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Safe travels, Tito Tesoro

Only 90 days ago, Mark and I stayed at PatisTito Garden Cafe in Laguna--our first stop of an intensive ten-day stay in the Philippines for the NVM/Narita Gonzalez Writers' Centennial Workshop. In the photo above, Tito, Mark, and I were at Casa Escudero. Tito wanted to give us the experience of having lunch on the river. ON the river: not in a boat, not on the banks of the river, ON the river, feet submerged, water moving in current beneath you. You fixed a plate at the buffet, waded through the water to find an open table, listened to children frolic and splash and laugh. Elsewhere in the park, Mark saw carabao for the first time. They too waded in water, cooling their docile, hard-laboring selves after pulling people like us on a leisurely ride around from the Casa Escudero welcome center to the entrance of the river restaurant.

Tito was a lovely storyteller, his voice rising up in volume and octave when he emoted, like a swift, flowing current. We laughed a lot, appreciated his strong presence yet easy hospitality. When we arrived, I remember he was sitting at a table, ipad in hand, music playing his customized playlist from a speaker in front of him. He invited us to sit with him though we hadn't formally been introduced. "Sit down. Have you eaten? Are you thirsty?" Without waiting for an answer, to the staff he yelled out, "Bring two iced teas."

"It's very good. I think you'll like it," he said. And so we did.

In October of the previous year, I had met Patis in San Francisco during the Third Filipino American International Book Festival, she, entering the patio area, flowing in gently, her clothing comfortable and breathing with her movement, her presence announcing itself beautifully behind those round framed glasses. We were at the Asian Art Museum at the reception honoring the opening of The Hinabi Project's exhibition of Philippine Piña textile. Learning that Mark and I were coming to the Philippines in January, she invited us to her B & B in Laguna.

We only stayed two days in Laguna before having to return to UP-Diliman in Manila. We had requested a driver to take us back in time for our 8:30 a.m. meeting. Tito decided to go with us since he, too, had business in Manila. This meant departing at 4:30 a.m. to begin battle with the notoriously gnarly Manila traffic. The driver was twenty minutes late. On that morning, we learned how very much Tito hated waiting in traffic. The pre-dawn boarding began in the darkness with a healthy dose of berating the driver for being late in the first place, the only other sound being the barking of a dog next door.

The 117 km (73 mi) distance took a little over four hours. Tito spent most of that time ordering the poor driver from one lane to another, but comply as he did, the duration remained the same. On this ride, Mark received his first of many experiences with Metro Manila traffic -- the stuff you read but never believe until...

True to the nature of this beast, its bossiness trumped the rider's impatience.

I can't believe we only met 90 days ago and now you're gone, Tito. The memory we hold of you is reflected in your handsome smile pictured here, as you charmed us with anecdotes of people and places in Laguna. Thank you. May your journey Home be traffic free. May you feel along your way, the love and gratitude for our brief time together.

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