Text and photos by Tanya Simon
He’s a young boy. Perhaps 13 years old or thereabouts. He stands in the middle of the bazaar, the upper half of the gallery cloaked in darkness. The boy looks up at the dark void, feeling equally the emptiness in his heart. Thus ends
James Joyce’s short story “Araby,” the namesake of the marketplace he goes to. Daydreams of exotic scents, music, and colors occupy his days prior to the evening trip.
Likewise, I imagined the antique thrift shops of Bangkal in Makati to purvey the same kind of magic. My daydreams were fed by high-resolution images of gleaming antique tea sets and intricately cut-glass dishes. The romantic, swooning, yet amateurish blog entries were enough to summon songs of bygone days rendered in warm sepia tones.
The quest began on Evangelista Street, where the jeepney driver told me that I could just walk it down to the corner of Gen. Hizon Street, where the thrift shops hold fort. The sky was overcast, so I meandered down this part of Makati—the part of the city so unlike Ayala Avenue.
At the end of the street stood a short row of shops. One particularly looked well-curated in all things antique and fragile. China tea sets with delicate floral designs were carefully displayed together with vases of blue-and-white ceramic or blown glass.
Bangkal is the Everyman section of the city. Jeeps, motorcycles, and a few stray dogs littered the streets. Sari-sari stores, carinderias, and repair shops extended their trades onto the sidewalk.
Gen. Hizon lay a few blocks away from EDSA . It is walkable, in that one will move in the same pace as vehicular traffic. The jeep that told me to hike it and it eventually caught up with me. It was a quiet street. Unlike the plethora of antique stores that the blogs had me believe, the shops sat with a dignified nonchalance.
Antique ceramics, silverware, delicate table-top figurines were polished to a passable gleam. Old ball gowns and tailored suits sagged on their plastic hangers. In a dark wooden shelf, a cat curled among old, worn leather loafers, and Mary Jane pumps. The smell of wood and brass cleaner permeated the air, musty and dusty.
At the end of the street stood a short row of shops. One particularly looked well-curated in all things antique and
fragile. China tea sets with delicate floral designs were carefully displayed together with vases of blue-and-white
ceramic or blown glass. These were set on top of massive wooden dining tables and solid wood sideboards. Above hung glass and iron lamps fitted with bulb sockets. Again, the pervasive smell of wood varnish and metal polish.
And Tiffany lamps. One that caught my eye had a pyramidal shade with geometrical patterns in red and ochre. The lamp glowed warm with its characteristic black metal and cloudy glass, recalling the carefree yet refined tastes of Art Deco. This one looked like it belonged on one of Jay Gatsby’s many side tables. I didn’t say anything but the saleslady knew. She would give me a discount. From ₱9,000 to ₱7,000. I did not have the cash and they didn’t take credit cards.
I told her, perhaps next time, a half-promise at best. She was not- compelled to reserve it for me, nor was I to expect that this particular lamp would still be available if I did return. I could return, if I wanted to. There was an ATM at the corner of EDSA and Evangelista. But the afternoon was winding down and it would be just a moment before the rush hour snarl got worse.
I turned my back at Hizon Street. Like the boy in “Araby,” was I to feel disappointed? Perhaps, I should have bought the lamp. But somehow it didn’t feel right. At home, I observed the casualness that blanketed our room, the clutter of toys, the slouchy sofa, the floating shelves bearing the weight of books of various sizes and colors.
Yes, perhaps the Tiffany lamp would be out of place in this very present mess.