Recto Day

We consider Sunday ‘Recto Day’. My sister who stays in Pampanga comes here to Manila on a fairly regular basis, after every two weeks, to buy stuff for her ukay-ukay business that is rapidly making headway. My younger brother and I would accompany to carry her tote bag for her while she carries on her back a Jansport-ful of Guccis, Louis Vuittons, DKNYs, Pradas, Dolce and Gabbanas and when she happens to be lucky, some pairs Manolo Blahnik stilettos which according to her customers are incomparably beautiful but painfully punishing to their well-pedicured toenails.

Coming from Mandaluyong, I take the MRT to Taft then transfer to the LRT1 line going to Monumento. I alight at D. Jose station and meet her at Chowking in the corner facing the long lines of run-down cinemas on Recto and stalls selling pirated DVDs on Avenida. My brother, who is coming from Makati takes the route from Gil Puyat/Buendia.

After a glass of cold coffee gulaman called nai cha, which my sister loves, and a heavy breakfast for me, we begin treading the street going to Carriedo passing one by one her suki who give her great discounts, after patient bargaining. Need I say? From Avenida, we either cross the other side of the street or brave the crowded street market to Quiapo church, dodging fortune tellers, toy vendors, and young children selling Sampaguita or leis made from colorful Everlastings. Experience tells us that ukay-ukay supplies in these areas are being replenished every two weeks, usually on a Sunday.

I eagerly look forward to this weekend activity because this is a time for the three of us to catch up on each other’s life and talk about the latest gossips involving our parents in Mindanao and younger siblings who are both studying in a university in Iloilo. We talk a lot about work, our individual love stories, and plans for the future. I notice we often talk about almost the same things but we do not seem to get tired of them because they make us feel secure; these talks remind us that despite the complications in our lives, complications that we may have a hard time sharing even to each other, still simple things like family remain constant.

Of course, other than this, we also get to experience the bustle of old Manila that is hard to come by in newer cities like Mandaluyong or Quezon City. It is a good thing that the three of us never really like malls that function as the only source of cultural immersion in these cities bordering Manila. We all agree these drab buildings are suffocating and magnify boredom several hundred times.

But Manila, the old Manila, that is, is different. It’s alive. These more modern cities that comprise Metro Manila may rival Manila in terms of business opportunities but they all pale in comparison to the culture and the brand of cosmopolitanism the capital has. The noise of Ortigas in Pasig, or even the sleek Ayala Avenue in Makati are irritating, and to borrow Emile Durkheim’s terminology–alienating, but Manila redefines the idea of noise, and to anyone who has had a taste of it, it’s called music.

And what better way to get immersed in this soothing diaphanous cacophony of sounds but on the streets of Recto.

We end the eventful day by saying good byes to each other and sending our sister off to a bus to Pampanga but not before buying a box of freshly-baked diced mungo or ube hopia from Bakers’ Fair.

On elegance

Seated in the end-most seat at the back part of the auditorium of Insituto Cervantes in Manila, I had a clearer, albeit the small cinema in the Instituto was unlighted as in all other self-respecting cinemas, glimpses of people who were seated in front of me. I went there earlier, catching a 5:30 pm LRT1 ride from Gil Puyat to United Nations amid a heavy afternoon downpour.

On Wednesday of last week, I got hold of an announcement, printed in the Business Mirror, on the Spanish Embassy’s annual El Dia Espanol (Day of the Spanish Language). Piqued by the activities lined up by the Instituto, I braved the impending rain which later fell into an itinerant early monsoon rainfall. I arrived at the Instituto soaked and a bit disorientated because of drippings from umbrellas of other less careful commuters and the usual slaughter house-like scene inside these crammed coaches.

The perceived very intellectual atmosphere in the Instituto, several meters away from the UN Avenue train station, gave me a warm welcoming.

Several groups of Filipinos, mostly students and young professionals and some tourist-looking Caucasians were conversing with each other in Spanish and English and occasional Tagalog in a small cafe a few steps from the metal-detecting machine. I do not speak Spanish neither do I understand the language, which is just too bad.

At first, I thought the place was reeking with heat coming from the usual European (specifically Parisian) coffee shop debates on semiotic, critique of post-structuralism or the discussion on metaphor and the primacy of irony over other devices in chapter 4 of Aristotle’s Poetics. Overhearing their small chit-chats, my impressions fell flat on their faces and mine, and the supposed intellectual atmosphere collapsed into heaps of commonplace subjects of small talks. The topics of their discussion were of unlofty kind, mostly mundane concerns about the heralding of a new brand of politics that comes with the election of Mr. Aquino to the highest seat in the land, the recovery of the national economy vis-a-vis the ‘rigged’ figures proudly claimed by the Arroyo administration, the sorry state of Philippine education system, and some students from, I gathered, St Benilde, who were exchanging banalities about the rigor and excitement of their college life.

I sipped my coffee fast and escaped immediately from the very heavy atmosphere in the lobby. I ran to the small auditorium and chose the most isolated location because I wanted to enjoy my movie, Galatasaray – Depor. I half suspected it was going to be in Spanish (of course!) and that subtitles, if there were any, would be in Spanish. I was right.

I trusted that motion picture is an art of universal value that transcends cultural boundaries. And that for somebody who studied and teaches communication, my education prepared me to tackle kinesics head on, understanding the story based on the actions, the varying tones of the characters’ voices in delivering their lines, and the subtleties of their interactions. Or so I thought.

Until a group of people, the same group I tried to escape from in the cafeteria came in and joined in communal experience of film-viewing. One of them, the most brazen, blurted “Ay, walang English subtitles.” I do not see why people in this country have the penchant of stating, and stating out loud, what is obvious.

But the fact that these people have the audacity to advertise their stupidity like a badge of honor is even more horrifying.

On the other end of the spectrum, some people, whom I assume to be impeccably conversant in Spanish, made it sure that people like me who understand no Spanish word except pronto, puerta, or puta knew where to locate ourselves in the greater scheme of things. These people who have studied Spanish, the younger, over-eager undergraduate, especially, who were part of that group in question, laughed twice as hard and as loudly as one would normally laugh when faced with a funny scene or line in the film.

Their stylized way of laughing signified the void that separates the Spanish literate and the non-literate, which was fine with me. They were more than willing to announce their extensive knowledge of the Spanish language, complete with understanding of the subtle idioms and irony.

But this is an act that leaves a bad aftertaste. It’s inelegant.