“We Learn from the Generation Before, and We Carry On”

When someone mentions their fascination with Japanese architecture, I am reminded of my late father, who was obsessed with it. Who hasn’t gone to Japan and not completely changed their view of design? “No one,” he always said.

Yoyogi National Gymnasium by Kenzo Tange; photo by STB-1 via Wikimedia Commons.

For my father, an architect, it was a weekend’s visit to a longtime friend in Tokyo back in 1969 that found him heading to the Yoyogi National Gymnasium before flying home. He told me he saw photos of its impressive, spiral roof structure in the newspapers and read about its iconic architect, Kenzo Tange, in the dog-eared design magazines in his office. And so, Dad decided he wasn’t leaving Japan before seeing it.

My Dad at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium in the late 1960s (personal photo).

Of this trip, I only have a yellowing photograph of Dad standing under the gymnasium’s magnificent, sweeping roof. “Yoyogi,” he scrawled proudly in pencil behind the photo. So, I was very much delighted that my friend Liza let me sit in virtually at Kenzo Tange’s son, Paul Noritaka Tange’s forum “Japanese Architecture: The Synergy of Culture and Design” for Federal Land last month. 

Paul Noritaka Tange, chariman and principal architect of Tange Associates, shows how they approach their architecture.

The younger Tange, who cuts a dapper figure in a well-cut suit and gray cravat (“Sorry, I have no tie on today,” he apologizes; yet I believe behind the screen he was the best-dressed amongst us), immediately went on to emphasize that their architecture, in spite of its modernism, emerges from Japanese culture: spaces defined by a magnificent roof, reminiscent of the graceful curved rooflines of traditional Japanese temples and shrines.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Cenotaph by Kenzo Tange; photo by Abdulaziz Alfawz for Unsplash

His father Kenzo Tange’s groundbreaking projects were definitely modernist, incredibly moving (Hiroshima Peace Memorial) and oftentimes surprising (best example: the ultra-futuristic Fuji Broadcasting Center), but his architecture focuses on the people first.  

Fuji Broadcasting Center, photo by Kakidai via Wikimedia Commons

At the talk, there was also the discussion of continuity; most notably the fact that both father and son designed a building for the Tokyo Olympics—the Yoyogi National Gymnasium by Kenzo in 1964, and the Tokyo Aquatics Center for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics by Paul, now chairman of Tange Associates. It is also quite touching to note that Paul visited his father’s resting place after working on the project (the elder Tange passed away in 2005 at the age of 91).

The Tokyo Aquatics Center; photo by 江戸村のとくぞうvia Wikimedia Commons.

The Aquatics Center, with its inward-sloping façade (the screen alludes to bamboo forests), is definitely more stolid-looking that Yoyogi, but it has a practical aspect to it. Inside, the ceiling is a mirror reflection of the pool’s swimming lanes; an element that the younger Tange decided to apply when finding out from Olympic swimmers that they had to focus on heading towards the finish line; thus, any extraneous ceiling shape (like a dome) would distract them when they looked up. “It was important to have a straight line,” Tange said.

During the rest of the forum, Tange discussed the concept of the Grand Midori Ortigas, a residential high-rise development they designed for Federal Land (yes, there will be a Tange building in Metro Manila soon!). The main inspiration for the project was the Japanese basket weave, with its interlocking weft and woven lines creating a serene pattern on the residential development’s façade. In further discussions, architect Annette Gaddi mentioned that solihiya (Philippine woven split cane) patterns would be used in the interiors to complement the building’s weave concept.

Design details of the Grand Midori Ortigas

But Paul encourages designers to look beyond the façade, “We are designing a space for the people,” Tange enthuses. There is a sensitivity here to make a better place of living for the people. “We have to respect our own culture, as well as that of others. And the building has to contribute to the cityscape.”

This open forum eventually led to a discussion on designing for the New Normal; to which Tange threw his hands up in the air. “Do we need offices? Do we need hotels? We don’t know what to design anymore! But what we need to do is think outside the box.”

