Monday, 28 December 2009

Once in a blue moon in Bombay

Yup, not only was it a blue moon but a lunar eclipse as well! According to NASA's Five Millennium Catalog of lunar eclipses, this combination happens only 11 times in a thousand years. So I guess this holiday must be an auspicious one especially since we were basking in the moonlight during the New Year at the Bombay Gymkhana with 3,000 other revelers.

It's not my first time in India but my first time in Bombay as the residents refer to Mumbai, the financial capital of India and the most populated city in the world with 20 million people. It is coined the 'city of dreams' and draws mostly dreamers seeking a better life. That's why the city is the most ethnically diverse than the other states - aside from Maharastras, there are Gujaratis, Parsis, Muslims, etc.

Bombay is also a city of extremes where you can see a billionaire's mansion towering more than 20-storey high (left, Andani's new mansion taken on Peddar Road) and next to it are the slums, about 2,000 where the 55% of the population live.

I joined the Reality Tour to Dharvi the largest slum in Bombay, and the largest in the world. Honestly, after reading Shantaram and watching Slumdog Millionaire, I was expecting to see people in dire straits. I was pleasantly suprised to see Dharvi abuzz with thriving SMEs- from plastic recycling plants, tannery, sewers, soap-making. And although the homes are a little bit tiny with sizes varying from less than 10 sq ft, 10x10 and 20sq ft shared with average 4-5 people, most of the homes have split-type aircons and flat TV screens.

Bottom-line is, I enjoyed Bombay - the food, shopping and the sights. I didn't get claustrophobic or experienced the infamous deli belly. I must thank Rae, Angeline and Michael for the trip even though a former Philippine resident likened Bombay to Quezon City! Har har... Here's wishing everyone an auspicious 2010! Happy new year!

Must check out:
1. Sardar Pavbhaji (maharastra) at Tardeo Circle for the best local Pav Bhaji! Open until 2:30am. Bhaji is a potato-based curry and vegetable dish. Beware since both the pav (bread) and bhaji are loaded with butter!! Check photo on the right.
2. Bademiya (arab) behind Taj Mahal on Tulloch Road for the best kebab and tandooris. This is a roadside place which seats at least 50 people. Some use the hood of their cars for table. Open until wee hours. They also serve vegetarian dishes.
3. 87-year old Britania (parsi) on 16 Sprott Rd. where I agree with the motto "there is no love greater than the love for eating". Try khemma berry pulao, sali and dhansak dishes. The line gets long so go early or later. It closes at 4pm.
4. Trishna (Mangalorean)on Sai Barba Mag for its stir-fried with butter and garlic dishes - seafood galore especially known for its king crab dish!! There is a branch in London so this may be a bit touristy.
5. Joss (fusion) in the Business district (near Fab India). Note that Joss catered Bombay Gymkhana's New Year feast!

Shopping picks: Good Earth, Anokhi, Fab India, cotton world and for the fab cotton kurtas go to wholesale stores located at Crawford Market next to the old vegetable market

Sights nearby Bombay: Matheran Heights (stay at the Veranda in the Forest by Neeram), take the ferry and see the stone sculptures at Elephanta Caves, visit Ghandi's home (reco to read his biography before going) and take a Reality Tour in Dharvi's slum (photo on the left with our guide who is a resident of Dharvi) and a side tour to Dhobi Ghat.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Heroes of Dynamic Teen Company

What better way to celebrate Christmas than to give? So, when Cris Bonoan of the Maraming Bayani Foundation said she will be delivering school books to children in Cavite, I volunteered to help and organized a book drive by collecting books and school supplies from friends and colleagues.

The Cavite-site is the Dyanmic Teen Company (DTC) of push-cart educator Efren Penaflorida who was recently bestowed the title of CNN Hero of the Year in November 2009. DTC was founded in 1997 and aims to educate children of the slums as an alternative to gang membership. There are four push-cart kariton classrooms (right photo) which volunteers use to teach literacy, values formation, hygine and first aid.

Efren was being interviewed online by international media and thus, we were met by surprisingly very young heroes - - 17-year Emmanuel Bagual, fondly referred to as Kuya Em is the incumbent president of DTC, a Biblical Servant Leader, a United Nations Advocate for Human Rights and one of the five finalists of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for Children in Europe for his project “Mind Your Rights,” a campaign to educate children and parents on child’s rights.

