FRANKENSTEIN-JEEPNEY TO LUISIANA. Crisp mountain air funnels through the open windows of a slow moving super-sized jeepney that transport passengers from Laguna to
Lucban. This Frankenstein-jeepney that has front and middle sections of a van that is attached to the long side seats running the length of the back section is my ride to Luisiana, a town famous for its pandan weaving tradition.

Traveling for about an hour from Sta. Cruz past the Laguna towns of Pagsanjan and Cavinti all I can do at the moment was to enjoy the endless views of nature and eavesdrop on random conversations between folks about stolen chickens and anting-anting in their mellifluous accent while the super jeepney rolls the uphill path of bottomless ravines and sky-high greens.

LUIS Y ANA. Historically, the chain of towns along this mountain path was called Terreno de Nasunog because the area was engulfed by fire from a volcanic eruption. It is said that the towns of Cavinti, Luisiana, Majayjay and Lucban today sit on ancient lahar deposits. Luisiana was a barrio of the neighboring town of Majayjay.  In 1848, its township as separate from Majayjay was granted. But unlike other Spanish colonial towns in the country whose name were adapted from either an endemic plant life, a patron saint, an outstanding natural feature, or a result of a language barrier between a proud local and a confused foreigner, Luisiana was named in honor of a founding couple who led the breakaway from Majayjay and the establishment of the new settlement.

The mountain road in Laguna is flanked with thick vegetation but I knew I arrived in Luisiana when random groves of giant
pandan trees started to show on the sides of the road. The entrance to the town center passes through a cemetery and by rows of pandan leaves on the roadside that were left to dry under the sun. I began exploring the town on foot in front of the monument of Don Luis Bernardo, the local culture hero who together with his wife, Doña Ana the town got its name,
Luis y Ana.

CHURCH MURALS. The church with an image of the Blessed Mother at the pediment was built in Baroque tradition has an extended portico and bell tower, which seemed to be recent additions to the antique structure. Under the enclosed portico is a Santo Entierro on a carroza. The interior of the curciform church was repainted bright and has Neo-Classical influences from the columns at the sides of the nave to the main altar.

I climbed the choir loft where I found Saint Cecilia playing the keyboard next to a singing angel on a mural. I climbed further  to the top of the bell tower for a breathtaking view of Mount Banahaw that seemed to have been placed on that spot to serve a natural mural for the town. From that height I saw the rows of stores selling brown hats, bags and baskets woven from pandan leaves. This is Luisiana’s main handicraft.

PANDAN WEAVING. The manual labor of the pandan weavers in Luisiana consists of harvesting the pandan leaves, pressing, drying, and weaving them into functional items. Under the shade in front yards and in service kitchens of homes, groups of womenfolk gather to weave the slender pandan leaves into traditional hats, flexible tampipis, and sturdy bayongs.

It takes patience and dexterous hands to keep the multiple strips of dried pandan leaves into simple and tightly drawn together checkerboard weaves. Pandan products can be reused several times and can last a long time.

PANDANAN. At the edge of a narrow street away from the town center was a pandanan, a grove where wild pandan trees grow and are harvested. Under the towering crowns of sharp-bladed greens I met  Sonia Apaya-Raculan, one of the old time pandan weavers in Luisiana. Here, she demonstrated how the leaves are cut from the tree and stripped on both sides using a knife.

Sonia explained that pandan trees sprout like mushrooms in Luisiana that is why basket-making and weaving things out of pandan became their traditional livelihood. So abundant that according to folk history that the sharp-bladed leaves of the pandan discouraged the Spaniards from reaching Luisiana.

ILUHAN. From the pandanan, Sonia led us to her home where she kept the oldest pandan press in Luisiana. Locally called the iluhan, this improvised simple machine is made from a massive log that is weighed down by slabs of rock tied around it. The pandan leaves are pressed in between the log and its cradle. The log is then rocked back and forth until the leaves are drained of moisture.

Pressing the pandan leaves using the iluhan is no joke. The press is heavy enough for toning and strengthening the upper body, pecs, arms, traps, and deltoid muscles. But as a source of livelihood, this is part of the daily activity of the hardworking pandan weavers of Luisiana. Only a few families own a pandan press and Sonia allow her neighbors to use their heirloom iluhan free of charge.

