When picnicking in my teens in Bacarra, we would dig a hole on the river shore, leave it for water to fill in, and voila, we had a sand-filtered drinking well. On rare days of water interruption in my growing up years, soon after a bandillo beating his tambor and playing a píccolo (flute) would come around where the main road forked to inner streets to announce it, neighbors with clay water jars balanced on the head and kerosene jars outfitted with a wooden handle would line up, braiding what’s new about whom while inching up for their turn at the town artesian pump. Too, the wood cover of an old well, which I heard had existed since my paternal great grandfather’s time, would be pushed aside, as the pail kept under the house among broken tools in a hutch, taken out, cleaned and refitted to the lever pulled down for dipping.
Otherwise, water from the faucet had seemed hardly ever absent. In high school, with lazy water flowing out of old faucets in the Home Economics building, we cooked our bean soup and guinataan to sell on the front windows to male classmates eager to please someone they couldn’t talk to without an excuse. Breathless after softball or volleyball in Physical Education, we quenched our thirst by leaning onto a faucet, and catching the stream that overflowed to our cheek—we girls later realized why the boys patiently waited for their turn, facing us; we had been mindful of our necklines since.
Later in my job, on a coverage to Surigao del Norte for Philippines Today, an international magazine of the then National Media Production Center, our hosts, who toured photographer Tony Villaverde and me, carried bamboo tubes slung on their shoulders to gather water from a spring, which we drank by turns. Only once did I drink buko juice in place of water; on an overnight coverage of the doves that fly to Ursula Island in Palawan with then Tourist Officer Ellen Hagedorn, via a pump boat a young prince of Bataraza and his thin retinue sailed, she and I stole from a kerosene can half-filled with water to wash our face, leaving less for morning coffee and to drink.
Writing these, I feel none of it ever happened and as if I’m stealing others’ idylls in books or long ago stories told to me. When did I last trust drinking water served on a pitcher or worse scooped from a well? But I recall, and I’m sure you do, horrifying scenarios underlying survival in Manila in the mid-80s when, along with rotating brownouts, water began to sputter or disappear in faucets. Water pumps had turned into a must-have though quite insufficient as Manilans in old areas often broke into small-scale wars over whose pump sucked out the most volume; one image triggered most of my nightmares—when away at work, my parents had to haul buckets of drinking water up three flights of fire escape from the first-floor neighbors’ tap.
I can’t remember though when I began to regress like a child sipping water from a plastic bottle. Could it have been around the 90s when global water wars on rights, distribution, and soon, commercialization of water, exploded? By the time I packed away my life in the Philippines and immigrated to Canada, I had lost all memory of scooping water from a spring with my hands so much so that I hesitated, even feared, stepping close to a stream deep in the forge fed by virgin falls of Lynne Valley, North Vancouver; I held on for comfort the bottled water in my backpack instead. A variety of water-in-a-bottle as well as refillable containers offers countless choices since.
Yet, if quite heavy to carry on an overnight trip, looking for bottled water could be an adventure even a saga like a friend’s and mine last week during a nostalgic visit to Baltimore; at the hotel, finding for once, two 12-ounces of bottled water beside the ice bucket, which we thought as complimentary, we sighed our disappointment on reading an attached note—if consumed, we would be billed $2 each. Trusting what we once knew of the city, and from having bought larger-sized bottles for less in other states, we had set out to the closest grocery on Charles Street but found a sad unlit shadow of its old self.
We moved on, recalling a pair of convenience stores further down, but kept passing by tony facades of new buildings and no store. On to the Inner Harbor, we had hoped to get any size of water bottle at what we recalled the food court; it turned out in the years since we last visited, Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum had replaced it. My thirst had intensified by then, but still we stood fast by our conviction that water should not be priced like gold. Turning back up on St. Paul’s Street, after a couple of miles and almost an hour, finally, we spotted a beacon in a 7-Eleven store, selling a dollar-a-liter of Deer Park.
