02 November 2010

Life hanging by a thread

Well, not in a morbid way, but at least in artsy terms.

Saw this in Swiss Miss, and was enamored. Like what Swiss Miss said, it's 'almost poetic how you're supposed to pull on the yarn as time goes by.'

01 November 2010

kate spade every day

If someone gave me the money to buy clothes from just one designer label for my entire life, I'm pretty much sure I'd go with Kate Spade.

But since I don't have that much disposable income to spend on myself nor do I know any crazy, altruistic soul who would fund my shopping spree inside a Kate Spade store, I just have to resort to ogling at Ms. Kate's beautiful designs online.

Since it's free to dream, I can totally see myself in these clothes. The style is so me! (And I realize that a few of the clothes I wear to work are somewhat Kate Spade-ish, but nowhere near as expensive, of course.)

This is what I look like on most days:

And this is the kind of meek, innocent, pa-cute look I subconsciously sport (until a colleague pointed it out to me recently) every time my regional supervisor comes over to Manila and I end up spending 3 hours reporting to him the results of my campaigns:

This is the kind of stuff I like to wear when I'm in the mood to dress up...

... and this is exactly what I look like on Sundays when I'm at my favorite friendly neighborhood Starbucks.
This is the kind of look I wish I'd sport more often...

... and this would be the kind of look I wish I can get away with.

And lastly, this is what I'd still want to be like when I'm in my 40s and beyond. :)

But all is not lost, and I've actually promised to treat myself and not to go Kate Spade-less my entire life. Sooooo... I've gotten myself something and it's coming in December, and it's nothing as grand and as expensive as a $500 ensemble, but it's still super lovely to look at, and I can hardly wait and I'm so excited, so much so that I've written a terribly constructed sentence.

:) :) :)

Don't those excessive emoticons say it all?

Photos are all from kate spade's facebook page.

31 October 2010

The Illuminator

Another find at Books for Less just this week.

The book's a bit of fanciful historical fiction, the cover's pretty hokey, and I'm really not into the romance part. But the reason I bought it were the following keywords I saw on the blurb at the back of the book: 'fourteenth century England' and 'master illuminator.' Even though I'm not familiar with the author, Brenda Rickman Vantrease, I figured my interest in feudal England and the history of book making would allow me to enjoy the book.

(Of course, I can't read The Illuminator at once since I'm currently still ploughing through Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale. And I'm pretty aware that several months of reading Ancestor is an inordinately long time to be doing so, but then again--who wants to rush through evolution anyway? But I digress.)

Because I don't know Vantrease's other works, I had to look her up online. Her niche really is on historical fiction peppered with some romance (jeez), but thank God the reviews are saying the history parts in her books are well-researched.

I'm also glad she's into historical accounts of books and book making, because I do read a good deal on that subject, whether fiction or non-fiction. Nicholas Basbanes' A Gentle Madness, for example, tackles the obsession of book collecting, and his Patience and Fortitude covers the great libraries of the past, starting with The Library of Alexandria (yay, Egypt!). And then there's a recent read of mine, Orhan Pamuk's award-winning My Name is Red, which is a murder mystery set during the Ottoman Empire, centering on a group of illuminators and miniaturists working for the sultan.

The period before Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press is always fascinating; this was the time when monks in the Western world and Muslim scholars in the East painstakingly created and reproduced books by hand.

Before my former officemate Alexis migrated to Canada with her family, she left with me an old copy of The History of Making Books from the Scholastic Voyages of Discovery series. The book must probably have been owned by one of her kids. It's this lovely little thing that talked about the ancient system of writing and reading in Mesopotamia and Egypt and such, and then how illustrated manuscripts were made in early A.D., and up to the age of printing.

It's a children's book, but I was more than thrilled to inherit it, because the book's subject is something I'm passionate about. I was touched by Alexis' thoughtfulness, for she knew how much I cared about books. This copy of The History of Making Books now sits on my office shelf, and I'm always on the lookout for any visiting children (who are, most of the time, the kids of my officemates) who may be interested enough to see the book, sit down beside me-- and hopefully, ask me to read it with them.

30 October 2010

Egypt in 2011

I want to go to Egypt so badly, it hurts. I mean literally.

