What Danger Brings May 20, 2013Posted by Alexander Sawit in Stuff in General.
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By Dian Yu
May 20, 2013
Left to right: Dian with newfound Cyrano friends Isay, Lanie and Alexei, hanging out near the front steps. Unseen taking this picture is Alex the Grumpy Cat.
Wikipedia says that serendipity is “the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.” They use the word accident. It’s so funny because on a different page Wikipedia also says that “an accident or mishap…implies a generally negative outcome which may have been avoided or prevented.”
Well, it’s funny to think of now, I mean. But one night many weeks ago, it didn’t start out funny at all. It felt like I had accidentally stumbled into danger in my own neighborhood.
One evening after the travel writing workshop I had signed up for was over, I walked home like I usually do, lost in my own thoughts of random things that had happened to me that day. It was after eleven o’clock but it’s my usual 3-4 minute walk from the Greenbelt shopping area to my apartment. I process my thoughts by talking to myself, at times too out loud. I remember hurriedly crossing the pedestrian lane, reaching the sidewalk right when the traffic light turned green. This is all part a comfortable routine for me after almost a year of living by myself in the neighborhood, enjoying my independent city life.
Suddenly, I notice two suspicious looking men in front of me, walking ahead but constantly looking back in my direction.
On any other night when I walk home, I’m usually carefree to the point of tripping silly on the flat pavement. But now, my presence of mind is just too clear to ignore. I watch as the men scrutinize me. My heart starts to pound. My instinct signals that these two men are up to no good. For the first time in nearly a year of worry free living in the city, my mind spells out the word DANGER. My brain plays my dad’s voice saying, “Be aware.”
Reaching for my pepper spray, I slow down to let them walk farther ahead so I can stay at a safe distance. It doesn’t work. Instead, one of them crosses over to the right side of the street and keeps pace with my slowed stride. His partner continuously looks back at me while staying in my direct path. By now we are walking alongside a dark, open air parking lot where all the lights are switched off, making it a scary place where acts could be committed in the shadows and passersby wouldn’t notice if anyone was in need of help.
It’s now flashing in my mind with urgency: DANGER. I’m not letting them corner me. And I will not let these men follow me to my apartment.
So my feet drag me to the first thing I see at the corner of C. Palanca Street…the quaint, usually quiet place called Cyrano.
I enter. Still in panic, I notice two lady wine stewards standing behind the bar. I ask for a glass of white wine from one of them and then find a tall stool at the corner of the room where I sit and start to calm down.
The place is cozy, lit by yellow dimmed lights over the shelves where wine bottles are stacked. More bottles surround the walls. A chalk board that says, “Le vent éteint les bougies mais allume le feu.”, catches my attention. A group of friends are on the couches, watching TV as if they are at home. The lady serves my order and I am happy to see that the tall glass contains a generous serving of wine.
Good. It’s just what I need. I’m guessing that in about twenty minutes, I can head back home. I start sipping my wine, still feeling a little self-conscious yet strangely comfortable.
Minutes later, one of the friends casually walks by on his way to rejoining the group. I remember Alex, the proprietor, from the few times over the past year in this neighborhood that I walked into Cyrano to buy wine for takeout but never to hang out. Anyway, Alex nearly walks past me when he seems to notice my isolation vibe. On the spur of the moment he abruptly pauses and after thinking about it for a second asks if I’m waiting for my friends to arrive. Still feeling a bit shaken by my experience, I smile and say no, that I’m just by myself.
Just like that, he asks me to join the group. I suddenly feel my spirits lighten and I accept. With glass of wine in tow, I join the group in conversation and without hesitation start to talk about the two men I am hiding from. I feel a rush of comfort at being able to release my fear as I talk to my new Cyrano friends Alex, Lanie and Alexei, who express their relief that I’m all right. Curiously, I’m talking to them with an uncanny feeling of togetherness. It’s as if I have known these people for years and I start to share more stories. I had only meant to stay a short while and the two men on the street were long gone, allowing me to safely go home. But before I knew it, two hours had gone by talking with friends I had only just met.
That’s how it all began, by accident.
When I first checked out Cyrano last year after moving into the neighborhood, I remember thinking that it was an intriguing place with happy people enjoying live music and wine. I remember wanting to join in the fun but felt reluctant to break into what seemed like an exclusive club. As it turns out, it’s quite the contrary. It only seems like a club because here everybody knows everybody.
Cyrano is now my refuge, my one sanctuary in the city where I always find myself watching new friendships develop. It’s a welcoming environment where people can freely express themselves because everyone feels comfortable and familiar. It’s as if the place is a magnet for people with the same vibe of friendliness, positivity, and encouragement.
Lanie says she’s glad Alex thought of asking me to join their group that night, otherwise we all might never have become such good friends. I’m glad too. I’m even glad that I encountered that scare all those weeks ago. I might never have become a Cyrano friend if danger hadn’t forced me to accidentally find something good that I wasn’t searching for.
– Edited by Grumpy Cat
But a Funny Thing Happened on the Way… January 6, 2013Posted by Alexander Sawit in Stuff in General.
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By Isay Roque
Originally titled “Cyrano Wine Shop” on Starting My Own Think Tank (isawisay.blogspot.com). Re-posted with permission from Isay Roque, January 6, 2013.
It was not a regular Friday night. My friend Ava had just given birth to her second son, Asher, so I rushed to Makati Medical Center as soon as I got back from a company event in Batangas. After the visit, I was supposed to meet up with a friend, but he cancelled at the last minute. So I pretty much had all the time in the world to do nothing.
An oasis in the middle of the desert.
From the hospital, I walked, aimlessly at first. But then it occurred to me, I was already in Makati, so I could just go to this bar in Aguirre St. my friend told me about. Not (just) to drink, but to chat up the manager about possibly shooting a short film there. The place was closed the last time I went with my friend, so we weren’t able to do an ocular. To get there, I retraced our steps from Carlos Palanca St., passing by the familiar places of my indiscriminate drinking.
Oh wow – that sunset!
