The Enchantment of Cities and Islands
Standing before a massive crowd in the school auditorium, I started telling the students the last time I was in Universidad de Santa Isabel. It was still called “Colegio de Santa Isabel,” a name I lapsed into when reminiscing that Monday, July 28, 2019.
That last time was in the mid-70s. I was part of a “community” theatre composed of students from different schools and professionals. We were staging Durrenmatt’s “The Visit,” a tragicomic play. The director was Chito (Sagarbarria) Fanglow.
Colegio de Santa Isabel was famous then for staging musicals. Ateneo de Naga mounted dramatic plays in English. In between these two institutions was the University of Nueva Caceres, which monopolized the staging of plays from PETA (Philippine Educational Theatre Association of the Philippines).
The “colegio” in those years lived up to its reputation as an exclusive school for girls. It was a forbidding structure to outsiders.
Walking therefore from one of the main doors down to its gently sloping floor felt strange. This is not my territory, I told myself.
I looked for Mary Jane Guazon-Uy, a colegiala, an academic stalwart during her days in the school and an author of the novella, “The Book of Pedro Bautista.” I was there for my own book, “The Last Sacristan Mayor and the Most Expensive Mass for the Dead. Tales from Ticao.”
Mary Jane, as I fondly call her, was there below the stage, giving instruction to the teachers who were facilitating our talk.
We were both there that morning upon the behest of Kristian Cordero, awarded writer, cultural worker, publisher, and many more, who organized the literary event. Cordero gave the forum the title, “Cities of Magic, Islands of Imagination.”
The forum followed a gathering held the night before called “The Mayor’s Night,” sponsored by the city government represented by the newly elected mayor, Nelson Legacion and some of his councilors, which included, Sonny Rañola, Joe Perez, Jess Albeus, and Oying Rosales. The gathering formally welcomed Madame Jana Sediva-Treybalova, Czech Ambassador to the Philippines. This event was held at Savage Mind, the new art and culture hub managed and owned by Cordero.
There was a reason also why the second day saw us with Ambassador Sediva in the old school of the Daughters of Charity. The good ambassador was continuing the ventures initiated by her predecessor, Ambassador Jaroslav Olsa, who served as art patron for the many initiatives in the field of arts and culture not only in Naga and Bikol but in some other places of the country. She was with Benjamin Ziga, First Secretary for economic, trade and defense relations.
In the forum, Dr. Mary Jane Guazon-Uy talked about the missing histories and the power of histories, when recalled and remembered. She sighed how we were always in search for a link with personalities from the Spanish past when, in fact, there was San Pedro Bautista, who was in Nueva Caceres in 1600 and moved from one Bikol town to another. But that was not the crux of Guazon-Uy’s discourse. She was really talking about our need to remember the many things that had happened in our lives because that would make us centered and in touch with our identities and ethnicities, however problematic those two things are.
For this doctor/writer, enchantment is really knowing what is inside us. As a colegiala, she talked about the many stories that haunted the campus – of a sister who was flung by the wind from the winding staircase, of hidden rooms that were either inhabited by ghosts or colorful costumes from the many magical musical programs of yore.
When it was my turn, I had photos of Ticao Island. The images as a guide to this island. “My island is a real island,” I stressed to the mostly young audience. Slide after slide, the hidden beaches, coves, caves and islets of Ticao were revealed. “One island was called Halea.” She was the moon goddess worshipped by women. Crossing the sea, from the side of Sorsogon was the town of “Bulan,” the moon-god revered by men.
A breathtaking photo showed water flowing from the side of a tall crevasse and rushing down to the sea. It was “Katandayagan Falls.” From that word, one can pick up another word, “Tandayag,” a huge serpent that, after outgrowing its territory or lair, moves onto the depth of the sea.
“Myths never die,” I rhapsodized on my memories. Myths become mountains and waterfalls and the deep waters off the islands. “They are talking to us.”
In the afternoon of that mythmaking, the group was invited to move to Ateneo de Naga, where another magic of the drawn kind was to be opened for the public. The exhibit was dubbed “Meanwhile, Elsewhere.” It focused on relatively old art form, the comics.
I was asked to introduce the exhibit. I could not find any similarity (or contrast) of Czech comics with regard to Philippine, except for some points. Czech comics evolved through Russian invasion and through the Communist regime and its very popular rendition of their lives. Our komiks did not really become as astutely political as the Czech’s. Czech comics experienced being banned because they were confrontational. Ours were more entertainment, except for those developed during the 70s. Nonoy Marcelo’s “Tisoy” came to mind.
On the last day of the visit, Ambassador Sediva passed by the Pili Parochial School to visit the new parish priest of the San Raphael, Fr. Wilmer Joseph S. Tria. He is also the Director of Ateneo de Naga University Press.
The ambassador would experience enchantment once more as she was welcomed warmly by the pupils and teachers of the Pili Parochial School. The boys and girls of the school sang a rousing Czech song.
There is a photo of two little gentlemen handing the ambassador a bunch of roses. Kristian Cordero described the occasion as a very warm and propitious event. It was Ambassador Sediva’s turn to experience the enchantment and magic of the land.