Nobody but nobody celebrates birthdays like George Sison. His parties are not about him; they’re about his guests—from start to finish.
They receive their invitation with time enough to block the date in their calendar and later, close to the day, he texts for a head count and for each guest’s choice of the main course—it’s a sit-down dinner—and lastly, obviously cooking up something along his astrological alley, he asks for, if he doesn’t know it yet, your date of birth (but, as sensitivity dictates, never mind the year).
He is, indeed, a man after my own heart, so considerate, so complido; he thinks of everything for his guests and spoils them with impeccable taste. In return he asks that they come properly attired for the spoiling de primera clase: coat and tie or barong for the men and cocktail dresses for the women.
I don’t know about the others, but my husband and I cannot imagine dressing any other way for chateaubriand a la maison and grilled sea bass over risotto Milanese.
There are two entrances to the Makati Garden Club, a membership club, but it’s the one with a red carpet that awaits his guests. We are led to the short scenic walk through the dimly lit garden, passing under arches where vines with tiny white flowers cling and miniature bulbs light the way to the structure across from the restaurant itself, where dinner waits to be served. As we walk the garden path hand-in-hand it dawns on me how nice all this would have been for the small, romantic wedding reception we never had.
There’s an open bar. Delicate hors d’oeuvres, of which the most exquisite come from the royal Nobel dinner foie gras selection, are served around to guests standing around cocktail tables chatting and getting reacquainted. A soprano and a tenor take turns entertaining.
Considering the downpour the past nights, the skies are remarkably clear on that full moon night. The evening is, in fact, save for the tropical heat aggravated by the wine, close to perfection, leaving no doubt in the minds of guests that George had everything to do with it.
Throughout the night, George is very much present; he pops up at each cocktail table at the right time, and at the sit-down a place without a nameplate is reserved for him at every table so he can distribute his presence democratically. He doesn’t want to miss out on the conversations, at least their drift, among his varied guests. He likes to ensure that everybody is having a good time, which is difficult to not manage on his occasions.
At cocktails I walk over to the fabulous Criselda Lontok, an old school chum, chatting with the charming Leila Pañares, who confesses to be a fan of this our “S” section. They are having an animated exchange about a new weight-gain program, one in which slim George himself should enroll. I happen to belong in the other weight class.
That’s how varied George’s friends are—artists, journalists, socialites, beauty queens, and political and civic leaders of all stripes.
We share a table with another dear friend, Phyllis Zaballero, the painter and activist in her and George’s time. To my left is the still amazing Minda Feliciano, a resident of London who is for the exit of Britain from the European Union. She is a believer in George’s principles of life and happiness and looks it.
She is writing her memoir, which promises to be a guidebook to international success and happiness for all beautiful Filipinas. An avid reader, she now prefers books that read to her themselves through earphones. Perhaps Phyllis and I should try them.
Phyllis and I share an affliction, called dry eyes. We carry drops to moisten continuously teary eyes. We catch the beauty queen for all time, Gemma Cruz Araneta, herself putting drops in her eyes, and we silently, sympathetically welcome her to our club.
Oblivious to risks
Across from me sits the fascinating grand hostess and friend in word and deed to all Filipinos in Sydney, Australia, the admirable Virgina Lane. She has had my uncle Ding, a longtime Sydney resident, at her home many times. She met George at Charlie Barretto’s seminars, which I also attended eons ago. Phyllis and Vergel meanwhile have so many interests in common. They go from one topic to another with great ease and excitement.
Oblivious to the risks, George passes the mic to Inquirer columnist Mon Tulfo, obviously on the pro side—he claims responsibility (proudly I suppose because he speaks not only openly but also amplified) for convincing Rodrigo Duterte to run.
The mixed crowd parts like the Red Sea, between those who know now whom to thank and those who know whom to blame. Louie Sison, the host’s brother, questions Tulfo about his man’s strongman tendencies, but either he is too fearfully sensible to get through or Tulfo is too enamored to be listening otherwise. But, with George around to lighten things up, things never get heavy.
Amazingly childlike at his age, he sees only goodness in everybody—and I mean everybody. He can be frustrating sometimes. He can laugh heartily at any situation, even our sorry own. Perhaps to “empower” us to do the same, he had his reading of every guest’s personal astrological cycles handed us as we leave, thus symbolically putting our fate in our own hands.
So as not to disrupt the party, we take a French leave, depriving ourselves of the birthday cake (I love birthday cakes!), one shaped like a huge open book, which, I suppose, represents the celebrator’s life. In George’s case, though, the symbolism is shared with the other Geminis among his guests.
May you have more parties and more blessed years to come, George. Cheers!