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Wednesday, October 27, 2010


(Photo Courtesy of Ernesto V. Enrique)

I must have been in Freshman High School when I first stepped into the Art Gallery on the second floor of Cafe Amapola. Michelle Soriano, a friend of mine who was a year ahead of me in high school, had asked me to accompany her to the opening of a group exhibit. She had to choose an artwork and submit a critique of it for her English Class assignment. And so we went and had just caught the tail-end of the opening ceremonies. It was late afternoon and there were people crowding all over the space. 

Michelle was drawn to one particular artwork. It stood out amongst the rest because it was drawn on an oversized intermediate pad -- the ones kindergartners usually use to practice writing the alphabet. It was lined in blue and red. The main artwork was like a kid's scribbling or doodling. I nonchalantly told Michelle: "But, I could do that?!" She answered: "But you didn't think of doing it first!" I left it at that. I Looked at the other works on exhibit and went back to the one Michelle had singled out. She leaned over my back and whispered "See, you can't get your eyes off it?!  It's the idea (or did she say 'concept') behind it."

 I then thought : AHA! The work was by the then budding artist Rock Drilon

In college, the Angel's Trumpet Bookstore was replaced by The Pub. It was more like a piano bar where blind musicians would play. At one point, Dave Tabligan (bless his soul) would play the piano. And then he suddenly disappeared from the Baguio Scene only to come back in the early 2000's and play the piano at The Manor. Medical students from SLU would also hang-out there. I remember Dr. Dennis Flores, then a medical student, take over the piano and play while his buddies would take turns singing.

Beer was 8 pesos a bottle. The Molo Soup and Camote Bread were favorites for us students. I usually ordered Reuben Sandwich for take-out when I would travel to Manila. I'd wait at the Cafe for the midnight Dagupan Bus Trip and eat the sandwich at the stopover in Pangasinan. It was at the cafe where I first tried eating artichokes. No big deal. I think they must've served the canned variety. Churros con chocolate on sunny afternoons or rainy evenings was perfect.

Amapola was the drinking place for us UP Baguio students. We would walk from campus and converge either in the pub or outside by the sidewalk. We hobnobbed with local artists the likes of Tommy Hafalla, Willy Magtibay, Rene Aquitania, Santi Bose. The cafe was bohemian in character. The old structure was refurbished by its new owners but kept the old flooring and basic structure. There was an old jukebox by the entrance and loads of mounted posters of art films or exhibits lined the walls. By the entrance of The Pub was a table fashioned from driftwood and stools to match it. The winding, wrought-iron staircases complemented the vintage mosaic tiles of the comfort rooms. 

The Pub had a mezzanine where throw pillows were strewn for a more relaxed atmosphere.  The cafe's logo/font was art nouveau reminiscent of the Paris Metro. The cafe attracted rightists, leftists, artists, homosexuals (latent and otherwise), foodies, fashionistas, backpackers, etc.  all converged there. There would be the occasional 'artista-sighting' -- like Richard Gomez or Aga Muhlach -- whence we'd give them the Baguio-snub and act like we didn't know/recognize them.

Sometime in 1987 or 1988, while we were drinking outside, a group of 8 or 10 Americans stepped into the cafe. They seated themselves in the table directly across ours although the glass pane separated us. Suddenly, one of us pointed out that one of the men looked like Tom Cruise. This was no coincidence since we knew that Tom Cruise was filming "Born On The Fourth Of July" in Ilocos that month. We figured he must've taken a break and come up to Baguio for some R&R. We were all excited and were trying to convince each other to go inside and ask him if indeed he was The Tom Cruise! But we chickened out. We were shy. Despite the beers we had drunk, we didn't have the guts to go inside. The Americans of course were basking at the attention and fuss we were 'throwing' their way. My female friends were acting 'kikay' just to get their attention. I could swear that that was Tom Cruise! We never got to validate it though.

It was at Amapola where I affixed my name and signature in the petition seeking One Million Signatures to convince Cory Aquino to run in the 1986 Snap Elections. My mother was active in the Cory Campaign. Along with other relatives and friends, and the Coryistas from Manila -- Mama would go join the rallies, fund raisers, motorcades, leading to Election Day that February in 1986. I remember  the night before elections, Mama and my Auntie Tessie were busy preparing sandwiches to be distributed to the poll watchers. They delivered these sandwiches along with other donated food stuff at the basement of Cafe Amapola where it was transformed into a Yellow Base for the Cory Supporters. A few days after elections, somebody threw a rock (?) and broke the window on the Pub side. It was supposed to send a warning to all the Cory Supporters. The owners of the Cafe were not intimidated and punctually replaced the window pane and put up a steel accordion gate on both the Pub and Cafe sides. Business as usual.

We, UP Students had friends from SLU who were also habitues of the cafe (mostly my Brother's Barkada) -- there was Arel 'Lamang' and Steve Limpin and the rest of the Limpin Clan. I remember Steve and his motorbike. He would allow us at times to ride with him at night. Once, he hitched Nina Ledesma as they went zooming across town. Nina however had to pee really bad and so they stopped at the funeral parlor along Naguillian Road, Nina steps off the bike, enters the first chapel she sees, gives her condolences to the people inside, hurriedly goes into the Chapel's comfort room to relieve herself, then bids everyone goodbye! HAHAHAHAHA!

There were also the Fil-Am Boys from SLU who were friends of Ferdie Balanag and later on got to hang-out with the rest of us. Emma and Jimil became an item. The Fil-Am Boys would bring their US Passports during Election-Liquor Ban nights and would be served beer. They would then pass on some to us, Philippine Passport Holders.

The Cafe saw relationships come and go. I know of several couples who first met there. I know of at least one couple still going strong today. They were both reeling from their failed marriages when they first met at the Cafe. But, more than twenty years later, they're still in each others arms. Awwwwww!

The sidewalk tables were perfect for people-watching. Baguio then was not so populated nor polluted. During Christmas we would see Karla P. Delgado (Her mother Peachy Prieto owned Cafe Amapola) on break from Harvard University. All the boys had a crush on mysterious, angelic Karla. But they were either too torpe or too stoned to muster enough guts and introduce themselves. I can count on my ten fingers the number of boys who were broken-hearted because of Karla.

My best friend Carol and I would hang-out at the cafe almost every evening. The last night we were there, we had agreed to meet up again the next day at 5:30 pm.

We didn't make it. The next day was July 16, 1990.

(Photo Courtesy of ramny.toralba's photostream on flickr)

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