Filipineses


Water, water, everywhere…
July 16, 2014, 3:14 pm
Filed under: opinion, travel

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)

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By just being a Filipino, finding the unexpected at every turn in Rome

‘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