Filipineses


Homecoming (Peregrine Notes, my column at Business Mirror)

Waders_in_flight_Roebuck_Bay

The word makes me wonder if most of us, like me, were born to leave home and later pine to return. Are we somehow reflections of homing birds, like the swallows of Capistrano, or the terns and geese of North America? Or closer to what I know, do we return where we come from like the salmon of British Columbia that swims back when matured to the river where it was spawned?

But unlike birds and fishes, home, for me, is no longer a place. I suppose it has ceased being one as I changed from one whom I recall even as recently as a year ago. This sense of being alien, which in a way is a reality, could have started to deepen like a whorl in my heart since six years ago when I hurriedly unloaded six decades of my life to live in Canada. At first, I couldn’t imagine going back home.

Where is home? Not that last apartment I emptied not only of accumulated debris but also of mementos and tags of moments lived, which my mother moved from house to house. Or an architect’s house that stood in an ancestral lot owned by five generations I was married into, which I had to sell. Where my sister and I lived with our parents for twenty years close to her high school is now a meaningless shell along smoggy Ramon Magsaysay Boulevard.

Not even where I was born already a vacant space shaded by an ageing pomelo by the time I learned how to read, the borrowed hut lent by an uncle of my father for my mother’s family driven into homelessness by WWII. Or where I grew up with my father’s mother said to be another temporary home built after their stone house from across was burnt. When my mother had to move back to her mother’s for care on the birth of my sister and my other grandmother debilitated with arthritis had to be hauled to a daughter in Manila, I watched it painfully torn down piece by piece and hoisted on to a carabao cart, with my childhood in it.

Massive convent walls where I was sent after high school and the dormitory run by nuns from across UST where I lived for six years sort of healed the gnawing loss I nursed from seeing those fragile walls just gone but I couldn’t call them home. Where then lies home? In my recent homecoming to Manila, I realized that home is both not a place and a structure but something “visible only to the heart” as The Little Prince of Antoine de Saint Exupery told the fox.

My homecoming last month was both ideal and deeply sad. Like a tide surge, my cousin’s death, Ceferino ‘Nonoy’ M. Acosta III, left no space for me to waver about a flight and waffle about gifts to bring. I was so wrapped up in my emotions that the smog, which swarmed the path of United Airlines on its descent to NAIA, failed to daunt me. Nor did the snarl in Baclaran, being a Wednesday, through Roxas Blvd. unnerve me. The landscape though felt shrunken and tighter with buildings now unfamiliar to me, and a crowd thrice multiplied; yet as the SUV that fetched me coughed through clogged streets, it had seemed normal.

I couldn’t guess how I would feel arriving at Paz Memorial Homes; it would be my first as a balikbayan. But with my first step into the chapel where Nonoy lay in state, I felt like I’ve been in it the day before—how many times have I bristled in the arctic air conditioning during a wake of relatives and friends? My uncle and aunt soon swept me in their grieving arms and we wept, sobbing words for the smiling Nonoy, a scene I have watched with other relatives countless of times.

When I turned to the faces riveted on us, there were my other uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews, relatives, and former neighbors sniveling with us. While most like me bore marks of time’s subtle scratches, each was whom I knew through the eyes—that invisible space impermeable to time, where I met theirs and my unchanged self.

We laughed, relishing not what was said but simply from the thrill of retrieving lost moments of being together. In the few days that followed, as we exchanged more of such moments–some with Nonoy in our midst–we kept flinging open the closed doors that had been shut by years. And as the burial crowd thinned out, when our clan gathered for what for me was yet another last time together, I had ceased to wonder if I have a home to go back to.

So like a homing bird and the salmon I had managed, indeed, with a tracker so precise scientists remain baffled, to land in or swim back to the same exact spot called, home. Yet unlike them, it’s not a spot I arrived at but a roof with walls I carry around unseen.

Published on January 6, 2013 Peregrine Notes, Opinion Page, Business Mirror Philippines

Photo: waders roosting at high tide in Roebuck Bay, Australia courtesy of wikipedia

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The Color Red

Shafts of red would spear the mountain peaks at sunrise in the Philippine archipelago I grew up in. Later tinged blue-gray from mist the forests exhale, dawn would seem to bruise the mountainsides, and then, fade in pink as if to heal.

