Filipineses


Self-discovery in Cebu

The tanim-bala scare that had magnified into an obsessive search for the most secure luggage and body wallet for my sister and me, chewed up a third of our travel budget to Cebu last January. Add to that, one with extra space for safe-food packages and emergency pills for allergies, especially from anything ingested. 

How comforting to find out that we didn’t have monopoly of such irrationality—at YVR, our fellow pilgrims also streamed in, pushing gigantic versions of our ultra-streamlined unbreakable medium-sized luggage. All nodding acquaintances of each other at Holy Rosary Cathedral or in our parishes, we high-fived that early evening, flushed with anticipation to attend the 51st (and second in the Philippines) International Eucharistic Congress; except for a few who had gone to the spiritual event held every four years, most of us would be first-timers.

Asked by my sister what to expect in a congress, I hesitated to share what I recall of the few I had attended—possibly ho-hum stretches of talks and plenary sessions. But from the hefty kit handed to us on our arrival, the schedule had seemed daunting instead, with chanted prayers, Holy Masses, catechesis, and witnessing. We had taken on the identity of “delegates” by then, with an ID bracelet to be worn even in sleep, also a laminated tag with our name and country in bold font.

None of my imaginings humored me from hereon: Not the danger-laced daily trek through hot and dusty streets to get to the proceedings—a cop-escorted luxury coach fetched us from and took us back to the hotel; or the staid picture I had of the John Paul II Pavilion—the open-walled congress site, with cloth panels for a ceiling turned out cheery, even roaring and jubilant. In it, swarmed 15,000 delegates daily, possibly more, as well as hundreds of religious, mostly Filipinos, including the Papal Legate Charles Cardinal Bo, bishops, archbishops and cardinals from Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America, singing, praising, and applauding.

And soon we relaxed into just being ourselves, focusing cameras, clicking for selfies, crisscrossing aisles to find washrooms, and at lunch on Styrofoam boxes, picnicking, swapping food and life stories, and, yes, texting—all amid impassioned catechesis and homilies, which always extolled the Filipinos’ unabashed “love for the Eucharist.” We had formed a family by Day Two, with our seatmates on both sides, marking in the vastness our space but lost our fellow Vancouverites since.

From Day One, we whirled non-stop with events like visits to the city’s churches, a barrio fiesta, and on to the last three days, which ended physically grueling. Take these: a five-kilometer sunset-to-evening procession of the Eucharist that ballooned to an estimated million, which though, with fat candles, not a strand of hair got singed. Next, a concelebrated Holy Mass on a seething afternoon that sent us up the topmost bleacher seats of the Cebu City Sports Complex, which former Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal officiated for 5,000 first communicants, himself one such at the 1937 congress in Manila.

The concluding rites at Statio Orbis (Stations of the World) way out next door to the humungous SM Seaside, in five of the 25 hectares, where a template of the San Pedro Calungsod Shrine’s altar served the occasion, again got inundated by another estimated 1 million Cebuanos, among whom my sister and I managed to squeeze in, shaded by tall umbrella-bearing women. On only two occasions, two fainted from the heat; all seemed drunk with an inexplicable sense of simply flocking together in response to Christ’s “convocare” for supper, as Luis Cardinal Tagle described it.

The congress would be, for my sister, a burst of self-discovery: herself moaning in grief with every TFC news of disaster, crime, abuse and neglect, causing endless poverty, she finally realized why we, Filipinos, indeed, survive—we do possess an incredible gift, nay, blessing of incorrigible joy, apparently inimitably ours.

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, The Market Monitor, Manila, Philippines, April 3, 2016

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On Legacies

 

What legacies we carry hardly ever figure out in our daily lives with bequeathals like mansions and other such obvious signs of wealth being the exceptions, of course; more common to us, like mine, in varying degrees hardly overwhelm or glitter. Often summarized in a word as ‘values’, which may include status either inherited or earned by noble action, even a way of life, families are their innate source. I would add that learning either from school or one’s own pursuits broaden legacies, and even at times turn out as sources of more priceless legacies like history as well as peace and beauty in landscapes from travels, that ironically for most, are often less valued for their amorphous nature.

Such peregrinations wouldn’t have fallen on me had I not traveled to Vermont farther north of New York last month. Or again, I didn’t count on it, expecting instead, endless romps on green meadows that the Green Mountains let nestle on their bosom. Would but Nature was all I dwelt on: cloud shapes like grazing sheep on cheeks, mountain mist on waist of giant fir descending in diaphanous calm, expansive skies as if eternity were within one’s tipped toes.

