How long has it been since I last visited Baguio? I was there with my family just last February, watching the street dancing and float parades of the Panagbenga Flower Festival. I went there a few times last New Year, and a few times more before that. Then what?
I understood that dining is not only the sharing of food and drinks, but also of lives, knowledge, and feelings. It’s one field of experience reaching out to and blending with another through a common medium. Now there were good things to experience, and there were bad things too. These were all part of the learning process that had to be embraced. Most of what I’ve learned and gained in my travels, I gained with the help of the people that made a mark in my life.
My original plan was to write only about my food-related memories in Baguio. I wanted to revisit all of the places I dined in, remember my first plate of red rice, my first spoonful of viand, my first cup of coffee and my first bottle of beer. I wanted to remember the patrons, the specialties, the ones that dined with me there.
Admittedly, I kept putting off going around, and I had many excuses. I had to spend more time with my siblings, whom I don’t see quite often. Eating out is expensive, even with my cash on hand. I don’t feel hungry. I’m tried or feeling sick. And so on.
When I did get to make time for my quest, everything felt different. To tell you frankly, no matter how hard I draw from my memories, I have to acknowledge that a lot of things changed, and this had an effect on my recall.
In the numerous times I visited the places in my memories, I realized something was missing.
Dining at Jack’s Rice felt different now from when I was still a student, or a reporter. 50’s Diner didn’t evoke so many memories from college life. Going out with Jad was one thing, but hanging out at Ionic Café and Café by the Ruins felt like a distant memory. The old watering holes are gone or have changed. SM Baguio now stands on Luneta Hill. The places I hung out were now closed or replaced with new ones.
Pizza Volante was another matter altogether. It was the only place that barely changed through the years (except that the free coffee were gone), and that brought back vivid memories of my past. My memories of college life, my career, even my last girlfriend whom I hoped to marry, were still alive in that pizzeria.
So why did I go back to Baguio? I wondered if going around Baguio was worth it. Was I looking for something? Was it the experience, the nostalgia brought by these places? Was it the food that I missed? Was it the liquor, the drunken nights, the “lonely table” moments in the city’s booze joints? Was it the feeling that I had unfinished business somewhere? Was there a specific dish, or a flavor, that I wanted to taste again? Or was I looking for someone?
Recently, I came across the book “A Cook’s Tour,” by Anthony Bourdain. In one of the chapters, he went on a food trip with his brother to seek the perfect meal in their hometown in France, only to realize it wasn’t that trip that would satisfy them. In his book, he wrote:
“I hadn’t, I realized, returned to France, to this beach, my old town, for the oysters. It wasn’t the fish soup, or the saucisson, or the pain raisin. It wasn’t to see a house in which strangers now lived, or to climb a dune, or to find a perfect meal. I’d come to find my father. And he wasn’t there.”
I sympathize with Tony, but unlike him, I wasn’t looking for something or someone.
I realized I was looking for myself. Specifically, the me that I was before.
Those places reminded me of more than memories. They reminded me of what I was when I first came to these places – my old feelings, my thoughts, my reactions on the flavors and sights and sounds around me.
Those places held memories of the old me. The me who loved the outdoors. The me who appreciated good company. The me who was adventurous and outgoing. The me who knew how to relate with people. The me who trusted others. The me who openly cared for others. Most importantly, the me who knew how to love.
What happened to me all these years? How much has my psyche been damaged? Was it all that heartbreak, disappointments, betrayals, and heart attacks? Am I beyond saving?
In any case, I won’t say I’ve become jaded with my life. I can’t say so myself, yet. In the meantime I’ll let others, unworthy as they are, to speculate and judge who I am, what I was, and what I could be, after which they could all jump off Manila Bay with millstones hanging on their necks.
At the same time, with this early realization in mind, I’ll have to do something with myself. Where I should start, I’m not quite sure. For now, I’ll enjoy who I am now and see what else I can learn about myself.
Maybe – just maybe – when I go back to Baguio and look around, I might find the pieces of my old self. Maybe I’d learn something and find a new reason to live on. And then maybe that cup of Benguet Blend would be much tastier this time around.