Barlin: My Street of Magic and Faiths
The street of Barlin is scented by faith not because of the Cathedral at the northern end of it and the statue of Bishop Barlin at the southern part of its terminus, but my own boyhood memories.
My brother, Pempe, and I disagreed on many things but we had the same odd curiosity about evangelists and magicians. In the 60s, as far as I can remember, Barlin was the place where small tents were pitched to accommodate American preachers of non-Catholic beliefs. We were always after the free pamphlets they distributed that warned of doomsday, which we reserved for another great fan of the Deluge and the Last Judgment – our Lola Emilia.
There was something else that fascinated us inside those tents and these were the Bikolano interpreters. The American pastor or evangelist in fire-and-brimstone speech would warn of the end of the world, and there was this small man beside him who would translate quickly the English words into Bikol. Without missing a beat; without even looking at each other. It was as if the White Man and the Brown Man were linked in body, tongue and soul.
I do not know how many were converted in those fiery nights but we were entertained no end. Then and there I understood a different interpretation of the Word Becoming Man.
Why the preaching from another denomination took place in Barlin could be an act of confrontation. In an old city like Naga that was Catholic to its core (by admission), it took grace and courage to talk about God from another point of view, and right on the street where the bishop’s church was.
Eternity was the time allotted for faith in Barlin but magic was seasonal.
When September came, the city was filled with all sorts of entertainment. Circuses and karnabal in that month sprouted all over the city. Unlike at present where theme parks are located in one place, then Naga would be accommodating to magicians and other performers and allowed them to be anywhere.
It was in Barlin where Manong Pempe and I went to watch a magic show. The magician was called Madam Lord. Outside the tent was a huge canvas (the printed tarpaulins were but a speck in the minds of inventors then) painted with an image of a person who was dressed in tuxedo with long tail. With face made up, we concluded it was a woman dressed smartly like a man to better be compelling to the audience.
We believed the barker who looked at us intently and said: Pasok na at hinihintay na kayo ni Madam Lord! (Enter now because Madam Lord awaits you). We felt special! We entered but there was no one inside. We had to wait for some thirty minutes more before the people filled the small space. We were the only boys inside; the rest were middle-aged men. They were not there for Madam Lord. They were there for the “burlesk” show, a kind of striptease performed by a woman who must had been in her 30s. She had a really long, curly and oily hair and a tummy that bulged out of her bathing suit with faded floral designs.
This woman would also assist Madam Lord. The acts were fantastic: doves disappeared from Madam Lord’s hands and materialized behind us! A small rabbit was turned into silk hankies. All this time the woman was doing her own moves to the sound of a Latin beat.
I could not remember anymore what other acts she did but my brother and I were impressed with Madam Lord’s manner of speaking. She had a smooth tongue. She never stammered. And she regaled us with lines like:A la una, a las dos, a las tres, a las cuatro! Masdan lang ang milagro! Huwag nang hanapin ang demonyo (Behold the miracle! Do not anymore seek the Devil).
Was Madam Lord telling us she had the support of the Devil himself? No worries. To us, Madam Lord was cool.
The more Madam Lord spoke, the graver and bigger her voice became. Was she a man or woman? Perhaps, she was the Devil who was neither a man nor a woman.
Those tents and shows are gone. But we still have this street that bears the burden of other streets around it. Barlin is bisected by Dimasalang, a pen name used by Rizal, and P.Diaz, one of the 15 martyrs. Do we ever think of these names? Do they give meanings at all to the streets named after them? I doubt it.
Barlin is a street named after a Bishop who, it is said, is the reason for the continued primacy of the Catholic Church over our lives (territorial property and all) and two streets that remind us how years ago we had brave notions of independence from the colonizers.