EPILOGUE: TRADITIONAL CRAFTS. In this day and age of instant noodles and mass production, handicrafts like pandan weaving may one day become obsolete. A thing of the past that romantics can only be nostalgic about. In the  service kitchen of her home, Sonia sat on the floor, weaving the smooth strips of pandan leaves while I watched hoping that this traditional craft may not die in Sonia’s skillful hands.

-November 4
The day when Hermano Pule of the
Cofradia de San Jose was executed in 1841

Published in: on November 5, 2017 at 12:19 pm  Comments (1)  

Side Trips and Samkara

GOOD MORNING SAMKARA. Mountain fog wraps the sprawling rice paddies in translucent white mists as the golden rays of sunshine peeks over from the east. Nature sets the perfect good morning mood for breakfast in Samkara Restaurant and Garden Resort is unlimited kapeng barakoLucban longganisa, daing na biya and the freshest fruits from a town famous for its annual Maytime folk harvest fiesta, the Pahiyas. Set under towering coconut trees connected at the top by an intricate network of bamboo catwalks to harvest the potent lambanog drink, our weekend retreat from the hectic life in the city is snuggled between the foothills of mystical Mount Banahaw and a rustic provincial landscape.

Samkara is about 15-minutes away from Lucban town proper, and a three-hour drive from Metro Manila past the quiet Laguna towns of Nagcarlan, Liliw, and Majayjay from San Pablo City. But I took a more scenic and slower route from Sta. Cruz past Pagsanjan then travelled the winding mountain road up to Luisiana. Here my side trips to the folksy, rustic, and a century earlier begins:

ILUHAN IN LUISIANA. The mountain road is flanked with thick vegetation but I knew I arrived in Luisiana when random groves of giant pandan trees started to show on the sides of the road. The entrance to the town center passes through a cemetery and by rows of pandan leaves on the roadside that were left to dry under the sun. I began exploring the town on foot in front of the monument of Don Luis Bernardo, a local culture hero who together with his wife, Ana the town got its name, Luis y Ana. There is an antique church where I climbed to the top of the bell tower for a breathtaking view of Mount Banahaw that seemed to have been placed on that spot to serve a natural mural for the town. Stores in the plaza sell hats and baskets woven from pandan leaves. This is Luisiana’s main handicraft.

The manual labor of the pandan weavers consists of harvesting the pandan, pressing, drying, and weaving. An old timer led me to a hundred year-old pandan press locally called the iluhan. This improvised simple machine is made from a massive log that is weighed down by slabs of rock tied around it. The pandan leaves are pressed in between the log and its cradle. The log is then rocked back and forth until the leaves are drained of moisture. This task is no joke and is good for toning and strengthening the upper body, pecs, arms, traps, and deltoid muscles.

PUENTE DE CAPRICHO DE MAJAYJAY. The road southwest of Luisiana leads to MajayjaySince the olden days, this mountain town had a reputation among early travelers for being far and secluded that they sigh catching their breaths ‘hay… hay.. Majayjay!’ Here, colonial treasures coupled with town’s folk history are revealed at every turn. Inside the centuries-old church is huge baptismal font that probably used by the early friars to convert the natives to Christianity in order to increase the labor force to build its massive church whose walls are three layers thick and a bridge known as puente de capricho.

Puente de Capricho was a project of Fray Victorino de Moral. It earned its name as the bridge of whims due the building duties forced on by the friar to the natives. It is said that those who refused to participate in bridge building were beaten with a whip on the buttocks, which explains why local referred to this unfinished structure as tulay pigi. In locating this controversial bridge, I hiked down a dumpsite at the edge of the street then walked through a narrow bamboo bridge until I reached the stone arch that crosses a deep ravine with a gurgling river below that snakes through the ethereal mountain landscape. This is de Moral’s unfinished project.

LILIW’S URARO GOODIES. Next on the route is Liliw. It has a church that dates back to the Spanish times. Baroque in architecture, it has a brick facade and imposing bell tower topped by overgrowth with Mount Banahaw looming in the background. High quality footwear are made in Liliw. Its main streets are filled with its finished products including the tasty uraro cookies.

