Friday, May 30, 2008

Travel to Batanes, Philippines

The following is an email from my friend Darn. This reminds me of our earlier attempt to visit Batanes. Batanes is the northern-most island of the Philippines - rocky, windy, with temperamental weather. Four of us: Darn, Mila, Joy, and I were in the Manila Domestic Airport, with tickets and bags in our heads, ready to go to Batanes for a few days. It turned out the flight was cancelled due to bad weather. The other passengers, possibly used to the erratic weather in Batanes, filtered away from the airport lounge. The four of us looked at one another to decide what we'd do. The general concensus was that people didn't want to go home. So up and down we walked, looking at the airline announcement boards, shopping for a place to go to. Palawan won, and we exchanged our tickets and flew to Palawan instead. We had a great time there. But this description of Batanes by Darn, leaves me curious about Batanes:

Hi to you all. Went to Batanes last weekend. Awesome place really! Everyone but everyone should go to this lovely province.

The 360 degree scenery of what they call Marlboro Country got me misty-eyed. (OA ba?) Think soft rolling hills of pasture land meeting the sea. Somebody wrote in a magazine that if you're looking for God, you'll find him in Batanes. I completely agree.

According to our guide, another visitor so overtaken by the beauty of the place, spewed expletives, saying "pa-Maldives-Maldives pa tayo, nandito lang pala ito." (We went to Maldives, but Maldives is right here after all.)

And guess what, they have practically zero crime rate. The only ones in jail are some Taiwanese for encroaching on Philippine waters.

At hindi pa nalulugi yung "HONESTY STORE" where nobody keeps watch (Even the Honesty Store doesn't lose money). In fact, business is thriving for the lady owner. Busy siya sa likuran making sugar cane vinegar & garlic orders. The Ivatans seem to be a hardworking lot which I suppose comes from their having to cope up with the many typhoons that pass their way.

The construction work in Sto. Domingo Church in Baser and the convent in Sabtang Island are done bayanihan style. Kasama ang mga kababaihan sa mga volunteer workers (The women are among the volunteers).

They have a low poverty incidence level - Walang gutom (no hunger) and no beggars. Hence the low crime rate. You can feel safe in Batanes. Can't say the same thing for Barcelona.

Got to see Pacita Abad's (the artist) house strategically perched, overlooking the Pacific or is it South China Sea? GANDA! (Beautiful!) They're gearing up the compound to take in transients in the next few months.

Those coming next year may want to consider spending 3 nights in Batanes. I promise you won't be disappointed. February till April would be a good time.

The downside lang - walang credit card charging pa sila. Took me by surprise. Pero meron daw naman ATMs. GO, all you nature-trippers.

And oh yes - we had lobsters and coconut crabs - the latter bawal maglabas or bring out of the province there are not too many of them I guess kaya pang local consumption lang.


Monday, May 26, 2008

The Surprise of Alabaster - it dissolves in Water!!!

One of the stops we made in Egypt was an Alabaster Shop near the Valley of the Kings. I've had my eye on alabaster for a while now. What turned me on to alabaster was a lamp I saw somewhere. It had the most beautiful veins and markings when it was lit, and I made a mental note I'd get an alabaster lamp one day.

In this alabaster shop in Egypt, I looked for but did not find a lamp. I considered a candle holder, perhaps three of varying sizes. I could imagine how pretty they would look when candles were placed inside and lit. But when I asked how much a candle holder was, the man said, $115. I knew this was negotiable, but I thought this was a high starting price, so I didn't bother and walked out of the shop.

Some people in our group did buy some alabaster pieces, and I just heard from one of the buyers. She had bought a small bowl; she wanted to use this as a flower vase, that is to put water in it and float a flower in the middle. This she did, and to her great disappointment discovered that the alabaster cup had crumbled. My initial reaction was that what she had bought was not real alabaster. After all they made/make vases, cups, other receptacles made of alabaster.

Well,I was flabbergasted to learn from my teacher (google) that alabaster dissolves in water. What a shocker! I never would have thought this. I thought it was something tough, like marble or glass. But here's what google says:

"Yes, alabaster does dissolve in water. How quickly? well, a few drops of water on a waxed alabaster surface probably won't make marks. I filled a bowl with water once and found the surface to be noticeably etched half an hour later. It was as if the water just floated off the very top surface of the stone. It was easy to re-polish the piece. Obviously, if there is a fracture in the piece where water can seep through it will, and things will only get worse. One possible way to work with this is to lacquer the surface. Lacquering would work fine except for those always possible natural fractures which may cause the lacquer to check and then we're back in the same boat."

I never imagined it would be ruined by water!

Still, it might have been nice if the alabaster vendors informed people that water can damage alabaster.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

World Land Marks

Sharing some pictures of world land marks:

Pictures show: The Dome of the Rock, Israel; Little Mermaid, Denmark; Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy; and Pyramid of Gisa, Egypt

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Egypt's Goddess Nuit

When we were in Cairo, we visited a Papyrus place. I forget now if it was called a "Papyrus School" or a "Papyrus Factory." It was a tourist stop, and inside a man demonstrated the making of papyrus paper. Click here to read about the process of making paper from papyrus. Apparently papyrus paper does not tear. Its wrinkles can be smoothened away. It has long life, so that papyrus from thousands of years ago still exist.

Hyped up like that our small group of 30 was eager to buy papyrus. The place had all sorts of papyrus paintings for sale. There were a lot of Egyptian gods and goddesses and hieroglyphics. I wanted to get a painting on papyrus of the Holy Family - a stylized painting of Joseph pulling a donkey that's carrying Mary and Jesus. My husband spotted a painting of a woman wearing blue. Her body was curved like a horseshoe, with her head and feet on the ground. She had gold stars on her clothing and she looked quite glorious. We were told that she was the goddess Nuit or Nut. That was all we knew about her. We bought her because her image appealed to us.

When we visited the Valley of the Dead, we saw more paintings of the goddess Nuit in the funerary chambers. There were several versions of her but always she stood on all fours, with her body curved like canopy. One image showed her with a bubble in front of her mouth. Our guide explained that Nuit swallowed the Sun God Ra in the evening and gave birth to him in the morning. She was a friend of the dead, a mother-protector. She looked magical.

The above image is not the one we own, but it's one version of the goddess Nuit with her husband Geb (earth god) beneath her. This site gives you more information about the goddess Nuit.

We haven't had time to get the two papyrus paintings framed, but we're looking forward to getting that done soon. We won't be around to see if these will last for thousands of years though.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Kaiser's Therapy Dog

I should be reading a student's novel that I'm critiquing but it's been a while since I've blogged so here goes.

