happy thoughts and worthy causes

Archive for January, 2012

Black Lace

BLACK LACE

twirls and curls

intricately meshed

dark lattice

concealing a treasure within;

mere surface cover

for what it can reveal,

I see, knowing

something more lies beneath.

It holds my attention

as my fingers are caught,

my hands are met

by a pleasant surprise,

confirming my deepest hopes,

and obliging the best

of my imagination.       GPL 10/10/11

 

Black Lace

BLACK LACE

twirls and curls

intricately meshed

dark lattice

concealing a treasure within;

mere surface cover

for what it can reveal,

I see, knowing

something more lies beneath.

It holds my attention

as my fingers are caught,

my hands are met

by a pleasant surprise,

confirming my deepest hopes,

and obliging the best

of my imagination.       GPL 10/10/11

Ilocos Revisited

I have always considered my mother’s hometown in Ilocos Sur as part of my childhood. Because of the numerous summers I spent there, I began to take those visits for granted until my grandparents died and we went back less and less. As an adult, I had several chances to return and see the plazas where I learned to ride a bike get surrounded by shops and fastfood restaurants aimed to cater to tourists. And just when the old houses of yore began to fall apart, Vigan was named a UNESCO heritage site. 

But my “homecoming” to Ilocos this May 2011 with my Mama was different. Although I did visit once or twice in my adult life, this was the only time I would be reconnecting with relatives again in almost twenty years. A beloved “cool” aunt, my mother’s cousin, was dying of cancer. She specifically called for my Mom so they could talk about the family properties – farmlands in the barrios still kept productive by longtime tenants. These plantations were located in anonymous places like Brgy. Ora, whose only claim to fame was the controversial burning of Ora East and Ora West during the Crisologos’ time.

Since we took the bus, I had the opportunity to enjoy the changing landscape as we crossed over into Ilocos Sur. The view from the Banawang bridge by the light of the breaking dawn is always breath-taking; where the sheer mountain face gives way to a majestic river flowing out into the sea. The great Abra river’s brown, swift waters told me it rained high up in the mountains the night before. Since it was already late in the month of May, the rainy season was fast approaching after all. 

The familiar coastline of Narvacan came into view. I recognized the image of the Virgin Mary atop the coral reefs, and the public beach facility once developed by the Marcoses now fallen into ruin. This rocky beach site was once comparable to Ilocos Norte’s Currimao. Soon, the townships still dominated by tobacco plantations appeared.With tobacco farming being a major industry for the province, appropriate legislation now regulates its production and profit-sharing among the producers and distributors.    

Our bus was headed for Laoag, so we got dropped off at the highway, by the old gasoline station where a tricycle stop is now. The Bantay Church housing the image of Our Lady of Charity was visible from there, and also the popular belltower where Fernando Poe shot a scene for his original Panday movie. That same belfry served as a lookout point for ancient invaders that could threaten the capital that was “Ciudad Fernandina”, the old name of Vigan. That is why the district was called “bantay”, a guard or sentry to the entrance to Vigan.

Looking at the old church and belltower  now, I realized that hill on which they stand on doesn’t seem so intimidating anymore as when I was a kid; when the climb up seem so tiring every Sunday morning or during the Holy Week processions. I remember the grassy hill around the belfry being surrounded by goat and cattle dung since it was a perfect pasture area for ruminants. Nowadays, there is a paved walkway complete with steps to lessen the arduous climb. Tourists and other visitors just love to have photos taken there. Sadly, the tower can no longer be climbed by a great number of people since the wooden, rickety stairs has depreciated to a dangerous degree.

 After an early breakfast of classic longganisa, tomatoes and eggs, my Mom and I walked over to my relatives’ house. The dirt roads are now covered with asphalt but they remain narrow, and the distant two or three block walk now seem to me just a few footsteps away. All of my Mom’s 73 years was perfectly capable of the short walk, but by her slow pace I sensed that she was also lost in her own reminiscings. This was the place she grew up in; the one they had to evacuate from during the war to hide among their “kasamas” in their farmlands in the barrios, where she went to school at the prestigious St. Paul’s College-Vigan, where she got her first teaching job and where her former elementary students are now the mayor, the vice-mayor, and city councilors. Along the way, we were called by other distant relatives and old friends of my Mom’s to their houses. Most were already old and gray, and seeing my Mother beside them made me feel very grateful for her continued good health.  

