New Year’s eve, 1976, a snake-like line of gaily dressed merrymakers began forming in the spacious lobby of the new-old Manila Hotel around nine o’clock. As more and more cars pulled up beneath the handsome wrought-iron porche cochere at the front entrance to disgorge their passengers, the line swelled and lengthened until it wound, like a vast colorful river, from the hotel’s grand entrance, where slim, brown doormen in immaculate white uniforms, caps and gloves helped guests from their cars, past the graceful row of white columns, across the vast marble floored lobby and up the steps to the corridor on the right, which leads to the Fiesta Pavillion ballroom.
Before midnight, over 1500 people would pass this way. Yet, despite the numbers, the crowd was amiable. No one pushed or shoved or crowded forward. No one seemed in a hurry to taker their seats in the ballroom. There were muted greetings, cries and hugs of recognition, occasional bursts of laughter as old friends spied one anoter, ritual kisses on each cheek between the women, carefully sucking their freshly lipsticked mouths inward to avoid daubing their friends with clown colors.
The atmosphere was nostalgic, dreamy. Curious dark eyes peered along the hotel’s graceful corridors, noting the layout of the public rooms. “Do you remember…?” was the start of many an overheard sentence, although for some of those present tonight, the memories were tinged with pain.
No tourists, or visitors; these were Manilans. For many, it was their first view of the newly restored old hotel. […] Now, at the end of December, there were things yet to be finished. But it had been decided by the management that the hotel would celebrate New Year’s Eve so that local families would have an opportunity to sample the beauty and services of the restored building.
Judging by the line being welcomed at the door by the restored hotel’s first General Manager, Frans Schutzman, it appeared that all Manila had turned out to do just that. At a closer look, the gathering crowd was composed of surprisingly diverse age groups. There was the predictable assortment of young and middle aged couples that could be expected in any New Year’s revelry: the men in tuxedos, dark suits of the formal Filipino dress shirts, the sheer, richly embroidered or pleated barong pilipino; their wives, hair freshly coiffed, wearing their newest long gowns. An occasional lady had chosen the native Filipino mestiza dress or terno, a sheer embroidered gown with butterfly sleeves that framed the face.
But amid this adult crowd a scattering of teen agers could be found, as well as a dozen or much more younger children: the little girls smiling self-consciously in their ruffled party dresses and shiny patent Mary Jane slippers; the little boys, their black hair ostentatiously slicked down above their pintsized formal embroidered barong shirts.
There was also a surprising count of gray heads – at least 20 percent of the assembled crowd could clearly be labeled septuagenarians.
For the insider, entire families could be spotted: gradnparents, children, grandchildren of such old-time familiar Manila families as the Aranetas, Trinidads, Puyats, Romeros, Romulos, Gabaldons, Yuchengcos, Cruzes…
Gradually, they all file into the Fiesta Pavillion, find their tables, their funny hats, their bottles of champagne. On the stage, the Manila Strings are already playing “Mabuhay” (Long Life). Some couples rise to move dreamily on the square of dance floor. Others table-hop, continuing to greet old friends, relatives, former loves.
It’s Manila’s night. The beautifully refurbished modern-day Manila Hotel can never mean to strangers, to the visitors from abroad who will enjoy its beauty and its visitors, what it will always mean to Manilans themselves.
For this gracious old white stucco building holds Manila’s heart, its dreams, some of its tragedies. War, intrigue, romance, history, all live within these walls.
-from the book “Manila Hotel”, written by Beth Day Romulo. The copy I have with me is the original book she gave to former Chairman of the Board and President of the Manila Hotel, Roman Cruz, Jr. It even has a dedication on the front cover.I feel like I’m holding the very book the esteemed writer gave to the well-loved former president of the Manila Hotel. Well, actually, I am!
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