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Davao divertissement

 Hotel Vicente with its Cristobal restobar aglow at night 

 Apart from Dumaguete, another effervescent city down south where one is guaranteed terrific hosting by a strong complement of fellow writers is Davao. Although it’s much larger and more spread out, it’s still easy enough to expect quick assembly once the good word is passed around.

Several weeks back, as July drew to a close, I had the opportunity to reconnect for a weekend with good ol’ buddy Ricardo M. de Ungria, poet extraordinaire, with whom I’ve shared a lifetime of exceedingly solvent memories.

From the early ’80s when we used to beer up at the old (and late lamented) Penguin Café Gallery off Remedios Circle in Malate, it’s been quite a sail through verse and diverse advocacies that has seen us corresponding between Manila and Missouri, from Dart St. in Paco to Dartmoor, England, and also sharing the same spaces albeit at different times in such retreats for renegades as Hawthornden Castle in Scotland to Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, Italy.  

Over a decade ago, Ricky became chancellor of UP Mindanao, in Davao, where he served successive terms of honcho-ship and is still engaged in professorship. After fellow literary crooks Cirilo Bautista, Jimmy Abad and I attended his investiture as Chancellor, as his closest of kindred, getting together with Ric became irregular, until he started flying in to Manila on occasion as an official of the NCCA. 

Just about a year ago, we traipsed together through the ruins of Persepolis as invitees to a congress in Tehran. We visited poets’ mausoleums in Shiraz, read our own poetry as part of a nuclear group engaged in multilingual fission. Yet another fine memory it was to add to the shared secrets behind such esoteric dalliances as with the old cold moon of Caledonia. 

But nothing revives the spirit of camaraderie more than when it transpires under the aegis of homeland security, such as on Paradise — Beach Resort, that is, on Samal Island, where Ric and I ferried to from the city, and had a sumptuous lunch with our common girlfriend Aida Rivera Ford.

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We didn’t have to take jump shots with her in a bikini. It was enough to burp in the sun and surf after feasting on imbao soup, tuna belly, kinilaw and paella, then over coffee, view the hardcopy photo album brought over by our dearest Aida. We didn’t mind that it showed mostly pictures of her other boyfriends before us — like those dastardly guys named NVM Gonzalez and Nick Joaquin, whose larger-than-life statues stand in Aida’s pet garden, her River Ford Nature Park cum sanctuary of memory’s own dalliances.

That Nick talaga, oo, holding up a San Mig bottle pa for pigeons to roost and root rubric on. 

Too bad our other darling Davaoeña, Tita Lacambra Ayala a.k.a. TALA, couldn’t join us for a square foursome. But such is the prosody inherent in a divertissement in Durian City that we all knew there’d be some other tempo for a turnaround tango.

Maybe at Aldevinco when we pick up some malongs. Maybe at Matina Square was where we’d dance four-square, and then some.

The Davao invite actually came from yet another esteemed writer, our Dr. Isagani F. Cruz of The STAR, whose better half Medy was celebrating a triumph of family synergy with the opening of Hotel Vicente, which honors her and her many siblings’ father. 

Built on the property where their old house stood, on F. Torres St., the boutique hotel is as quaintly elegant as they come — home ambience spelling cozy comfort. It has that distinctly gracious look of Old World welcome with its wood-and-plaster combos together with brick walls and columns, colored glass panes, and charming balconies accenting the grand whitewashed façade.

Parts of the old house were used to complement the tasteful furnishings — including vintage wooden beams, doors, banisters and window grills. The Calma siblings are still discussing, or arguing, about whether to display family memorabilia on some of the walls.

With a mixture of mock consternation and authentic glee, Medy and her sister Sylvia, who now serves as the hotel’s General Manager, recount how the family hotel project had to undergo epic arguments over everything, the way blood kin usually engage in a metaphorical division of the house.

It helped however that each of them had a tailor-fit role to play, since all ten of them have become successful professionals — as engineers, executives, entrepreneurs, financial analyst, doctor, dentist, IT expert, and so on.

As a loving blog tribute written by a grandchild, Luna, has it: “All of these careers eventually culminated in a hotel that was designed, built, decorated, and managed by the ten Calma siblings. How ten siblings can all get along is beyond me, let alone build a hotel together! When I walked around Hotel Vicente, I couldn’t help but feel immensely proud of what they had achieved.”

Indeed, that warm familial glow was much in evidence at the ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring the special guest of honor, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

The dinner that followed showcased the kitchen delights that also came from family tradition, with callos to die for, morcon, tuna kinilaw, and a myriad of other delectables washed down with fine wine. 

Genteel days and evenings are easily relived at the resto-bar billed as Cristobal, named after the grandmother “who is turning 94 years old and now resides in Davao.”

Again Aida Rivera Ford joined Ricky and me for that first dinner in Hotel Vicente, together with prizewinning cutie-pie writer Jhoanna Cruz and Isagani (the last two unrelated but for educational ties with that great school De La Salle University, same as Ricky).

I say great since Aida and I were outnumbered at the table — which also soon featured vodka from Moscow, which Jhoanna and I serendipitously discovered at a downtown supermarket. Oh, a real pity that Tita Ayala decided to snub me this time out.

In the mornings, having fine brewed coffee at the terrace part of Cristobal Resto-Bar, and on the second night of my stay, picking at durian and mangosteen while finishing up the vodka that Aida had mercifully allowed, I grew nostalgic — for our old buddy and patron Adrian Cristobal, who would have out-swirled me with cigarette smoke and bon mots, and enjoyed this resto-bar that I now imagined also paid him honor.

Families and writers do belong to the boutique hotel business, of turning old homes into receptive venues for warmth of recollection, over good food and drinks, before retiring for the nonce or the day or the night in a spacious room of comfort and clean sheets, and a view of what went before and what’s presently lucrative for the senses on that balcony, as well as the times still to be had, on that long road, F. Torres in Davao City, where now stands the landmark Hotel Vicente. 

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To book at Hotel Vicente, call +63-82-295-7053 or +63-82-295-7393 or e-mail

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