There was also the inevitable question about the lessons learned from his father; as we could imagine there were many. “Listen to the needs of the client,” Paul said simply. “Listen to the needs of the people.”

This last lesson should apply to everything in life, not only to architecture, I believe. 

To read more about the Grand Midori Ortigas, click here. Main image from the Tange Associates presentation.

ASK RACH: How Do I Hide a Bathroom Next to a Kitchen?

The third Ask Rach question is a typical condo-dweller’s problem: How to deal with a bathroom that is right next to your kitchen? This particular question was posed by my friend F, who lives nearby.

Dear F, we actually have the same problem! But being a crazy, can’t-care-less even if there was a bathtub in the middle of my kitchen-Aquarian, I have just chosen to ignore it until Kingdom Come. But yes, I totally understand how disconcerting it is to have a bathroom open right gob smack onto the primary place where you prepare food (and sometimes, dine).

My kitchen/dining area which opens up to the bathroom (at right), and the bedroom (left). Literally no place to hide!

First, let me explain why condo developers always put the bathroom and kitchen right next to each other, like strange bedfellows. The reason why these areas are always located next to each other is because they share a plumbing or water system. By keeping these areas close together, this minimizes the lateral layout of pipes, and thus, is more cost-efficient during construction, and is easier to access for maintenance post-construction. This plumbing layout also extends to the unit below you, and so forth.

Truth be told, some builders also use this type of sanitary layout in houses—also for the same reasons. But with bigger floor plans and areas, there’s a lot of space and leeway between kitchen and bath, along with many ways to disguise or draw less attention to the area, such as building a hallway or putting up a partition.

But how to deal with it if you live in a 40sqm (or less) condo? In these types of units, the dining room is usually located right next to the kitchen, which means it is also next to the bathroom! This can prove to be somewhat awkward, especially if you’re entertaining. Here are some ideas you can do, without resorting to the expense and trouble of building a partition (this will just make your unit look even smaller, BTW).

It’s a good thing this bathroom opens up to a sink!

Make sure you have a proper ventilation system. Keep the bathroom window open and preferably, use a strong and efficient exhaust fan. Have one of those exhaust fans installed that run when you switch on the bathroom light.

If you have guests over, light a scented candle in the bathroom, or for safety’s sake, use a scented diffuser. For obvious reasons. 😊

Flip the door. By this, I mean the door swing. If your bathroom layout (and conversely, kitchen layout) allows it, transfer the swing of your bathroom door to the other side so the door doesn’t open straight onto the kitchen or dining areas.

If there’s enough space, try to locate the dining table away from the sightline of the bathroom. This minimizes the sightline between people in the kitchen/dining and the person emerging from the loo.

And remind your guests to always lock the bathroom door when using it. This simple act solves a load of awkward bulaga problems!

Kitchen and bathroom photos by Francesca Tosolini and Andrea Davis via Unsplash. Dining room photo is mine.

ASK RACH: How Do I Keep My Mattress Clean and in Tiptop Shape?

In this second blog entry under the Ask Rach series, I answer my friend M’s question of how to keep her mattress clean and in good shape. She also had a first question of whether she should choose a memory foam or a box spring mattress, but I will discuss that in a Part Two blog entry, because as you may know, choosing the right mattress is like choosing a bed for Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It’s all subjective to your taste in how soft or firm a mattress is, and what your body needs!

So instead, we will go straight to M’s second question: how do you maintain your mattress, keep it clean, not saggy, and firm? Mattresses can cost a pretty penny, so we would really like to see this investment last for a long time.

Others may argue that a fancy 200,000-peso vacuum cleaner that supposedly sucks out the dust mites (fun fact: it doesn’t!) would do the trick; but aside from regularly changing your sheets, there are other low-cost or no-cost solutions out there.

1. Use a mattress protector. This is a lifesaver for me. When you have a family, mattresses can get really gross. Your precious mattress will get stained with baby weewee, breast milk, period leaks, and other body fluids I cannot mention in polite company. Left unchecked, these will eventually discolor and destroy your mattress beyond salvation.