Making the best tasting uraro cookies is no secret in Liliw. An old timer’s traditional ingredients for uraro were pure arrowroot flour, pork lard from native pigs, yolks from duck’s eggs, sugar, and carabao’s milk.  Modern bakers in Liliw replaced lard with margarine because lard from native pigs became scarce and it also decreases the shelf life of this famous pasalubong. I was invited in one of the oldest bakeries in Liliw to watch how the arrowroot dough is kneaded by hand, flattened to form small oblongs and distinctly embossed with floral design before they are baked in a pre-War brick pugon that is fired by dried coconut husks.

ABOVE AND BELOW GROUND OF NAGCARLAN. My walking tour at Nagcarlan began at street level. Along the narrow and sloping streets of this town are three-level stone structures with arched windows and distinct European influences erected on small lot sizes. According to folk tradition, the extravagant display of wealth was frowned upon that the wealthy families extended their houses vertically rather than horizontally. Then there is the church with striated facade of alternating bands of brick and stone over curlicues of Baroque and Moorish styles.  Inside the church is  a horror vacuii of glazed blue ceramics and machuca tiles. This kind of horror is repeated in the town’s famous underground cemetery.

A few walks past the American era municipal hall and the 1930s waterworks fountain, standing on mound is the impressive brick arch, elaborate grill works, and the circular perimeter wall decorated with Baroque wavy scrolls of the old Spanish cemetery. I entered the cemetery compound and walked the brick path that ended in the mortuary chapel where the last funeral rites reserved only for Catholic priests and the town’s elite were once held. To the right of the chapel are flights of adobe stairs that lead to Nagcarlan’s underground cemetery. Since the entire cemetery including the crypt was converted into a museum, the remains were removed and only the old niches fill the shadowed walls. Patches of blue and white and terracotta tiles make up the flooring and there is a faded elaborate fresco on the ceiling. In 1897, Pedro Paterno and Severino Taino led the  planning of the truce in Biak-na-Bato in this underground chamber. As for me, in make believe, I stood next to the stone altar, imagined myself as Van Helsing waiting for the lord vampire to rise up from slumber.

LUCBAN’S CULTURAL LANDMARKSLucban is not famous as a town for itself, but rather as a venue for the annual celebration of the Pahiyas, a folk religious fiesta held on the feast day of the patron saint of farmers, San Isidro de Labrador. On fiesta day houses are decked with tropical produce and colorful sheets of rice kiping.  A side tour to Lucban on a non-Pahiyas day is a leisurely walk by the landmarks at the town proper: The 400-hundred church and cemetery, an American era monument to Jose Rizal, some ancestral houses that still has its stone ground floor and wooden upper floors with sliding capiz windows, and storefronts that demonstrate the making of Lucban longganisa and stalls that serve pancit habhab.

While I know that the traditional way to eat pancit habhab should not be with a spoon and fork instead it is slurped directly from a piece of banana leaf but it will be all over me if I eat it that way since I was starving from all walking I did in Luisiana, Majayjay, Liliw and Nagcarlan. The cozy and nostalgic Old Center Panciteria that has been in business since 1937 claims to be the home of the original pancit habhab. The restaurant has a photo gallery that shows the same old landmarks I walked by only that they are in sepia and was taken from an earlier century. Lucban is the last town for this series of side trips to the folksy, rustic, and historic. As the day came to an end, it’s time to meet with fellow bloggers in our rendezvous point for an overnight stay at Samkara Restaurant and Garden Resort in Sitio Malinao, Barangay Igang at the boundary road of Majayjay and Lucban.

EPILOGUE: RENDEZVOUS AT SAMKARA. The road on my way to Samkara glows reddish in the falling sunset as Mount Banahaw and the terraced rice paddies occasionally goes peekaboo from the side of the road. At dusk, the temperature dips as the clouds from the nearby magic mountain rolls down blanketing the provincial landscape once more with translucent white mists but in Samkara Restaurant and Garden Resort the welcome is consistently warm and the experience is always magical.

