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“Maria and a Heart” © 2020 by Nina Satie

CONTENT WARNING:


Have Your #Hugot Harvested at This Diwata-Owned Café

by Ma. Rosario P. Herrera, The Archipelago Daily


As one of Quezon City’s two Restaurant Rows, Maginhawa Street is the ideal place to find eclectic little cafés and one-of-a-kind restaurants to satiate the adventurous foodie in you. Yet for all of Maginhawa’s variety, it has never had an establishment that either serves mythic food or that is run by mythics or both.

For six months only, Maria Makiling’s pop-up café will change that.

But why should the average Manila foodie come to the diwata’s café, when there are so many other choices? Why should anyone try the café’s simple but delicious Filipino-Spanish hybrid cuisine, when historically, humans have been unable to stomach mythic food without physical, psychological, moral, or magical consequences?

Simple.

Maria’s prized top-notch ingredient – the one that allows humans to digest the food at all – is human heartbreak. And she is currently accepting applications from those willing to have theirs harvested.


Eating one’s feelings

 Heartbreak Café, which opened just yesterday, has the warmth of a grandmother’s provincial house and the liveliness of a 19th-century dinner party. Here, it is a perennial windy day in January.

The café specializes in what customers are beginning to call ‘breakup food’. These affordable dishes are prepared by eager Hotel and Restaurant Management interns and cheerful kibaan in a large, sultry spice kitchen.

There are hearty soups such as munggo soup, bulalo with bone marrow, sopa de ajo, sopa de marisco, and fabada de asturia. There are household favorites such as an almost gelatinous nilagang baka and sinigang of the baboy, hipon, and bangus varieties, because “people need to down something thicker than their broken bonds,” according to the snarky menu.

There are also whole bilaos of seafood paella and paella negra on offer. There is also a variety of pork dishes, such as lechong kawali, liempo, inihaw, callos, dinuguan, sisig, and crispy pata, all served on banana leaves with a helping of garlic rice and mangoes – you’ll even be given a cleaving knife for that extra helping of catharsis if you request it. After all, the menu states that these are recommended for “those who would like a visceral representation of body and blood.”

Surprisingly, among the bestsellers number the merienda snacks: champorado, churros with piping hot chocolate, and an amazingly balanced, bittersweet tablea.

However, while one would think that the dishes help people purge themselves of feelings of loss, the opposite is true: eating the food induces momentary feelings of bereavement, sadness, and anger. Yet people can’t seem to get enough.

“I went from imagining my ex as the lechon to imagining that it was my best friend, after getting shot by the Americans,” said Anton, a law student. “Which doesn’t make sense because my grandparents were just babies when the Americans took over! It was kinda jarring, but it also made me think about the bigger picture, if that makes sense.”

“That was the best lechon I’ve ever had,” he added. “The meat easily slid off the bones, and the fat melted in my mouth. This urge to beg my ex to take me back melted, too.”

Kakaiba yung tablea na ’yon,” said Nilda, a call center agent. “Pagkahigop ko, bigla kong naalala ang anak kong namatay – pero wala akong anak! Nawala naman agad yung lasa, tapos ninamnam ko na yung tablea.” (“That tablea is something else. One sip, and I suddenly remembered my dead child – but I don’t have any kids! The taste went away immediately, and I savored the tablea.”)


Human and mythic divides

 The café is located at the very end of the aptly named Mahiwaga Street – which suddenly appeared one day, branching from Maginhawa as if it had always been there – away from the glitter and the faddish restaurants. Mahiwaga is flanked by a thick fringe of blossom-heavy fire trees. All who pass this street see alluring Santelmos or hear tinkling music wafting down the road.

The café itself is a cozy Spanish-colonial-era-style house; above the stained glass front door is a gilded sign in both the Baybayin and Latin alphabets. The Baybayin writing reads ‘Ang Karihan ni Mariang Makiling, Para sa Mga Nawasak na Puso’.

The café is democratic in terms of patrons – with the exception of the kinari, whose penchant for feeding on any humans foolish enough to break their hearts earned them a lifetime ban. (Kinari representatives disgruntledly declined to comment.)

Two long lines snake toward the place: one of humans, and one of mythics. The former eye the latter warily, while some of the latter eye the former hungrily. Fights would have broken out already, were it not for the enthusiastic white-shirted student workers – both human and mythic – who work tirelessly to police the lines of trouble.

Jomar Poblete, a junior studying Mythic Relations at the University of the Philippines, is one of them. “Maliban sa buwan-buwang sweldo, binabayaran ng diwata ang aming tuition, komyut, at saka na rin yung board at lodging ng mga taga-probinsya,” he said. “At nag-iintern ako sa may kinalaman sa course ko!” (“Apart from a monthly salary, the diwata pays for our tuition, commute, and the board and lodging of those from the provinces. And I get to intern at something related to my course!”)

