A Pause from All the Naming



Baudelaire has a word for what I have been doing for weeks now: Flaneur. Baudelaire was a French poet who coined the word, to mean to “stroll” or “to lounge” – all with the aim of observing things around or those one passes by.


Baudelaire appears to be the most appropriate inventor of the said word because to him is attributed the quote “What strange phenomena we find in a great city, all we need do is stroll about with our eyes open. Life swarms with innocent monsters.”


What he means by great city is discoverable: he lived in Paris. We in Bicol or in Naga would not really, for the sake of wisdom and humility, call our city a great one. We love it for what it is – landlocked, small, and dependent on the other towns to make it subtly interesting and to make it great in terms of population.


What is difficult to grasp is the French poet’s idea of life abounding with innocent monsters. Perhaps, these are places and people not aware they are causing harm on people passing by: a park that should have more than 15 martyrs? A church beside that park that should have been renovated more with taste? More currently, traffic lights that should serve us more with ease?


Or, could Baudelaire be talking about the past that comes alive when we start strolling around our city. I will go with this option especially that Baudelaire is often quoted as saying, “Remembering is only a new form of suffering.”


Perhaps, suffering is much too great a verb to describe what I felt upon encountering the names of streets and places. I do not suffer when I see these names that have been decided upon by the city and a particular administration, or by the owners of a subdivision. I will not be judging these decisions but I am free to read into these choices.


We are what we name things.


I have reason for doing this: I am not a historian. A historian will go to any lengths to find the narrative of the past and there be sufficiently glorified with the fact of yesteryears. That does not make sense to me. As an anthropologist, I look at what is around and find the pattern of how they were named.


The universe of a particular city is circumscribed by the terms and names available to them. Flowers, trees, heroes, events. The city – as represented by its leaders and cultural workers – has all the options at its disposal and no one can stop it from naming streets after places that, maybe do not have any relevance locally. What it does with that power speaks then of the kind of city it is and the level of management it offers.


Thus, we have Reno Streets, and further up you have Gen. San Street, Lucena St., Parañaque, and Cotabato. Your mind comes alive because one street is not a Philippine city. But, then who cares.


On another situation, my brother was asking me what happened to Calle Natong? It was a street that meandered from one of the interiors of Bagumbayan Street and sort of crossed into a dead-end. Then. If you dared to cross the swampy area, you would reach an interior street that parallels at present a small street named Mother Francesca St. (who is she?) Is that parallel street the once-glorious Calle Natong?


But, I do not see that name; what I see is this passage with the most lyrical name, Cathedral Street. That gives me to two problems: what did they do to Calle Natong and where did all the “natong” go?


I am sparing myself of the hideous puzzle of having a street named after a Cathedral that is on another street.


Charles King, author of Gods of the Upper Air, a book that deals with “a circle of renegade anthropologists” who reinvented race, sex and gender in the twentieth century, has this to say: “There was no need for nostalgia about the past if you could uncover the kaleidoscopic richness of the present.”


Therefore, let’s deal with Naga and let us confront the names it has legalized (or are they all legal?) to mark the passages, interiors, shortcuts, avenues, drives, and streets of this city-town.