Day 38: my kingdom come part one

“I want our people to be like a molave tree, strong and resilient, standing on the hillsides, unafraid of the rising tide, lightning and the storm, confident of its strength.”

– Manuel L. Quezon

My best friend Norman Gil Mijares-Cautivar will be coming to Dubai on Tuesday.  It will be his fourth visit to my insatiable city.  As usual, he is bringing his culmination of the year and will net mine alongside his, as we do ever so often, over gallons of coffee and pack after packs of Marlboro reds.  It will be the bloodbath of the year that was;  our aches and dreams, earthy escapades, the celebration of our lecherous existence and the feeding our fermentation (aging in normal lingua franca) with sarcasm and profanity.  Never with scrutiny.  We both believe that age is nothing but numbers and one must pick an age and stay at it.  We chose 23.  Look how fabulously indecorous we both are.  In spite of that, we always rise to the occasion and for this year, there is nothing in my sacrilegious head except to bring it on.  I will be with my best friend for Christ’s sake and there are no bootlicking or repressed outrage of passion.  Only compliments.  And complimenting each other.  Like the usual.  What can I say?  We are both avid fans of each other.

Norman, on the other hand, has brought me many times over my deathbed, showed me my skeletons and fearlessly took me in amid my inadequacies, my aimless ideologies and child-like adoration to anything ugly and unbecoming.  I was his audience and he was my torch.  In the years that we have known each other, I swear if I secretly farted in a roomful of people, Norman would know that it was mine and not the slob scratching his butt maniacally.  Furthermore, Norman introduced me to Baler, a very potent town sitting by the Philippine Sea, in the very magical Aurora Province known for spawning the most poetic of all Philippine presidents, Manuel L. Quezon its Suman (sweet rice) Festival and for being the place where the infamous Apocalypse Now was shot back in the late 70s.

It can sound precipitous when one say someone has brought him to a special place and fell in love with it instantly.  It is even more infeasible if one was raised everywhere, brought to a place and stopped looking for other places where he can have his rebirths, because, unknowingly, he has arrived in his kingdom come.

I met Norman in Saudi Arabia in 1997 and since then, we became inseparable.  A few years later, he took me with him to his birthplace.  The place where he grew up as a child and a while later, into a man of conviction, adventure and engrossing injunction.  In more ways than one, I fell in love with Norman and chose him to be my main bard for the simple reason that he sites his opinions (the bluest, most punching way possible) but tells me it is my life anyway.  That I deserve to be knocked over when necessary and be applauded when well-deserved.  I know deep inside that Norman is the only person who may not understand my complexities but will hold my hand anyway.  For the sake of holding it.

I was brought to Baler for the first time in 2003 and I promptly surrendered to its mystifying hands.  As I stepped out of the bus after a backbreaking ride to the oblique rough roads of the Sierra Madre, I tasted the faint rainwater on my lips and tasted the starting point of my sorcerous holiday.  I looked at Norman and spoke with my eyes.  The look that spoke of my abadonment with the self that slittered its way out of me. The self that dilated to the baptism of magic coming from Baler’s mountainous air – the same air that outlives its witches and leprechauns peeping through its thick trees. I licked  my lips and felt the hands of Aurora in my arms.  I closed my eyes and knew that I was home.  I touched her hand.  It was distant and yet, it mothered my lost soul.  I found out soon enough that those were the hands of a celestial maiden who passed away in the 70s of cancer.  Her name was Lydia, an ecclesiastical monk, who was later named Sor Aurora dela Virgen Maria by the Augustinian sisters, who roamed the mountains and fornicated with God in silence and ethereal love.

Lydia was Elena’s sister.  I met Elena in Baler, who lived in a centurial  house sitting in the sublime Angara Street.  Her house was passed on to her by her kins whose bloodline was connected to President Manuel L. Quezon (Philippines president from 1935-1944).  The house itself, like Elena, withstood a hundred tropical storms with her erect form that measured a queenly past and as I entered through its wooden patterns, its decayed staircase, I saw Sister Aurora ran her fingers to her breasts as a salutation to my bare feet walking up the musty stairs.  It was gracious, old and filled with secrets.  Even the wood that made up the entire house was geriatric and it creaked as I walked to the moderately lit receiving area with its hallucinogenic capiz windows that embodied light and shade.

I looked around.  Oil paintings.  Photographs of people.  An old sewing machine.  And narra cabinets that looked like sarcophaguses.  And that smell.  The smell of old spirits lingering inside the ancestral house, all of them tight-lipped and convening through my presence, a visitor, whose clairvoyance grew stronger the moment he stepped inside Baler’s sparkplug landscape.  Voluntarily, I looked up the sturdy ceiling and saw a movement above the shadowed light installation.  I raced through its swift cavort but missed the ghost’s appearance.  Days later, Elena told me that inside the tiny door at the ceiling used to be the family’s hideout during the war in the 40s.  Little did I know, Baler cleaved the villainous garrison surrender of the 40s and it was made into a movie in 2008.

I liked Elena.  She is the Abanico Woman.  The woman who fanned herself to oblivion, perpendicular in her doña stance and a noble reflection of grace, etiquette and stoicism.  A clear symbol of Baler with its natural islets, wild waterfalls and surfable tides – imperturbable and green and then a wild bushfire once agitated.  She can barely hear at 80 and her fingers are contorted from years of writing to her children if her hearing impaired her to be heard in her own terms.  I had to put my lips close to her ears if I had to say something of note.

Being an illustrious Quezon bloodline, Doña Elena was Baler’s chaste daughter who resided in its historic panorama.  Along with her husband Florentino, they braved through life’s instantaneous surprises and raised their children over choir music, the love for nature and an obsession for antiquity.  Her tenacious memorabilia included her religious shift to Seventh-Day Adventist much to her parents’ denunciation, her pontifications on decorum, Lydia’s passing, her rough beginnings running her inherited hectars of land and her conspicuous horde of chaperons with her trips to Rustan’s on a convoy.  Elena danced through life as a princess and taught her children the beauty in grace and civility.  Now, at 80, having lived in the United States for a while, she returned to her native Baler and told me stories that caved in towards my hunger for exploring man’s shrine of oracles.  It took a while before I realized that I was actually voyaging through this magical land by merely talking to Elena.

Baler turned out to be my holy ground.

When I came there for the first time, I was recuperating from the demise of a three year love affair, thus, when I met Elena and her makeshift ghosts of the past, surrendering to their remedying prayers and found myself again.  For two weeks, I swam in its ocean, sat at Bay’s Inn to watch the sun set, smoked on top of Lukso Lukso, the Aniao islets, drank Gilbey’s gin at The Majarajah, had sex with its willing sons of love on the beach, ate tapang usa (mountain deer) knowing former President Quezon used to request Norman’s grandfather to bring some at Malacañang Palace, laughed with Norman and prayed hard at Carmel Church for resistance and the advent of self-peace.

Since then, Baler became my sanctuary and I knew deep inside that I will grow old there one day.  Last April, Norman and I went there and he showed me the rest house that he was building near the beach.  There, I did not see any ghosts of stories past.  There, I saw Norman and I, gyrating to the tune of Rick Astley and singing elevator music at its finest.  I knew then that the possibility of growing old, in Baler, is wonderfully charged with a blend of its old ghosts and new times filled with occultism and of stories to tell.

At the welcoming Bay’s Inn, where we stayed for four days, 8 months ago, I told Norman that I will miss Baler yet again.

I looked at Elena, Norman’s mother and told her, “Thank you.”

Inside, I whispered, “. . . and thank you for portraying Baler’s apologue into my dimensional chronicling.  I am thankful that you trusted me”.  I wanted to tell her that but knowing Elena, she may not hear me properly but feels me strongly, further beyond my comprehension, thus, I kept it to myself.

Like Baler, Elena do not condone to pronouncements or telling tales.  She belongs in the language of whispers and happily becomes the star of her untold tales.

Norman with his son Guilliano, Elena and brother Mael


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