Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Grumpy Urban Slacker Goes Franciscan

(With the upcoming Lenten season, i've dusted off this piece i wrote around 6 years ago. For background, i had joined a Creative Writing class, and we went on a field trip to the Franciscan churches in Rizal and Laguna.

This article was then written as an assignment for our class. I've made some changes and toned down the sarcasm, etc. Nevertheless, my advance apologies to devout Catholics, if they find it offensive. Please don't threaten me with eternal damnation, or report me to JPII. Peace!)

4:00 AM

I wish I can say that I was awakened today by the cock-a-doodle-do of the neighborhood rooster, and that I jumped out of bed, all chirpy and bouncing with energy, and whistling hidy-ho to myself as I prepared for the day’s field trip.


I am not and never have been a morning person, so being roused at the crack of dawn in order to make it to Makati by 6 am is, for me, cruel and unusual punishment. (I am not an evening person either, but that’s another story)

7:15 AM

After some delays in getting everyone aboard, we (meaning our Creative Writing class teacher and class members and friends) are finally on our way!!! Woohoo!!!

Do I sound overly enthusiastic? Not that I am particularly so, as I am still groggy and half-wanting to get back to sleep.

It does not help my mood any little bit that our driver sees it fit to drive as though his pants are on fire. He keeps on overtaking, and has us rolling and pitching back and forth in our seats, as he negotiates the hairpin turns up the hills of Antipolo with wild abandon.

Grrrrhh!!! Who does he think he is, Michael Schumacher? Gradually though, my deep, dark thoughts of strangling him and grinding his body into dog food dissipates, what with the scenery outside exuding calmness and a relaxed pace. The dusty roads, interesting signs (a Bob Dylan eatery in the town of Teresa!?) and rural lifestyle all combine to make the route to our first stop, Morong, real comfy.

8:30 AM

We get off at Morong Church, and suddenly memories come flooding back to me. I have been here before! No, not in my previous lifetime as a Franciscan priest (very lame pun intended), but during the field trip of my Humanities class in UP so many years ago.

I remember there were two stone lions guarding the gateway entrance to the church. Well, they aren’t there anymore. Turns out they are now gathering dust at the basement. Oh.

The church has a beautiful, semi-rundown look. Incredibly, its fa├žade was built on just one slab of rock! It had been restored through the years, but beneath the concrete one could still see some of the original wooden planks on the ceiling, as well as the floor tiles.

At the urging of our teacher, Ms. Chit, we climb all the way up to the belfry (Warning: not recommended for people with claustrophobia and night blindness), and in return for our huffing and puffing, get a unique birds’ eye view of the town. Truly awesome, i must say.

An added bonus is that we are able to catch the tail end of the parish priest’s homily during the Mass. Without going into any further details, let’s just say his sense of humor teeters dangerously on the edge of being risque.

9:30 AM

The church in Baras, Rizal is a downer compared to Morong. It is small, dark and quite honestly, nondescript.

The church has been restored, but we can still see traces of the original bricks and wooden beams. They also have some 16th century porcelain basins, which look fairly new. You would think they have just been there for a few decades.

Interestingly, the original church walls were binded using albumen (egg whites), which were donated by the parishioners. Imagine that, egg whites! The church members of that era must have been drowning in leche flan, with absolute disregard for their HDL levels!

10:30 AM

Next stop is Tanay, Rizal. Well, this church is huge! It has its own courtyard-cum-parking area, with two large acacia trees providing shade from the heat of the sun, and concrete benches for those playing hooky from Sunday School.

I wish I can parrot out more of the cultural stuff about this church. . .ah yes, it is an example of Mission architecture. . .well, my mind is a complete blank! For good reasons, though. We are presently having the world-famous (exag ba?) Tanay turon (banana fritters) for merienda. Yum! The crunchy golden brown coating, the hot juicy banana filling. . .make that double yum! Too bad though I didn’t get to try the queso (cheese) dirty ice cream.

Truly, the spirit is willing but the stomach needs filling!

11:30 AM

We are on the road to Laguna, encircling Laguna de Bay. It is difficult not to be lulled to sleep inside the van, what with the cool breeze and our heavy snacks. The roads en route to Laguna twist and turn, making for a thrilling ride. We pass by the famous (infamous?) Exotika Restaurant, which seems to be doing roaring business, and boasts of serving rather unconventional fare like sawa (python), wild boar, lizards, etc. Of course, they have their regular sisig (pig’s ears) for faint-hearted folks like you and me.

We arrive at the town of Pakil, and duly explore their church. It features the Lady of Turumba, also known as Our Lady of Sorrows. The statue is impressive, but even more so is her clothes collection amassed from parishioners’ donations. Saying that she could give Barbie a run for her money seems irreverent and superficial, but that’s exactly what first pops up to my mind.

She is supposedly blessed with miraculous healing powers. As such, the church staff cuts up her old gowns into snippets and puts these into small plastic bags. Anyone can get as many as they want, as these souvenirs supposedly will keep one’s pockets filled with money.

The parish priest is around, and we get to chat with him. Whoa! I can’t take my eyes off his Nokia 8890, and the fact that he is smoking a cigarette. Meanwhile, my classmate, Didi, gives me a nudge, and whispers that his feet are also pedicured. I fight the urge to inquire if his official vehicle is a CR-V or a RAV-4, but decide that silence is golden, at least in this case.

