‘Why don’t you write about Napoles’ lifestyle friends?” our managing editor’s (ME) voice boomed from across the divider all the way to me.
I turned a deaf ear, as I always do in the late afternoon whenever our shy-against-his-will ME gives a full-blast commentary on the news and life in general. But why not, indeed?
We’ve been in a few dinners where Janet Napoles was, but, come to think of it, we never had a notable one-on-one conversation with her. People call her Jenny, not Janet.
When the Inquirer exclusive story broke out, friends refreshed our memory that the first time Jenny popped up at dinner where we were guests, was when she tagged after some matron friends. This was the birthday dinner of our friend who didn’t even know her then. This was more than five years ago.
We didn’t remember her from that dinner simply because she didn’t stand out; she was just with a group that hopped over to a friend’s place, from another dinner.
We’d spot her at socials in succeeding years. She was gregarious and obviously enjoyed being introduced to the A-list lifestyle set, but she didn’t really move in the inner lifestyle circles of fashion designers, artists or restaurateurs. We don’t remember, for instance, seeing her in fashion shows or other glitzy lifestyle events.
On hindsight, you now realize that must have been because, obviously, her target market wasn’t the lifestyle clique of designers or artists, but politicians and government insiders.
We remember running into her at the lobby of Makati Shangri-La years back, with Sen. Bong Revilla and wife Lani. They just celebrated Lani’s birthday, she told our group. I remember that hello-goodbye episode because that was the first—and perhaps the only time—I got beso-beso by a handsome senator, whom I didn’t even know. Good complexion, his.
There was hardly anything about her dressing that you would take note of—jeans and top on the occasions we spotted her—except huge diamond stud earrings. Bags? Again, I didn’t notice, although I was told just recently that her “Birkins” were actually “triple-A” (best imitation) stuff from Bangkok.
About a couple of years ago, we were told that she had a daughter who was so into fashion—as it turned out that would be Jeane, whose video of her party in Los Angeles would go viral to fan the flames of the public rage against her mother and family. What I got wind of then was how Jeane and a brother asked for invites to the annual glitzy Philippine Tatler ball, and to the formal Metropolitan Museum dinner.
If the lifestyle set’s encounters with Napoles were superficial, it must have been because she didn’t need to dig in her heels in that territory. That set just served for handy introductions to potentially strategic contacts; it merely opened doors.
Lifestyle—from fashion to art to fine living—with its glitz, glamour, creative fields, is an expense, where the Napoleses of this world are concerned; it’s more money out than money in. Of course, money could be had in lifestyle, but not nearly as one would from government funds.
To the Napoleses of society, lifestyle—or fine living or high living, whatever—is the reward. It’s what you can afford after you make your pile. It’s class you (or so you think) can buy, as you make your pile.
In the meantime, however, to those whose eyes are set on just making the big fast buck, lifestyle is just all porma—no fat contracts there.
Nora, the national treasure
We mourn the passing of Nora Villanueva Daza—a national treasure, wife, mother and grandmother.
Nora Daza was more than just a pioneer and innovator in food, in the restaurant scene, indeed in the culinary world. A driven woman who would never take no for an answer—that was how she was to me.
When she was writing columns for us in Manila Chronicle and later in the Inquirer, she pursued her subjects and met her deadlines with such zest and tenacity you’d think she was just starting to carve her niche. In truth, at that time in the ’80s, she had nothing more to prove. She had blazed the culinary trail—many times over.
In the ’70s, she brought French haute cuisine to Manila, in her iconic restaurant Au Bon Vivant. That became the “in” restaurant for decades.
This restaurant in Ermita was the epitome of early fine dining in the country.
Ms Daza introduced the local culinary world to the famous French chefs whom she invited to Manila to visit.
Among them was the legendary Paul Bocuse, who my editor sent me to interview—me, who could write about anything, except food. But my generation of lifestyle writers didn’t enjoy the luxury of choosing assignments, unlike many in today’s batch who feel some topics are simply beneath them to write.
We get sent, we go—that was then. So that morning, off I went to Au Bon Vivant where Ms Daza waited for me with Bocuse.
I was dashing out of the house when I overheard my mother admonish the help to add vinegar to the adobo she was cooking. In that pre-Google era, I felt I wasn’t prepared enough to interview Bocuse. I didn’t know what to ask him.
Anyway, the interview, like other small miracles I prayed for, somehow went well. As we were wrapping up, Bocuse turned to me and asked about the country’s most famous dish, adobo. What ingredient do I think gave it a twist, he asked.
Without blinking, I said, vinegar. The French culinary god was so impressed and said that I sure knew my food.
Like many of today’s writers, I too knew how to bluff.
That was one episode I owed the great Nora Daza.
The author is on Twitter (ThelmaSSanJuan) and Instagram (ThelmaSiosonSanJuan)