My eyes have been aching from too much scouring on the web for the most affordable package tours to Egypt. My chest actually hurts every time I have this panicky feeling that my plans won't push through. That's just the worrywart in me, but yes, I DO plan to go to Egypt next year. I always believe that if I want it bad enough, I'll get it--and I don't intend to disappoint myself.

Ever since I got to see both Rome and Cambodia (two of my other dream 'ruins' destinations) in the early part of 2010, I've had a more positive outlook when it comes to traveling. Never think a place is too far, too impossible, too expensive to visit. If you want to see it, then just find a way to do it. Really.

I'm not one of the privileged few who can just fly off to wherever. I actually have to save for trips. None of that nonsensical Eat Pray Love, Under the Tuscan Sun stuff. Realistically speaking, it's only the rich, dissatisfied, slightly neurotic people who can actually afford to go on spontaneous trips to the other side of the world. The rest of us are left to make calculations on Excel, projecting how much we can save per month in order to go on that dream vacation.

So this is me doing those said calculations and planning a trip to the lost kingdom of pharaohs on May 2011. I'm very, very, very excited. The trip isn't cheap, but I know it's going to be worth every peso saved. My best bud Ryan and I have been planning this for quite some time (actually, it's more of me doing the research for all the tour costs, and he'll just shell out the money for his half of the expenses), but that's alright, because I'm the control freak and he just basically goes along with my lovingly crafted itinerary that reeks of obsessive compulsive-ness.

So the plan is to spend 8-10 days in Egypt and see the cities of Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, plus go on a day trip to the majestic Abu Simbel temple.

Oh my God, I can't even begin to describe how badly I want to see Abu Simbel and those monolithic statues of Ramses II. All those times I've watched documentaries on TV on historic Egypt while I was growing up really fed my desire to see the place. My brother Ramfis (Ramses, Ramfis--the similarities of the names are not coincidental; my parents wanted it) is even more of a geeky historic buff than I am, and he would love to see this place as well.

My top priority sights to see in Egypt are Abu Simbel, the pyramids of Giza, the Valley of the Kings (see photo below) and the Nile. And after I see those, I know I'll cry, because I've been waiting to see these places all my life. I don't know why I feel a strange sense of urgency to visit Egypt, but I know I don't want to wait for a few more years just to see it.

So, yes, I'll see you next year, Egypt!

Photo credits: Abu Simbel photo by Getty Images. Photos of the Pyramids and the Valley of the Kings are by National Geographic.

10 October 2010

Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down

Another great find at the Books for Less branch in my office building. I keep posting about many of these nice book finds, that I might as well have a separate blog label about it.

It's a little disturbing to find a Nick Hornby book in a secondhand bookstore--but I'm not complaining.

06 September 2010

vanilla girl

I'm known as the vanilla girl in the office.

People would kind of joke and say that they'd know it was me who had just passed by just because of the scent of vanilla in the air.

I think it's a compliment. I love all things vanilla. I have body sprays, a basketful of lotions, several bottles of body wash, and even a hand sanitizer that all have that fragrant smell.

So, not surprisingly, this is one of my new moisturizers (I have 3 more lotions in my bag). A yummy Boots product and now an official favorite amongst my teammates, who help themselves to it regularly.

Now that 1/4 of it is consumed after only 2 weeks, I realize I have to find a way to stock up again on this.

And next time I'm in Bangkok, I'm getting the same body butter in the larger pint-looking size.


On a different note, I really have to start on my Paris and Cambodia entries soon. Wrote a couple of notes while I was traveling at that time, and I hope I can properly reconstruct the memorable bits of those summer vacation trips. :)

27 August 2010

This is real love.

Oh, yes it is.

I requested a kind officemate of mine to buy a pot of Boots Original Beauty Formula Cold Cream for me while she was in Bangkok last week for vacation.

I've been trying this for cold cream three nights in a row already, and seriously, my skin looks and feels healthier and more supple. (Of course, my mom and sisters think I'm unhealthily obsessed with my skin. Sorry, I'm a skin care junkie.)

The product also has a vintage feel to it, and looks like something my grandmama would use. Well, older generations of women did use cold cream to remove skin impurities and retain that youthful look. When Kylie Minogue was asked about her ageless look, she revealed that her beauty secret was Pond's Cold Cream--and sales of that product in the UK soared in the next few days.

Well, I'm not a Pond's fan, so I'd rather go for something like Boots' Cold Cream. It's a bit heavy on the skin, but I don't mind; I have really dry skin, so I kind of feel that my skin is 'drinking' in all that cold cream. Heavenly.

