I know what I did last ‘summer’

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I know what I did last ‘summer’


Joanne Rae M. Ramirez

(The Philippine Star) – September 15, 2020 – 12:00am

I went around the world last summer, even during lockdown.

The summer of 2020 began, to me at least, on March 16, the day the government imposed a strict lockdown on Metro Manila and most of the Philippines due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which even then was a curve aiming for greater heights. We had our tickets and our bags packed for a trip to Spain on March 17, but cancelled a week before out of an abundance of caution.

I had purchased tickets for this family trip nine months before to take advantage of promotional fares, and meticulously planned the itinerary since then. Cancelling the trip, to put it mildly, was a major letdown. There was no other choice, and there seems to be no other choice, till perhaps late 2021 (with an abundance of optimism) or 2022 (with an abundance of pragmatism).

This Middle Eastern table has a tagine from Morocco, hand-painted teacups from Jordan from my colleague Büm D. Tenorio Jr. and a brightly painted kettle I bought in Jordan after I spotted, but failed to buy, a similar one in a market in Israel. Moral of the story, when traveling and you like something you know isn’t available in the Duty Free shops, buy it. But skip the coffee mugs.

So, I did the next best thing. I traveled the world through my table.

Those I have had the privilege of traveling with know I like to buy things for the house, usable souvenirs. I would scour exotic flea markets, stop by roadside stalls, and be a willing victim in tourist traps. I would painstakingly hand-carry my finds — a backbreaking hobby, if you will. But back home, even in summer, I would unwrap them like it were Christmas morning. I would usually integrate my precious (to me, at least) finds in my table settings during parties that my husband Ed and I love to host in our home.

With more time on my hands during ECQ, my dining table became both my canvas and my palette for some creativity. I styled most of our meals like I were expecting guests for a party — for after all, I was really entertaining VIPs: my loved ones.

My Thai-inspired table. The lotus-shaped celadon plates were a gift from my sister-in-law Editha Ramirez, who lived as an expat in Thailand for many years. The Thai musician with a flute was a housewarming gift from Gina de Venecia in 2002, and the colorful wooden figurines on the napkins I bought during a trip to Bangkok.

Soon, it became a hobby. Never planned, never de numero. The only time I consulted the internet was for different ways of folding a table napkin. My table brought me to places, even during lockdown.

It also became my language of love because I had poured into it the gift of time and presence a rare combination for a woman who has had to balance home and career all her married life. “You are living a dream,” my mother Sonia told me. True, because with the internet, Zoom and other ways of communication, I was able to have the best of both worlds while working from home.

A bountiful harvest of vegetables from the Nueva Ecija farm of Alice Eduardo and the ditty Bahay Kubo inspired this Filipino centerpiece. I also remembered the harvest of local vegetables that were centerpieces during the state dinner for then US President Barack Obama.

And I was able to put the world on my table, too.

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

Turkish delight. I bought this tea set (foreground) in Istanbul, the placements and kebab skewers during a Moroccan fair in Rustan’s. The teacup with an intricate holder is from Jordan, part of a set given to me by one of my favorite travel buddies, Shan Dioquino David of CITTI Tours.

My South Asian table, with chicken curry as the main dish. The leaf-shaped serving plates I also bought in Bangkok while the dining plates are artworks from the late Pacita Abad. The heliconia in the centerpiece is from our garden.