 

dawn from the balcony of Angeles Estates

I would catch that last tint—such tenderness—but always on the rims of sleep. Once awake, I would trudge through the day steeped in the sun. Even in shadow, it wrapped me and things I touched. One day, I discovered the truth about the sun.

Its color is red not gold as most perceive it to be. Its heart is like a man’s, although it flickers not throbs. It takes on an illusion of absence at its zenith but in living things, it lends its flare.

In things, red either seeps in or withdraws. Red blossoms vermillion in camellias, frangipanis, and azaleas, or it metamorphoses into a flower itself, like fuchsia and the rose.

When blossoms shed petals, leaving a litter of brown scraps it is then when the color red deserts the flowers.  Or so it seems because some fruits do blaze like all the berries, persimmons, apples, and even chestnuts, or others when juiced spurt red like what oozes from cherries, grapes and pomegranates.

I had thought growing up and reflecting on red, that I alone possessed this secret: the Sun after coupling with Earth left it with its fire so much so that most things birth smouldering.

This secret interwove with life in my childhood. I often sauntered along church walls on my way to school, crushing chipped off terra cotta bricks. By midyear, my slippers wore a mitt of rust, a tint that looked to me more red than brown. I was awed not surprised.

When a granduncle died, I thought my red organdy dress would lift the shroud my family wore; flitting through drawn faces, I was tossed frowns instead. My granduncle rang the church bells and transcribed Latin prayers. He and the monsignor, I learned from random tales, shared after evening prayers tubs of basi, a brownish-red wine of fermented sugar cane; the monsignor himself not only officiated but also arranged for my granduncle’s burial.

Up close, the monsignor struck me as no more than a man but glancing at the red piping of his black cassock, I had thought he was more than a priest. He told me, eluding my question that red like my dress is but a color special to him.  He also pointed out we both wore socks that matched the red in our clothes and he even lifted the hem of his cassock for me to look.

That shade of red is carmine, the color of fresh blood which symbolizes martyrdom; I learned about this in religion class at the university. But the symbolism has nothing to do with the color of their robes; instead it is in how they ought to empty out their own selves to serve or give their lives for others, my professor explained.

But the lesson unleashed counter images of selfishness. One such image leaped off my childhood catechism pamphlet—a red heart that dies from love of self and turns black, which is the color of blood when it dries up. Soon, the drawing en-fleshed among people I knew.

The color red then began to dance before me as a two-faced Diablo, an apparition that sneaked in at night—one face masquerading as love, the other as death. This haunted me for years.

One such Diablo in my mind incarnated as an art director who trailed me in my job as a writer in the government media office. He sent me a bouquet of red carnations every Friday, which terrified me.  Until one morning in the course of our jobs part of which entailed travels to the islands. We started often before dawn. I begrudged waking to the hour and he, seated beside me. I seethed through those bumpy rides. 

Our trip began an hour earlier that morning. A full moon yet grazed the eastern sky to set. I eased into a groove by my window seat to snooze when the jeep throttled and coughed to a stop—a tire had burst. We had been cruising through the highway that spanned acres of rice fields. In the moonshine, rice paddies glowed like silver pools. But the bamboo groves hissed and groaned. I felt goose pimples growing on me. No one passed by this stretch for hours.

Fretting, I stepped on a stone that in the moonlight looked like a mound of earth by the root of a mango tree. Pain shot up from my twisted ankle and wrenched my body. I fell on my side. The art director leaped off where he was holding a flashlight on the driver replacing the flat tire. He tore off a sleeve of his shirt, broke off a branch and wrapped a splint on the back of my ankle.  Then he took off his shirt, lifted me off the gravel and laid it where my face was bruised by the stones. The pain eased and I must have dozed off. Soon, scarlet spears shot through as in my childhood dreams. My name came to me like a deep breeze—he was waking me up.

In the moment it took me to blink, it seemed lilac swatches had swirled down as if a violent hand withdrew and with a sleight unfurled pink tulle over the fields. He coaxed me to reach up as he scooped me to carry. I turned in his arms toward the mountainside and was stunned not at the sight but at the recognition of what I had always thought was a recurring childhood dream. In a flick the color red, its varied tones and moods, switched off my fears, smothering with its most tender tinge the Diablo slung in my heart. I was freed.

