The family tradition dictates that birthdays should be spent in the house after attending mass. It may sound awfully boring but I’ve learned to appreciate it but I could remember some days when I felt bad about it but we were a poor provinciano family trying to make it in Manila. It’s true what they say that poverty gives you no option. My Nanay has her way of explaining things so it was not difficult for us boys to understand why we can’t have parties like the neighbors do. Cooking for family members is an event in itself, serving them is perhaps what my mother wanted us to learn. My mother used to cook for me during our birthday [we share the same birthday] but she has long taught her sons to cook so it’s our turn. My mother’s traditional spaghetti is a must during these occasions; it’s a unique blend of “what’s available” ingredients. My brother who now lives in the US calls it, the “poorman’s pasta”, its sauce not thick [tinipid sa sauce!] is made of chicken liver and innards, and if grounded pork is not available, the cheap de lata corn beef will do. I remember one birthday I spent in Singapore where I made this pasta and shared it with our Filipino housemates. I don’t know if they’re being polite but they told me it’s good, judging from look on their faces, I could see that their curious [shocked?] this spaghetti? Is probably the question they had in mind – I’m sure that’s an experience they won’t forget!
I went to visit Quiapo and San Sebastian. I had no idea what the mass schedule is, it has been a long time comin’ for me. I haven’t visited these churches for a long time. My mother goes to only two churches when I was a child, Baclaran and Quiapo. She no longer does. I think almost all Filipino Catholics do go to church during their birthdays, at least the people I know. I’m curious when did this started so I did look for some answers. I was surprised that the answer was simple. During the Spanish era, it was customary to name newborn babies after Saints. Baptisms are usually conducted the next day which confuse most people reviewing birth records, they often mistake baptismal as birth dates, like in the case of Mabini which hasn’t been corrected until now. Some of the older generation, our parents for example, have been given names based on this old Filipino tradition but they could be the last since we now prefer Hollywood over Saints. So these Filipino’s with Saintly names, having been named after Saints because of their birth date, were bound to celebrate their kaarawan with devotional prayers to their “ tucayo” Saints in church – I’m sure they celebrate it with drinks and food after church, which is what we Filipinos do best. My Father having been born on the feast of St. Bartholomew was named after that Saint. This practice was widespread until Claveria came. Another reason could be that Filipinos are just devout Catholics – I find it remarkable [I think for others disappointing] how Spanish missionaries used these methods to spread Catholic devotion.
It always rains whenever I visit Quiapo, the last time was a year ago and it rained so hard that I went home drenched. Well, rain is a good sign. I saw some men taking out a replica of the Black Nazerene for a procession. The devotees of Nazareno are among the most loyal followers I’ve ever seen. Men have died joining its annual procession – even with these deaths there is no decline in the numbers of its devotees parading it.
I went around Quiapo trying to observe what condition its celebrated houses are in these days. It doesn’t look promising, but what else is new? Amazingly, a high rise condominium has been built along Hidalgo with it traffic congestion – whoever approved its construction is today a rich man. What the hell is wrong with Manila? The city government lacks planning programs and common sense. Manila is an image of continued decadence brought about by bad governance. Lacson must be turning in his grave right now. I don’t want to sound negative but that’s how these things are in the ever loyal city. That’s why I appreciate small towns like Taal and Carcar, places where people learned to value greatly their ancestral homes. Manila of all places has lost its appreciation of its history and there is no better example of this than how it neglected its historical houses. There is not a single ordinance that protects heritage houses as far as I know, if there are, it’s obviously not being enforced. But what can you expect from a city government that can’t even clean its streets of thrash and criminals – not much I guess.
When I was taking pictures ofCasa Ocampo, a middle-eastern man approached me, saying things I don’t understand, he look aggressive, I think he’s mentally ill if not drug crazed. When I turned my back at him he started shouting “I’m talking to you!”. He was really close to getting the daylight kicked out of him. I’m not a violent person and I don’t want to. I don’t know what his problem was but that jerk was asking for trouble. I just checked where he was, making sure he was not in a position to cause me harm, when I saw that he backed away. I just left. I wanted to snap a picture of him but that could make him go more loco – come to think of it I should’ve taken a snap shot of that hairy monster. It’s true what they say that you really have to be careful when it’s your birthday because strange things happen.
Basilica de San Sebastian never fails to amaze me. I’m already familiar with its history but every time I visit I see something new. When I was a child my Tia Lydia had to force me to come inside because I was scared of its dark Transylvania like ambiance. The Belgian made steel church is truly a wonder of modern day engineering. Would you believe that no welding was employed in the process of its construction, the pre-fabricated structure was pieced together using bolts – it is a candidate for the UNESCO heritage recognition. Some claims that Gustave Eiffel was involved in its design, a theory that is supported by Historian Ocampo. The famed Chinese-American Architect, IM Pei, during his visit confirmed the involvement of Eiffel in its design; whatever his basis was no one seems to know. I think this was the source of most historians attributing the Eiffel in the design of the basilica. I would not be surprised if he was involved in designing some metal structures here in the islands, as for San Sebastian he would have been aware of it because of its construction being one of metal composition. He was after all popular for his steel projects. The Quezon Bridge is attributed to Eiffel but some historian’s claim that it was the Puente de Convalencia that the French man designed. Unfortunately, documentation about Eiffel’s projects here in our country is quite sparse [I have yet to read one] so it’s hard to determine if the Basilica and the bridges of Manila attributed to him are indeed his. . There are a lot of websites and blogs that has presented the Basilica as an original Eiffel [one of which is Howie Severino] it’s a bit disappointing that this Eiffel story has been printed like it has already been confirmed when it’s not – like what I’ve said in my previous post, some websites and blogs are misleading students – For now, I say let’s consider that Eiffel could have been involve, it is likely that he was. After all these steel structures, his forte was built during his time [when he was bridges and buildings in Vietnam] BUT until a document comes along and confirms that this Filipino buildings and bridges are his – Palacio remains as its true architect.
How they shipped the pre-fabricated steel from Belgium was an incredible feat, tons of steel transported in several shipments. The Manileños probably marveled when they saw these huge steel components rolling down their streets. Historian Ocampo who has researched the origins of the steel church said the manufactured steel all came from Societe Anonyme des Enterprises de Travaux Publiques which operates in Brussels. Genaro Palacio was said to have been inspired by Burgos Cathedral’s French Gothic style, which should explain its striking resemblance to the Quipense church.
Other notable contributors in the Basilica’s awe inspiring design is the artist Lorenzo Guerrero, from the legendary Ermitense clan, he designed all the retablo [and other important fixtures in the church] while Eusebio Garcia [not the renowned hygiene doctor during the American era] carved the holy statues. Romblon marble was used in the making of holy water fonts. A German stained glass was commissioned by Palacio to make the stained glass windows of San Sebastian. A devotee of San Sebastian donated the land, his only wish was for it to be named after his favorite saint. The church is also a shrine for Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. The Recollect Friar, its parish priest after having experienced the destruction of his church in 1880’s approached Palacios with the idea of a steel church.
After this Quiapo visit, I went home slept for a short while. Woke up and started cooking. Bought some delicious sorbetes and fed the entire clan with the traditional spaghetti, my Nanay’s version of course.
24 November 2009