Today, I decided to take a walk. The rains had stopped, everything was clear and the boulevard was begging to be strolled upon. Bogart stayed home though. Bogart doesn't come along when I walk beyond Luneta Park. Not sure if dogs are allowed at the park and his short legs can't take the distance.
It was a perfect day to walk. A cool breeze was coming in off the water and the pavement looked scrubbed clean by the rain. Looking around, I also realized that one doesn't really need to succumb to sugary drinks and pork products while snacking on the streets of our city. Check it out. There's steamed peanuts (above), steamed corn, and green mangoes (skip the bagoong) to choose from instead of the usual suspects of chips and Coke.
But for those less concerned with healthy options. There's sugary colored popcorn, dinuguan (pork blood stew) and mechado (meat and potato stew) sold out of a really cool customized canteen cart/bike, balut (hot fertilized duck eggs) in a basket, or sleeves of chicharon (pork cracklings). (Below)
But my wild discovery of the day was the stall of Nonoy, a man who makes breaded fried calamari near the United States Embassy (above). Sold by the piece (three pesos) and eaten in the bamboo stick tusok-tusok (stab stab) way we love so much, I can safely say this is the best Calamari that I have ever eaten in the city. The chunks of squid were tender, the coating was crisp and the dressing of vinegar with garlic and chili was almost elegant in it's simplicity.
And check it out again! Handicrafts and guitar vendors! (above) All I needed was a bottle of wine, a blanket, and a friend who actually knows how to play a guitar and it's tapas party time by the Manila Bay sunset (below). Woohoo.
After snarfing down a plate of calamares while watching some kids swim in what looked like "cleaner" waters of Manila Bay (above), I headed back into Ermita to check out the scene. I wandered into Black Stump, the rooftop bar of Iseya Hotel, Hobbit House, a few art galleries, and antique stores. I even found time to duck into Ermita Church (below) before crossing TM Kalaw into Luneta Park.
And in fairness, I gotta say Luneta is looking really good. I'm not sure if it's only because it was night time already but the park seemed better lit and cleaner. And while sitting it out on the grass of The Chinese Gardens, I happened to hear classical piano wafting my way. As it turns out, Paco Park Presents and The Piano Teachers Association of the Philippines were having a recital next door. Wild. So underneath the stars and a smiling moon, I listened to about a half hour of classical piano (below). How amazing is that? Where was that bottle of wine again? Another amazing discovery that night. A man named Darren Matias who played an astonishing Hungarian Rhapsody #2. His music choice and stage manner reminded me a bit of Lang Lang and I'm not sure if that's what he would want. But either way, he was smashing and I'm sure he'll be rocking the international piano circuit in the future. I was also amazed by the number and variety of folk that were watching this free show. Classical music in the park. That is so correct. It really is. Never knew such gentility was still available for free in downtown Manila.
After the concert ended, I checked out the Chess Plaza (above) and headed back towards Ermita once more. And that's when things took a rather serious turn. I totally forgot that it was May 1. Labor Day. And a rally was heading towards the United States embassy to protest against the Visiting Forces Agreement (above) and the allegedly illegitimate presidency of Gloria. Now forgive me for not being too adept in recognizing our nation's leftists, but can someone kindly identify the man below and the lady in glasses next to him? They seemed really important and kinda looked like they were the leaders of the pack (below). I was able to identify Rep.Teddy Casino behind him though. And that's only because I see him on TV a lot.
And after watching the rallyists and policemen do a facedown at the corner of Luneta and Roxas Boulevard, I retreated back into the park. What a reality check. And what theatrics. After all the beauty and intoxication brought about by the music, sunset, and street food, the sight of hundreds of protesters with their burning torches and chants of "Hey Ho! Hey Ho! VFA has got to go!" and "Makibaka! Huwag Matakot!" was a completely sobering moment. I guess that no matter how good things may seem on the surface in some parts of this reality we call the Philippines, we have to keep an eye on the prize and not forget about the problems which lie beneath.
We have a society that is still unbelievably divided, a dysfunctional constitution and economy, a lame duck president that nobody loves, an awkward relationship with the United States of America, and lost standing in the eyes of the international community. I mean, really, it was only eight May 1's ago in 2001 when the steaming masses of Manila surged towards the collapse of our society in a forgotten tea party called EDSA Tres. How far have we gone as a society since then?
It's something I'm going to have to think about tonight.
Have a happy May 2 tomorrow, everybody.