THE whole year I’ve been whining about Baguio. I celebrate my city so long as the watershed between Barangay Pinget and Quirino Hill stays intact. I pass by this patch of green in my commute to and from work. My silent oath has always been that if this watershed disappears, I will leave Baguio. It will be my last straw. We should be allowed to be so dramatic for the places we love.
Before that would be the Baguio Public Market. Its looming corporate takeover by SM crushes me everyday. Going to the crowded market to shop for noche buena is an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the place. Trace my steps as I offer my olfactory riddle: Where do I come from if I first go through the scent of earth from carrots and potatoes being brushed and scrubbed, and on to faint smells of celery and cilantro, and then coffee beans being ground, and for a while the stench of fish and meat before wiggling through the smells and sounds of whirring coconuts being shaved of their flesh, being milked for their juice, then the vague combination of tobacco and raw betelnut and saleng, before the enticing stink of fried fish in wooden crates? This is the Baguio Public Market for me. Stench is a marker of place. And unlike sound, those smells and stinks and scents in the market have a way of lingering in-place long after closing time. Stench is not just carried through the air. It’s been absorbed by the walls and the rafters. The very structure itself has ingested those smells.
For the whole year I’ve served as chair for our university’s Committee on Culture and the Arts. Even in this administrative role I’ve been whining about Baguio. The poetry reading we called Demja-vu that took place earlier in the year was a sort of Baguio-dreaming. We held it in the pseudo dap-ay that was the CAC Dap-ay. Leave it to the Baguio Writers Group to articulate the best things that could be said about love in Baguio City and its people. Our bonfire was unromantically charged by kerosene and not saleng, and yet it roared into life as if on cue when Allan Cariño, president of BWG, took to the stage to conjure the Baguio of his dreaming:
Come through my window, ocean of breaths
that hangs above the city, exhaled
from a matchbox stacked with a hundred
thousand other matchboxes of breath
on the moonlit knuckles of the mountain,
each one lonely.
When we invited Ryan Machado, the award-winning filmmaker from Romblon, and his team to a special screening of his Cinemalaya-winning Huling Palabas to UP Baguio, I could not help but also frame the session as an act of remembrance for the Baguio of a decade ago. We used to have a Cinematheque near Hill Station, right beside the old site of Mount Cloud Bookshop. In our college days even without instigation from our instructors we frequented that small cinema space to watch the latest from Cinemalaya or some other film festival featuring indie films and dokyus. That space used to be the sort of counter-programming to the big cinema houses of the next-door mall right there on Luneta Hill.
Direk Ryan’s Huling Palabas was also touching on that same nostalgia. Movies creating a community. Movie houses as the birthplace of small-town dreaming.
The very recent staging of Macli-ing in UP Baguio’s Himnasyo Amianan was also a reflection of what constitutes a community. The Dap-ayan ti Kultura iti Kordilyera, along with the team of director Karlo Altomonte, transformed the gymnasium into a simulation of the Chico River flanked by rice terraces. It is at once the village of Bugnay where Macli-ing Dulag was martyred for his stance on the Chico River Dam project of the Marcos regime, as well as a microcosm of the Cordilleras. This river which is everything, the center of the universe, site of the Cordillera struggle under Martial Law which was a struggle for land and resources.
During one of the rehearsals in the gymnasium, the salidummay singing clashed with the fireworks coming from the nearby super mall. The lines delivered in Butbut Kalinga being drowned out by the spectacle of lights and explosions.
After rehearsals everyone went their separate ways by half past nine. Ten thirty and I still could not get a ride home. Seeing the streets from Session Road to Magsaysay Avenue lined with people hailing for taxis and waiting for Grabs, I decided to walk home. It was a long hike from Governor Pack Road to my front door in Upper Pinget. It was a four-kilometer stretch I would become accustomed to walking in this month of December.
Sometimes I would dispel the tiredness I get from walking by imagining myself as the romantic flaneur that Frank Cimatu always liked to talk about as one’s ultimate act of devotion to one’s city. Mastery of space. Intimacy with the land. Ocean of breaths.
But walking everyday after work can take its toll. Residents and devotees can only take so much. Staying out late is out of the question in the month of December. It’s both amusing and sad that it’s the residents who feel so restricted in their own city, having no choice but to stay at home, avoid the traffic, curse the congestion, wait it out, until the Season of Giving gives way to Panagbenga.
For now this is something to be weathered. When the corporate takeover is complete, and the people on the hill decide to build more parking infrastructure, or when they decide to mallify our public market, I have the watershed between Pinget and Quirino Hill to hold on to. Until then I shall keep whining about Baguio.