The moment the door opens and you find yourself in the receiving area, you have a hunch the person in residence must surely love words for there are books everywhere, more books that can easily embarrass some libraries.
You take more steps, look around and admire the huge oil portraits that dominate some walls and you tell yourself you’ve seen the gentleman before; in historical books and documents, in documentary films and musicals, in one of the halls at Malacañang Palace and, for goodness sake, every time you have a P20 bill on hand.
You swiftly move further on and can’t help but notice more familiar faces in family holiday snapshots in silver frames that fit more appropriately in museums.
But you just walked into a private home for the man of the house is Manuel L. Quezon III, grandson of one of the most illustrious presidents of our country.
A man of letters, he is the assistant managing editor of the Philippine Free Press, the nation’s oldest weekly news magazine and well-read columnist of the Today newspaper, one of our leading broadsheets.
As the Presidential Assistant for Historical Affairs, his present day mission is to restore the Presidential Museum in Malacañang Palace in all its glory and perhaps even much, much more by May of next year.
Meanwhile, he takes me on a tour around his world of travels. Read on.
What do you remember most of your first trip abroad?
My father’s nervousness. My father refused to travel while the martial law regime required government permission to go abroad. So when we finally went on a trip, we hadn’t traveled for close to 10 years. Much of the trip was spent with his getting increasingly frustrated with my inability to tie a necktie and his having to do it for me, which wasn’t easy for him. Besides that, it was the smell of foreign air; the USA in the morning smells different from home. And realizing you look weird in other places.
What won’t you leave home without?
My Apple iPod. I’ve increasingly discovered I’m too tired and fidgety to read much when I travel. Music blocks out outside noises and keeps me entertained.
How do you pass time at airports?
Looking for the nearest smoking lounge and inhaling as much smoke as I can in between flights. That and poking around the duty free shops.
Name your favorite city abroad?
Tough call. For sheer beauty, Paris. For familiarity, Washington D.C.
What is the first thing you do upon checking in at a hotel?
What do you consider a must-do activity in every foreign city that you visit?
Discovering places where the locals dine and avoiding where tourists eat. That, and the nearest bookstore with books printed in English.
What is your favorite spot in the Philippines?
Either Baguio, but that’s only fun in the company of friends. Or Davao City because it’s really a frontier city and exciting in that way.
What do you miss most when you’re away from home?
My dogs. Usual for a Filipino, I don’t miss rice or Filipino food when I travel.
What is the best travel advice you were given?
Drink lots of tomato juice on long flights. Dress decently, as wherever you go, you represent the country.
Describe your most memorable trip.
It has to have been when my friends and I went to Paris, London and New York. It was a complete adventure: we got harassed at customs, we got lost, I got pickpocketed and everyone kept running out of money and borrowing from each other. But it was really, really fun. We avoided the usual touristy sights and concentrated on food and flea markets.
What is the strangest thing you have done on a trip?
One day in Paris, a friend had to go and do number 2. So we went to the nearest hotel. He took 15 minutes. Half an hour later, he had to do number 2 again. So we went to the next nearest hotel. Another 15 minutes. After that, an hour later, we ended up at yet another hotel and before the day was over, we had visited two more. It was an impromptu day tour of the Great Luxury Hotel Toilets of France.
Let’s talk favorites now. What’s your favorite meal and the drink you often order?
A steak, rare, with béarnaise sauce. I’m addicted to Orangina when I’m abroad, too.
Our standard mom-and-pop New York city pizzeria. Otherwise, locally, any place that serves decent sushi.
Favorite museum? And if you could take home a piece of art, which one would it be?
The Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. But if I could take a work of art home, it would be “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper.
Perhaps, the Meridien President in Bangkok. If I had the money, the best, most wonderful hotel I ever stayed at was The Ritz in London. Taking a shower there was an experience in itself; the shower head was the size of a dinner plate. It was like showering in a rainshower. And the bathtub was big enough to do barrel rolls in.