And at the end of the street I saw this quiet spot called Cyrano Wine Shop. There were five people inside, two of whom were behind the bar. Apparently, I walked in on the business partners – Alex, Joco, and Rick, and the chef slash restaurant manager, Beng. They were discussing as they were sampling the items on the new menu, and they made me try, too. The food was great. Comforting, even. It’s not exactly ideal for dates, but it’s perfect for wine nights with friends.
Ottoman couch, handsome furniture.
It’s been a little over four weeks since I first walked in, and I’ve become quite the regular. I even celebrated my 26th birthday there, in two parts, no less! I’m almost always at Cyrano, and it’s not just because of the wine. For starters, I really like the place. It’s very relaxed and cozy. The wines are arranged in a way that makes Isawisay the OC Person very happy. It’s quiet enough to let people have conversations that do not resemble shouting matches. With each visit, Cyrano feels more and more like a second home.
In vino veritas.
And it’s not because I fell asleep on their ottoman couch wrapped in a throw blanket (more than once) while mildly snoring (only once, and Peter said it was cute snoring! I was really exhausted!). It’s not because there’s almost always ice cream in the fridge, and when there isn’t, we can easily walk over to Rada Mart to buy Melona. And it’s also not because we watch movies, television series, or the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show while sipping wine and munching on liempo or Uncle John’s Fried Chicken.
In his blog, Alex wrote that Cyrano has friends, not customers. And that’s why the place feels like a second home. A fellow Cyrano friend, AD, tweeted that the place is like Cheers, and she’s right! Practically everyone knows everyone here, and that makes me feel safe. I’m not entirely certain how, but the place manages to weed out bad apples. Egos are checked at the door, so everyone who comes in is warm, welcoming, and easy to get along with. They don’t pass judgment, or if they do, they give you a chance, anyway. If you’re not a total psycho, there is room for you at Cyrano.
A small patch of earth.
In there, it’s easy to walk up to someone, introduce yourself, and start a conversation. It’s one of those places where it’s okay to show up alone, because you’ll always have someone to talk to. I’ve met more people there in a month than I have in four years of going to clubs. People there are actually worth meeting; no one is a waste of your time. And you don’t just meet people at Cyrano. You meet minds. Intelligent, sophisticated, astute minds. Each visit teaches you a thing or two; you walk out a little wiser than when you walked in. You walk out a little happier, too.
Sunsets December 31, 2012Posted by Alexander Sawit in Stuff in General.
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By Alex Sawit
31 December 2012
“You like sunsets?”
There was an unmistakable sparkle in her voice when she said those words to me. Here I was, faced with the sight of a tall, long-legged, vivacious German maiden with her long, straight, chestnut hair pinned up, standing across the cashier’s counter. Yet the first thing she asked me completely sidestepped the obvious purpose of my wine shop. I understood why. I walked behind the counter and courteously attended to her inquiry.
I glanced at what she was looking at. There, prominently displayed on the video screen close to the wall like a hanging painting, was a sunset framed by a panoramic view of day’s end. It was nothing short of spectacular. Seen from the sea cliffs of a rugged coastline, the deep-orange orb glowed like a burning ember, dipping behind the sea while setting fire to row after row of clouds in the sky above.
I told her that, yes, I like sunsets.
That was all it took for my customer, Steffi, to become one of the wine shop’s happy new friends. I learned that Steffi has been living in the Philippines for some time and that she resides most of the year in that paradise of white velvet sand and blue water called Boracay. I learned, too, how much she loves that jewel of an island she calls home and how much she is captivated by the sunsets there.
I know exactly how she feels and more. Call me a connaisseur de couché de soleil, if you please.
I’ve heard it time and again from foreigners that our country has the best sunsets on earth. Having done a bit of traveling myself, as far across the ocean to the shores of California and as far across continents to the coast of Brittany, I’ve seen enough elsewhere to make me wholeheartedly throw my support behind that belief. The most beautiful sunsets are right here in the Philippines. End of discussion.
I once worked in an office at a landmark building along Manila’s main boulevard. It was there, with those famous Manila Bay sunsets that were my daily privilege, that I tutored myself. Many aficionados feel that there are no sunsets anywhere else better than those over Manila Bay. My preferred perch was actually not several stories up in the building but on the first level outdoors. I could sit on that marble ledge, exposed to the elements with my back to the building’s columns as if safeguarded by mighty trees, my feet dangling high above the sidewalk and my face catching the salty breeze blowing from across the water. Even now, years later and with an educated taste for afternoon light, I still feel that this is the most meaningful vantage point in the whole city for enjoying a glorious sunset over the bay.
The architects who designed Ramon Magsaysay Center probably didn’t have those sunsets in mind but one could be forgiven for thinking that they did. No other building along Roxas Boulevard is more transformed by capturing light from the westward sun, which turns this iconic structure into a vivid ivory beacon visible from a great distance as it stands resolutely facing the horizon.
“A truly great structure, one that is meant to stand the tests of time, never disregards its environment,” expounds one of my favorite film characters, the architect Simon Wyler from the movie The Lake House. “A serious architect takes that into account. He knows that if he wants presence, he must consult with nature. He must be captivated by the light. Always the light. Always.”
I guess I’m an architect. Pages are my foundations; keystrokes are my construction method; words are my creations and my legacy. And whenever I consult with nature, it always rewards me as surely as the sun bequeaths itself as fire in my blood.
No, I don’t like sunsets. I love them. From Manila to Boracay, from Baguio to Batanes, in all their many different splendors, I love them.
Before my new friend flew back to her island home, she promised to send me a treasure trove of sunset photos she’d taken from Boracay’s famed White Beach (a few of which are pictured here). “Please come visit,” she texted, inserting a smiley face in the message. “It would be nice to chat over a bottle of wine under the sky there!”
Certainly. The whole gang at the shop would love that. What could be better than an afternoon of wine and conversation with a like-minded group of friends watching the sunset on that beautiful white sand with the waves lapping at our feet?
Hmm, come to think of it…a moonlit night on that very same beach spent with someone wonderfully real would be even nicer. But that’s another story.
From the Heart October 29, 2012Posted by Alexander Sawit in Stuff in General.
By Alex Sawit
29 October 2012
Yaya Julie, fourth from the left, surrounded by my sisters and mom.
