City scents

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By Peter Rey Bautista

All In Good Time

Friday, June 20, 2014


I WAS born in this city a true and certified Baguio Boy. I ran the city streets, played along its creeks, and walked its trails. I ran or biked from home to school and back. The scent of pine was everywhere, so with dama de noche, marigold and marapait.

All these bring memories of the place I grew up in. During this time air quality was never an issue. The air, crisp and fresh. Session Rd. had its own scent, too - the smell of coffee from Dainty and freshly baked pandesal in different corners along the road. Spanish bread was my choice with cousins and friends. And there was also the scent of pizza from Skyworld because of Shakey’s and my favorite in another corner Fiesta Pizza. They just smelled so good. I could not afford Shakey’s except the Bunch of Lunch but would still go there to Botak to get my running gear. Yes, I ran all before running was a fad, though I wish for it to continue. “Rations” is what I called the goods I bought beside Shakey’s. This was military rations I had for my camping then. I just love the surprise of what I had inside the pack, but really I was there also to smell the pizza. But it was Fiesta for me. It smelled so good.

There weren’t too many vehicles then. Even when I had my own during college I knew I always had parking and this was all before the earthquake of 1990. It was then when the city and its scent changed.

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There was the stench of death, formalin and dust. It was also after that the city began to redevelop. Construction and destruction.

Then it became a concrete jungle. I would recall our city dads say that this is the reality of development, the cost of becoming a new Baguio.

While at that time it was welcome, I would have wished for it also to be a chance for a master plan and not the Vision of one. Sure, it changed the landscape of the city, but was it for the better? There rose a cemented pine tree and a lot more paved roads. With paved roads came more and more vehicles. Soon the smell of Session changed.

Food continues to be the scent of choice rather than taxi smoke. Still good I guess. At times there is the smell of longganisa or shwarma. I don’t mind inihaw as it still whets my appetite with matching calamansi, soy and sili. Sarap! But let me go back, my apologies for being sidetracked.

The smell has definitely changed but not for the better. Apologies again for being sentimental and comparing.

Today we had to replant "ficus". Some say they are as ugly as the cemented pine tree but let me share this tree absorbs and loves the bad air so that’s it. Enough. Now every Juan knows.

Every Juan would have also noticed we are now missing the scent of pine. I would hear from visitors they would roll down their windows upon reaching Kennon. Now, no way. But blame should not be on any Juan. It is just so. I come from Baguio and travel a lot but never had I rolled the window down just to find scent. More so with pine as I knew I would have to contend with trucks, buses or jeepneys, all diesel-fed plying the streets. Nevermind the pine. Oh and in fairness to the city, we are "greener" today, I'm serious! Check out old Baguio pictures and there are no trees. Mayor Virginia and the mining companies planted all the trees we see today along the CBD.

Now back to the scent of pine.

It is true that seldom does one get the scent. Unfortunately our pine trees are dying. No Juan’s fault again. No blaming here. They are just too competitive alongside each other. The reason why planting them near each other kills the other. Did you know that pine needles have acid or toxin that kills pine saplings? There is no scent of pine, it is the sap that smells or the "saleng". It is this smell where one knows if some Juan has just "killed" a pine tree or trees. The reason, too, why it became obvious that 700+ trees were cut, all because of its scent. Kaya nabuko!

Sorry again for being sidetracked. Back to the scent.

Since pine trees are dying did you know that DENR has suggested for me to introduce the lemon cypress? This is one we should look into. Unlike the pine, this holds soil for less erosion. Unlike pine it does not contaminate water sources. The roots of the pine spread along the side and not underneath and hold soil, reason for many felled pine from strong winds. Also the reason why earth balling will not work for the pine.

Fact! The best way to kill the pine is by surrounding it with cement or stones, surely imminent death. Unlike other trees. By introducing lemon cypress the smell of the city will surely change for the better. This is indigenous to Australia, where weather is similar to that of Baguio.

Session may also benefit if cafes al fresco replace motor vehicles. Why not transfer coffee stores and flower shops from the public market to Session Rd.? I guarantee with these simple acts the scent of this popular thoroughfare will change the way every citizen will perceive it to be. A change in the city's scent will go a long way and how the city is perceived to be. Give it a try and surely the results will be surprisingly good for every Juan. I went on the campaign trail for five times and in all these times I was advised to always smell good, as the impression will lead every Juan to believe Peter Rey Bautista not only smelled good but clean.

Funny but surely the electorate would easily remember a candidate whose smell was pleasant over the other, the mere shake of hands and a hug elicit different reactions, thus being remembered for just smelling better.

Maybe a perception only but it was lasting and changed the way I was perceived to be - clean as the analysts want Juan to believe. Just a thought to leave every citizen about the city's scent.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on June 21, 2014.

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