3. The Carvings In One Pious Town Called Paète

For my friends Issa and Karen Joy


Shred in ribbons of lithium
Blow by blow her mind cut in sheets
Layers deep, now unraveling

Just keep your eyes on her
Keep don’t look away
Keep your eyes on her horizon

–  Tori Amos, Carbon

Asan ka ?!?

I SMS’d my ex from Paete (actually we had something we called “something” for 4 weeks of inappropriate deeds and doing a travesty of bed embraces before he vanished like a motherfucker hereafter becoming eligible to be tagged as “my” ex) somewhere in Liliw, Laguna on my way to Paete.  Seemingly he is from there or from the last time I heard of him, he is back in his hometown, have become a tricycle driver and still asking for prepaid load from the ever-generous me.  I’ve been ignoring Mr. Ex from Paete for the past three years and have not heard from him ever since.

Using my left-brain but expecting a disreputable response like Nabuhay ka punyeta ka! from him anyhow, I arrived in Paete with a light headache from the sinewy roads that brought us there and probably  because of the altitude whatever.  My ocular partners Issa and KJ were both struggling acute butt-sore from the long trip but excited just the same.  Paete was the last stop of our Laguna ocular (we previously passed by and licked Pila, Bay, Victoria and Liliw) and since we were set to return to Manila by hook or by crook, all we could think about was its good riddance in 15 minutes or so after we see the this old-world town.  Deep inside, we really didn’t mind because Paete was a beauty worth seeing. Or doing.


Woodcarving is the main industry in Paete, Laguna. Skilled craftsmen and artisans have practiced woodcarving in Paete since the Spanish times, so their products have primarily religious themes.  It is just so ironic to see a papier mache’d Marilyn Monroe and Jose Rizal alongside the crucified Jesus on display together.  That, perhaps, is a Paetenian creed which, to me, is both sexy and cathartic.


We went to ANG BUHAY AT HUGIS SA PAETE, Lino Dalay’s shop that offers wood and styrofor carvings, papier-mâché, shirts and other items, old stuff, old old stuff.  In 1993, Dalay put up Ang Kulay at Hugis sa Paete along J. V. Quesada Street, a heritage shop which mainly displays the familys wooden shoes and some old props. As someone who had worked in the entertainment mainstream, Dalay has developed many contacts that helped him handle the business. Directors and producers, though, still give him projects occasionally.  Often, Dalay is commissioned to design and provide props for festivals, malls, mainstream and independent films.


“I don’t know when the boys
began to walk away with parts of myself
in their sticky hands; when loving
became a process of subtraction. Or why,
having given up what seems so much,
I’m willing to lose even more — erasing
all this body’s known, relearning it with you.”
― Melissa Stein


One of the perks of working in a television network is going places.  After talking to the very sequential Lino Dalay, I momentarily felt like I was walking in Baler, my second home in the whole world, because of the little town’s arousing grain.  The air was thick and yet cool.  The smiling faces of nice-looking men and women affecting stealthily my fatigued self as the dusk-engrossed street lamps that had glassed grapes psychotically adorned stood flanking the universe – my very own universe – the dame that withstood a recent death – the part of me that was still immersed in “selfiehood” – en route for unbroken fascination to books and boys.


At that point, I wondered if I can be carved likewise – at least for a night – to have some things peeled off from my coverted skin like . . .

  1. The fear of getting old and dying of a heart attack like my dad
  2. Being jowa-less for the rest of my motherfucking life
  3. Of drinking fake green teas lest I will realize a few years from now that I was cheated on by fictitious marketing and distasteful lifestyle.
  4. Of not being able to publish a book which I am trying very hard to accomplish but ending up writing compost because life takes over or I get too exhausted or lazy or watching porn instead
  5. Of not getting rid of (seasonal) rats in my very old apartment including the people I surround myself with who are (seasonal) rats as well minsan monsters na din.

And more that I will intentionally not mention anymore!  What’s the point of enumerating fears?


Paete derived its name from “paet”, Tagalog word for chisel, the principal tool used in woodcarving. The proper pronunciation of the town’s name according to its natives is “Pay-ti” (Pi-tè) with the guttural “e” sound at the end. Only when conversing with people not from the place do Paetenians use the tri-syllabic pronunciation, or they would not be understood even by fellow Filipinos. When the American Maryknoll Missioners came to Paete in the late 1950s, they called the town “Piety.”

Piety which I may need to recover from my mid-life fears, salamat to the Kanos who slippery-accented Paete into yet another religious connotation in being trans-pious in more ways than one.

For what it is worth, I have walked many Paetes (pietys) all my life – the unfearing – the declogging – the peeling and the carving, and somehow refreshed the frozen page of my life in a thousand words.  Times when I had to relaunch my rocket of hopes and aspirations.  Paete did that to me yesterday.  In a way.


I guess it was because of the altitude, the church that was built in 1884 and destroyed in the biggest earthquake the town ever had, then burned again during the war and then restored once again in 1934.  Or maybe because Lino Dalay was a snapper –  a lost place called history – and somehow he reminded me that stories are not all written on paper or in blood but by word of mouth which makes stories even more magical if not cinematic.  Or perhaps because I (already) know that blue isn’t red and that I have learned to tolerate my fears by simply engulfing the promise of each new place I visit, by eating on the street at dusk and smiling back at people who offer smiles and instantaneous possibilities.

By the way, Mr Ex from Paete never replied.

It didn’t matter.  I took his hometown anyway.


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