Friday, January 30, 2009

Friendly Files with the Beer Files

Paths change and we all get to take a few detours down the road. Sometimes the surprises are fascinating, but it not always scenic.

I am thankful for liquid grain fermented with memories of good times past. Here's a toast to people who remained faithful to the mug, the glass, the bottle and the perpetual next round. When the day was long or when the night plodded on this year, I thought of them.

What are you doing right now SP? Still holding that skewer? I remember - winter in Beijing, cold nights, hot coal, embers, smoke, stupid jokes, jokes that should get anyone thrown out of any room except that they're just so completely stupid you have to laugh at the ideas; so stupid we can't remember any, and I remember staggering back many times to your place, or to another small dingy joint, for a final round. Ripe, cold sliced tomatoes or cucumber with salt and sugar and frash garlic? The Yi Li milk in the morning that probably has us doused in tremendous amounts of melanine? Morning music that makes a sunny day cloudy and the air so still. Cobwebs and melancholy, and memories of snoring like the droning sound made by busted pipes of busted old socialist plumbing of yesteryear. Peppercorn -- a bazillion peppercorns with a piece of oil-soaked fish in the mouth, and a piece of rabbit beneath a mountain of chillis. Yanjing beer as fireman.

In my mind are old photos I've never seen. Feifei is driving big red trucks, sitting on the pastoral dreams of Kaming, floating on his dad's silly jokes. There is the terrace of your high home in Beijing, open air, where you are holding up the young tiger and you are both gazing down at the hutongs, past and future opening up and you see farther than your eyes can reach.

What about you Arthur Jones? Still carrying that Beer Chang mug? We slurred our speeches once upon a time too many times and it's still not enough, the last time being at that fine place, that old place by the park named like Looney Tunes where the locals get their happy greens with their beer suds. I remember what you said then. You said Na told you. Get everything out, chop chop chop, pound pound pound, ready the salt, ready the pepper, put those fermented fish things by your side, make sure there's a pinch 'o sugar to sprinkle; no need for any meat. When the oil's piping hot and the smoke's billowing out like it was a happy, sweating chimney, throw everything in and stir like crazy. Half a minute later take it all out and serve in a clean plate and make the world a happier place. Remember AC-DC live? And that white girl who took to the stage, grabbed the mike and sang a Whitesnake song? She sounded like a virus alarm on the PC but she was happy, and so were we with the rounds of Singha.

What are you doing right now Daniel? We've done two already and it's a great start; I hope there's more.

Last time I saw you you left me three special brews. I think the things people do with hops represent countries far better than what any of those silly farts sitting in parliament do. There's more to life than fizz. Don't you think the world would be a happier place if trade returned to its barter stage? For the Alligauers I would have paid you four sand dollars and you would have been rich beyond your means.For your mountain coffee - organic, as you prefer - I would have asked for ten bottle caps and a box of crayons.

What's your idea of precious?

Raise your fist again and open the door, enter; that's what you do. And the calling just don't get more militant than the Proletaryat,
right after consuming hot Polish honey beer at the big dark square and walking on cobblestones. The story should be worth telling even after a decade: "It was winter when we manned the barricades, under the cross-eyed gaze of Karl and Vladimir Illich and a bemedalled general we couldn't identify, except that he looked Soviet and looked like a bureaucrat, which sounds redundant." We sat on nifty chairs with a red star where the buns meet and we sipped our Zywiec and there were plenty of young folks smoking and drinking and smoking and drinking, and you were trying your best to keep swallowing more pilsen and to show that you did not mind the fumes. But people do tend to notice other people when they stop breathing.

I remember the bartender lady looked kinda evil and it felt weird because she had this horrible lion toy thingy beside a dark fuschia piggy bank just in front of the taps, as if they were totems placed there to ward away do-gooders, and I think if she suddenly popped her mouth open to show she was sucking on the corpse of Tweety Bird I wouldn't have been surprised. I'm not sure you noticed.