Copyright © 2010 By Alegria Imperial

Published in Timeless Spirit Magazine, Vol. #7, Issue #6, August 2010 www.timelessspirit.com Also posted in iluko.com



“Papa,” the last time

His gaze lingers, unblinking, as if he were seeing me for the first time. I wonder if I don’t look grotesque in the closeness of an ambulance cab we have been packed into. And yet his eyes graze every spot I worked at concealing like a bug-shaped mole on my upper left cheek and a shallow dimple he couldn’t possibly find because I, too, am gazing down at him baffled, unsmiling.

His cheeks defined by sharp high bones like mine, now webbed with track lines of the years have been drained of anxiety—some perhaps his own of his younger years and mine of evenings he waited for me to come home. His lips held by a round chin like I have, a bit wide like a woman’s flaked—they always did from some kind of vitamin deficiency like mine—and slacked as if about to say something but stays mute.

The paramedic edges closer and leans towards me. He whispers, “Say something to keep his mind awake. His hearing is still sharp.” But his thoughts like mine could be drowning in the rhythmic rise and fall of the siren as the ambulance hurtles into space that for the first time do not pull us apart like they did when as a child his visits home seemed years away. 

What could I tell him now? “I love you” or words akin to it that we never did exchange? He did sign letters I received as a child, “Love,” answers to letters I scrawled that asked for dolls—he sent books instead, saying these were easier to find: the first ever on my eighth birthday, Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper he dedicated with a noble quote beyond a child’s grasp: “Education supplants intelligence but does not supply it.” 

He worked in the city a whole evening away and schooled nights, too. I remember birthdays I waited for him to step off the only bus trip that got to our town—it did stop at our gate for the driver to drop off a parcel of golden delicious apples and walnuts and a greeting card every time all those years that I read only recently: “Darling Baby…” 

“Papa” was a word I could say properly accented in the last syllable the Spanish way my mother taught me. But as it was foreign to my friends who sat on their father’s lap whom they called by the native term not “Papa”, it was a mere idea for me—the absent arms that could have caught me when I fell from the stairs once and scraped my knees or whom I imagined brought home chico, a brown fruit I craved during my malarial delirium, the figure who should have pinned my ribbons in grade school when I attained first honors, and who could have led fans as I rode on the open top of a bedecked convertible being muse of our Senior Class. 

When chosen to represent our school in a regional secondary oratorical contest, he descended like Zeus into my existence—writing my piece, training me in elocution, whipping me with his serious stance as he listened to me recite every evening on our balcony to a phantom crowd. Like a sword dangling in the night sky instead of the moon, a gold medal he had aimed for me haunted the hours—my stomach churned acids that kept me in the bathroom retching every morning. His presence had turned so venomous that I refused to go to the competition if he stayed—in the battle of wills I won; he left on the eve of the contest. I got a silver medal. He wired a note and sent me my first gold wrist watch. 

By the time he could afford to bring my mother and sister over to the city and we lived as a family, I had started working in the publications office of a university. He critiqued any piece I wrote—I faced every blank page terrorized by standards he pointed out in books he shoved at the dinner table. I broke down one evening tossing out the books, raging at his indifference to the child he doesn’t know for whom he wasn’t present ever. He had cried, quivering as he is now. 

“What’s happening?“ I rasp. The paramedic whispers, “a slight convulsion, don’t worry. We have it under control. Hold his hand.” I take his left hand in mine. 

It is the first time our hands clasp—his feels so fragile, so light like butterfly wings. I am tempted to squeeze it, to drain that power he had so held me in rein but the hand fluttered like a fallen wing. 

Is that a blink of one of his eyes? “No,” the paramedic tells me, “just muscle contraction.” The gaze continues to lie on my brow. 

What could be missing that he seems to search beyond me? I realize I don’t have time to ruminate, as he would call indulging in thought. With words, alien words, English words were how he kept me as a child clasped to his without being there, without being present.    

Discombobulate, was another word he loved. When he tore up tangled phrases and sentences I wrote, he hammered the rules of clarity. Work on language that paints pictures, he later added, as he earmarked pages of books on the craft of fiction writing. By then, my writing had turned murky—I had fallen in love and my emotions kept me etherized. But love was a word that he never talked about. 