The second young hero is bright and cheerful, 10-year old Chris Kesz. He is the youngest kariton volunteer and teaches hygiene and first aid. He was apparently found lying on the street, gravely ill abandoned by his mother at a young age.

After talking to the kids and helping out in their preparation for their annual Christmas party, Efren finally came down to meet us. He is very humble and unassuming despite his now celeb status. He still takes public transportation to meetings and events and is always on time. His zeal is infectious as evidenced by his effervescent, passionate volunteers. At the CNN Heroes award he says: "Our planet is filled with heroes, young and old, rich and poor, man, woman of different colors, shapes and sizes. We are one great tapestry...Each person has a hidden hero within, you just have to look inside you and search it in your heart, and be the hero to the next one in need...Serve, serve well, serve others above yourself and be happy to serve. As I always tell to my co-volunteers: you are the change that you dream, as I am the change that I dream, and collectively we are the change that this world needs to be."

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Reef Forestation Volunteer @ Anvaya Cove

Last Saturday, we trekked down to Morong, Bataan to volunteer in the Reef Forestation project of Anvaya Cove (with Jiggy and Bettina in left photo).
The project involved seeding or transplanting 79 tridachna giga in the resort's house reef at a depth of 10 to 30 feet in the hope of increasing the marine biodiversity in the area.
There were 24 of us who volunteered including WWF-chief Lory Tan, Ayala Land's Jim Ayala, a mix of professionals, a college student and two Grade 10 students.
Tridachna giga is the largest of all the clam species, measuring over 4 feet and weighing 500 lbs. It has a smooth shell, and usually a lime green mantle, with small blue spots. This highly edible and some believe aphrodisiac bivalve mollusk (think - clam chowder!!) almost became extinct in the mid-1980s due to over harvesting. The UP Marine Institute saved the tridacna giga species by establishing a hatchery and culture station in Bolinao, Pangasinan back then and now, it is the home of some 37,000 clams.
The clams were transported at night in iced sea water containers from Bolinao and arrived in the morning where they were left for a few hours, two to three feet underwater to acclimatize. The clams were tagged with the name of the place "ANV" and a number for recording purposes.
We, the volunteers were divided into three groups of eight divers each representing the three micro reef sites. We were tasked to handle the young ones - these are ten 4-5 year old clams, measuring 31-35 centimeters and I swear, weighed a ton underwater! While the husband and wife team, Louie and Chen Mencias of the Bluewater Consultancy handled the ready-to-spawn, mature size, 10-year old breeders.
Louie said during the pre-dive briefing that that having the giant clams together will facilitate reproduction as they are known as “free spawners.” This means,the breeders simultaneously secrete eggs and sperm (gametes) after which “chance encounter” will occur in open water. The breeders can release around 500 million eggs at one time.
I can't wait to go back and check my clams. I guess the success of this project can only be determined only after a year or two.
Here's a clip of Louie explaining our task:

And an underwater music video by Jayvee:

Monday, 30 November 2009

Yoga Body Temple Retreat

I haven't been practicing yoga for quite some time - six months to be exact from bikram and more than a year's break from ashtanga yoga. The best way to ease this tight body back into a daily practice is to take a weekend retreat and the best one so far, is Teresa Herera's Yoga Body Temple Retreat at The Farm in San Benito, Lipa, Batangas.
It was not the usual hectic yoga retreat sked and the venue was just perfect! We had two yoga sessions a day in the 'shala' located right smack in the garden, providing a breathtaking view of the grounds, the man-made lake and Malarayat mountain.
CNNTraveller voted The Farm as one of 6 Environmentally Friendly Hotels in the world. There were birds walking freely around - peacocks and ducks, and birds chirping along with Teresa's playlist. In between the yoga sessions, I was able to squeez- in medical and spa treatments - alternating days of colema and colonics and afternoon massages. And of course, enjoy their surprisingly filling, three-course vegan menu which is 85% raw, 15% cooked and 100% organic. We ordered French organic wine with our dinner and believe it or not, the Alive! restaurant has a range of interesting coconut nectar (tuba) brews such as pina coladas, margaritas, ginger beer or tuba-on-the-rocks.
Our meals were served in conducive settings - breakfast under the 200-400 year old magical mango tree in the garden (right photo shows Teresa enjoying breakfast) and lunch by the south pool. Everything in the farm is organic and homegrown from the food served and the soaps and massage oils used. The Farm has its own organic garden for its herbs and vegetables and since the whole area is surrounded with hectares and hectares of coconuts, they harvest the coconuts to make their own, you name it - butter, milk, juice, water, infused coconut oils, crackers, soap and cold-processed virgin coconut oil (bottled as Oil of Life).
As usual, I didn't finish my reading list. How could I with the relaxing treatments in-between the yoga sessions plus the long three-five course meals. I brought Adbobo Magazine's year ender issue and two books - Yehuda Berg's latest The Power to Change Everything which was launched last November 9 in Los Angeles and George Friedmans' latest The Next 100 Years. I thought I would finish Yehuda and then start Freidman... but ended finishing Chiqui's book insteadThe Man Who Ate the World by brit-Top Chef Masters Jay Rayner.

