I love Paris

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – December 31, 2017 – 12:00am

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Since I stepped out of the plane at the Charles de Gaulle Airport more than a week ago, I have been singing the song I Love Paris by Cole Porter which the world first heard in 1953.

The last time I was in Paris was in the late ’80s. APO was touring Europe then. Paris was one of the places where we performed. We arrived on a Friday, did the concert the next day, had a free day on Sunday and left on a Monday. I hardly saw anything. I saw the Eiffel Tower but only from a distance. I spent an afternoon at Versailles. That’s about all l can remember.

I am writing this now from Paris more than 27 years since I last visited. We arrived last Dec. 20 to visit our daughter Erica who is now based here. We brought along her daughter Ananda to be with her this Christmas. And yes, we are all having a wonderful time.

I hardly connected with Paris the last time I was here. I was just too busy then since the time we had was way too short. Everything then was about the concert we were going to do. Paris hardly made an impression then.

This time around I am falling in love with the city, its sights, people and everything else it has to offer. From all indications, it seems like a serious love affair.

These past five days, we have been doing so much walking around and eating out. Paris has endless monuments, restaurants, beautiful buildings, statues, shopping boutiques and metro stops. On our first day here, we took about four Metro rides, and walked 212,000 steps in 230 minutes. We went to Montmartre and visited the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. We also went to the tinier St. Pierre Church which was the church where St. Ignatius of Loyola took his vows as a priest. It all began in that little church for the Jesuits.

We also enjoyed a meal at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (or the Robuchon, for short), a Michelin-star restaurant where Erica worked for awhile after finishing a culinary course at Le Cordon Bleu.

It was pretty steep but well worth the price. During parts of the meal, we would all stop eating just to savor and discuss how sumptuously delicious the food was.

We have been around the past three days. But there is so much to see. In the next few days, I will experience so much more of Paris. Right now I am enjoying this wonderful city in a way I could not before. I was 39 years old then. I was not as curious then as I am now about French culture, cuisine, art, language, history.

A city with a history that spans centuries has much more to offer its visitors than many other destinations.

Through the centuries, Paris has been one of the world’s major players, affecting much of history. The Bastille was where the French Revolution began and the revolutionary cry of “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” shaped the values of liberal democracy everywhere. In its streets, cafés and universities, France’s philosophers, artists and thinkers contributed much to the art and intellectual movements that influenced Europe and the rest of the world.

As a Filipino I am so proud at the thought that Rizal lived here and that Juan Luna showed the French a thing or two about art by winning contests here.

A few days ago, I went to a cemetery close to us to visit the grave of Jean Paul Sartre, a leading philosopher who died in 1980. I remember reading him in college. It is amazing that people still visit his tomb, which he shares with his partner Simone de Beauvoir, to leave letters and flowers. I will also be visiting the graves of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf in Père Lachaise Cemetery in another part of Paris.

My wife Lydia and I are currently staying at a flat which we booked through Airbnb. It is a typical one-bedroom apartment in Paris. We sometimes cook but mostly go out to eat. In some ways, we are living as Parisians do.

We also hang around my daughter Erica’s flat which she shares with her boyfriend Cyrille. A few nights ago, we spent Christmas Eve there together with Cyrille’s brother Alex and their mother Dyna.

Today, we saw the Seine, the Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, Jardin des Tuileries, and a few more sights. I was in awe! Beauty was ever-present and inescapable. I was so enthralled at the beauty and art that seemed to ooze out of everywhere. In the cold of winter, I felt a thrill and a giddiness, a warm glow of appreciation for everything I could see.

Every day, Erica takes us to experience something new. I love discovering new destinations, trying new food, and learning how Parisians live. Cyrille and I talk about history a lot. He is quite well-versed on the French Revolution, Napoleon’s impact on the history of Paris, and France during and after World War 2. It is interesting to know that the main entrance to Paris, the Arc De Triomphe, was widened by Napoleon to make sure the military would not be blocked in this once-narrow street by people throwing furniture out of their apartments. He also built much of Paris’s sewage system which works to this day.

n Paris, the past and the present live side by side.