Samkara Restaurant and Garden Resort
Address: Sitio Malinao, Brgy. Igang, Lucban, Quezon Province, Philippines
Mobile: 0917-674-2693


THE HISTORIC QUARTER. The appetite for heritage preservation is big in Angeles, Pampanga because its people know that beautiful things happen when aggressive steps are taken towards protecting their community’s cultural and historical identity. Among the recent preservation efforts was to remove the entangled overhead utility cables that photobombs the facade of the hundred-year old church and remaining ancestral houses in the downtown area.

What I experienced in my recent visit to Angeles was a leisurely walk and unobstructed views of the important  heritage landmarks in the city’s historic quarter.

PRESERVED IN PLACE. Walking in the historic quarter of the downtown area was like strolling around a heritage theme park only that none of the old structures were reconstructed or artificial transplanted. Its centuries-old church, rice granary, town hall, ancestral houses and even the house of the town’s founding father are all preserved in their original location and repurposed as storefronts, museums and restaurants.

Angeles was formerly called Barrio Culiat. It was named after the vines that grew abundantly in the area at the time when the first settlers founded the town in 1796.

THE MIRANDA LEGACY. Along main street, marked by a stone arch was the home of Don Angel Panteleon de Miranda and wife Doña Rosalia de Jesus. The couple led the migration from the flourishing city of San Fernando to what is then wilderness between Pampanga and Tarlac. Barrio Culiat, as founded by the couple was at the extreme end of San Fernando is surrounded by the mountain range to the west, crocodile swaps in the east and within the gloomy primordial forest were inhabited the Zambals and Aeta with their fatal arrows. But the hostile land did not stop the couple from clearing away the wilds and founding a settlement. By 1813, Barrio Culiat had a parish, a school, a sugar mill, and a distillery. On December 8, 1829, the settlement  was formally separated from San Fernando.

The Miranda couple built their house of stone and wood in 1824. During the Philippine-American War, the house was used as headquarters of the retreating forces of the Revolutionary Government.

THE OLD CAMALIG. A few walks from the Founder’s House was the old rice granary locally called the camalig.  It was built in 1840 by the town’s first mayor Don Ciriaco de Miranda primarily as a shed made of light materials. It was restored in the early 1900s to its present form by Capitan Juan Nepomoceno.

This ancient structure was put to adaptive reuse to house a permanent exhibit of antique objects and photos of bygone Angeles and a restaurant that serves pizza in a native bilao.

PISAMBAN MARAGUL. In 1830, the Augustinian friars renamed Culiat to Angeles after the name of its founder and also as way of custom to its patron Los Santos Angeles Custodio, the Holy Guardian Angels. But enshrined in the main altar of the Pisamban Maragul or the big church is the splendid image of the Nuestra Señora de Santissima Rosario de la Naval. The early settlers had great devotion to the tradition of the La Naval. From its first year as a town, they have been celebrating the La Naval fiesta every October and when a new clearing was made into the wilderness, the image of the patroness is brought to bless the new community.

The present Renaissance-style stone church took 20 years to build through polos y servicios. It was completed in 1896 which at that time, the church is the tallest in the whole of Pampanga. A prosperous town it was, its tabernacle was said to be fashioned from gold and silver which disappeared during the 1896 Revolution. The twin belfries served as watchtowers during the Philippine-American War when Angeles became the seat of the Revolutionary Government led by General Emilio Aguinaldo.

APU MAMACALULU. On a side altar is the Santo Entierro of Angeles locally referred to as Apu Mamacalulu. The image was commissioned by a parish priest from a sculptor known only as Buenaventura around the years 1828 to 1838. It was first enshrined in a small chapel in Talimunduc and was transferred in different locations several times for safekeeping during the 1896 Revolution and Filipino-American War until it was finally enshrined to the Pasimbang Maragul in 1904.

The venerated image is taken out from its altar twice a year during the Good Friday procession and during the Fiesta ng Apu held every last Friday of October which commemorates the miracles attributed to Santo Entierro of Angeles.

MUNICIPIO NING ANGELES. By the late nineteenth century, Angeles was formed as a railroad town with roads, bridges, farms, a post office and municipal hall. It became briefly the capital of the Revolutionary Republic. President Aguinaldo held office in old municipio across the church.

