it,” Isa says. “But there are more out there. I just haven’t had an opportunity to meet them, and photograph them, just yet.”

* * *Filipinas is open for public viewing at UNESCO House, 7 Place de Fontenoy, Paris, until March 9. It is presented in cooperation with the Museum Foundation of the Philippines, Department of Foreign Affairs, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and Cultural Center of the Philippines. For more information, visit

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My inner ditz, published

hola from barcelona! — where i am sitting in a rather nice hostal waiting to meet my friend miikka for dinner. while killing time surfing the net, i discovered that my very first fashion piece has been published — it’s in the philippine star‘s ystyle section.

i love clothes and i love writing, but somehow forcing them together in this article was one of the more daunting assignments i’ve taken on. again, i like clothes, and i’m not completely clueless about designers, but ask me about trends du jour and brands and collections… ehhhhh. some people are wired to thrive on this stuff (there’s a multimillion dollar industryful of these people) — after writing this article, i discovered i´m definitely not one of them.

but i enjoyed the writing exercise of trying to wrap my brain around this and at least sound coherent. and since it got printed, i´m assuming i did fairly well. and i’m proud to have done it without resorting to my pet peeve, that ubiquitous, not-applicable-in-the-philippines fashion writing clutchphrase — “this season”.

you can read the article online, but i don’t think the star keeps archives of its web stuff. so i’m posting it here anyway for everybody’s entertainment.

The big bag theory
By Deepa Paul
The Philippine STAR 11/17/2006

Wallet, iPod, Motorola Razr. Full-to-bursting kikay kit. A pair of shades. The prescription glasses you vow to wear more often, but don’t. Twelve-inch MacBook in its snug neoprene sleeve, its charger and a spare battery pack. Red Moleskine notebook, a couple of pens. A jacket, since your office is Siberia in Manila. A slinky black cami for after-dinner drinks with the girls. And since you simply can’t bear the thought of wearing your black work pumps with said cami, a pair of killer patent stilettos. A selection of cuffs and chains to accessorize. A book – just in case you get stuck in traffic. A change of underwear – just in case. The house keys. The kitchen sink. And then some.

This is your life, and you’d be nuts to try and stuff it all into a precious little satin clutch or a darling mini satchel (although you’ve tried more than once). Thankfully, now you don’t have to. The perpetually busy and style savvy can literally live large without having to resort to shapeless sacks, staid boxy suitcase-like contraptions, bulky backpacks, or (horror of horrors) very large paper bags – because in 2006, the big bag is back in a big way.

From Frumpy To Fashionable

Once considered the frumpy old maid aunt of the slim clutch and sleek handbag, the big bag has been refreshed and refurbished with style, enjoying a resurgence on fall runways. Fashion’s biggest names have eschewed flimsy miniatures in favor of more practical, large bags without sacrificing form for function. A number of designers have already invested in big bags, making them a key for look both the current and coming retail seasons – and making the lives of on-the-go urbanites easier and choicer well into 2007.

Inspired by the frenetic lifestyles of New York women, today’s big bags are built to hold everything one could ever need to dash off from work to after-hours pursuits, be it a dinner, yoga class or a evening out on the town. More importantly, these bags sport a stylish gloss that allows a whopper of a bag to transition flawlessly from day to night. So you can cart the kitchen sink to work and back if you so desire, and still look your chic and sexy best – because the big bag has gone from frumpy to fashionable.

Luxe Leathers, Soft Silhouettes

To catapult the big bag from dowdy to divine, designers from Anya Hindmarch to Zac Posen have dipped into an equally immense bag of tricks, which includes a variety of luxe materials, a plethora of details, and a bag hag’s candyland of shapes and silhouettes. But only one size – large, of course.

Luxe leathers figure prominently among the recent harvest of huge bags, with finishes that make the big bag whisper “touch me” rather than shout “I have a million and two things to do today, and damned if I’ll carry one of those silly armpit bags.” Distressed, pebbled, quilted – texture is the name of the game, as shown by the recent runway crop: outsized totes from Prada and Marc Jacobs in deerskin and quilted leather, respectively, as well as pebbled leather hobos from Burberry and rich buffalo leather shoulder bags from Valentino.

The belt isn’t the only accessory that’s going patent and huge as of late; the big bag is hot on its trail. Pick up a huge tote or bowling bag in black patent, resist the urge to match it with your wide patent belt (there’s always tomorrow), and you’ll be all set. Look to Jimmy Choo’s gold-buckled totes and to Anya Hindmarch’s roomy, luxe bowling bags for a little black patent inspiration.

And while we’re on the subject, bowling bags have found fashion favor once more. Bowling shapes abound on fall runways; Marni has released bowling bags in cream and dark brown, dressed up with chains and discs, while Chloe has beefed up its Paddington line with metallic bowling bags. Apart from bowling bags, the hottest big bags come in relaxed and rounded shapes, boasting soft edges, curved frames, and of course, lots of room.

Get The Look

For bag hags who are on the hunt for the new and improved big bag, hie off to SM for the latest textures and silhouettes – without the mind-blowing price tag. Load up on details and embellishments; fall’s harvest of bags are decidedly un-minimalist. Go nautical with stripes and braided (keep one eye peeled for braided handles), equestrian with straps and buckles.

Channel rocker chic with rings, studs, chains, medallions, chunky charms and enough metallic hardware to make any pierced rock icon a happy camper. Don’t be afraid of contrasting metallic embellishment – take your cue from Alexander McQueen’s tan leather-trimmed Novak tote, which features gold medallions, silver stitching and dark brass hardware all on one giant workhorse of a bag. Hot tip: take a cue from the fall fashion shows and carry your big bag of choice by its handles. Not only does it prevent you from bending to one side, helplessly overwhelmed by your own bag, but you’ll look as impossibly chic as the models who carted all of those giant totes down the fall runways.

So don’t be afraid to cart around everything you need to live your jam-packed, hectic and on-the-go life. In 2006, there’s no lack of large bags to help you look fab while doing it. Now if only one could look equally chic and effortless while rummaging for the house keys in that gorgeous but cavernous suede hobo.

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