A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.
~ Charles Dickens
Sometimes, life throws you a bouquet with flowers you fancy (my ideal one would have tiger lilies, chocolate mint and maybe a leprechaun or two thrown in for good measure). I am talking about days on which life tickles and delights – you know the ones. They don’t need to contain one million dollars or a rugged Prince Charming arriving on a motorbike (though I suppose they would be nice…). They could happen in good company; at the beach; at the duck pond – when the beauty of life rises to meet your face – and you find your heart and feet dancing.
The last 10 days have contained a few of these moments for me – a crucial ‘aha’ moment in my work; swimming at Eastbourne; watching a ladybug glide slowly by; having my friend Jane visit. So many things. Hellos and goodbyes. New friends. Last but not least, a spectacular surprise – dinner with the gracious Philippine Ambassador to New Zealand, Her Excellency Virginia Benavidez.
Through serendipity, friendship, a big dollop of warm Filipino hospitality and more, Her Excellency hosted a dinner in honour of Jane at Ang Bahay, the Ambassador’s residence. And I got to be Jane’s guest.
Recently, Jane visited the Philippines and was clearly enthralled by the experience – I could feel her passion radiating through the phone as we spoke. It awakened good memories – mainly of a visit to Manila when I was a little girl, where I found myself chin and elbow-deep in mango heaven… and of the Filipino friends and domestic helpers I have met, almost all of whom are always, in my mind, laughing, boisterous, joyous, gentle as they speak with their beautiful Spanish-tinted accents.
Just the other day, I met one of Jane’s friends, a glorious Filipina lady, who had me beaming within seconds of meeting her. I begin to understand Jane’s heart for the Philippines and its people.
So… when the invitation to Ang Bahay arrived in our email inboxes, we were thrilled! Of course!
Opening your door to someone is something special; sharing stories and food with someone, even more so. Her Excellency did these and more. I thought to myself, here is a lady in a significant position with a sea of facts and faces to remember – and here she is, humble, graceful and approachable. She included all of us in her informal address and in conversation. No one looked ill at ease – we dived into conversation. Never mind that I have little connection to the Philippines or that I only know about five words in Tagalog – we laughed, chatted, joked… and I forgot myself in the course of the evening, mainly in exchanging stories with the people seated at my end of the table. No attention to napkin placement / polite regal laughing needed (though, umm, I tried to behave ;-)).
I could try to explain what made it all wonderful – getting to dine at the Ambassador’s beautiful residence, the amazing food, the smiling people… but all that doesn’t really say it. Pretty surroundings, novelty and friendliness are great, of course. I noted, with pleasure, the table setting, tall vases, art on the walls, menus printed on handmade paper cards supporting Samaritana, and (real) fruit candle holders! I enjoyed our meal immensely – everything from soup with a perfect puff pastry crown to an impressive ice dome with fresh fruit tucked into it, which kept cool the entire time. I soaked in the whole experience, marvelling at the fact that I was at the Ambassador’s place.
But all that doesn’t encompass what made it possible to be fully present and at ease in a new and novel situation. Soaking in something that is at once complex and terribly simple: genuine hospitality. Hospitality that is generous, other-focused, radiant and passionate – hospitality from a host that brings out her best for her guests – hospitality that is glorious, yet humble and welcoming, with no airs and pretension. Hospitality that makes me fall in love again with the world, and its diversity, and the beauty of culture and humanity. Hospitality that seems to touch me not as a gesture, but as an embrace.
It all sounds terribly cheesy, doesn’t it. But, well, that is the way it was. To Her Excellency, Jane and the other guests: thank you.
Masaganang bagong taon sa lahat!
P.S. Just in case you are interested, the menu was as follows (ah, I’m getting hungry all over again, typing this!):
Mushroom soup with puff pastry
Alfa salad with fruit
Fish and vegetables in teriyaki sauce
Braised pork hocks
Fresh fruits in dome
Turon with chocolate dip