Slow Mornings and Reading Haunts

Saturdays are when I don’t rush my mornings. On weekdays, the only thing I do slowly is breakfast – I rush through my bath and leave the house with hair dripping (which I utterly dislike). On weekends, however all else is tuned in to slow time. My days are marked by preference for quiet mornings. Mostly, I utter my first words after breakfast and find myself greatly derailed if someone engages me in conversation right after waking. Maybe, that’s the transition between still time before sleep and the rush of the coming day. I normally read to sleep and when the material is good, yielding becomes difficult. So the challenge is to stop at a juncture that is a momentary lull, yet signals anticipation. The list in the past month included Iris Murdoch’s “The Italian Girl”, A.S. Byatt’s “The Matisse Stories” and the first half of Garcia Marquez’s “The General in His Labyrinth”. As voracious readers would know, immersing oneself in a truly good work is akin to leaving the immediate shell of one’s environs – for me that means I have already read to my five-year old and everyone else had dozed off. The books that are presently camping on the rickety desk beside the bed are Loreta Lees’ “The Emancipatory City” and Hedman and Sidel’s “Philippine Politics and Society in the Twentieth Century”. I have read the chapter on Manila from this one and wished last night that I read the entire work instead last year. I had periodically camped out at various coffee places to read. In 2007, when writing the thesis I was the first to greet the morning crew at Coffee Bean in Gateway Cubao. I remember staying three hours at least for several weeks. In Bangkok, my favorite haunt was Amarin Plaza’s Book Lounge. My favorite spot would be the table for four with the view of the BTS tracks and the pedestrian walk way below. It also has a two-seat sofa offering a glimpse of the building’s Ionic columns. Once, I remember writing about the irony of finding quiet when surrounded by activity and noise. In both cases, these have been thankfully nominal. In the course of staying in both Coffee Bean and Amarin’s Book Lounge, complete strangers have chatted with me. At Coffee Bean, the most remarkable was talking to a ‘balikbayan’ who despairs over his futile efforts at helping fellow Filipinos have thriving livelihoods. At the Book Lounge, an American tourist with Hindi parentage told me about giving up his high-powered corporate job for some self-searching and soul communing. His father’s unexpected death ushered the need to take that path. In both instances, self-introductions in a formal sense never took place and the chats ended with wishes of luck and hope that life, after all will be kind to its weary trekkers. Conversations with strangers about life and its unpredictable turns are engaging because they remind us that a shared community of thought exists, and that in both happiness and suffering we are never solitary nor our experiences exceptional.

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