As much as Paris is an old city, it is also home to the new and the cutting edge. It is still bursting with life, old and new art, and its artists and intellectuals continue to contribute to the world of ideas.
Every time I walk its streets of cobblestones, I think of all the great writers and artists who have spent part of their lives here. Victor Hugo, Jules Verne, Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Marc Chagall, Yves Saint Laurent, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Pablo Picasso, Jose Rizal, Juan Luna, Moliere and many more who breathed its air, enjoyed French cuisine, marveled at the city and its people, and imbibed and enjoyed its rich culture. And I am thrilled at the thought that I am doing the same even if only in very small measure.

Maybe someday I will come back and be able to afford to actually Iive in Paris, even for just two years. I am an old soul. Otherwise, how do I explain my lifetime curiosity and love affair with history and museums? Hopefully the Muse or the spirit that moved and inspired these artists to be great and prolific will work on me, too.

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One off my bucket list: Paul McCartney in concert

HUMMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 17, 2017 – 12:00am

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“Watching Paul McCartney made me feel a lot of things,” says author Jim Paredes. “Paul influenced me so much that I got to understand myself when I was growing up. He became my constant peg in my own songwriting career.”

They announced in the news that Paul McCartney was doing a show in Sydney five months ago. I immediately tried to get tickets within the day. Alas, the show was sold out quickly.

That night, they announced a second show for Dec. 12, the next day. My friend Charlie Moraza was lucky to get four tickets.

I wasn’t going to miss this, I told myself. Watching Sir Paul perform has been on my bucket list for the past few years. The only other time I ever saw him was more than 50 years ago when the Beatles performed in Manila. Back then, I watched with my brother Raffy. The sound was terrible. We had really lousy seats, but hey: it was still the Beatles.

I had bought a plane ticket back to Sydney months ago for this. I arrived four days early for the concert.

Last Tuesday, I was at Qudo Bank Arena with Charlie, his wife Malu, and my son Mio. It was a massive venue that seemed like it was more than twice the size of Smart Araneta Coliseum. It was packed to the rafters.

When Paul McCartney and his band entered the stage, the whole place instantly lit up with energy and excitement. Amid screams and applause, Paul struck that famous complex chord that starts the song A Hard Day’s Night, and very soon after, everyone went wild and crazy. He segued into Jet, one of my fave songs he wrote for his post-Beatles group Wings.

The hits kept coming like an avalanche. Can’t Buy Me Love, Drive My Car, Let Me Roll It, You Won’t See Me — and he went on and on. Except for his new stuff, everyone sang along with him through every tune. The whole audience was in good spirits.

Paul once in a while would talk a bit about his personal history. He talked about some of the songs he wrote, and about his friends in the business. He mentioned Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton with fondness and admiration. He also narrated seeing Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on a taxi in London decades back, and John and him flagging them down for a ride. During the cab ride John and Paul offered to write a song for them.

It was quite a surprise to learn that John and Paul gave the Rolling Stones their very first chart-topper, I Wanna Be Your Man (a song Ringo sang in the Beatles’ version). He also paid great respect to George Martin, the producer of the Beatles who helped them immensely with their records. It was interesting to hear that when the Beatles recorded Love Me Do, he was asked by George Martin to do the solo vocal parts. And to this day, he can still detect a bit of that nervousness in his delivery when he listens to the record. “But not tonight!” he said to the audience delight before launching into the song.

A high point for me was his tribute to John Lennon. Before he sang Here Today (a tribute to his friend and former songwriting partner), he talked about how people should not wait to express their feelings to people they love. He narrated that when they were still young musicians in Liverpool, none of them went and said, “I love you, man” to each other. It just wasn’t the norm, he explained.

When John died, he wrote Here Today to express that love that was sometimes unrequited. I actually teared up when he sang it.

Well, knowing you,

You’d probably laugh and say

That we were worlds apart.

If you were here today.

Uh, uh, uh, uh… here today.

But as for me, I still

Remember how it was before

And I am holding back the tears no more.

Ooh ooh ooh… I love you Oooh.

Paul’s voice had a sadness to it. It was honest and heartfelt and moved the entire arena.

He also paid tribute to George Harrison whom he said loved to play the ukulele. He started singing George’s Beatles hit, Something,while accompanying himself on the uke. The band joined in soon after. It merited wild applause.

He sang so many hits like We Can Work it Out, Band on the Run, Live and Let Die, Blackbird, Obladi-Oblada, Let It Be, I Saw Her Standing There, Eleanor Rigby, For the Benefit of Mr. Kite (a John song, actually), And I Love Her, A Day in the Life and many more. It was noteworthy that he sang Helter Skelter, one off the Beatles’ most controversial songs because it was apparently a favorite of the killer Charles Manson. I never liked that song, because of the Manson association. But I loved the high-energy performance that night.

And as much as he sang the hits, it was impossible to sing ALL of them. He DID NOT sing, ‘Till There Was You, Here, There and Everywhere, My Love, No More Lonely Nights, Silly Love Songs, If I Fell, and so many others that I love. A three-hour show was still too short. He must have sung at least 30 songs. I eventually lost count. He ended the show with the audience singing Hey Jude along with him.

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Before responding to encore calls, Paul and his “band on the run” ran around the stage waving British, Australian, Aboriginal and LGBT flags, much to the delight of everyone. After a short break, he sang five more songs. His final encore was a medley of songs comprising one-third of Side B of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album. It included Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, and The End. The last song was so majestically performed and a perfect ending to the concert.

Watching Paul McCartney made me feel a lot of things. I felt that Paul had influenced me so much that I got to understand my own feelings and myself when I was growing up. He has become my constant peg in my own songwriting career. He is a very talented, playful, generous performer. His capacity and effort to give the audience a great experience through his songs and performances resonated with me. That’s what we also always aimed for when we were performing as APO!

Clearly, his music will be loved and remembered for all time. More than just being a great performer, he is an icon, someone who unites people in a way that makes them feel good. We all grew up with Beatles music playing as the soundtrack to milestones in our own lives.

The concert was more than 60 years in the making. That’s how long he has been writing songs and performing them. Six decades! The show had the right songs and repertoire, the best lighting effects, the most magical graphics and visuals, and a truly iconic great performer to deliver the songs. And he still does them well and with great passion. Remarkably, he still has the mannerisms of a guy in his 20s. He is still so young at heart, energetic and competent at age 75. He is still slim and wears tight pants. He seems ageless. No tummy or sag at all.

It was a concert I will never forget. It was the best I’ve seen in my entire life. While the technical support was awesome, ultimately it was about THE MAN himself — so legendarily accomplished, so gifted and yet so humble. He has given the world his gift of music. And the world has responded again and again with resounding gratitude.

Throughout his adult life, he also stood for the right things —vegetarianism, animal rights, saving the planet, cancer awareness. What is there not to like about Paul McCartney?

I can’t imagine how my life would have turned out if the Beatles had never happened, or if Paul McCartney had not written and performed his songs. Honestly, I may not even have become a musician at all.

Thank you, Sir Paul McCartney. That’s all I want to say. And though there were thousands of other people there that night, in some way it was a “one-on-one” experience we had, just like the name of the tour promised.

You validated me, and I remain a huge fan!

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Sold-out concert of Paul McCartney in Sydney last Dec. 12. It was a massive venue, packed to the rafters.

The invisible, the ‘others’ and you

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 10, 2017 – 12:00am

Waiters, waitresses, cooks, salesladies, security guards, maids, houseboys, delivery people, drivers, street vendors, garbage collectors, and the like are like invisible people.