I like to believe that in a mother’s kitchen, cooking is really about love. Growing up in my family, I learned that good food is that which is always cooked with pride and love by those who have lots of pride and lots of love. Because when someone cooks for her family, food becomes more than just food. It is a gift. There are many ways to express love, I know, but none perhaps are as tangible to a family’s everyday life as the tireless act of devotion that is a mother’s cooking.
That was the gift that our “Yaya Julie” always gave us.
Not many of you ever got to meet Julie Gaylon. If you did, you must have met her during one of my family-arranged events at the wine shop – when my mom, dad, sisters, brothers-in-law and niece and nephews would choose my establishment as the most fitting place to celebrate my birthday. And in my family, no birthday was ever complete without Julie. Indeed, it wouldn’t have been family without her.
My siblings and I affectionately knew her as “Yaya Julie.” She raised us like we were her own children and even after she had a daughter of her own – Criselda, who grew up with us as our “kid sister” and who was my fellow barkeep at the shop for years before she got married – she never stopped being a second mother to us. To this day we have all the mementos of our childhood spent with her, which she refused for us to part with and which she insistently stored in her safekeeping, from baby teeth and kiddie artwork to favorite toys and report cards.
But I was the one she spoiled the most. My mom used to say it’s because I was just a little newborn boy when Yaya Julie joined the household to take care of me and my toddler sisters. From that moment on, she always called me her “baby.”
When my siblings and I turned into bigger kids and the need for a nanny became superfluous, Yaya Julie simply changed hats. She became the family’s mayordomo and, under my mom’s tutelage, took over the kitchen. Adobo, pinakbet, sinigang and other favorites became her new expression of love for us. And she learned to express herself exceptionally well. To this day, her home cooking is the standard by which I measure the Filipino classics of all others. Her crowning achievement was her binagoongan, a dish that has such little room for error that even accomplished chefs rarely do it properly but which Yaya Julie was always able to craft into the most perfect balance of flavors.
She could also be quite stubborn and grumbling. She always insisted on doing things her way, resulting in many a clash of egos between her and the rest of the household staff. Put her in a disagreeable mood and you wouldn’t hear the end of it as she would rant in monologue long after you had left the kitchen.
To me, however, it just shows the kind of uncompromising conviction that Yaya Julie had about doing things right – she always wanted to cook things right, always keep the house in order right, always care for the family’s multitude of cats and dogs right, always conduct every garage sale right, always make sure the Christmas decorations were set up right. Yaya Julie never did anything halfway. She either put her heart into or she didn’t do it at all.
Yet it wasn’t until after that final night at the hospital that I truly understood this.
For nearly two weeks, Yaya Julie had been in the ICU due to complications with an illness. She was always a fighter, having already battled through cancer to stay in remission, all on top of her coping with diabetes for many years. But this time, though the doctors said she fought hard, her decline was inevitable. So that Sunday evening a few days short of her 67th birthday, our family gathered by her glass-sealed ICU room, where she was constantly sedated, so that we could let her sense that it was okay now, that she didn’t have to suffer fighting anymore.
I sat at her bedside holding her hand, with her daughter, Criselda, next to me. As Yaya Julie lay unconscious, I asked something of my kid sister. “Is it okay,” I asked Criselda, “if I sang something to your mama?”
The song I wanted to sing, “Granada,” was special to my Yaya Julie. Some time ago while chatting with her after dinner, the song came through the living room speakers in its original Spanish lyrics and she quickly became animated. This, she told me, was one of her mother’s favorite tunes and she began to hum it with fondness. “Granada will live again,” she said enthusiastically, reciting from the English version of the song.
I had meant to sing it for her birthday in a few days but…
With Criselda’s permission and mindful to keep my voice down in the ICU, I sang to my Yaya Julie as softly as I could:
“Granada, tierra soñada por mí
mi cantar se vuelve gitano
cuando es para ti.
Mi cantar, hecho de fantasía,
mi cantar, flor de melancolía,
que yo te vengo a dar…”
If you’ve never heard “Granada” before, you need to know that it’s a very passionate song. You can’t sing it if you’re neither here nor there. You either put your heart into it or you don’t sing it at all. You can’t sing it halfway.
“Granada, tierra ensangretada
en tardes de toros,
mujer que conserva el embrujo
de los ojos moros.
De sueño, rebelde, gitana
cubierta de flores
y beso tu boca de grana,
que me habla de amores…”
Suddenly, my voiced cracked. I stopped singing. As I looked at my Yaya Julie’s silent, unconscious face in the dimmed lighting of the room, in that moment I knew that I wasn’t really singing to her. I was saying goodbye. No one in my family had ever before in my adulthood seen me break down. My kid sister hugged me from behind and wept with me.
“She loved you so much,” she told me in a stream of tears as she kept her arms around the person who was and always will be her mama’s “baby.”
I resumed singing. My voice softened. And I don’t know if I will ever again sing the last lines of this song as tenderly as I did in that room while holding my Yaya Julie’s hand.
“…de rosas de suave fragrancia
que le dieran marco a la Virgen morena.
Granada, tu tierra está llena
de lindas mujeres, de sangre y de sol.”
Yaya Julie passed away at 8:30 p.m. that Sunday, the 16th of September 2012.
It’s been six weeks (our family observed her 40th day last Thursday). I miss her. I think of her every day and, every so often, still see her from memory in all the familiar places where her absence is most present – in the laundry area where she would have been feeding our family’s lovable little pets, on the front steps where she would have been waving goodbye if I was driving out, in the kitchen where she would have been doing what she did best.
Yet even though these last six weeks have been the saddest of my life, I give thanks in remembering. I am thankful that Yaya Julie shared her life with us. I am thankful that we were given as much time together as we were given, thankful to the Good Lord that our time was perhaps even extended for as long as it was.
Not least of all, I am thankful for what Yaya Julie taught me. I witnessed it every day in her kitchen and understood it in all its fullness the night I sang to her goodbye.
Love is a gift. And any gift that comes from the heart is worth giving with everything you’ve got.
Saturday evenings typically start quietly at Cyrano and it was no different that first Saturday after Yaya Julie passed away. That evening, Biba paid me a visit and decided to keep me company. On the surface she did nothing more extraordinary than to be a friendly ear, just wanting to listen.