Here's our Yoga Retreat sked:
Thursday, Nov 26, 2009
12:00nn Check in @ The Farm
1:00-2:00pm LUNCH
5:00-7:30pm Opening / Prana Vinyasa Flow (lunar)
7:30-9:30pm DINNER
Friday, Nov 27, 2009
6:30-7:00am Sunrise Meditation
7:00-8:30am Prana Vinyasa Flow (solar)
12:00-1:00pm LUNCH
4:00pm-5:30pm Lunar practice: Meditation / Satsang / Journal Writing
7:30pm-9:30pm DINNER
Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009
6:30-7:00am Sunrise Meditation
7:00-8:30am Prana Vinyasa Flow (lunar)
12:00-1:00pm LUNCH
5:30-7:00pm Yoga Trance Dance (solar/high energy)
7:30-9:30pm DINNER
Sunday, Nov 29, 2009
6:30-7:00am Sunrise Meditation
7:00-8:30am Prana Vinyasa Flow (lunar) / Closing Ceremony
12:00nn Check Out
This is indeed the best way to start the holidays and the new year, going inward through yoga and nature and cleansing the body. For the next yoga retreat and other wellness packages, check out Travel Club Philippines.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Comic artist James Jean in Manila

I confess! I admit I am an anime fan since the Japanese-manga series Akira came out and fan of DC comic manga-like seriesFables. So, when I heard that James Jean, the cover artist of "Fables" was in Manila, I trekked to Fully Booked to catch him. And man, was I lucky (you can see the smile on my face, left photo). I got the last Fables:Covers hardbound book featuring a collection of all his covers - 75 single issues and 11 wraparounds. The book is published by DC Comics in 2008.
James Jean is one of those rare few as Fables-creator Bill Willingham described him in the afterword as an "overnight successes". He got his first job illustrating the Fables cover right out of Art School in October 2001, a month after 9-11. He is a Taiwanese-american who graduated from New York City's School of Visual Arts in 2001 and has since then won seven Eisner Awards (the Oscars equivalent for the comics industry). He is a sought after designer, illustrator and his clients include , Rolling Stone, ESPN, Atlantic Records.. and would you believe Prada. Yup, Prada. He designed Prada's spring line collection in 2008 - including the Fairies bag collection.
Check out James Jeans' blog for his latest products and here's James Jean signing my book:

Friday, 30 October 2009

Filipinis in Israel

I had mixed feelings this morning when Paula, a guest critic during our case study presentations said that the word Filipinis is used to refer to caregivers working in Israel.
Well, I presume she was just candid. The truth is, there are approximately 48,000 Filipinos in Israel today and most are caregivers. I met some while doing our field photo assignment in Hadar, in downtown Haifa. Shown in photo is a poster of local pop star Pilolo Pascaul displayed at the entrance of the only Filipino grocery story in Haifa, a favorite hang-out of caregivers where they sing karaoke during their break time.
There will be more coming with the recent turn over of the peace keeping duties from Poland under the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). The 1st Philippine Battalion officially started their official tour of duty in the Golan Heights on Oct 22. Specifically, about 1,000 military and police personnel will be stationed in the southern sector of a United Nations-controlled zone that has kept Israeli and Syrian forces apart.
Golan Heights is a plateau with an area of 1,200 sq km located on top of the Syrian mountains. After the Six Day War in 1967 (dubbed Yom Kippur War since it happened during this religious event), Israel has occupied the area. There is no peace treaty between the two countries.
From the Golan is the view of the Sea of Gallilee (right photo) which is the lowest fresh water lake in the world at 686 feet below sea level. The Sea supplies approximately about 40% of the country's annual water requirements. Isreal has been experiencing a drought in the last five years and thus, aside from the strategic military importance, Golan controls one of the main sources of water.
I suspect Filipinis may become a force to be reckoned with considering Israel's rising aging population and now troops for this peace keeping duties. 70 years back, the Philippines opened its doors to jews fleeing the Holocaust happening in Europe at the time. President Manuel L. Quezon allocated 10,000 visas and about 1,200 jews made it to Manila safely. Today it is the reverse. Filipinos finding a safe haven in Israel for economic reasons.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Mashav Media Workshop in Haifa, Israel

