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The Eiffel Tower from a distance

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In Spring 2010, I  was a guest of the French Foreign Ministry the week an Icelandic volcano impossibly named Eyjafjallajokull erupted, disrupting air travel for much of continental Europe.  But I did not realize its full impact until much later in the week, when the possibility of being stranded for a long time in one of the world’s most expensive cities seemed all too real. To say I was scared by that prospect would be an understatement. I found old diary entries from that period while cleaning my room the other night. Two entries were about my first view of the Eiffel Tower from up in the air on the night I landed in Paris, and a visit to it the next night, after a long day of meetings with various French functionaries.  Some excerpts, which remind me of a promise I have yet to fulfill:

April 11


Schiphol now has full-body x-ray scanners, installed after an incident a few months ago, when a Nigerian man took a flight from here bound for the US, apparently intending to blow the plane up as soon as it reached American soil. He packed chemicals and strapped them to his body. He tried to trigger an explosion in mid-flight but fellow passengers subdued  him before he could harm anyone.  The new scanners were installed to prevent  a similar incident from happening again.

Amsterdam to Paris is just an hour an 20 minutes. I don’t any more need to go through immigration control, which is good. The one at Schiphol is enough.

The Dutch girl beside me is on her way to an internship in Hongkong. I later chat with her as we get ready to land.



From up in the air at 10 pm Paris is indeed a City of Lights. “There’s the Eiffel Tower,” the Dutch girl beside me says, a finger pointing out the plane’s window. Later the chauffeur sent by the Foreign Ministry to pick me up at the Charles De Gaulle drives  me right by the tower. From the banks of the River Seine, it glittered like a tree of brilliant diamonds, but up close, it was a tower of blazing gold.

The chauffeur takes me to the Travellex office. There he presents my passport to the teller, who then hands him 360 euros: my allowance for 7 days.

….Hotel Cayre  — a four storey setup — is strategically located, on the Left Bank, near the chic  and historic St. Germaine- De-Pres  on the 6th arrondissement.   Hemingway’s old haunts are here, and the cafes that the great existentialist philosophers — Sartre etc — frequented in the old days. Sorbonne! My room’s mighty expensive , at 460 euros a night!  What can I say, the  French Foreign Ministry  certainly knows how to entertain its guests.


April 13

What a long day. Took a walk to the Eiffel Tower and back  tonight. It’s strange to say “tonight” here, because it’s spring and the sun set at close to 9 pm. My feet are sore from all the walking. To get my bearings right, I made it a point to follow the length of the River Seine from the Musee d’ Orsay. At the Eiffel — even at night it is swarming with tourists.I just took lots of pictures. I decided not to do what most tourists would want to do, which is take the elevator up the tower. I promise to do that on the next visit to Paris. For now, it is enough for me to be here.


But call it traveling in style:  I’m accompanied in my visits by an interpreter,  a Scott named J.R., who worked on a PhD in philosophy and went on many adventures before he found himself  doing an interpreter’s work (he has quite a story to tell of his adventures!). We drive around in a Voiture Citroen C5 with a friendly chauffeur who knows his period American films very well!


Written by Romel

May 17, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Posted in beauty, Filipino OFWs, Paris, travels

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Berlin and the art of keeping time

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By Romel Regalado Bagares

My unabashedly touristic pose at the Brandenburg Tor

Berlin, Germany (February 23, 2012)— Twenty three years after the fall of the “Iron Curtain,” and I’m wearing a wristwatch once again.

Not that all that time I wasn’t wearing one, I didn’t mind time at all;  but in 1989 – or three years after our own February 1986 People Power Revolution –  I was a wide-eyed high school  junior in Lagao,  General Santos City  who watched with fascination television news of the “Berliner Mauer”  finally tumbling down as hordes of East Germans hungry for the freedom enjoyed by their Western cousins flooded into West Berlin in their rickety Trabants.

To my young mind, the first bloodless People Power revolution destroyed the Marcos-made mythical narratives of martial law; the fall of the Berlin Wall further amplified for me the human spirit’s longing for authentic freedom.

I remember coming across a New York Times piece on the historic event carried by a now -defunct local newspaper and the impression it left on me: the journalist, whose name escapes me now, wrote of how he thought he had history figured out; he had long been an observer of events in the East, and yet he too, did not see the writing on the wall.

