THE INSIDE MAN

The Many Spirits of Christmas

The Many Spirits of Christmas image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: | posted December 06, 2011 18:41

Hurry up, its Christmas!

So what is the rush? Why the traffic? Christmas here last at least a hundred days. That's plenty of time yet a good number die due to drunken driving. They say alcohol and driving should never mix. But who are we kidding?

This comes to mind, this time of the year as we get into the Christmas spirit. Easily stretching at least a 100 days, almost a third of the working year as per Gregorian calendar, the Philippine Christmas season is one of the longest in the world. It leaves no doubt that it is a fiesta and in keeping with the festivity, traffic chaos is just around the corner. Sadly, as with anything chaotic, some of us do not make it to Christmas day, having been an accident victim or victimizer of this extruded preparation for merriment, which ironically ends with a bang [the preliminary salvo for New Year, the Big Bang end of Christmas] and begins the next year with a big headache, the resulting hangover of excess imbibing and excessive [credit card slip] signing.

At great risk of attracting the ire of the AAP - generator of Draconian zero alcohol tolerance draft legislation probably modeled on Scandinavia - I do enjoy a tipple or two. But it doesn't mean I get behind the wheel inebriated. After all close friends and colleagues Mika [Hakkinen] and Johnnie [Walker] are still friends even if they never mix drinking and driving. Brings to mind Japan and the culture of the Sarariman. Like Scotland, Japan embraces Scotch [the drink] and Golf [the game]. It is not for mere pleasure that the Sarariman drinks with the Boss [Bosing in the Philippines] practically every night after long hours in the office and yet, arrives at work the next day, of sound mind, fresh of face and ready to face another 10 hours under fluorescent lighting. Its not easy to question this cultural practice or working ethos as Japan has been an economic powerhouse since the 60s.

Employing a bit of rational restraint, it is not impossible to enjoy this season so obsessively embraced in these parol canopied islands. Indeed it entails the chore of driving from one feast of drinking and eating to another. And as in any day of the working week we are bound to be late. Regardless if tardiness is an alleged cultural trait, we always have the traffic to blame. And what could be worse than Christmas season traffic?

Naturally, all this traffic is caused by extra journeys to make it from one Christmas shopping errand to another [all last minute], one Christmas party to another, one more Christmas presentation [almost always choreographed for cramped offices, these are poor copies of noontime TV show dances by far more voluptuous, underdressed and younger maidens], one more hopeless karaoke practice of the same age old theme song that would rile even the tone deaf, one more [Beer] for the road... The point is, why hurry? Its about a hundred days alright. Then there next year's Christmas anyway. For the rest of the slightly more productive working year we never really hurry more so when we already have the practiced and ready excuse called traffic to blame for our being late.

So in drinking, as in driving, why hurry? Why binge drink like a refugee from a monastery ? Why drink like its the last time you can do before you face the music of the tongue lashing from Mama, Papa and Lola [never Lolo, though]? Why hurry at all? Just like speeding, why speed drinking? There's plenty to go around as Filipinos never want it be said that when they throw a party, the drinks, more importantly, the drinks, ran out. A surplus of bottles need not be a challenge, unless foolishness is your kind of dare. Unless your mission in life is to beat the distilled spirits industry at their game by out drinking their annual supply.

Saying "NO" is the easy part, but if you, like me, enjoy a drink or two, I'd say NO over my dead body. Perhaps in straight laced California, the politically correct thing to do is to turn down a drink on the grounds that you are the designated driver. You very well know what role I would avoid as often as I can.

Take it from the Mediterranean, particularly Tapas [Spain] or pinxhos [Pais Basco]. Its about munching on food in between sips of vino or Cerveza, preferably in the company of Claudia Bassols [go ahead, Google her with Mario Batali]. Then a relaxing paseo which gets the digestion going so the alcohol can its job besides alarming the Guardia Civil's breathalyzer. Take the Sarariman who after downing drams of whiskey, ends the night with fried gyozas and warm noodle soup before dozing off in the last train trip home. I've seen Chinese auto executives down liters of deadly Mao Tai at dinner banquets. They then relax at the hotel bar to dilute their alcohol content before they drive home. They always pass the Police breathalyzer checkpoints that are always up around hotels in the vast industrial parks of China.

Its all very simple. Pace yourself. Enjoy the food. If tiredness and sleep overtake you, all that noisy Karaoke and shrill mike-hugging MC wannabes won't stop you from taking a few winks. Sure, you'll be late for the next party. And the next. Even later in the wee hours, when you go home from your last party, to, presumably your spouse. Everyone knows that the traffic is horrendous as everybody else has Christmas errands and Christmas parties to attend to. Again, when did being late become a crime in this country? Besides, you will arrive alive and you won't be the cause of someone loosing life and limb on the way to get there. I lived through many a Christmas season, enjoying the food, and yes, even the drink, without harming anyone in my way. This is one time when our impunctual ways can actually save lives on the road. As participating member of the annual C-bak Christmas party, whose membership grows every year, no one is ever late.

Like many of us, given a choice, we really wouldn't like to drink and drive. But the way Public transport is run in our country, I am not surprised that many of us would rather take our lives into our own hands than entrust our lives to underpaid, overworked and possibly drugged public transport drivers driving vehicles built to squeeze every square inch for fare paying passenger space.

Lastly, Christmas is not all about driving and imbibing spirits of the distilled kind. There's the better known as the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of giving. It would be nice to wish for the easy availability of handy personal breathalyzers. For sure the Ladies who Lunch, when on a night out, would want an LV or Hermes stamped version, but I'd be happy with the cheap ones that the Thai Police wield on weekend nights. Come to think of it, a handy breathalyzer would make a fine Christmas gift for your loved ones. Alas, if only our macho culture can accept the fact that distilled spirits do have the power over life and death, then and only then would we see breathalyzers peddled like pre-paid cellphone subscriptions.

Any story of Christmas won't be complete without the spirit of giving. Whether given, solicited or self-gifted or won surreptitiously in a raffle under highly suspicious circumstances, there is always something about Christmas presents. That's why I always thank the Almighty, and not only on His birthday, for making fools more numerous than wise men. Alas, I am not that lucky to have more fools for friends than wise men. Perhaps, my good fortune is that I won't have to suffer fools too often for too long as I really don't suffer fools gladly.

Once in a while, I do get 'secret' SMS text messages, often forwarded to me by my honest and truthful wife, letting me know that so and so would want to know what I want for Christmas. Not being greedy, I usually start off with either a Chopard Mille Miglia or any large face IWC. Of course, even the fools wizen up, so you will never see me wear a gift watch of that kind or any of their ilk from those noble [and wise] Swiss gnomes. But then things start to happen when I start texting the size of my feet [7], the model [Yukon - phased out] and color [dark brown to match a Franciscan monk's tunic] for my favorite CROCs sandals. Imagine the one Christmas time that I had loads of them and you can see that I do have plenty of wise friends.

One of the best gifts that I ever got was unsolicited: a VOLVO pack of car care stuff, full of big microtex rags of all kinds and nanotechnology lotions and potions for leather, plastic, paint and tires. And to think it did not come with a new Volvo but with a 7 year old used Peugeot that Volvo took good care of. Which leaves my standing offer of Nanotech paint protection from Mr. Tsai unused. Gifts don't need to cost in the nano numerals as evidenced by Jingjing Romero's steady supply of premium dark Swiss chocolate and hazel nut whenever she sends a gentle reminder about her events.

Still nothing beats a gift you bought and chose yourself. Well, in my case, it was recommended to me by my Agony Uncle, Sir David "Shanghai" Tang, courtesy of Financial Times Weekend. Like him, we both suffer from senior moments. And like him, we rue the day when radioactive radium was banned from the face of time pieces under alleged health reasons. We both would like to know the time whenever we look at our wristwatches and with gas-whatever technology, BALL watches can be read anywhere and anytime as wristwatches should.

The added attraction to the BALL brand is that even though the watch is Swiss Made, its an American brand, marketed by, of all places, Singapore, that harks back to the days of cross continental rail travel and steam engines. Which brought back memories of another Christmas gift that kept on giving and growing over a span of 20 years; my Märklin HO-scale model railway. Once a fantasy, now a memory.

The racing season is over and the city streets are too crowded to practice the racing lines reveled at any of Johnny Tan's race circuits. Meantime, as I enjoy the food and the drink, I intend to live out more Christmases wearing out the CROCs I get and waiting for the Chopard or IWC as I wait for the fool, who, they say, is born every minute. Meet you in "I am Angus" in Makati or Rodizo in Clark.... Hurry up before Christmas is over!