Home at ho­tels for Christ­mas

Manila Bulletin - - Front Page - By SOL VANZI

Raised in a bar­rio by peas­ant grand­par­ents, I was in col­lege when I first stepped into a ho­tel. The lobby of the Manila Ho­tel in 1960 was nowhere near the breath­tak­ing chan­de­liers-and-bur­nished-wood show­case that it is to­day but its old-world charm never failed to warm the heart. The Grand Dame was like a silent screen Hol­ly­wood siren’s black-and-white, eight-by-10 glossy pub­lic­ity still photo—time­less and un­for­get­table.

Fast for­ward to De­cem­ber 1985. The jus­tre­fur­bished Manila Ho­tel was se­cond home for for­eign cor­re­spon­dents flock­ing to the Philip­pines at a time of po­lit­i­cal un­rest and eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity prompted in no small mea­sure by the 1983 as­sas­si­na­tion of op­po­si­tion leader

Benigno Aquino. The coun­try was pre­par­ing for a snap pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Fe­bru­ary, which the US was be­lieved to have co­erced Pres­i­dent Mar­cos to call. Dozens of the largest, most in­flu­en­tial news or­ga­ni­za­tions around the world had dug in to cover ev­ery event, mak­ing the Manila Ho­tel look like a United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly in ses­sion. Ev­ery­one who was any­body in in­ter­na­tional jour­nal­ism called the Manila Ho­tel home for the hol­i­days.

Be­cause my hus­band Vic­tor was work­ing for CNN and I was pro­vid­ing cov­er­age for Euro­pean and Ja­panese TV net­works, we hardly saw our five foster kids, although our flat was barely two kilo­me­ters away. To rem­edy the sit­u­a­tion, we moved them into the Manila Ho­tel as soon as their Christ­mas break be­gan. It was the best de­ci­sion we ever made.

We spent time with our young chil­dren be­tween news cov­er­ages and our clients were as­sured we were only me­ters away from our ho­tel head­quar­ters. The kids loved the pool and the gym, and could never get enough of the ho­tel’s break­fast, lunch, and din­ner buf­fets at the Café Ilang Ilang. Of­ten, they were con­tent with watch­ing TV or taped movies in their room while munch­ing on Dan­ish pas­tries and meat pies from the ho­tel patisserie. The more ad­ven­tur­ous paired hams and sausages from the cof­fee shop deli with var­i­ous types of ar­ti­sanal bread, cheeses, and herb but­ters. They had packed sand­wiches for en­ergy while fly­ing kites at Rizal Park across the street from the ho­tel.

On Christ­mas Eve, we all dressed for­mally for a spe­cial sit-down din­ner at the Cham­pagne Room, join­ing other for­eign cor­re­spon­dents whose fam­i­lies had flown in for the hol­i­days. Be­fore mid­night, we walked to the Manila Cathe­dral to hear mass, walk­ing back leisurely and sa­vor­ing ev­ery mo­ment of a Christ­mas we all would long re­mem­ber.

XMAS 1991 – AN­OTHER ELEC­TION, AN­OTHER HO­TEL

The Im­pe­rial Suite of the Westin Philip­pine Plaza was con­sid­ered by many as the most lux­u­ri­ous in the coun­try. Oc­cu­py­ing a ma­jor por­tion of the ho­tel’s bay­side top floor wing, it was so ex­trav­a­gantly ap­pointed that the ho­tel’s own Pres­i­den­tial Suite is lit­er­ally hum­bled by any com­par­i­son. No one was sur­prised that it was cho­sen to be the tem­po­rary home of Imelda

Mar­cos upon her much-pub­li­cized re­turn from forced ex­ile in Novem­ber of 1991. All her fam­ily’s homes had been ran­sacked, se­questered, pad­locked, or oth­er­wise ren­dered un­in­hab­it­able dur­ing her al­most five years of ab­sence.

The Philip­pine Supreme Court had al­lowed her home­com­ing, sid­ing with her ar­gu­ment that it was a ci­ti­zen’s con­sti­tu­tional right to re­turn to his/her own coun­try. A hun­dred for­eign cor­re­spon­dents from around the world flew in with her aboard a char­tered Boe­ing 747 Jumbo Jet from New York City via Honolulu. Imelda stunned the world by an­nounc­ing dur­ing the flight that she was go­ing to run for pres­i­dent in the May 1992 elec­tion. For weeks, I joined the in­ter­na­tional me­dia stay­ing at the Philip­pine Plaza to re­port her ev­ery move.

Christ­mas sea­son at the Philip­pine Plaza was a whirl­wind of work and fam­ily re­unions. Vic and the kids vis­ited my of­fice/room of­ten, on days when the en­tourage was not trav­el­ing. Again, we spent the kids’ Christ­mas school break to bond. The ho­tel’s wa­ter­fall-cum-slide was the source of never-end­ing ac­tiv­ity for our grow­ing brood, their ap­petites whet­ted by cool­ing breezes from the bay. To an­swer their query about the is­land they spotted across the bay, we walked from the ho­tel to the wharf to catch an all-day tour of his­toric Cor­regi­dor. We watched a Philip­pine Bal­let The­ater pre­sen­ta­tion of The Nutcracker Suite at the Cul­tural Cen­ter of the Philip­pines (CCP) and were thrilled by rides at nearby Star City.

Christ­mas Eve late din­ner at the ho­tel fea­tured Filipino and in­ter­na­tional hol­i­day dishes, top mu­si­cal en­ter­tain­ment, and sur­prise gifts and games. Be­fore mid­night, we walked out of the ho­tel to at­tend Christ­mas Eve mass on the grounds of the CCP. Our Philip­pine Plaza fam­ily room wel­comed us back be­fore dawn, tired but happy and to­gether.

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