Every time I'm in a Boots store in Bangkok, I always feel this mad urge to stock up. So whenever I get back to Manila, I have a load of Boots products in my luggage; I'm always afraid of running out of my precious supplies.

The skin balm and the lavender hand cream from the same Original Beauty Formula line are nice on my skin as well (perfect hand moisturizers while I'm working inside a deathly cold office), but this cold cream is turning out to be my favorite. Next time I'm in Thailand, I'm going to lug back some of that skin tonic and cleansing milk.

I suggested to my fundraising teammate Tintin (another Boots fan) that the next time our regional manager Yas comes over to Manila, we can ask him to bring our pabilin (purchase requests) from Boots. She said I was dead crazy, as she couldn't imagine our no-nonsense Japanese boss lugging around a bunch of beauty products for us.

Okay, maybe that was too much. It was just a suggestion, though...!

26 August 2010

more of The Ancestor's Tale

Just a few more interesting passages from The Ancestor's Tale:

Great things grow from small beginnings

"Usually, in everyday life, massive improbability is a good reason for thinking that something won't happen. The point about intercontinental rafting of monkeys, or rodents or anything else, is that it only had to happen once, and the time available for it to happen, in order to have momentous consequences, is way outside what we can grasp intuitively. The odds against a floating mangrove bearing a pregnant female monkey and reaching landfall in any one year may be ten thousand to one against. That sounds tantamount to impossible by the lights of human experience. But given 10 million years it becomes almost inevitable. Once it happened, the rest was easy. The lucky female gave birth to a family, which eventually became a dynasty, which eventually branched to become all the species of New World Monkeys. It only had to happen once: great things then grew from small beginnings." (Dawkins, p. 142)

On beavers' dam-building compulsion

"Dam-building behaviour is a complicated stereotypy, built into the brain like a fine-tuned clockwork mechanism. Or, as if to follow the history of clocks into the electronic age, dam-building is hard-wired in the brain. I have seen a remarkable film of captive beavers imprisoned in a bare, unfurnished cage, with no water and no wood. The beavers enacted, 'in a vacuum,' all the stereotyped movements normally seen in natural building behaviour when there is real wood and real water. They seem to be placing virtual wood into a virtual dam wall, pathetically trying to build a ghost wall with ghost sticks, all on the hard, dry, flat floor of their prison. One feels sorry for them: it is as if they are desperate to exercise their frustrated dam-building clockwork.

Only beavers have this kind of brain clockwork. Other species have clockwork for copulation, scratching and fighting, and so do beavers. But only beavers have brain clockwork for dam-building, and it must have evolved by slow degrees in ancestral beavers. It evolved because the lakes produced by dams are useful. It is not totally clear what they are useful for, but they must have been useful for the beavers who built them, not just any old beavers. The best guess seems to be that a lake provides a beaver with a safe place to build its lodge, out of reach for most predators, and a safe conduit for transporting food. Whatever the advantage it must be a substantial one, or beavers would not devote so much time and effort to building dams. Once again, note that natural selection is a predictive theory. The Darwinian can make the confident prediction that, if dams were a useless waste of time, rival beavers who refrained from building them would survive better and pass on genetic tendencies not to build. The fact that beavers are so anxious to build dams is very strong evidence that it benefited their ancestors to do so." (Dawkins, p. 189)

Okay, I know it's freakishly weird that I'm including passages here on monkeys and beavers and whatnot--but don't you think this stuff's pretty interesting?

Well, isn't it???

22 August 2010

evolution explained

When I was young, I told myself I was going to be a scientist. I wanted to do something exciting, like be a paleontologist or anthropologist, or even be involved in the field of genetics.

But at the tender and highly impressionable age of 8, I came across a show on TV that featured a frog being dissected. Just one terrified look at the quivering innards of a frog that was cut open, and all its limbs stuck with pins to keep the entire body in place--and thus ended what would have been a potentially exciting scientific career for Gina.

It was one of those traumatic experiences that made me refuse to dissect a frog back in high school--and I was willing to fail my science subject (although I doubt my parents would have wanted me to) just to avoid the whole frog dissection lab exercise, but the teacher took pity on me--seeing how miserable and traumatized I looked--and made me do a paper instead.

