I'm writing this in a cafe in Camp John Hay in Baguio City while waiting for an appointment. It's mid-afternoon and I'm wearing a jacket, which is something of a novelty for lowlanders like myself. It's a really lovely day though.
Kuya Gerry invited me to his long-lost nephew's apartment late last night and most of the stories revolved around the horrors of not owning a heater in December and having to navigate foggy streets with poor visibility. Today the sun is out, there's no fog in sight, and people are not walking around hunched and shivering.
I'm here to give a talk in a company seminar as well as to meet with the editor and possible authors about a book celebrating Baguio's centennial. It's called "Old Baguio" and will contain interdisciplinary essays on Baguio's history, culture and society, or rather the coalescence thereof. It should be an interesting publication. The editor was telling me yesterday about the various archives in the US where we could find photographic material. I also want to work with the Cordillera Studies Center on this project.
It's been years since I last visited Baguio. It's a favorite destination in summer for locals who want to get away from the excruciating heat in Manila and the lowlands, but the city gets so congested during March and April that my mother and aunts, who make annual declarations about 'retreating' to Baguio, end up booking us in hot spring resorts in nearby Laguna towns instead. (If you ask me, soaking in hot springs at the height of summer is not significantly preferable to crawling up Kennon Road when the tourists make a beeline for the mountains. That is to say, I don't get the logic).
I've forgotten how much I love Baguio, though the forgetting lies in my having lost all sense of its physical presence, because I have not been here in such a long time. Memories of place are tied to particularities of geography as much as to a conceptual framework of events and emotions. I remember looking out to the Cordilleras with my parents as we stood on the porch of our rented house, but while I can still invoke vestiges of the feelings of reassurance and comfort which I felt in my parents' presence, I can no longer see the mountains in my mind. And so the memory has grown less sharp, became more abstract. I might as well have been standing in a porch in Laguna, or in Manila, or Hong Kong. Never Baguio. During college, I harbored fantasies of living in Benguet, in a small shack filled with books, where I would write extended and not so politically correct ethnographic treatises. But it was an impressionistic landscape which I conjured in my mind. All feeling and fantasy, no history.
Being here makes me realize that nostalgia is grounded in the ground I walk on, in the particular arrangements of trees by the wayside, in the shape and taste of food, the heft of cloth, the movements of people around me. The best retrospectives are silent ones. Conversatios are muted, laughter is soundless, and all you see is the world settling around you.