I searched for the cement building housing the Mormon missionaries of my childhood, but in its place now stood a private residence; and nearby, a cable company station whose big satellite dish impedes your view of the Bantay church and belltower. Even my aunt’s old house now seemed so puny compared to its more modern neighbours. These bigger and sturdier houses with Western and European designs were built by families with overseas contract workers. Here in Bantay, most of them are in Rome, Italy serving as domestics, where both women and men alike work as governesses, maids, gardeners, and houseboys.

It is no wonder that Region 1 has a big population of OFWs. The hard life in the Ilocos region characterized by few arable lands and frequent typhoons, developed the “adventurous” spirit of Ilocanos and made them look elsewhere for an even “better” life. They were the first to brave the wilderness of Mindanao to develop agricultural lands there. So now, even in Davao there are a few Ilocano-speaking areas.

When the Americans came to look for willing labourers to work the farms and plantations of Hawaii and California, the Ilocanos were first to volunteer and board the boats. They are the “old-timer” Filipinos who are now the proud ancestors of Filipino-Americans living in the States. Such a life can be read in many of the great Filipino writer Carlos Bulosan’s stories, himself an “oldtimer”.

At my aunt’s house, a cousin opened the gate and we re-introduced ourselves. My uncle came out to greet us and marvelled at my mother’s still youthful appearance. His looks, on the other hand, have given way to the years, even when he is a medical doctor and would know better to take care of his health. My “cool” auntie, who was a physician herself, a “modern” woman of her time who drove her jeep and rode her motorcycle, was now only a shadow of her old self. When my Mom informed her that I was the eldest of her three girls and now a UP Law graduate, she remarked that I was like my father who was a practicing lawyer.

It was a sad reunion at best. In her condition, they discussed the business of dividing the ancestral farmlands inherited by their fathers from their grandparents. Ironically, with the Torrens system initiated by my own paternal grandfather who was with the Bureau of Lands in the 40s and the 50s, their farmlots are still unregistered, and their ownership is evidenced only by mere tax declarations and the tenants’ acknowledgement.

So, my mom and I next headed for the provincial DENR office in San Ildefonso to check on cadastral surveys and maps of the farmlands. I remember San Ildefonso as a nearby town which had access to the South China Sea and where we can go to the beach. Today, it is still ruled by the Purisimas, relatives of a Leonin cousin of mine, and officially recognized as the site of the Basi Revolt. The people of San Ildefonso have learned to capitalize on that historical fact and now produce the bottled, export quality, “basi wine”. The Gongogong brand is available in several flavors and is a perfect pasalubong. So besides the traditional bibingka, longganisa, empanadas and corniks, you can always bring back some basi, or sugarcane wine.

Our trip wasn’t as successful as we expected it to be. The maps and surveys were insufficient references for the ownership we needed to establish. So we went back to Vigan to try the provincial Land Registration Authority. The new Registrar of Deeds building was just beside the sports complex. What they used to call “stadium” was where the old “Palarong Pambansa” used to be held. It was also the only space large enough for helicopter landings of VIPs.

Being around all these government offices in Vigan reminded me of times when we tagged along to my Dad’s court hearings. It was all too boring for me back then – listening to the lawyers, their witnesses and the judge talk and talk. Remembering my father in action, his booming voice, his confidence, and his command of the English language was a far cry from his last days in the hospital. Looking back now, never in my wildest dreams did I think that I could be doing the same thing one day. It was just a pity he never saw what I did with my law degree from the UP College of Law.

I guess that summer visit to Vigan, on the occasion of my 41st birthday, I reconnected with my past through my Mama’s own journey back home. Together we realized how much time has passed, how it has all changed us – for better or worse. We saw how places may change, but the people that touched our lives will forever be a part of us wherever we may be.