You arrive in Manila at 3:30 a.m. after the 15-hour flight from LA and steel yourself for the gauntlet of bureaucracy and chaos that greets travelers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) . You hope to navigate this juggernaut without losing your passport, your luggage or your sleep-deprived sanity. But at the end of the jetway stand two men in dark suits, one of them holding a placard with your name on it.
They are the first sign that this will be a visit like no other.
“Good morning, Ms. Blanco, we’re here to help you get through NAIA.”
One of them quickly takes charge of your hand-carry suitcase, and the other leads you down the escalator to the luggage carousel, as they ask about your flight. You get the sense that they are bowing as they speak. By the time your suitcase emerges, your entourage has swelled to three: a man to roll each suitcase and a third, his hand permanently outstretched, to sweep you through customs and lead you to the car waiting by the curb.
“Good morning, Ms. Blanco. My name is Napoleon.” the driver says. Of course it is.
Because now it dawns on you: you are a Homecoming Queen. Best you start acting like one.
You settle into the back seat, and Napoleon invites you to freshen up with cool moist hand towels, rolled up on a plate in the middle armrest. He invites you to take a sip of bottled water and try the candy, also on that armrest. He invites you to select the kind of music you would like to listen to as he drives through a skyway that wasn’t there the last time you visited Manila. You accept all his invitations, except for one to sample the candy, because in your current state of shock you just might choke on that lozenge.
It is all very surreal, this over the top welcome. But you can get used to surreal.
Manila is mostly sleeping, but the lady in the long elegant skirt at Raffles Makati greets you with a 9 a.m. smile. Your luggage disappears into another elevator as she conducts you up to the 10th floor and walks you down an endless hallway to your room. A swipe of the hotel key card reveals a suite whose vestibule features a flat screen TV, a plush sofa and a glass-topped oval writing table in the vestibule.
On the table is your book. More precisely, a miniature replica of your book. In CHOCOLATE.
The concierge explains that your stay includes a brunch buffet, and high tea in the afternoon, and cocktail hour from 6 to 8. Because you are not of this coddled world, you ask if, by “cocktails” she means just one drink.
Not at all, Ms. Blanco. You and one guest can have as many drinks as you’d like, as long as it’s between 6 and 8.
You could do some serious damage here.
You begin to fret about your vanished luggage, but then the door opens to reveal the bellboy with your bags. After he rolls them to the walk-in closet and after he and the concierge take their leave, you wander around your suite. Because it is, in fact, large enough to wander.
The soaking tub stirs knee-jerk guilt about the California drought. One bath could water all the plants in your home for a week. You resist trying it all day but by evening you succumb to a good long soak. The bathroom offers more towels than you have skin to dry and the robes are made for 7 foot tall guests, but you make do with this surfeit of cloth. Enjoy the trailing robe. All queens have trains.
By the next day you are ready to revel in your great good fortune and let the good times roll at Raffles. In a place this posh you feel you must dress not just for dinner, but for breakfast, too. The waitress remembers not just your name but that of your daughter, who came on the book tour in 2013. (Sofia had arrived with her violin, and by evening a miniature chocolate violin had been delivered to our room.)
The Writers Bar features a wall of books, yours included. Another waitress mentions that The Mango Bride is often borrowed by guests, and that one of them ended up buying three copies after reading it. You realize your book has never lived in a more elegant home.
The Philippine Literary Festival has taken over the second floor at Raffles and you quickly find your hosts…
…and your books
Friends you’ve not seen in years show up for mini-reunions before showtime.
And then you’re on!
Once again, Girlie Rodis, an early advocate for film adaptation rights, asks the burning question: will there be a sequel?
The inevitable sequel would be a movie. But whether that happens that remains to be seen.
Abangan ang susunod na kabanata…