The world's changed a lot and it's remained pretty much the same. I see you right now riding a train, and it's a long tranquil ride. I see you leaning on the far side, an elbow propped on the foldable table and I can hear the noise of the rails, a rhythmic mechanical chant, and suddenly the whoosh of another train going in the opposite direction, and you're looking out the window and the carriage rocks from side to side, as if caught in linear ripples.

Fields pass by like plates getting rapidly rinsed in a sink. There are two dozen plates; one, two, three, four, five. Light poles are flying, then streets, cars, houses, trees, then it's another station, then tenements, the coast, blue sky, more fields and more plates, another train station, buildings, highways, children boiling out of schools and rushing to meet playtime. Parks, farms, windmills, stadiums, convention centers, and then the train slows down and carriage mouths open to disengorge passengers who step down gingerly. Train conductors peek out, a whistle is blown; conversations splinter. One day soon it won't be just a book or your laptop resting on your lap. There will be a kid and there will be four eyes staring out, quietly watching the big blue sky, thinking of Kathrin and escalators.

Martin Baker Boulangerie. Towering figure who always looks up. Hard-nosed cupcake. Lava-man with the perpetual heart of a teen-ager. (Which is why she likes you.) What have you been up to? Right now I am replaying in my mind a Hong Kong stroll we made when we decided not to stop by Boris the Ukrainian's dreadful dive. We made a pit stop in a place with fluid jazz, where I ordered an Irish meat stew, which was every bit Irish except that the dish wasn't drunk and so you and I had to compensate and we walked out and hunted for another place - a cold roof top where a bald boy got married and while it rained we had rounds of wheat beer till the waiters called for last orders. I remember the hiccups, which felt like a small squirrel was stuck inside the diaphragm and it kept bouncing and bouncing and bouncing. I saw you again in a blues place where I finally met the woman who made you swoon. So never mind the Lionel Barts. You went to rock and lurch because it's past the time to hawk one's pearly, which you know, because you'll always be a flag unfurled, with your fleas and ants on all the time, and pretty soon it's time to soap and lather.

Here's to Ginting, a Westmalle among ten thousand Heinekens. The old year is drawing to a close and we are all going to be sustained by the things that connect. Nasi goreng past midnight in cold, cold Amsterdam after the long boisterous dinner at Marta's. Just like Filipinos, with early morning lugaw or arroz caldo after a good binge. We did Vondel Park one day, with Trappist beers in tow and we met this Dutchman playing with a Swiss version of a gamelan piece. He had a weird name -- Trevor Namaste -- as if he was eager for a new start, one of those who had met modernity and discovered there was nothing inside. The music of his gong though was beautiful, but the spot we had taken was better and we watched a whole swarm of people enjoy the sun on the open field and Tri took pictures and gave out kreteks. We'll do that book soon. Think good thoughts. I do. Let's have more blueberry.

Mae and Maia. Maia and Mae. Maiabird and Melindamae. Amsterdam opened its secrets to me when we criss-crossed the channels and cycled with no destination in mind and I realized things were not so secret. There was always time to watch people and to taste new things, always time to laugh at something. I'd get lost all the time and I'd get rescued all the time, because I always had time at Erste or at the living room terrace at the third floor.

Old Church and the flesh trade, Albertheijn and Waterloo Plein, herring sliding down the throat, vegetables, fruits and another slippery herring. A steak place called Che run by young Yugoslavians, grapes from the vine, Kurdish fare, Cafe Weiteringstraat. The margins coming to centerstage. We watched a legion descend on Brouwerij 't Ij to sun themselves on the street, besdie the canal and beneath the great old windmill. It was Zatte, Natte, and Columbus -- and the special Cosa Nostra Ducks, those murderous mallards who escaped from the National Geographic Asylum for animals with sick minds who tried to slap, bite, peck, stomp and drown a poor quack for being a stool pigeon. Never saw a duck try to drown another duck before; ducks biting the neck of another to plunge its head underwater. We threw small rocks, big rocks, twigs, branches, a brick but the violence would not stop. Then the victim wriggled frree and floated, gasped for air, paddled briefly then flew away, and there we were till the brewery's closing wondering what the heck we saw. Was Padma there?

Wonderdays. Soul food that keeps giving. #

No comments: