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Taft reflections

The train howled: Its screeching sang in my ears. Blurred by blitzing traffic, the months in which I wandered Taft consisted of hazy vignettes. A joke I would mention in passing was that it was impossible to be an optimist in Taft. Yet, still, I cannot seem to untangle the mess it persists in being.

Images (cameras serving both as eye and mouth) are my way of speaking. But when the images of my constructed life fall flat and crumple, when my life metamorphoses into free verse, when days no longer tarry with recognizable rhythms, I am left retreating into the solitary vocabularies of thought. Taft witnessed my life unfold as a photomontage of inflating uncertainties; uncertainties limply hanging on LRT handlebars—its tardy arrival at Vito Cruz being the sole order amidst this confusion.

An indecisive lover; a Villa poem in half-dark, half-light; a living art house film with images superimposed on images superimposed on images … Taft is a paradox: How is one supposed to recognize a face? How is one supposed to carve out a life?

All of Taft is faceless; formless.

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Tucked away, a rugged bookstore gave some solace. Vanishing into shelves became a frequent hobby. Any book pulled: an unloved, ripped copy of “Shakespeare’s Sonnets,” the complete Poe, or some other bard, I would bury my nose in and whisper their pages, like some incantation, in the hopes that poetry would ooze some order onto my life.

“I have fallen in love with the wrong type of Cinema,” I wrote in a naive and frenzied email during that time. The sentiment seems to trickle down onto everything during my Taft wanderings as if it were a desaturating tint: A cultivated notion that I always have fallen in love with the wrong interests, hobbies, and beliefs. As common for one in Taft to experience the roaring trains and uneven sidewalks is experiencing the nervous breakdown: delirious, drunk-like shuffling down Dominga Street drenched in the dusk, contemplating life’s (seemingly) wrongful unfolding; the near surrender of ideals, and the slow initiation into the sludge of the real and the grime of the obscene. The extremity of rambling where one blurts in a parking lot: “Since post-Hotdog/Cinderella and pre ‘Pare Ko’ times things have been this way. Why? A man half-drunk blabbered that the mind trumps all the heart: What shaped that reply? Were these not the same sidewalks father and mother slithered through? This, too, was their trouble. And here I am, wallowing and weak: Therefore all I am must be wrong.”

A solipsistic approach helps, providing a mental sedative of sorts: That the world is only a mirror of your tastes and distastes. My interpretation of the reflection Taft was Dantesquely presented to me an avenue bruised from misplaced love; that the nervous breakdowns were nothing but a surrendering to the absolute.

In that same frenzied email, the conclusion read: “I wander around the streets of Manila, camera in hand, yet I find no revolution before my eyes to capture. What stories would an aspiring filmmaker/artist do in dormant times like these?”

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There is some humor I find in seeing these artifacts of past self-label those times “dormant.” For this was that same stubborn self that continued wandering; that continued to daydream, sheltered in clean cafés providing false shielding from the realities he stubbornly refused to acknowledge: a reality of cup-jangling children barging into Burger King, then back onto the sidewalks, cartwheeling by and by, and much much more. Some makeshift beauty can be made out of the surrounding “ugliness.” One incontestability about Taft as a place is that the culture it cultivates dances around ugliness: truths. It is a culture that is very much alive, and one I have very much weaved in and out of. A library conversation on stream of consciousness; a Beatnik rambling of handwritten, first-draft poetry; restaurant film pitches over tacos; gigs by students blaring radical, jittery music.

For, despite all the seeming pessimism, those such as I, who deemed themselves wanderers, students, artists, and friends of Taft, are creators and pursuers of beauty. But beauty in Taft is a maddening odyssey: A slow, confusing trailing of a quiet melody drowned within puddly footfall, warped by hellish heat, and trampled upon by the howling buses and trains sardining a million more montages of uncertainties and melodies. I joy in having witnessed some art here, but grieve knowing that art in this context will consistently wilt, and die so long as change evades Taft. And when finally that melody goes unheard, and one inevitably loses track, what then is left of the artist?

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When the waxed wings melt, what then is Icarus’ fate?

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Gabriel B. Fernandez, 20, is a former film student from De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde. He resides in Makati.

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