Friday, February 11, 2011

Part 46: There and Back Again

"As all things come to an end, even this story, a day came at last when they were in sight of the country where Bilbo had been born and bred, where the shapes of the land and of the trees were as well known to him as his hands and toes."
-J.R.R. Tolkien

Back at Brent I stripped my bed and packed up the last of my things for storage. We didn't have to haul our trunks down to storage this year, as long as they were clearly labeled they would be moved for us. Then, after racing up to the dining hall for a quick bite to eat, Tommy Quinto drove us to the airport.

It was a long wait at Loakan airport, the flight was full and there was a lot of extra luggage, mostly from Brent students going home for the summer or back to the States. They were having difficulty getting all the luggage stowed away and had to repack the plane. They didn't make us wait on board, but kept us in the departure area. While we were waiting the airline passed out glasses of orange juice. I was thirsty and drank it down. Shortly thereafter I made a mental note to never eat bacon and eggs and drink orange juice so early in the morning after a night of drinking.

Finally, the plane was loaded and we boarded. Cindy was sitting next to me in the window seat, I had the aisle. After the Prom, things between us had returned to the status quo. We taxied to the far end of the tarmac and came about. Then we began lumbering down the runway, engines straining.
We didn't seem to be going very fast and after a certain point I realized that the wheels were not lifting off the ground.

Baguio's Loakan Airport is known for it's short, concave runway with cliffs on either end. Because the runway is so short, larger planes cannot use it. Even for the F-27 with it's large wingspan this runway was a little tricky. To help the pilots out, the Airport had installed markers every 50 feet along the runway. Large black lettering on a white background told the pilots how many feet were left till the end of the runway. A long hazard yellow line crossed the runway at the point where the FAA felt the wheels needed to leave the ground and a corresponding yellow marker at the same point shouted out a warning. From that point on the runway was crosshatched with thick painted lines. We called it the "Point of No Return".

I had been chatting with my seatmate, casually glancing out the window, noting the markers as we passed them. When we passed the yellow warning marker I turned with a grin to Cindy "We should have lifted off by now!"
Oh No! She covered her face with her hands and assumed the crash position. We continued to barrel down the runway, no sign of slowing down. Leaning over, I could see the fence rapidly growing larger. Finally, the wheels left the ground and a split second later we passed over the fence, then the road on the edge of the cliff. As we cleared the road the overloaded plane dropped for a few long seconds into the canyon below. Passengers screamed, some shouted, then burst into nervous laughter as we slowly began to rise again.

Leeanne, Lulie, Jaime and I were going to spend a few weeks together. Jaime's dad was going to drive us around Northern Luzon and I was just waiting for them to get to Manila to pick us up. Leeanne was busy saying goodbye to her boyfriend and I didn't like being the third wheel all the time. It was raining heavily in Manila and some parts of the city were flooded. I did a little shopping with Cindy, went to the movies and out for some pizza. Her folks maintained a home in Manila too and one night after I dropped her off I found myself stranded due to the high water. After some extensive arguing with the housekeeper, Cindy was allowed to put me up for the night. The Ya-Ya showed me my room, gave me the evil eye and pointedly shut the door firmly behind her as she left. I got the message.
No Funny Business Mister! I have to admit I was tempted. By the next afternoon the waters had receded and the family chauffeur drove me back to the Mission Guest House.

Jaime and his Dad showed up a few days later with Lulie in tow. A short time later Leeanne arrived by taxi and we were off. For the girls, this would be their first time to see parts of the country not normally visited by tourists; they were going to get to taste new foods. Away from the cities, restaurants and shops, they got to see the life in the rural areas that Jaime and I experienced growing up.
We took the National Highway north to the very top of Luzon to Aparri, the highway ending at the sea. Like Vigan, Aparri was a centuries old Spanish town located in the province of Cagayan and had been an important port during the heyday of the Spanish Galleon trade. There the ships would pick up bales of tobacco from the Cagayan valley before heading on to Manila.

