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AURORA LAPUS-SAGAZ: Enjoying the best of Spain and the Philippines

The festivals and the people in Spain are fantastic. Also, the history that you live with. In the Philippines, my husband loves the fact that the people are friendly. He finds the Filipinos genuine, loving, loyal, just easy to get along with.

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AURORA Lapus-Sagaz with Queen Sofia in Hanoi. / PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF MME. AURORA LAPUS-SAGAZ

In my last column I started my feature on Madame Aurora Lapus-Sagaz, the president of the Museum Volunteers of the Philippines, who invited our readers to join the organization’s annual lecture series on Philippine history. But our conversation did not end there. Today, she tells us of her experiences as a diplomat’s wife.

She also explains why she loves both the Philippines and Spain, and shares with us wonderful stories about H.R.H Sofia, Queen Mother of Spain.

TAKEN during the couple’s last diplomatic posting. Ambassador Sagaz served as the Spanish Ambassador to Thailand from March 2009 to December 2012.

AN official portrait by Rupert Jacinto.

MUSEUM Volunteers of the Philippines’ study group on China.

Fun learning

Daily Tribune (DT): Maryknoll was one of the most prestigious girls’ schools at the time. What was distinct about a Maryknoll education?

Aurora Lapus-Sagaz (ALS): The nuns gave us a very good curriculum, a complete liberal education. We were very lucky to have these American nuns because they were all very bright in their fields and they taught in a way that was fun. Each nun had a different personality. One was a Californian beauty queen and when she stood on the corridor, she looked very tall and beautiful.

Another one came from an Italian neighborhood in New York. She was super friendly. She joked with us. Another loved to sing and play the guitar.

DT: How were the nuns in the classroom?

ALS: They made learning fun. We were at home with them because during break time, they would play baseball or volleyball with us. However, they were strict about the length of our skirt.

Dates and names

DT: Was History your favorite subject?

ALS: I have to be honest: I hated history. To teach history successfully, you really have to show the historical characters with interesting personalities. Some professors just teach dates and names.

DT: We agree with what you say about how to teach history. Was this something you set out to do when you became president of the MVP?

ALS: We try and make history inspiring and interesting and to understand it as a human event that’s very important and to realize the drama of all of these historical personalities like Magellan. I always think of his first voyage to the Philippines. He didn’t know where he was going. He had an inkling that there was a passage to get through the other side of the continent and then go back to Europe through the same route.

WITH Michael Caine on the set of ‘The Quiet American.’

Madrid is better

DT: We wonder if your love for history has to do with your relationship with Ambassador Sagaz. So, tell us how you met.

A: I met him when he was still a student at the diplomatic school in Madrid. At that time, that was 1975, I was studying French in the university. It was Easter and I had a week’s vacation. I had a good friend in Madrid, and she said I must visit her. So, I went to Madrid and that was where I met him.

I was then planning to get a job in Paris. But he said, forget Paris, Madrid is so much better,

I finally moved to Madrid in June 1975. I was hired as the executive assistant of the head of Hughes International in Madrid.

Meanwhile, he was finishing his second year at the Diplomatic School and he would later prepare for the rigid exams (called oposiciones in Spanish) for the third year. His goal was to first graduate from the Diplomatic School and become a diplomat and then get married.

Right after he graduated and became a full-fledged diplomat, we were married in June 1977 and two weeks after, we were sent to Australia on our first posting. So, the courtship was exactly two years.

IGNACIO and Aurora flank tennis champion Rafael Nadal.

Civil servants

DT:  How has it been being a diplomat’s wife? What was the enjoyable and challenging part?

ALS: There were countless enjoyable parts. But I think the most enjoyable part about being a diplomat’s wife is the opportunity to meet all sorts of interesting people from all walks of life. From presidents to royalty, to the most common people and the man on the street. We were lucky enough to meet and to be with the King and Queen of Spain.

Queen Sofia of Spain was such a professional, the epitome of class. We were lucky to be with her in a visit to Vietnam and in one of the tours, we of her delegation were to ride in the bus, while she was given a limousine. She instead chose to ride with us. Then, after the tour and we had alighted, she said she forgot something, and then went back to the bus and shook the hands of the driver and thanked him. She’s down-to-earth and humble.

Another time, we went to a shop, and when the storekeeper found out that we came from Spain, he got excited and asked what our professions were. The queen did not tell him that she was the Queen of Spain. She said instead that she was a civil servant. We could not help admiring her and her humility.

DT: We’re curious about the cultural differences between you and the ambassador. How did you adjust to each other?

ALS: I didn’t see any difficulty because he had lived in the US so he was exposed to American life. His uncle was the Spanish ambassador in Washington DC. where he did some apprenticeship. He spoke English even then. We both have a combination of cultures in us, and when we met, we found out that we love Brazilian music.

Intertwined histories

DT:  Since you are a Filipina married to the Spanish ambassador, did you occasionally lapse into promoting Filipino culture instead?

ALS: Because our histories are intertwined it was easy but I think I started to love telling history when I was in Spain.

DT: What do you like the best about Spain and what does the ambassador like the most about the Philippines?

A: The festivals and the people in Spain are fantastic. Also the history that you live with. In the Philippines, my husband loves the fact that the people are friendly. He finds the Filipinos genuine, loving, loyal and so easy to get along with.

DT: What do you miss most about Spain? What about the Philippines when you’re not here?

ALS: What I miss most is walking in the city. You can just walk around Madrid. There are so many shops and bakeries, little cafes with people all around. Here, I miss Filipino food and snorkeling.

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