Tuesday, April 10, 2007

In Media Res: The Book-Hunter

Well, I'm back from vacation after the Holy Week. Nothing much, just the eternal road trip again. You know me, once I get behind the wheel, I'm in the zone.

A look back showed that I've used post titles like 'in media res' and 'in brief.' Unfortunately, this story overlapped the usual 15-minutes I allot myself (in fact, it reached 30 minutes) so I had to use another format. The funny thing is that I'm not sure where this story is going but I thought it would be a shame not to expand it.


In the bookstalls of Manila, you can almost find any book.

On dusty Recto avenue and crowding the ancient, run-down buildings, the bookstalls lined the sidewalks, manned by young people and old fanning themselves against the heat. The day's traffic beside the sidewalks is usually heavy with public jeepneys and their dark fumes of exhaust clouded the air. Overhead, the thunder of the light rail train was deafening as it passed by with the pillars’ shadows only a brief respite from the hot summer sun.

Searching for books can be hardship but it can be done.

I’ve found a lot of books in my time. Once, I found The Passions of Christ, a pop-up coffee-table book on wooden statues of grotesquely crucified Jesus Christ made throughout the country. Another time, I found a rather thick book but its cover ripped out, The Care and Feeding of Colossal Squids by Vahn Der Mer and Strauss. Rather cheap too, no thanks to water damage and the rips that looked like teethmarks that lined the inner cover page.

However, one book I definitely remember finding was The 2003 Guide to Secret Passageways of Manila, Revised and Expanded.

I was looking through a stall near Isetann Mall and I had already scored two books, a battered hardbound of Walking to Samarkand by Kerouac and Hemingway as well as a tattered historical book, Secret War: Magic and the Marcos Years by Mika Pelaez.

Suddenly, the 15-buck worth pile of dog-eared books I was going through shifted to reveal the Guide. With dusty hands, I slowly took it out and paged through it.

The Guide, done by a certain Clemente Ruanio, had first been published in 1978 and had been done ever since once a year. I wondered at the title. Secret passageways? In Manila? Was this a joke?

I looked at one of the entries. Page 34, in the middle section was an entry that read, "The Governor’s Palace, currently the offices of the Commission on Elections, has a passageway leading from the third floor of the building. At the moment, the west wing of the building is closed for renovation but this can be accessed through the executive director’s comfort room."

I closed the book. Okay, this is fucking weird, I thought at the time.

I was about to throw the book back into the pile when I had a thought. Quickly, I leafed through the Guide and found what I was looking for. The section read, "The Claro M. Recto thoroughfare has a number of passageways leading to different parts of Metro Manila. Some of them..."

I read through the section and found a list of the passageways. One of them cited a particular passageway between two bookstalls leaning against the Informatics school, which I knew was a few buildings down. With some trepidation, I bought the book and started walking.

At the exact spot near the door of the school, I stood like a rock among the wave of college students heading out for lunch. I flipped the book open and read the section again: "Between the two bookstalls, a bamboo shelf of tattered romance books and decades-old magazines can be moved to reveal a tunnel. This passageway leads directly to..."

I looked around. The old woman selling the dusty magazines was chatting amiably with the seller in the next stall. Furtively, I shifted the bamboo shelf, found the
tunnel and went inside.

And speaking of which, I really should do something about my somewhat-forgotten chest of story excerpts I keep coming up. Such a waste of good ideas there, don't you think?


Der Fuhrer said...

oh crap. that was an vignette pala! I thought you got it from another blog or something. Heh.

Interesting. Very interesting

banzai cat said...

Really? Why?

Der Fuhrer said...

qer.."a vignette" blasted keyboard!

hmn..it seemed like someone blogging about bookspotting. heh.

skinnyblackcladdink said...

interesting. i once wrote about the Manila Underground, and the dragon there...it was the first story i ever finished. needless to say it sucked. but it holds a special place in me heart hehe.

JP said...

>>Walking to Samarkand by Kerouac and Hemingway

I would sacrifice several unbaptised infants in order to procure a copy of this book.

Der Fuhrer said...

Vhan Der Mer hehehe

banzai cat said...

fuhrer:Yepyep. The key is in the books cited.

skinny: Manila underground? Literal or figurative?

jp: Ah, wouldn't we all? ;-)

JP said...

Especially since their styles are so at odds. Hemmingway would forever be niggling at Kerouac about shorter, more pithy setences, and Kerouac would smile and say they should go with the karmic flow. Then they'd both open up bottles of whisky and drink till they passed out, so I suppose nothing would ever get written...

skinnyblackcladdink said...

bc and jp: er, i wouldn't.

in the words of James Coburn: 'That's just mean, man.'

JP said...

...thus answering the question, 'won't someone think of the children' :D

banzai cat said...

Heh. Sissies. ;-)

Ryan said...

sounds great. reminds me of a sandman story about the cities that are awake or something.
it's like you can sense the creativity in the story but it needs to be drawn out and given direction. right now, it's almost a critical mass