There was little tourism there in those days, no big hotels or fancy restaurants. We had the beaches to ourselves; white sands and crystal clear water. Leeanne had been reading Jaws by Peter Benchley and was a little skittish in the water, constantly looking about and jumping if something brushed past her legs. Of course, this set my devilish mind in action and I scoured the beach for a suitable piece of driftwood. I found a large chunk of wood shaped like a dorsal fin and slipped in to the water when her back was turned, holding it under with my feet. Then, easing off behind her I slid under the water and holding the driftwood above me I swam towards her. She didn't notice the "fin" til it was just a few feet from her. Then the screams! I could hear them plainly even under the water! She was out of the water and clear up to the truck faster than you could say "We're going to need a bigger boat". She had some choice words for me when she saw me holding the driftwood.

There was an underlying sadness on this trip, despite the fun we were having. In the quiet moments, between the laughter, the somber misery returned to our faces. Leeanne was heading off to Montreal to law school, Lulie to Hollins College in Virginia. Besides the friends she was leaving behind at Brent, Leeanne was thinking of her boyfriend in Manila. So, when a few days in to our trip she came down sick, I think it was the sadness and loneliness more than anything else. While Jaime' s Dad drove her back to Manila, we remaining three caught a open sided Dangwa bus to Sagada.

The Episcopal Church ran a guest house called St. Joseph's and we reserved ourselves some rooms and went out to tour the town. We wandered through the woods, climbed the limestone crags; we spent a few quiet days relaxing, reading, writing. Then I caught a bus back to Baguio and then on to Manila; Jaime and Lulie took a bus to his home in Solano.

We had been together as a group since 1973. A lifetime of tears, laughter and loving; now these were our last days together. In the glory days we would have fought and died for each other. How could an insignificant calendar date in time abruptly conclude our relationships?

Our Fellowship was at an end.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Part 45: Picasso's Last Words

"What do you think an artist is?... he is ... constantly aware of the heartbreaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. How could it be possible to feel no interest in other people, and with a cool indifference to detach yourself from the very life which they bring to you so abundantly?"
- Pablo Picasso

Brent School held a Cultural Fair in early May, organized by one of our new teachers, Dr Robert Fox. He had been in the Philippines for four decades, serving in various capacities with the National Museum of the Philippines since 1948 and formerly taught at both the International School in Manila and the University of the Philippines. It was a real coup by Dr McGee to get this prestigious Professor of Anthropology to teach at Brent.

"In 1958, Dr Fox led a National Museum team in conducting extensive excavations on two sites in Batangas, considered to be the first systematic excavation involving the National Museum in the country. In the 1960s, by then the head of the Anthropology Division of the National Museum, he led a six-year archaeological research project in Palawan, focusing mainly on the caves and rockshelters of Lipuun Point in the southern part of the island. Its most outstanding site is the Tabon Cave complex where the only Pleistocene human fossils found in the Philippines at that time were discovered. The fossil finds included a skullcap, jaw bones, teeth and several other fragmented bones."
- from the history of The National Museum of the Philippines

The Cultural Fair was a school wide event held over a three day period, it brought together archaeological and anthropological exhibits, artisans and dancers comprised of various representatives of the Mountain Province tribes:
Bontoc, Ibaloi, Ifugao, Isneg, Kalinga, and Kankanaey. Faculty and students from Baguio Universities and High Schools were invited to attend, as were various dignitaries and clergy. A special luncheon in the dining hall was served for the big shots and we boarders were relegated to slightly warm sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper handed out by Domingo and Arsenio from tables on the Neutral. At least there were chips and soft-drinks to go along with them. And there always was the Canteen. What with school out and so many people on campus, Freddie and his canteen were doing a furious business.

