Once in a while, we owe it to ourselves to get out of the house or office and come to Evangelista Street, a busy stretch of machine shops and metal works stores starting from Arnaiz Avenue (formerly Pasay Road) in Makati City up to a few meters to Edsa.
It’s a popular area with those seeking an alternative shopping adventure—away from the usual malls.
As much as most people grumble about digging through used clothes and shoes at ukay-ukay outlets, the charisma of shopping on Evangelista Street, plus the full-contact shopping experience, is undeniably alluring, a treat to explore on foot, just like going to a carnival—tiring but rarely disappointing.
Buying something at flea markets isn’t an exact science: you can’t always get what you want. Somewhere there lurks an element of unpredictability and a pretzel logic, at the most, that makes us slaves to our own impulses.
To understand our present, we need to understand the past (not necessarily our own), the diverse and innominate cultures we were not party to. To understand this past we have to become part of it, tear the veil off it and live it so that the past and our present cohere, if not completely, transitorily.
The place hums with dynamic and committed purpose: buy, buy, buy things that attest to an age now past; things that are palpable evidence of age-old cultures and glimpses of the ordinary lives of ordinary people that have somehow endured and survived and are now staring at us exactly, some with a dent or a glitch here and there, as they were.
Shopping starts at mid-morning on weekends when heavy plastic awnings are put away and you immerse yourself in the center of the jumble of shops and the ensuing driftage. You’ll meet a buzzing crowd of women shouldering Chanel bags and women in well-worn sandals and blue jeans. At some point, you’ll likely bump into a popular interior designer going on the road from stall to stall—fingering a blue porcelain or having optical intimacy with an antique oil lamp, or simply scrutinizing a thing of a very particular appeal or oddity—lobbing ideas back and forth and revising them to get to a certain look: Retro? Tribal? Art deco? Sixties? Rock-and-roll? Reeeally cute or kitschy? Indulge yourself.
It takes a shrewd and patient eye to enjoy a trip to Evangelista Street. Small, miraculous wonders are easily missed. An eye needs a certain perspective to see beyond what others may see as cheap chic.
Sometimes the effort pays off huge, like finding a good Kandinsky reproduction. Sometimes it backfires, bringing home a turkey dressed as a peacock. Every stall is bursting with old memories. Prowl through the bigger storerooms on the ground floor of some of the houses and find yourself crossing through portals into the past, across time, inside the attic of a decades-old home with an assortment of cluttered objects, bric-a-brac, and other eldritch things, and if you are lucky, some treasures. An old maroon sofa largely depilated of its velvet nap may yield a tiny precious relic in one of those crevices. Who knows?
It goes without saying that on Evangelista Street haggling is always high-spirited and, to a certain point, can become an art itself with plenty of amiable growling between seller and buyer. Stall owners can easily identify the serious buyer from the merely curious.
The prices range from extortionate (because the past has slipped away forever, rarity can create a higher value), to rock-bottom. It’s a gut check, really. Most probably, you would haggle for something that reminds you of your callow youth, or it can be a matter of emotional affinity to it, or it is merely a passion for the unusual.
If you hear that tiny voice in your head that says, “Get over it,” then you know you should listen. Of course, you have to be willing to accept the few caveats that go with the items.
The idea of buying the perfect object should be inimical to your purpose of being on Evangelista Street in the first place, because with a few minor improvements—a dab of glue, a little sandpapering and varnishing—they can take on a new life again. The flaws, after all, make these things human. It is exactly the humanity of these objects that we reidentify ourselves. The moment we bought them and claim as our own, we take up where their previous owners left off, and some years thereafter, if we take good care of them as they have been carefully taken care of, they would resurface from some dusty attics and claimed by their new owners.
Once you’ve made your purchase, you easily tote them out the shopping block—there’s no buffer—you’re directly into a gridlock of traffic on Evangelista Street to take a back-in-time jeepney travel.
Photos by Diana B. Noche
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