Sunday, March 25, 2007

just another day in michel

(account of march 18, 2007)

It strikes me in mid-chop, as I help Berto prepare his dinakdakan. It's a typical day in Michel, that old pre-war apartment building on Mabini St, Malate, inhabited by a motley crew of artists and eccentrics. It's a Sunday afternoon. The sun is merciful today. None of the psycho summer heat it's been threatening us with the past few days. That we're a couple blocks away from the sea helps, I suppose. The wind blows in gusts, stirring the mound of gravel that a bolt of tarp tries to tame. It fails, and the gravel sprinkles us and hurts our eyes.
The grill nearby, fresh from being used to cook today's lunch (several pieces of garoupa), is resuscitated again to toast the pork used for the dinakdakan. The scene brings thoughts of the beach. Ungas (Derek) suggests we spread the gravel on the ground as sand. Miko, his Japanese neighbor, a glass blower and graphic artist, and all of 24-year old innocence about her, looks at him blankly. You don't know if she'll take him seriously or not. Around her neck is a Holga she purchased earlier from Quiapo. She tries to catch Gizzard, Derek's yellow lab, as he writhes on the concrete--and fails.
Back to my chopping: today, the people of Michel are in the mood for dinakdakan, a northern dish made of grilled pigface (P100 for a full kilo!), chopped all nice and fine, tossed with onions, ginger, chilies, and spicy vinegar. Berto fantasizes about pig's brain, which is also used to enhance the dish.
"But you can't mix it in right away," he says in his heavily accented Tagalog. The Scout Ranger has a handsome face--"like Omar Shariff," his commander describes--and the body of an active man who's seen too many inactive days recently, round and solid, like a barrel. He explains that the people of Solana, an area in Cagayan, up in the north, where he was stationed some time back, first wrap the pig's brain in plastic, then dip the bag in hot water to gelatinize the brain before it's tossed in the dinakdakan.
He pauses. We all pause, imagining the rich, sweet taste the brain brings to any dish.
"Eh...ano kung mayonnaise?" Berto ventures.
All at once, we violently disagree.
The chopping is nearly done. Mon does the ginger; I continue with the onions, red and white.
Ali, my sister, an environmental policy analyst for the Milken Institute in Sta. Monica, California, likes to write regularly about her tales to Vegas and Jamaica and New York and whatever city or country she might be visiting at the moment. What she ate, at what resto, what she saw, what she bought. I've always thought whatever stories I had to tell would pale beside dunganess crabs and Tumi bags and Tiffany. All I have are these little snippets of everyday life here in the Philippines (the most corrupt country in Asia!), its characters, their idiosyncrasies, and what lessons they teach me--or fail to let me see.
Today it's friendship I'm taught, once again. It's the joy in pushing through with a plan, however seemingly shallow--"hey, let's make dinakdakan today!" The afternoon has a village-y, tribal feel to it. I came to Michel this afternoon expecting to spend the day at the computer finishing a deadline. Instead, I am outside, volunteering to wield the knife. People gather round the worktable, tell stories, laugh, walk about, try to catch a runaway Coke bottle as the wind topples it and carries it to the far end of the lot.
Nina Simone plays from Derek's ipod. Milo, the beautiful chocolate lab, slumbers heavily in the backseat of Elvis, Ungas' Lancer. We settle the sting and the spiciness of the vinegar according to Jimmy's taste, which is too timid to take the wrath of the labuyo. Everyone is happy, everyone agrees.
And it strikes me, yes, in mid-chop. This makes for as good a story as anything.

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