As if to tease us, a drizzle started the rest of our way back to the hotel, streaming in runnels, while behind us Chesapeake Bay heaved voluminous water.
Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Opinion Page, Business Mirror Manila, June 7, 2014 (this post the unedited version)
Filed under: opinion, personal essay, travel | Tags: alegria imperial, basilica, Business Mirror Philippines, Castel Sant'Angelo, Filipino, Greco-Roman civilization, Michelangelo, Musei Vaticani, Pope Francesco, Prati B&B, Rome, Sistine Chapel, St John Paul, St Peter, University of Santo Tomas, Vatican, Via Giulio Cesare
‘DI ba ang Vatican eh ’yung Basilica lang? Saan kayo tumira?” My sister asked on Facetime, catching me still awake from jet lag. “True, Citta del Vaticano, with its 800 inhabitants all working for the Holy See, has no place for pilgrims,” I replied, and stuttered through details that would take me days to smoothen.
Eleanor and I landed in Eternal Rome, so like a dream that at the Prati B&B of Alessandra Bounaccorsi on Via degli Scipioni, the grinding of a dumpster bolted us out of bed. Later walking toward Citta del Vaticano nine minutes away, we had seemed afloat on streets perfumed by wisteria streaming from balconies like in a movie, through fashion boutiques, trattoria and garden shops. And suddenly, in a mercato, bunches of musot (bulaklak ng kalabasa), apparently used with mozzarella in a panini, transported me to my grandmother’s table.
With driving à la Manila, we had dodged zooming cars as we crossed wide boulevards and, soon, waving off hustlers who offer “no lineup for a fee” to Vatican Square, spotting in us a kababayan they could perhaps inveigle. More of the unexpected in our Roman dream began; shortly, we bumped into a huddle of nuns. “Filipino?” asked one, and all three lit up as we nodded, “Oo!!” But “pilgrims all aren’t we?” chirped the youngest. They belong to a convent of the Sacred Heart Order in Sicily.
Rome’s goldish sun ushered us finally into Vatican Square by then packed with hundreds of herded tourists and pilgrims. So awed with our necks craned to heights scaled to eternity as in those childhood estampitas, we fell into a hush. We had to whirl around to take it all in, the basilica with its balcony from where the Pope emerges at Christmas and Easter on television to greet us in his urbi et orbi, its dome and the colonnade, the marble figures of Christ, the apostles and saints we know by heart poised in the wind—where we stood, a Roman necropolis in Nero’s time, early Christians had been executed by him, Saint Peter among those crucified.
Inside the basilica, overwhelmed by the magnificence but especially a touching-distance to the Cathedra Petri, Saint Peter’s papal chair, behind the baldachin, I resisted blinking. “Filipino? Yes, a Holy Mass will begin in a few minutes,” the usher let us into a girded area facing the high altar, pulling us away from the thick flow of just-gawking crowds. “Dominus vobiscum” reverberated through the sung Mass concelebrated by about a dozen cardinals; Eleanor and I responded from memory, “Et cum espiritu tuo,” even singing, “Pater Noster” and “Agnus Dei,” transported to the dawn Masses in the dark brick churches of our youth.
Brought back to the square by a gushing stream after Holy Mass, we plunged unknowingly into an expectant wave, crying out for “Papa Francesco!” Soon, from a window high above the colonnade, he addressed us, straining body-to-body to catch him, thumb-size from the ground, but suffused with his discernible smile, his warmth, reliving in me how I felt on first seeing Pope John Paul II, long ago it seems, as his open carriage wheeled through Magsaysay Boulevard in Manila.
A daunting line to Musei Vaticani almost crumbled our resolve next day. But we persevered from a tail that snaked uphill along the wall behind the basilica to papal palaces once, now museums of relics from Greco-Roman civilizations, through halls of ecclesiastical and classical art—the utmost being Michelangelo’s stunning ceiling paintings of the Sistine Chapel so configured as the tour’s climax. Amid such magnitude, suddenly I understood what perfection in art means decades after Humanities courses at the University of Santo Tomas—why shouldn’t Art be the Church’s legacy?