And so instead of being some really cool scientist, I chose to embark on a frog-free career in communications and fundraising. Whatever scientific aspirations I had left in me found an outlet in just reading up on landmark discoveries in books and the internet, as well as watching National Geographic and Discovery Channel (the remote control in hand, with me ready to do some rapid channel switching should an image of a frog come into view).

The first book I started reading this 2010 was Richard Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution. I could have finished it earlier this year, but there were too many distractions at work, and I even read a couple of books while I let The Ancestor's Tale sit on the bookshelf unfinished. It was only today that I started reading more chapters in earnest, these chapters covering the period of evolution 6 to 180 million years ago.

But back in January, I was already raving about the wonderful premise of The Ancestor's Tale in a previous post; I had just started then on the first few chapters of the book, which tackles first, in a radical reverse tour of evolution, the period of man's evolution that took place less than 6 million years ago, starting from that point where he "branches off" from his shared common ancestor with the chimpanzee.

My previous post pretty much summarizes what Dawkins' book is all about (and so does the Amazon link), so I won't repeat what I've talked about before. But I have to say that I do regret not finishing this book earlier; in less than 7 hours today, I have gone as far back as the Age of Dinosaurs, where one of man's earliest mammal ancestors during that period was the marsupial mole. (Yes, hard to believe, but hey, at least I'm still in the mammal kingdom. Give me a few more chapters, and I'd really start struggling with the idea that we are descended from lungfish.)

In a deeply religious country where most, if not all, believe that man came into existence as explained in The Bible's Book of Genesis, I choose to believe that in my own world, religion and science can conveniently get along with one another. I actually think that the First Story of Creation ties in quite nicely with the story of man's evolution--with the land and sea being created first, and then the plants and animals, and lastly, man, who is given dominion over all creatures.

Of course, everyone is free to believe in what they wish to believe in; I've never force-fed anyone my beliefs, and neither should anyone, not even my own mother (who gave up trying years ago to get me to attend church), coerce me into believing in God and denouncing science, and vice versa. The debate on religion versus science is moot, and there will always be a Great Divide, so I'd rather not waste energy arguing with people from these two opposing factions.

This does not mean I don't have a religious bone in my body; in fact, I believe in God so much, that I feel He is ultimately the Master at work behind the fearfully beautiful and intricate process of evolution. Nothing as grand as this--this whole scheme or design that takes place in the span of millions and millions of years, with each living thing being created and 'assigned' a function and purpose in life--can simply be left to chance alone. Evolution is complex, yet everything ends up falling neatly into place--and at least for me, I find assurance in the belief that only a higher being such as God can orchestrate something as wonderful as this.

That said, I just want to say how I am totally absorbed with the ideas postulated in this book. :)

Indulge me by letting me directly quote passages from the book; whenever a good thought or fact strikes me, I normally take note of it. Some ideas in books aren't exactly ground-breaking, as I've heard or read about them before, but I usually like how the author explains the ideas. I either write these down or manually type them, so that when I come back to these little notes, I remember which parts of the book I liked best. Dawkins is pretty adept in making science accessible and interesting even to the most casual reader--although of course, it helps to have a healthy interest in evolution for one to read this book.

On bipedality (walking on two legs)

"Perhaps we rose on our hind legs, not because that is a good way of getting about, but because of what we were then able to do with our hands--carry food, for instance.... Other kinds of food such as meat or large underground tubers are harder to acquire but, when you do find them, they are valuable--worth carrying home in greater quantity than you can eat. When a leopard makes a kill, the first thing it normally does is drag it up a tree and hang it over a branch, where it will be relatively safe from marauding scavengers and can be revisited for meals.... Having much smaller and weaker jaws than a leopard, did our ancestors benefit from the skill of walking on two legs because it freed their hands for carrying food--perhaps back to a mate or children, or to trade favours with other companions, or to keep in a larder for future needs?

A particular version of the 'carrying food home' theory is that of the American anthropologist Owen Lovejoy. He suggests that females would often have been hampered in their foraging by nursing infants, therefore unable to travel far and wide looking for food. The consequent poor nutrition and poor milk production would have delayed weaning. Suckling females are infertile. Any male who feeds a nursing female accelerates the weaning of her current child and brings her into receptiveness earlier. When this happens, she might make her receptiveness especially available to the male whose provisioning accelerated it. So, a male who can bring lots of food home might gain a direct reproductive advantage over a rival male who just eats where he finds. Hence the evolution of bipedalism to free the hands for carrying." (Dawkins, p. 91-92.)