My personal choice: Mattress Protectors from Canadian Beddings.

This is why you should use a mattress protector; which is like a waterproof fitted sheet that you slip over your bare mattress before putting on your actual bed sheets. It acts as a barrier between your mattress and your linen, and protects the mattress from potential stains. Get two sets of protectors, and chuck the dirty one in the wash every couple of weeks; simple as that!

Another affordable option is the Premium Touch Mattress Protector from Uratex.

Contrary to popular belief, the mattress protector doesn’t get hot and uncomfortable when you lie on it, as it is topped with a quilted, soft fabric. If you choose the right one, it doesn’t bulk up your linens, either. There are many mattress protectors out there in the market, at various price points, but my personal preference is the ultra-soft and luxurious bamboo mattress protector by Canadian. It’s available at SM Home for about P1,500-P2,000 and up, depending on size.

2. Flip your mattress. Number two solution is the no-cost option. Rotating and flipping your mattress every several months will minimize the wear and tear of the mattress structure, prevent sagging, and “Hammocking”, which is the human-sized dent in the middle.

Flip your mattress every few months, according to your mattress type.

According to this blog, memory foam and the newer inner-spring mattresses need to be flipped every six to 12 months, hybrid mattresses (made out of a mix of memory foam and gel) every three months, while the older box spring mattresses can wait a year. Mandaue Foam, among other brands, have a label stitched onto each corner of their mattresses advising when to flip it or rotate it, which is really thoughtful and clever.

I have to warn you, though, that this is a chore you should not do by yourself, lest you break a nail or worse—sprain your wrist!  Ask help from your hubby or partner, or another able-bodied household member.

I hope I answered your question alright, M! Will address Question Number One later on in the week.

Main image by Nathan Oakley, flipping mattress image by Stephen Andrews, both at Unsplash; other images from the respective brands.

ASK RACH: Tiny Kitchen Woes      

In my first ever Ask Rach blog entry, I’ll be tackling my dear friend R’s tiny kitchen, because whenever we talk, he wails: “I want to renovate my kitchen!!”

I can totally relate with R, because we share the same condo developer, and yes, the kitchens are small. R lives in a studio unit, and though it is beautifully decorated and I totally love his style, he always complains about his tiny kitchen, which is just a sliver of a countertop less than a meter wide!

R hates all the accumulated clutter of appliances and kitchen tools on his tiny countertop.

Now when R renovated his home, he added on dark-blue built-in cabinets and shelving to this tiny kitchen. This renovation increased countertop space and storage tenfold, but he still bemoans the clutter on his countertop, which he desperately wants to hide (see photo).

But lack of countertop space notwithstanding, I am still amazed at what he could do in his sliver of a kitchen: cook kaldereta, toss pasta salad, and even whip up gin-and-tonics for a small party! Anyway, I have two suggestions:

1. Hide the countertop clutter in an additional built-in cabinet.

The less overwhelming option is to have your contractor add on an extra, tiny cabinet in that area to hide the countertop clutter there. You can either have cabinet doors built flush with your bottom cabinet doors (see below), but I’d rather you have a bit of countertop peeking out so it doesn’t look too bulky.

Another option for this solution is to swap the existing hanging cabinets with new cabinets that are roomier to fit all of your kitchen clutter in and leave that countertop area free (see below). If you’re neat enough, hehe, you can go vintage apothecary style and use glass doors for your cabinets.

2. Hide the whole kitchen.

If you want to go the full length of renovating (and could afford to live away from your condo for a month or so), then take the plunge and renovate the whole thing by “hiding” your entire kitchen in a cabinet for an ultra-clean look. Albero PH in Pampanga did this incredible kitchen that practically disappears from sight by sliding the cabinet doors shut (see photos).

The Albero kitchen, pretty as it is (left) gets totally hidden when you slide the cabinet doors closed (right).

This is of course, the most expensive option, but it’s the only way you can “close the kitchen” for the night and forget about it!  