"Try to adapt and not adopt because what can be good for Israel may not be good for your country " says Golda Meier Mount Carmel International Training Center (MCTC) director Mazal Renford last Monday, Oct 19 when she welcomed all twenty-five of us from 20 different countries to the International Workshop on Media Srtategies for Social Change in Haifa, Israel.

Amazing to have this much diversity. I haven't been to half of the countries represented in the program. Photo above shows batch # 10 members (front row from left) Pan (Thailand), Charles (Cameroon), Anupa (Nepal), MCTC director Mazal, University of Haifa Media Chair Prof Sondra Rubenstein, Andrew (Malawi), Jamby (Kyrzystan), Khagendra (Nepal), Me (Philippines), Chichi and Grace (Nigeria), Zyann (Philippines), Giang and Thuy (Vietnam), Monika (Albania), Luis (El Salvador), Anna (MCTC), Merkurieh (Ethiopia), Khatuna (Georgia), Toby (Ghana), Pablo (Brazil), Alejandra (Mexico/Guatamela), Mykola (Ukraine), Bhakti (Azerbaijan), Cai (China), Hugo (Peru) and Joyce (China); not in photo are Claud (Chad) and MCTC Workshop Director Michel Khan.

MCTC was founded by the first woman prime minister of Israel, Golda Meier in 1958 when she saw in African countries that women were not part of development. 51 years after, Mazal says that "it is still a laboratory to share experiences because participants become agents of change for the benefit of their country.”

MCTC became the first training center for International Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or MASHAV for short. Its purpose was to train professional women from developing and transitional countries and to provide the necessary tools for women's empowerment. It was only in 1963 when men were accepted in the program upon the request of the then President of Malawi to accommodate four male participants.

The media workshop is an annual program held in cooperation with UNESCO. This year’s batch 10 was from October 19 to 30, 2009. The end goal was to analyze the role of media as a tool for social change, review communication theories and advocacy journalism as tools for changing public opinion, learn to use web 2.0 material and discuss transnational issues affecting participants' home countries.

The approach was "hands-on" training with lectures led by 72-year old Prof. Rubenstein (left photo), Distinguished Professor, School of Communications at University of Haifa and guest lecturers such as Prof. Niv Ahituv (Academic Director, Netvision Institute of Internet Studies and Chair for Research and Information Evaluation in Tel Aviv University), Eran Ketter (Branding Specialist), Yaheli Amit (photojournalist of the top newspaper “Haaretz”), Nir Barav (Producer, Labrador Records), and lastly, the workshop was closed with a geopolitics session with Ambassador Gershon Gan.

Prof. Sondra said she can never be a journalist. She described herself as someone with a lot of biases and a national memory that she can never forget. She was a child of four when the war broke out.

The workshop was interspersed with observation visits which included the holy sites in Jerusalem, Galilee, and Nazareth; Golan Heights; tête-à-tête at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Jerusalem with Andy David (deputy spokesman), Mark Regev (right photo, Prime Minister's Foreign press and Public Affairs adviser) and journalists from Israel Post, channel 2 and Jerusalem Post; a visit in a kibbutz in Beersheba and Dimona; and, a talk and tour with Iri Kassel (director of the Ben Gurion Heritage Institute) at Ben Gurion's memorial in the Negev Desert.

The workshop concluded with the presentation of case studies on specific prevailing transnational issues by each team: territorial disputes (team 1, left photo), global impact of terrorism (team 2), media impact on swine flu (team 3), challenge to prevent violation of human rights in domestic violence (team 4) and global crisis impact on migrant laborers (team 5, photo below).

