It was a short but good 6 hour sleep. I was so tired traveling from the previous day (to Laoag, Paoay) that I fell right straight to bed when I got back to Vigan – dropped and slept like a log. My hunger woke me up at around 3am. Tried to sleep some more but my stomach wont let me until I decided to just go out and find something to eat. And since I’m headed back to Manila that same day, I packed my stuff and made sure that I don’t have to come back for nothing.
I came out and found not a soul (of a living person of course) in sight. It was too early even for locals known for their industrious nature. But just before dawn, the church opened its doors, bells were rung and recorded Gregorian chants started playing. Inside the church, people has started to come in. Just outside, near Plaza Burgos, there were people doing aerobics, around the park everybody’s jogging. I’ve never seen a provincial town this lively this early in the morning.
Seeing the Vigan houses is important for me personally because I’ve been advocating heritage conservation all my adult life. The town gives me a good feeling – a little hope that heritage conservation can succeed in our country. I could not believe that these houses are still here. It is as if they were silently hidden away from all the wars and calamities for us to see today. We Filipinos, should be proud of Vigan!
The houses are more than architecture and art for me. They’re links to our ancestors emotions and imagination. And if you believe in spirits like I do, they’re tangible spiritual connections that can bring us closer to our past. We have to think about those who built these houses and try to understand who they are. What made them built something that was so resilient, so strong that it has outlive so many generations. Kalaw wrote a wonderful piece about this where he explains our gran scions vision. For these early Filipinos, its all about love, family and the next generation. The houses was intended not for them but for us. The way we allow the degradation of our heritage today is a sad reflection of how ignorant we have become as Filipinos.
The bahay na bato represents the evolution and devolution of the Filipino. I see them as reminders of what was achieved and what the generations after it failed to achieve. Monumental pieces that were built to last, relics left behind for us to learn from. 400 years ago we lived in bamboo shelters and caves, from this we jumped to building in stone and mortar. Quite an accomplishment considering that it was done in a short period of time. Today, we can’t even built proper sidewalks much more decent homes. We can’t seem to understand the message our ancestors attempted to convey with their creation. It’s not surprising that men like Rizal, Mabini and Luna appears to us more like mythical characters than real persons.
I’ve accepted long ago that it would take a miracle of biblical proportions for all of us to realize that we need to save what’s left of our heritage. Not the case here in Vigan, of course. All it took was a united effort from the local government and civic groups. For some reason the town has defied this sickening culture of destroying heritage. The kind that we have in Manila.
Vigan has made an important lesson for the rest of us. Maybe all hope is not lost after all.
Call it weird but I always hope to have visions of images from the bygone era, and I was hoping to see one that morning: a Filipina in a gracious terno, or, a barefooted Chino peddler, or what about, a gentleman properly dressed for the dawn mass. I saw none of these of course, I needed a time machine for it, but with all of these wonderful houses for a background its easy to play these scenes inside your head.
Speaking of having a vision of the past, this experience could be one. Or it could also be the product of my overly active imagination. I don’t know. But I remember in Lipa’s Casa Segunda, upon entering the gate I went straight inside the old house, since I thought there was no one around. I walked around the house and went upstairs. I don’t know if this has something to do with my familiarity with bahay na bato but I knew where everything was located inside the house. It felt like the lay out of the house was embedded in mind. The strangest part of this experience was that I knew that the marble chess board where Luz and Rizal played have cracks on it and that it was bonded by some type of cement – when I saw it, it was exactly the same image I have in mind. I never told this to my gracious host, who later found me wandering around the house, because she might get offended that I went inside the house without her permission. I feel that spirits can read our intentions, I think that time I was guided by the original owners, maybe Segunda or Manuel, or maybe other former residents that had long crossed over. Who knows. We can never fully understand such experiences.