one special short day in October

by Evans Yonson

(Note: There are no photos in this entry. I will post it in future entries.)

Barcelona – Today, I am officially back in the grind. For the past 12 days I have done so many things except my studies. It’s the only time of the year where I engage myself in doing nothing but celebrate my birthday.

This year my birthday took off several months before the real thing. My travel buddy, Aaron, who is based in London, opened the idea of watching the Les Miserables musical concert for its 25th anniversary. I immediately said yes without hesitation because Lea Salonga (award-winning Filipino stage actress) will be singing the Fantine part.

I have seen Lea perform on stage as Kim in the Miss Saigon Manila run. I remember fondly how I got to see Miss Saigon, it was also on my birthday that I got my tickets. I asked my sister, Vya, to buy food stuff and groceries for my party. She went off and bought loads of stuff and brought home the tickets of what to be Lea’s last night as Kim in the musical. She was going somewhere else after that. Performing on stage that night was a mature Salonga, which I found still marvelous despite the years of performing Kim.

After my Copenhagen summer vacation this year, I immediately took the bus to Madrid for my UK visa interview which was a breeze as the embassy does not hold interviews anymore. They just evaluated my documents. I went to Madrid for a day and hurried back to Barcelona as I was really tired of that week-long trip to the land of the Little Mermaid. I got hold of my visa two days after.

Upon receipt of my visa, I called up Aaron and told him that I have already made plans of what places to visit and what other musicals to watch in the West End. But as the days were approaching several challenges came up. The dissertation proposal committee meeting. My 2010-2011 enrolment in the University of Barcelona. My room. My boxes. My exhibit. And so on. Eventually everything worked on my favor. I left Barcelona very early Friday morning.

Aaron, Ben and I went to Brighton and witnessed how the gayest seaside city welcome with winds and rains. Imagine not able to walk calmly because the wind was in your way. Something like 130kph speed. I really couldn’t bring myself to take out my old and dependable Nikon because of the rain and wind. So we decided to stay indoors. Hopping from one gay bar to another with a fish and chips lunch in between.

Go on now go walk out the door
just turn around now
’cause you’re not welcome anymore
weren’t you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye
you think I’d crumble
you think I’d lay down and die
Oh no, not I
I will survive
as long as i know how to love
I know I will stay alive
I’ve got all my life to live
I’ve got all my love to give
and I’ll survive
I will survive

On Saturday, we immediately went to The British Museum. I have been to this museum in 2005. My guide then complained about my leisurely walk along the halls of the museum was tiring her no end. But this time, Aaron is much better because he loves museums more than I do. I would tire myself reading and learning new things within the walls of this museum for it contains so much. We decided not to see everything in this visit so there will be more reasons to go back to London and more learnings the next time around.

Aaron and I went to watch Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the musical. I love the movie version but this even better. The staging is wonderfully done. As usual the costumes have been painstakingly designed and very well-thought of. Truly the Queen of the Desert. The Filipino character is portrayed by a Japanese stage actress and I wasn’t able to decipher what she was cussing. Was it in Tagalog? Or was it in Japanese? There was not a mention of her character being a mail-order bride from the Philippines. I got to meet three lead actors of the musical as we waited outside the Artists’ Entrance of the theater. Marvelous, indeed.

We ended my second day in London with a night out with Ben and Ricky at Kudos London (on Adelaide Street with Charing Cross Underground stop), a gay bar for Asians and white clienteles, not exclusively though. Shortly before midnight we toasted our last drink for the day at that gay bar in the corner. It was raining cats and dogs when we got out. Upon crossing the next block, we witnessed some guys shouting and arguing. With seven shots of golden shower (a cinnamon-induced liquoer of tequila, peach schnapps, and  ginger ale) and two pints of beer, I was already on my best shape to be out and out. The guys on the other side of the street just kept on shouting. I shouted at them saying, “Stop the talk! Strike him! Kill him! Bleed him dry!” This made Ricky and Ben really uneasy.

Please don’t talk about love tonight.
Your sweet talking won’t make it right.
Love and lies just bring me down
when you’ve got women all over the town.
You can love them all and when you’re through,

maybe that’ll make, huh, a man out of you.
I got to go where the people dance.
I want some action … I want to live!

Action … I got so much to give.
I want to give it. I want to get some too.

Oh, I … Ohhh I … I love the nightlife,
I got to boogie on the disco ’round, oh yea.
Oh, I love the night life,
I got to boogie on the disco ’round, oh yea.

We went to that Chinese restaurant where we had dinner last night before going home to Wood Green. Service in this restaurant is fast but nothing could beat Ricky who slept almost immediately after ordering. We were so wet running around Central London and almost drunk but still very noisy. This was just my second night and there was no sign of the rain to stop. I have been told that nothing beats the rain in London. When it rains, it really pours. That we have to see.