But haven’t I viewed my own legacy of the heavens back in the islands where I’m from? How easy to sound as if that spot on earth where one might be instantly implanted were the most wondrous sight. More amazing is the realization that each spot is but a window to a land and sky or seascape configured by geological shifts and human history—the Philippine archipelago would draw gushes of awe from foreign visitors as much as a Filipino would of theirs like Vermont for me.  

And so, as a traveler must zero in on destination, my friend and I drove for meal and bed in a century-old inn, which turned out as if we were unleashed into another time, again, one that I’ve merely conjured from art, books and the movies—the end of the 19th century preserved in Wilmington and lived by its people to the present day as effortlessly as waking up in both the dawns of their ancestors and their own. In the course of the trip, I discovered more of it, as the state of Vermont has simply resisted the physical corrosion of time. Apparently, families have carried on their legacies smoothly without seams.

My friend and I woke on our first day not just to a present of black-framed French windows thrown open to the mist seeping up rivers and streams that trickle around roots of flowering hydrangeas, the delicate picket fences of white balconied homes, farm estates rising on grassy knolls or glinting like an accent on foot hills but also a way of life as tactile as a child’s first touch of a goat’s horn or sinking fingertips into a sheep’s coat, a moment as vibrant as the moo of cows in the glen. A few solid pillars of silos pivot on one’s eyes, and sugar shacks divert one’s glimpse off the sprawl.

During a brief pause after a breakfast of squash omelet, made of fresh picked vegetables and multi-grain pancakes doused in farm made maple syrup, we rocked on a wooden swing at the balcony of our century-old inn, taking in the breeze that brushed an unhurried town of laced windows and a clock tower with a rooster pointing its beak where the wind goes. Strolling on Main Street in a pace that would have asked of dirndl skirts and a parasol, I couldn’t resist climbing a boardwalk that led to artists’ workshops, where in one, if it were not Labor Day, I could have sat for a pencil portrait.

An inner court shaded by cherry and apple trees, curves by the country store where the touch of woolen yarn from the local sheep triggered a picture I loved in my nursery book of a grandmother knitting on a rocking chair that was displayed, too, in a corner. We would later find in farmers’ markets fruit preserves in mason jars and maple sugar in clay pots alongside apples named after their grower like Robert Frost’s, yes, the poet we revered in our youth once lived in a cottage we did go to in nearby Shaftsbury, where he ventured, though failed, into farming.

Would this be a mere feast of travel memories? As a visitor, it’s a thought that is quite valid. But this is where my consciousness tore in half—I began to live them even taking some as my own legacy while knowing it’s but borrowed for a few days. Still, I realize, writing about it just now as stolen legacies from Wilmington locals, which by simply and staunchly preserving by living them have, unknowingly perhaps, enhanced their value by passing these on not to only to their children but to strangers who now claim a share like I have.

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror Philippines, October 7, 2013



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)



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



‘City of my affections’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


 

 

 

 

A city is

not a

landscape I now realize; it is a heart’s structure recalled blindly within its chambers. But it has taken time for me to sense that I prowl Vancouver’s streets in search of Manila, ‘city of my affections’, an endearment borrowed from my idol, Nick Joaquin.

Disbelief over this thought would strike anyone who has lived in it. Indeed, what do I miss in Manila? How could I not remember chaos in its streets, the high decibels of groaning engines, grating brakes of buses and jeepneys, music from stores and snack nooks vying for ears from across each other in streets? What about the grime, the rawness that has become its nature? Could these be what have heightened my senses?

In contrast, Vancouver is calm, rarely frazzled. Even during rush hours, only staccato steps, light laughter and snatches of conversation counter the deep breathing of pneumatic brakes plying their routes on main streets—no honking except when extreme danger of an accident pops up; only an ambulance and fire truck tandem is allowed to rent the air.

Buskers, as street performers with permits are called here, sometimes crochet music in the breeze. I once stood with a small crowd, letting pass a few buses I had walked on a stop to board, for a concert violinist stage an engaging performance of a few Beethoven concertos. With all my senses Manila has sharpened, none such moment passes without me plunging in it.

And because buses run on electric and no diesel in gas pumps, skies always tend to be iridescent except on foggy days in the fall and hazy ones in the spring, and especially when frozen in the winter. Perhaps it is under such clarity that has made Vancouverites commit to a clean city. I can’t say how it is achieved because I hardly catch cleaning dirt monsters with circular brushes in between wheels creeping through streets as in those mornings I did in Manhattan, and from a deep mist, Imelda’s orange clad sweeping brigade.