I will not get into details, dear Readers, but I was in Kaiser's emergency room last week, not because of me but of someone else. The last time I had been in Kaiser's emergency room was years ago. I was surprised to find it less crowded and less frenentic and depressing. In the past there were these sick, groaning people, sometimes bleeding people, crammed in the waiting room. This visit, it didn't look like that. Maybe the sense of order was because of some changes made, such as the triage rooms. The nurses determine who needs immediate attention or who can wait, and dispatch patients in an orderly fashion to the doctors. Past reception, there were various pods or clusters of rooms ran by a certain number of doctors, nurses, and administrators. Over all, it was better this time.

Even though I've grumbled about Kaiser, I have to hand it to them. The emergency visit resulted in thorough tests, and the visit cost only $50. Surely it would have been thousands of dollars elsewhere.

The best part of this Kaiser experience was the Therapy Dog that came to visit. This beautiful golden labrador with sunglasses on and his owner/trainer stopped by to visit. The dog had a cape that said, "Riley, Therapy Dog," and his master had him do tricks. It was amusing and brightened this ER visit.

I'd read that seniors who own pets live longer, so maybe pets can indeed provide health benefits.

This sounds a bit fantastic for me to consider because our cat is selfish and self-centered, but despite her unrelenting selfishness she is amusing and lightens our lives.

A short entry this time, dear Readers, I have to get back to the novel that I'm critiquing.

For more information about therapy pets, click here, and here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


TIME OUT! - I started an online class (Essential Beginnings) and have a lot of things to do, so I haven't been able to write.

Bear with me, and stay tuned, dear Readers!

Here are some pictures of cool grandkids:

Friday, May 9, 2008

JERUSALEM - #4 - The Bethlehem Incident

The Bethlehem incident happened this way.

Lauren and I arranged a half-day tour of Bethlehem with Alternative Tours, a Palistinian outfit. Alternative Tours is relatively cheap; they basically provide transportation, no tour guide to speak of. This was fine with us. One could easily take a taxi or bus to the Bethlehem border, but we'd been warned that once you got into the West Bank side, the hawkers and taxi drivers were very aggressive as to be threatening. My friend Marichi warned that taxi drivers will take your money, then abandon you when you are in church; or they will jack up prices even if previously negotiated. We didn't want to deal with this hassle and therefore arranged for the tour. Alternative Tours could accompany you to Bethlehem and back to Jerusalem.

Anton picked us up at the Jerusalem hotel. There were four young Americans in the group - one man, three women, one of them a Muslim-American wearing a veil. The young man was from Utah, the Muslim-American was from Florida, and I forget where the other two came from. They were graduates from Harvard, Brown, and the University of Miami, now studying Middle East Policies in the University of Cairo. They all spoke Arabic. They had taken a bus from Cairo through the Sinai, via Taba, a 15 hour trip.

In the van, we small-talked about Egypt and Israel and looked forward to seeing Bethlehem. The tour included a visit to the Church of the Nativity, the Milk Grotto, and the Bazaar.

Bethlehem is not far from Jerusalem and in around 30 minutes we were at the border. We thought it'd be cursory check. We handed our passports to the border guard, a young woman in her early 20s who peered into the van window. She took the passports, scrutinized the pictures on the passports, matching these with our faces. Then she riffled through the passport pages, studying each and every stamp. Then, there was a problem. She spoke in Hebrew to the driver who answered, and I caught something like "Americain," explaining that we were all Americans. There was still a problem, and she continued talking. The driver answered her. Then the border guard returned to her kiosk and called someone. We asked Anton what the problem was, and he said one passport did not have an entry stamp - it was Sahara's the Muslim American woman from Miami.

We waited, remaining unruffled. After all, we held American passports. Sahara, who was born and raised in Miami of Bangladesh background, was very calm, sweet, and composed. While waiting, we looked at the wall separating Bethlehem from Israel - tall, gray, looking like concrete slabs.

Two military men with uzis showed up, peered into the van to study all of us, their eyes zeroing in on Sahara's little sweet face covered with the veil. More Hebrew between them and the driver. They asked why Sahara did not have an entry stamp. The students explained that they had traveled by bus, and they had a separate piece of paper that had the entry stamp. The military police said he had the three documents, but where was Sahara's? She said someone took it away from her. Back and forth this went, and just when I was feeling they would pull her out of the van, one of the military police shoved his head into the window and said, "Where are your visas?" In unison, we said, "We don't need visas!" Our driver said something like, "They are Americans. They do not need visas here." The police had an embarrassed look, and he straightened himself and waved us off.

Israel and the West Bank look the same - the same hills, the same olive trees, the same sheep gnawing on the grass; it's just the wall and man's minds that have separated the two places.

In any case, when we got to the Church of the Nativity, Anton turned us over to a West Bank Palistinian tour guide. He led us into the church where Christ was born. Bypassing the long line of tourists, he led us to the Exit side, and instructed us to slip in two by two into the lower area where the Nativity site was. He had made arrangements with the church to do this, otherwise we'd have to stand in line for 2 hours. I was still nervous from that border experience, and add to that having to sneak into the Exit door where another Tour Guide shouted, "This is exit only!" and an Orthodox priest saying the same - I was somewhat fuzzy when I first saw the Nativity site. Fortunately I was able to visit it a second time. Click here for a site about the Church of the Nativity.The actual site where Jesus was born is marked by a silver star, which visitors kiss. Above this is a recess containing an altar, and hanging oil lamps. There are the Manger Chapel and Altar of the Three Kings in the area, which in my haste, failed to visit.

The rest of the tour included a visit to the adjoining St. Catherine's church with St. Jerome's relics and the Milk Grotto Chapel. We did a bit of shopping - Bethlehem makes olive wood products, rosaries, Crosses, statues. We walked down the Bazaar and through Manger Squre. It was very clear that the economy in Bethlehem was in bad shape. Numerous souvenir shops were closed. Children were begging. People seemed more hardup than in Jerusalem. In the bazaar area, we saw a poster of a recent Hamas martyr. Our guide said many Christians have left Bethlehem.

Returning to Jerusalem, I worried that we'd have the same problems as we did earlier, but fortunately nothing eventful happened. But what lingered was the feeling of fear. I thought to myself that if this kind of interrogation and intimidation could happen to US citizens, how much worse could it be to Palistinians. I had the feeling that someone like Sahara could have been whisked off somewhere and possibly never seen again. That was how I felt.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


I will be lazy here and post an excerpt of an email sent to a friend about Israel primarily:

"I will admit I had a bit of apprehension about going to the Middle East, given the political situation. I was worried for Lauren, not for me because he's the one who looks like the "enemy." Surprisingly he didn't get any flack really. You will have heard about the Muslim-American young student who had a difficult time at checkpoints (in Israel)? She and 3 other American students attending Cairo University were in Jerusalem, and we were together to visit Bethlehem. Now these kids entered Israel via land and didn't get their passports stamped; they got a piece of paper, which in the case of Sahara, had been taken away at some point, so she had no entry record. At the Bethlehem border there was a lot of excitement over this, with the young-woman-with-an-uzi checkpoint guard calling her superiors etc. After a lot of la-de-dah they allowed her/us to go to Bethlehem. We didn't have trouble returning to Jerusalem. But these young kids joined a Political Tour and we learned that they had difficulty returning to Jerusalem; their Palistinian tour guide had to travel far to another check point to get that kid back into Jerusalem.

When we were in the Old City during Passover (we lucked out) there were numerous military people with uzis; and there were the checkpoints on the way to Nazareth and Masada. The soldiers are so young, and at the checkpoints and at the airport security, there are many young women. They were arrogant and made little attempt to be polite - I guess this is what power does. In the Tel Aviv airport on our way out, someone cut in front of us and when Lauren asked about this, this woman said, "I'm security and I can do anything."

I kept thinking that there was a reversal of roles there, where the abused is now the abuser. The Palistinians are clearly second-class citizens and I can imagine that they must need to have their IDs and documents in strict order at all times, in case they are quizzed. We stayed in a Palistinian hotel and used a Palistinian tour agency; they were fine. The Palistinian tour guide was an angry man and he went on about the shelling that killed children.

Too many stories really. I'll try and blog them bit by bit.

So, yes, I enjoyed the visit to both Egypt and Israel. It was safer than I imagined, but in Egypt we were insulated; our group had an armed guard. The tourist sites were great. The political situation is disturbing. I think the US is now the modern day Romans

(more later)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


The places we visited in Jerusalem included: the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Ethiopian Church, the Tomb of David, the Last Supper Room (Coenaculum), the Wailing (Western Wall), the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock, house where Mary was born, Mary's tomb, Mount of Olives, the Grotto of Gethsemane, and the Garden Tomb. We also walked around part of the ramparts.

There was much to see and do in the Old City. Each corner seemed to have a church or structure that had some biblical or historical importance. I talked about the number of people worshipping in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Wailing Wall on Passover was just as crowded. At first I didn't understand why a wall could be the holiest place for Jews but I later understood that it was the retaining wall of the temple wherein the holy of holies had stood. The wall butts up against the Temple Mount. The first and second Jewish temples had stood on the Temple Mount where the Dome of the rock now stands, and which is under Muslim control. Jews are forbidden, according to their Torah, to go to the Temple Mount because of its sanctity. It is believed that Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac on the Temple Mount. The second temple on the mount was where Christ walked, preached, and performed miracles. The Dome of the Rock had been built by Muslims to commemorate Mohammad's ascension into heaven. In short, the Temple Mount is holy to all three religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

One of the places we particularly enjoyed was the Mount of Olives which is a huge stretch of hilly land dotted with olive trees. It was more peaceful there, and I could understand why Christ liked resting here. There is a grotto near an ancient Roman cemetery, and this was where Christ and his apostles liked to stay. It was here where Christ experienced His "agony in the garden." A nearby church has a courtyard with ancient olive trees, some of which were witnesses to Christ's agony.

We also enjoyed visiting the Garden Tomb which has a lovely garden and a tomb site. A British had suggested that this was the actual site where Jesus was buried, but archeologists have disputed this. In any case the place is serene and it has many sections tucked away in the garden where people could meditate or have Mass.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Last year we saw a movie about the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187 a.d. The Kingdom of Heaven was criticized for inaccuracies, but I found it exotic and romantic. It gave me an understanding of how the Europeans fought hard to keep the Arabs from over-running Europe. It was the same thing in Spain, when Ferdinand and Isabela fought the Moors - it was a battle of boundaries.

Jerusalem to me hearkened Christianity and Crusaders and the bible and Jesus Christ and his apostles, the temple, ancient gates, pool of Bethesda, Mount of Olives and Golgotha - places that I'd made pictures of in my head from scraps of information gathered throughout the years. Same thing with Nazareth, Bethlehem and the River Jordan - I had my own images of these places. Because of this, I was afraid of being disappointed in seeing the Holy Land. This had happened before when I saw a place and become disappointed because it didn't match my fantasy.

So it was with a bit of nervousness that I went to Israel. Well, you do get nervous because El Al, the Israeli flagship plane checks every thing you are carrying. An El Al representative (or Israeli representative) interviews you making sure you alone packed your bags, and then each bag is opened and the person runs a wand through everything. Even our boxed breakfast (sent by the Fairmont Heliopolis, demoted to a three-star hotel in my mind) was whisked away for thorough inspection. God knows how much radiation the orange juice and croissants had by the time we got them back. The small lamp I picked up in Cairo caused a slight delay because the wires had to be checked to make sure I didn't have a bomb. It's just as well, really, because we wanted to have a safe bomb-free plane ride from Cairo to Tel Aviv.

The plane ride was less than 2 hours; they're that close. There was no problem when we arrived Tel Aviv. Outside the airport terminal, we took Nesser shuttle service, recommended to us by our hotel. For 45 sheckels each, the shuttle brought us to Jerusalem Hotel which is near the Damascus Gate. (Exchange rate was around 3.5 sheckles to a dollar.)

We had found the Jerusalem Hotel in the internet. There's a site I google that gives me ratings made by customers, and Jerusalem Hotel had excellent reviews. It's a restored 19th century mansion built in the Spanish-Moorish style, with few rooms. The best part about the hotel is that it's walking distance to the Old City. A nice breakfast is included, and the restaurant's food is quite good so we had most of our dinners there. My husband swears their beer is excellent, and he looked forward to his cold glass of beer in the early evening after our touring.

When we arrived Jerusalem at around 7:30, our room wasn't ready and so we left our luggage and walked a few blocks to catch the bus that goes all around the Old City. It was great orientation although having had little sleep I dozed on and off.

Later that afternoon, after we'd checked in and rested, we went to the Old City to walk the Via Dolorosa. It was Friday and I'd read that the Franciscans have a procession every Friday afternoon. It was in fact better than an ordinary Friday because it was Good Friday, per Orthodox figuring. Add to that the fact that it was Passover. The Old City was crawling with Christians doing the Via Dolorosa and Jews heading for the Wailing Wall. It was great! I had never seen such a variety of people, all focused on their religion in such a small space. Listen: there were Muslims; there were assorted Christians - Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Coptic Christians, Ethiopian Coptics, Armenian Coptics, and Protestants I'm sure - and there were various types of Jews, Hasidic one of them. And they were all so intent in worshipping their God - the Christians venerating the site where Jesus was reportedly crucified and where He was entombed; the Jews bowing their heads in prayer in front of the Wailing Wall, and the Muslims in their mosques. And the wonder of it all was that the God these three religions prayed to was the same God of Abraham.