They work for us, do services that benefit us and yet we hardly interact with them on a really personal level. They can be replaced by other people and it would hardly matter to many of us. Sometimes we may take notice, but it would hardly affect many of us.

We interact with them only because of the services they do. They are appreciated and needed for the functions they offer. But we are not interested in knowing more about them for the most part. It is a simple interaction that we have with them and we like to keep it that way.

They cook our meals, serve our food, wash our clothes, clean our houses, guard our properties, take our orders, check on our health, pick up our garbage, assist us in the way they are supposed to.

Sometimes, I try to imagine the lives of the invisible people in our midst. Surely, they have lives just like we do although perhaps different. But like us, they have families, people they love and care for. There are also people who love them. Like us, they have opinions shaped by their education, upbringing, etc. They also have their own dreams and live their own stories. They also go through pain, seek pleasures in life like we do. They wake up every day to do what they have to do.

When you think about it, there is so much to know about them.

When we are with people we do not know, or people who are different from us, we often put them in a category of “other.” We feel safe by doing that. We don’t have to relate in a complicated way. Expectations are minimal. We don’t need to have elaborate relationships that are physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. That’s okay. Maybe it is not even possible to have elaborate and deep relationships with all people.

Is there a right way to treat the “others” and the invisible? Some of us opt to be purely business-like. Some of us, perhaps because we perceive them as lower on the social ladder, may opt to treat them in less civil ways. Many people can be condescending at times, especially when they demand that the job be done in a certain way.

I often make small talk with strangers. It can get interesting. Sometimes, they may say something that connects or resonates with me, or vice versa. Recently, a waiter at a restaurant in Tagaytay asked me if I remember APO’s gig in Surigao during the ’80s. He told me he was the driver who brought us from our hotel to the concert venue and back.

I lit up. I mentioned how it seemed like only yesterday when the show happened and marveled at how people can meet again after so many years under entirely different circumstances. I asked him how he ended up working in Tagaytay. He said he needed a higher paying job and so went to Manila and eventually was transferred by his boss to another restaurant he owned in Tagaytay.

That little conversation gave me a bigger handle on him. He wasn’t just a nameless, faceless waiter. He was someone who had served me once before and was serving me again years later, and I had not even noticed this until he talked to me.

When he brought the food in, he was smiling and I felt that it was not just a routine activity he was doing. He exuded positivity and heart. He felt he was doing something special. He was especially attentive to us and served our every need. When we had settled the bill, we even posed for selfies.

Once on a plane, I sat with a lady who in the middle of the flight struck up a conversation and told me that she reads my column in Philippine STAR every week. It made my day.

I have hosted five dinners for groups of total strangers. I invited them at random through social media. These people whom I had never met have affirmed to me that it is okay to allow “others” to enter your life and allow human interactions to happen. I heard their secrets, ambitions, disappointments and joys in life. I shared mine, too. I saw good, decent, even exciting people. It strengthened my belief that every life is indeed interesting and worth examining.

By allowing ourselves to look at the invisible and the “others” beyond the services or functions they offer, we open ourselves to having more faith in mankind. We begin to develop more compassion for others we do not know personally. We go beyond mere self-identity and find our bigger self identified with the rest of humanity.

It can only be good for the world.

5 women in the house

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 3, 2017 – 12:00am

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The women in my life: (Clockwise, from left) Ala, Ananda, Zadie, Lydia and Erica. Photo by Jim Paredes

The past week has been quite different.

My two daughters visited us here in Manila. Erica came from Paris and Ala, her husband John and their baby Zadie came from Sydney.

They decided to meet and have a short vacation in Manila. Erica took a break from work to be with Ala whom she had not seen in almost two years. During that time, many things have happened to both of them. They had been meaning to catch up since Ala gave birth to Zadie, who has become an internet sensation in our family. Her pictures have been charming everyone and so Ninang Erica HAD to come and see her in person.

