Remembering and Forgetting

The sky, and only ever the sky

The sky, and only ever the sky (Taken morning of 29 October 2016)

30 October 2016
2:48 AM


I’ve taken a break from work, from the ills of my life, from the dreadful politics of the city, and from the day-to-day of trying to rise above it all in order to remain sane. I want to say, I’ve taken a break from myself, but I bring the whole of who I am wherever I go I suppose (as if I had any say in the matter).

We have a long weekend in observation of all saints’ and all souls’ day next week. A lot of people are going home to their respective provinces, or spending time at churches and cemeteries to remember their dead.

I have a feeling that most of Manila is emptied out by now, a rare occurrence often reserved for boxing matches. Those of us who have loved ones buried or kept in crypts within the city, however, are taking this opportunity to leave, if only for a few days. I think of my grandfather and his ashes, of bones turning to dust. I think of his frail body leaving this earth, seven years ago come November 9th.

I am back in Tagaytay again, this place I’ve been mooning over for years and years. Every time I return it is the same and not the same. I know her face and she knows mine, and yet there’s something different with us both.

The past two weeks I’ve been involved in several conversations about the cities and bodies. How my own body and the city I am in reflect separate and yet similar geographies. The self changes as the city changes, I told someone.

I mean, look: I carried with me the trappings of someone whose head is full of urban concerns. And yet when faced with the bluest sky this morning, and that quiet little volcano surrounded by the bluest lake, I want to weep. How much longer can Manila suit my life, or my life suit Manila?

A book I brought with me—Animal Triste by Monika Maron. Here is an excerpt I’ve been sitting with for the past few hours:

“I like to think about the brachiosaurus. Besides my lover and the brachiosaurus, there is not much else I like to think about. Over the years I have learned not to remember what I would rather forget. I don’t understand why people clutter their memories with mountains of inconsequential events, most of them not worth experiencing in the first place, so they can rummage around in them a hundred times or more and parade them as if they were proof positive of a life well spent. In my life there was not much that didn’t deserve to be forgotten; consequently, the version I deem worth preserving has become a rather condensed life.

…Forgetting is the fainting of the soul. Remembering has nothing at all to do with not forgetting. The whole world had forgotten the brachiosaurus. For 150 million years he had been lost to earthly, maybe even cosmic, memory, until Professor Janesch found a few bones in Tendaguru. From then on, we began to remember him, which means: We reinvented him, his tiny brain, his food, habits, contemporaries, the long span of his species’ life, and his death. Now he exists again, and every child knows him.

Since its passing, I have been inventing and reinventing that night, forty or fifty years ago, when my lover was sitting upright with his back against the wall, surrounded by carnivorous plants, like all the nights I spent with my lover. This way time passes and yet stands still.”

— from Animal Triste by Monika Maron, translated by Brigitte Goldstein

What does this city remember about me? What has it forgotten? I am not the same person I was that wrote you letters from this same place three years ago, although I have been here many times since then. I think this trip is my third time for this year. And yet it is still me, I am still in love with the mountains, I still dream of living here someday.

Remembering has nothing at all to do with not forgetting. I wonder if this is true, or if it only sounds beautiful because it offers me the possibility of rekindling with every little memory I have unknowingly parted ways with.

Here: I am sitting at the balcony, my feet freezing. I am facing the other side of the city, the lights as small as the stars above me. I am wrapped in a hand-knitted scarf I bought on a whim in Hanoi, my hair trying to escape from its braid. Who am I at this moment? I have changed the moment I arrived here, I felt it keenly, and I know it will happen again once I leave. What kind of self will I be bringing back home, and how long will I be able to hold on to her?


The Whole World Turns

Watching my sister cook our last breakfast in this place (taken by my sister)

Watching my sister cook our last breakfast in this place (taken by my sister)

30 December 2013
2:01 AM


Writing this now because I don’t know if I’ll still be able to do that tonight when I get back. I bet I’ll be knackered, but most of all, too sad to do anything else but remember, and remember.

What does it take, to have a life like this? How can I get here? There’s so much out there that I still have to do. And sometimes, I’m not even looking for this level of comfort. I mean, a balcony with a view. A house with a loft, located near the markets where bell peppers are as big as my fists. The mountains outside my window. I can do away with all of that, if it means finding peace in a small space, perhaps just as small as my desk.

I am here. This could be my life, I whisper to myself, over and over.

I said I will work on my poems and read some books. A tough lineup of to-do’s considering I’m only away for three days.

Things I brought with me apparently stayed in the drawer the whole time (taken by my sister)

Things I brought with me apparently stayed in the drawer the whole time (taken by my sister)

Our constant best friend:

Really growing fond of this (taken by my sister)

Really growing fond of this (taken by my sister)

I’ll have you know, my uncle gave me a flask for Christmas.