Not only does the theory of man evolving from a creature walking on all fours to that of a bipedal entity interest me, but my recent attendance in a gender sensitivity workshop has made me more conscious of how man and woman have played out their roles in society (both in ancient and modern times) which directly result in how people today develop gender-based notions and decision-making.

On racism in evolutionary theory

"Early explorers often assigned the native peoples of the forests a closer affinity with chimpanzees, gorillas or orangs than with the explorers themselves. In the nineteenth century, after Darwin, evolutionists often regarded African peoples as intermediate between apes and Europeans, on the upward path to white supremacy. This is not only factually wrong. It violates a fundamental principle of evolution. Two cousins are always exactly equally related to any outgroup, because they are connected to that outgroup via a shared ancestor.... All humans are exactly equally close cousins to all gorillas. Racism and speciesism, and our perennial confusion over how inclusively we wish to cast our moral and ethical net, are brought into sharp and sometimes uncomfortable focus in the history of our attitudes to fellow humans, and our attitudes to apes -- our fellow apes." (Dawkins, p. 111.)

Powerful stuff. The Great Ape Project, as Dawkins also mentions, proposes that great apes should be granted, "as far as is practically possible" the same moral status as humans. This moving notion, like many other ideas in The Ancestor's Tale, sets my science-loving mind and heart racing.

Mommy and me

One of the best "de-stressers" at work is seeing a photo like this.

And I am always reminded why I love my job, and what it all means to me and ultimately, to the children.

In celebration of Breastfeeding Month, UNICEF Philippines invites all mothers out there to share 1 or 2 photos capturing their precious bonding moments with their children. It can be a breastfeeding picture or a photo of you hanging out with your kid/s, or simply any photo depicting your special mother-and-child moment. =)

Accompanying your photo should be your name, your child’s name, and 1-2 sentences on “The most important lesson I wish to teach my child is ….”

If you have exclusively breastfed your child, feel free to share your thoughts on breastfeeding as well! It is UNICEF's hope that you can inspire other moms to breastfeed.

For those who haven’t experienced being mothers, you can join this campaign by sending a photo of you and your beloved mommy, accompanied by 1-2 sentences on “The most important lesson my mother has taught me is …”

Please send your photos to psfrmanila@unicef.org and UNICEF will upload them right away. You can also check out the lovely photos that several mommies have already sent right on UNICEF Philippines' Facebook photo album "Mommy and Me"!

Thank you, everyone!

21 August 2010

timeless Emma

People don't seem to have any trouble liking Jane Austen.

What she writes about is so universal, you get it immediately. Never mind if the language can be dull and suffocating sometimes. Once you plow past the stiff formalities in her characters' conversations, you find yourself, rather grudgingly, liking Austen after all.

To be honest, I've always enjoyed the movie adaptations more than her novels--which is saying a lot, because I'm more of a "the-book-is-always-better-than-the-movie" person.

Now, over the years, I've read and watched different versions of Emma more than I care to admit. Well, okay, I admit to the painful struggle of teaching my younger sister to read a Young Adults Classic edition of Emma while I was 12 and she was 10 (and I failed miserably in that attempt, because now she refuses to read any classics).

So I wasn't really an Emma 'virgin' when I decided to watch BBC One's 2009 four-part TV series on this Austen classic one lazy Saturday afternoon.

I think it's amazing that fans are given the opportunity to enjoy Emma for four hours, rather than the more constraining 2-hour movie format. The characters then become more fleshed out, and there's plenty of opportunity to put in more detail to the plot without being long-winding. And four hours seriously give you more time to fall in love with the characters.

I've read Emma several times, but screenwriter Sandy Welch's whipsmart script provides a fresh approach. At first I felt a bit troubled with the way the arguments between Emma and Mr. Knightley were so lively at times (I mean weren't we all used to the exchange of veiled barbs while they were sitting stiffly on couches or something?), but I eventually got used to this new approach by BBC.