The town was occupied by the Americans when the Aguinaldo fled north. The same municipio became the office of General Arthur MacArthur during the Filipino-American War.

PAMINTUAN MANSION. Further down the cobbled street is the filigreed Pamintuan Mansion. It served as the official residence of the President of the Revolutionary Government. It is through a window in the Pamintuan Mansion where President Emilio Aguinaldo watched the grand parade that celebrated the first and only anniversary of his short-lived republic.

This Neo-Renaissance bahay-na-bato has a brick ground floor and wooden upper floors. A wooden spiral staircase leads to the tower room. The mansion once housed Central Bank’s regional clearing office before it was converted into Museum of Philippine Social History.

EPILOGUE. If only cities and towns like Angeles give value and effort in tastefully preserving their built heritage then none of our ancestral houses and structures will end up being transplanted to another place such as in a resort in Bagac.

October 2017
Feast of the Nuestra Señora de Santissima Rosario de la Naval

Published in: on October 16, 2017 at 1:59 am  Comments (2)  
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ARCHITECTURAL HEADTURNERSI think we’re going in circles – I told friends Niño and Claude as we follow directions dictated by a navigational app on our way to a resort in San Rafael, Bulacan. Part of my experience from getting lost in that trip was having my head turn almost 360 degrees as we passed right in front of fortress-like ancestral houses with Baroque and Rococo recess on its facade.

It was getting dark so I was just trying to imagine under the fading light of day these unique features from these ancient structures that appeared to me as remaining sentinels of the olden days as the car sped away on that quiet provincial road. This is my first time to be in Bustos.  Months after I was back in this town. This time as the Traveler on Foot.

TRASLACION DE STO. ÑINO DE BUSTOS. We spent much of our day walking around the town of Baliuag when the vehicles crossing the iron-braced bridge were put to a complete stop to give way to a procession. We watched this procession from the Baliuag side of the bridge where an image of  San Agustin awaits on a decorated carroza along with its welcome entourage. Marching on the Bustos side were the town folks clad in red shirt carrying the image of the Sto. Niño de Bustos. When the two images came face-to-face, a gleeful pandemonium erupted from the crowd then the entire retinue meandered its way to Baliuag Church to continue the Traslacion.

The Traslacion de Sto. Niño de Bustos traced its history from a tragedy when a raft crossing the turbulent Angat River capsized on a rainy Sunday in 1860.  The town’s patron, the Sto. Niño whose Castilian image serves as a remembrance of the infants who drowned with their parents on their way to Baliuag Church to receive the sacrament of baptism and the traslacion procession commemorate the period when Bustos was part of the town of Baliuag.

BUSTOS LETRAS Y FIGURAS. Leaving the procession we continued with our walking tour. We entered the town of Bustos through the iron-braced Alejo Santos Bridge. Named after the World War II veteran who later in life, General Alejo Santos became a controversial figure when he ran as a token candidate against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos during a mock election in 1981. At the foot of the bridge is Bustos Church that went through several renovations with only the stone walls at the sides and back remaining from the original structure.

At the Bustos Heritage Park is a stylized lettering that spells the town’s name in the Letras y Figuras tradition. This style in art, popularized by 19th century painter Jose Honorato Lozano demonstrates the blending of detailed figures and landscapes to form letters. On the Letras y Figuras in Bustos we traced traditional shapes that can be found on the locally-baked biscuits called the minasa and the intricate carvings that are found in the ancestral houses around town.

MODERN ART BY CONRADO MERCADO. As we went around Bustos Heritage Park, what caught our attention next were the haunting expressionist quality of modern art in the free-standing sculptures that were in contrast with the classical and nostalgic style of the Letras y Figuras lettering. These aggressive and mostly cubist forms of welded steel and cement make up the elongated faces that resembles primitive African masks were by Bustos’ homegrown artist Conrado Mercado.

Mercado was born in one of the landmark heritage houses in Bustos but his art breaks away from the Baroque and Rococo styles that were prevalent in the architectural community he was raised. I can only guess that since he studied fine arts in UST at height of the Modernist Movement that perhaps gave influenced in his applying of brutalist, cubist and Primitivist styles into his highly expressionist works.