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down…
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
’cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again
Oh, no!

On Sunday, we started early. It was Andrew’s birthday, Ricky’s partner. Aaron’s gift to Andrew was the tickets to see the Les Mis 25th anniversary concert at the O2 Arena, aka the Millennium Dome. Remember the pre-title scene of that James Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough, where Pierce Brosnan aka Agent 007 jumped onto the roof of huge white dome? That was the Millennium Dome. We had a buffet dinner at Rodizio Rico, a Brazilian restaurant famous for its barbeque meats and salads. It could have been the best dinner in London save for its poor service brought about the massive influx of customers, all Les Mis concert-goers. Watching Lea Salonga in the O2 Arena made me feel so proud that I am Filipino. Mighty proud. We waited for Lea to come out for our souvenir programmes be autographed by her. I have always wanted to have her up close and maybe a photo with her. It would have made my birthday complete. Too bad there was a long queue of fans waiting outside the artists’ door and our taxi was already waiting for us outside. I know someday I will meet Lea and have her autograph. That would definitely be another great birthday gift for me.

We survived the horrendous traffic after that great concert. The bus ride home was smooth until these three English young ladies came in and started shouting what sounded like a song. I was just so relieved to arrive at Aaron’s place with my eardrums still intact. And my stomach was still mightily full.

The next day, we decided to go to Nottingham upon the invitation of Andrew and Ricky. The ride was one for the books. Madonna kept us company along that very long highway to Robin Hood’s lair. Throw in Kylie and Danni on the side too. We passed by Ricky’s and Andrew’s place first before seeing Robin Hood. They live in a quaint and dainty district of Nottingham. Green seems to be everywhere in this part of the United Kingdom. Nice abode they got here. Always remove your shoes, dirty or not, at the doorsteps. I think it’s just fair to remove them before entering because it takes a lot of effort cleaning and maintaining one’s place very tidy. I remember very well when I was younger and I was assigned to clean our home. I would not allow anyone to step on the stairs. Everyone had to go around and enter through the kitchen door.

If we took a holiday
Took some time to celebrate
Just one day out of life
It would be, it would be so nice

Everybody spread the word
We’re gonna have a celebration
All across the world
In every nation
It’s time for the good times
Forget about the bad times, oh yeah
One day to come together
To release the pressure
We need a holiday

Another city means another fish and chips. I love fish so much but the chips that come with it, I don’t. But I think I can deal with that should I decide to stay in London later on in life. As simple as it is satisfying, fish and chips is a classic English street food. The first shop opened in London two centuries ago, and by the early 1900s the shops were located in towns all over England. Fish and chips is classically served in a rolled up newspaper with a sprinkling of salt and a shake or two of malt vinegar. We had our fish and chips served in styro and great gravy of curry and mash. It’s like the Philippines’ adobo. The adobo recipe is so varied all over the country as varied as our languages and dialects.

We spent the night watching the Finals Night of Britain’s Next Top Model, while Aaron and I took turns of having our eyebrows plucked by Andrew. While Elle McPherson along with Julien Macdonald, Grace Woodward, and Charley Speed took turns in grilling the top three finalists in this TV model search. In the end, the Maltese model named Tiffany was proclaimed the winner over Joy and Alisha. The show reminded me of watching a beauty contest in the Philippines, TV commercials are endless. Aaron cooked adobo. We were routing for Tiffany and she won. The adobo tasted very good especially after watching a thousand TV adverts with only one winner in the end. Certainly not Tiffany but the TV company and Elle.

you better work ( cover girl )
work it girl ( give a twirl )
do your thing on the runway

work ( supermodel… )
you better work it, girl ( …of the world )
wet your lips and make love to the camera

work, turn to the left
work, now turn to the right
work, sashay shante

it don’t matter what you wear
they’re checkin’ out your savior faire
and it don’t matter what you do
cause everything looks good on you …supermodel

We were up early to get to London the soonest possible time because I was seeing two former students of mine from Letran. From Nottingham we arrived at St. Pancras International Train Station. Aaron told me that this is where the Spice Girls shot their “Wanna Be” video. Just across St. Pancras is the King’s Cross underground station and where the Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4 is found. We surely did have fun taking turns on that trolley to Hogwarts. Aaron suggested that we take the bus going to Westminster so I would see the view from the top of the infamous London bus.

We met Edsel (works at Churchill War Room Museum) and Tere (works at Gatwick Airport) and we ate at Nando’s. I really relished every moment I had with them because it’s been 10 years since they graduated from university. It was also the first time I was seeing them in person. It was even harder to say goodbye to them all over again. We brought Edsel to his work. After seeing Tere off, Aaron and I went to buy my Wicked ticket.