Once in a while when on my way to a meeting, I’d have to skirt around from getting sprayed by a power hose, dislodging dirt on the just-poured-with-disinfectant sidewalk. I had met waste pickers, too, donned in neon-striped, yes, orange vests, combing the streets and picking up bits sweepers missed. Discreet CCTV cameras notwithstanding, I’ve learned as a Vancouverite to keep my garbage or toss it away where I must.

And yet when drawn within to write, what creeps in are more of what I don’t see like Manila’s mangy dogs prowling and sniffing at the air like ghosts under a day moon or starved cats meowing their hunger at shadows. But more heart rending, who wouldn’t agree, are children on Roxas Blvd. who dart by your car window, a sniffling runny-nosed baby strapped to their fragile bodies, joints protruding, right hand up with eyes begging for sympathy or alms—and you later find out, the baby is no kin and whatever is given goes to whoever hired them.

Vancouver, too, has a few dark spots like a stretch of Hastings St. by Chinatown. Once in a while, I’d stumble on a homeless man in a corner. A couple of them have taken a permanent post by the granite steps of the cathedral. I had talked to youngish woman I caught sniffling as she counted the coins thrown into a hanky she knotted in the corners as in a box, learning of an abusive husband she just left but tearing her heart out was a daughter too, she hoped to go back for once she recovered from the horror of that day. Didn’t I listen to a similar story of a woman who cradled the asthmatic child she fanned as it labored to breath through an uneasy slumber by the entrance of Harrison Plaza? Could poverty of hearts possibly incarnated into ghosts possibly haunting me, I had wondered then.

Ahhh..but there’s Manila Bay that overpowers with its irony of vastness, fullness even grandeur at its incomparable blaze at sunset. And for true-blue Manilenos, the romance of pocket corners in stonewalls and intimate streets scented by champaca, veiled in shivering shadows of ilang-ilang trees like those in Malate. I merely close my eyes to find my late husband sketching on his favorite dappled stone bench at Paco Cemetery, as he waited for me to finish up at the then Inquirer offices.

Like carrying a hidden side of the day moon, I stroll on Vancouver’s West End relishing shades of giant chestnut leaves, often pausing in a pergola by a formal English garden once a private estate, then promptly getting on to the end of the street on English Bay. Most times silky smooth unlike swollen Manila Bay, this bay unfurls at the feet as if cajoling in tiny wave rolls. Even its late summer sunsets are sweet peach orange, bouncing against slopes of mountains framing it as if it were a stage for dreams. Now, do I sound like I’m switching my affections? I think I’m two-timing! 

Published at Business Mirror Philippines in my weekly column,

“Peregrine Notes”, August 5, 2012



My first Glorious Fourth
July 4, 2010, 5:09 pm
Filed under: essay, memoir, travel | Tags: , , , ,

The heat of the merciless Manhattan sun: this is the first thing I remember of that morning eleven years ago at a July 4th celebration, my first, in New York. The earnestness in the rush on the streets leading to Penn Station is the second thing which struck me as I huffed breathlessly through that mile and a half from downtown where I was staying with a Filipino friend.

Where was everybody going?

Inside the cavernous station, I felt even more lost as moving walls of people seemed to heave, instead of step, into their trains. Like hundreds of New Yorkers on a holiday, my friend and I boarded one of those coaches to Long Island’s north shore. I learned that Independence Day in most of America is celebrated in homes – among families.

Right off Westbury Station, our stop, I gleaned the Stars and Stripes planted on yards and home fronts. But didn’t I notice them flapping on Manhattan building facades? Maybe my focus was fuzzy in between the towers that slice the sky in the city, but sharper on the Long Island landscape of pretty houses with peaked roofs and latticed balconies.

On dappled sidewalks, passing through trimmed lawns, I felt the air enriched with holiday sounds such as shrieks of children, parents’ firm voices, and music from parties in progress. The air too, was textured with the scent of food – most sharply of meat being barbecued in backyards, some by the swimming pool and others under terraces, or shades of conifers.

My friend’s niece decked her terrace with Stars and Stripes buntings; even the table cover and napkins bore the colors. But the laid-out feast revealed the history of the household’s family, a narrative so common in families of America. There was pancit canton guisado cooked by the niece’s Filipino mom, pasta from the Italian mother-in-law, hipon and alimasag from a Filipino aunt, sausage and peppers the Italian husband laid out on platters, rice and, of course, barbecued hotdogs and burgers.

Talk among family members were to me, slivers of life I had only imagined. An uncle of the host, a recent senior citizen ID carrier, spoke of his age with a new tune – it puts him first in any line like a boarding queue on a plane or in Disneyland; and it gives him 50 percent off bus fares and hotel rates, allows him time for more tennis and carpentry and Social Security perks.

