Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Part 31: The 1973-74 School Year Begins

"I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist
and that there are few great teachers as there are few great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the
medium is the human mind and spirit"
~ John Steinbeck

"Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school"

~Albert Einstein

Well, that summer was one of the worst yet and I was partly to blame. It was the first summer where I did not cut my hair before I got home. Mildly put, this drove my Dad nuts. It was the cause of a daily round of belittling and beration: "I have a daughter now! Bakla!". But I stuck to my guns and grimly marked out the days on the calender, counting out the days before my release.

Finally, one rainy August morning I found myself boarding a plane back to Manila. I was going to arrive a full two weeks before school started but I couldn't take it any more. I think my parents suspected that I was leaving early but were glad to see me go. I lost no time upon my arrival in Manila and took a cab straight to the PNR bus depot and caught the next departure for Baguio. Five hours and five thousand feet later I was home. With the first waft of cool mountain air a sense of freedom and tranquility came over me. This is where I belonged.

When I arrived at Brent I was excited to be the first student moving into the New Dorm, bright and shiny, smelling of varnish and stain. No one seemed to mind that I was back for the school year early, Mr and Mrs Pettitt were already moved in to the dorm masters suite on the main floor. Juniors and Seniors on the top floor, Freshmen and Sophomores on the main floor and all other grades on the lowest floor. I found my room quickly, my name was taped to the first door I checked. Jaime's was down the hall but I moved his name to the door across from mine, our rooms were right by the side entrance (I didn't know it yet but that would come in very handy whenever we needed to enter or exit the dorm undetected). All the rooms in our new dorm were identical: dark stained paneled walls, matching parquet flooring and garish orange, yellow, white and avocado green curtains. Each room was furnished with two metal bed frames, two over-sized desks/bookshelf units that also served as room partitions and one large double wardrobe. It was too late to get pillows and bedding from Mrs Tabafunda, but I had some sheets and blankets of my own, so I dug my foot locker out of storage, unpacked and then went down the hall to get a mattress. One of the rooms was full of mattresses and another was crammed full with assorted pieces of small furniture. It was a gold mine. This was one of the advantages to getting back to school so early, first dibs on rooms, furniture and mattresses. I started going through them, trying to find the best one, testing them out first. One of them was a real mattress with matching foundation, I realized that this must have been Mr. Craig's. I settled on one and was dragging it down to my room when I thought why not? So I went back and took the mattress and foundation, now I was the only boarding student with a decent bed!

The next morning after breakfast I went and got my class schedule from the registrar and headed over to the bookstore to get my books and supplies for the year. There were a lot of required reading books on the list for my English class taught by a
Giussepe De Rugeriis? Must be a new teacher. After stowing them in my locker I went back to the dorm to sign out and then went to the cashier and signed for some "incidentals" cash. I learned this technique from Norman, instead of painfully saving my allowance for the things I needed like shampoo, toothpaste, soap, underwear, socks and shoes, I could get cash from the office as long as I provided an explanation for the need and provide receipts if requested. I headed straight for Lambino's Tailors on lower Session Road to pick out some Ramie fabric and get myself measured for some new pants. Then I navigated the department stores up and down Session Road picking up the additional items I needed.

The time went quickly, I spent my days at the library or in my room reading the books on my English required reading list. It didn't bother me that there weren't any kids around, I'd watch a little TV after supper at night, sometimes some of the teachers would invite me to go to the movies. The following week boarders started arriving, one one day, two the next and by the end of the week the dorm was full. Next door was a tall, gangly kid from England, Gordon Strachan. He kind of looked like a cross between David Bowie and Mick Jagger. He had a great stereo system and a huge record collection. He didn't think too much of me but I thought he was alright.

That first weekend before school started I learned the meaning of "a woman scorned". I found myself lying in front of the fireplace between two girls, one two grades above me and the other one grade below; we were watching the flames and listening to Jaime play his guitar. I liked the older girl better, but it never occurred to me that she would even consider me. So I turned my attentions to the other girl. Bad mistake, not only did she turn out to be crazy but the other girl was really pissed. Scary pissed. Over the next few weeks she took time to let me know how I screwed up and what I was missing out on. I already was miserable from my choice and she really seemed to enjoy twisting the knife.

After two years at Brent, Jaime and I had developed our own rituals and routines. That first Sunday night before school we selected a table in the dining hall that was to become "our table" for the next three years. Located next to the windows in the center of the hall, we had a fine view of the evening sunsets. Jaime sat at the head of the table with me on his right. Leigh Gilmore sat on his left and three new boarders Cecily Drury, Lulie Lawry and Leeanne Colvin joined us. This league was not set in stone, depending on how we were getting along the members changed, but basically this was our group.

The school year started and right away there was a tangible difference in my English classes.
Guissepe de Rugiris aka "Rug" was a whirlwind on two feet. He introduced himself and then announced that we would start each class with a vocabulary quiz, not only that but we would have these quizzes daily for the remainder of the year. Most days the class would end with another test on the days topics. Right after the quiz he launched right into literature. His classes were whirlwinds too. Besides the text books he would assign one book a week, sometimes two, and that was
Di riguer, a mash up of world literature from the ancient Greece to the Americas. Austin, Borges, Cervantes, Crane, Chekov, Eliot, Hawthorne, Hemingway, Knowles, Potok, Remarque, Salinger, Sophocles and Steinbeck in no particular order. Our heads were swimming with new characters: Asher, Agamemnon, Beowulf, Clytemnestra, Electra, Holden, Phineas and Silas. To help us keep up he showed some of us some speed reading techniques.

His classes were a mix of history, poetry, opera, literature and declamation: Rug would chant, recite, yell, sing and laugh, always pushing us to analyze, think, ponder and contemplate. What is this book telling us? How does it make you feel? How does this relate to your own life? What are the parallels? He was changing the way I thought, the way I viewed the world. I would never see things the same.

1 comment:

  1. the photos you posted along with this piece is of the Baguio I grew up in and remember all too well. Session Road today is like Quiapo!