Still a palpable sense of vulnerability, yet impregnability pervade not only in the museums’ telling of Church history but also in preserved structures, as in the massive Castel Sant’Angelo, first a mausoleum of pope-kings then a fort, that till now looms over the Tiber just outside Vatican walls. Saint Michael the Archangel’s fierce vigilance from a tower still pierces peering eyes—he, whom Catholics invoke as shield from ruinous enemies and who Josie Darang calls when fear overtakes her, like in a cab hurtling through Manila’s streets.
“Filipino kayo, Ate?” A salesgirl had caught us in a shop outside the walls, browsing for souvenirs that could extend our precious euros. She filled a basket with refrigerator magnets, and spangled her breast with nylon scarves for us to choose; the whole stretch had a Filipino vying to pull in a fellow Filipino, reminding me of Central Market’s turo-turo aisles—a poignant note to an uplifting day.
After two days of pasta, Eleanor and I began to crave rice served only in a Pakistani restaurant as per tourist guides. But sauntering along Via Giulio Cesare, we had brushed by a hole-in-the-wall named Sarap. “Filipino kayo?” we asked the obvious; not only did we get a serving of rice but the all-male restaurant of young Pinoys also paired it with sarciadong salmon. The answer to my sister’s question by then had taken a twist: Indeed, by just being Filipinos, we found unexpected parts of us at every turn in Citta del Vaticano and Rome outside of its walls.
Published in Peregrine Notes, Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror Philippines, April 19, 2014
Filed under: opinion | Tags: alegria imperial, business mirror, education, father, peregrine notes, Philets, Philippine Graphic, poetry, Poetry Reading, public relations, The Prince and the Pauper, travel page, University of Santo Tomas, writing
Often, intensely quiet in insulated spaces is how days unfold here, undistracted spaces that let roam vibrant memories like this week. As I write this piece midway through selecting my poems for a Poetry Reading event at the Chapters Bookstore downtown, my first ever, sponsored by Vancouver Haiku Group to which I belong, the late Serafin Albano, my father—a central figure in my writing life—looms largely.
If he did not impose his will on my choice of what I’d be, I could be languishing now in a dark even dank office somewhere in a turn-of-the century old building in Avenida where notaries get signed and sealed for a small fee if I didn’t get a teaching job, that is. He lugged me instead led by the youngest of my mother’s brothers, then in his junior year at UST’s Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, to the office of the dean. I had waffled but in a quick turn of mind, I plunged into a future of writing. But I ended up neither a journalist nor a poet not until decades after graduation and long after he had died. Instead, I sneaked into a writing career via public relations, ghost-writing for years.
From a back glance this morning in a continent way across the Pacific, I feel that I had glossed over how my father felt through those years I got stalled in what he couldn’t understand as tossing out words and images in anonymity. Picking through hints, I remember how he must have had great dreams of my name spangled on printed pages, as in his first wrapped gift on my eighth birthday, Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper that he dedicated with a noble quote beyond a child’s grasp: “Education supplants intelligence but does not supply it.” Telling me a book was easier to find, he had hoped this gift would inspire me to write more—I had a year before then, sent him, where he lived and worked in Manila, a four-line poem scrawled on grade two paper, a ruse to ask for a doll.
Yes, I did write but not feeling particularly inspired only fed with words, perhaps, from books he and my mother piled on me. Early in college, I wrote a hilarious narrative on how giggly, overacting, mostly spoiled girls in a dormitory run by nuns from across UST, my first published article in Philippine Graphic magazine, in its ‘Student’s Page’ with my picture and a note on the author. It had so elated my father, he carried the issue opened on that page and showed it to everyone including waitresses. Some months later, I followed it up with an essay on fishes, which I used as a metaphor for the kinds of people we get to know in this “ocean of life”. I made him so happy he treated me out, and my friends at the dorm to dinner almost weekly. But none came long after that.
