Many years ago, on one of my numerous trips to Baguio as a visitor, I went for a walk to and around Burnham Park, and, awed by the beauty of the fog descending on the city right before sunset, just as the Burnham photographers were hoping for a memory or two more to capture before calling it a day, just as the students were rushing to the park for a half hour of boating or biking with friends before going home, I looked for a perfect spot to keep still and better appreciate the wonderful scene. I found that spot somewhere at the Rose Garden, afternoon sun through the trees on a slope covered by green grass, and with a book in my pocket, I sat down and tried to read. But the beauty of it all - the trees, the fog, the cool Baguio air, the people, was keeping me from enjoying what I was reading, a welcome distraction, so I closed the book and instead watched Baguio end another day. That was a beautiful afternoon.
Another afternoon several years ago, this time I was already living here, we hopped on to a friend's pick-up truck and made our way to Marlboro Country (which some would say is better experienced on horseback) for a picnic. We had our children with us who were crazy about Harry Potter (they have just seen the HP and the Sorcerer's Stone) and while us, the parents, sitting on cold, wet grass, enjoying the cool mountain air talking about where the Baguio arts scene seems to be headed, the children were all over the hills running around on their broomsticks and magic wands running away from and fighting off imaginary monsters. Every detail of that afternoon plays out in slow motion in my head now. The moment was priceless.
Once we were shooting a music video for a band, and the story revolved around images of life in Baguio then and now. There was a scene wherein two boys were floating a paper boat on a brook, running down a hill trying to get a kite in the air, and walking along a narrow path in a pine forest. The video ended with the band, then already making a name for themselves in Manila, performing in front of a local crowd, just like the old days. I look back and remember filming those scenes more than I remember the music video itself.
See, Baguio has so many faces, it leaves an impression on people in so many different ways. It's the fog, it's the pine trees, it's the sunflowers, it's Mines View Park, it's the market, it's the strawberries, and lately to some, sadly, it's the mall.
In the more than ten years since I decided to make Baguio my home, there are two things that most significantly help define the life that I have made for myself here: Theater and Session Road.
Theater is the medium I have chosen to tell my stories. And Session Road is where I sit still and listen to stories. It's where Baguio people's lives meet, interconnect, intertwine. Session Road is where it's all at, for me, what it's all about. Almost everyone in Baguio can put Session Road as their address in their calling card, this is where you find almost everybody - waiting for a ride home, having coffee, or a beer, having breakfast, lunch or dinner. Buying a notebook, or a pen. Depositing money in or getting money from the bank. Watching a parade, or making a scene. Avoiding or bumping into someone. Getting medicine for a nagging headache, or hunting for that rare movie on pirated dvd.
Session Road is where you feel the pulse of the city, its aspirations, its frustrations.
Though it's true that Session Road is almost unrecognizable these days, its real face hidden behind all those commercial billboards and smog, but that unique Session Road feel remains - the Benguet brew served in glasses and not in mugs, the amulets and herbal medicine in one corner, and the religious figurines in another, the hand-painted t-shirts and native crafts on one sidewalk, the newspapers and secondhand books on another.
Puso Ng Baguio, one building along the road is named. It may very well be the name of the road itself. Theater and Session Road - come to think of it, the short stretch of road may very well be the arena in which the main plot of the city's story is played out.