“Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of a true, wise friend called Piggy.” (Lord of the Flies)
I spent my birthday in Escolta surrounded by worn out spaces from a bygone era that whisper their stories through the chipped walls, fading paint, and the layers of dust that embrace forgotten belongings. The nicks and cracks alone can make even the most prosaic of men to wax nostalgic, but there is no room there for sentimentality. A decrepit shop window surprises you with an intriguing art installation, while the former site of a department store is now the home to a bustling community of artisans and creative entrepreneurs. The elegant architecture remains—albeit weathered and worn—but it is now charged with youthful, colorful, contemporary energy that makes you look forward to the future, that makes you excited to see what’s next for this place.
It was not a bad way to spend my birthday. It gently reminded me that everything old can be made new again, that change is constant but old things need not be discarded. It made me remember my favorite line from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: ‘Omnia Mutantur, Nihil Interit. ‘Everything changes, but nothing is truly lost.’ Not a bad day at all.
“The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.”
–Neil Gaiman, American Gods
I had to unpack some of the garments from my Peel installation yesterday and I was hit by a sudden wave of nostalgia. After residing at the Little Theater Lobby for about a month, they smelled musty and old, enveloped in the aroma of worn wood and of art; they smelled strongly of the CCP.
The scent of my work took me back to the Cultural Center of my youth, a place simmering with beaming hope and wild expectations. For a time during the early 90s, I used to hang out in its hallowed halls. I joined a summer art workshop and bonded with my classmates and the organizers. We even formed a group—The XXI Strokes—and had a show called “First” (and last!!! Hah!) at a reputable gallery Manila after.
That was a passionate juncture in my life—for the first time I let myself believe that I could create art. Funny how I don’t remember the names of my fellow artists or the things that we did, but I recall snippets of our stint there: I see my hands cutting a design on a rubber mat for the first time, I am observing the underside of work tables as I try to take a nap on the floor, I catch beams of light as we go ghost hunting after dark, and I am sitting in awe, communing with the works of Luz and Ocampo. I don’t remember much, but I am certain that that mildewed and stale odor accompanied me like an old friend everywhere. It was not imposing or bothersome, mind you. But it was comforting, comfortable, and ever present.
My old friend greeted me at the door the first time we had our meeting at the CCP. In my excitement over the upcoming show, I failed to acknowledge his presence. I knew that he was there with me during the days of our setup, up to the days when I would introduce Peel to my friends. He was the steady hand that guided me through my artist talk and he sat quietly with me as I said goodbye to the empty space.
I was taken aback when the scent emerged as I unpacked my pieces. It was the CCP of my youth, yes, but the wiff of sawdust has altered it. I clung to the fabric and drew in the new mix. I have come full circle, that’s what it said. My previous hopes and expectations were now realized dreams and memories. That old friend served its purpose and is gone. This new one promises a fresh chapter imprinted with untrodden visions.
With all souls’ day fast approaching, I’m taking the time to honor my old friend. I was apprehensive about the future, of what comes next, but this little haunting reminded me that all was well. It made me look back and see how the dots I’ve planted even back then have all connected and are pointing me to the future. So, thank you, dear friend. Thank you.