In a sudden spurt, probably stimulated by my travels in my job at the then National Media Production Center, I began weaving words into lyrical pieces for Dick Pascual’s travel page at the defunct Daily Express. My father brought each piece to Magallanes Drive, trudging his way through grime-textured air. Among the stash I dug out when clearing out stuff to immigrate to here, was a rough album he sewed on the side of those published pieces. And then again, I skidded into anonymity.
Still, we argued furiously about writing. Our last word-spars focused on my defunct Newsday lifestyle page, my first ever newspaper job. More critical and cutting than the late Teddy Berbano, then managing editor, my father devastated me by his correctness those evenings I dropped by to see him and my mother on my way to my own home—I had married by then. He had died by the time my page started shaping up and later when I wrote weekly full-page feature stories for Sunday lifestyle at Inquirer.
Once coming home from New York much later, I found the fiction writing paperback he kept sliding before me that I left unread, and cried and cried. The author, R. V. Cassill, also authored the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction from which my instructor in a writing course I took at NYU’s Continuing Education program selected our readings. Leafing through the pages he dog-eared and underlined, I had realized it’s exactly what I was learning. I’ve grappled with challenges he couldn’t have imagined like writing in NY alongside native speakers of English. But each step of the way, I would find his imprint.
Could a father shape a child’s destiny, carving a path like mine that I had long wavered to follow straight on? On the podium to read my published and award-winning poems here in Vancouver, a crowd their blond, blue, hazel, gray, maybe some black even green Irish eyes on me, I’m sure my father though invisible to all would be seated in the front row.
Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror, Manila, June 24, 2013
Filed under: opinion | Tags: 'pocket money''iliw' (nostalgia), alumni, Bacarra, Bacarra National Comprehensive High School, fare and meal allowance, ILIW ti Bacarra, Ilocos Norte, per class year, Special Science Class, sponsorship, Yahoo! groups
WHAT would a child do if he has money for fare to get to school but nothing for food, or has a meal allowance but would have to walk two hours through dirt roads, singling along highway sides—a choice that, either way, cancels the possibility to be in school, doesn’t it? Yet, children in countless Philippines rural towns apparently anguish over this dilemma every day. If some make it to school with what their parents could scrape for fare, they would be drowsing, known to pair with hunger, by midafternoon; most simply drop out as has been commonly reported.
I suppose those who recognize that such a problem has long existed would find comfort on learning that this, too, rears its ugly head, though in another guise, in American schools, where the state, under the National School Lunch Program subsidized by the federal government, provides food either for free, at reduced prices, or paid in full, depending on parents’ income. The program, started in 1946, has since served 224 billion lunches and cost $11.6 billion in 2012; its implementation, though, has not only differed per school charter but also among states, causing a few controversies.
The practice of stamping or marking out a child who gets lunch for free or whose account had run low, hence embarrassing him or her, had led to the alleged firing of Noelle Roni, a former principal in Peak to Peak, Colorado, as recently reported in The Huffington Post. On the other hand, commiserating with his classmates who had been shamed by the practice has inspired Cayden Taipulus, a 3rd Grader, “to launch a fund-raiser online and collected nearly $11,000 enough to buy his classmates lunch for the rest of the year” through a social-networking site and posted on Facebook a few weeks ago.
No basis of linking the topic to Filipino schoolchildren who have nary a hint that free lunch could be possible, right? Wrong. I do know of an initiative, though hardly resembling the US program—its funds, for one, to provide what parents can’t ever afford to send their children to school can take in only four students per class year from Grade 7 to fourth-year high school. Not of an organization but an informal alumni group of Bacarra National Comprehensive High School (BNCHS) in Ilocos Norte, nothing about it sounds like something already known to have rooted, even if still quite fragile, so far.