3. Additional: Sleek but tiny kitchen sink

R also mentioned that he hated his kitchen sink that came with the unit (mine is rusting slightly at the moment). So, whether you’re doing the minor or the major renovation, I’d say, change the kitchen sink, too! (Itodo na, everything na, including the kitchen sink! LOL)

This KD5747 black kitchen sink from Homestore is small but sophisticated .

Homestore has a lot of tiny kitchen sink basin options that are less than 10,000 pesos. Try this sleek black number, which is only about 50cm wide. Now if you have a tiny kitchen like ours, single-basin is better, of course. A double basin will just eat up your entire countertop!

For more information about Albero, click here, and for Homestore bathroom and kitchen fixtures, visit them here. Main image by Viktor Forgacs for Unsplash. Other photos are my own.

How to Use Very Peri in Your Home

If you’re a designer or design enthusiast, you probably look forward to Pantone’s Color of the Year announcement every December or late November. Neutral- and warm-color-lovers were quite surprised, though, with the reveal of Very Peri, Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2022; though recently, we have been seeing the Color Authority go for more cool-toned, futuristic color picks (such as Ultimate Gray and Illuminating in 2021).

I find the periwinkle hue quite unusual and was exploring how it would work in decorating trends when my friend Kitty Ricafort asked me to write an article about the Color of the Year for her lifestyle/mom/passion project blog Simple Not Simple. Now Kitty and I worked in the same office back in the day, and as she was a fashion editor, she really has the styling chops (New York-educated! Lots of editorial experience! An awesome writer and editor!), and she also has mad DIY skills, which she showed in her fascinating family home that we featured years ago.

In my article “New Year, New Hue for 2022! How to Introduce Pantone’s ‘Very Peri’ into Your Home” for Simple Not Simple, I explain the nature of the color itself and how not to be afraid of using this unusual hue in decorating your home. Here’s an excerpt from my article:

“Pantone’s Color of the Year announcement is one of the most awaited events in the design industry, as the chosen color—which is chosen by Pantone experts based on studies of trends over the years—is used in creating products in the interior, product, and fashion design fields. The color authority’s declared pick for 2022 is Very Peri, which, according to the site, is a “daring and courageous color” meant to reflect the changing sensibilities of our world.

Inspired by the color periwinkle, Very Peri is a medium-violet tint with a sharp undertone of blue, and this is where ‘daring and courageous’ comes in: it can be a bit tricky to use!

Unlike other past, popular Pantone Colors of the Year which were mostly in the warm tones that go well with beige, brown, and other toasty neutrals, Very Peri is a cool hue, and thus works best with other cool tints such as blue, mint green, pure white, cool gray, and other colors in the lavender-purple family. So, if you are not used to cool colors, I’d say it is safest to use Very Peri in white, light beige, and light gray interior palettes.

But it’s still quite easy incorporate the Color of the Year into your home. Here are some suggestions on how you can use it: 

1. In pillows, throws, and other soft furnishings. Throw pillows in Very Peri would stand out against a white or light beige sofa…A Very Peri throw would look great on an L-shaped gray or “greige” sofa, too.

2. As paint in a children’s room. Very Peri is a nice, unisex hue that isn’t as predictable as baby pink or powder blue. Plus, this color grows up well; and can be used up to the tween and teen years!

3. In nature—through your plants and cut flowers. Orchids, long-lasting purple statis (this can be dried and used for a very long time), or even simple mums all come in this beautiful, soothing color.”

Note: While I loooove fresh cut flowers, if you find this unaffordable to keep up regularly (like most of us!) you can also buy high-quality artificial flowers. The ones at Rustans Flower Shop and at Flourish are almost like the real thing!

You can read the full article in Kitty Ricafort’s Simple Not Simple blog by clicking here!

Main image from the Pantone official Facebook Page.

Makati Garden Club’s Hidden Gems

After a couple of months of hard lockdown, I was actually too scared to step out of my northern home, let alone dine out, but cabin fever was getting the best of me. So when the promise of a safe lunch and an outdoor jaunt with my friend Liza cropped up, I said yes.