“It’s a very passionate song,” I told her, explaining how I sang “Granada” at Yaya Julie’s bedside in the hospital. “You can’t sing it if you’re neither here nor there. You either put your heart into it or you don’t sing it at all.”
Biba then requested that I play the song over the shop’s sound system. She wanted us to listen to it together.
“Is this the same one?” she asked as the tenor’s voice of José Carreras soared through the speakers, rendering the song gloriously in Spanish. I answered yes.
It’s funny. On any other night, as many Cyrano friends will attest, Biba and I are sparring partners, entertaining ourselves with useless banter about anything and everything that we care to disagree on. I like to think that we disagree for the amusement of it: she with her patented style of sarcasm and disquieting ebullience and I with my stoic sense of reserve as the perfect foil. That’s how we’ve been stereotyped. What folks don’t realize is that Biba is someone I’ve always been grateful to. Time and again, she has been a real friend to me whenever I needed a real friend.
Eventually, we discreetly shifted topic and moved on when the happy evening crowd, led by our Cyrano friends AD, Earl and Jimmo, finally trickled in. But as we joined these witty, wonderful, like-minded companions in conversation with glasses of wine in hand, I did so feeling better about the little things that say a lot about what true friends are all about.
Thank you, Biba.
Sexy and I Know It August 27, 2012Posted by Alexander Sawit in Lifestyle.
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By Alex Sawit
27 August 2012
When I walk on by, girls be looking like, “Ohh, he fly!”
I pimp to the beat, walking on the street in my new lafreak, yeah.
This is how I roll, animal print pants outta control.
It’s RedFoo with the big afro and like Bruce Leroy I got the glow…
I’m sexy and I know it.
We have a new theme song at the wine shop, Cyrano friends.
For well over a month now, we’ve been listening to our acoustic maestro, Nino Alejandro, singing this song every Friday night. For those not yet acquainted with him, Nino carries the Alejandro family’s musical pedigree (Hajji is his famed uncle, which makes Rachel Alejandro his cousin) and is, in the opinion of many, the best one man hard rock performer in town. I can personally attest that I’ve never heard anyone sing pitch-perfect renditions of anything from “Living on a Prayer” to “Highway to Hell” as awesomely as Nino has done at Cyrano on his acoustic nights.
But it’s the LMFAO song, “Sexy and I Know it,” that is now Nino’s unofficial calling card, owing to the fact that folks have been requesting it with increasing regularity at the wine shop. And then, for the first time last Friday, he sang it without the usual preamble of, “This is an LMFAO song.”
That’s when I knew we had a new theme song.
Yes, I know. This is the same dance hit that has been played over and over in clubs from Miami to L.A. and is even reviled by some for having perhaps the most ridiculous music video of the 21st century. Even the newest M&M’s “spokescandy” Ms. Brown, in her debut TV commercial at this year’s Super Bowl, was scandalized by the song.
Seriously, though, Nino does “Sexy and I Know It” like dynamite, because he doesn’t sing the original version.
He used this exact guitar model to perform “Sexy and I Know It” last Friday.
“The version I’m doing was actually arranged by Noah,” Nino explained to audiences when he first started singing it for his Friday acoustic nights at the shop. “The original song is by LMFAO, but this arrangement was made by Noah Guthrie.”
Noah Guthrie, by the way, is the amazing 18-year old kid from South Carolina who, in May of this year, uploaded his acoustic cover of “Sexy and I Know It” on YouTube. Within a few days, it went viral and the legend of Noah was born.
“I’ve secretly wanted to cover this song for a really long time,” Noah chuckles with adolescent gusto in his YouTube video. “I finally figured out how to arrange it and it’s a lot different from the original version of it.”
It’s a mind-blowing kind of different. To borrow a silly phrase coined once upon a time by a fancy-talking Pinoy sportscaster, this kid turned garbage into gold.
Combining a fresh yet lightly smoky voice with a catchy guitar riff, wonder kid
Noah Guthrie transformed a banal party song into an acoustic classic.
Or, better yet, just drop in on a Friday night and listen to Nino sing our new theme song, live, for all you sophisticated-minded Cyrano friends.
Remember, mind appeal is the new sexy…and you know it.
Mind Appeal is the New Sexy July 6, 2012Posted by Alexander Sawit in Stuff in General.
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By Alex Sawit
06 July 2012
I stood back and observed my lady customer, who was staring at the blackboard that hangs high on the wall behind the counter. From the look on her face and, more tellingly, from the tone of her voice, she was not amused that someone had erased what I had written, which had been on display for the last four months. Here’s what it used to say:
Mind Appeal is the new sexy.
When I wrote those words way back in February, I didn’t expect the signage to become such a popular feature at the wine shop. Visitors quickly took a liking to it, so much so that it was common to find customers taking pictures of it, presumably to upload online if not to simply keep as reminders of another merry wine night at Cyrano.
Now, all that was left was a long, chalky smear that snaked tauntingly along the center of the board.
“Who erased it,” she asked indignantly.
“Another customer,” I said.
No, the butler didn’t do it.
I told her that the perpetrator was a dear Cyrano friend, a very stylish, cosmopolitan woman named Patti, who committed the crime the previous week during a fit of tipsy bravado after arriving from another bar. Wearing her signature high heels, which added crucial inches to her reach, Patti suddenly walked behind the counter and rubbed the words out with those delicate fingers before I could stop her.
“It’s such a pretentious thing to say,” Patti declared defiantly after murdering my inscription, the chalk still fresh on her fingers as evidence of the deed. One can only wonder how many homicides like this have resulted elsewhere as a result of one too many a lychee martini.
I made it a point to calmly remind her that she was the only customer of ours who ever hated what I wrote.
“Why not just say smart is the new sexy,” she admonished while elegantly raising her brows at me. “Mind appeal is so trying hard.”
“No, Patti,” I remember correcting her with a smile, showing the kind of gentleness and patience that a wise father might show a petulant child. “That’s not the same. Because everyone who has mind appeal is smart, but not everyone who is smart has mind appeal.”
“Hah! And how exactly would YOU explain mind appeal, Alex?”
