FIELDNOTES: Noche de Ronda: Naga at Night

NAGA had always been a city that was wide awake. The two plazas (three if you consider that island of cement called Plaza Quezon) of the city were only separated by streets that formed a square: two had hotels at their end, another curved towards an old church. Plaza Rizal was kept open not by the hero who did not care at all whether we survived or died but by all kinds of vendors: those who sold peanuts and what we used to call “scramble” or “iskrambol,”a potent combination of ice, milk and sugar that, when imbibed, could freeze your brain for seconds. You would not know what hit you even if you were aware already of the effect of “scramble.” There were men and women of all kind and all types in the park. There were those who maintained kinship with the hero in an exotic way: they were called “makuapo ni Rizal” or granddaughters of Rizal. If we were to ask James C. Scott, we would have defined the presence of these women as forms of everyday resistance. Don’t laugh, there is no pun there. Whoever gave these women that name must be thinking of the – with due respect to those who fought the many wars of the nation – Daughters of the Revolution. But given the fact that these women plied their trade right beneath the statue that stood for justice and freedom of idea, Liberation of the mind surely had come to Naga quiet earlier than any other cities. As labels coined by macho chauvinist s—thead go, there is no appellation for the men who solicited the services of these women. Plaza Quince Martires was the more sedate area. There were no vendors in the area. There were trees that appeared huge because they were out of proportion to how isolated and narrow the plaza was built. The martyrs who were not much celebrated in our youth – local histories then was highly marginalized – glowed like gilded portraits of men who stared and stared, wondering why they were there in the first place. Even up to now, each year, the speeches delivered before them would have more questions than answers about their heroism. On the gilded niches honoring the Fifteen Martyrs, there are no women, but no one is complaining. In the 60s and the 70s, there were other reasons why Naga was up the whole night around the area of the parks. There were two funeral parlors at that area. One was where you have now a restaurant huddling with the fastfood known for the best fried chicken; another was located where a 24-hour convenience store and pasta shop are found. A stranger to the city would get this impression the people of Naga stayed that late when in fact, those who attended the wake would tend to move to the either side of the park especially on balmy nights. Those two funeral parlors are gone. There is nothing to mourn for anymore around that area – not the fifteen and not the putative hero of this nation. Commerce and convenience had brought to the city the practice of the 24-hour life. Midnight is gone in Naga. Night comes only if only that it gets dark, somehow; otherwise, business seems to go on forever. The demarcations are slowly leaving us. There are no sellers of bread whose loud “Napey” signals the break of day. There are also no vendors of “tinumtuman” and “chakoy” to mark the afternoons in our lives. I think even the Barukikik, the mystical mascot of the Asuwang has left us for the darker pasture of the distant barangays. Day and night do not anymore provide contrary backdrop for someone’s personality and behavior. Technically, one cannot write anymore of crimes being committed in broad daylight, with the presumption that it is shocking to do misdeeds when people are still up and about because even at night people are up and about. The opposite is true: the notion of an action happening in “the dead of night” has lost its sense. The night is not dead anymore; it is alive with stores selling and restaurants offering food. As with other cities, call centers have arrived in Naga. The effect of this business practice is to further blur not only the time for the city but also its location. One does not work in a call center or a BPO serving a different time zone so that s/he could bring honor to the city. A location like Naga ceases when one is providing services to clients in other countries. Years ago – I believe I was in high school – I came upon this song called “Noche de Ronda.” I then asked my father who, like many parents of my generation, knew how to read (i.e., understand) Spanish. I like the song with its plaintive, almost maudlin melody. The song proved to be a sad, languid offering to love lost and the night. Papa, as I recall now, told me of the night, and the guard that watches over the night, passing below my balcón. Then the song talks of the moon that shatters and cracks the darkness of my loneliness: Luna que se quiebra/Sobre las tinieblas/De mi soledad… Well, I do not miss the song; I can always go to YouTube for that and listen to the many versions of the said song. I do miss my father who must have learned his Spanish because, as a young man, he was with a group of other young men, who sallied forth to the town of San Fernando, in Ticao Island, to assist the priest who was assigned there. I miss Naga and its night and the moon that can shatter or break through any sadness. It is a sight we will never see again with the bright lights going on and on and the life that does not stop whether it is day or night.