Favorite landmark, building and park?
Perhaps, Napoleon’s tomb, in Paris, for sheer spine-tingling awe. Or the Mall, in Washington, D.C., lined with all the different museums that compose the Smithsonian. It’s one of the most impressive public spaces. When it comes to something more natural, Central Park, New York, especially now that it’s fairly safe to go around. Rizal Park should be like that. Quezon City was supposed to have a similar park, but the land was turned into villages. At home, Malacañang Palace and Park.
Favorite musical place?
Honestly, I hate musicales with a passion. Well, except for one: My Fair Lady, but they don’t really sing in the usual way in that one.
It’s a shop with a generic name in Columbus, Ohio, called “Cut-price Books.” Heaven. Books that sell for $20 elsewhere, cost $1 and coffee table books for $5. It’s a place worth saving up for years, so you can go and buy books by the balikbayan-boxful.
Name a movie you could see over and over again?
I happen to watch most films I like over and over. But if I had to pick one, it would be Monty Python’s The Meaningful of Life.
Name a book you would recommend others to read?
A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisard.
What would I find on top of your working table?
Ashtray, fountain pens, notepad, iMac.
What would I find on top of your night table?
A pitcher of water, a glass, a jar with some sort of snack; pistachio nuts, usually, remote control for TV and VCR, a bottle of Valerian Root pills for my insomnia.
What would I find under your bed?
What are you addicted to?
Smoking, unfortunately. And chocolate.
Let’s hear your top three choices. Three geniuses?
Apolinario Mabini, Steve Jobs, Bach.
Three words or statements you always use?
“I see,” “Why,” “Oh well.”
Three sounds that distract you most?
Motorcycle mufflers. Drum; Bass from cars. Chickens crowing.
Three things you would never do?
Do a triathlon. Sing. Play a sport.
Who would you like to “bump into dead or alive during your travels?”
Either Tom Wolfe or Gore Vidal, they’re my idols as writers.
What do you most enjoy doing on a Sunday?
Sleeping and just watching TV.
Who is your ideal traveling companion?
My friends. Traveling with family can be a pain.
Name an event anywhere in the world you would like to participate in?
I’d like to witness the opening of Parliament in the United Kingdom or a coronation of a monarch whether in Japan, the UK, Spain or wherever they still have royalty. That, or a Papal funeral. I happen to like ceremonials.
Name three traits you look for in a friend?
Broad-mindedness, compassion, intelligence.
What are your pasalubongs; inbound / outbound?
Visiting people, I ask what they want. For example, an American friend I stayed with, asked for Philippine Coca-Cola to drink and then to keep the can in his collection. I also ask friends what they want. Otherwise I’d just bring back useless stuff, like hotel stationery and napkins.
What is the worst souvenir you have ever brought back from a trip?
A glass fountain pen. Broke in my suitcase.
If you could enforce one law to the fullest, what would it be?
My father once said the Archdiocese of Manila has a regulation restricting all sermons to 10 minutes.
Let’s fill in the blanks. “Where in the world . . . only in the Philippines.”
Where in the world do you find people happy, even when the world thinks everyone should be miserable? Only in the Philippines.
When I am happy . . .
. . . I’m capable of anything.
When I am sad . . .
. . . I think I can’t do anything right.
If I had more time, I would . . .
. . . write a book a year.
Aside from unpacking your suitcase, what is the first thing you would do upon returning home?
Spend quiet time with my dogs.
Name a city you have never visited but would like to someday?
Berlin for the history.
Name a country you wish to explore?
The United Kingdom.
What would you say is the best part of travel?
Watching people. I’m a great people watcher. You can learn so much about a culture by watching people go by and how they interact with each other.
What would you say then is the worst part of travel?
Immigration and customs.
If you could reside anywhere in the world aside from the Philippines, where would it be?
Washington D.C. without a doubt. It’s like living in Rome at the height of the Roman Empire.