Finally, Jesa and I were able to fully return to Baguio last Saturday night—technically Sunday morning—when we walked from town to our place somewhere in Marcos Highway. Just like old times, past-midnight and the grey-orange-dark, godly, unpeopled streets, the highway a highway for the lunatic, giggly feet of people, sometimes ours.
Crossing my mind lately is the tremulous, tremor-like possibility of having this beloved act of walking curtailed by external circumstances—like the menace of a Duterte nationwide Martial Law—or having this beloved act placed in a different period—the ghostly Marcos Martial Law for instance—where it would not have prospered. Other instances of prohibitions from the outside are not lacking. We could have been women in the older times, in Middle Assyrian of the 17th-11th century B.C. for example where, as Rebecca Solnit wrote in “Walking after Midnight: Women, Sex and Public Space,” women were classified by virtue of their public appearance: the veiled ones are worthy of respect, the ones uncovered ooze with the sexual, suggestive of “indecent” employment and hence contemptible. A subtle way of reproaching and limiting their act of walking. Even today, with catcalling and ogling prevalent, women walking can still be deterred.
She also touched on the flaneur in the same essay: “one of the arguments about why women could not be flaneurs was that they were, as either commodities or consumers, incapable of being sufficiently detached from the commerce of city life.” Very lovely and useful declarations, greatly contribute to my continual pondering on the flaneur I understand mainly in the context of late-19th century Paris, Walter Benjamin’s musings, musings on his musings, French arcades and bazaars in a hatching industrialization. I have been reflecting as well about the affinities—and the limits of application—of a mainly Western idea and practice of flanery to a hardly-thought out flanery in the Philippines, particularly in Baguio.
I am almost certain that as long as we reside here, we will be tempted neither by habituation nor laziness, just the prospect of deriving a figurative amulet in ambulation, becoming-astral through strolling.
The recent events are giving us reasons to be suspicious though. The word “rampant” is trumped by the phrase “have become normal” in describing the killings—drug-related or not. After our meeting last Friday, a friend did not advise me to do as I planned, to walk home and be a somber muse, unmasking myself unmasking Marcos Highway. The air of insecurity is not as intangible as the word. Hours later, Saturday night dripped into Sunday morning and Jesa and I walked our way home to make ourselves feel that Baguio is back in the soles of our bodies and the hovels in our feet. We try to ward off uneasy thoughts, whether they are imagined or real.
Marcos’ Martial Law is filled with stories of curfews and illegal arrests and reckless disregard of rights to live, to walk to buy borax or beer in the store, to walk to reflect on a novel’s next plot tweet or an opening courtship line. The night is a thing you tuck with yourself in bed. Today, Duterte’s young hours are turning formerly cruising and crusading nights into nights hoarse and panting. A gun you might here, a body you might witness in its dying second of a dream. You might lose your mind. Unseen ghosts are feasting on your safety.
We are back in this zone, and where will we walk we are not always sure, but what will we not be walking for, we are less uncertain. When even our walking is forbidden by the powerful, we will be asking HOW—not just how to walk again, but how to help in powdering the powerful into pieces.