Saturday, June 04, 2011

Moving still

I WATCH bags during airport waits. Then I check their owners’ faces to see if they match the way they’ve packed to go.

Why not look at the persons first? It’s a game I play to calm myself. I’m used to waiting—all the queues I’ve joined, out of obeisance to bureaucracy and curiosity—but airports, with their technology and (in)security, unsettle me.

I have mixed feelings about travel. I can understand that not all flights can be consummated by opening a book and becoming a character in a world imagined, scene by scene.

But a lifetime of pulling up stakes has not simplified the complexity of deciding which of my possessions to take with me, which to leave behind, shed off, or return to.

How did the ancients travel? What did it take to make the leap from “leave” to “leave behind”?

The necessity and ease of travel make it now natural for us to pair off departures and arrivals, rattling off ETDs and ETAs with the nonchalant assumption of using the same points of reference. A terminal is a terminal and not a terminal, in the double meaning of modern travel jargon. A round-trip ticket as an axiom, not an option.

So why is there nothing lighthearted about packing up?

Perhaps it’s just me since, scene after scene in the airports I’ve waited at, the bags and their owners flow with more regularity and insouciance than one can expect from the luggage conveyor belt unrolling surprises after the standard interminable wait.

Packing has become such a science and a business, it comes no longer as a wonderment that the singular gastronomic, cultural and sensual experience conjured by a mere kilo or more of lechon made the Cebuano way can now be reduced to a small tidy white box held in a clear plastic bag dangling from a traveler’s wrist. Only a tiny red stamped image of a happy porker with jaunty heels inviting a nibble allows one to imagine the herb-impregnated, cholesterol-steeped indulgence sent across the miles to barely sate distant, pining appetites.

The minimal is king in this transient, transcendent world.

Even folks who don’t look as if they’re traveling on business prioritize in their carry-ons a laptop or gadget whose screen is of a size that’s totally disproportionate to its power to suck in all that is human, leaving behind a facsimile in flesh biding its time at a terminal that may not be one at all.

What people take out of their bags to endure waiting may not be as revealing as what they keep in, but it is all that is accessible to the mordant but not criminally curious. When dealing with inevitable irritants, such as delayed departures or unwelcome seatmates, one reaches inside that carry-on and escapes.

I thought minimal, synthetic and black defined these modern lifesavers until one evening, during three hours of waiting, I saw the unexpected make its appearance.

At first, I thought it was the herding instinct of a group traveling together or attending the same seminar in Cebu. But as one “buyot” or “bayong” after another rolled off the checking counters and were picked up by owners who drifted apart, I wondered whether the green movement would not just save the earth but also bring a resurgence of the artisan.

These native totes, made of leaves, fiber and vines, are picked, pounded, dried, woven and traded by those who travel not just from faraway places—Guihulngan, Antequerra, Baybay, Badian and others of musical-sounding provenance—but transmit the instincts and memories of those for whom the making was integral for possessing and using.

Cleaving the sea of travelers pigeonholed in their digital solitudes, the Caucasian lady carried a folded woven sleeping mat. In one of our checked-in bags, I brought the still stiff and resistant undyed mat of “tikog” reeds a friend in Alegria wove and sent to me.

Heading for the perpetually lit, unsleeping highrises that skyscape a city for whom I hold little love, I thought it best to bring this talisman of a world that drew sustenance from the earth and would, in time, return to its roots.

( 09173226131)

* First published in the May 22, 2011 issue of Sun.Star Cebu's "Matamata" Sunday column

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