The configuration and boundaries of Jerusalem have changed through the years. The Old City now is not what the City had been during the time of Christ. This explanation is used when people puzzle over why the Via Dolorosa - the road Christ took as He headed toward Golgotha for His crucifixion - is right smack in the middle of a busy bazaar. In fact, others question if this Via Dolorosa that is marked in the Old City really is the genuine Via Dolorosa. It's like that in Jerusalem: there are two places that claim to be where the Last Supper was held; there are two places that claim that Christ was buried there, and so on.

Somehow we missed the Franciscan-led procession and so we walked the Via Dolorosa, searching for the Stations of the Cross markings in the busy souk (bazaar) until we finally made it to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the holiest Christian site in the world), where the last four Stations are. Before getting there, we stumbled upon a joyous celebration of Ethiopians in their church, which is right next to the Holy Sepulchre. It's like a maze in the Old City, with buildings connected to one another. The custody of the Holy Sepulchre is shared by the Franciscans, the Greek Orthodox and the Armenian Apostolics, with a Muslim family holding the door keys.

There were so many people in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, you were wedged into a group and moved along with the wave of humanity up the stairs to Golgotha where Christ was crucified. I thought I'd fall off the narrow stairs because of all the shoving and pushing. Upstairs I took out some money for my donation, and when there was a surge of people, promptly lost the money. In any case, I did get to kiss the spot where Christ is believed to have been crucified. And we managed to visit other areas in the Holy Sepulchre; but I did not get into the tomb itself because of the crowd. By the way, during our visit to Jerusalem, I returned two other times to try and visit the Sepulchre or tomb and still couldn't get in. I had to content myself by praying and touching the outside walls.

It was Helena, mother of Constantine, who is credited for discovering the religious sites relating to Christ's passion. To be honest, I wondered how the sites where Christ was imprisoned, Crucified and entombed would all be within a few meters apart. There is a Protestant group that suggests the Crucifixion was on a former quarry, now a parking lot, and that the tomb of Christ was elsewhere. These inconsistencies did not diminish my faith; what was important to me was to look at Jerusalem and the Holy Land as a whole - in a long shot, so to speak, as opposed to a closeup. Christ, Mary, Joseph went to the Temple in Jerusalem during Passover; the Temple was destroyed by the Romans, but the Western Wall (Wailing Wall) remains. The Pool of Bethesda where Jesus performed a miracle exists. Stephen's Gate near where St. Stephen was stoned stands. The Mount of Olives and the grotto exist, and some ancient olives are said to have witnessed Christ's passion. Later, when we visited Bethlehem, Nazareth, Cana, Galilee, Capernaum, the River Jordan, I didn't concern myself with the exact spot where Jesus did this or that, but just took in the bigger picture of where Our Lord walked, worked, ate, preached, lived, died, and resurrected.

Monday, May 5, 2008

GRAND TOUR OF EGYPT - # 3 Edfu, Kom Ombo, Aswan, Abu Simbel

In Luxor, we boarded a boat, the Royal Lotus, for a three-night river cruise on the Nile. It was interesting to see how the boats docked along the Nile. Sometimes three boats would sit side-by-side and passengers had to cut through the reception area of the other boats to get on or off the boat. The accomodations were all right, not great, but all right. The room was nice; but comparing the Royal Lotus with the Princess Cruise Lines the Royal Lotus pales. The buffet meals were not great; the staff was sometimes rude or at least lacking in finesse that the Princess staff have. And - this is a small matter but irritating - on the first day we were on the boat, I asked about the price to use the internet, and the fellow at reception quoted $5 per hour. The next day, when I went to use it, he said it was $6. I reminded him about the $5 quote, and he gave me some story about the sudden increase in price.

Perhaps from the poverty of the people, vendors and service people tended to be grasping for the dollar (sinking as it was). Another matter: our Tour Guide informed us that we had to give an Egyptian pound to the bathroom attendants. Later we learned that this was if you used the toilet paper they handed you. Also, people could just give 50 piastres, instead of an Egyptian pound. There was a constant demand for tips, and some people were extremely demanding. At times, it was a relief to have our Tour Director act as a buffer between us and others. She could silence some pushy vendor with a couple of Arabic sentences, while we had to deal with scarves and other goods flounted in front of our faces.

It was pleasant to float down the Nile. One could see the farms along the sides, the villages, the crumbling temples, the changes in terrain as it got drier. The area near the Nile was generally green, but further out, it could get viciously dry and sandy.

We visited more temples. In Edfu, we took a horse drawn carriage to the Temple of Horus, the falcon god. This temple had Roman influence and had been built when Cleopatra was around 2,000 years ago - young by Egyptian standards. It was a particularly hot day and I remember covering up to protect myself from the fierce sun. There were numerous tourists, so between the heat and the crowd, it was difficult taking in what the temple had to offer. This temple had niches for essential oils, and the hieroglyphics and pictures on the walls indicated which oils were stored inside. The priests had a huge area where they adorned and anointed themselves before entering the altar area. This particular temple also showed some Crosses etched on the walls in the area used as a church. Our Muslim Tour Guide talked about how the early Christians defaced the ancient temples. But it just wasn't the early Christians who did this, because Pharaoh Ramses II was big on replacing earlier pharaoh's names with his. Of course, we have the grave robbers who for centuries have been looting the pharaoh's funerary sites.

The Temple Kom Ombo is dedicated to the crocodile and falcon gods. Click here for a site with a list of Egyptian gods and goddesses. The temple grounds had a deep pool wherein a crocodile used to be kept. There were mummified crocodiles but the line was too long and we didn't see these. This particular temple had a section in the back that had been used as a hospital, and the wall showed drawings of medical instruments and a woman on a birthing chair. Another wall showed a calendar; the ancient Egyptian year consisted of 36 10-day weeks, plus 5 festival days. The wall also showed the scheduled duties of the priest throughout the year.

We went through a canal lock and while waiting for our turn, there were little boats with vendors that clustered around. The boat vendors were selling their tablecloths, scarves and galabiyas to the people on the top deck, and parcels were thrown up to the top deck. It was fun to watch. Some of the people in this part of Egypt were Nubians, dark, lean, tall, handsome people. A famous Egyptian queen who was Nubian was Queen Nefertari, a favorite wife of Ramses II, for whom he made a temple in Abu Simbel - but I am jumping ahead of myself.