If it weren’t for the diversity of the team, we wouldn’t have a global perspective of the realities in each countries. The issues presented were timely and relevant especially the impact of migrant laborers coming back home and territorial disputes. There are 11 million overseas Filipino workers representing 11% of the population contributing over 18 billion dollars annually or 13 % GDP. What will happen to the families of these returning workers, will the workers be able to reintegrate back home? What will be the effect on GDP with the decline in remittances? Israel is experiencing contentions at all sides –Golan Heights with Syria over control of the Sea of Galilee, West Bank with Palestine, Gaza with the extremist group Hamas. And of course, the Philippines has its own dispute down South in the province of Mindanao with the militant Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which has been pushing for a formation of an independent Islamic state.

The net take away of the program is not only the training but the exchange of learnings from each of the participants and through friendship, the possibility of cooperation and collaboration in projects. I strongly suggest that people take this program. The next one is slated in 2010.. The workshop is intended for women and men between the ages of 30 and 50, “who hold positions as journalists, television presenters reporting on socio-economic issues, public relations officers in service, governmental and non-governmental organizations, and planners of media strategies for grassroots organizations.” If you are interested in a scholarship, contact the course director Michel Kahn at

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Warning to all: Facebook can be hacked!!!!!

I was happily sitting here in Golda Meier Training Center in Haifa (Israel) listening to author and consultant Eren Ketter discussing Media Strategies when I got this chat text from Rogy. it seemed harmless since he started off with a "how are you?" greeting until he said that he was "in a deep mess." The chat went as follows:

good!! hot here.
how are you?
2:35pm Rogy
i see
well am not good
am in a deep mess right now
2:35pm Rosan
what do you mean?????
2:36pm Rogy
I'm in london right now
for a quick business
I got mugged last night at gun point,all cash,phones,credit card gone!
2:37pm Rosan
oh my god!! can you go to the embassy??? are you ok?
2:38pm Rogy
thank God i still have life to live and my passport
2:38pm Rosan
do you have a place to stay?
2:38pm Rogy
i'm in a hotel
2:39pm Rosan
your mum knows?
2:39pm Rogy
i need your urgent help
nobody knows,i dont want to scare anyone
i will tell them when i get back
2:39pm Rosan
what do you want me to do... workshop starting now.
2:41pm Rogy
could you spare me some $$$$,i need to settle the hotel bills and then take a cab down to the airport
2:53pm Rosan
will tell your sister. Thanks.
2:56pm Rogy
dont tell her
i dont want to shock anyone
dont tell Sussan ok

Bingo! His sister's name is not 'Susann' so this is obviously a scam. I should have been tipped off with the language. "Deep mess" is not normally used in the Philippines. I thought Facebook is one of the safer sites. But then again, I guess nothing is 'safe'. Be warned. Change your passwords often and be careful with what you post. Your site can be hacked.
For more info, visit:

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Pepeng off-track: noetic science in action?

Fans of Dan Brown will be happy to note that many attribute Pepeng's change in direction to noetic science - collective prayers, positive vibes, healing energy that somehow veered the super typhoon (defined as more than 240 kph winds) away from battered-Manila.
The aftermath of last week's typhoon Ondoy is worst than Afghanistan. Submerged areas like Pasig (which is a stone's throw from my office!!!), Cainta, Marikina, etc. depict mountains of debris and the smell is unbearable due to apparently a mix of trash and animal cadavers.
The death toll of Ondoy has reached 280 and still counting plus notwithstanding Pepeng's fatalities which wreaked havoc up North (i.e. Baguio, Tugegarao, Benguet, etc). I heard in the news of a looming food crisis next year since most of the crops have been wiped out.
The post-typhoon operation here has been dubbed as 'People Power 3" as thousands have come out to help and volunteer in relief centers and gone out of their way to distribute packages to afflicted areas and now, setting up medical missions and soup kitchens in evacuation centers. Netizens have been non-stop posting on FB, twitter, plurk, etc and sending texts to mobilize and coordinate. FB lately has been likened to a mini-DZMM (a local AM radio station) with all the reports - from goods needed, transport available (including boats and ten-wheeler trucks), volunteers needed and lately, weather reports and power interruptions! Gosh, sometimes I tune out on FB because of the alarmist-type posts.
Well, we need more noetic action because there's another super typhoon in the horizon spotted up North in Basco called Quedan with 250kph winds. I don't think Manila or Luzon can take another beating.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Hurricane "Katrina" no match to Philippine Typhoon "Ondoy"

