Last night was a very special night, and I am still feeling somewhat euphoric. Euphoric and ecstatic, exhilarated and enchanted, thrilled and giddy and elated. I know I probably sound slightly hysterical, and usually my One & Only saves me from my worst excesses of adjective and metaphor, but today I just want to whoop and wiggle in bold, italics and highlighter pen, and quite possibly burst into song.
Last night, at the Manila Polo Club, before a group of friends, fellow writers and educators, I launched my first book.
It was an event I don’t think I truly believed would happen. But when I walked in, there was a banner with my name on it – and a book with my name on it too. Actually, lots of them! There was a microphone and a table where I could sign copies if anyone wanted my signature. The Lounge at the Polo Club looked elegant and professional and bookish. The publishers (The Bookmark Inc.) had turned on a generous spread of cheeses, dips and cold meat platters, as well as some great wines, and the room gradually filled with people who had braved rain and Manila traffic jams for a 6pm start.
I began writing this book in earnest almost six years ago. I had just arrived in the Philippines, fresh from completing a Masters in Gastronomy in Australia. I decided the best way to get to know my new home was to explore its culture through cuisine and culinary history, and then record my impressions in a blog. This rapidly grew to incorporate our travel experiences, both here and abroad, as well as my observations on our expatriate lifestyle. And even, on a whim, a little poetry. So it seems only fitting that a seed I planted when I first landed in Manila, should also have come to fruition here. It is, in case you hadn’t guessed, based on this blog.
I have always loved writing. It has been a daily adventure with language and imagination. But more importantly, it has helped me to join all the disconnected dots in my head; to frame or shape the memories of a decidedly spur-of-the-moment, nomadic life, where the definition of ‘home’ has long been a moveable feast.
Writing an actual book is something I have wanted to do since I was about six years old, when I used to create little stories for grandparents and babysitters, with coloured paper, scissors and a stapler. So, it has been a long time coming, but today Songs on the Wind is officially a book with a proper cover and no need of staples; an eclectic collection of essays, articles, reviews and poems on eating and drinking, travel, local culture and expatriate life.
I named the original blog She Gathers No Moss after the age-old proverb ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss,’ as I felt it perfectly described my years of meandering around the world. But the publisher felt this may not ring bells with a Filipino audience. Somewhat belatedly, that got me thinking, and I went to Google to check the meaning.
According to Wikipedia, this popular adage is credited, not to Mick Jagger, but to Publilius Syrus, a Latin writer from Syria who was brought to Italy as a slave. He was later freed and educated by his master, and subsequently renowned for penning Sententiae. (These are maxims, proverbs or adages – and yes, I went directly to Google search too – three times, in fact, just to translate that short paragraph.) Anyway, this particular proverb refers to people who are always moving; rootless individuals who like to avoid the normal round of responsibilities and cares – sadly, rather negative connotations I hadn’t anticipated at all. However, the dictionary hurriedly reassured me that another interpretation makes a synonym of “moss” and “stagnation,” and therefore suggests that we gypsies are at least not stagnating, but burgeoning with fresh ideas or creativity. Not surprisingly, I like the second explanation rather better than the first.
Nonetheless, we decided to christen the book ‘Songs on The Wind,’ which sounded much more poetic. And I liked the way it depicted my life as a sort of wandering minstrel blown around the world by the winds of chance and opportunity, with no insinuations of irresponsibility, homelessness or flakiness.
The insinuation has stuck in my head, and niggles from time to time. Am I, in fact, flakey and uncommitted? Careless and slipshod? Certainly, I have dodged the bullet of picket fences and weekly lawn mowing for almost thirty years. Yet, thanks to Facebook, Skype and Gmail, not to mention Frequent Flyer Miles, I manage to keep in touch with family and friends. I may not be good at settling in one spot for too long, but whenever we unpack our suitcases, I swiftly set up home, find myself manning committees, joining social groups, building communities – not always easy in a world of expatriates, where friendships and contact lists can alter almost monthly as people come and go.
Returning to Manila in late July, after two years of regular absenteeism, I assumed the landscape would have changed considerably. Many of our original friends here had departed over the summer. Even our kids had gone for good. Was anyone left, or would I have to start all over again?
Last night proved otherwise. As I gazed about the room, about to start my readings, and as nervous as a mouse in a room full of street cats, I realized the place was literally packed with familiar faces, beaming and nodding at me to take courage. A room full of friends I have known six years, six months – in one case barely six days – but kind, caring supportive friends nonetheless. And even a handful I had never met before, but hope to call friends too, very soon. Perhaps I’m not so flakey after all.