MERCADO ANCESTRAL HOUSE. We walked further into the rows of ancestral houses in Bustos. Along the road, we found those bahay-na-bato that I first saw while on a speeding car. The good thing about walking is you get to spend more time in taking a closer look at these Spanish era houses. While most are in different stages of decay there are those that are well-preserved like the stately Perez Ancestral House that was converted into a cafe and the next to it is the famous Mercado House where the Modernist artist Conrado Mercado was born.

The Mercado Ancestral House was built in mid-19th century. It’s a landmark heritage house for its unique features of having Baroque carvings on stone that shows garlands of flowers, balusters, and crucifix to assure protection from evil.

Published in: on September 24, 2017 at 4:57 am  Leave a Comment  

Casa Manila Museum

LIFESTYLE OF THE DE BUENA FAMILIA. Life was predictable. In the early light of morning, the Don rises for a cup of thick chocolate and then proceeds to the despacho that is located at the entresuelo to dictate a letter or two to his scribe. It was very rare for a Don to pen anything by himself in the olden days. He then goes to the comedor to meet with his family for breakfast.  At early noon he goes to the zaguan where the carruaje awaits him for a trip downtown to transact business. At one in the afternoon he returns home to eat lunch, after which he takes hours of quiet siesta in the cuarto. At four, he rises for merienda that the mayordoma has prepared for him at the airy caida. As afternoon’s end is near, he takes his family to ride with him in the elegant barouche for a paseo just outside the walls of the city. When the Angelus bells rang from the sixteen chapels and churches of Intramuros at six in the evening, all would stop for the oracion and the family returns to the house to continue reciting the rosary in the oratorio.

From seven o’clock onwards, the family receives visitors for an evening of brandy and tertulia in the sala mayor. The comedor is reset for hot supper at eleven. The guests leave the Don’s house before midnight. The Don lights his last cigar for the evening at the azotea while from up the street came the clackety-clack of the watchman’s boots on the cobble and the clang-clang of his lantern against his knee, and the mighty roll of his great voice booming through the night, Guardia serno-o-o! A las doce han dado-o-o. Lights out.

A NOSTALGIA MUSEUM. The last lines of the previous paragraph were lifted from one of Nick Joaquin’s short stories who in many of his works has romanticized the genteel lifestyle of the de buena familia living in Pre-War Intramuros.  A similar story line is conveyed in each room of Casa Manila. This nostalgia and lifestyle museum is a reproduction of a bahay-na-bato that was built during the Spanish Colonial period, restored by a wealthy bachelor Don in the 1880s. He loved to entertain and eventually he married, had his extended family and servants stay in the house until the 1920s.

While the structure and the story line were newly conceived, the museum’s contents are centuries-old. The Furniture and Furnishings in Filipino Ancestral Houses were sourced from old homes and were arranged in each room in an evocative setting. Entering the casa through its main portal, which is directly accessible from the cobbled Calle Real felt strangely like walking into a cold and damp dungeon. The wooden door is wide and tall enough to allow the passage of the carruaje to park in the zaguan. The zaguan is paved with piedra china. These blocks of white stone were originally used as ballast of galleons. There is a wrought-iron bastonerang de hierro in the zaguan. Facing this 1880’s neo-Renaissance cane and hat rack is the main stairway.

THE DON WORKS FROM HOME. Ascending the stairs led to the entresuelo. This space has low ceiling because it is sandwiched by the ground and second floors. It houses two guestrooms and the home office. The Don opens the guestrooms in the entresuelo for his country cousins or a bachelor uncle. The bedrooms are furnished with a four-poster bed, a painadora with mirror and wash basin and a low comoda that also serves as bedside table.

The entresuelo has a long bench that resembles a church pew called a capiya. Tradespeople and tenants sit here while waiting for their turn to make a call on the Don who is also a landlord. The Don transact business in the despacho that is furnished with bookshelves, an executive desk, a caja de hierro, a gilt vargueño for keeping stationery and land titles, and a special escritorio made with double flip top so that the Don and his business partner could sign important documents while facing each other.