The sirens wind down to a whine. “Papa,” I hear my voice and it sounds like a child’s. He blinks again and is that an attempt to squeeze my hand? The cab doors fling open. Paramedics push out the gurney and I let go of his hand. His gaze moves to the sky. Out on the hospital lobby, a river of moving legs seems to flow ever away, bringing my father.

It has been two decades since and here I am writing the way he would have loved, present in each moment that I craft words.

Copyright © 2010 by Alegria Imperial

Published in Timeless Spirit Magazine Vol. 7, Issue #4, May 2010



Light-entranced: A New Face of Spain in Manila
facade  

Published in Philippine Asian News Today, Vancouver
Posted in iluko.com

 Vancouver, BC, CanadaIn a number of meetings and conferences I have been invited to or signed in, I am always engaged in a dance of memories I had not thought I lugged around. The most potent of these is culture. A month ago, at a conference on Environmental Justice at the SFU Harbour Centre, each of us, participants, were made to draw our thoughts on the environment using Pentel pens on a piece of white bond paper. Mine was a textured web of the Philippines layered by centuries of colonization. My words in the presentation burst out like a dirge for beauty I had not expected. It could have risen partly from longing for home. After the session, Gil, the Mexican panelist latched on to me. He called me, “prima”; I called him, “primo”. There is nothing new to this. Each time I meet Latinos, they catch me by my name, hugging me con “abrazos fuertes”. At such moments, I always come flying home to Manila, remembering. Like the first time I visited the new building of Instituto Cervantes a week after it was inaugurated. Here is what I recall. 

 

I had since stepped off the cab, ignoring the driver’s probing why I was going to a “casino” on T.M. Kalaw at midday, and why the new building I said I was really going to—Instituto Cervantes (Manila) he repeated, tongue-twisting—did not have the arko and barandilla he usually sees in Spanish-sounding places. As he sped away, I began looking for the same details he did.

 

I realized I had gotten off before the entrance, midway through the horizontal span that begins where Casino Espanol’s stucco wall ends. As I singled along a beige stone-clad wall, I also walked under the slightly jutting walls of an upper story, a dark protrusion covered with oxidized metal sheets that holds up a sheer half of white steel-framed glass picture windows. An image flashed: possibly remote, I had shrugged off; but I remembered as a girl during one of those visits to the seminary in old Vigan far north, ruined since, peeking on tiptoes from one of those huge windows flung wide on feast days to watch right under my feet people in a holy procession. I later learned from the architect that the memory had not crept in by accident.

 

At the end of the span, I drew a few paces back awed by the contrasting lines and surfaces of the facade. Seemingly not both but only the lower portion of the horizontal span flows into the rise of a medium-high tower I faced; both are clad with those beige stones. Together, they form a right triangle. But in my mind, I transformed the geometric lines into an enormous human form seated on the ground, balancing on its stretched legs a transparent box pulsing with light. The architect would probably think this incredulous but I knew from talking with other architects that a building must take on life and if it does it would take on many guises also. Under the broad tower, I slipped into the entrance—automatic glass doors embossed with the institute’s (ICM) logo—and found myself really wondering if indeed I were inside a Spanish structure.

 

Shedding off Colonial Stereotypes

 

Almost embarrassed, I shed off the baggage I had carried—stereotype images of stone churches and houses that are not even Spanish but Filipino colonial buildings. A stranger to the Spain of today, I did recall that high noon reading in the New York Times an article about an exhibit on Spanish architecture at the Museum of Modern Art. Featured with the story were photos of the new terminal at Madrid’s Barajas International Airport and the Museo Contemporaneo de Castilla y Leon. The article dubbed Spain as “showcase of some of the most exciting architecture in the world today” and “a center for architectural marvels.” The Instituto’s architect, (and former director) Javier Galvan Guijo, a graduate of Escuela Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid where he also earned his masters and doctorate degrees, must have trained with Spain’s new breed of architects.