We disembarked in Aswan and transferred to the lovely Elephantine Island Resort hotel - yes, it's on an island and accessible by ferry. In Aswan, we visited the pink granite quarry where we saw the Unfinished Obelisk. It had a flaw and was left incomplete giving modern people the chance to see how the ancient peoples made such an obelisk. It is fascinating to see this huge piece sitting in the quarry. The question going through our minds was: how did the ancient people move an obelisk of this size to the temples? We are talking of 150 feet, and 1,150 metric tons! Here is a site that discusses moving such an obelisk.

In Aswan we visited a factory that makes Essential Oils and I picked up four scents: Lotus, Papyrus, Summer Jasmine, and Flower of Sakkara. The scents are delicate and subtle, really quite pleasing.

In Aswan we also visited the Temple of Isis which had been transferred from the Island of Philae to higher ground. With the building of the Aswan Dam, water rose, flooding many of these temple sites. The Egyptian government and Unesco saved the Temple of Isis by moving it to higher ground, a task that was an engineering feat in itself.

To tell the truth, by this time, we were having "temple-itis." The heat and crowds of tourists were sometimes too much. Visiting temples as we did - quickly, without time to really observe and study details - the temples started to blend together. So right now, I'm having a difficult time remembering details about this temple, which is said to be one of the greatest temples in Egypt, but here's a site if you want to know more about it.

We went on a felucca boat ride, but there was no wind, and sadly, our felucca had to be towed. We also visited a Nubian village where we saw their homes with sand floors and, oh, the charming camels rushing home in the early evening.

The last temples we saw were in Abu Simbel. This was one morning when we had one of those 4 a.m. wake up calls. We had to catch the plane and get to the site before it got too hot. It was excruciatingly hot anyway and the tourists were as (pardon the cliche) thick as flies. Ramses II, who loved a good press, built two temples, one to honor himself, and one to honor his Nubian wife, Nefertari. Of course Nefertari's temple is slightly smaller. These temples had also been transferred to higher ground. The size of the temples are mind-boggling. The temple of Ramses showed battle scenes between Ramses and his army and the Nubians, with Ramses the victor of course, one foot on an enemy while he slaughters another man. The Temple of Nefertari shows a lovely image of Nefertari and two attendants, tall, willowy, handsome women. Here is a site with information about Abu Simbel.

One problem we had was that our Tour Director wasn't always with us to point out details and to discuss matters. She would talk before releasing us to these places, and oftentimes we didn't know what to look out for.

Our last day in Cairo was spent visiting the Old section. Earlier in the tour, we had visited Saladin's 12th century Citadel, the Alabaster Mosque, and stopped by the bazaar. Now we visited the synagogue, the hanging Church and the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus where the Holy Family had taken refuge during their flight into Egypt.

We stayed in the Fairmont Heliopolis for our final night. It's a large, flashy hotel with a lot of amenities - pool, sauna, nice reception area - but our room didn't have hot water, and heaven-help-me, this is true, the bed I lay on smelled bad. We only spent a few hours resting before leaving for the airport. We were going to board an El Al flight and had to be in the airport three hours before scheduled departure.

Tomorrow I'll get started on the Holy Land. I realize I'm zipping through these blog entries, but you can understand dear Readers, that I'm actually behind in everything and am trying desperately to get caught up. It's nice to think about the places I've seen though, so I don't mind blogging about the sites. I do have more thoughts actually about Egypt but simply do not have enough time to explore them in these blog entries.

Let me add that I thoroughly enjoyed the Grand Tour of Egypt. Egypt, like India, offers numerous ancient sites and a culture that is different and fascinating. It's a developing country, like India and the Philippines, and there's poverty and annoyances, but if you go there with a spirit of adventure, you'll get much from the place. I had gone to Egypt with some trepidation - the political situation, this is an Arab country after all - but that wasn't so much of an issue. Several times, people approached my American husband and in a friendly way said, "America, forever!" I thought the veiled women would be passive and subservient, but after seeing our Tour Guide - a veiled Muslim woman - show spunk, intelligence and sophistication, I understood that like all other places, Egypt has passive women as well as assertive ones. Our Tour guide said that many Arabic women like to visit Egypt because it's one of the liberal Arabic countries where they can watch belly dancing and enjoy themselves. As liberal as it may be, I suspect that Egypt is still a man's world. I should add that these observations came from a tourist who was insulated from the "real" Egypt.

Read also Grand Tour of Egypt Part 1;
and Grand Tour of Egypt Part 2

Tags: travel, Egypt, Luxor, Cairo, pyramids, Cecilia Brainard

Sunday, May 4, 2008

GRAND TOUR OF EGYPT #2 - Old Cairo, Memphis, Sakkara, Luxor

The organized tour was somewhat hectic, and most mornings we were up by 6, and a couple of mornings earlier at around 4 a.m. The reason for these early wake-up calls was not just because of the number of places we had to see, but because it was very hot in Southern Egypt. Our Tour Director tried to get the sightseeing done in the morning with a break mid-day (the hottest time of day), and resumed sightseeing around 4 p.m. The best way to dress for that heat was to wear long sleeves, long pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and apply sunblock on your face and the back of your hands. Our Tour Director, who was Muslim and wore the veil, even wore white gloves to protect her hands. Strappy sun dresses and shorts were not right clothes to wear in that scorching heat. Really, the Arabs have it right when they wear the long flowing robes and head covers - a la Lawrence of Arabia.

All right, back to what we did. From Cairo, we drove southwest to Memphis, which used to be the capital of ancient Egypt. There we saw the colossal statue of Ramses II and the great alabaster Sphinx. By now I'm getting the idea that BIG, COLOSSAL, HUGE are what the ancient Egyptians liked. From there we drove to Sakkara, the cemetery of Memphis. We saw pyramids older than the Great Pyramids of Giza. The Step Pyramid of Zoser in Sakkara is similar to the the Mayan pyramids. Funerary sites started out as benches (mastaba), then became step-pyramids, and later evolved into the smooth-sided pyramids like those in Giza.

From Sakkara, we flew to Luxor where we saw the Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, and the Colossi of Memnon. We also visited the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens - more funerary sites. By this time, dear Readers, you will sense that we saw quite a lot of temples and statues and sphinxes. For more information about Luxor and these place, click here.

For now they have not yet blended in my mind, and I can still picture Luxor Temple, right beside the River Nile, lit up at night, with it's massive columns and the mosque and remnants of a Christian church in it's midst.