I don’t want to leave, but I have to go. Have you ever had that feeling?

Last notes:

7:27 AM

…Had two cups of coffee, but that’s not enough to ward off the chill. So cold outside, and the wind is ever present. Perhaps the wind is a sign that one is alive, you know?

…The sun is out, and the wind is in my hair. The whole world turns, the day arrives, and I get to begin again.


9:44 AM

Just finished washing the dishes. Now packing my bags. Ah, morning. Now, to go home.

I’m going to miss this place as usual…but it was good while it lasted.


11:00 AM

Ah, goodbye. Goodbye.

Crossing my fingers I'll be back here again (taken by my sister)

Crossing my fingers I’ll be back here again (taken by my sister)


It is Splendid

The Taal volcano, the most famous thing here (taken by my sister)

The Taal volcano, the most famous thing here (taken by my sister)

29 December 2013
10:05 PM


Writing this while waiting for dinner. A very late dinner. We didn’t get a lot of things done today, but I really didn’t want to do anything else except be here.

Some things from my journal:

9:30 AM

Had a quiet breakfast with my sisters. Put on Oscar Peterson–tunes for Christmas…We went out to the balcony. I had a smoke, they took pictures. It is really lovely here. Peaceful. I wondered if they would be fine if it’s just the four of us. I don’t know–maybe we can buy a house here, just the four of us. They can make this their vacation home, go back to the city. I’ll stay. Ha.


12:30 PM
Aguinaldo Highway

Stuck in traffic…One thing I don’t miss doing is taking pictures. No longer a tourist, then?


1:55 PM
Aguinaldo Highway

Still stuck in traffic. Is everybody in Manila here this weekend?


2:30 PM
Viewsite Restaurant

Finally arrived here for lunch. My father is looking forward to eating bulalo (beef marrow stew), meanwhile, my heart is set on adobong hito (stewed catfish), and it is splendid. There is live music as usual, and I requested for Moon River.

The wind in my hair again. This weather–it feels like an embrace. The sun is out but it feels all good. Now let me enjoy my mango shake.


3:30 PM
Bag of Beans

Having coffee and (good good so good!) strawberry cheesecake. It melts in my mouth, and I am thinking that life doesn’t get any better than this. Of course, I am easy to please.

Finally some laughter, which makes everything better…People should learn how to let things go–to roll with the punches and take what you can get while you’re at it. In retrospect, I should take that advice and apply it to my own troubles. The situation here is like a microcosm of my life.

…My sisters are already talking about next year. I am telling my father, don’t you want to live here? This place is perfect. We can start again. We really can.


6:20 PM
Robinsons Supermarket

Here at the parking lot, writing in the dark. Little light is available, but my window is open, and the wind is wonderful…This trip seems to be all about compromises, and being able to move forward despite the setbacks. Perhaps the universe is talking.

Now, I’ll put on some Philip Glass and will take a nap. Hopefully when I wake up, we’re back.


10:28 PM

Dinner is closer to existence. Perhaps in thirty minutes or so. It feels like noche buena. But I like C.’s theory better: when we’re here we lose our sense of time.

We’ve just been hanging out watching TV. I am trying not to fall asleep. I came here to work on my poems and think about some things, but that hasn’t happened yet.


12:45 AM

We had dinner around eleven. The bottle of merlot was fantastic. I finished almost the whole bottle and no one seemed to mind. Washed the dishes. I liked the warm water on my skin. Took a bit of a break to watch the tail end of The Dark Knight Rises, then it was back to the dishes again. Wore an apron but the front of my shirt got wet anyway.

Waiting for everyone to get to bed so I can sneak off a smoke outside. Last night and all. You know. Jazz is playing–I think it’s Ella Fitzgerald singing Someone to Watch Over Me. I told C. that when I grow up, and when I’m living alone, perhaps my nights would be like this.

View from our balcony this morning (taken by my sister)

View from our balcony this morning (taken by my sister)

C. didn’t capture everything, so here’s an old shot (from a less stellar camera):

I will never get tired of looking at this, being here, I mean (taken May 2012)

I will never get tired of looking at this, being here, I mean (taken May 2012)

I can’t stop talking about the wind, I know. You must understand–smog has descended on the whole of Metro Manila, and the air we breathe is very polluted. I’ve learned to live with it–we all have. But it’s not something to be proud of.

As for bulalo, it’s my father’s Holy Grail. Every time we go here, it is an absolute must-eat, even if we can prepare it back home. That’s because this dish is native to this place. Everywhere you look there’s “original bulalo” on signs. It’s on every menu in almost every restaurant. We spent the better half of the morning getting to the restaurant. And it was worth it.

Also, I could almost forgive the traffic because of the wind. (Ack, there I go again…)

Here is a poem I carried in my pocket, the same poem I carry with me each time:

The Letter
Linda Gregg

I’m not feeling strong yet, but I am taking
good care of myself. The weather is perfect.
I read and walk all day and then walk to the sea.
I expect to swim soon. For now I am content.
I am not sure what I hope for. I feel I am
doing my best. It reminds me of when I was
sixteen dreaming of Lorca, the gentle trees outside
and the creek. Perhaps poetry replaces something
in me that others receive more naturally.
Perhaps my happiness proves a weakness in my life.
Even my failures in poetry please me.
Time is very different here. It is very good
to be away from public ambition.
I sweep and wash, cook and shop.
Sometimes I go into town in the evening
and have pastry with custard. Sometimes I sit
at a table by the harbor and drink half a beer.


The Wind in My Hair

Bougainvilleas at Sonya's Garden (taken by my sister)

Bougainvilleas at Sonya’s Garden (taken by my sister)

28 December 2013
9:30 PM


It’s been a long day, but one I welcome gladly. Oh, I am back here finally, after pining for a year. I am once more bathed in wonder. Each time I return I fall in love all over again, even if nothing ever really changes.

Well–except for the traffic. We seem to have ran into the thick of it this time. It’s as if everyone decided to leave Manila and be here for the holidays. I suppose it’s not that original of an idea, not that novel, to leave home and be somewhere else after Christmas–just to take a breather, just to get away for a bit from all the stress and negative energy permeating the spirit. Living in the city does that, I find.

Then you come here and suddenly nothing else really matters. Not the house that’s being renovated, not the bills that I still have to pay, not the relationships fraught with tension as the days pass. We pass the town marker and suddenly the smell changes. What comes to me: trees. Wind. Mountains.

Late lunch at Sonya's Garden (taken by my sister)

Late lunch at Sonya’s Garden (taken by my sister)

And because we weren’t able to take any more photos (we were famished), here are two more from past trips:

Inside one of my favourite restaurants one late afternoon (taken May 2012)

Inside one of my favourite restaurants one late afternoon (taken May 2012)

My favourite sculpture, down by the pond (taken May 2012)

My favourite sculpture (taken May 2012)

Here are some excerpts from my journal, where I’ve been writing on and off throughout the day:

3:15 PM
Aguinaldo Highway

On our way to the hotel. The wind in my hair. We had a late lunch at Sonya’s. Arrived there past one in the afternoon. Four hours on the road! Didn’t anticipate the traffic, though I should have. Feeling sleepy now. God is in the wind. Wish I could live here someday.


4:30 PM

…As for me, I prefer a bit of imperfection, a bit of things not going as planned or expected…If not a thing is out of place I dread it, I wait for the other shoe to drop, that sort of thing. Because nothing is what it seems–I think that’s a good mantra to believe in/repeat.


6:00 PM

C. and I went outside for a walk, supposedly to get some ice and drinks, but the convenience store no longer exists, and all I got was exercise I didn’t want (ha!) up the hills. The view was nice though, the wind cold. Ah, the wind. I think I am in love with it.

Got back to find my father sleeping…I put Diana Krall on, and now her voice is all over the house. We are waiting for Mama and S. to get back from shopping for some veggies. T.R. came in with two glasses of an eighteen-year old whiskey, which is fantastic. I’m never getting out of this bed.


9:00 PM

Woke up in time for dinner…opened a bottle I brought with us–zinfandel, I think, mixed with some exotic fruits.

I was really sleepy still, and that may have been the whiskey’s fault. Washed the dishes and tried not to fall asleep on my feet. A.C. gave us some gifts to open over coffee, but I had to pass on the caffeine as all I wanted to do was sleep. So I went back to my blanket and bed, and, well, goodnight.

As I’ve mentioned before, I think I have developed an attachment to the mountains. I’ve come here many times, with different people, on different occasions. In the recent years though, my trips have been decidedly remarkable, and it’s getting harder and harder for me to leave. Perhaps it’s the weather. The way the wind wraps its arms around you as if afraid to let you go.

There is just something precious at work here. I wonder if it’s some measure of grace unknown to me? The way the trees beckon as if their leaves hold all the secrets. The way the sun seems to reach for every corner and, failing, fades into the day as if to say that it’s okay with that. The way people seem to move about their days, as if there is no other world but this one.

First words my father said upon opening the door: "Home sweet home" (taken May 2012)

First words my father said upon opening the door: “Home sweet home” (taken May 2012)

I sound silly, don’t I? I really do blame the whiskey.