Last Saturday was freaky with the deluge that caught Manila unaware. The 24-hour continuous rainfall left some areas in Manila under 20-feet of water due to poor drainage systems, failed infrastructure (pumping stations broken, creeks collapsed) and unexpected amount of rainfall. The total rainfall was 455 millimeters which is a month's worth of rainfall. Katrina had only 250 millimeters of rain.
The death toll has reached 86 and still counting. The number of affected families across Luzon has swelled to 69,513 (about 337,216 people). The partial total number of evacuees has also reached 11,967 families (about 59,920 people) who are staying in 118 evacuation centers, National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) data showed.
A state of national calamity has been declared over 27 provinces in 7 regions, as well as in the NCR. The provinces included are Mountain Province, Ifugao, and Benguet (CAR); Pangasinan, La Union, and Ilocos Sur (Region I); Isabela, Quirino, and Nueva Vizcaya (Region II); Aurora, Nueva Ecija, Zambales, Pampanga, Bulacan, Tarlac, and Bataan (Region III); Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon (Region IV-A); Mindoro Occidental, Mindoro Oriental, and Marinduque (Region IV-B); and Catanduanes, Camarines Norte, and Camarines Sur (Region V).

If you want to help, pls donate to :

Toll Free 1-800-527-2820
Account Name: ABS-CBN Foundation Inc.
Account No. 5630020111
Routing code for international cash donations

American Red Cross
Toll Free 1-800-435-7669

If you are in Manila, here’s a list drop off points for relief goods or volunteer areas where you can sort and pack goods:

Videos of Tropical Ondoy:

Friday, 4 September 2009

The 53rd Venice Biennale

First Stop: biglietteria
I was fortunate to visit Venice this year and attend La Biennale di Venezia's 53rd international art exhibition dubbed Fare Mondi, Making Worlds , the largest contemporary art exhibit in the world or referred to as the Olympics of the art world. The term biennale is italian for every two years.

Over 163,000 visitors have attended the exhibit since its opening on June 7, 2009. There are 104 artists and 63 pavilions (77 participating countries) in the two main venues - Giardini (Gardens) and Arsenale (Arsenal), and 44 collateral events located in various venues in the city.

At the Giardini
The curator is Swedish Daniel Birnhaum, who at 48, is the youngest in the history of the biennale to curate the exhibtion. He said "this is an exhibition without sections, articulating different themes woven into one whole. Placing particular emphasis on the biennale as a site for production and experimentation, it will involve projects that probe the possibilities of the built world... It is an exhibition driven by the aspirations to examine the worlds around us as well as worlds ahead."

The 53rd beinnale will run until November 22 this year, so if you get the chance to go to Venice, visit the show and don't miss my favs:

@ the Giardini:
1) Swedish clay sculptor and claymation filmmaker Nathalie Djurberg"s Experimentet. She was awarded the "Silver Lion" for a Promising Young Artist at the Biennale this year.
2) Miguel Barcelo's ceramics, paintings and videos in the Spanish Pavillon
3) Tomas Saraseno elastic ropes installation called Galaxies Forming along Filaments like Droplets along the strands of a Spider Web (2009)
4) John Baldessari's Six Colorful inside Jobs (1977), video projection 32'57"
5) Yoko Ono’s Instruction Pieces (1960-2009)
6) Tobias Rehberger deisgned the cafeteria he calls Was du liebst, bringt dich auch zum Weinen
7) Gigantic multi-screen video installation of Krzysztof Wodiczko's called Guests (2009) at the Poland pavilion
8) Scandinavian pavilion featuring a group exhibition of 24 artists curated by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset called The Collectors
9) Bruce Nauman's Fifteen Pairs of Hands bronze cast (1996) in the USA pavilion which won the top "Golden Lion" award.
10) Victory over the Future, Russian Pavillon
11) Steve Mc Queen's film Giardini at the British Pavilion
11) Koo Jeong’s A. ephemeral sounds of bees – because I swear, I couldn’t hear it…
12) try to spot the sculptural interventions of Andre Cadere (Barres du bond rond) his pieces are inserted into artists’ exhibits or in spaces all over Giardini.

