Author: Blanche R. Fernandez

Lessons from a Lockdown

I’ve been working from home for seven years now, so when the Philippine government announced a month-long community quarantine beginning March 15, my first thought was, “Pfft, I do lockdowns like a pro,” followed by “I’m an introvert; I invented social distancing,” and finally, “We’re going to need a huge supply of food, toiletries and donuts.” Three weeks later, we all know what happened here: 3,018 COVID-19 cases, 136 deaths, and thousands more under investigation or monitoring, many of them dying without even being tested because hey, VIPs first, then their families, and then their staff, right? It has become clear that this new coronavirus is serious (even if many elected officials are not). Health care systems are collapsing even in the most advanced countries; people are losing jobs and losing hope; families don’t get to see or hold loved-ones on their death beds, receiving them only as ashes later on; and tensions are high everywhere, especially on social media. People are beginning to wonder: will this be the new normal? To keep me sane …

The gift of sameness

The thing with new years is that people tend to look for the big things when they look back — better jobs, financial breakthroughs, new romance, bucket-list travels, dreams fulfilled. Any milestone that could mark the year as “good” or at least different from years past. I’ve been around four decades now (which suddenly makes me sound old). I won’t pretend to be wiser than I was 10 years ago, but I do know this: the non-events of our lives are as important as the “highlights.” The series of actions that make up our every day is no less special than the special occasions that we like to dress up for. In fact, the older I get, the more I find comfort in sameness: waking up in the same bed that knows my sleepless nights; spending Christmas in the same house that has been our home for nine years; seeing the same weathered faces with the same old jokes in family reunions; wearing the same shirt and nightgown that were among the last gifts from …

For Tatay

On days like this when I wake up to the view of a calm sea, and summer music breaks the quiet of the morning, I remember similar days from over 35 years ago, when I was but a tiny hand clasping the rough, reassuring hand of my grandfather, a fisherman. Back then, there was no music from bluetooth speakers, just an old man’s voice asking if I was ready to pick up my grandmother from the market and get ice cream afterwards. And then we would walk or ride the tricycle. That was the joy of my childhood mornings. Oh, what I would give to hear that voice again and hold those weather-beaten hands. To sit beside my grandfather and tell him about the life I’ve lived so far, the parts he missed. I would ask him if there was anywhere he and my grandmother wanted to go so I could take them there, and this time, mine would be the guiding hands. But I sit here, and there is nothing; the twinkling eyes had …

Bringing old wood back to life

In another time, and perhaps for another generation, this company’s name–Silya, Elektrika, Atbp.–would have conjured images of pain and punishment. But today, in an age that values sustainability, Silya, Elektrika, Atbp. is all about giving life to things that have been left for dead. Silya, Elektrika, Atbp. is a Nueva Vizcaya-based company that collects scrap materials from demolition and construction sites, and turns them into unique pieces of lighting and furniture that are straight out of Pinterest. “People sell us old structures that will be demolished to make way for new ones. In the province, where we’re from, they don’t want wooden houses anymore; they want cement, so they just sell us their wood,” says Gariel Peros, the 26-year-old owner and manager of Silya, Elektrika, atbp. On good days, Peros gets an entire house for Php 20,000. “Most of the time, what we still find useful are the floors, stairs and pillars. These are usually made of teak wood, molave, narra. Most floors are narra,” she says. “Some houses also have Capiz windows.” Peros hails …

Upcycled Plastic Waste Goes to Paris

Plastic trash from the Philippines’ Taal Volcano will soon be traveling thousands of miles to the City of Lights, all dressed up as chic upcycled furniture. Interior designer and eco-activist Wilhelmina “Willie” Garcia will join a select group of new and emerging design talents from all over the world who will showcase their innovative creations — everything from fashion to furniture to gastronomy — at the Paris Design Week on September 8-16. Garcia, co-founder of JunkNot Eco Creatives, will bring her bestselling Bangko stool to the Now! Le Off exhibition, one of the highlights of the design event, which will be held in 180 venues across Paris. The Bangko will also serve as her entry to the Rado Design Prize 2017. “There was a call for proposals early this year. I submitted, and I got accepted. I’m really excited,” Garcia said. After Paris, her Bangko will be off to Belgium for the eco-festival Conscienza 2017. Dubbed by a design magazine as one of the “Creatives to Watch,” Garcia is a familiar figure in the country’s …