Karnak was near the River Nile as well, and in fact, there were flood line markings on columns. The walls also had graffiti by Napoleon's soldiers. Karnak stays in my mind because of the ramp (pile of soil, rocks, etc) in front of an unfinished wall; this shows how the ancient Egyptians may have built their temples. Karnak also has a couple of unfinished columns, showing how the Egyptians built these massive columns - simply by piling blocks of stone, one of top of the other, and later rounding the edges and applying a finish to smooth it out or to allow the application of hieroglyphics.

The Valley of the Kings and Queens was unreal. Set in the dry sandy mountains, which ancient Egyptians perceived as natural pyramids, the ancient pharaohs built their funerary sites right into the mountains. They haven't dug them all up; in fact our Tour Guide said only 10% of Egypt's ancients sites have been uncovered. The Valley of the Kings has 65 known tombs, including Tutankhamun, the boy Pharaoh - click here for more information about King Tut. We visited three tomb sites. You walked down a ramp and all along the sides were pictures and hieroglyphics, and chambers which had contained food or oils and other things for the magical afterworld of the dead Pharaoh. At the end of the shaft was the sarcophagus, which was usually layered, that is one sarcophagus placed within another and housed in several containers - somewhat like a Russian stacking doll. At the very core of the sarcophagus was the mummy, although the mummies have now been removed.

What I found most interesting was the belief of the ancient Egyptians of the 12-hour journey to the afterlife. At a particular hour, a specific entity such as a four-legged cobra would attack the spirit, and the spirit had to be ready with the right dagger or weapon. The prayers and weapons are done in hieroglophics and pictures to assist the dead. Click here for more information about the 12-hour journey after death.

Queen Hatshepsut's temple and her story dominated the Valley of the Queens, which lay on the other side of the mountains where the Valley of the Kings was. She was the daughter of a pharaoh who married her younger brother, Thutmose II. When her brother the pharaoh died, she became regent to his son by another wife, Thutmose III. Hatshepsut ruled with this son, but later declared herself the Pharaoh. She ruled for 20 years. She was hated by her step son who,when he became pharaoh, went out of his way to deface her statues, and remove her cartouches (her name)- thus compromising her joyful afterlife, per ancient Egyptian religious beliefs.

Read Grand Tour of Egypt Part 1;
and Grand Tour of Egypt Part 3

tags: travel, Egypt, Cecilia Brainard

Saturday, May 3, 2008

GRAND TOUR OF EGYPT #1 - Cairo, Giza, Alexandria

We booked a 12-day Grand Tour of Egypt with Globus, with the tour highlights described as follows:

"Sail through five thousand years of history on this 12-day Cruise & Tour vacation. After guided sightseeing in Cairo, you’ll visit the Sphinx, the Great Pyramids, and the seaport of Alexandria. Next travel to Memphis to admire the 40-foot statue of Ramses II and the Alabaster Sphinx before flying to Luxor. There you’ll board the elegant Oberoi hotel boat for a three-night cruise on the legendary Nile River. Sightseeing includes the stunning monuments of Karnak, the Valley of Kings and Valley of Queens, Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple, and the Temple of Horus in Edfu by way of horse-drawn carriage. Sail to Aswan where you’ll see the turn-of-the-century Old Dam, take a boat to the Temple of Isis, and enjoy a felucca ride across the blue waters of the Nile."

We added a couple of tours to Old Cairo and a plane trip to Abu Simbel with the gigantic temples of Ramses II and his favorite queen, Nefertari.

The package tour was satisfying, and I might add that it was necessary because of the scope of the places covered, the language difference, and yes, there was a degree of tension in this Arabic country. The State and tour agency assigned armed guards for our group of 30 as we rode buses, airplanes, tramped around in Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, and Abu Simbel. Tourism ranks number three in generating income to Egypt, and the country does its best to protect its tourists.

While in Cairo we stayed in the Mena House Oberoi Hotel, which is at the foot of the Great Pyramids of Giza. We could see the Cheops Pyramid from our balcony, a scene which was breathtaking at sunrise. The Mena House had been someone's palace, and though converted into an hotel with additional rooms, it maintains a sense of old grandeur. A lot of five-star glitz in the reception room, rooms were impeccable, and restaurant food was fine.

We had a slight mishap because our luggage was lost, that is they didn't arrive with us because of a quick change of plane in Chicago. Because I had foolishily stuck my camera in my suitcase, I had no pictures of the Pyramids at Giza except for the solitary one I took from our balcony. I hate losing my suitcase! This has happened three times before; they always turn up, but in the meantime you are left with a sinking feeling of what-if-the-bag-really-is-lost, and it's impossible to enjoy the tour. Our tour director had to nag Lufthansa personnel for the bags, and late the next night the suitcases did show up, although my husband had a couple of things missing from his bag. Someone must have taken a fancy to his little flashlight and a tool-gadget that turned into scissors, screw driver, etc - a tool he's enjoyed in trips because we did use that thing for something or other.

But, on with the trip: Day 2 - The three Pyramids of Giza, which are the Great Pyramid of Khufu (or Cheops), The Pyramid of Kafhre and the smaller Pyramid of Menkaura, and the Sphinx, were built around 5,000 years ago (Old Kingdom). They housed the mummies of pharaohs - giant mausaleums, if you will, using up millions of huge blocks of stone. The Pyramid of Cheops alone has over 2 million blocks of stone, and each stone weighs 2.5 tons! How these ancient people moved these enormous stones around was always a question in my mind. There were two engineers in our group and I saw them puzzling over this same question as well, especially when we saw other larger temples, obelisks, and statues - simply awesome in size.

We visited the Cairo Museum, which is crammed with so much stuff - Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom - we had to skim through most of it. At night we saw the Light and Sound show of the Great Pyramids of Giza, and while it was nice to ponder on the Pyramids and Sphinx during sunset the show itself was corny. A Basil Rathbone voice boomed in the most affected way about the history of the pyramids - for example, "I have seen Cleopatra and Mark Anthony standing before me, and Napoleon as well, etc." So if you're in Giza, skip this one.

The next day we took a trip to Alexandria, a seaport city. Once out of Cairo and its notorious traffic, we started to see desert land, portions of which looked like the Sahara, although some parts looked like Palm Springs. In Alexandria we visited the Catacombs of Komel-Shokafa, which had Roman influence. A circular pathway spiraled down to the catacombs, and there were the funerary spaces and mourning areas. What stands out in my mind is the huge space for the dead horses (someone's favorites) also buried in the catacombs. We had to note the capitals of the columns, now showing Greco-Roman influence in the leaves, no longer Egypt's lotus flower.