12:45 PM

A short two blocks away from the church awaits our lunch. From the outside, the restaurant is your typical bahay kubo-type place. It is called (quite incredibly and incredulously, if I may say so) The Beatles Place. Old frayed posters of the Fab Four do adorn its walls, so I guess the owner was a longtime fan.

Ms. Chit informs us that the drinking water being served here comes from the Turumba Springs. The ultimate water source is not known, but it is said to be miraculous water. All this was well and jolly good, although I have to say the water tastes spicy to me.

Next door is the public swimming pool supplied by the water source, and there is a huge number of people swimming in it. No wonder the water tastes so spicy! Yikes!! Ano ba yan? (What is the matter with this matter?)

For those dear readers who are interested in ingesting this (cough, cough) miraculous water, just go to Bano St., Pakil. Iron stomach recommended though.

What else? Nearby is the ancestral house of Danny Dalena, so we sneak in a peek (and use their bathroom as well). I remember having seen this place before, again courtesy of our Humanities field trip during college.

What can I say? I personally find his paintings creepy and even disturbing. I won’t hang them in my house, not even if you pay me to. Sorry, I’m strictly a Baldemor kind of guy.

2:30 PM

Ahh, Paete. . .we came, we saw. . . we shopped! To be quite frank, I am getting woozy at this point. Another church again?! All the historical and cultural stuff has congealed inside my brain, and from hereon, I basically tune out and my eyes glaze over. The church does have nice, well-preserved antiques, and its ceiling comprising of wooden planks is quite an inspiring sight.

Anyway, about the shopping part. I guess most everyone knows that Paete is synonymous with paper mache and wood carvings. We park the van, do the rounds of the souvenir stores, and I am willing to swear on my Citibank Clear card that whatever it is you need that is carved from wood, they absolutely, positively have it.

Yup, the merchandise ranges from religious figures to practical household stuff to kitschy touristy souvenirs. My sister Elsie is particularly keen to buy a CD rack disguised as a wooden house. Naturally, I dissuade her by pointing out that it does not blend in with the interiors of her room.

Wait. . .something is not quite right. . .I make a closer scrutiny of the array of merchandise. . .where can it be? Or perhaps they don’t make it? Then I spot it out of the corner of my right eye. . .bingo! Dear readers (assuming you are all still with me at this point), the ubiquitous barrel man lives! He actually comes in 4 different sizes!

3:30 PM

Majayjay is a lesser-known town in Laguna. By now, it is torture for me to get off the van and check out yet another church.

4:30 PM

We make an unscheduled pit stop at Liliw, as the ladies can’t get enough of shopping and insist they want to buy the famous sandals made in this town.Thus, we are in a rush to reach not only the church in Nagcarlan, but also the underground cemetery, the only one of its kind in the Philippines.

This cemetery closes at 5:00 pm sharp, and we reach the gate at 4:45 pm. It is actually not that creepy at all, as the pathway leading to the actual burial tombs is lined by well-tended lawns on both sides. Once inside, we duly sign the visitors’ logbook, helped by the unsmiling caretaker on duty.

Hmm. . .having a bad hair day, aren’t we? Well, it turns out she doesn’t smile at all, ever. But then again, if your job is watching over century-old ghosts, I doubt if their otherworldly antics induce much jest.

We go down the stairs to the basement. The place isn’t really that big. We all wonder, who were these people buried here, and what were their lives like? An interesting historical fact is that the Katipuneros used to hold meetings right here, and actually dug a tunnel underneath the grounds.

Being the irrepressible bunch that we are, we can’t help imagining ghosts appearing out of nowhere. As we slowly climb up the stairs, I exclaim, "Last person out is a dead duck!”

And all of us push and shove in the race to be the first out of here, as the air inside suddenly becomes chilly and a milky-complexioned lady wearing a white lace nightgown with streaks of dried bloodstains appears behind us and she bares her teeth in a ghoulish smile and reveals her gruesome fangs and the smell of death pervades the stale basement and . . .oops, sorry, my imagination got a little wild there, huh?

5:45 PM

We are on the road going back to Manila. We decide to complete the Laguna de Bay loop, and take the more scenic, longer route passing through San Pablo City, Laguna and Sto. Tomas, Batangas.

We all maintain good spirits despite some traffic encountered along the way. Inside the van, we munch continuously on all the snacks we brought along, and share gossip, anecdotes, experiences, and ultimately, a part of ourselves.

Tomorrow will be another day, back to reality, I guess. But today has been such a wonderful adventure cum learning experience for me. Not only are these Franciscan churches treasures of our cultural past worth preserving, but the warmth and laughter (and food) shared by our tour group has made this trip a memorable one.

I am now leaning back in my seat, the side of my head pressed against the window. I feel so drowsy. My eyelids become heavy, and I close them reluctantly. A sliver of viscous drool escapes from the edge of my mouth and works its unhurried way towards my chin. Fuzzy feelings of warmth and goodness and brotherhood toward my fellow humankind wash over me.

Heck, I don’t even feel like making chopped liver of the driver anymore.

(A slightly-different version of this article was also published at the short-lived, and unlamented, publication, The Diliman Diary)