@ the Arsenale
1) Brazillian's Lygia Pape three dimensionality installation 'tteia I, C, gold thread in square forms (2002)
2) Hector Zamora's social intevention called Sciame di dirigibili (2009), a festival of dirigibles in video format, miniatures and an actual airship.
3) Pascale Martine Tayo's african village sculpture and installation Human Being (2007-2009)
4) HKG artist Paul Chan's video Sade for Sade's Sake (2009)
5) Budhist artist Gongkar Gyatso The Shambala in Modern Times, a thangka-like painting made out of stickers, paper-cuts on treated paper.
6) Paul Ramirez Jonas' Luna del Papel (2009) made out of words "yo", "creo", "como", "hablo" typed on an 8.5 x 11 bond paper
7) Tamara Grcic's Gaggiandre (2009) composed of 17 life rafts, 17 microphones and 12 loudspeakers
8) Take a boat across to see Jan Fabre gigantic installation From the Feet to Brain
9) Italian Pavillon's two videos: Masebo (artists Nicolo Massazza and Jacopo Bedogni) two screens that eerily show in slow-motion the story of a woman always about to drown in the sea, and a man trying to get rid of a parachute in the snow and Valerio Berutti's line drawing animation La Figlia di Isacco (2009)

Collateral - I didn't have time to see all the collateral exhibits. My favorite though is Glass Stresse group show featuring glass works of various artists. There are two venues - Rialto is tiny but free entrance and at Instituto Veneto di Scienze Lettere ed Arti is Euro 5.

And of course, don't forget to check out the other exhibits:
1. Mapping the Studio: Artists from the Francois Pinnault at the Palazzo Grassi and at the recently opened venue designed by Tando Ando called Punta della Dogana. Buy the Euro 20 ticket for the two venues which is valid for three days. Artists featured are Jeff Koons, Sigmar Polke, Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Cy Twombly, Takashi Murakami and Jake & Dinos Chapman and emerging artists Matthew Day Jackson, Adel Abdessemed, Wilhelm Sasnal, Rob Pruitt, Richard Hughes, Nate Lowman, Mark Bradford and Kai Althoff.
2. Peggy Gugenheim collection and the ongoing collateral exhibit Polar Glut (1987) featuring riveted metal works by Robert Rauschenberg. A bit tricky to find the museum but the locals will take the time out to lead you there...
3. Rebecca Horne's Fata Morgana at the Piazaa San Marco.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Outlet shopping in Tuscany

Yep, the three of us trekked down to Toscana to check out the outlets! First on the list, was to rent a low-priced car and lo and behold, we got what we paid for - a teeny-weeny stick-shift Cory-yellow panda Fiat, where the distance between the back passenger seat and the trunk was an arm's length. Thank god our luggage fit! The cost was 45 Euros a day, 50 for the GPS and an additional 50 to return the GPS back to the original pick-up point.

Getting to Pisa, our side trip before hitting the outlets, was not easy. The last time we drove a stick shift was ages ago and there was a slight delay in receiving GPS satellite signals and thus, we kept missing the turns. We now know the SS1/A1 motorways like the back of our hands and spent a small fortune in tolls. Pisa was teeming with tourists and boiling at 40 degrees when we arrived. Despite the tourist trap warnings of Andy M., we ended up having lunch in an A/C restaurant right at the square which served us scaled down estiva (supposedly, family portion) salad and pizzas with minuscule toppings.

After lunch, we drove eastward to Lo Spaccio , the Prada outlet in Montevarchi. However, as soon as we hit the A1, the GPS went haywire and blanked out! We detoured to the nearest car rental office, which is at the Firenze Airport to have the GPS replaced. The guy at the rental office said to just press reset and off we go,back on track on A1.

It's a bit tricky to get to Lo Spaccio as it is located in an industrial area and there's no directional signs. The outlet is right behind the Prada factory. Unfortunately, it was closed that day.

We headed back up north to Reggello, to the next outlet called The Mall. It is famous for high-end designer brands like Gucci, Armani, Bottega Venetta, La Perla, Tods, etc. Alas we only had less than two hours to look-see-shop as the outlet was closing.

After The Mall, we drove to Villa Olena, a converted farmhouse which was only 15-min away up a winding road. The villa is right on top of a hill overlooking the Pratomagno range. It has a swimming pool, tennis court and seven apartments; each equipped with a stove/oven, dishwasher, satellite TV, iron and board, blow dryer, heater.. everything except an A/C!!