 

Gaping at the structure I had stepped into, I realized it was time for me to snip anything Spanish off relics of the Philippines’ colonial past or those churches and fortifications friars and military engineers built as well as the bahay na bato (stone house) they improvised to withstand earthquakes and keep off the endless summer heat. Even while Galvan claims his design synthesizes such structures that he has studied and documented in his travels to almost all islands of the archipelago – he goes way back to 1993 lending a hand in Vigan’s restoration – his European modernist sensibilities obviously overcame his love for everything Filipino in this building.

 

Easier to agree with is his declaration that light is the “protagonist” in his design. He could not have escaped its omnipresence in my country. Light floods any nook, seeps into any cranny, it even creeps into nights in the archipelago—a priceless element that to his dismay local designers tend to ward or totally close off. A Madrileno and thus no stranger to the sun, Galvan set his building up as a stage for a play on light.

 

Light as Protagonist: Capiz in Modern Design Sensibility 

        

 In the lobby, I felt like a dwarf in an enormous cube that opens to the sky. I scaled soaring dark Indian sandstone walls, breathless at the height, the same feeling when I walk into a cathedral or a gothic church—my experience with structures of this proportion being limited to the ecclesiastical. I pushed the comparison further: square incisions in a grid midway up the wall, the architect’s version of capiz (mother-of-pearl shell) windows—a theme he uses throughout—also reminded me not of the checkered pattern but of how light breaks on a wall of the Santuario de Nuestra Senora del Camino in Leon I got fascinated with on a postcard. Too, a soft aura like a haze that followed a few students milling in the lobby had added to the other-worldliness light refracted from the top has lent. But light playing magic on my senses soon dissipated this haloed perception. 

 

Right in the lobby, light in its many guises inundates the visitor: fluid as it pours on the walls, solid as in spears piercing the three-sided slits that edge Interior 3the dropped ceiling, vaporous in slants from the square windows, and mist-like as all that light settles on the blue-gray slate floor. Quality and hue also shift according to time of day, changing as light turns with the sun’s inexorable motion. I had imagined as it rose and hit the facade sideways it daubed the lobby a purplish pink, a hue that faded into yellowish white as noon approached and on to a powdery white as the sun paused in its zenith. When light slanted from the west, the light wavered to a soft aluminum gray as it did right then. But wait! It had brightened up as if from a sudden lift. I turned and indeed, met a splash coming in from the patio, hitting a glass wall tangentially across the entrance; the sun had slid ever so imperceptibly in its downward arc.

 

 Two things had happened in the splash of light: it poured on to the transition area right above where I stood then spilled down the slate-clad stairs on the wall opposite the entrance to my right, and flooded a rectangular space to my left where the lobby expands. This space boxed in by end-walls painted white is a changing exhibit area. But that afternoon in my light-altered state, it had looked more like a waterway drenched with light whooshing in from clerestory windows atop the length of one wall, and bouncing on the outer walls of the theater, the Salon de Actos.

 

Easily a seeming favorite among students, I found a group squatted in a circle near the far end of the box washed in the light, their heads huddled like some yet unnamed species of birds in complicity. When another group swung in from the patio through the glass door, meeting the first, both soon lifted off on flapping arms, dripping sparks of fluid light, winging out to the arcade outside. I was left trying to decide whether to climb the stairs or follow the flight of students. I took the second choice.

 

I followed in their trail, squinting at the stark brilliance of a bare sun. Where I had paused outside the door, I viewed the enclosed Casino Espanol property through the patio and the swimming pool, given elements Galvan worked in to his design. Two contrasting sides of Spain look on each other from here: one, a nostalgic colonial past in the arched terraces and inner garden of the brick-roofed Casino restaurant, and the other, a boldPatio 1 straightforward present in the looming white concrete and glass walls, exposed posts and beams of ICM—two sides the patio sets apart yet blends.

 

I walked on to the arcade that the beams and posts create, keeping close to a series of glass doors embossed with the same square grid pattern—those of the suite of classrooms called aula (cage)—tucked under it. I had peeked into each of these entranced by the light like two streams pooling on the floor. One stream comes from the patio, or light that breaks on the marble tiles then spills in, the other like a fluid curtain comes through glass blocks on the back wall.

 

Spanish Today among Filipinos

 

Through one of the doors, I glimpsed the students in the changing exhibit area. (So they flew back in to their cages.) Here, along with the 3,600 other students, they have come to learn Spanish, the language half of the world speaks, a language Filipinos once knew. It takes 30 hours to step up to each of the 25 levels or three years of mastery a certificate testifies.  

 

Two weeks after this visit during a yearly event of non-stop reading a work written in Spanish, I would sit in the Salon de Actos listening to some of the students read two pages each of Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere”, his novel that ignited a revolution and led to his martyrdom that made him a national hero. Galvan’s dramatic design that alternates dark concrete and light veneer oak on the wall and ceiling and echoed on the capiz pattern on backs of seats could have intensified emotions the text carried. But the 250 readers, among them mostly students, would focus on the words falling from their tongues, flipping like the foreign objects they still are—though a few would be Spaniards living in Manila and a handful of Filipinos who have lived for years in Spain—thus, pushing emotions in Rizal’s novel a hundred years back where they belong.

 

Who takes up Spanish these days? I wondered. Jose Maria Fons, then ICM’s information officer, counted among them young scholars simply interested in the language and Spanish culture, would-be teachers—and job seekers who get an edge with Spanish. I had glimpsed some schoolboys among those enrolled in the children’s program, as Fons would later explain, in the last aula as I climbed the stairs at the end of the arcade.

 

A spindly crown of pili tree shades the terrace above the arcade. Pairs and trios of students had each taken a spot here, leaning toward the patio, reflecting on the static gleam of the pool, chatting in Spanish; no one here is allowed to speak in another tongue. A row of smaller classrooms that includes a media room — also front and backlit — ends at the library backdoor. A sign forbade me to enter; I was not authorized. But I had pushed because no one was looking and found myself engulfed in a giant triangular box brimming with light.  Biblioteca 1

 

The splashes and spears of light at the ground floor and the streams in the classrooms interplay in the library perhaps ten times magnified. Light here roars in cascades from a skylight—a broad band of framed glass multi-axle steel beams support—then it drops to a light well, skimming a white firewall and streaming halfway down to a wall of glass blocks, the same translucent back walls of the classrooms. Its unhampered flow ends on a recessed white-pebbled ground. More light slide obliquely where the ceiling slopes down in veneer oak, slipping through framed vertical glass windows that look out to the patio. I stood by the side of one of the reading desks still facing upward—as if it were the first time I saw clouds scudding by, leaving a stretch of blue. (One rainy day a week later, I would come back here to watch rain wash the skylight gray, then leave patterns of leaves and seashells, and some tiny animal footprints.)  

 

I wove in and out of the shelves, basking in the luminescence, starting to feel my dormant Spanish waking up—I did understand the titles on the spines of books, even an issue of Geografica on Cristobal Colon. When I got to the last page of the journal, I sensed a coral hue brushing my arm; the sun had begun its descent. I slung my bag on my shoulders and pushed the door toward the transition area. This open space that overlooks the changing exhibit area and the lobby also leads to the offices. Movement is transparent through the glass doors and walls, light-soaked as in every space in the building. The bustle in the offices had reminded me why I was there.

 

Manila: Gateway to a Double Triangle-Spain to Asia and Spain to Latin America 

 

Senor Galvan had noticed me. He had just flown in from a two-day visit to Hanoi where Instituto Cervantes through Manila runs small suites of aula; it also does in Singapore and Malaysia. I learned from him that Manila servesexhibit hall-clerestory windows as regional center for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. “Nothing new in this role,” said Galvan. Four hundred years ago, Manila opened Asia to the West and the West to Asia; today Manila plays the same role in a double triangle between Spain and Asia in one, and Spain and Latin America in the other.

 

He then led me to the top of the stairs; light had turned a hazy ash though streaked with coral. Where we leaned against the railing overlooking the lobby, I felt like standing on the ledge of some ancient cave. Senor Galvan laughed off my impression. “That only means this building is alive,” he had said. I had added, “And not blood but light is its force.”  

 

The building has just been picked as one of TOP100 buildings designed by Madrilenian architects.

Senor Galvan had since left Manila and has just been named director of IC in Oran, Algeria. I had migrated to Vancouver, Canada.



