MY LAPTOP clock says it is the first day of September, well, it follows a different Time Zone. When you are a Bicolano, the month of September floods your mind with myriad memories, to say that I am excited is, definitely, an understatement. However, I feel poignant and I cannot fathom why. I feel this sense of urgency or even a sense of an impending loss.
It is not that I have been taking the celebration of the Feast of The Our Lady of Peñafrancia for granted, do not get me wrong, but, to be honest, I became more of an observer rather than a participant or for a more apt term, a pilgrim.
I had watched the festivities on Television for the most part since my Father and I took that one for the road culmination of the Fiesta at the Basilica. When he told me, “Jim, I want to go home”, I felt that my heart went with that sense of relenting or acceptance that it would be the last. It was his last and I sort of lingered on.
When in school, I went with school mates and administrators. I was a part of a strong contingent. In High School, we even won the zenith accolade of being the best marching representatives of Ateneo de Naga Batch 1992. After passing the focal point of the Plaza, our platoon, literally, went our separate ways. Scattered. I felt I was on my own.
Now, I am in Naga. Again, it is September. This may be my last. Hence, I am going to experience everything like a blank slate and savor the Sights and Sounds of it with all my senses, mind, heart, and soul.
The slight drizzle I see while looking out the doorway tells me that the river that runs through The City of Naga will have plenty of water to accommodate the Pagoda of Ina for the Fluvial Procession. Yesterday, it was a downpour. Normally, the sporadic rainfall cools the city temperature to a certain degree that soothes the weary travelers who come from out of town, out of the region, and out of the country.
People flock to Naga during this time, local and foreign tourists alike. That in itself is a reminder to me that I have to make the most of everything. I do not want to miss a thing when I am, finally, gone.
I am just amazed that throughout the celebrations, the population of Naga is augmented to over a million people from a little or more than a hundred thousand. It is the best time to visit The City of Naga. When in Rio de Janeiro, the carnival. When in New York, the New Year Countdown. When in Spain, the bull run. When in Iceland, the Northern Lights. And so forth...
When in Naga, the Peñafrancia Fiesta. Joyful, jubilant, exhilarating, and absolutely memorable. Having witnessed them since my boyhood years into manhood decades, I am not expressing a hyperbolic statement that, indeed, when the first day of September comes, I am in an altered state.
They are the most special memories that were ingrained in my young impressionable mind. Back then we would go to the carnival for the amusement rides. The fluffy cotton candy seemed like clouds from above. And the no school days, almost a two-week-vacation was something to look forward to when I was a student.
It is a feast. The gastronomic experience is divine. Delectable dishes that are surprising to the taste buds and a culinary parade of Bikol creations that is, truly, a food adventure to the palate. The seafood is sheer extravagance. But, the flan is still my favorite over the crème brûlée.
The novenas, Traslacion, and the Holy Masses are the jewels of the pilgrimage. And, the crown is seen on the penultimate day for the Patroness of Bicolandia after the Fluvial Procession culminating with the Holy Mass at the Basilica.
It had become a feel good movie that keeps playing in my mind. It is my own Nueva Caceres State of Mind. I am blessed and grateful that I became a part of it. It is a Religious Phenomenon. It has its own Spirit. Simply put, it is exhausting to explain.
But let me tell you this, when in Naga, walking during these times is one for the books. You walk alongside fellow pilgrims. Some even barefoot. The vibrance of colors is so lucid that it is a dreamland for the children. Toy balloons, and other eyecandies saturate the whole environment. Shiny new gadgets. Everything is inexplicably enjoyment for the senses. There is something for everyone. Depending on what you like you will have the chance to see one, be it a rock band, a parade, a party, a reunion, and numerous organized activities to cater to each individual penchant.
As for me, I will never forget that one early morning that I went to the Basilica. It was about three in the morning. I was pleasantly surprised to see people sleeping on the pews and on the floor. They were the people who wanted to be among the first to attend the first Sunday Holy Mass. Their devotion was touching, moving, and, metaphorically, had tugged at my heartstrings.
Essentially, it is love. The Love for Our Lady. The Mother of Our Lord Jesus. And, I felt it. Tears even welled up in my eyes and flowed down my cheeks because I was given the rare opportunity to see it with my own eyes. Moreover, I am honored that I had been given the privilege of writing about it. The special bond between Ina and her own sons and daughters that happens every September—when in Naga.