I bought a copy of Dan Brown’s latest opus, Inferno, for £20 in London, in the bookstore featured in the movie Notting Hill. The name of the bookstore is, you guessed it, The Notting Hill Bookshop”. The shop had just sold two copies of Inferno since it arrived last week. So mine was the third—and last—copy in that particular bookstore on the day I bought it, May 26, a sunny and beautiful Sunday.
While waiting for my so-called adobo dish at nearby Lakwatsa restaurant owned by a Filipina [it is not adobo by the way, but a dish with sauce and three big tablespoonfuls of rice made to look like maki], I rifled through the 463 pages of Inferno, I couldn’t locate the controversial references to Manila—in my first try. The book has no index and no table of contents. Dan Brown, by the way, lives in New England.
By the way, I am a Bachelor of Literature graduate, minor in Journalism, but I find reading ponderous tomes a chore, except when it is a volume of an encyclopedia or is about business and economics. So in college, I ended up earning more units in banking and economics than in journalism and literature. I then proceeded to take up three semesters of MBA, which discipline, ironically, requires a lot of reading and analysis.
My initial impression of Inferno is that it is a tourist guidebook—on Florence and Venice.
For that reason, it is very useful reading—for the tourist, while sipping coffee in one of Europe’s sidewalk cafes [Starbucks, included though there is no Starbuck in Italy, the original land of coffee shops], or queuing up to enter one of Europe’s innumerable museums or tourist spots.
Europe is the master in tourism marketing. Every nook, every corner, every park, every monument, every stone [outside of the Rosetta, which you can see for free at the British Museum], every icon has a particularly interesting story that tourist must believe and spend money to see.
In Brussels, they made a tourist spot out of a small statue of a pissing boy—the Manneken Pis, a little corner of the city. In the Philippines, that boy would be dismissed as a tiyanak pissing and nobody would pay attention to it. In Belgium, tourists are lining up to pose before the pissing boy as it it were the Fountain of Trevi.
By the way, did you know that there are now a billion tourists? And all the Philippines could manage to attract is three million, including half a million former Filipinos [balikbayans].
In London, I saw the famous taxi with “It’s “More Fun in the Philippines” sticker only on my sixth day and I stayed in the city most of the time. So taxis in London with “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” sticker are as rare as an honest Philippine politician. That’s thinking small in tourism promotion.
Back to Brown’s Inferno. The controversial reference on Manila is on page 351, Chapter 79. The book has 104 chapters. Inferno has a character named Sienna Brooks, described as one “growing up with an exceptional intellect” but one with “deep depression”. Sa Tagalog, may topak. Sienna is her middle name. Her first name is Felicity, “and she knew she was anything but”. The crazy girl decides to be a philanthropist and save the world. Walastik.
And what better place to unleash her philanthrophic energy than in the Philippines.
Says the book:
“Through her acts of public service, Sienna came in contact with several members of a local humanitarian group. When they invited her to join them on a month-long trip to the Philippines, she jumped at the chance.
“Sienna imagined they were going to feed poor fishermen or farmers in the countryside, which she had read was a wonderland of geological beauty, with vibrant sea beds and dazzling plains. And so when the group settled in among the throngs in the city of Manila— the most densely populated city on earth—Sienna could only gape in horror. She had never seen poverty on this scale.”
“How can one person possibly make a difference?”
“For every one person Sienna fed, there were hundreds more who gazed at her with desolate eyes. Manila had six-hour traffic jams, suffocating pollution, and a horrifying sex trade, whose workers consisted primarily of young children, many of whom had been sold to pimps by parents who took solace in knowing that at least their children would be fed.”
“Amidst this chaos of child prostitution, panhandlers, pickpockets and worse, Sienna found herself suddenly paralyzed. All around her, she could see humanity overrun by
primal instinct for survival. When they face depression …human beings become animals.”
What follows are about two pages describing how three young men “salivating like wolves” [Who spoke Tagalog] attempted to rape her violently. Sienna, a mature woman, is a believer in Madonna, the singer. She is a virgin pala. “I’m a virgin, Sienna thought. This is how it is going to happen to me.”
I am not going to tell my reader what happened to Sienna, but that three page narrative on the squalor and attempted rape in Manila will probably hurt the Philippines’ attempt to become a major destination for tourists and investors.
A chaos of child prostitution, panhandlers, pickpockets and worse—
No one could have described Manila any worse than Dan Brown. If Inferno becomes a blockbuster movie, Manila, like Sienna, will be haunted and tarred, perhaps forever.
There goes down the drain our credit rating upgrades, our so-called clean and honest government, our Daang Matuwid. Kawawang Noynoy.
I am sure Metro Manila Development Authority Chair Francis Tolentino had President Aquino’s blessings when he wrote that letter of protest to Dan Brown’s unflattering passages on Manila.
Too bad. Unlike the Muslims, Filipino Catholics cannot declare a fatwa on Brown to force him to apologize.