Iliw, its name, a fanciful acronym for a quixotic dream on Innovative Learning Initiatives and Ways for Bacarra, in truth, describes a sentiment its members on a Yahoo! group site Tony Ponce owns that fired them to set up the sponsorship. In Iluko, iliw not only means nostalgia, it could also conjure up gestures that burst with longing, which, in this case, happened on cyberspace and not just for a night but nightly for about a year. So gripping had the memory-swapping affected the otherwise amorphous camp of alumni from varied class years, at first merely exchanging patchy messages about reunions, that when an author joined with a book on collective memories of their town in mind, Tony’s site soon swarmed with “raucous regulars,” tossing in what they recalled, unraveling years in Bacarra long misted by exile.
From corners on syncopated time zones in the US and Canada, some in Europe, a few in the Middle East and in the Philippines, the virtual friends “prowled” Bacarra’s streets, “talking” of the same everything; they even discovered blood kinship among them, charted the town’s map by memory, though possibly extant by now, and revived their tongue by then lost in their alien lives with lessons in Iluko 101 that Rufino Tangonan, a math teacher in Texas, started with word-meaning quizzes. But life eventually began to creep on their idyll on cyberspace—if one of them had not gone home and driven by memories dropped by BNCHS, bringing back to the group a poignant picture of some students trudging miles or hungry in school, the group could have just thinned out into air.
But their boldness held up and birthed Iliw ti Bacarra, a sponsorship they funded with disparate amounts out of their pockets, wired to a PNB account in Laoag City and disbursed by an officer to the school. While the book that triggered memories remains cached, and most Iliw members now at least have “met” on Facebook, the third batch of graduates finished this year with two of them from the Special Science Class (not a scholarship, Iliw expects only passing average but most of all, the will to graduate).
As upperclassmen in the program will be assessed, about 30 would soon be gathered again to be screened at the BNCHS library—Victoria Albano, not an alumna but a Bacarrena in Vancouver and donor, nonetheless, prays for those not chosen. Would they face each day without pasahe or baon like perhaps thousands somewhere in the islands? I know this sounds old news oft-repeated, so much so that instead of drawing compassion the image invites indifference. Or how else could one explain the yawning gap in schooling between over-privileged and more-than-poor Filipino children? Maybe we could all storm the heavens for a duplication of Iliw or for more to hop in on it.
(Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror Philippines, March 31, 2014)
Filed under: opinion | Tags: "Ti Ayat ti Maysa nga Ubing", alegria imperial, Business Mirror Philippines, Canada, carved cherubim, crystal plates, Cultural Center of the Philippines, depression tinted glass, FedEx package, Felix Imperial II, greeting cards, immigrate, Intramuros, Lucio D. San Pedro, Lucrecia 'King' Kasilag, Miss Saigon, Natinal Artist, National Library, peregrine notes, UST's Center for Conservation of Cultural Property and Environment in the Tropics, wedding gifts
Unlike most others who immigrate and could leave home—which in truth, holds more emotions than someone we love—with a kin or caretaker, hence, to which seamlessly they could go back, my sister and I having been orphaned with me, childless and widowed, there was no one. Like a wild wind, we packed away our life, uprooting ourselves with waivers as heirs to leftover generations-owned farmlands, and handed over frayed documents of family history to relatives, whom we knew would know how to preserve them.
No hint at all in our growing up and adulthood that we would jam in two suitcases and in my case, a box I sent to my own self via UPS to Canada. Indeed, who has seen one’s future exactly the way it unravels especially those sudden turns? And who is ever prepared? For me, who my sister sponsored, it happened in less than three years. The arrival on a FedEx package from the Canadian embassy of my immigrant visa had felt like a storm and it churned on until my flight in two months.
In those months, remnants of years most of which I’ve forgotten or never knew had slumbered in corners, turned up. I tossed out from my mother’s beribboned cache, yellowed and crumbly report cards from the grades and up of my sister’s and mine, receipts and tax returns, notes from friends of my parents and ours, greeting cards and wedding invitations, my father’s heavily stained favorite hard plastic coffee cup that I must have snitched from Korean Airlines, and a steak plate he must have used a few times, among mounds and mounds of settled dust.
