, MARCH 19, 2007 (STAR) RENDEZVOUS By Christine S. Dayrit - Can you imagine a world without flowers? It is simply unthinkable.

Flowers have always been synonymous with love, affection and compassion. Bouquets of blooms are a silent toast to the celebration of life and beauty. While flowers have a language of their own, sentiments are expressed differently and uniquely.

Say it with flowers? It is universally accepted that a dozen red roses means "I love you," but has it ever dawned on you that a rose without thorns means "love at first sight"; that a white violet means "let’s take a chance"; a pink carnation means "I will never forget you"; a spider flower means "elope with me"; or that a bachelor button means "I celebrate my single blessedness"?

History tells us it was the Turks who developed the lexicon of flower meanings in the 17th century but it was during the Victorian era from 1837 to 1901 that the meaning and language of flowers became increasingly popular. A quick history lesson on flower power from Atty. Damaso E. Bangaoet Jr., chairman of the Baguio Flower Festival Foundation Inc., sparked my interest in the subject as I watched the glorious floral floats and street-dancing parade at the recently concluded Panagbenga 2007 whose theme this year is "Unity Towards the Centenary: Let a Thousand Days Bloom." This theme is in sync with the city’s planned celebration of its 100 years of existence on Sept. 1, 2009. The "thousand days" refers to the start of the countdown, which began in December 2006.

Parade participants in their most colorful and creative floral and themed outfits joyously beat their gongs and drums and sashayed down the streets of Baguio City for the festival. The month-long spectacle was witnessed not only by the locals but foreign tourists as well.

"Panagbenga," by the way, is the Kankanai word for "season of blooms." Though a relatively new festival in the Philippines, Panagbenga has proven to be a big crowd draw every February ever since it was first held at the grounds of Camp John Hay 12 years ago. Atty. Bangaoet enthused that other flower festivals around the world have become a source of inspiration such as the Rose Parade of Pasadena, Floriade in Australia and Holland, Cypress Gardens exhibits in Florida, and garden shows in several places in Europe. World-class floral spectacles provide vibrant entertainment, create appreciation and awareness for Mother Nature and provide splendid visual displays attracting thousands of visitors.

YMV’s Rosary Ysmael, PR consultant for Camp John Hay Manor, arranged the media trip for Panagbenga 2007 and enthused about the main activities, which include the market encounter, landscaping exhibits and contests, carpet of flowers, floral and related products, food outlets, cultural programs, fireworks and fashion shows, musical presentations and more.

From the vicinity of the Supreme Court compound on Session Road corner Kalaw St., one has a great view of the parade. We had the honor of being invited by a very close family friend and Supreme Court Justice Consuelo Ynares Santiago to view the parade from her cottage. After a hearty Filipino breakfast with piping-hot chocolate eh, the ever-gracious and effervescent Tita Elo, her sister Carol Ynares, and staff members Dulce Rovedillo and Zeny Macam just couldn’t be stopped from "fleeting" from one floral float to another.

The spectacular floral floats of all colors were an ethereal encounter. Roses aplenty. Gerberas everywhere. Strands of everlasting were braided to outline the edges of floats. Fresh strawberries and tulips were used as accents in some float designs. Dendrobiums, lilies, chrysanthemums, and Malaysian mums among other blooms were a sight to behold.

Experiencing Baguio while billeted at an elegant suite at the Camp John Hay Manor is like a journey to the heart of a luxurious paradise where a thousand flowers bloom, where sunlight, moonbeams and starry skies guard the fertile ground. At the cozy Le Chef Restaurant, Miladay Jewels creative consultant Mike Mina and I had a luscious house salad, succulent sea bass and a bowl of fresh strawberries with cream. Sweet memories of my childhood here include picking these ruby-filled treasures with juice-stained hands; the simple pleasure of seeing bright-red berries peeking out from frilly leaves is invigorating. As the maître d’ served dollops of whipped cream with crumbly shortcake, images of the intoxicating berry bouquet, the sugar on the palate, the happiness on a cool summer began to materialize. According to gracious general manager Heiner Maulbecker, Camp John Hay was named in honor of John Milton Hay, the secretary of state under former US President William McKinley. Today, Camp John Hay boasts the new Camp John Hay Manor with its well-appointed 180 rooms and 54 suites offering five-star service and accommodations.

Perched on a grove of wooded hillsides and hiking trails, the rustic four-story edifice allows a dramatic view of the Cordillera Mountain Range. Built of cedar wood and stone, the secluded luxury retreat manor evokes feelings of warmth and cheer. The stained-glass windows glow with filtered light while the huge fireplace in the entrance adds intimacy to the chandeliered dining rooms.

Dining at the Manor’s Le Chef Restaurant is a feast for the senses. The menu features fresh, full-flavored foods including seafood, steaks, roasts, ragouts, pastas, Japanese specials, curries, freshly baked breads, an international selection of wines and cheeses, sausages, sensational salads, tarts, soufflés, pies and more — all exquisitely prepared and presented by Chef Billy King.

"Session Road in Bloom" is another traditional event wherein the major thoroughfare is closed to traffic to accommodate flower stalls, sidewalk cafés, food outlets and entertainers who perform in selected areas of the road. Three years ago, I was fascinated by Atty. Bangaoet’s vision to make Session Road pedestrian-friendly. His plan was to close the road to traffic permanently, to allow locals and tourists to enjoy an entire stretch of art studios, quaint cafés, street musicians and stalls showcasing the endemic products that are the best in the region.

Strolling down Session Road, I felt transported to Faneuil Hall in Boston, Massachusetts, my favorite haven while a film student there. Located in the middle of Boston, this quaint marketplace hums with the activity of shoppers, diners and sightseers day and night. The cobblestone promenade becomes a stage where jugglers, magicians, mimes and bands constantly entertain an influx of tourists. Local memorabilia, arts and crafts are sold while food stalls, bars, restaurants, cafés and kiosks selling freshly baked bread and home-made fudge abound.

It is providential to know that Faneuil Hall is one of the places that inspired Session Road in Bloom. Covent Garden in London, Nanjing Road in Shanghai, a new pedestrian street in Hangzhou China which is a sister city of Baguio, the Senado area in Macau and other pedestrian-friendly avenues in Europe and the US also provided inspiration. It is truly a class act.

At the Loakan airport, a precocious child handed me a single rosebud. Aboard the 45-minute Asian Spirit flight for Manila, warm thoughts of joy and promise stirred within, having witnessed the collective efforts to reinvent the summer capital of our youth. Yes, a dream is a wish our hearts make and we have the power to make them come true. That single rosebud from the Panagbenga lies on my study table reminding me that Mother Nature is a patient mentor. Say it with flowers?

See you at Panagbenga 2008!

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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