Thursday, June 11, 2009

Embracing Multiplicity of Selves

This is where I thrive: somewhere in the grey area, in airport lounges when flights get delayed and time itself is suspended, when international datelines are crossed and the sun rises just as you fall asleep, where margins become centers and you find yourself subverting the dominant paradigm even as you partake in its pleasures. In a bistro in Saint Germain de Pres where the well-heeled prototypical French women delighted by andouillette on the menu reminds you of your Ilocana aunties reminiscing about pinapaitan (both made of the same ingredients, tripe as haute cusine in one culture and as evidence of poverty in another), but as the Berkeley educated Ethnic Studies savvy neo-indigena intellectual I can sit in that cafe and know: these are foodways that have more in common than meets the eye, nasty bits become sublime when made with love, both come from humble beginnings and must be equally elevated, and one day I will open my French Ilokana cafe on Clement Street and have Anthony Bourdain and Hubert Keller salivate over my pinapaitan, which literally means, that which is bitter.

Bitter. A taste profile that offends the Western palate. How to subvert the dominant paradigm of taste and memory? How about something bittersweet? I love the word. Also how water tastes after eating bitter greens like ampalaya. Water in contrast becomes something other than bland. It become sweet. Or sweetish. Another word I love, one my father uses to describe close to indescribable tastes: forbidden foods like taclobo, an endangered clam. Or fresh sea urchin before the acid of kalamansi makes it quiver and turn sour. Or red rice steaming, brought to the table by a servant who has been in the family since I was a child, whose real name has been forgotten and who still calls me by my baby nickname, and I sit at my grandmother's table in La Paz, Iloilo and swallow something else: the pang of guilt, a bitter taste replacing sweetishness in my mouth.