How does one survive summer in the city?
It is like living in a pressure cooker. One needs to shut the senses to the searing, blinding heat. There is a water shortage. The water and electric bills are up. Temperatures are high.
There is a blanket of noxious diesel fumes spewed by dilapidated vehicles and factory smokestacks. The air smells like acrid burning rubber. A passing shower intensifies the humidity, releasing steam from the scalding pavement. The sparse parks are shrinking in size. The few square meters of open space have parched trees with withered twigs and dangling leaves. The dusty wind whirls over the narrow cracked sidewalks and alleys, scattering bits of paper and tin foil.
One can barely discern the hazy skyline of gray cement, pewter, steel, and glass buildings. Smog covers the distant skeletal structures. Too many skyscrapers are rising.
Mornings are sunny, hot and afternoons are sweltering, enervating. Living creatures seem to vanish in the scorching sunlight.
In the suburbs, birds and butterflies and other animals flee to the shade of the ancient acacia trees.
The flame trees are gloriously abloom despite the heat, but they don’t last long due to the grimy air.
However magnificent the new structures are, the metropolis is overbuilt, congested. There are too many towers, too many people, but not enough open parks trees and fountains to cool the place. Once upon a time, there used to be vast green fields, rolling hills, clear rivers with cool breezes.
After the past 20 years, development fatigue is setting in. At first, development was slowly creeping in. Then, it stripped the landscape and uprooted trees and shrubs. The once pristine river has become a smelly dumpsite, a stagnant canal.
In the older part of town, the urban blight is worse. The city is shrouded in smoke that dissipates only with heavy rain and wind. Then there is the gray acid rain.
The once splendid coastal boulevard is now an avenue with reclaimed land, buildings and casinos.
The pre-war bridges need repairs. The vintage art deco buildings are being demolished instead of being retrofitted and restored. The beautiful centuries-old Binondo church was restored by adding layers of cement to cover the original adobe stones with etched lines to appear like bricks. The statues of saints on the outer walls were spray painted a garish shade of gold.
Heritage advocates should try to remedy the situation by calling a heritage specialist/architect to coordinate with the parish priest or church authorities. The trompe l’oeil ceiling and the relics are photogenic. But the luster and ambiance of the old church are gone.
The luxury hotels that are almost 50 years old are being torn down to give way to skyscrapers. This is to avoid the ban on tearing down heritage structures.
City residents, students, professionals, office staff and workers have to brave the horrendous traffic caused by too many vehicles and not enough roads. There are not enough decent, safe modes of public transportation.
Garbage spills onto many sidewalks. Ironically, the trash is strewn outside the fences of immaculately clean homes and gardens. For some odd reason and a character fluke, most people seem to limit neatness and order only to the inner portion of their immediate surroundings.
Beyond the wall, who cares?
The lackadaisical manner and nonchalant attitude are symptoms of a general malaise. One can feel lonely in a city bursting with people.
The bay still has the best sunset in the world. The colorful spectacle is incomparable and awesome. The contrast lies in the murky waters whose stench is repugnant. The floating debris the river brings is the big scourge — loathsome non-biodegradable plastic.
There is hope for Manila Bay. There is a big civic group affiliated with tourism that is cleaning and saving the bay. They are removing the loathsome plastic.
The monsoon rains have started to wash away some of the filth and grime form the city. The rains bring blessed relief from the heat. The air is cleansed for a while of the soot. The smog disappears and is replaced by a fine mist.
The cityscape appears in soft focus. An Impressionist painting whose sharp angles now have gently blurred edges and soft delicate brushstrokes. Gardens and little parks come alive as grass and weeds sprout wildly. The trees, leaves and flowers glisten with tiny prisms and droplets. The winds cool the air and blow remnants of summer away.
The clouds unleash torrents that cascade over rooftops and splash on to the streets. Water seeps into every crook and cranny and flows into instant streams. After the rain, when the sun peeps through the clouds, the city is bathed in a special glow. Everything smells fresh and new. For a while.
One always has mixed feelings about the rainy season. It could be one’s favorite season because of the cooler temperature.
If there were no floods.
Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.