But I kept my parent’s love letters and my mother’s birth certificate and packed our photo albums especially a picture of my grandfather, a studio portrait of my father as a young man, my mother in the buff at eleven months and posed atop a wall in Intramuros during her years at the then, Philippine Normal School.
If I could, I wanted to keep more but wondered how and for whom in Canada? Like my late husband’s (Felix Imperial II), notes on restoration of Intramuros that I had hoped could be useful someday. After nights of poring through them, into boxes I loaded and delivered these to UST’s Center for Conservation of Cultural Property and Environment in the Tropics, and my own collections, along with researches I had hoped to write about to the National Library. I had asked Jack, a nephew, to take for a living museum he had mentioned he would build, my mother in-law’s wedding gifts of depression tinted glass sets, and brocaded crystal plates, as well as her hand-painted Japanese tea sets. So what else were in my suitcases and the UPS box?
It turns out that I packed randomly, taking along mostly souvenirs. Take this wood carved cherubim I had set on an accent table. The Northern Canadian sun now starkly reveals smudges on its varnished cheeks and tiny cracks behind its ear, and none of the smoky calm it had effused when I needed it in what seemed then, a life, which would just flow on.
The size of my palm, the late National Artist Lucrecia ‘King’ T. Kasilag sent it to me after an article I wrote of her came out in the defunct Chronicle. “You brought tears where sadness had long withered away. Only angels do that. Thank you,” she scrawled on a piece of yellowed wax paper she had used as a pillow to lay the angel.
A Union Jack lapel pin, too, had stayed in my jewelry box, with an unsigned note possibly in a rush with this scribbled message, “…from the ‘unlikely chorus guy for ‘Miss Saigon.’ Yet, you believed in me,” quoting from an article I wrote for the musical published in Philippine Star. At the CCP auditions in 1989, he stood out with his self-consciousness, being a first-timer then to Manila, flown-in on a sponsored ticket—his first airplane flight—from Tacloban. He had left this souvenir on my desk when he came back among those who ended their first contract to perform in London.
Even in Canada’s morning mist, this treasure stands out—an arrangement of “Ti Ayat ti Maysa nga Ubing” for voice and piano, that the late composer and conductor, Lucio D. San Pedro signed as a gift when he learned I’m Ilocano. From many lunches at the then, CCP buffet-eria to which he had treated me with pritong isda and guinisang monggo, finished off with turon, I had written about his music’s emotional content when he was declared National Artist that seemed to deeply link us.
None of the flimsy clothes I had worn for milestone events, like my book launching, fit neither spring’s wetness nor summer’s cool. Or could a pair of Marikina shoes last through undulating walks in the winter’s extreme cold and summer’s humidity. Like a birch, I now wear a new skin. Yet intact within me, at most times even simultaneously as evidenced by these souvenirs, is one still prowling Manila’s sunsets and the other, scouring Vancouver’s snow-covered peaks, as in permanent bilocation, perhaps?
Peregrine Notes at Business Mirror Opinion Page 08 June 2013
Filed under: opinion, personal essay | Tags: "Mythogyny", Business Mirror Philippines, Canada, citizenship, Cultural Center of the Philippines, election, Felix N. Imperial II, Girl Scouts of the Philippines, government media, grade school, high school, history, Intramuros, Josefa Llanes Escoda, Mayon, people's revolution, peregrine notes, Second Quarter Storm, The Flame, UST Museum of History, Vancouver, Women Elders in Action (WE*ACT
Citizenship if acquired by birth is simply a way of life, I believe, and not thought about. In truth, I never knew what it was being a Filipino citizen.
Was it in being solemn during the flag raising ceremonies from grade to high school? I recall how the class sergeant-at-arms used to get me back in the line because when bored I’d break out of it to talk with a seatmate, three warm bodies up. Was it joining the Girl Scouts of the Philippines? My troop learned how to cook bean soup in the beach though it was gritty, and yes, we planted a tree on Josefa Llanes Escoda Day behind the library in our high school, with none of us touching the soil, as we formed a lunette to watch our adviser and the principal, dig and put in a mango seedling that really never grew in the two years before my batch graduated.