Romola Garai, who plays Emma Woodhouse, is just so LUMINOUS in this role; the girl seriously does not have any bad angles. Jonny Lee Miller (whom I first loved when he played Sick Boy in Trainspotting) is the best Mr. Knightley I've ever come across. There's something so satisfying about seeing him act in a period piece because I'm not used to it (although he was fair enough in Plunkett and Macleane). And Michael Gambon as Emma's extremely nervous, hypochondriac of a father, Mr. Woodhouse--well, you really can't go wrong with having Michael Gambon in a movie, right?

P.S. Eighteen years after my 12-year-old self failed to convince my sister that Emma is worth spending time on, I finally got her to watch this 4-hour BBC special. Success at last!

16 August 2010

solution to rosacea

Just a little break time from all those travel entries I've been posting--although I'm so happy and grateful that several people have come up to me to say they love my little posts on my Europe trip, and that these are well-written and super interesting to them. (Wow, I'm overwhelmed, because I honestly think my writing's pretty rusty and the stuff I write about are rather mundane, but thanks everyone for the love. Will post more about my Europe trip when I have the time. It's Paris up next, by the way!)

On to a bit of frivolity.

Well, not really. It was a necessary purchase, but a bit costly on the pocket.

I've had mild rosacea all my life, and I recently discovered Jurlique's Calendula Lotion, which is excellent in soothing sensitive skin. I checked a website dedicated to people with diagnosed rosacea (ranging from mild to serious rosacea), and Jurlique's product was recommended for those with a condition like mine.

Actually if you know me and see me everyday, you wouldn't really notice the rosacea. Like I said, it's pretty mild. At most, people think I have a rosy tinge on my cheeks (so yeah, this blogger obviously doesn't need any blusher--ever). It only flares up during extreme heat, or when I'm encountering a rapid change in temperature, like going from a warm place to a cold one, and vice versa. It also shows up at the most inopportune moments, like when I'm laughing real hard or when I get embarrassed--so please don't tease me, because I do end up blushing!

And the redness is most apparent after I'm done with a workout or a run. Whenever I get out of my bikram yoga class, for example, my face feels like a glowing tomato, which is so not sexy. One of the reasons why my rosacea manifests itself is because I love, love, love spicy food, and I cannot live without that.

But on most days, my cheeks just exhibit the slightest tinge of rosiness, and other people think it's cute and all--but it's the vain, hypochondriac side of me that really fusses over this condition in the most paranoid of ways.

I ended up buying Jurlique Calendula Lotion because it promised that the soothing properties of calendula would help decrease the redness. Tried it, and my first reaction was: "Oh, f#$%! It smells like soy sauce!" Definitely not something you'd want to put on while you're with a bunch of people. It's not the cream kind of lotion that one slathers on--it's more like toner actually, so the "lotion" on the product box may actually be misleading.

Like toner, I just apply several drops on a cotton pad and pat my face, compressing the pad into the problem area, just like what the instructions on the box say. The "lotion" does have a cooling, soothing effect and lo and behold, it really did dramatically reduce the flaring up.

The lotion still stinks to the highest heavens, like other Jurlique products, but people really swear by this brand. I'd used to pass by the Greenbelt 5 branch of Jurlique and wonder why the prices of their hand creams and such were ridiculously expensive, but I guess as long as the product works for me, I'm good. Even if my face smells a tad like soy sauce--despite the facial night cream slathered on top--before I go to sleep.

19 July 2010

Europe in 2 Weeks: Florence (part 2)

I came to Florence to see art, and art I did see. Truckfuls of it.

Because the city is so small, one can actually see most--or at least the highlights--of Florence in a day. As much as I would have wanted to stay for at least 3 days, I couldn't, so I had to make the most of my full day in this city. Armed with my Rick Steves travel guide and quite infected by the la dolce vita attitude of my opera-singing hotel host earlier at breakfast, I stepped out into the cobblestoned streets and was psyched to have some sensory overload on Renaissance art.

While some people may scoff at the idea of touting a travel guide and looking like a real tourist, I find it even more stupid to wander about aimlessly without a plan especially when you don't have the luxury of, say, a whole month's stay. With Rick Steves and Google Maps plus online booking of my tickets to the museums, I was able to carefully plan my route around Florence and still have extra time to go wandering about for the rest of the day. Cheers to obsessive-compulsive planning!

