Saturday, June 02, 2007


NOT all searches are created equal.

This was my unvoiced thought when I lost my way again.

Finding a parking lot among high-rises should be elementary. I failed that effortlessly. After circling blocks in this uptown park, my husband might have guessed that I was going counterclockwise so he asked me to stay put and end his agony.

Why are some searches hell and others, a breeze? Physically finding my bearings is a strain, not always to me unfortunately.

While waiting for an appointment in a multinational company, I could not find my way from the toilet back to the visitor’s lounge. Freezing before one too many centrally locked doors that did not have my retina pattern in their code, I finally saw the ratty tote I left on the familiar sofa reflected on the cold granite walls of a corridor.

I was just in time. Building security were about to arrest the industrial spy skulking in the corridors and reading invisible instructions on the walls.

For another assignment, our team had to look for a home in an exclusive mountaintop subdivision. I copied the map in the guard house but could not later make sense of the scribbled arrows. We found the house because of our photographer’s presence of mind: Allan took a shot of the map with his digital camera.

Fortunately for my newsroom employers, my skewered internal compass is least active when I’m tracking down information. Seized by an anxiety attack over spelling, preposition or idiom, I google away the panic or do a Boolean.

Online searches are nearly idiot-proof. Just typing “and,” “not” and “or” with a subject starts a search, which matches me to references containing the keyword, a related phrase, relevant concept or similar documents.

What else can be more perfect than this virtual wandering, where even misspellings yield what the techies call a fuzzy search?

Another place where I don’t need a search party to come after me is around dictionaries.

I could hang around pages where seemingly accidental couplings result in dramatic turnabouts. After a preposition like “to” sidles up beside a word like “correct,” the resulting infinitive implies the opposite of the adjective’s pure repute.

Dictionaries are portable, which make them better than an Internet connection. And more detailed than maps, to boot. Once, a relative’s request to track down a plot of land brought our family to the mountains of Alcoy. After a sweltering half-day search, the hubby’s superior sense of direction tracked down the bald and severely eroded parcel, just on the opposite side of a deep ravine.

I did not see a cable car that could take us there. This thought remained unvoiced as a more relevant observation would have been William Henry Scott’s chapter on Cebuano terms for farming.

From the dictionaries compiled by Jesuit priest Francisco Alcina and others, Scott made a roll call of the many terms and meanings 16th-century farmers used in staking ownership of the land, clearing it, leaving it fallow, cultivating and harvesting.

No less than 14 verbs were used to detail land-clearing in the 1600s.

Many words have since passed on from common use. Even upland old-timers don’t recognize patkal, the branches cut from a tree to stake claim. Few now distinguish between hadhad (chop down full-grown trees) and goro (slash through bamboo or vines). In this age of tax declarations, land claimants and kaingin, who has use for such distinctions?

Reading Scott and Alcina would have brought us to the exact spot where a morning’s hard scrambling took us, to a world lost beyond the impassable. Perhaps some searches are equal after all. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 3, 2007 issue

No comments: