The invitation was for lunch at the family’s “farm” north of Manila. But although I was familiar with the the posh enclaves in that northern city, the place was unlike anything I had ever seen there. Or anywhere in the Philippines for that matter. It even made the prestigious Ayala Land developments look hopelessly bourgeois.
I received a fax with the directions to the farm. Upon reaching that particular country road, there would be a gate. As it turned out, the driver pulled up at the wrong gate, however chic enough the property seemed. We were directed by their houseboy further to the end of the road, to a far bigger gate. The heavily-armed security guards made polite and discreet inquiries, and we were directed to a winding drive…
It was a surprisingly looooong drive set amidst verdant vistas of fruit trees, flowering shrubs, and undulating lawns which seemed to have been there forever. Pellucid sunlight shimmered through the trees. We finally pulled up at an enchanting house surrounded by a lovely garden which looked more like Normandy rather than the Philippines… After I left the car, the driver proceeded to a motor court thoughtfully located several hundred meters away where all the other guests’ vehicles were parked.
Our hostess greeted me graciously and I presented my little gift. She explained that she had been in the kitchen personally attending to our lunch. I was led through a foyer and on to a commodious living room with a high half-timber ceiling lit by a large chandelier. It was a patrician Filipino interior but it also felt very French/Italian country, or rather, very posh French/Italian country. Lovely paintings and objets d’art from renowned but dispersed Manila collections — some of which I recognized — decorated the reception room, and as I would later find out, the rest of the house. My attention was riveted by a small photograph in an antique metal frame of our heiress hostess’ paternal grandfather: a young and handsome Chinese industrialist in traditional Chinese robes [ who was the grandson of an immensely rich Chinese businessman who had owned much commercial real estate in the business hub of Binondo and Tondo ]. On the floor was a genuine and rare Persian rug from the early 1800s, at home in-between cleanings and restorations in London, one of several acquired from an aristocratic Persian collection in London after the 1978 Teheran Revolution. On various side tables were select bibelots from all over the world, the incidentals of a truly jetsetting lifestyle. Everything was in High Style… To paraphrase Dominick Dunne, “there were paintings, and flowers, and furniture, on every wall, in every room.”