Here, in chronological order, are the highlights of my 'Renaissance' Walk:

1. The Uffizi Gallery. Of course it had to be the first thing on the agenda. I'm no art historian or curator, but I love art enough to know what the Uffizi holds and how badly I wanted to see them all. Because the lines at the Uffizi are reputed to be ridiculously long (people wait in line for 4-5 hours in high season), I wasted no time and booked myself a ticket to the Gallery while I was still in Manila. The funny thing about museums in Italy is that when you book online, you have to choose a certain time slot. The Italians are fussy about not letting in too many people at the same time, so they prefer to have only 20 people per time slot entering the museum.

So I got myself the 8:30 am slot (the Uffizi opens at 8 am), and this was a good strategy, I believe, because I was there early enough to avoid the hordes of students on field trip and those tourist groups that are annoyingly ubiquitous and ruin basically the peace and quiet of a museum.

Taking photos isn't allowed inside the museum, so I took some pictures while I was outside.
I'm finally here!!

a part of the Uffizi was being restored

street performer decked out like one of the many statues flanking the Gallery

Spent a good two hours inside the Uffizi, which had the finest collection of Botticellis ever. There was also a sprinkling of da Vincis and Michaelangelos and Raphaels, which made me rather dizzy. The museum was overwhelming--not in size, but in the wealth of paintings that it boasted. Giotto's Madonna was there, and so was da Vinci's Annunciation, and Titian's Venus of Urbino. When I got to the room full of Botticellis, all I could do was sit and stare at his Birth of Venus and La Primavera.

The whole experience was unsettling. Everything was just reeking of beauty and culture, and this was the kind of art I've only seen before in art books. And Botticelli's Venus was staring back at me, looking like she was amused by my gawking but was trying to hide it behind her serene smile.

2. The Duomo and the Baptistery. Stumbled out of the Gallery, dazed and experiencing an Uffizi hangover of sorts. Next on the agenda was the ever-famous cathedral, the cultural symbol of Florence. The Duomo, after all, is the main reason why I wanted to go to Florence. All roads in the city seemed to lead to it, so it was very easy to find.

The area surrounding the Duomo is always packed with tourists. Tourists, tourists everywhere. It was such an infamously popular spot. I stood in one area for a full 20 minutes perhaps, just taking loads of pictures before deciding to circle the perimeter of the pink-green-and-white marbled church. I saw artists selling their works on the street, people having their coffee leisurely al fresco in the surrounding cafes, and individuals strolling about like they weren't in a hurry to reach their destination. It was a sweet life indeed for the people of Florence--and it was all almost ridiculously unreal and far from the madding crowd that was Manila.

The church itself is pure eye candy; you can honestly stare at it for a long time. Well, at least I did. Didn't get tired looking at it. I was afraid that if I didn't gaze at it long enough, I'd forget some of the small details, or at least the memory of having this wave of happiness wash over me, because I was really and truly in Florence with the Duomo just several meters away from me. It was the same feeling I had when I was looking up at the Colosseum and at the Sistine Chapel. Maybe it was some form of I'm-surrounded-by-so-much-history-and-it's-all-so-beautiful orgasm (for lack of a better word). There must be an exact scientific name for this state of euphoria in the presence of art and history that I was in, but I just didn't know it.

the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (or the Duomo, for short)

the Duomo's interior artwork

crowds and crowds of tourists around the Duomo all day

Right next to the Duomo is the Baptistery, the oldest and very much revered building in the city. It wasn't difficult looking for the 'Gates of Paradise' by Ghiberti. Just look for the bronze panels with the biggest crowd of tourists hanging about, and you know you're in the right place.

Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise. The original panels are safely stored inside the Duomo museum though.

3. Michaelangelo's 'David'. Grabbed a pizza in a nearby pizzeria-slash-cafe and decided to eat it while heading towards the Galleria dell'Accademia. The air was cold, and the pizza warm in my hands, so it was a good albeit hurried meal on the way to the museum.

Aside from the 'David', which is the real reason why people flock to the Accademia in the first place, there's really not much else to see there except Michaelangelo's unfinished 'Slaves'.

I entered the museum, walked down a short corridor, and rounded a corner, anticipating that I was going to go through more halls to get to David. I didn't expect that that one corner would be it, that I would see him immediately. And so there he stood, high on his pedestal at the very far end of the hallway, literally--and without reference to his nether region--larger than life.

I was to have many heart-hammering-in-my-chest moments while I was in Europe, checking out all the sites and art I've dreamt of seeing my whole life. This was one of those heart-pounding moments. Just when you think you're ready to see 'David', the masterpiece, you realize you're as flabbergasted and slack-jawed as the tourist standing next to you.

The beauty of his position inside the museum was that people could circle him; we weren't limited to one view. I stood for a long time, just circling his slowly. I loved the expertly chiseled back, the veins on his arms, the tension of the muscles. When I couldn't stand anymore, I sat down in a corner, right next to a young man sketching David on his drawing pad. I watched the guy draw for a bit, and envied him for the luxury of time he had. Then I complimented his drawing, and so did a few others who came up to him. He thanked me and the others effusively.

The nice thing about being in an art-soaked city like Florence is that everyone is so appreciative about everything related to art. There could be a chalk artist sketching on the sidewalk an exact copy of a Madonna and Child painting, and people would be standing round, just watching and waiting for him to finish.

Strictly no photo-taking allowed while in the presence of David, but of course I just HAD to take a stolen shot. David is perfect, perfect, perfect.

4. Dante Alighieri.
Who isn't fascinated by Dante? The Inferno? And most of all, the elusive Beatrice whom he loved?

Florence is so small you'll wind up in Via Dante Alighieri at some point whether you're looking for it or not. I was as pleased as punch to be in the very street the great poet used to live in. God, these Florentines are just so damn lucky to be walking past it everyday.

On the street where he lived. And now it's called Dante Alighieri Street.

Dante's Church, where Beatrice's tomb is located. Too bad Dante is buried in Ravenna; it would have been nice to see both their tombs side by side.

5. Gelato
is an art form too! Even if it was the tail end of winter, I had to have some of that world-famous gelato. Besides, everyone else was strolling about, each licking a gelato cone, so I wasn't going to pass that up. There were so many gelato shops to choose from, I was pretty much dizzy with desire.

So...I prudently chose a small gelateria which had a bunch of people lining up, and I thought, okay, they must be serving extra yummy gelato. I went and stood in line and had the most awful, hand-wringing dilemma to face: which flavors to get?

The lady behind the counter was getting slightly impatient; I was practically cross-eyed from all that frantic canvassing of flavors, and because I didn't want to risk facing a crowd of angry gelato fans all lined up behind me, I stammered out in basic Italian that I would like a medium-sized cone with two flavors--coffee and chocolate. Ordinary flavors, yeah, but when I started on my gelato, I realized there was nothing ordinary about the coffee and chocolate I was licking. It was so good I almost forgot where I was heading.

Oh my God, that was the best gelato ever. I still dream about it sometimes. The gelatos I've had in Gelatissimo in Greenbelt 5 don't even come close to that simple treat I had in that rather nondescript gelateria in Florence.

my gelato leading the way

6. Here are more of the city's beautiful sights. I would have wanted to talk more about them, but I keep telling myself to be a little less long-winding.

Piazza della Republica, the old city center

This always reminds me of the movie 'A Room With a View.' :)

the Arno River

inside the very cold, very drafty Palazzo Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

Piazza della Signoria

my favorite part of the Orsanmichele Church

Was pretty much able to wander about the city without feeling so hurried. It really does help sometimes to explore things on your own. Had enough time to go back to the hotel in the late afternoon, grab my luggage and head for Santa Maria Novella station. Apparently, to go back to Rome, I had to take the 5-minute train from SMN to Firenze Rifredi Station. And when I got there 30 minutes before the train's scheduled departure, it was announced that the train that was arriving to take me back to Rome would be 45 minutes late.

Rifredi's waiting area was outdoors, by the tracks. A real provincial train station. Inspite of my wool coat, thermals, and a scarf covering my neck and half of my face, I felt pretty chilled. Spent the next hour or so alternately reading about the Persian-Greek Wars and stomping about my bench to ward off the cold. Definitely not one of my favorite memories of Florence.

I made a mental note to myself that if (and I know I will) I was to go back to Florence, it would have to be some time in spring. And yes, it would have to be a week's stay. The city is just too beautiful.

Florence, March 22-23, 2010

18 July 2010

Le bag 1984

What would I give to have one of these.

Olympia Le-Tan has created a super super limited edition collection of clutch bags that are fashioned after the first editions of these famous books. Only 16 of each style, I heard.

I love this Nineteen Eighty-Four bag so much, it makes we want to cry. The price is a tear-jerker too. USD 1,500...!

Lovely homepage though.