“My dear Patti,” I said, modulating my voice so that I sounded more paternal. “Let’s put it this way. There is such a thing as sex appeal, right? Well, what do you call it if a person has a sexy mind? You call it mind appeal.”
“Ah, okay, I get it,” said our other customer, Jimmo, who was a witness on the night of the crime and who, being a top executive at an advertising agency, weighed in with his professional opinion. With him as arbiter between me and Patti, my argument emerged the winner.
“I get it,” Jimmo continued. “I didn’t agree before but after you explained it that way, I agree with mind appeal now.”
Appalled by her fellow customer switching sides and ruling against her, Patti stubbornly refused to yield. She was kind enough, however, to pacify me with a luxuriously creamy, Belgian chocolate-covered, over-sized ice cream bar delivered from the convenience store up the street (I’m easy, so how could I refuse?).
Yet the sweetness of victory and dessert was, in the end, a bittersweet consolation. The damage had been done and, with other customers asking me what I was going to inscribe next, I had to think of something new.
“You should put it back,” my lady customer adamantly insisted, returning me to the present. “That’s a classic statement.”
Yes, it is. But I don’t have to put it back.
I think enough people who matter to me have seen it so that it’s alive and well whenever we’re at the shop, enjoying evenings of wine and wit in the pleasure of each other’s company. Because if I count you as one of my Cyrano friends, then hubba-hubba. In my book, you’ve got mind appeal.
Whaddaya know? I have one picture to show.
Ninja Lesson via Carly Rae Jepsen June 9, 2012Posted by Alexander Sawit in Stuff in General.
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By Alex Sawit
09 June 2012
Cover of Curiosity EP (2012)
I wish to offer my gratitude to Canadian singer-songwriter Carly Rae Jepsen for helping me end the longest writer’s block I’ve ever endured.
Hah-hah, no. I don’t know her personally. Like the rest of the world, I’m merely acquainted with her pop songs, which have been gaining more attention following the release of Jepsen’s debut EP, Curiosity, earlier this year. It’s from this EP that I found one song that made an unexpected contribution to my recovery.
Until a couple of weeks ago, I had a writer’s block that had been persisting in my head for about a year. Whenever I attempted to write something that mattered, I’d go through the motions of opening the word processor, type a few lines, then feel drearily unmotivated and take a short break. Only, at the end of that “short” break, I would look up and realize that I had yet again finished watching more episodes of Downton Abbey or Sherlock or whatever else I’d downloaded that was more fun at the time than writing. The end would always be the same: I’d delete the drivel I’d set down, close the page and pour myself a bloody drink.
I’m glad that’s all over now. Last month, I was finally able to write my first piece in a long spell (I wrote on the subject of music and moonlight). It feels wonderful to have written something meaningful again.
Still, it wasn’t an easy ride getting over the hump. A year’s hiatus had left me rusty. Writing for the first time in a long time, I found that my words were staggering through; steadily, yes, but painfully so.
So I tried listening to music to help me write – the kind of music that I rely on to calm my thoughts and coax the words that say exactly how I feel. I started with something tranquil from Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque, expecting the words to at last flow smoothly.
An hour or so later, I was still slogging through trying to say what I wanted. Deciding that I needed something up-tempo, I switched to the exhilarating performance of Jascha Heifetz playing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.
That didn’t help either.
So I pulled out the big guns. This is the stuff that never, ever fails when I really want to write. I listened to The Three Tenors in Concert in Rome. I even listened to Rachel Portman’s beautifully captivating film score from The Lake House, which always puts me in the perfect mood.
And nothing worked. Billions…of blistering…blue…barnacles…
I sat there staring at the page, utterly frustrated by what little progress I had made. Call it serendipitous but, in that moment, something made me reach for Carly Rae Jepsen’s EP, Curiosity, which I had in the hard drive but hadn’t yet listened to in its entirety. What the heck. Nothing else was working. I let it play.
Hmm…nice, I thought, as one pop song followed after another. Jepsen’s stuff is actually refreshing. Nearly all the tunes are feel-good and catchy, with honest lyrics that make for easy listening. No wonder she’s been getting more attention lately.
As I went back to writing while listening to her music, I noticed that I was doing just that. I was really writing.
I then noticed that one song, “Talk to Me,” was helping me write better than the others. So I put that one song in a loop. For the next hour or so, I was happily writing and writing and re-writing…
Hah-hah, I never would have thought. After I got up for a break, having nearly finished what I was writing, I couldn’t help thinking how similar this was to a lesson I learned from one of my favorite Japanese anime movies.
“Carly Rae Jepsen,” exclaimed my friend, Wes, with a big smile across the bar counter as I told my story to him a week later at the wine shop. “No kidding?”
“Yes,” I said. “Nothing else was working. But I started playing that one song and just like that I was writing.”
“Dude,” he said with a bigger smile, “that’s totally counter-intuitive.”
“Exactly,” I replied. “I did the complete opposite of what I normally do and it worked. It’s just like what the hero did in Ninja Scroll.”
“Oh, yeah,” Wes responded enthusiastically. “I’ve seen it! Ninja Scroll is cool!”
“You remember the fight scene between Jubei and the blind swordsman?”
“Yeah, that’s an awesome fight scene!”
Ninja Scroll movie poster from Japan (1993)
Here’s the background. Ninja Scroll is one of my all-time anime favorites (originally titled Jubei Ninpucho in Japan). When it was released in the early 1990s, it blew audiences away with sumptuous visuals and intense, brilliantly choreographed action sequences; even by today’s standards, it’s cool stuff. Edgy heroes and villains, however, are what make the story work. My favorite scene, as you may have just guessed, is the duel between our ninja hero, Jubei, and the villainous blind swordsman.
Confronting each other with swords drawn, the two foes race into a bamboo forest as their battleground. Unfortunately, the blind man’s extraordinary sense of hearing gives him the advantage as he anticipates Jubei’s every move.
“It’s really difficult to defeat a blind swordsman,” the villain calmly but haughtily advises during a pause in the fighting. “To do so, you must be perfectly quiet.”
“Well, I’m unable to do that,” Jubei replies pluckily. “So I’ll do the opposite instead.”
Suddenly, the forest starts to move. To the blind man’s surprise, all around him bamboo trees are lazily toppling to his feet, creaking loudly as their trunks slowly collapse and creating a thicket of sound from masses of branches and leaves scraping against each other. Too late, he realizes he’s been lured into a clever trap: while they were fighting, our hero was also slashing the bamboo with his sword, creating a buffer that surrounded the blind man. Using these falling trees as a sonic camouflage, our hero now vanishes from hearing, leaving the blind villain no choice but to stand very still and strain his ears in the hope of locating the next incoming attack.
“Well,” I continued, “this Carly Rae Jepsen thing was like that ninja technique.”
“Yeah,” Wes concurred. “Yeah, I get it…do the opposite!”
So there it is. I appreciate the ninja lesson, Carly Rae. If you’re ever in the Philippines, please let me know so I can tell you in person. Call me, maybe?
Music by Moonlight May 25, 2012Posted by Alexander Sawit in Stuff in General.
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By Alex Sawit
25 May 2012
Adagio – a tempo marking indicating that the music should be played slowly.
Dolce – meaning “sweet” in Italian; as a mood marking, it indicates that
the music should be played with a warm, gentle feeling.
If you’ve been hanging out at the wine shop long enough to share in the things I’m passionate about, then you know how much I love gazing at the full moon. Chances are you’ve also attended one of our shop’s happy little “Moonlight & Wine” picnics at some time or another. So if I’ve succeeded in getting you moonstruck, cheers to you. You know what magic is.
I have a confession to make, though.
In all the years that I have been gazing at the moon, I had always told myself to watch surrounded only by the hush that comes with the night. I had thought that the only sounds meant for a moonlit sky were the rustling of the evening breeze through the trees, the howl of the night wind in my face, the faint echo of a sleepless songbird…nothing much more than that.
Now that I reflect on it, however, I feel very foolish. A few weeks ago, you see, I found out how wonderful it can be to watch the moon…sigh, while listening to music.
How stupid of me. As someone who is accustomed to pairing wine with food, I should have realized intuitively that pairing music with moonlight could make for just as delicious an experience. To think that men and women have been associating music with the moon for as long as anyone can remember. Popular culture alone gives us a long list of song classics…Blue Moon, How High the Moon, Moon River, Moonlight Serenade, Paper Moon…and so on.
For me, it is the music of the great composers that truly imbues the moon with profoundly romantic significance. That you may understand how I feel, consider the two pieces most famously associated with our lunar companion: Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Debussy’s Clair de Lune.
Clair de Lune (meaning “moonlight” in French) is one of the most soothing melodies ever written for the piano. In its unhurried play and relaxed openness, I can imagine moonlight as a “sea of tranquility” upon which to drift effortlessly, aimlessly and, above all, blissfully. On the other hand, the first movement of Moonlight Sonata evokes exquisite loneliness in me, not unlike how it can feel when dimness and shadow under the moon conspire to cast a different kind of stillness on the landscape. In this eerily beautiful, otherworldly solitude, I hear only my beating heart telling me to be resolved…just like Beethoven’s music for piano, in which he seems to say, “I accept my pain” (it is said that this music is a window into the composer’s anguish and struggle, written when he was coming to terms with the knowledge that he would soon be completely deaf).
Such is the breadth and depth that two very different piano pieces can bestow on the same subject. Yet neither came to my mind when the moon greeted me outside my window, fully rounded and gleaming in the very palest gold, well past midnight a few weeks ago. Rather, I found myself called by something I hadn’t been listening to for a while, though it is my most favorite piece of music in the whole world.
With my lovely visitor waiting, I found Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, cued the second movement – the Adagio sostenuto – and let it play. Easing back at the foot of the bed, I caught the moonlight full on the face as it flooded through my window. The music, in reply, shimmered around the room like a late afternoon glittering on the sea.
And it was…magical.
Ever since I was very young, I have loved the music of Rachmaninoff. The last of the great Romantic composers and maybe the greatest pianist who ever lived, Rachmaninoff was resolute about how his music should feel: Russian. That’s what I thought even at a young age (at least as I understood it from movies and television), that it sounded so emotively, proudly “Russian.”
“The brooding, sometimes savage, frequently emotional expression often identified with the Russian soul,” a music critic once wrote, “flowed through Sergei Rachmaninoff’s music in a powerful stream.” For me to hear Rachmaninoff, then, is to hear the untamed heart and know it as my own.
The Adagio of the concerto starts like a gentle dream. Soft chords from the orchestra float in like deep breaths before giving way to the piano, which quiets you with a slow, simple rhythm; the piano’s delicacy holds you under its spell and is the heartbeat that awakens the main theme. The theme is phrased by a flute, then clarinet, until it mellows fully in the piano’s ripe, passionate voice. The mood climbs with dramatic tension, twice, leading to a short but maddening cadenza of desire until everything is calm again. With piano and orchestra embraced, the dreamy tenderness of the main theme is returned, to be concluded with what is perhaps the most loving passage of music that has ever been written.
“Bellissima,” I should have said, savoring what I was hearing as the moon began to dip behind the outline of a tall, willowy tree.
The wine lover in me couldn’t help musing. Paired with the moon, the Adagio was like a supple red wine, bringing out a more indulgent appreciation of the meal with every sip.
When the moon sank completely, its radiance filtered through the veil of tree branches and bade me go to sleep. Only then did the music melt away as the piano, playing to the last, dispersed itself like a glimmering surface fading in the distance.
I shut down the media player and retired to bed. Yet having sipped unforgettably of something slow and sweet in the company of la bella luna, my untamed heart only yearned for more.
But I only want more of what I like. And I know what I like. Hence, I shall now call all music that I love under the moonlight by this new name, using two musical words:
With the endearing initials of each word safely within me, I beckon the moon to return. After all, the heart wants what the heart wants.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Despite their contrasting moods, the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 or “Moonlight Sonata” and the second movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 have similar rhythms for the piano; in addition, their themes compare favorably with each other. It should further intrigue lovers of moonlight to know that both movements use the same title, “Adagio sostenuto.”
