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Home at hotels for Christmas

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By SOL VANZI
Raised in a barrio by peasant grand­parents, I was in college when I first stepped into a hotel. The lobby of the Manila Hotel in 1960 was nowhere near the breathtaking chandeliers-and-burnished-wood showcase that it is today but its old-world charm never failed to warm the heart. The Grand Dame was like a silent screen Hollywood siren’s black-and-white, eight-by-10 glossy publicity still photo—time­less and unforgettable.

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Fast forward to December 1985. The just-refurbished Manila Hotel was second home for foreign correspondents flocking to the Philip­pines at a time of political unrest and economic instability prompted in no small measure by the 1983 assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino. The country was preparing for a snap presidential election in February, which the US was believed to have coerced President Marcos to call. Dozens of the largest, most influential news organizations around the world had dug in to cover every event, making the Manila Hotel look like a United Nations General Assembly in session. Everyone who was anybody in international journalism called the Manila Hotel home for the holidays.

Because my husband Victor was working for CNN and I was providing coverage for Eu­ropean and Japanese TV networks, we hardly saw our five foster kids, although our flat was barely two kilometers away. To remedy the situation, we moved them into the Manila Hotel as soon as their Christmas break began. It was the best decision we ever made.

We spent time with our young children between news coverages and our clients were assured we were only meters away from our hotel headquarters. The kids loved the pool and the gym, and could never get enough of the hotel’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets at the Café Ilang Ilang. Often, they were content with watching TV or taped movies in their room while munching on Danish pastries and meat pies from the hotel patisserie. The more adventur­ous paired hams and sausages from the coffee shop deli with various types of artisanal bread, cheeses, and herb butters. They had packed sandwiches for energy while flying kites at Rizal Park across the street from the hotel.

On Christmas Eve, we all dressed formally for a special sit-down dinner at the Champagne Room, joining other foreign correspondents whose families had flown in for the holidays. Before midnight, we walked to the Manila Ca­thedral to hear mass, walking back leisurely and savoring every moment of a Christmas we all would long remember.

XMAS 1991 – ANOTHER ELECTION, ANOTHER HOTEL
The Imperial Suite of the Westin Philippine Plaza was considered by many as the most luxurious in the country. Occupying a major portion of the hotel’s bayside top floor wing, it was so extravagantly appointed that the hotel’s own Presidential Suite is literally humbled by any comparison. No one was surprised that it was chosen to be the temporary home of

Imelda Marcos upon her much-publicized return from forced exile in November of 1991. All her fam­ily’s homes had been ransacked, sequestered, padlocked, or otherwise rendered uninhabit­able during her almost five years of absence.

The Philippine Supreme Court had allowed her homecoming, siding with her argument that it was a citizen’s constitutional right to re­turn to his/her own country. A hundred foreign correspondents from around the world flew in with her aboard a chartered Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet from New York City via Honolulu. Imelda stunned the world by announcing during the flight that she was going to run for president in the May 1992 election. For weeks, I joined the international media staying at the Philippine Plaza to report her every move.

Christmas season at the Philippine Plaza was a whirlwind of work and family reunions. Vic and the kids visited my office/room often, on days when the entourage was not traveling.

Again, we spent the kids’ Christmas school break to bond. The hotel’s waterfall-cum-slide was the source of never-ending activity for our growing brood, their appetites whetted by cooling breezes from the bay. To answer their query about the island they spotted across the bay, we walked from the hotel to the wharf to catch an all-day tour of historic Corregidor. We watched a Philippine Ballet Theater presentation of The Nutcracker Suite at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and were thrilled by rides at nearby Star City.

Christmas Eve late dinner at the hotel fea­tured Filipino and international holiday dishes, top musical entertainment, and surprise gifts and games. Before midnight, we walked out of the hotel to attend Christmas Eve mass on the grounds of the CCP. Our Philippine Plaza family room welcomed us back before dawn, tired but happy and together.

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