The Space Between…

As I know I’ve mentioned already, I had a really busy summer.  We were on the road a LOT.  When we finally settled in our Greek home for a month it was really good to be back home with my stuff – my furniture, my kitchen — and see good friends and stay in one place that felt so comfortable and familiar.  But as our stay neared the end, part of me was ready to go back home to Manila and move on with our lives.  Isn’t that  what vacations are all about?  A much needed break from the usual grind, followed by a recognition that we all need routine in our lives.  I loved my time there and was sad to leave, but I was also ready to go back to work.

But we returned to the devastating floods that consumed 60-80% of this city, and rain and rain and more rain.  Of course its the rainy season here, “wet” is expected, but there’s rain and then there’s rain….  I was not expecting two continual weeks of deluge.  And while I sat in my apartment  feeling trapped, I knew that my problems were nothing compared to the suffering of others just a few streets away.  And yet the selfish feeling of boredom and discontent set in and coloured my view of the world.

The last two weeks since I’ve been back feels like two months, and I’ve been having trouble seeing the fun of being here in Manila.  Instead I’ve been seeing all the annoyances:  the traffic, the lack of open space, the difficulty of just going for a walk, wanting to just be able to jump in my car and go…..  Coupled with my sense of missing Greece and a rotten week at work, this has to be my low in almost two years of living here.  Blogging about these annoyances always seems petty in retrospect, and I usually avoid it.  But it creates a space in my blogging diary until the next event or interesting thing comes along, which perpetuates the image that some have, I’m sure, that life is one long beach trip or adventure.  Right now, ignoring that space — all the time — feels sort of dishonest.  No-one needs to hear about all my bad petty days, even if I can find the talent to write about them with sufficient humour or insight.  But a concession to add a little balance seems called for … so here it is:  Manila sucks right now!

A return to our usual programming follows shortly……

Update on the Flooding

For those asking for news, updates and information on the severe flooding in Manila, here’s a post to update everyone.  We’re ok!  The area that we live in (The Fort) seems to be holding up well as it has a modern drainage system.  The city has had about 30 inches of rain in the last 48 hours.  This is on top of heavy rains, tropical storms and high tides which have battered the city for the last two weeks.  The ground is saturated, rivers are overflowing and the inadequate drainage systems cannot even begin to cope.
Latham and I ventured out yesterday to Market Market to get some food.  Although we got very wet (despite the raingear and umbrella) it wasn’t too bad on the streets.  We did see one or two drain covers burst open from the water pressure as the drain was full.  So I think that it has the potential to flood here if it rained long enough.  Its actually just drizzling now, although there are still heavy rain clouds on the horizon over Makati….not sure what direction they are heading.  Here’s a recent video of Makati flooding:  Makati is the main business district and is considered an affluent area.  Many embassy homes are located here, most of them in apartments.  I haven’t heard from anyone housed in the villages, so I don’t know how houses are faring.
The coastal area where the Embassy is located is worse.  The high tide comes in and adds massively to the flood levels.  Robert says the flooding has been worse than the hurricane last September.  I can’t find any pictures online from the last couple of days, but to show how the problem compounded, here’s an article from Aug 2 that shows the state of things before the most recent set of heavy rains hit:
Elsewhere it is much worse.  The northern part of the city, Quezon City, has the Mesa Dam which is the city’s main source of drinking water.  The reservoir is right next to the largest university campus.  All that area is seriously flooded and is now creating concerns for contaminated water.  Also in the southern area of the city, Las Pinas, it is really bad with flooding levels up to the second floor.  Our helper lives down there and she had cell phone reception at one point, texting me that they had moved up to the second floor of their home to avoid the water.
So for us the weather is just boring and a nuisance but the threat to lives and property elsewhere is very real.  Hopefully rains will die down today as forecasted.  Its going to take a long time for this city to dry out.

Flight of Fancy?

It’s been quite a summer.  During the last two months I have traveled on planes, trains and automobiles all over – not to mention 150 miles on foot.  I’ve eaten on the road, on the plane, or at a restaurant more often in a few weeks than I usually do in one year, and mostly the quality of the food has been at least ok, sometimes very good – with the dreaded exception of airplane food.

