I’ve not gone to Baguio in ages, not since I’d gotten married, so a family trip to the City of Pines is really long overdue. Ukay-ukay bargain shopping is not even topmost in my mind now of why I want to revisit Baguio (because ukay-ukay stores have mushroomed all over Metro Manila, and how!), but this bookshop charmingly named Mt. Cloud in Casa Vallejo, an old mansion that sits atop Session Road, that describes itself as existing “for people who seek out the giddy pleasure of reading, who know the joy of buying and taking home a good find, of cuddling up with a book in a cozy corner, or of turning with reverence the pages of a beautiful, venerable book.” Mt. Cloud is owned by sisters Feliz and Padmapani L. Perez.
Because of the passing of Jorge Arago, founder of Angel’s Trumpet bookstore that started off this tradition of independent bookshops in Baguio, Mt. Cloud, in their Facebook page, called for people to share their “precious memories of Baguio’s past, independent bookshops” on their FB page or on their website. This was my contribution.
I remember Legato Books and Music! I was a participant of the 1995 UP Writers Workshop and one of our panelists was NVM Gonzalez. The lady panelists had earlier taken off with Mrs Gonzalez to shop for silver jewelry, and so Carla Pacis, Fran Ng and I babysat NVM that afternoon. We even have a photo to show for it.
Coffee and doughnuts with a National Artist at Mister Donuts along Session road.
I forget how I found myself later alone with NVM, but I do remember walking down Session Road, telling him about this charming little bookshop I’d found the previous day. We were talking about books, and I was asking him for advice about graduate studies. He told me to take up Comparative Lit, and to make sure that I read a lot. He was pretty impressed that I’d read most of Woolf’s, EM Forster’s and Wharton’s works, among others, considering my undergrad degree was Fine Arts, and he’d also once caught me reading a book which he made me swear will be our little secret, the book he said should suffice for my course in Creative Writing. I remember being worried that the bookshop was on the third floor and the access to it was a steep, narrow stairwell; NVM had just bought a cane the previous day from the Baguio Market and was still just getting used to it. NVM made it, and he was delighted with the little bookshop that played Segovia CDs. Going around the bookshop, NVM picked up books and handed them over to me: Chekhov’s Lady with a Lapdog, Elizabeth Bowen’s Death of A Heart, and because I’d also candidly asked how I should start reading him, he also included his own collection of short stories, Bookmark’s “Children of the Ash-Covered Loam and other Stories” and “The Bamboo Dancers” and a rare copy of “The Bread of Salt and Other Stories” which he was surprised to find there, because it was published by the University of Washington Press.
NVM reading “Children of the Ash-Covered Loam” (my copy, which we bought earlier at Legato) at a fellowship night for the participants of the 1995 UP Writers Workshop at Cafe by the Ruins.
I bought all five books, and happily during that time, I could easily afford to do so, because I was a well-paid jaded art director in the advertising industry. I made sure NVM signed his books which I treasure to this day. I also asked him which of his short stories was his favorite (to date, because he will yet publish A Grammar of Dreams in 1997), and he said it was “A Warm Hand” from “The Bread of Salt and Other Stories”. I still have not gotten around to taking up my grad studies in Creative Writing as I had originally planned, nor in Comparative Lit as NVM had advised, but have been working as a writer of children’s books for sixteen years now. But details of that incredible afternoon as well as snippets of my conversation with NVM in Legato Books and Music will forever be vivid in my memory.
NVM’s autograph on the cover of my copy of The Bamboo Dancers.