Harvest images of happiness here:
“Let me take you down/ cos I’m going to strawberry fields/ Nothing is real/ and nothing to get hung about…” (the Beatles)
How is the strawberry field connected to art, I asked as the field trip buses of Hum 2 (Art, Society, and the Individual) belched intermittently in their struggle to go against Benguet gravity. I found the answer to my own question when the strawberries were right in front of my eyes, parading their colors of nature, blending in harmony with each other. One word fits the sight–and the weather: cool.
Strawberries are a comfort food to many. But more than anything strawberries are really considered to be the food of romance. In Benguet, they can have another option, the strawberry taho. Before one can walk into the field of happiness, vendors call one and all to have a taste of this strawberry flavored Philippine soya delicacy. Strawberry dirty ice cream is available too. And as one cautiously walk along the panabi (furrows) strawberry jams and strawberry candies can be bought.
Free strawberry taste is given to anyone who asks. And since around the field there are about five “posts” where strawberry farmers vend, five chances of free tastes await the guest. In the last post, blueberries can be tasted too. But strawberries are sweeter and sexier so before you leave the farm, the temptation to buy a basket or a box of vitamin C is in its finality. You shell out 60 pesos or 100 for some juicy and mouth watering bites.
One can get strawberries straight from the soil but this, according to the farmers, would cost more. Of course, when one is free to take her pick of sexy strawberries, she’ll fill her basket up with the sexiest ones, leaving those that did not pass the perfect-figure and redness test. This is strawberry discrimination. So for democracy’s sake, she better buy the packed ones which taste the same anyway no matter what the appearance or color of the skin is.
Strawberries are good models for photo op, I realized. They sit proudly on their plastic mulch that screens out grass invasion and insect infestation (this is strawberry monopoly, remember?) and prevents rapid water evaporation. They are so pampered that they are getting more than enough beauty rest up in the Cordillera mountains. They love water as much as Filipinos love taking a bath, thanks to the sprinklers. When harvest time comes they are carefully handpicked by the softest of hands–the same hands that pick tomatoes and other succulent produce of the Salad Bowl of the Philippines.
If UPLB (through International Rice Research Institute) cultivates rice, Benguet State University has strawberries to baby. While Los Baños taps science and technology to modify rice hybrid and quality, Benguet tampers with elle naturelle by spraying tons of insecticides to them, poor red sexy things that have caught not only humans’ attention but that of rats, fungi, and insects.
Still, this rather “unnatural” beauty is what contains happiness.
Not unlike the pleasure one gets in listening to the spliced music of the Beatles in “Strawberry Fields.”
Strawberry memories are harvested by floating from reality to reality with hands ever careful not to hold on, dangerously, to any nostalgia.
As I remember my stroll around Benguet’s strawberry fields, guess what song is playing up in my head.
Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out
it doesn’t matter much to me.