The Protestant Berliner Dom, host to the protest movement in the old days

The sudden flood of time caught him flat-footed. After watching thousands of  East Berliners seep through the broken walls and flow into all directions, he found himself unable to come to grips with the enormity of the historical moment.  What he did next totally captivated my imagination: he took off his wristwatch, and threw it away, a gesture meant to signify that henceforth, he will no longer be bound to mindless time-keeping.

I decided I’d do the same.  And so for the next 24 years, I steadfastly clung to what my friends considered a sophomoric – if not inscrutable – vow . The timely advent of pagers and later on, of mobile phones, with their own time displays, somehow made the timepiece-less switch easier.

It took this trip to change all that. I’ve just planed in from Zurich, where I earlier conducted a three-day intensive course for Filipino evangelical church leaders based in Europe on developing a reformational worldview under the auspices of the Alliance Graduate School in Manila.

Yesterday, the eve of my flight to Berlin, my Filipino hosts graciously gifted me with a Swiss-made timepiece as a souvenir of my visit. Truth to tell, I wasn’t prepared for the generous gesture, but how could I refuse it?

And so before my host Hector Chio drove me to the Zurich airport early this morning for my flight to Tegel, Berlin, I finally put on my new wristwatch.  It felt like an addition to the four layers of clothing I was wearing to ward off the cold of European winter.

A lone trumpeter in a crowded Berlin cafe playing sad old love songs

Ever since I’ve laid my hands on Count Harry Kessler’s   diaries about the Weimar Republic, Journey to the Abyss,  I’ve always wanted to see this city whose streets once bore the footprints of  great thinkers like Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Hanna Arendt, Walter Benjamin and many others (as James Wood recently noted in his column in the Guardian, Berlin has a peculiar way of naming its streets –either in triumph and atonement – as it has a habit of memorializing figures who had either brought it honor or  who had borne the brunt of its own unspeakable cruelties).

But indeed, you walk down its streets and you breathe in history.   For this visit, I knew exactly what I wanted to do – with only one day to spend in Berlin, as I’m heading for Amsterdam the next day –a walk through the heart of the city: from Alexanderplatz in the East  in the Mitte District down towards the West to  the Unter Den Linden – the city’s famously historic boulevard  – and beyond . There you’ll see many of the important city landmarks, such as the Fernsehturm TV Tower, the Berliner Dom, the Museumsinsel, Humboldt University,  Hotel Aldon,  Brandenburg Tor,  and  farther West, the Reichstag.

For the better part of the day, that is what I did, a retracing in part of my first ever visit to Berlin in 2007.  Back then, I was a graduate student in Amsterdam, and my Dutch friend and I, helped by a few hundred euros earned from a recent lecture we did together in Munster,  Germany, stayed for a few days at an old hippie colony in East Berlin, and from there, explored many parts of the city on foot.  Much to our delight, we found Berlin to be cheap and inexorably full of historic, intellectual and cultural wonders. That it remained cheap I knew right away as soon I bought upon my arrival at Tegel airport what is known as a tageskarte — a day ticket, which I can use in all of the city’s public transportation systems, all for 6.30 euros. In Amsterdam, a one-hour city tram ticket already costs 2.70 euros.

booksellers outside the Humboldt University gates

Later in the afternoon, I was joined by my host, law school classmate and kababayan Chicky Arumpac, who now serves as a vice consul at the Philippine Embassy;  funny that she had been too busy with work since she assumed office a few months back that she had no time at all to explore the city. So I played tourist guide to her, and at her request, gave her a tour of the Humboldt University premises.

On a wall at the university’s main lobby, one reads inscribed the famous words – in German, of course –of one of its famous products, Karl Marx, to the effect that in the past, philosophers have sought to understand the world, but the point however is to change it (to which we Dooyeweerdians would jokingly retort, well Marx utterly misunderstood reality and reduced it to the economic aspect; the point is that before he can change it, he must first see that created reality displays a great variety of aspects or modes of being in the temporal order, which  break up the spiritual and religious root unity of creation into a wealth of colors, just as light refracts into the hues of the rainbow when it passes through a prism).

(Reductionist) writing on the wall?