Alexander the Great, who took Egypt from the Persians and added it to the Greek Empire, had gone through Alexandria, lending the place his name. He assigned one of his Generals, Ptolemy, to run the place which he did. When Alexander died and his generals split up Alexander's huge empire, Ptolemy kept Egpyt. The last Ptolemy was Cleopatra who did her best to keep her empire, but lost to the Romans. Here's a site with more information about Cleopatra.We also visited the National Musem of Alexandria, which used to be the American Embassy. It's a small museum, but nicely laid out.

In Alexandria, we also saw the 30-meter Pompeii Column, made of pink granite from distant Aswan. This was built by the Alexandrians as a gift to Emperor Diocletian, in thanksgiving for not slaughtering them following a rebellion.

In addition to the temples and pyramids, I would have wanted to see early Christian sites. Except for a couple of churches in Old Cairo, our tour group didn't visit Christian sites. Driving away from Alexandria, I hankered to see the Monastery of St. Catherine which was somewhere in the Sinai. I kept thinking of the Holy Family's escape to Egypt, and how they had sought shelter in various places. Many of these places now have churches to commemorate their stay. But perhaps I have to go on a Catholic pilgrimage to see these sites.

All for now, dear Readers. You will note it is 5 in the morning - yes, jet lag!
 Read also Grand Tour of Egypt #2
and Grand Tour of Egypt #3

tags: travel, Egypt, Cecilia Brainard

Friday, May 2, 2008


I've been to Egypt and the Holy Land. I didn't have internet access and was unable to post any news, so I have a lot of catching up to do. I'll be posting my reflections, observations, etc. about the trip, along with some pictures, so stay tuned, dear Readers, stay tuned.



World-class food books
KRIPOTKIN By Alfred A. Yuson
Monday, April 21, 2008, Philippine Star
Gourmands, gourmets, food writers, food- lovers, chefs, culinary aficionados, gluttons, and everyone else (like me) who simply live to eat have been in a tizzy over the great good news that Philippine books won major prizes in the Gourmand Food Awards recently held in London.

Congratulations to our friends Felice Sta. Maria, Cecilia Manguera Brainard and Marily Orosa, the eminent authors and editors of the books from Anvil Publishing Inc., which actually had seven of its titles winding up as finalists.

These were: Pulutan: From the Soldier’s Kitchen by Elmer D. Cruz and Emerson R. Rosales; The Governor-General’s Kitchen: Philippine Culinary Vignettes and Period Recipes 1521-1935 by Felice Prudente Sta. Maria; Potluck: Hidalgo Bonding — A Family Heritage Cookbook, edited by Jaime C. Laya and Adelaida Lim; Food Tour: A Culinary Journal by Claude Tayag; Managing a Food-safe Kitchen: A Guide on Sanitation for Food Service Professionals by the Maya Kitchen Culinary Arts Center; A La Carte: Food and Fiction, edited by Cecilia Brainard and Marily Orosa; and Going East: A Merging of Asian Culinary Styles by Gene Gonzalez.

It was our good friend Marily who first informed us of the happy development:

“Cecilia and I wish to announce that our book titled A La Carte (Food and Fiction) placed third as Best in the World Food Literature Book at the Gourmand Food Awards held in London last Sunday, April 13. Last year, our book was Gourmand country winner for Best Philippine Food Literature Book. It went on to the international competition for Best in World and competed against 22 countries in its category — and won third. It is the first time the Philippines won an award in this very competitive category and in this prestigious competition.

“Congratulations and thank you for being part of A La Carte! Our win will definitely bring attention and honor to the Philippines! Two other Philippine books also won major awards.”

Why the congratulations from Marily, when it was she who partnered with California-based Cecilia or “Baby” on that title, which put together Philippine short stories that involved food, as well as corresponding recipes? Well, that’s because she sent the post to the anthology’s contributors, among them our best writers of fiction here and abroad.

The co-editors are among the 25 writers represented in the collection. The rest are: Dean Alfar, Erwin Cabucos, Ian Rosales Casocot, Linda Ty Casper, Carlos Cortes, Erma Cuizon, Jose “Butch” Dalisay, Susan Evangelista, Romina “Mia” Gonzalez, Shirlie Mae Choe Mamaril, Margarita Marfori, Reine Arcache “Bonnie” Melvin, Veronica Montes, Corinna Nuqui, Oscar Peñaranda, Edgar Poma, Brian Ascalon Roley, Nadine Sarreal, Joel Tan, Janet Villa, Marby Villaceran, Edna Weisser, and this foodie, er, writer.

Well, congrats to us all then. Thank you, London!

Next on the e-mail matrix was the superb news that Felice’s extraordinarily classy Governor-Generals’ Kitchen won second place in the category of Culinary History, where 24 countries competed. Stylishly designed by Ige Ramos, it won a National Book Award from the Manila Critics Circle last year.

Upon Felice’s suggestion, Anvil is planning to relaunch all of its seven books that made it as finalists in the competition. It may be appropriate to conduct this sometime in May, our heritage month.

Another title, Foodlore and Flavors: Inside the Southeast Asian Kitchen, published by Artpostasia-Philippines under the leadership of Tina Colayco, also placed third in the awards. It competed in the category of Asian Cuisine Cookbook, which had 17 finalists from 17 countries. Tan Su-Lyn served as editor, while our very own Neal Oshima is credited with the excellent photography.

Among the contributors to this elegant coffee-table book is our friend Micky Fenix, who now serves as editor in chief of Food magazine of ABS-CBN Publications.

So congrats and kudos to you too, Micky and Tina, Ige and Neal! When do we all dine and drink under your “blowout” aegis?

This was the first time ever that the Philippines had country winners, eight in all, and subsequently, three world winners in the highly competitive Gourmand World Cook Book Awards held in partnership with the London Book Fair. Our books competed against over 9000 entries from 107 countries.

Try visiting the Gourmand website, where you can read a glowing observation on the world-class writing being done by Filipinos. You’ll also find out, once and for all, what the difference is between “gourmand” and “gourmet” — which is basically nothing.

Heck, here it is:

“The origin of gourmand is Celtic. In the 13th century ‘Gioraman’ in Irish meant someone ‘who has good appetite.’ Gourmand has a noble meaning, and it is a compliment to be a Gourmand. Gourmet is more recent. It comes from the Dutch ‘Grom,’ meaning young man. In the 15th century the ‘Groom’ was the servant who transported the wines. In the 16th century ‘Groomet’ became Gourmet and was only used for the men who carried barrels of wine or employees of wine merchants. Later the Gourmet became Sommelier. In academic French, Gourmet should be used only for wine. Gourmand is broader, and more positive. In English, Gourmet is used more, in the broad meaning.

