Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Remembering Home I
Along M. Jalandoni Street and a stone’s throw away from the Jaro Cathedral, my house is what historian’s call Antillan. Hybrid models of the Spanish casa found in the colonized islands of the Antilles, the locals call it balay nga bato, “house of stone.” Two stories high, intricately carved balusters and cornices below windows strewn with capiz shells sit atop coral stone overlaid with stucco. My mom says that it was built long before Rizal, and is at least over two hundred years old. I am proud to live in such a museum piece!
During early weekend afternoons, when the sun was at its brightest, staying indoors would be such a joy. When I was younger, always defiant of the three-hour siesta imposed by my parents, I would roam the house, raid the fridge, laze about in the sala with a book in hand, and reach the wide windows checkered with capiz shells. These windows always drowned the light outside, leaving the inside awash in a soft yellow haze. Sliding them apart revealed a layer of slats; and peering through them was a great way to stay hidden from the garish sun, or from prying eyes.
The street, without the usual crowd, was a river of eccentricities. Sometimes ati, aborigines from the north clad in bright mismatched clothes, would pass by. There would be the dark-skinned woman with her bila-o, a flat wicker basket she balanced high up on her head. From the window, I always had the perfect view of the merienda she yelled out to entice the sleepy neighborhood: steamed corn; sticky rice tightly wrapped in coconut leaves; the hard candies loaded with peanuts, cashew and dried coconut shavings. Yum!
There too was the old, old spinster who dragged herself to church, her steps ever careful and fragile. The nanny of the ex-congressman living adjacent to my house, I remember she made the most delectable biscocho, crumbly toasted bread glazed with sticky dried milk. Always zooming past her were the “speed demons” who pedaled away in their skeletal trysikad, belch-less and quieter versions of the tricycle. Then there were the angelic-faced seminarians, who added splotches of white on the drab gravel streets, walking along street children excited for another day’s play at the cathedral’s grotto. All this beats living in the city, hours spent online or mindlessly surfing T.V channels.