On Wednesday, Aaron reported to work. I went to Central London by myself. I heard mass at the crypt of the Westminster Cathedral. Pope Benedict XVI was in this cathedral a week before. The gospel that day was about being thankful and grateful for all the graces and blessings received, not received and will be receiving. Very timely indeed as I was watching Wicked after the mass. Reminds me of the friendship of Elphaba and Galinda, the witches of the Land of Oz. I love the song, Defying Gravity.

Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules
Of someone else’s game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes: and leap!

It’s time to try
Defying gravity
I think I’ll try
Defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye
I am defying gravity
And you wont bring me down!

I’m through accepting limits
”cause someone says they’re so
Some things I cannot change
But till I try, I’ll never know!
Too long I’ve been afraid of
Losing love I guess I’ve lost

Well, if that’s love
It comes at much too high a cost!

I’d sooner buy
Defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye
I’m defying gravity
I think I’ll try
Defying gravity
And you wont bring me down!

I’d sooner buy
Defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye
I’m defying gravity
I think I’ll try
Defying gravity
And you won’t bring me down!
bring me down!
ohh ohhh ohhhh!

On my birthday, Andy insisted that we should see each other and that he was treating us for the day. He came alone with crutches after having torn his Achilles’ tendon two months before. Jimmy, his friend, came with his car in tow. We had lunch at Wing Yip, a Chinese restaurant in the outskirts of Central London. On a spur of the moment decision, we went to Cambridge University just to take photographs of the King’s College facade/gate/wall. Then we went to The Edgwarebury Corus Hotel and Restaurant, a Tudor restaurant/hotel where Tom Cruise used to stay to escape the maddening fans in Central London. We had two pints of beer. We were joined by Victoria, Andy’s partner and a very good friend of mine. I forgot to tell them that it was my birthday. I thought all the while they all knew all along. We had dinner at La Porchetta Pizzeria. Real Napolitan pizza for my birthday!!! The service crew sang a birthday song in Italian:

Buon Compleanno a te,
Buon Compleanno a te,
Buon Compleanno caro Evans!
Buon Compleanno a te!

Day after my birthday, we went to see the rest of the museums I listed down. Victoria and Albert Museum. Fantastic fashion exhibit. Great collection Rodin works. The Japanese shogun wardrobes are to die for. The Asian permanent exhibition is terrific. We also went to the Korean Cultural Center, where they will be holding an auction later that day. We crossed the River Thames towards the Royal Festival Hall with the London Eye infront of us in its full glory on this gloomy Friday afternoon. We walked all the way to Tate Modern passing through the Royal National Theater. At the Tate Modern, I had another overload of masterpieces. Pablo Picasso. Joan Miro. Jackson Pollack. Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon. Man Ray. Francis Picabia. Marcel Duchamp. We went outside to catch some air and decided to visit Shakespeare’s Globe. At the Globe right now is an exhibition dubbed as Shakespeare is German. This made me think, Shakespeare may have been Filipino after all.

We went back to Tate Modern and witnessed a great sunset with St. Paul’s Cathedral infront of us. We just sat there at the Tate Modern veranda and marvelled at the sight before us. It was going to be my last night in London. Ben, who just arrived from Madrid really pissed Aaron by complicating things. We were supposed to see each other somewhere and go to a sauna. In the end, I went to see Ben myself. Aaron went home alone as he was already tired. And he needed to rest because he’s got conjunctivitis, whatever that is. I didn’t spend so much time at Ben’s because they were going to Paris the next day.

I arrived at Aaron’s place shortly before 1AM. He was up around 4AM for their scheduled trip to Paris with Ben and another colleague from work. I woke up around 10AM all alone. Suddenly in all came to this moment. All alone with nothing but Eponine’s song.

I love him
But when the night is over
He is gone
The river’s just a river
Without him
The world around me changes
The trees are bare and everywhere
The streets are full of strangers

I love him
But every day I’m learning
All my life
I’ve only been pretending
Without me
His world would go on turning
A world that’s full of happiness
That I have never known

I love him
I love him
I love him
But only on my own

It’s been a great week for me. It’s just that moment of the year when you feel so special and the presence of your dear friends makes it even more special and endearing. But why does it have to be just one short day, asks Galinda in Wicked.

One short day
In the Emerald City
One short day
Full of so much to do
Ev’ry way
That you look in the city
There’s something exquisite
You’ll want to visit
Before the day’s through..

Jean Valjean would whisper into my ears and say:

One day more!
Another day, another destiny.
This never-ending road to Calvary;
These men who seem to know my crime
Will surely come a second time.
One day more!