Bashing airplane food is easy.  There’s no end to the dried out excuses for meals that are handed out on planes all the time, and everyone’s had more than their fair share.  British Airways and Qatar Airlines dished out some pretty standard trays of overheld unappetizing food to me on the eight flights that I took this summer.  Coming back from Athens to Manila on QA, we upgraded to business class where the food was touted as a gastronomic delight from leather bound menus and presented course by course with a flourish.  As they brought out the individual courses, the same stale, dried out fare was served.  This only difference between economy and business class was the linen napkin and the real fork.  It was very disappointing.  Horrible rubbery shrimp, tough chicken, cold grilled soggy courgettes, yesterday’s something….  So airlines – please – it’s not that difficult….especially in business class….why can’t you serve us simpler food of higher quality?  Stop trying to make out you’re serving haute cuisine and then disappoint so incredibly with the execution.   If you promise us “fluffy whipped mashed potatoes” and deliver dried out potato bullets, we notice.  Really.

I had far, far better impromptu picnics on walks this summer than anything I ate on the plane.  Good French bread, tasty goats cheese and a little chutney is so seductive, easy to hold in a chiller, and feels like a treat.  A couple of slices of ripe tomato and buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil – fabulous and it won’t dry out on the tray or taste bad from the fridge.   Eggs are horrible from a holding cabinet – always – bad every time.  Don’t go there.  Yogurt and fresh fruit always delivers if you start with a decent product.  And on the subject of fruit – I had the fruit plate in business class which was prepared in Athens.  I have eaten fantastic Greek fruit all month – melons, peaches and grapes in particular.  They are cheap, seasonal and delicious.  What did Qatar serve?  Inferior pineapple and kiwi.  Why?!  How far did the pathetic things have to travel to ultimately be rejected on my plate?  I know it always comes down to the excuse of cost.  But I refuse to believe it is the only factor.  We need a more modern approach to airline food using fresh, local seasonal ingredients from the country that’s preparing the food, less pomp and pretending to be a five class restaurant in the sky, less attempted (faux) variety and more quality.  Anyone know any airlines that are doing it right?

Kaiki Trip to Kounoupi

Every summer for the past 15 years or so, we have been lucky enough to return to Spetses.  And every year we have been able to take a least one late afternoon boat trip out with friends to enjoy a beach a short ride away.  Sometimes the trip has been around the island, stopping at 3-4 different places to swim along the way.  Other times we gone to beaches on the mainland or just around to the other side of the island.  Mostly its the weather that dictates where we go.  But, weather permitting, the first choice with most is to go to Kounoupi, a little island about 20-30 minutes away by boat.  Kounoupi means mosquitoin Greek, but the island’s name doesn’t refer to the amount of bugs, just its small size, which is tiny really, small enough to swim around if you are so inclined.  But most friends aren’t.  We just laze around on the small beach, taking frequent dips in the water and sharing food from the dozens of bags that get unloaded like a 747 on to the beach.  Usually it around 5pm when we arrive and the sun is still warm but not scalding and its a much more comfortable time to be at the beach.

The communal pig out

Ten years ago, most of the kids were little, bobbing around in the shallow water with water wings while we watched from the shore.  When they got older, jumping off the Kaiki roof became the main activity.  Hours of entertainment!  I never was brave enough to do it too, nor did my stomach ever quite stop doing a flip every time a child jumped.  We still couldn’t take our eyes off them for fear of a bad fall or somebody landing on another’s head, but no accidents thank goodness.

These days the kids are almost all seniors or college age and the years are numbered that everyone can converge altogether.  They mostly lounge around on the beach like the adults or take 10 zillion photos of one another. Kaiki roof jumping is still cool, just not as all-consuming as before.

This year we celebrated Latham’s birthday on the beach with 10 year old sparklers that I pulled out of the back of the cupboard somewhere.  Amazingly they still lit.  We ate a crumble birthday cake — this year it was peach or rhubarb — and sang happy birthday just as the almost full moon was making an appearance behind.

“Happy Birthday dear Latham…..”

The best part though, for me, is the last part of the day.  The sun starts to go down and the water and sky turn a nowhere-else-on-earth purple for a magical 20 minutes.

As it starts to get dark and the chain of bag loaders have done their job, you realise that there is no choice but to get back in the water and swim to the boat.  The water seems cold and the idea of getting wet and staying wet for the journey back seem so uninviting.  But in you go — because you must — and the sea is warmer than you thought, the moon is shining on the water and suddenly swimming all night seems like a really good idea.

For the trip back, the kids traditionally all climb to the roof where they all get the best view (why is that? and when do we get a turn?) and we take a moonlit ride home.

Teenage roof hang out

This year Lucy, Linda and I hung off the bow and dangled our feet in its warm wake.  Aaaah….. ‘Til next year, ladies…

Linda and I being Greek goddesses of the night