The Italian grandmother in a motorized wheelchair showed off a cap with matching belt bag she got at a discount store that carries production overruns and sells everything for 99 cents. She had shopped on 6th Avenue from 24th to 32nd a week before, rolling up and down the sidewalks where there are defined ramps at every curb. She had taken the bus too, that ‘kneels’ as the door opens and the motorized steps flatten out turned into a ramp, and then raised to the level of the bus floor where on a designated row, the wheelchair locks into place.

There was talk about a Chinese in-law wrapping up work in Connecticut before she moves to Texas to a job with a fatter paycheck. A nephew who got his Med Tech degree at UST but who finished grade and middle school in New York had just returned, landing a job as a night lab technician. He didn’t mind the hours, and has taken a day job that gives a higher pay. He is in the Hall of Fame at his Long Island high school where he played tennis and won awards. Some nights, he puts this skill to good use, training petulant daughters of the privileged in an exclusive New York club.

Mere family banter but which, for me, unraveled the heart of democracy – equal rights and equal opportunities. As I listened, my awe dimmed when I thought of home in the Philippines. Isn’t my country ruled by the same principles? I thought, a bit sad.

Lunch over, we rolled up the table cover, crunched the napkins, and tossed these in the trash. As I crossed the lawn to sit on the swing, keeping to the edge fenced by the uniformly growing pines, I glimpsed through adjacent yards where barbecue lunches were winding down, too. Except for sheer markers like trees – a pear serves as a “cornerstone” – no walls topped with barbwire set off properties here.

I thought it was the end of the celebration when we said our goodbyes to catch the train back to Manhattan. The summer sun was yet mid-way its fall on the horizon as we boarded the 7 p.m. train.

We came back to a city jammed to the seams. The morning exodus at Penn Station had reversed; everybody had trained in, headed toward the East River for the fireworks. Blindly moving with the horde, we finally came to one of those parks opened to the public by private owners. This was at Kips Bay behind one of the many branches of New York University Hospital. Standing on the plant boxes, we scanned the sky. The fireworks were launched that year from four barges afloat the East River. This year, according to my friend, these were set on seven barges, a double whammy from South Street Seaport and the East River.

At 9:30, as in past years, the night sky started to breathe a quiet fire, exploding minute blossoms, and then raining splinters of the rainbow, swarming with shards of moonbeams or pompoms that heaved into giant chandeliers later falling on our faces. The display held us in what seemed a beatific moment. Around me, I saw faces lit by the shower of stars. With each variation – and not one seemed alike – our “ohs” and “ahs” swelled and ebbed.

That was all the sound I heard because we were too far to catch the symphony to which the pyrotechnics danced. No ear-splitting bawang or gunpowder smoke choked the air. Again, I thought of home and wished for a New Year’s Eve like the Fourth of July, and its promises I woke up to in New York.

Copyright © by Alegria Imperial as published in the Times Journal, 7/11/99, Manila

Posted at iluko.com



Angeles Estates as setting
November 26, 2009, 8:29 am
Filed under: essay, excerpt, travel | Tags: , , , ,
 
 
 

Angeles Estates from balcony

 

 ‘In my heart, a home to roost’

In a writer’s mind, a place is not a mere location. Any place has the potential of seeping into whatever she creates. Moonlight on the water in a sea resort soon appears on a page as a haiku sequence, one that I wrote. Fifth Avenue on winter evenings sheds off its glitter and reveals a sinister side as in a piece I submitted for a writing exercise on “Setting for the Novel” at a class I attended in New York’s Gotham Writing  Workshop. Cherry blossoms shedding petals in the wind along Riverside in Baltimore at dusk brings on images of moths in their last flight as I wrote in a haiku that won for me an honorable mention at the 2007 Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival.

But places or a place during a travel or visit to a writer can turn into a home to roost. Once it does, her spirit lives there and so do the characters of her stories. It is then when the ordinary takes on the quality of permanence as do settings in literature. One such place for me is Angeles Estates. It is not just a place to stay. In my heart, it is a home to roost.

‘Light splashes here like a flood’

During my long stay in 2001–and the coconut trees were still dwarfs then except for the almost-a-hundred-year old mango tree by the gate–I’ve written literary journals, completed a novella, and a short story with Angeles Estates as setting. It is the quality of light I so love. It comes as splashes like a flood during the day and at night especially during a full moon it swarms and stays with me.

Secured and guarded, I would stroll at night on the paved walks of the front lawn. Some nights, the sky unfurled like a diamond-studded mantle. I’ve seen a shooting star from the frangipani island hedge and a waning moon that appeared like the many faces of sadness behind streaks of clouds.