Rice:not just grain
March 31, 2009, 6:54 am
Filed under: essay, food, thoughts | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Until a tiny white hill hazed in its steam is served and I discern in it thousands of grain, only then, do the bowls of boiled fish, broiled meat and sautéed greens take on taste and meaning.

 

Rice for Filipinos is life, the dining table but the heart. Its life like ours has seasons that begin with planting, which also starts the cycle of producing and recycling. Right after harvest, grain is chosen for seedlings where most of it is hauled off for milling. But first the grains are beaten off the stalks and gathered un-husked. The stalks are left to dry in the fields as hay—when dried these will be used as bed for mushroom spawns or burnt one bundle at a time and soaked as shampoo. At the rice mill, the husk is separated from the bran: husk heaped on coals in an earthen stove keeps it warm; bran mixed into swine gruel enriches it.

 

Only whole dry grains are cooked; wet grain pounded by hand is topping for ice cream; grit is home-bred chicken feed. Rice should be served no more than one meal but leftover rice may be fried in lard and garlic for breakfast or it can be sun dried then fried for a crunchy snack.

 

Rice is cooked with two parts water but an extra cup can be scooped off while boiling, a pinch of salt added as healing drink for an upset stomach, and so is toasted rice boiled as coffee.

 

Boiled with chicken sautéed in ginger and garlic, rice becomes congee. Powdered rice makes a soft tasty cake if cooked with coconut milk and flavored with anise. Coarsely ground rice steamed in double boilers and topped sesame seeds pairs well with saucy minced pork cooked with blood paste.

 

Copyright 2009 by Alegria Imperial, an unpublished essay

 

 



Who are the Filipinos?

The Filipinos are really too complex to box-in: their ancestry and heritage is so rich it belies the simplicity of their ways. They are essentially still the fiercely freedom-loving island people the Spaniards found, which brings up the charm the world loves. But today, they are also a rationally modern people, Western in mode and manner, adept where their Asian neighbors are still learning—language, for one.

                They were not really just islanders though; the Spaniards discovered a people who had organized settlements engaged in on-going trades with ancient peoples of the Far East, not only with the Chinese but also with Persians, Arabs, and much to their surprise, a trade they had dreamed of—spices, exotic pearls and porcelain among loads of goods they later shipped on galleons that plied a straight ocean route from Manila to Acapulco and back loaded with gold, silver and European imports, if any number of the galleons could make it, to the banks of the Pasig.

                But their coming did not only benefit the Spanish monarchy then ruled by Philip II after whom the islands, which the colonizers rigged up 7, 107 of them to comprise an archipelago, was named. The Spaniards linked the Philippines immediately to worlds on the other side of the hemisphere, Europe, and gifted the Filipinos with Christianity that to this day sets them apart in values and traditions from the rest of Asia.   

              The Philippines was already a nation when all of Asia still existed under sun rulers and brassy sultanates. A nation, indeed, but a servile people under colonizers who, it now appears, kept up their harshness because they could not put down the fierce spirit of the Filipinos. Nor could they understand them—how could the Spaniards with the Filipinos’ heritage mix of Oriental mysticism and Malayan wanderlust?  

                Despite an apparent ‘cowing down’ in spots, both the Spanish and the American colonizers, who took over after a mock battle, had to keep up their iron hand because rebellions and revolts hardly ever ceased; they erupted spasmodically in many parts of the archipelago. (In quite an increasing volume of local history being put together now in the Philippines, several unrecorded events are turning up for the first time; these include fights waged and won by Filipino guerillas during the WWII.) The Filipinos had not ceased to be an island people in this sense—lovers of free earth, water and sky, free to be who and what they want to be.

                 Indeed, multiple cultures make up their consciousness, and a complex of racial genes comprises their make-up. Nowhere does this sharply surface than in another country, where they are pitted against the very cultures that they also carry. They are no less who they are even if they have adapted to other cultures, albeit, out of necessity.

                  This explains their flexibility, a trait that has since been noted world-wide where Filipinos have migrated or gone for work: Whether it be in the Americas or in Europe, Asia and even the Middle East, a Filipino blends because he has in him part of where he goes yet is apart because of all that he is.

 

Alegria Albano-Imperial, “Celebrating the Filipino”, (2007) an unpublished article in full, published in part as commentary, philippinews.com