Was it immersing myself in Philippine history not from learning in the classroom but stories I
gathered and later lived? My first encounter with colonial history left me tongue-tied from awe in an interview I had with the late Fr. Jesus Merino, OP, then director of UST’s museum of history and sciences for our college campus paper, The Flame.
If a moment in time had some kind of spirit, that interview must have cast a spell on me, so much so that I married a restoration architect, the late Felix N. Imperial II, who lived and breathed not only the ruins of Intramuros but the history and mythic stories embedded in them. One historical perception he inculcated in me is this: with thicker defense lines landward than seaward, the Spaniards definitely feared not invaders but Filipinos.
Did hopping in on those jeepneys that rounded us up, voters, in the three elections I got to vote make me a citizen? What a fiesta those days were with the candidates’ minions scrambling for a handshake or a hand as if to lead one to a seat of honor. I remember the grand fun an aunt, my age, and I had those election weeks in our childhood where our mothers, both public school teachers served as inspectors in the polling places, and we had stay in at our house, sharing a mat, pillows and a “mosquitero”as well as gothic stories told to us by our “kadkadua” (helper). By the time I had to vote, there was but one choice, Marcos, of my home province.
Was getting drawn into the maelstrom of the Second Quarter Storm, but not deeply knowing what I personally struggled to oppose, being a citizen? A former classmate whom I met in the shadows under which we would talk sent me away, doubting if I had to follow to the end our idols then, Voltaire Garcia, Joel Rocamora and Edgar Jopson. He told me that I, like a flotsam, simply lolled in the current because I felt none of the oppression fought against. I dropped out.
Years later, in my job for government media, I would meet in the flesh the haunting gauntness of hunger and suffering among malnourished children, farmers barely surviving their confusion that came with agrarian reform, wives scraping the soil during draught or railing at Mayon during an eruption one day before a harvest, and they wrenched my guts. But the same job had also brought me to paradise-like spots where I often wish to this day to be transported.
Yet, was I being a citizen when during the People’s Revolution what mattered most for me had to do with a deadline? And as if there had been no two raging rivers when later I leaped on to serve the new administration of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Digging into the arts like a ballet on Noli Me Tangere’s Elias, crying over a 100-year old pain, I must have finally synthesized my being a Filipino.
But again, I encouraged my sister, a chemist, to apply for immigration to Canada, convincing her of the moribund state of sciences in the Philippines. She kicked and screamed against leaving but her papers came faster than her prayers to be denied. Even faster was the approval of her petition to get me, and my papers to immigrate. I left behind a swath of life-artifacts from clearing out in three months a life I thought I’d never look back to again.
Had I shed off my being a Filipino when I bought a one-way ticket to Vancouver, and on landing signed my papers for permanent residency? That marked day one of my rights among them, health care and public services and the freedoms of assembly and speech as well as my responsibilities to uphold the same rights in others. Today the 22nd of July, a year ago, I took my oath of citizenship.
Did I turn Canadian in an instant? Yes and no. What I have become is more Filipino than I had imagined, possibly enhanced by my newly acquired freedom to find in Canada the threads I thought I had snapped broken when I left. I had unabashedly interwoven whom I am with these, often loudly qualifying my Filipino-ness from where I speak. And many times I would be told, ‘Ain’t that something!’
Peregrine Notes, Opinion Page, Business Mirror Philippines, July 22, 2012
Filed under: architecture, history, opinion, personal essay | Tags: alegria imperial, Ayuntamiento, Bacarra, Business Mirror Philippines, camino real, Colbourne House, colonical, Felix N. Imperial II, Intrramuros, living museum, Madrid, medieval walled city, monuments, Parian, political will, Puerta Santa ucia, San Agustin Church, structures, suildings, Vancouver
Built or erected in marble or stone, though some cast in metal, as landmarks in a country’s history or reminders of heroic deeds, monuments are so aimed at permanence or impregnability that for it to crumble one day hardly sound possible.