“In the 18th Century, French writer Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote: ‘None is happier than the Gourmand.’”

Some readers may note, however, that while we’re winning world food book awards, a rice crisis appears to be looming in our islands, amidst equally dire reports on an imminent global food crisis.

Hmm. Even the Chinese can’t cook or eat irony, which only moves some people to further discernment, or laughter or tears.

A contributor to A La Carte, our good friend Charlie Cortes from Lapulapu City, may well have the last laugh, born of initial prescience. His story in the collection, which the Gourmand judges commended for “reveal(ing) Filipino culture in a unique way,” was titled “Hanging Rice.”

Now who’s the pundit who’ll quip: “Let ‘em eat budbod.”

Back to top

Business Mirror

Cooks, by Nancy Reyes-Lumen
Filipino Culinary Books Awarded by Gourmand World
Business Mirror, May 2-3, 2008

TWO culinary books by Filipinos won top awards in their respective book categories. This is a milestone for Filipino publications and will certainly energize the culinary genre of the publishing industry. At last, the reading public of the world will be made more aware of our country’s rich culinary culture.

Felice Sta. Maria’s work, The Governor-General’s Kitchen: Philippine Culinary Vignettes and Period Recipes—1521-1935, is one of the two Best Culinary History Book winners, published from 2006-07. The book is by Anvil Publishing. Her book competed with 24 country winners in the Food History Book category. Turkey won first place, while Denmark and Australia tied for third place. In the local scene, Governor-General’s Kitchen received the 2006 National Book Award for Food and the Best Design honors, another winning work by winning book designer Ige Ramos.

The rich collection of vignettes in Felice’s book covers Philippine culinary traditions. Very interesting are the menus and recipes collected from years on or before 1935, which reflect the culinary influences of the period.

Gourmand World Cookbook also awarded Marily Orosa and Cecilia Brainard the third place in the Food Literature category. This was for their book A La Carte: Food and Fiction, which they collected and edited. It is also by Anvil. In this category, 22 country winners competed and first place went to Greece, second place went to Germany, while the Philippine book tied with Colombia. In A La Carte, the varied food experiences of 25 contributors enrich the pages and show how food is shaped by the complexity of everyday relationships.

Both The Governor-General’s Kitchen: Philippine Culinary Vignettes and Period Recipes—1521 to 1935 and A La Carte: Food and Fiction are currently on exhibit at the London Book Fair and will also be at the biggest book fair worldwide: the Frankfurt Book Fair in mid-October. These titles will also be entered in the Gourmand Yearbook 2008. The yearbook will have a photo of the front cover, plus the contact details, and will serve as a source material for the international cookbook market, including publishers, authors, multimedia, printers bookstores and many more related institutions.

More winners

IN other departments of book production, other local artists were cited in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. The third-place winner in the Asian Cuisine Cookbook is entitled Foodlore and Flavors—Inside the South East Asian Kitchen, written by Tan Su-Lyn with some contributions by Michaela Fenix. The book was cited for its beautiful photography and postproduction work by Artpostasia, an outfit led by Neal Oshima, one of Asia’s top photographers, based in the Philippines.

And for another winning book: Hot Tomatoes by Angelo Macdonnell, with Chester Ong, also a Filipino, providing the photos and images.

It’s wonderful to receive good news about awards and distinctions given to our local artists, writers and publishers. The path to world recognition in gastronomy has been blazed and may this path be taken by more titles and works in the coming years. Without a doubt, the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards has primed the creative minds in our culinary culture with its prestigious recognition of our writers and artists. There will be more than just a “menu” of winners in the coming will be a feast!


Philippines wins Gourmand World Awards
ROSES & THORNS By Alejandro R. Roces
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
From Philippine Star

Three Philippine books garnered major awards at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards held last April 13 at the Olympia Theater in London. The brainchild of Edouard Cointreau in 1995, Gourmand is the only truly international food book award. It not only gives awards but also promotes its finalists at major book fairs around the world, thereby assisting publishers and authors expand their markets at no cost to them. Cointreau believes that people of different nations can find their common humanity in the study of cuisine and its related realms.

The Governor-General’s Kitchen: Philippine Culinary Vignettes and Period Recipes, 1521 to 1935 is now one of the two Best Culinary History books in the world published from 2006 to 2007. Written by Felice Prudente Sta. Maria and released by Anvil Publishing, the book competed with national winners from 24 countries in the Food History Book category. Designed by Guillermo Ramos, The Governor-General’s Kitchen was selected the Best Designed Philippine Cookbook among Philippine entries. Turkey won first place, with Denmark and Australia tied in third place.

Foodlore and Flavor: Inside the South East Asian Kitchen took third place in the Asian Cuisine Book category in which 17 countries competed. The book is by Tan Su-Lyn with photographs by Neal Oshima for the Philippine publishing house of Artpostasia. The cookbook has 80 recipes from 10 Southeast Asian nations by the most respected food writers and experts. United Arab Emirates and Austria won first and second rankings, respectively. The United Kingdom’s Wild Wild East by Bobby Chinn for Conran Octopus Publishing tied for third place.

Gourmand Award noted that there are “excellent writers in the Philippines.” The book A La Carte: Food and Fiction published by Anvil took third place, with 22 countries competing in the Food Literature Category. Collected and edited by two former Maryknoll classmates, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard and Marily Orosa, the stories and recipes by 25 authors “reveal Filipino culture in a unique way,” writes Gourmand. Greece and Germany won first and second place, respectively with Colombia’s book Fogon de Negros by German Patiño for Convenio Andres Bello publishing tying with the Philippines.

Filipino photographer Chester Ong, who specializes in architecture and food photography, provides images for Hot Tomatoes by Angelo Macdonnell for Elite Champ Ltd. The book published in Hong Kong where Ong is based now, won third place in the Single Subject Category.

There were 107 countries with thousands of books that competed this year. All finalists are now exhibited at the London Book Fair and will be displayed at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October. Gourmand records that in 2005, sales of cookbooks in the world increased at a steady 5 percent a year since 1994. There were 24,000 new titles that year, double of ten years earlier.

I remember when “the global village” was still a prediction. Today broadcasting, electronic media, and air travel have made the global village a reality. As we become increasingly interested in our planet, it is time for the Philippines to assert its rich and hospitable culture more in world media. Food books are certainly one way to appreciate the Philippines and its people. Congratulations to our country’s winners for bringing Philippine cuisine to the attention of the world market. Gourmand Awards deserves our appreciation for spotting the fine work of our writers, photographers and publishers.