Before my daughters arrived, our house had been quiet for some months. We’ve only had a few visitors who stayed a few days. Basically, just Lydia, my apo Ananda and I have been staying here. Our three kids had been living abroad for some years now. And so the past two weeks have been quite a special time for all of us since two of them came home.

Erica has been living in Paris for more than a year now. She went there to study at Cordon Bleu and become a chef. She was among the top in her class when she finished. Right now, she is working at a French restaurant.

Ala has been residing in Sydney for almost 10 years. She studied art and actually has exhibited and sold quite a few of her paintings and art installations. She also teaches English to non-Aussies. She married John Buencamino more than a year ago and gave birth to Zadie nine months ago.

It is such a delight and joy to have them in the house. When Erica is here, she likes to prepare special meals for us and her friends. She serves very elegant, sumptuous dishes and serves them plated. The food is very delicious and the presentation is fabulous. She uses unconventional combinations of ingredients that can delight you to experience palate heaven! She is quite creative and works hard to make her meals special. She has so much confidence working in the kitchen. Cooking is her passion and you can talk to her about food endlessly. She cooks with focus, joy and dedication.

Ala is always great to have around. Her conversation is always interesting. She is quite an artist and I love that. Her observations and her take on things are always fascinating and insightful. She is a cheerful, pleasant person to be with. She lights up a room when she enters.

We are all amazed at how she has taken to motherhood. She is an excellent mother to Zadie. She is nurturing, patient and attends to her baby’s every need. She spares no opportunity to learn how to care for and raise Zadie in the best way. She has compassion and focus.

Lydia and I watch Ala and John parent their baby and we can only smile. It doesn’t seem so long ago when we were young parents ourselves.

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Author Jim Paredes and apo Zadie

Right now, there are five women in our house. Since my son Mio is not here, John and I are the only males. Yes, we are outnumbered! Lydia, Erica, Ala, Ananda and Zadie run the house and have taken over the car and driver. Their schedules are prioritized. Their friends come over often and stay and chat. Some of them even sleep over. John and I spend time in the gym or in conversation. He is easy and quite relaxed and great to have around. Most importantly, he loves my daughter Ala and does his fatherly chores with enthusiasm.

As a doting Papa and Lolo, I take photos and basically enjoy their company. I watch my two daughters — all grown up now — and listen to them talk about their lives, loves, passions and their future plans. They are living the lives they wanted. They have made important choices. They are full adults. I am so happy to see how they have become who they are and am looking forward to what they will be.

It is also great to see my granddaughter Ananda reunite with her mom Erica even if briefly for now. They have clearly missed each other and are trying to catch up. Ananda can seem so grown up one moment and a kid again the next. Sometimes, it seems like mom and daughter are the same age when they are laughing and just enjoying themselves.

I enjoy my special moments with Zadie. When she had just arrived, she liked to look at me and smile but did not want me carrying her. An opportunity came when her mom passed her on to me as she prepared Zadie’s bath. She struggled for a moment until I sang to her while in my arms. She relaxed and stared at me in rapt attention and seemed to enjoy it. Maybe the vibration from my chest was doing the trick. During the following days, she has offered no resistance when I carry her. All in all, I must have sung at least 30 songs to her. It is our bonding activity.

Lydia as lola is wonderful. At her age now, she looks like her beautiful mom and even sounds like her as she coos and makes sounds to amuse her apo. She can really get Zadie to smile, laugh, calm down when she is crying, and easily make the baby sleep.

If this article paints a picture of this writer as an old retired grandpa, let me say that I feel far from being old. In fact I feel I have a lot to look forward to. I feel happy, fulfilled and have much to be thankful for. I have quite a family. I want to stick around see more of their lives unfold.

Hopefully, there are a few more grandchildren to come. I would like to do more singing for my very select audience.