But if you’ve never heard Piano Concerto No. 2, find the recording of pianist Artur Rubinstein with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Fritz Reiner. Among all recorded performances that exist of this concerto, Rubinstein’s alone rivals that of Rachmaninoff at the piano (unfortunately, Rachmaninoff’s breathtaking rendition was recorded in 1929 and, despite digital re-mastering to improve sound quality, is better appreciated with experienced ears). This is the one I was listening to under the moon. Purchase it or simply visit the wine shop to copy it for personal use.
Evo VII May 25, 2012Posted by Alexander Sawit in News & Events.
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By Alex Sawit
25 May 2012
It’s been said that, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result each time.” This is popularly but mistakenly attributed to Albert Einstein, who as a scientific genius probably would have agreed with the saying anyway.
Time has a way of sliding by unnoticed. It’s been more than a year since I’ve posted anything new on this blog and I’ve had more than enough time to think about the last seven years that Cyrano has been around as “your favorite little neighborhood wine shop.”
Yeah, seven years. It’s been that long.
Folks who’ve been coming to the shop since the beginning are the ones most caught unaware. Even newcomers are surprised but for a different reason.
“But we’ve been driving down this street for years,” they usually say in astonishment, “and we thought you just opened!”
So we at the shop did a lot of thinking about what we’ve been doing and what we haven’t been doing. And we came to the conclusion that we had to evolve.
That’s why I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge KPT, one of our most loyal Cyrano friends. She’s the engine behind the evolving direction of our shop in it’s seventh year, which started with awesome acoustic nights with Lee Grane and is set to continue with more great things to come.
On behalf of Ric, Joco and myself, thank you KPT.
And cheers to Cyrano Wine Shop “Evo VII” version (with apologies to the Mitsubishi Lancer).
Or, in the words of a very happy Junji Arias:
Top 10 Deli Snacks in the Philippines April 8, 2011Posted by Alexander Sawit in Food & Drink, Reviews / Recommendations.
By Alex Sawit
08 April 2011
Although the word delicatessen is of German origin, it ultimately derives from the Latin delicatus, which very loosely translated means, “Little goodies you can’t stop popping in your mouth!” Hence, “delicacies” are happily found when one steps into a modern deli shop.
People’s expectations of deli food vary, however. In North America, it’s popular to think of a delicatessen as a sandwich shop with menus for sit-down customers (my favorite movie reference is Meg Ryan’s famous “faking it” scene at Katz’s Deli in When Harry Met Sally). In Europe, the deli is a specialty grocery for top quality foodstuffs (curiously, in America they refer to this differently as a “gourmet food store”).
In the Philippines, we basically follow the European meaning: a delicatessen is a store that retails cured meats and cold cuts, sausages, cheeses, gourmet breads and other fine foods that can be served with minimum or no cooking. That’s how we at Cyrano understand deli food and this being a wine shop we want what goes well with wine, which is why our bar chow consists of easy-to-serve snacks for wine lovers to nibble on (like an old-fashioned enoteca, right?).
Alas we can’t have everything on our menu. It’s unfortunate because there are lots of good local products to be found, even from the far corners of the country (let’s thank our Cyrano business partners, Joco and Ric, for finding great stuff from as far away as Cagayan de Oro and Davao). The least we can do is acknowledge those we believe are worth praising to you.
So here is your wine shop’s list of what we feel are the Top 10 Deli Snacks made in the Philippines. Chances are you may have already tried or heard of some of them but please seek out on your own the ones that you haven’t. Remember to enjoy them with our wines!
But Before Our Top 10…A Special Mention
Snobs would think it pedestrian to think so highly of pork rinds but what do they know? Our thanks to Manito de Borja, one of our oldest Cyrano friends and the fattest thin man we’ve ever met, for explaining the sophistication of Chicharittos (only an eating machine like Manito would have lobbied for this as a snack with wine). Try Chicharittos in all flavors with a smooth, dry South African Chenin Blanc and ignore those lobotomized Vegans who cannot fathom the rewards of so much unhealthy goodness.
Chicharottos are available at Rustan’s Supermarket Main Branch, Rustan’s Building, Ayala Avenue, Makati City.
CYRANO’S TOP 10 DELI SNACKS
10. Chef Philippe’s Party Breads
Chef Philippe Agnesi, in a moment of candid satisfaction over the caffe latte he was served, told me that our shop makes “very good coffee.” Coming from a French pastry chef with a reputation for being a merciless perfectionist, it was flattering, especially since we aren’t an espresso bar. We now return the compliment. Chef Philippe’s Party Breads are uncompromisingly excellent. They are meals in themselves but are best sliced, as the name implies, as party hors d’oeuvres. Among the savory breads, my favorite is the Mediterranean, a soft brioche that’s a romance of pesto, tomato sauce, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, sun dried tomatoes and black olives, to be enjoyed with a Côtes du Rhone Villages.
Chef Philippe’s Party Breads are available at Chef Philippe Commissary, 2310 Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati (visit http://www.chefphilippe.org for details).
9. Zaragoza Sardines
I’ve been a fan of this Pinoy brand for a while and it impresses me that Zaragoza Foods, which is based in Dipolog, is so consistent on such a commercial scale. Well, okay, they’ve had tiny slip ups but these have been rare. Whatever their secret, these sardines are absolutely the best value gourmet treats in the country, especially for gourmands who know what to do with good sardines. Available in Portugese- and Spanish-style in corn oil and in Spanish-style in tomato sauce, these are delectable with good bread and a Southern French Viognier.
Zaragoza Sardines are available at Rustan’s Supermarket Main Branch. Export versions in olive oil are available at S&R Price Mart, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig.
8. Dial K For Kitchen Pâté
After pursuing culinary careers in Europe for nearly 20 years, sisters Georgina and Kim Ramos returned to the Philippines to nurture something closer to their hearts. The result is Dial K For Kitchen, a gourmet business that radiates with their cultivated food experiences. Among their products, nothing expresses this as luxuriously as their bestselling pâté. “This has got to be the SMOOTHEST, the absolute CREAMIEST chicken liver pâté you can ever find,” they claim on their blog, “with no gamey aftertaste!” I won’t disagree. Bring some to the shop so you can share it with us when you order a South African Rosé.
Dial K For Kitchen Paté can be ordered at facebook.com/Dial.K.for.Kitchen.
