From Brighton to Batangas

LODESTAR - Danton Remoto (The Philippine Star) - April 24, 2021 - 12:00am

Brighton, England. One summer I was with my friend Hector in Victoria Station, in England. I had been doing research for  a month at the University of Stirling in Scotland when Henry rang me up and asked if I want to visit him during the long weekend. He was taking postgraduate studies at the University of Sussex, and I told him that I wanted to see Brighton.

The train passed by the old buildings of London, with their sloping roofs and thick walls darkened by soot. Then it was rolling countryside, the green just beginning to show that early summer. One of the things that I had learnt during my stay at the United Kingdom was to look at the landscapes. I would allow my eyes to take in the sight of sheep, hill and cloud, to notice the quality of light that changes with the passing of the day.

We arrived in Brighton at night, and walked and walked for what seemed like a long time. My friend wore fatigue trousers with many pockets and his venerable hiking boots. I wasn’t and so I huffed and puffed and tried to follow him on the roads of Brighton now dipping, now rising.

He rented a room in a flat owned by a man who made wine and by a woman who taught in school. They had two bright and articulate kids who always teased my friend when he would be off to school. “It should be university,” they would both say in unison, “not school.” Both the husband and wife were into saving the environment, and in their kitchen they had stored all kinds of glasses, cups, saucers, everything that should not be discarded.

The next day, my friend brought me to the university, with its view of the Sussex Downs, hills rolling gently near the campus. There was a housing shortage, and in the parks I saw a Volkswagen van loaded with a bed, books and booze. Because of the high cost of attending the university, the British students had to do with a lot less. Sometimes, my friends would survive on toasted whole-wheat bread with Sunflower margarine and a steaming cup of Earl Grey tea or white coffee.

Brighton was an old, charming mélange of narrow, cobblestoned streets and little shops that offered handmade crafts, potpourris, tie-dyed vests and bags from India, sterling silver rings, nose rings and necklaces, pins and posters, old books and even paraphernalia for the serious smoker of marijuana.

The sea. From the sloping streets you could see it, a massive gray thing moving in the distance, as if possessed with a life of its own. The expensive hotels were located by the beach front and they were beginning to fill up with American tourists. We parked ourselves in the open-air café, bought potato crisps and Coke and surveyed the scene.

The beach was littered with stalls that sold faded postcards and horrid shirts that tried, but failed, to capture the color and effervescence of a tropical resort. This wasn’t California, of course. There were no young women on rollerblades, their bodies spilling out of  provocative two-piecers. There were also no golden men riding the surf in skimpy Speedos.

Here, only the very young or the very old go to the beach of Brighton. They walked on the sand littered with pebbles, trying to imagine they were walking instead on the tropical resort of their dreams. Nobody dared venture to swim in the sea: cold, dark and forbidding, it looked like a strange and terrifying thing.

The teenagers, the yuppies, save that for the holiday in Spain or the Greek islands. One day I was at the university and we were doing the layout for our books when Joseph, my classmate from Belfast, raised his face and told me in a musical accent: “Aye, Dyan, I wish I were on holiday today.”

“What’s your idea of a holiday?” I asked.

“The sea,” he said, his eyes beginning to light up. “Sunlight, coconut trees and eating bananas all day long while sipping fruit juices.”

I told him we had that all year long in the Philippines, and looked outside the window, for there, postcard-still, was my idea of a holiday: deep snow covering everything, including the bare trees.

*      *      *

Nasugbu, Batangas, Philippines. One week ago we had a planning session for a gay organization that I had joined. We hired a jeep and traveled past the mountain city of Tagaytay, with its lovely sunflowers, its cool air and its majestic view of Taal Volcano.

The meetings were long and tiring, but eventually bracing. I was with people from other non-government organizations. I admired the way they could dissect an issue with the patience of a spider weaving its web. After one day of intense discussions, we had a plan for the next three years. So we wished ourselves the best of luck, took the boat to Maya-Maya Beach and then swam in the bright blue sea.

The sand was not very white, but my Irish friend would have loved it. Every moment, the sea changes its color, from dark to silver to blue to green, depending on the quality of the light. The sand was warm, the water more so. I wasn’t a good swimmer but the sea holds you up, buoys you. You looked up and the sky was there, a cool canvas before your tired eyes. You played your childhood game, and then the clouds were no longer just clouds. They had transformed into faces and ships. And when you looked down, the sea just went on and on, infinitely into the horizon.

Could you imagine this 500 years ago, when the hungry and seasick Spaniards first saw the greenest coconuts, the deepest forests, all in clearest air? They must have gone mad, then, ran to the shore and wished to stay forever.

It also made you want to stay here, in this place and in this country, as long as you could. There were so many things one could do in a country of so much beauty, but also a country of so much poverty.

*      *      *

Danton Remoto’s novel, Riverrun, has just been published by Penguin Books to rave reviews. Copies can be bought at Shopee and Amazon. Email: danton.lodestar@gmail.com.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with