When asked about what wages or compensation the mythics get for their services, an exceedingly handsome tamawo grinned widely and said, “Unang makatilaw sa pagkaon, siyempre!” (“First dibs on the food, of course!”)


Heartbreak harvest

 The human line is further divided into two: the customers and the applicants. The applicants are led into a warmly-colored waiting room, where they must answer a seemingly random survey. The questions range from what they ate during their last meal to a request to describe their earliest remembered dream. Lastly, they will have an interview with Maria Makiling herself, who will then perform the mysterious harvest rite.

Sometimes, lucky applicants get pulled from the line and served first. One of these was 87-year-old Eugenia Castillo. Her son Benjamin, 21 when she last saw him in the 70s, was one of martial law’s thousands of desaparecidos. It’s his picture that she carried into Maria’s office.

Hindi pa rin humuhupa ang kirot,” she said. “Hindi ko malilimutan ang anak ko, pero gusto kong magpahinga sa kakarinig ng boses niya sa mga panaginip ko gabi-gabi.” (“The pain hasn’t receded. I will never forget my son, but I want to take a break from hearing his voice in my dreams every night.”)

Another lucky applicant was Ingrid Dimasalang, 45. Ten months ago, her teenaged son and husband – casualties of the drug war – were shot by masked men on motorcycles while walking home from an evening trip to the sari-sari store. Ingrid’s daughter Mara got away, but can no longer see out of her right eye.

Dimasalang insists that her husband, a former pusher, surrendered to their barangay, and that her son used to scold his father because of his line of work.

Gusto ko lang na mawala yung hinanakit ko,” she explained. “Binoto ko yung presidente natin. Naniniwala ako sa kanya. Pero bakit nangyari ’to sa pamilya ko?” (“I just want the pain to go away. I voted for our president. I believe in him. But why did this happen to my family?”)

“We get more and more of the likes of Ingrid these days,” Maria Makiling explained. “The figure is somewhere in the hundreds. I think more would come, if they had the means, and if they were so inclined to stop grieving.”

Notably, the current Fearless Leader is a supporter of the former dictator’s son, who aspires to the vice-presidency of the Philippines.

Surprisingly, representatives for the Supreme Leader could not be reached for comment, although the administation’s official social media account cited a press release that stated that “the diwata should meet with the president before she listens to the unfounded claims of those who slander his character and accomplishments with fake news.”

Department of Mythic Affairs Secretary Virgilio Braganza, successor to the much-beloved Dr. Nadia Pilapil-Quiroz, has yet to pay the courtesy call expected of government officials to mythic events and businesses.


Forgetfulness and empathy

 One may wonder why a diwata – and one of Maria Makiling’s caliber, no less – would need to open a café, when money is nothing to her. Then again, this is the diwata who could have brought down Mt. Makiling on those who continue to fell the trees of Laguna, the very same diwata who made headlines when, like a common human youth reaching for a bright future, she pursued degrees in Sociology, Anthropology, and Business Administration from UP Los Baños and then graduated magna cum laude along with the class of 2016. There are few who can carry the contradictions of power and struggle as she can. In light of those facts, wondering about why she’d want to do something as human as open a café is futile; the diwata knows what she wants and she goes after it like a woman on a mission.

And part of her mission, it seems, is social justice. Indeed, none of the café’s revenue goes back to the diwata – some of it is used to pay for the needs of her student workers, some of it is used to buy ingredients, and the rest is given to the families of martial law and drug war victims. It is the last type of recipient of the café’s revenue that hints at a deeper reason behind Heartbreak Café’s origin.

“Do you know, on the day that a certain thief was re-buried at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani, and people rallied in support of the presidential approval to situate him among war heroes, I was so enraged that Laguna de Bay boiled,” said Maria. “I know that humans have the memory retention of a sieve, but forgetting how that man tortured and killed tens of thousands of you is a new low, even for your kind.”

“I would rather not get involved with humanity, as I’ve been burned before,” Maria continued, referring to three of her famous affairs with human men, hundreds of years ago. “But – though many of my brethren will not admit it – humankind’s affairs have the power to affect even us mythics.”

“Many of you refuse to remember, but the last time we did not interfere, you elected Macoy – several times! – and he tried to swindle our lands from us, for his accursed dam and infrastructure projects and his treasure-hunting antics,” Maria said. “And when that did not work, he sent specially trained soldiers to wage a war that left many of us homeless to this day. So, whenever I am asked if we should leave the humans to their own devices, I always say, ‘Never again!’”

“If we were to continue down the path of humans and mythics having no empathy for each other – and you humans for one another – then I will be having this conversation again, with another young reporter, a generation from now. What my café does is take the burden of experience from those who find it too heavy to bear, and give those who have no idea what it’s like – and who are perhaps too quick to judge – a little taste of it,” she added.

“You humans have that saying about walking a mile in another’s shoes. I am simply showing you what would happen if you had a glimpse into another’s experience. I extend an open invitation in particular to Macoy’s apologists and Digong fanatics,” she finished.

