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Ali’s wonderland a labor of love

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ALI SOTTO at home with her pet Maltese, Maja.AUGUST DELA CRUZ. Photo by August de la Cruz

She’s as serious as today’s headlines. No kidding. Singer-actress-host Ali Sotto remarks with equal parts of humor and urgency: “My husband and I travel with all our stuff. And we spell ‘stuff’ in bold capital letters.”

Ali and husband, retired diplomat Omar Bsaies, have just returned after three years in Madrid. Previously, they lived in Mexico City (2000-2003) and Manila (2003-2008).

The peripatetic couple may settle down for good in this sprawling, well-appointed Quezon City residence.

600 boxes

The homecoming was “pure chaos,” as she puts it. “Moving is never easy, but the process of sifting through our stuff was exceptionally tiring.”

Admittedly, she and Omar have amassed tons of souvenirs accumulated after three decades of travel. “Apart from those we already had, we bought more in Spain.” Yes, and from this most recent trip, they brought home 600 balikbayan boxes from Madrid.

EXOTIC throw pillows from India and Thailand on the calla lily bench from Mexico. Photo by August de la Cruz

Actually, Ali says, they are “more careful” shoppers now, limiting the sprees to bazaars abroad. “Better one good investment than tons of worthless items.” A fine example, she notes, is the gold silk rug from Egypt that’s now in the bedroom. In the living room and other communal areas are handmade rugs from Omar’s homeland, Tunisia. “We also have Persian rugs from Istanbul,” Ali relates, “but the colorful rugs woven by the Bedouins of North Africa are exquisite.”

PERSIAN rugs from Istanbul in the living room. Photo by August de la Cruz

Clearly, traveling as a passion is shared by the Bsaieses. “We enjoy experiencing different cultures… various sights, sounds, tastes,” she says.

The ceramic butterflies all over the house are from a small town in Mexico. The butterfly theme, Ali says, is a tribute to her son Miko who died in 2003. She had asked for a sign that he was in heaven, she says, and it quickly came in the form of a butterfly.

“Every city in Mexico has a specialty product. In Metepec, the locals make ceramic butterflies and sun-and-moon pottery. In Taxco, silver trinkets. In Dolores Hidalgo, intricately painted tiles.” The orange glassware is from Mexico City as well.

THE COUPLE takes in the sights and sounds of Prague. Photo by August de la Cruz

Ali, who speaks fluent Spanish, explored every nook and cranny of Mexico and Spain. “My car had GPS; I drove like crazy all over Spain,” she relates. “I reached Portugal and France, only four hours away.”

Reminders of those carefree expeditions are displayed all over the 700 square-meter home which stands on a 1,000 square-meter lot. But the most precious souvenir from Spain, for her, is Maja, their Maltese. Ali jokes that Maja is spoiled rotten. “When we were in Madrid, I had to wait for the discount day at the salon to avail of a haircut that costs 27 euros. But for Maja we gladly coughed up 70 euros for grooming.” (Maja joins pugs Chava and Señor and two lovebirds in their growing menagerie.)

Before flying to Madrid, Ali started renovating the Quezon City home. (They rented a Makati house in the interim.) Today, nine months after returning from Spain, renovation work is still ongoing.

CHINESE cabinet and mirror custom-made by Jo-Liza; scenic prints from Budapest. Photo by August de la Cruz

It’s a labor of love for Ali. The massive hard-wood doors were done by a craftsman from Taytay. “I called up my friend (actress-interior designer) Carmi Martin and asked her to recommend a carpenter who could build me a door.”

Ali turned to Rovi Multiproducts for eco-friendly wood flooring. She explains. “It’s made from renewable material from sustainable forests.” She got antiques from Orientique and Jo-Liza, and contemporary pieces from Budji Layug and Home Depot.

Her favorite nook and “refuge” is the kitchen, because, “Cooking is my therapy.”

Omar loves her chicken adobo which she makes with liver sauce. “He also counts my kaldereta and ginataang hipon (shrimp in coconut milk) as favorites. He likes steamed rice kasi. I bake my own biscotti and bread, too.”

SHE relaxes in a bubble chair from Home Depot; birdcage is from Tunisia. Photo by August de la Cruz

For the Living Stars visit, Ali whipped up her famous vegetable soup, fresh green salad with yogurt-mustard dressing and scrumptious shrimp tomato pasta. “I shop for ingredients in the Sidcor organic market at Centris Walk every Saturday,” she says.

Ali, who is from Angeles, Pampanga, is very particular about having a free-flowing work station. With the help of professionals from Kusinart on Kamias, Ali built her dream kitchen. “The pros got surprised by my ideas, which I picked up from lots of interior magazines,” she says.

She got the best pots and pans (Calphalon from the United States) and oven (Franke from Germany) for her kitchen, which she decorated with more memorabilia: plates from Tunisia, fruit bowl from Mexico, wine jugs from Spain, a chandelier festooned with faux grapes from Italy… The refrigerator is studded with magnets from Venice to Vienna, Prague to Paris.

ORANGE glassware from Mexico City. Photo by August de la Cruz

Ali designed the grillwork of the stairs leading to the second floor as well. She’s constantly redecorating. “Right now, I’m sprucing up the exercise and massage room.”

Amid the hubbub, Omar reminds Ali to “organize” hundreds of digital photos they took in Spain. “I told Omar he should buy me a baby grand; I need a place to display those pictures, right?”

She may learn to play the piano, too. “As I wrote in Facebook, my dream is to be a piano-playing singer like Esperanza Fabon.” Or Elton John?

(As we went to press, Ali e-mailed us a picture of the baby grand that Omar surprised her with shortly after our visit.)

VISITING the Sphinx in Egypt. Photo by August de la Cruz

Other items on her to-do list are photography and French lessons. She is also embarking on another home-building project, as they are eyeing a beach-front property in Subic.

“My husband wants a weekend home by the ocean,” Ali explains.

ALI designed the kitchen according to her needs. Photo by August de la Cruz

Time to stop and smell the flowers.

But wait, they’re packing their bags again—for quick trips to Doha, Qatar and New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur in India.

Some things will never change.

E-mail: bayanisandiego@hotmail.com

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