From what I learned from a restoration architect, my late husband Felix N. Imperial II, who studied the art at Escuela Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid, and came home with quixotic dreams to apply what he had learned in Intramuros, keeping monuments intact requires more than stone masons, brick layers and other such hands (because it is as much a handiwork as building them), it asks of governments a political will—monuments belong to a nation, after all.
Indeed, a great number of such buildings or structures have defied decay from both centuries of natural and manmade disasters like tropical weather and wars such as San Agustin Church but especially elsewhere, those well-kept palaces and temples we often dream of walking into, if only to experience a moment of greatness or a glorious past that for many of us exists only in ether. Virtually a young city of 140 years, I see no such buildings here in Vancouver the likes of Philippine colonial structures most of them sadly left for time to eat away.
But why must a country like the Philippines struggling to stave poverty feed its past of non-living things? Answers to this all too common question with what seems obvious can drag into either despair or acrimony those who belong to the many sides of upholding or not patrimony. Such complex imbalance of forces to Felix had first, scaled down then later, hazed his dream: Intramuros would have given the Philippines a niche with the only medieval walled city in Asia among nations who showcase an inimitable past.
Except for the four gates, major parts of the walls, and the esplanade at Parian, a few of which he restored from the ground like Puerta Santa Lucia, most of his dream—if but one of the palaces, the Ayuntamiento, would have risen again—like moth wings slowly powdered and blown away. He died though, realizing how tiny a vessel man’s body to bear his dreams.
I think Felix was luckier in that he found closure and acceptance, in contrast to my paternal great grandfather who had built not a national monument but a personal one, which I suppose most families would recognize, “for his heirs”. Of these, there are several in Vancouver, most of them exquisitely cared for as living museums—one of them, the Colbourne House still breathing right across our gate.
My great grandfather’s house was of brick and mortar townsfolk of Bacarra called, kabite; its frame had been all I grew up with, a hulking shadow right across from our then fragile wood and bamboo house; apparently its interior was burnt. While almost a myth to Santiago, a nephew my age, and me, as adults we dwelt on snippets of what sounded like tall tales about it. Such as: a short bridge spanning a narrow moat, circling the house, washing the base of a fat rectangle of what we heard were stables, and dark wooden doors and windows that would open at midmorning to the camino real.
As Santiago and I sometimes sat on ruined steps of what we thought must be a grand staircase, we imagined a giant chandelier flooding a hall. Long dining tables like those stacked up under the creaky house we lived in must have been set on those monogrammed linens I once found in my grandmother’s trunk. Guests must have taken their liqueur from those Depression shot glasses, which we thought were toys in the buffet shelf of Santiago’s mom.
He and I hardly met during our university years in Manila. Not even when a court case stirred enmity in our families in a fight over yet another property, the land where our house stood—we had since lost the one where the kabite stood through another heir. Two decades later, poring over a heritage book about our town, we closed the pages miffed at nary a word about it.
During a rare visit to town after yet another decade, I missed seeing the landmark. As I later retraced my way with an aunt, I learned why: it was gone. Where it had loomed solid as a small mountain, there sprawled a thick growth of poison berries and cactuses. “Why, didn’t you know,” my aunt had said. “It crumbled like a heap of sand in the last earthquake.”
I would have to tell Santiago about it, I had vowed. But I decided to keep to myself a realization that no matter how massive some structures are like what my great grandfather built to defy impermanence, these could vanish. On the other hand, Felix’s view of Intramuros may yet be fulfilled: “it had lived through three centuries without me it would stay for others to dream of more.”
In photo: Puerta Santa Lucia facing the bay was totally ruined in WWII when a tank rammed into it; it was restored from the ground up by restoration architect Felix N. Imperial II, using traditional techniques of merely fitting the stones and without any reinforcing bars. He restored all four gates of the Walls.
Peregrine Notes, August 26, 2012, Business Mirror Philippines Opinion Page