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March 30, 1959

Manila Airport, 5 am. The I.S.’s [Igor Stravinsky’s] count their baggage—ras, dva, tri, chetiry—over and over, like rosary beads. The U.S. Cultural Attaché, a Mr. Morris, accompanies us to the Manila Hotel, where a dozen eager porters pack us into our rooms. Old Manila is black and grim, except for pretty lattices and grilles, and the translucent mother-of-pearl “capiz,” or clamshell windows. The shores of the Bay are lined with hundreds of “night clubs,” in reality, tiny two-customer booths and simple Coca-Cola carts. They are a squalid sight now, at daybreak, but after we have seen the labyrinth of orange-crate dwellings inside the old walls, they seem almost gay. Drive to Taytay and Lake Taal, stopping at the Church of Las Piñas, on the way, to hear a bamboo organ. Built by a Spanish friar who had no metal, the organ—keys, pedals, seven hundred and fourteen pipes—is entirely bamboo. A young monk plays Gounod’s Ave Maria for our alms. The sound is like a choir of recorders: sweet, weak in volume, badly out of tune.

The road leaving Manila crosses salt flats, and the shoulders of the highway are heaped with bags marked asin, the dialect word for salt. One other common sign is Sari-Sani, the Chinese for sundries, but all directions and most billboards are in English, because the eight major Filipino dialects have made no progress toward consolidation. Beyond the flats, at the edge of the jungle, a police roadblock warns us of banditry in the neighborhood. This both alarms and encourages the I.S.’s. The road is hemmed in at first, by thick canebrakes, and at times it is entirely canopied by liana. The only signs of habitation— bamboo huts on stilts—are in the coconut and banana groves, but we see only two people, men carrying red-shakoed cocks. Halfway to Taytay a carabao herd crosses the road.

Taytay is high and treeless, and the natives carry black umbrellas against the torrid sun. A bus with all its passengers asleep is parked along the roadside. They are merely observing the siesta, of course, but they look as though enveloped by poison gas. All other Taytayans clamor to be photographed and to sell us fruit. A few say “Happy New Year,” but the only other “English” syllables they know are “Coca-Cola,” which product appears to be the economic index of the whole community, judging by the monuments of empty cases. We eat at the Taal View Lodge, with a panorama of the volcanic lake a thousand feet below.

Dinner at the U.S. Embassy with the Bohlens, who obviously enjoy exercising their Russian, which they speak with an attractive American drawl. We spend most of the evening looking at photographs taken during their Russian term, but they also show colorslides of the Banaue country in northern Luzon. Two geologists were decapitated in this region a week ago, probably because of suspicious questioning, and in one frightening photograph a Banaue warrior charges toward the camera brandishing a spear, though his intention, says the Ambassador, was not to throw the spear, but to sell it. We ask the Bohlens about José Rizal, the Philippine “Washington” and “Goethe,” whose statues fill Manila’s parks and whose biography fills its bookstores, but the Ambassador considers Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere to be “competent literature, no more.” The Bohlens say that dog meat is a delicacy in the islands, edible even in high society, and that markets exist where the buyer may select his canine still in the quick. The Bohlens have had to hide their poodle since its arrival in the country, so great is the native appetite and the danger from dognappers. During dinner, the Ambassador opens the screen doors for more ventilation, and a large rat leaps inside. It is not found by the time we leave.

We try to sleep with our lights on, hoping they might discourage the musical geckos on the wall—“chirp, chirp’—and the cockroaches and other monsters on the floor from joining us in our beds.