7. Malagos Farmhouse Cheeses
Mrs. Olive Puentespina has been making artisanal cheeses in Davao under the Malagos Farmhouse label for several years now, winning acclaim from local and foreign gourmands who are astounded that Western-style cheeses of such quality can be made in our tropical climate. Her fromage de chèvre (French-style soft goat cheese) is a favorite of European expats, who say it’s indistinguishable from the French import. Pile it on thin crisp bread and pair it with a well-chilled Italian Prosecco. I go for the “peppercorn brie” and “demi-blue Styleton” (that’s what I nicknamed the latter because it reminds me of an extremely mild Stilton), made from cow’s milk, both of which are nice with a creamy Australian Chardonnay.
Malagos Farmhouse Cheeses are available here at Cyrano Wine Shop.
6. Chef Cyrille’s Pork Rillette
I’m going to take flak for this because not every Cyrano friend is a fan of Chef Cyrille Soenen’s rillette (our adorable but painfully fussy Cyrano friend, Georgina, derides it by saying it tastes like canned corned beef in fat…ouch!). Many agree, however, that it’s like lechon you can serve with a butter knife and to me this stuff is bursting with flavor. Rillette is meat, often pork, cooked in its own rendered fat and reduced to a spread. Other rillettes can be like fine paste but Chef Cyrille makes a rustic style whose flaky texture I prefer, especially on flat bread. Try it with a Southern French Syrah and then decide if this is the best rillette in town.
Chef Cyrille’s Pork Rillette can be ordered from Cyrille Soenen Restaurants, Inc. (visit http://www.restaurantcicou.com for details).
5. Säntis Chorizo
I order this in advance at Säntis Forbes because they can run out as quickly as it arrives. Säntis Delicatessen has been selling beer sticks for years but something clicked last Christmas season when customers in the affluent neighborhood developed a liking for this Spanish-style, dry-cured sausage (so it’s technically not a chorizo but a salchichón). Suddenly, folks were loading them in gift baskets and hoarding them for their pantries. Its chewy tenderness and mildly sour, mildly spicy meaty flavor make it so versatile, allowing you add it to anything from fresh salads to different pastas. I like slicing it into rounds as a snack, preferably paired with a red like a Spanish Tempranillo.
Säntis Chorizo is available at Säntis Delicatessen, WIC Building 7431 Yakal Street, San Antonio Village, Makati.
4. H-Cuisine’s Frozen Microwavable Takeaways
Chef Hannah Herrera gets great reviews for her catering service, H-Cuisine, and folks who visit her stall at the Salcedo market can’t get enough of H-Cuisine’s famous slow-roasted Angus beef belly. There’s also marrow-filled ossobuco and rich callos and a whole lot more. Here’s the kicker: H-Cuisine also offers these items as frozen takeaways that are awesome after proper reheating (folks at the shop were surprised at how yummy they turned out after microwaving). Nothing beats food fresh from the kitchen but this shows what’s possible if you know the tricks of reheating (Chef Hannah includes precise instructions with the frozen products). Try the beef belly, ossobuco and callos at the shop “pica-pica style” with a smooth Aussie Cabernet Sauvignon.
H-Cuisine’s Frozen Microwavable Takeaways are available at the H-Cuisine stall in Salcedo Market, every Saturday at Salcedo Park, Leviste Street, Salcedo Village, Makati.
3. Donau Deli Sausages
Anyone who knows anything about charcuterie would be foolish to dispute that Donau Deli makes the best sausages and cold cuts in town. Founded by Chef Roland Sager and his wife Marietta, Donau is so reputable that they regularly produce sausages and cold cuts for other delicatessens, who then proudly package them as their own (shame on Mickey’s Delicatessen for not giving credit where credit and more are due). They make a wide variety of classic German-style sausages but ironically my favorite is the fully cooked Polish-style Kielbasa, a glorious meld of lean and fat with the right sweet smoky flavor, all nice with a Chilean Pinot Noir.
Donau Deli Sausages can be purchased at Donau Deli, 7904 Lawaan Street, San Antonio Village, Makati (for inquiries, call 899-6810 or send an e-mail to email@example.com).
2. SLERS Pastrami
I must confess that I had misgivings after I tasted a new batch recently only to find that the product was a bit underwhelming. It was very good, mind you, just not as impressive as what I’m accustomed to because the SLERS Pastrami that I know and love is unassailably delicious. I wasn’t fond of pastrami until I tried SLERS. What an epiphany! SLERS breaks away from the popular style of American pastrami by making something truly ebullient – it’s more tender and juicy and much more flavorful, with more of the natural sweetness of the beef coming through (even our Teutonic Cyrano friend, Thilo, who is always on the lookout for products for the German Club, called this the best pastrami he’s tasted). SLERS is a small family-run business making high-quality meat products in Cagayan de Oro, so the brand isn’t visible in Makati’s premiere supermarkets. But all their products are top notch and I’m envious that the folks in CDO have this for their daily sandwich satisfaction. In the end, the new batches I’ve tasted are probably just rarities of inconsistency, so future ones should be perfect again, especially when paired with a good South African Côtes du Rhone-style red blend.
SLERS Pastrami is available here at Cyrano Wine Shop.
1. Feng Wei Wee Smoked Duck
Of all those honored in our Top Ten list, our No. 1 has an unbeatable “wow factor” thanks to a winning combination of lip-smacking goodness and impeccable consistency. Feng Wei Wee Taiwan Cuisine in Quezon City is a no-frills eatery that is guarded by its Chinese patrons (even those who live out of the way insist on coming here rather than to the more convenient branch in Green Hills). Forget the cafeteria-style setting; if you’re no snob, this deceptively inexpensive place will rock your world. The bonus was recognizing a snack that pairs with wine. Their smoked duck breast elevates you to a state of bliss, especially when harmonized with the light sauce accompanying it. Serve it as cold hors d’oeuvres, slicing it thinly to show off the wonderful layer of duck fat against the meat, to be enjoyed at leisure with a superb Chilean Carménère.
Feng Wei Wee Smoked Duck is available at Feng Wei Wee Taiwan Cuisine, No.82 Banawe Street corner Samat Street, SMH, Quezon City.