Now that the trees, the hedges, and the frangipani ‘pool’ in the middle have grown breathlessly lush, I can imagine how much more satisfying it is to stay for the night and see the dawn rise and the day come in splashes of light.

At a fiction writing class I attended at New York University’s Continuing Education workshops not long after I left Angeles Estates, I wrote this story which I spun out off the novel I finished during that extended stay .

The main character, Amanda, comes home for the first time after she was exiled to New York by a grandaunt.

“Dawn in Manggahan”: An Excerpt

 

Amanda woke to an engine sigh. Deep and sad like a man’s, it rose from below the window of her room at the south end of the estate buildings’ eastern wing, her grandaunt’s residence. Then, a soft hiss of gravel shifting under steps faded into the muffled din.

She listened, sifting other sounds—singsong calls in the dialect, some low-throated laughter, and like high choral notes, the warbling of ricebirds.

Barely seven and the morning had ripened like noon. In Amanda’s room, daylight had swollen like a flood. On a wall, patterns in monochrome heaved—light bouncing off the front lawn.

Estates garden: frangipani 'pool'

The corridor buzzed with cleaners, young girls with open smiles. She felt she moved among strangers. Exiled to New York after she recovered from that night she bled in a shack in the foothills, Amanda had come back to the estate for the first time—so changed from the hacienda she spent summers as a child.

She had missed the kitchen balcony where she watched the sun rise. It was also there where Senora Viana had set her up in a rattan lounger on mornings after she was brought here incognito from the hospital a week following the raid. On her first winter at that studio in the West Side in New York she craved for those purple dawns. She thought she would die of longing, wondering about the child and the lover she lost.

She slipped out of the south entrance, grazing the side mirror of an Eisenhower jeep parked fronting the wall—the engine that sighed, perhaps? Past the lawn, Amanda spotted a cluster of men in starched denims and buri hats, the farmers waiting for the dining cum seminar hall to open.

They were telling jokes, slapping knees as they guffawed, some gagging, a few spitting red juice from chewed betel nut—so unlike the grim men who crouched in bamboo groves to watch her plays years ago: those hardly laughed, wearing pain like a brand singed on their faces.

dwarf coconuts

Amanda turned away, wincing, ducking fronds of dwarfed coconut trees, and skirting a hedge of blooming frangipani bushes and of birds of paradise in clumps.

She stepped into a lull in the kitchen. Counter shelves on the wall left a yawning center, half a dance hall drenched in light. On a green speckled Formica table, Amanda saw the thermos pot’s on-button still lit and beside it tightly lidded jars of instant coffee and cream. Cups and saucers stacked on the open shelf above the sink still glistened from the last rinse. Noticing a breadbasket and a tub of margarine, she sat down for breakfast.

Amanda had stood up to leave when the screen door heaved then banged. A wiry woman huffed in, four live hens in her right hand tied together in the shins—lidless eyes blinking their anxiety. When she whirled from the door to the counter past the table where Amanda sat back, only then did she see Amanda.

Ay naku!  Sorry,” her apologies of not noticing Amanda immediately tumbled. She prattled on as she filled the kettle with water and set it on the stove. She was told Amanda would come down later so she thought she should dress the chickens first before she made Amanda a meal of fried rice and pork sausage.

Amanda said, it’s okay, she had eaten and thanks anyway.

Ay, teka! Taste the bibingka,” the woman spun around, sliding onto a plate a piece of rice cake grilled in banana wrapper.

Amanda demurred. “Huwag na. No, really, I’m full.”

The kettle lid jiggled from the rising steam. This made the cook jump, and yell for someone to help. A girl in Bermuda shorts and thong slippers dashed in and yanked a chicken from the bunch. The cook, blade in one hand, twisted the fowl’s neck as the girl gripped both legs.

“I have to go. Salamat,” Amanda leaped to the door, shaking.

The cook laughed. “Hindi ka pa nagbabago. You’re still afraid to see a chicken dressed!”

Amanda looked back through the screen door, straining for the cook’s face—did she know her? But a sun patch had splashed on the marble steps, blinding her.

She re-crossed the gravel path and reentered the south wing from another door. The corridor had emptied, clearing a view of the south entrance. Amanda glimpsed a man walking off, perhaps to that jeep parked there? His gait, the way he shifted his weight to his left leg and swung his left arm—though his shoulders seemed a bit hunched—froze Amanda. When he stooped to peer at something, she saw a fat curl tumble to his brow.

“Oh, my God!” she gasped, gripping her arms around herself, suddenly feeling bare.

When she looked again, he had disappeared.

Visist Angeles Estates at www.angelesestates.com