No classes were held during this event, but we had been given assignments by our teachers, and most had to write some kind of paper on various topics. We wandered from display to display, taking notes, but it was the live performances and interactions with the artisans that really fascinated me. I was particularly interested in watching the basket makers making the backpacks called
pasiking, the weavers sitting on the floor with their hand looms and the potters making clay jars for storing rice and water. They were selling the items they made and we were encouraged to help support these cottage industries. From a selection of unfired pieces I picked out two small jars, a tea pot and a larger jar. On Friday they took all the items and covered them first in rice hulls and then firewood before lighting the fire. They kept the fire burning all day and night, adding more hulls and wood when needed. Early Saturday morning they let the fire burn out and by late afternoon they raked the ashes away from the fired pieces. The clay had turned brick red with spots of black, where the ashes had discolored it. I was disappointed to find that my large jar had cracked during the firing process, but my smaller pieces were still intact.

After the Cultural Fair ended, talk quickly turned to the Junior-Senior Prom that was coming up in a few weeks. I wanted to go but couldn't because I was a Sophomore.

For the past five months I had been trying to get this certain girl to go steady. No luck. Cindy and her sister Kelly were from Canada and their Dad managed a paper mill in Bislig, a town on the far southern side of Mindanao. Cindy was my age but she was a Senior. Jaime's sister Renee was always teasing her half jokingly that she was "natangsit" or "mayabang" or "hambug", which is to say she was a little stuck up. She sat at our table at dinner every night and afterwards I walked her back to the dorm. She sat next to me in Chapel and we went to movies together every weekend; but I wasn't really getting anywhere, no kisses, no hand holding. She often told me she "just wanted to be friends", so I was quite surprised when one day she asked me if wanted to take her to the Prom! I didn't mind that she asked me, I would be one of the few guys in my class who would be going. In the next breath she said "Of, course you will first have to get something suitable to wear..."

With the Prom quickly approaching, I had to hurry. Now that I had a date, I needed to get a complete outfit. So the next afternoon, Dana Busse and I headed downtown to Lambino's to get something made. A really fine tailor, I had been having all my pants made there since Norman first took me there four years earlier. First we selected fabric for shirts and then we both decided to pick the same fabric for our pants and vests. Then, after getting measured, we went to look for shoes.
Normally, I was an earth shoe kind of guy, which was totally unsuitable for the Prom. I found a pair with two inch heels which were all the rage. Some of the guys had even taller heels, but I found it kind of hard to walk in them.

A few days before the big night we went back to Lambino's to pick up our suits (sans jackets). They fit perfectly and we agreed that we looked really cool.

The night of the Prom, Dana and I walked up to Hamilton Hall to pick up our dates. I presented Cindy with an orchid corsage and she gave her stamp of approval to my clothes.
All the other girls came down to admire the finery and see us off. Then it was time to go; George drove up in the school's VW "Combi", he would be taking us over to the Main Club at Camp John Hay. The dinner was a wonderful formal affair, afterwards we all got up en masse to dance. Making sure we were on the floor for every "slow" dance, I finally got to get my arms around Cindy. Oh, what a night.

Two days later and I watched as some of my closest friends marched down the aisle and up on to the stage. As president of the Junior class, Jaime lead the way, the graduating seniors in procession behind him. It was a somber moment as Pomp and Circumstance swelled. A time for endings, a time for beginnings. The Seniors choked their way through a song by Seals & Crofts, We May Never Pass This Way Again. Afterwards, lots of hugging, lots of tears.

After graduation that night we went to a party being held off campus at the home of one of the graduates. Honestly, I can't tell you a lot about the party. Most of the seniors were there, there was lots of food; I remember there was chocolate cake and cases of Cold Duck. Lots of cases. Turned up loud on the stereo was Paul McCartney and the Wings new album Band on the Run. We all seemed to know the words to every song and when Picasso's Last Words came on we lustily joined in.
" Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can't drink anymore"

Well, we sure could and we did. Cases. We were still up when the sun rose the next morning and a bleary eyed Mr Pettitt drove those of us who had to catch a plane to Manila back to Brent to pick up our luggage. He was still suffering from the previous nights over indulgence and we came close several times to running off the road or into a tree. As we weaved back and forth across the yellow line, I made a mental note to add
Cold Duck right next to Ginebra San Miguel on my list of alcoholic beverages I would never drink again.