It was Maria who cursed a certain former dictator – whom this newspaper would not allow me to name, for fear of a libel case – with lupus. During the 1986 People Power Revolution, Maria entered Malacañang Palace, flanked only by a pair of kapre guards, soon after He-Who-Plundered-Billions-of-Taxpayers’-Money’s famous call to US senator Paul Laxalt. It was reported that The-Man-Who-Would-Not-Be-Moved would have stayed in Manila despite Laxalt’s advice, had Maria not issued the dictator an ultimatum: “Choose. You die now, or you leave forever.”

The diwata also added that one of the conditions was that she spare his monstrous brood, which she agreed to. “In hindsight,” she said, in a voice more bitter than her tablea, “I should have cursed them, too.”

When asked if she also cursed the former First Lady, the Diwata responded with a beatific smile. “Do you know why she dolls herself up like a big-haired clown? It’s because, whenever she looks in the mirror, she sees a bruja of exceeding ugliness. Everything she does, everything she buys, is in pursuit of a beauty she will never find.”

Representatives for the Family-of-Thieves declined to comment.


The consequences of moving on and letting go

The café’s existence is not without strong opposition, which is why it will be open for only six months. The group most opposed to the café seems to be its neighbors, the restaurants of Maginhawa.

Siyempre madaming customers yung Heartbreak Cafe na ’yan,” said Onyok Pagulayan, owner of the Nepalese restaurant Khanuhos. “Minamagic ’ata ng diwata yung pagkain, para ’di maka-move on!” (“Of course Heartbreak Cafe has many customers. The diwata probably enchants the food, so that people can’t move on from it!”)

Psychologists are also opposed to the café – specifically, Maria’s method of extracting heartbreak.

“I’m sure that the diwata means well,” said Dr. Amelita Narciso, president of the Psychiatry Society of the Philippines. “But taking people’s heartbreak means that they do not go through the customary stages of grieving. Grieving is important, because it allows for the release of pent-up energy that was originally tied to the lost person, object, or place.”

“When people do not express their grief, it can manifest in many physical symptoms, such as skin problems, lowered immunity, and irregular heartbeat. Psychological symptoms include depression and anxiety,” she added. “We could be seeing a rise in people with all these health concerns.”

The Catholic Church also condemns the café’s actions, if not its existence. The Conference of Catholic Priests of the Philippines has stated, in an official press release, that “while we commend the sentiments of the diwata Mariang Makiling and her upholding of human rights, we do not condone the ensorcelment of innocent people. Such actions may turn the people away from the Christian God, toward the worship of the pagan gods of old.”

Finally, perhaps the most surprising opponents to the café are a subset of drug war and martial law victims' families.

Kahit ano pa ang sabihin ng diwata, malilimutan namin ang aming mga mahal sa buhay na biktima ng karahasan kung ibigay namin ang aming mga hinanakit para sa pagkain niya,” said Arnulfo Enriquez, whose wife Marilyn was a victim of a drive-by shooting three months ago. (“No matter what the diwata says, we will forget our loved ones who were victims of violence if we give our heartaches for her food.”)

Pag ni-let go ko ang alaala ng tito ko, paano siya mabibigyan ng hustisya? At nang dahil lang sa pagkain?” asked Nazario Lantin, whose uncle has been a desaparecido since the day the former dictator declared martial law in 1972. To this day, there have been no leads as to where his body may lie. (“If I let go of my uncle’s memory, how will he be given justice? And all because of mere food?”)

Dr. Tanya delos Reyes, a professor of Psychology at the Ateneo de Manila University, had a sister whom she never saw again, after the latter joined the rebels in the mountains in the ’80s. She had only this to say, “My grief is not a show that I should perform for strangers!”

For all the good it will do, a signature campaign calling for the dismantling of Heartbreak Café is making the rounds on social media. As of press time, it has 762 signatures.

But despite all the sound and fury against Heartbreak Café, the lady of Mt. Makiling remains unruffled.

“You humans always jump the gun,” she said, with a resigned shake of her head. “So afraid of what you don’t understand, so afraid of change. I know six months isn’t enough time to let the lessons you should’ve learned long ago sink into your thick heads, yet I also cannot risk fomenting riots. So right now, my plans for the cafe beyond six months are still hazy. But in time, it will come back in some form or another, and I’m sure you will all see that I am right.” 

Maria Makiling’s Heartbreak Café is open 24/7 at 1 Mahiwaga Street, Sikatuna Village, Quezon City. Price range is P100 to P450. Visit their website for more details.



Vida Cruz (https://vidacruz.org) is a Filipina writer and artist. A Clarion 2014 graduate and 2018 Tiptree Fellow, she self-published her first short story collection Beyond the Line of Trees in 2019. Read her fiction in PodCastle, Expanded Horizons, and various anthologies. Follow her on Twitter @laviecestmoi and Instagram @vidadrawsthings.  
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