Knitting the Passions of Ifugao’s Women

Somewhere between the UNESCO-inscribed rice terraces of Banaue and Hungduan, the passions of one woman converged to make a colorful venture with a farming community. Candice Reyes Alipio, an avid knitter and mountaineer, runs Knitting Expedition, a social enterprise that aims to augment the income of women farmers in Uhaj, a little-known village in Ifugao that remains dependent on rice farming. Located half an hour from the drop-off point for visitors to Banaue, Uhaj itself is not much of a tourist draw. At best, it is a rest stop for trekkers on their way to Hungduan and a place to sleep for those who seek the comforts of a charming inn in the village. Work is scarce – if there is any at all, outside farming – and more and more women are abandoning their rice fields for the big cities, where they often end up as household helpers. The men work as laborers or miners in neighboring provinces. “The purpose of Knitting Expedition is really to keep them in their lands,” Alipio said. “Rice …

Hemingway’s Paris

Paris est toujours une bonne idee, said Sabrina. Even in the rain, even with the crowd — and yes, even with the dog poop — the idea of walking around Paris is always romantic. The Parisians know this, of course, which is why there is an overwhelming number of walking tours serving an overwhelming 89 million visitors to the City of Lights every year. We decided to go with The Original Paris Walks, which was founded in 1994 — long before walking tours were a thing — and who offer unique themed walks like The French Revolution, Paris Fashion Walk, Writers of the Left Bank, Medieval Latin Quarter, Village Montmartre and more. It was raining when we got to the Metro Cardinal Lemoine for the Hemingway’s Paris walking tour, but as Paris Walks had promised, “tours are guaranteed, and run rain or shine,” so off we went with our fabulous guide Jonathan, stopping at points of interest in the 5th arrondissement: Valery Larbaud’s apartment, 71 rue du Cardinal Lemoine. While Larbaud was himself an accomplished French …

The Beauty and the Beast that is Venice

Venice is one of those cities you have to experience at least once in your lifetime. Everything you’ve already seen in the movies is true — it is ancient, vibrant, dreamy, brimming with art and history. And then you add 28 million tourists. Suddenly, you get a different picture of the place: hostile locals, shoulder-to-shoulder human traffic, made-in-China souvenirs, and a sinking World Heritage City. It becomes clear that Venice’s unique beauty is also its curse, bringing in mass tourism that Venetians say has ruined their quality of life. Hence, the unsmiling, protesting remaining residents who don’t really want you there. So why still go to Venice? 1. Because it is, without a doubt, the most architecturally fascinating city in the world. The capital of the Veneto region in northeastern Italy, Venice is a 1,200-year-old city that stands on millions of wooden trunks piled underwater to keep the city afloat. Romans escaping barbarian invaders in the 5th century sought refuge in the marshlands of Torcello, Jesolo and Malamocco, where they built settlements on 118 islands …

La Maison: The beginning and the end

July 31, 2017: 9 months, 28 days since start of construction This is what building a house does to you: for the 98th time, you find yourself wide awake at 1:43 a,m., drinking some herbal concoction that you hope will help put you back to sleep, and wondering – no, screaming inside your head – “WHEN WILL THIS EVER END???” I know, that sounds like a line reserved for people who are in pure anguish, and I do not wish to trivialize anybody’s pain, but there is a kind of agony that afflicts homeowners (an optimistic term for when that house is ever finished) who, like us, have been given at least four turnover dates and yet find themselves in the same state they were in months ago: stressed, sleepless and exhausted to the point of breakdown. We began construction of our house on Oct. 3, 2016. In the description on the blueprint, it says “Three-Story Split-Level Residence” on an 88-square-meter lot, which was a generous gift from my mother. Except today, it’s not a …

The Stuff of Storybooks

Weeks before our family’s spring trip, a battle ensued. Which city should we drop from our must-see list? We had only 21 days to spend in Europe and 25 places we wanted to see. “Take out Rome,” I said. But my sister reminded me we were flying out from there—it had the cheapest fare to Manila. “How about Salzburg?” No. Our father was joining us because of the von Trapps and their Sound of Music. We couldn’t take out London either. It was our mother’s pick, and it was her birthday, the main reason we were on the Europe trip in the first place. “Paris? Edinburgh? Florence?” I asked. Cities were crossed out from the itinerary one by one, but nobody dared touch Prague. The capital city of the Czech Republic is on every bucket list: Places to See before You Die, Best Destinations for 2016, Most Charming European Cities, World’s Best-Preserved Medieval Cities… The hyperbolic lists were endless. According to Euromonitor International, Prague is the fifth most visited European city after London, Paris, Istanbul and …