The best thing though, the villa is a short distance to a family-owned restaurant called Osteria Massacio where the father is the chef, the mother is the maître d', the siblings are servers. We started with a summer salad with feta cheese and nuts served in a gigantic bowl (mind you, we didn't order estiva)and prosciutto with arugula; then, fresh-marketed squid (black-ink pasta) and a huge steak topped with arugula seasoned with fresh olive oil; a bottle of Cipresseto Rosata di Toscana rosé; and ended with a panacota and pudding for dessert. Simply divine!

The next day, we were an hour early in Lo Spaccio. There are only two restaurants in the area - one was closed for the whole of month of August and the other opens at noon. We found a nondescript deli on the main road where we ate breakfast. At 10am, we headed back to the outlet and again, found out it was chiuso!! Was this a sign?!?

We decided to drive up to Firenze to drop Pinky's luggage in her hotel in Dante Alegheri (next to where Dante was born) before checking out the last outlet called Barberino Designer Outlet in Barberino. It's an American-like outlet with popular mid-range brands and very touristy since it's close to Firenze.

By the time we were to ready to return the car, the GPS finally conked out. It was the same guy who reset the faulty GPS who was at the return office. We were very lucky since he deducted the cost from our bill which saved us 100 Euros!!

Here's some tips to enjoy outlet shopping in Toscana:
1. Rent-a-car and book a villa to enjoy Tuscany's sights, food and drink (it's the Chianti region). If you haven't been to Sienna or Pisa, try to do a side trip on the way to or from the outlets. Make sure to fully-charge your GPS unit and buy a map, print out directions from google map in case the GPS conks out on you.
2. Try to avoid tourist trap restaurants. The food is pricey and taste so-so. Bring snacks, fruits and drinks in the car.
3. Before heading out to Lo Spaccio or any of the outlets, CALL first to make sure its open especially during the summer months. Lo Spaccio is difficult to find and the farthest eastward.
4. Most of the shops in the outlets participate in EU's VAT-refund scheme. Check the minimum value of purchases to qualify. Normally, it's E125 total in a single receipt. If you don't make the minimum, try to pool your purchases. The shop will fill out a form and put it together with the receipt in an envelope. At the airport, visit customs first to get an export validation stamp. Present the refund form(s) together with your boarding pass and passport. Bring your luggage with you because the customs officer may request to see the goods purchased. Then proceed to check-in your luggage at the bag drop. Before going through immigration, head to the bank to claim the refund which is about 16% to 20% of the sale price.
5. If you haven't been to Firenze, you must stay at least two days to explore this Renaissance capital.

The Outlets (farthest from Florence):
1) Lo Spaccio: Via Levanella Becorpi, Località Levanella, Montevarchi 52025 (Exit Valdarno on A1) Call to check if open: +39 55 9789481
2) The Mall: 8 Via Europa, Leccio Reggello 50060 (Exit: Incisa on A1), Tel +39 055 8657775, open from Mon-Sat 10-7pm and Sun from 3-7pm
3) Barberino Designer Outlet: Via Meucci 50031 Barberino del Mugello (right at the Barberino exit), Tel +39 55 842161, open from Tue-Fri from 10-8pm and Sat-Sun from 10 to 9pm.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

"Ich bin ein Berliner"

That's what John F. Kennedy said when he visited Berlin in 1963 during the Cold War, 22 months after the Soviet-supported communist state of East Germany built the Berlin Wall. The wall was 155km long and the height was 3.6 meters. He said "Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis Romanus sum. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is Ich bin ein Berliner."
After biking around the city, I must say that Kennedy would be thrilled to see Berliners enjoying their freedom. The country was reunified after the tearing down of the wall on November 9, 1989.
I dared cross Check Point Charlie to see DDR or then, the dreaded Deutsche Demokratische Republik, when I was backpacking around Europe in the 1980s. I remember it being grey and gloomy, a complete contrast to the punk, vibrant and rebellious West Berlin. I was frightened when the border police wouldn't let me cross back since I didn't use all the DDR money. I had to go back to spend every Deutsch Mark and panicking when it was nearing dark.
Now there is not much left of the wall except in the East side where it it is now fenced (right photo) to fend off rummaging souvenir hunters and in the Freidrichshain area where the open air gallery called The East Side Gallery use the remaining part of the wall to exhibit about 100 paintings (murals) by artists from all over the world.
This year 2009 is a great time to visit Berlin as it marks its 20th anniversary of the peaceful revolution that led to the fall of Berlin which precipitated the reunification of East-West Germany and Europe and the end of the Cold War.
Some paintings from the East Gallery: