Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Globalization makes cities feel familiar (or ogling at a priestess inside Cafe Havana)

She was dancing close to a pillar at the corner of Café Havana unmindful of the world around her. A few feet away, couples dressed in their Friday tryst best where thumping furiously to a Caribbean beat. The room was full of souls searching for thrills but she was practically alone in the crowd, her slim hands raised over her head swaying gracefully in tiny controlled motions, eyes closed like a praying supplicant, her broad hips shaking spasmodically as if she was responding to an inner, passionate rhythm that she alone could sense or hear.

She was wearing high stilettos, tight acid-washed jeans that accentuated her shapely bottom, her plunging necklines agonizing against the strain of her ample breasts. We could see clearly her through the glass that separated her world and ours. The denizens of the night getting in and out the transparent door occasionally threw furtive and curious glances at her, but they always go around gently so as not to disrupt her trance-like supplications. Let the worldly priestess have her dutiful worship, they must have thought, whatever or whoever her god was.

Vic S and I were not supposed to be there. We were on the way to the underground car park headed for home when we came upon a multitude in front of the joint after an eyeball with Loida (a Multiply friend from Davao City) at Figaro, third floor, Greenbelt 3. It was past eleven pm when we were approaching Café Havana. Strings of tiny electric lights coiled up the trunks of giant palm trees highlighted the adjacent greeneries and the beautiful fountains. The full moon, the cool temperature brought about by Siberian winds, and the clear skies provided an exhilarating ambience for intoxication, bonhomie, and flirtatious laughter.

“Wow, look what we got here!” I exclaimed as we were approaching the crowd.

“Maybe we should have one for the road and see what’s in here,” Vic said.

“Nice idea!”

So we found ourselves treading through the perfumed throng to get closer to the bar. And there we saw her inside the room through the transparent glass dancing against the pillar. I certainly could do better than that stupid post, I told myself as I trained my eyes on her bewitching silhouette, but I was not in the mood for mischief. We stayed in front of the bar for several minutes observing her until a bar tender, a girl dressed in a white Caribbean hat, dainty yellow blouse, and tight floral skirt with a slit racing up her thigh, showed up with two cans of ice-cold San Mig Lite.

“To health and prosperity,” I heard Vic—or so I thought—exclaiming as he raised his drink for a toast. “For that girl dancing against the pillar,” I responded. Vic laughed.

We commandeered a table at the nearby Starbucks as we surveyed the crowd while exchanging notes and laughing about ourselves for our past manly misadventures. We saw young Pinoy men with well—nay minimally—dressed girls, middle-aged Caucasian guys with pretty exotic things half their age, blondes and brunettes mixing up with boys and men. Americans, Europeans, Arabs, blacks, South Asians, East Asians—it seemed like everybody was there. The crowd reminded me of Shanghai’s Xintiandi sans the debauchery. Globalization somehow tends to make all cities around the globe look or feel similar.

“This is the why the expats just love it here,” Vic said, showing me the bill.

Each can costs a hundred pesos, almost a third of a plumber’s basic daily wage, but the amount translates to just over two American dollars, loose change for people who reckon incomes in dollars. I was in Silicon Valley early this year; a mug of beer in bars in downtown San Jose was almost seven dollars.

“At The Fort, a bottle of beer only costs just about 35 pesos at a place that is as chic as this one,” he noted. “Man, that’s just about a dollar and twenty cents!”

It was close to two AM when I reached home. I slept after a quick shower and dreamed that we were in a remote island, enjoying the hospitality of the local village. At the background was a multinational force of men wearing war paints and menacing masks, holding spears and wooden shields, chanting songs as they violently thumped their feet against the soft, silvery sand, creating ripples along the shorelines.

At the center were girls in grass skirts dancing, singing, and running around a huge totem pole, a phallic symbol as tall as the coconut trees, their faces and topless bodies illuminated by the fury of burning driftwood and the moon in full bloom hanging up the cloudless sky. They were led by the priestess I saw dancing against the pillar in Café Havana, her supple hands raised over her head swaying gracefully in controlled motions, eyes closed like a praying devotee, her broad hips shaking spasmodically as she responded to the explosive rhythm of the tribal drums.

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