Sunday, December 02, 2012

Perfect Oval

I AM that horrible creature: an exercise phobe, a fence-sitter, a lazy bum barely fit enough to straddle the fence even as a figure of speech (“sitting at the wayside” is preferred as being easier on the imagination) while the rest of the world huffs and puffs its way to fitness and longevity.

Dictionaries take a dim view of fence-sitting. It is the act of not acting, of not taking sides.

I think, though, the view is incomparable.

It’s not only because one chooses where to rest one’s rump. One watches better as rumps are hard to dislodge once stationed. Round on all sides but surprisingly stable, rumps are unlikely to tilt and roll away unless something proves stronger than gravity, an object desired beckoning or detested approaching, for instance.

A keen reader may have noticed five paragraphs have already rolled into view and I am still here, fence-sitting, thumb-tweedling, whatnotting.

In the time needed to read the preceding paragraphs, a perfect specimen of health must have completed part of the 2.2 kilometers that‘s the distance of the Academic Oval at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus in Quezon City.

Keener than any reader, the fence-sitter will argue: not only perfect specimens but all body types, sizes, shapes, advocacies, hair colors, even body covering are walking, running, biking, skateboarding, loping, sniffing, padding, chasing at the Oval. On any day of the week, at all hours, in all kinds of weather, even on holidays that effectively empty the campus.

And yes, include in that list, reading, chatting, lying down, sprawling, sitting, fence-sitting, thumb-tweedling, whatnotting.

During these past seven months, the only time I’ve seen someone near perfection around the Oval was the morning when actor Piolo Pascual and friend ran past me six or seven times on the off-limits-to-cars inner track that circles the core of the campus.

In the time that it took me to reread and finish a chapter of Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose,” which I was discovering for the second time, the fellows breezed past. Eco’s humor is harder to penetrate than his erudition; it was especially more difficult to comprehend when Piolo’s approach was always heralded by squealing from young girls who recognized him and the blinding graze of the actor’s undimmed smiling. What thundering thighs! What a pair of lungs! What a heart!

Most days, it’s just us folks using the Oval. Or in my case, not using.

Perhaps that is what amazes most about the Oval, a landmark that more than marks the land, remaining in use and of timeless relevance decades after it was first planned. Appreciated, not just used. By a lot of folks, not just the privileged.

Visible in a photo of the UPD campus dating back to the 1950s, which is uploaded on, is a hard-to-recognize Oval, bare as a lunascape. According to the site, then President Bienvenido Ma. Sioco Gonzales ordered the planting of acacia trees in the Oval immediately after the campus was moved from Padre Faura.

Dawdling after Saturday classes, my classmates and I watched a heavy-maned Labrador nearly win a fight of wills with his human. He didn’t want to go home yet. He wanted a cup of taho or a cone of dirty ice cream. He didn’t get either, but he got to sniff and chase after the myriad olfactory mysteries eluding him at the base of one of the 164 ancient acacias that make the Oval The Oval.

If you’ve seen the smog hover over and smother the Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (Edsa) route, it boggles the mind that a short jeepney ride from Quezon Avenue along Edsa are trees these ancient, these numerous. One can be forgiven for thinking these are mirages until one smells the air around the Oval. And breathes deeply.

According to iskWiki, the transformation of the former cogon lands into this urban forest was made possible by Professor Jose Vera Santos.

Taking shelter under the century-old canopies and an endless blue sky, I wonder whether we will see again the likes of Gonzales and Santos who saw, long before anyone did, the priceless pleasures of fence-sitting .

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 2, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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