The Get Cozy in Nature pop-up at Makati Garden Club.

The outdoor jaunt was primarily to take a peek at Get Cozy in Nature, a lovely little pop-up store at the Makati Garden Club. Running until January of 2022, and just in time for the holidays, Get Cozy in Nature is a collective of fashion, lifestyle and household items, gifts, and even food that’s all carefully chosen; in fact, the whole pop-up looks like the cozy home of a very chic, well-traveled friend!

Woven bags from Probinsyana, Happy Light MNL, and the Florence Fling dress that I love.

Some of the featured, homegrown brands include woven bags by Probinsyana, pretty Florence Fling dresses, Cariloo’s tropical wear, For Keeps beauty products, and my faves: Capsule Prints’ antique botanical prints (some dating from the 1800s!) and Happy Light MNL’s fun lamps made out of upcycled liquor bottles.

The jewel box of finds that is Melograna.

Of course, since we were there already, we had to make a pit stop to Melograna, Ruby Roa’s delightful jewel box of a shop. It really is like a jewel box of fantastic finds!

Inabel flats and slippers, oriental dolls, a burl wood desk tray.

Within its ruby red walls (ruby red, of course), It’s like deep diving in your well-heeled, most tasteful friend’s things. Chockfull of bits and bobs from all over the world, such as China dolls, burl wood veneer and horn desk accessories, antique sewing scissors, and carnival glass to shoes and blouses made out of our indigenous fabrics, there is something for everyone here. I bought her pom-pommed inabel shoes from HABI fair a couple of years ago.

I fell in love with the decor of this secret store at the back of Makati Garden Club.

But let’s talk about Makati Garden Club itself. I’ve been to MGC a couple of times before for events, but it was only yesterday that I got to explore it in full. I’ve been yearning for safe outdoor spaces, even in our pre-pandemic days, and have found Metro Manila seriously lacking in that aspect. MGC was established in 1957, and is still here in their permanent location, thanks to Ayala. There used to be cozy café before called Maria Luisa’s Garden Room, but it is gone now. 😦

There are winding pathways that lead to little plant vignettes. Some of the plants are for sale.

If you haven’t been here before, you’ll be absolutely surprised to see that beyond its cement wall is smoggy and noisy EDSA! I felt calm and centered walking through MGC’s winding pathways and looking at all the lush vignettes (some of the plants are for sale, and there is a flower shop at the far end of MGC) while their resident dog Oreo toddled nearby. I couldn’t believe this was in the middle of Makati, and it was so peaceful and meditative just being there. Because Makati Garden Club is the hidden gem in this story.

Will come back here soon.

Makati Garden Club is located at Recoletos Street, Makati, just a little off the corner Ayala Avenue and EDSA (access is along Ayala Avenue, there is a bit of parking). Get Cozy in Nature is open from Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm. All photos here are by me.

We Did Swedish Death Cleaning and I Think Everyone Should Do It

Three years ago, my friend Jenny sent me The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson. The book, which was launched at the height of the Kon Mari craze, was a more delicately written and sentimental version of the year’s popular decluttering themes.

You see, the practice of Swedish Death Cleaning (the Swedes call it döstädning) was built upon the belief that you should declutter and sort out all your belongings before you die, so that the relatives who survive you won’t have to deal with it afterwards. It sounds very morbid at first, but in Magnusson’s often humorous, self-deprecating-granny prose, döstädning is a very practical move—and more than that, it is an act of love.

I read a few chapters and then chucked it into the abyss of my bookshelf which was already groaning under the weight of my tsundoku collection of hardcovers and magazines.

A couple of months later, my aunt died suddenly and my elderly uncle called to ask me to help him organize his house. They had no children, and I was the only remaining niece who wasn’t living abroad. “Just come over one weekend and help me get rid of some stuff,” he said. Easy-peasy, I thought.

My aunt and uncle’s old home

I was wrong. When I pulled up to his house, which I had not visited in 20 years, it was just full to the brim with stuff—all 500 square meters of it! I was greeted at the garage by a mound of medical equipment dating from the 1970s (they owned a medical company) that had pushed my uncle’s car to the edge of the driveway.

Inside was no better. A tiny pathway wound around piles of boxes of clothes, shoes, and bags. In the dining room, unused dinnerware and assorted ceramics were stacked precariously one on top of the other. “There’s more at the back,” my uncle said ominously, and led me to several other rooms where the sheer volume of belongings made my head spin.

My uncle assessing the clutter.

When I came to my senses and realized that everything would not disappear on its own, we asked my young cousin to come over to help sort it out—thank you, dear cousin! And then I hosted a few open house sales and asked friends to come over and buy. I told them: “Please buy…everything.”

“Are the ladies heading over?” My 80-year-old uncle asked. Yes, I said. A couple of minutes later he pulled out three large boxes of designer bags and even more boxes of china sets. I ordered pizza and some drinks, and the estate sale became a weekly thing until a bulk of the items were sold off. In a way, the constant purging and regular interaction with new people also kept my uncle’s simmering grief at bay.

Divested of all items, including his old house, my uncle moved to a smaller home, a quiet apartment with a communal pocket garden, friendly neighbors, and minimal furniture. “I don’t want any more things,” he said adamantly at the last lunch I had with him. “Do not give me another shirt for my birthday!”

Sadly, at the very beginning of the pandemic last year, my uncle passed away; not from the virus, but from a lingering cancer that he hid from everyone.

Bereft and trapped at home for the first few months of the lockdown and initially without a job, I tackled my tsundoku shelves of books. I was finally able to read The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning at length, and realized, upon finishing the book, that in spite of all the difficulties in purging my uncle’s belongings, it was much easier doing it when he was still alive, than if he were dead. I also realized that all that purging was a way of bringing my uncle closer to me and eventually becoming a father figure, and it was his way of staying in touch frequently, since he already knew he was dying.

It was indeed an act of love.

You can buy your own copy of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning here. Stay safe.

Mid-century Modern Mom

I always use this photo of my mom from around 1970 every Mother’s Day (or on her birthday!) because of two things: 1. It’s cool (of course!) and 2. There’s a lot of my late dad in this picture, too, even if he isn’t in the photo.

I wasn’t around yet when this photo was taken, so I asked mom about it. It was a Sunday and our family friend Bob Johnson had visited from the US. She cooked lunch for everyone, and the house was just three years old. My dad designed it, and because he was just a young junior architect back then, they took a big risk and got a huge loan just to build it.

I look closely at each part of the kitchen and recognize things I’ve grown up with: the Corelle plates with red borders, the rounded refrigerator (wish we still had that), and the beer bottle at the back which she festooned with garden blooms every morning. The only pieces that remain from this photo is the cookie jar in the foreground, relegated to become a spare change catchall, and the wood veneer cabinets.

I’ve seen this particular pantsuit in real life, and it was a loud psychedelic print with sequins all over it–something that was terribly fancy and uncomfortable to cook in at home on a Sunday morning! But I guess, that’s how she dressed up back then. Dad, on the other hand, would be in his collared tennis shirt and tennis shorts, chatting up the guest and the kids on the front porch.

Mom in 1963 with my brothers in grandma’s house

The rest of my mom’s mid-century photos are of herself or with a gaggle of children (mostly my older siblings) on a sofa in my grandmother’s 1950s house. My dad designed that as well, and it was a cool house, too, but it now only exists in our memories.

Mom lives with me now, and is itching to go home (but we can’t due to lockdown restrictions). She putters around my kitchen, complaining about it lacking a second counter (it’s tiny), and missing the garden outside her own kitchen window. The old home she sometimes describes is a memory of what it was in 1973, or ’83, or ’93, or ’03–but isn’t that what comfort is? Remembering a space and time when life was at its best.

In Praise of Slow, Simple Coffee

I encountered an odd sight at a gallery once. So, there was National Artist BenCab, fresh off a car from Baguio, bringing his own coffee beans from Tam-Awan Village. Assorted guests gathered around him, as would anyone if a National Artist suddenly popped into your gallery. Then he whipped out his mobile phone and showed us photos of himself harvesting the coffee beans in the early morning northern fog. In the next photo, he was roasting those beans in a massive roaster, cranking it up all by himself—he is in pretty good nick for a 78-year-old man, possibly healthier than anyone in the room.

To add to our luck that day, BenCab brought a bag of his own hand-picked, National Artist-roasted coffee beans for everyone to enjoy. And so, the folks at the gallery decided to brew it for the guests. Everyone was excited, especially BenCab. But then he had to watch in calm amusement as five grown men tried to brew a single cup from a giant espresso machine that was the size of a small car. We ended up drinking instant coffee while the thing was brewing (it was very good instant coffee by the way, I think it was Japanese—sadly, I didn’t stay long enough for the final BenCab brew).

(Left) My coffee “machine” of choice: The Bodum BRAZIL French Press. (Right) The aspirational French Press by Le Creuset.

The whole surreal incident made me sigh in relief over my preference for simplified coffee making. I have many friends who saved up for coffee machines that are about half the price of the downpayment of a modest condo unit, and I would never be able to afford such a luxury in my lifetime.

Aside from cost and complicated operations, I also have a thing about coffee waste. I know there are now coffee pods that are completely recyclable, but its single-use packaging makes me veer away from these types of machines, regardless of how affordable they have become. I have also stopped using my two drip coffee makers, because of the thought of buying (and tossing!) those filters, and reusable filters can become yucky-doo (in my son’s words).

Another option to the French press: the classic Moka Pot (illustration by me).

So about eleven years ago, I started using a French Press. It’s the simplest, most affordable, eco-friendly, coffee-making equipment my time-hungry lifestyle could take. It conserves all of the coffee beans’ oils, making your cup more flavorful. Others would say it’s a lazy way to make coffee, but I beg to differ—French press coffee making is an art form of sorts. Serious Eats even alludes choosing a French coffee press to picking the right man (as if that were simple). Here’s an excerpt:

“A French press is often treated like Jason Segal’s character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. He’s actually the one you want, but people tend to flock blindly to the flashy, temperamental types like coffee-siphon-somethings or Russell Brands. The French press is definitely a potential coffee happily-ever-after, but as with all things coffee, it ain’t rocket science… but it is science!”

Enough said, haha. I have been happy with my daily-coffee-via-French-press, and I am now on my third Bodum press; I call her Red. The last one was named Clunker, an eight-cup version, and the first one, long-gone, was Bo. They have all withstood my daily abuse and clumsy kitchen-keeping. Le Creuset came up with its own French press two years ago in its flashy stoneware casing in a bevy of ombre colorways. Nice to dream about, but Coffee Review said underneath the dazzle, the filtering equipment was just the same as your regular press! Get the significantly cheaper Bodum Chambord instead.

My friend Tala’s equipment of choice. Image from Go Brew.

If you don’t want the hassle of cleaning out a French press (though I’ve grown used to it, and the act itself I find meditative), there is the other eco-friendly option of the Moka Pot. This coffee classic is the Italian New Wave Sexy Film cousin of the French Press, and just as delicious. I also love seeing the coffee bubble up from the tiny spout in the middle, but of course, you’d still need a hotplate for this.

Or you could try pour-over coffee or aeropress method, the processes of which I find terribly mesmerizing. My friend Tala, who is one of the local bean purveyors at Go Brew, always treats us to aeropress coffee at our product shoots. I love watching her make it—from the weighing of the beans, to the slow pouring of fresh hot water, to the careful aeropress plunging. The whole process takes about 15 minutes to brew a single cup, and if you are fourth in line waiting for the coffee, you’ll get yours after an entire hour. But it is totally worth the wait.

Now that is satisfaction! 😊

Main photo by Anshu A for Unsplash; pour-over photo from Go Brew; Le Creuset is from Sur La Table; other photos are my own.

Last Days Before Lockdown

Around the middle of April 2020, when the whole world was put on hold and when I spent my days and nights thinking of an uncertain future, I looked at my phone’s photo albums and realized I had gone to an entire year’s worth of places and events in the last few weeks before the pandemic lockdown.

It started in early February, when reports of the first few COVID-19 cases in the country trickled in. Back then, it all felt like it was a looming, albeit frightening—yet quite distant concern (oh, how wrong I was). But still, I had this compelling desire to cram all the events and activities that I could in those short four weeks. It seemed as if I had predicted that I would be holed up at home for the rest of the year, but I did not think that at all; I just felt I had to attend all these occasions, see my friends, go to these places. And thank God I did.

As with everyone else’s, my life completely changed right after that. I had to rescue my mother from the province, jobs were lost, friends got sick, relatives stranded in one country or the other, dear uncles and cousins died. Each memory of a life pre-COVID, I held dear, knowing it would be years before I could enjoy it again, if I were lucky.

So, here is a visual diary of most of the places I went to (this is just part of it, I went to more than twenty different locations in 25 days), in the four short weeks before the lockdown.

FINALE ART FILE, MAKATI, FEBRUARY. I was invited to an exhibit at the erstwhile Archivo 1984, also in La Fuerza Compound in Makati, but it was closed. Visited nearby Finale Gallery instead, where I caught the fantastic exhibit “Something Was Out There”. Here is Froilan Calayag’s painted Volks, “I’m Working at The Zoo.”
PAMINTUAN MANSION, PAMPANGA, FEBRUARY. It was my birthday, and my dear friend Christine took me on a field trip to Pampanga, wherein we toured factories, ate Pho, and ended up at the century-old Pamintuan Mansion, where our hairs stood on end (the guard was spooked, too). Here is the main entrance, opening up like a hungry maw.
IKARUS THEATER PLAY, COMMUNE, MAKATI, FEBRUARY. The last physical play I watched. Here is Ikarus Theater member Kit Singson setting up her group’s pocket play ALTER X COMPASS, two plays about the pain, nuances, and ugly sides of romantic relationships, of which I am all too familiar with.
COLLEGE OF FINE ARTS, UP DILIMAN, FEBRUARY. I went to the new UP Fine Arts building twice in two weeks, with two different sets of friends, seeing two different exhibits, but both visits ending up eating isaw along the sidewalk at Mang Larry’s. Ah, it was so good. Here is the last pottery exhibit of students that they showed in the new building’s second-floor galleries.
RIZAL MEMORIAL STADIUM, MALATE, MANILA, FEBRUARY AND MARCH. Another place I went to twice was the newly renovated, 1930s-era Rizal Memorial, and I was so happy to see it in its fully restored state. (I’ll post a future blog about this)
MALATE CHURCH, CAFE ALICIA, MALATE MANILA, MARCH. This was my last lifestyle article assignment before the lockdown, a roundup of Malate haunts. My favorite was Cafe Alicia (right) in the Art Deco, 1930s Orchid Garden Suites, a delectable and elegant hidden cafe.
RAMON MAGSAYSAY, ROXAS BOULEVARD, MARCH. I finally got to see this beautiful, modernist masterpiece up close.
OPEN PLAZA, MAGSAYSAY CENTER. There were so many people milling around, mask-less in the open plaza in the middle of the center, it seemed that everything was ok in the world. It was at this time that Jilson Tiu, the photographer assigned to the story, said he felt a foreboding of sorts that something really bad would happen soon. He was right. After the shoot, we immediately headed straight to the groceries to stock up.
METROPOLITAN MUSEUM, ROXAS BOULEVARD, MARCH. One of our last shoots that day was the Met, which unusually had more visitors than usual that day. The PR person mentioned that they noticed more people had visited, anticipating the museum’s closure. Three days after this shoot, the entire country was put on hard lockdown. The Met has yet to open.

All photos here are by the author. Main photo is of the closed-up MRT, and a near-empty EDSA in April.