I recall that on my last visit, after I posed for a photograph right beside the inscription, an old lady walked up to me – she was apparently the wife of one of the Marxist professors there – to complain how today’s generation have forsaken the lessons of history as Marx understood it.   Apparently, a bust of Marx used to adorn the university lobby as well but it had been taken down by university authorities.  Well, the Marx-Engels Forumstill stands in Mitte on the eastern banks of the River Spree, albeit 100 meters away from its original location. It was our next stop.

Chicky found it fascinating that the monument to the main architects of Marxism has no inscription of any kind and simply assumes that people knew to whom the artistic installation gave honor.  “The creators simply assumed that everyone knows Marx and Engels!” It was getting dark when we were done with what tourists come to do there: have their pictures taken in the lap of Karl Marx.

We had intended to see as well the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe to  the south of Brandenburg Tor –a 19,000 square meter site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs arrayed in a grid pattern on a sloping field – but we absentmindedly walked towards the wrong direction.

At a Vietnamese dig in Kreuzberg, reminiscing about law school days

When we realized we were in the wrong part of the city, we decided to take a bus to the memorial, hoping to see it before night finally fell on Berlin. But we missed the stop nearest to the memorial as well.  We finally decided to head for the hip and colorful Kreuzberg district, a behive of multi-cultural life, whose residents live by the motto, or so I’d been told, “live in poverty in style.”  There we had  dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant with another law school classmate, Anna De Vera, who is also a vice consul at the Embassy.

After  a 35-euro dinner for three, we retreated to a nearby café — popular and always crowded — where we had some drinks and reminisced about our law school days.  A lone trumpeter played sad, old, love songs in the din of the crowd. We actually thought it was pipe-in music that was playing.

When I looked at my watch again, it was nearly 10 p.m. It was time to call it a night. I got an Amsterdam-bound train to catch at 4 a.m.

Written by Romel

March 2, 2012 at 7:36 am

with 2 comments

Remembered Random Thoughts on the Lion City

Singapore is a glorified Glorietta Mall, I say. My boss says it’s a huge UP Campus — with modern buildings and huge swaths of green to boot. Yet it’s hotter than Manila, being closer to the equator (which explains its many malls linked to one another by air-conditioned covered walks. Singapore’s taxis, though on the expensive side, are a joy to ride, because drivers don’t ask you to pay extra and won’t refuse passengers, the cars are mostly equipped with techno-gadgets that tell you up-to-date information on traffic, the weather, etc., and everything in the city’s only 30 minutes away. I remember reading somewhere that Singapore is so small sometimes its air force has to rent air space from the Philippines for defense training. (Oh, they do have what in Manila are called colorum taxis, as we found as soon as we stepped out of Changi international airport, perhaps one of the best air ports in the world). Yes, the food scene is something to crow about. Newton’s Park is where there’s so much of it.

It’s Supreme Court building is impressive, high technology contraptions and all, but justice and the rule of law is what government says they mean (more accurately, what Lee Kuan Yew says they mean). That is as far as politics is concerned. There is both no freedom of speech and no freedom to spit, which are relatively abundant in Manila. But Singapore can proudly point to a legal system that is business-friendly. That’s why it’s an international center for arbitration.

The National University of Singapore is on the list of top 20 universities in the world — even edging out the Australian National University, but I wonder if it has the academic freedom that UP has. Singapore should have plenty of bike lanes, like Amsterdam, because it has the latter’s infrastructure and financial capabilities, as well as iron-clad traffic discipline, to make it work. On second thought, who wants to bike in a hot and humid city?

It is a rich city alright, but in many ways it is also poor. For exciting art, for example, Singapore finds itself looking to its poorer neighbor, the Philippines. And what would life be for the rich Singaporeans without their Filipina maids? I hope we win our arbitration case against the snooty Spaniards. Our managing partner says that while cross-examining the Spaniards’ principal witness, he thought he was defending Jose Rizal. And so it becomes thus: the colony beats the colonizer at its own game. Sana nga!

But no doubt about it, our case’s sole arbitrator –a London-Paris trained Brit — is very impressive. Bless the Queen and the British Isles!

Written by Romel

February 7, 2008 at 3:06 am

Posted in law, travels

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