I love seeing pictures of Mt. Makiling. These always remind me of my high school days at the National Arts Center when the only thing I worried about was getting rid of the pimple on my nose.
So when a fellow Ibarang (which is what we call students and alumni of the Philippine High School for the Arts) sent links to his pictures, I eagerly downloaded all of them. Most of the pictures made me happily nostalgic but this picture of the NAC cafeteria (which we all called "cafe") made my heart feel a little bit heavier.
(Photo courtesy of kuya Daniel Honrade.)
Cafe was where most of us started our day. We would line up beside the metal counter where we were served breakfast in metal trays. If the line was long, we would sit at the edge of the wooden stage while waiting for our turn. When we were running late, the servers would scoop our viands into clear plastic bags and pack them in brown paper bags.
Lunch and dinner at the cafe were social events - we would chat with schoolmates while eating with distorted forks and worn-out spoons. Most of us would be seated in 3 long tables arranged on wooden floors, while the luckier ones get to seat at the balcony where they could enjoy the various shades of green that Mt. Makiling's trees and plants had to offer. The balcony was separated from the main dining area by glass doors.
With a wooden stage at the farthest end, Cafe was also "the" venue for staging mini-presentations, contests and even school announcements (major presentations and school activities were held at the NAC Theater). The transparent glass wall at the back of the stage allowed us to see the beauty of the mountain during the day but served as a black backdrop as soon as the sun hid behind Maria's back. I remember being in awe as I watched ate Pia, ate Anette, Ate Judelle, ate Grethel and mommy Christy perform "Limang Dipang Tao" on its stage. Four years later, it would stage a play that I directed where I required the actresses to gush like crazy over Gabby Concepcion while wearing ill-fitting monotonous clothes made up of metallic threads. I could still imagine Vivienne say, "Pedestrian lane, Pilut!"
Right beside the stage was an upright piano where Miguel would perform a classical version of Madonna's "Like a Virgin."
The dining area was not only meant for eating. It was the venue for exhibits, rehearsals and other school activities. This was where we auditioned for the school paper - we were all required to write an essay on the importance of art in life. I remember feeling so much pressure (I majored in Theater Arts and took up Creative Writing as a minor) that I was only able to write 3 short forgettable paragraphs. (I got to be Features Editor only because the title of my essay caught Ms. Almonte's attention. I borrowed the title of an old religious song, "How Great Thou Art!")
We held classes at the balcony when the rains prevented us from walking the kilometer down to our classrooms. The balcony also served as an alternative classroom for the Visual Arts Majors even on sunny days - I remember seating for hours in their midst as they attempted to draw my portrait and later on wishing for the portrait drawn by my high school crush. It was also the place where friends exchanged confidences and where several young couples confessed what they thought was love.
The Cafe survived the elements. Its grey stone walls refused to budge even as harsh winds swept the green plastic-and-metal chairs from end to end. These stone walls protected us during the 1990 earthquake - at that time, we were rehearsing a play when the cafe started to dance. Water violently sloshed out of its kidney-shaped pool. In panic, most of the younger students rushed to the balcony but the cafe valiantly carried their weight and didn't allow anyone to be thrown off the nearby cliff.
The cafe also survived our tears - the stairs leading to the dining area absorbed our despair when we learned at the end of our first year that we needed to say goodbye to 15 of our batchmates (we were only 28 in the batch!) We replaced the tears with shrieks and laughter when ten of us graduated three years later.
Sadly, the cafe did not survive the fire that razed it to the ground several years back. I see that it now has a roof but its sides are still unprotected without its walls. It is such a shame that it has not been rebuilt as I couldn't imagine life in the NAC without a cafe where students nourished not only their bodies, but also their minds, their art, and their love.