KAPAG GALING SA PARIS, WALANG KAPARIS. Up the second floor is the main living quarters. This space has a familiar feel to it probably from the books I read that vividly describes life in the olden days or from those out-of-town trips as a child to a great grand uncle’s house where we would climb a narrow staircase that lead to the spacious caida.

In the days of the Don, guests are welcomed at the caida. Here, new acquaintances are expected to by overwhelmed by envy from the grand murals, exquisite paintings, and ostentatious display of wealth through fine furniture like the ball and claw marble top center table and object d’art which are all imported from Europe. Like most de buena familia of that generation, they believe in the adage Kapag galing sa Paris, walang kaparis.  The Señora and her niñas spends much of their days in caida playing games like sungka and doing embroidery while the Don trains his son to play chess or demonstrates his moves as a master chess player on the same table.

TERTULIAS AND BAILES AT THE SALA MAYOR. As I entered the sala mayor through the tall double doors, I wondered how people in the olden days survived living in ancestral houses without the benefits of air-conditioning or electrical lighting. The answer: the tall ceiling and grand windows that allow gentle breezes and generous sunlight to fill the rooms. Light is filtered by the translucent capiz window panels and fine floral traceries on the transomes.

The Don opens the sala mayor only to old friends and important visitors. On evenings, faint laughter from the gentry and flutter of abanicos are heard while the host and guests casually lounge on choice seats: mariposa sofa, divan, butacas and sillons for the tertulia. The tertulia is a set of impromptu performances where everyone gathers around the music nook to watch the Señora and a lady guest recite poems and play music from the piano or the harp. The Don hosts bailes usually on dia de su santo, saint’s feast days and during special occasions where a string band opens their evening performance with a sharp rigodon and in between the poetry readings and singing with waltzes, habaneras, danzas, and fandangos.

ORATORIO, CUARTOS, AND APARADOR DE TRES LUNAS. Off to the side of the grand sala are the bedrooms that can be accessed by passing through the oratorio. Here, the Don, his entire family, including household servants squeezed into the prayer room with statues and relics of saints in a neo-Gothic altar for the recitation of the Holy Rosary.

Dominating the master bedroom is the towering aparador de tres lunas. This particular piece is a known status symbols in that period.  The massive three-door narra cabinet, surmounted by a crown of fretted scroll work is named for the mirrors attached to its doors.

THE COMEDOR ON CHRISTMAS DAY. As I walk into the dining room, I imagined this long table where every family member and invited guests were feasting on sumptuous Yuletide meals. It is generally believed that food must be abundant on the table on Christmas Day and New Year’s midnight meal to bring good fortune in the following year. The requisites of the Christmas table are the pavo or stuffed turkey with truffles, pate de foie gras, olives, red peppers, minced meats and sausages, almonds and chestnuts and the hamon en funda flavored with cinnamon, bay leaf, pepper, and glazed with panocha. The conchinillo asado that is so tender a plate is used to cut the meat instead of a knife is the table centerpiece surrounded by paella, estofado de lengua, fritada de carne, relleno de cebollas, and golden brown empanadas.

The Don is lucky to have invited guests from Pampanga who brought him sans rival from Sta. Rita and pastillas de leche from Magalang to add to the tocino del cielo, dulce de cajel, carmelito and imported turron and mazapan desserts. The diners were particularly fond of the intricate designs of stylized flowers and leaves, birds in mid-flight, a nipa hut, a provincial lass, a farmer pounding rice accompanied with names, season’s greetings and messages found in the pabalat or pastillas paper wrapper cutouts that were dangling from the four-tiered fruit tray.

COCINA. The kitchen is hectic in almost all hours of the day, especially on days when the Don had to entertain on a grand scale during fiestas or on special occasions and when hosting meals for a visiting royalty or fellow de buena familia.

At the center of the cocina is a plain long table that serves both as dining table for the servants and work table for ironing clothes using the prensang de corona and for kneading dough to make breads and cookies.  It is also used a chopping board. The main feature of the kitchen is the stove on a low stone table where clay pots and iron-cast pans are held up by three stones and a pugon with its bulbous dome. Fire wood is used for both pugon and stove. Also a standard in kitchens of the olden days were the paminggalan and banggera. The paminggalan is the slatted cupboard in the corner used for storing leftover and preserved food. The banggera is an extended window sill made of wooden slats where newly-washed plates and glasses were racked to dry in the wind.

TIME-HONORED KITCHENWARE. Found in the cocina are the Classic Filipino Kitchenware that remain charming and nostalgic of the culinary traditions of the olden days. The Don gives away home-made cookies with figure of the Augustinian saint so the kitchen has a mould where the dough is pressed into it to make the Curative Pan de San Nicholas. On the table is the brass chocolatera and batirol used by the trusted mayordomo in making thick chocolate-eh for the Don’s desayuno.

Other time-honored kitchenware found on counter are the baskets used for winnowing rice, storing and transporting produce and fish from the market. There is a kudkuran with the head of a lizard used for grating coconut meat. There are copper kettle, brass calderos, and cast-iron pans that were already used in kitchens as early as 1609. There are wooden sandok in a kamot jar, which was used for fermenting liquids and condiments. Its name came from the scratch-like parallel indentation on the pot’s shoulder.

KITCHEN EXTENSIONS. At the side of the kitchen are the washrooms. The toilette is in a small room. It has two box-like contraptions of plain wood with a hole at center that functions as the toilette seat. The bathroom is in much larger room to accommodate huge Martabana jars for storing water and the bathtubs.

Located just outside the kitchen is the azotea. This outdoor space functions as a service kitchen for butchering fowl and laundry works. There is a pocket garden in the azotea of mostly culinary herbs and medicinal plants that are grown in terracotta and glazed pots: oregano, lemongrass, chives, pandan, chili labuyo, wansoy, kinchay, spring onions, and sabila are the requisites.  In one corner of the azotea is the aljibe, a water cistern that gathers rainwater used for washing. The Don would sometimes have a quiet time in the azotea to catch some fresh air while smoking cigar and looking at the courtyard below.

ESCAPE TO THE ZAGUAN. The back stairs in the azotea functions as an emergency escape route in case of fire or social upheavals. It leads down to the courtyard and the zaguan where the Don keeps a carozza used in processions and his fleet of vehicles; a caruaje for daily use, an elegant coach or barouche to show off during paseo, and a jitney for excursions and long drives to the countryside. The first two are horse-powered. Fine stallions are housed in the cuadra located in one side of the courtyard.

The Don had a fountain and water feature built in the courtyard where goldfishes and waterlilies thrive. In some occasions, table silver and jewelry are lowered in the slimy bottom of the fountains and albije to hide them from the tulisanes in times of upheavals.

EPILOGUE: BLOG INSPIRATION. It was dark when I stepped out of Casa Manila into the cobbled street of Calle Real where a couple of street-lamps flickered and a last carriage was rattling away upon the cobbles, while the blind black houses muttered hush-hush, their tiled roofs looming like sinister chessboards against a wild sky murky with clouds, save where an evil old moon prowled about in a corner or where a murderous wind whirled, whistling and whining, smelling now of the sea and now of the summer orchards and wafting unbearable the window. While from up the street came the clackety-clack of the watchman’s boots on the cobbles, and the clang-clang of his lantern against his knee, and the mighty roll of his voice booming through the night: 

Guardia serenoo-o-o! A las doce han dado-o-o!

There is a wealth of literature to share about life and the values in the olden days that can serve as our guide for the future and how to act with intelligence, taste, and morality in the present. My inspiration and references for this blog were from Nick Joaquin’s short story May Day Eve, Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s books Turn of the Century and Philippine Food and Life, Doreen Fernandez’ and Martin Tinio’s essays in the book World of 1896, Fernando Zialcita’s iconic Philippine Ancestral Houses, Governor Jaime Laya’s Letras y Figuras, and Felice Prudente-Sta. Maria’s books Household Antiques and Heirlooms and The Governor-General’s Kitchen.

-Eid al-Adha | 1 September 2017

Published in: on September 1, 2017 at 9:26 pm  Comments (3)