From the Street of Compassion (or Naga-after-Dark sort of Street tour)
I walk alone the street of sorrow – that should be the opening line from any guide giving a tour of Naga Centro after dark. One begins from Misericordia, the street of commiseration and pity. Then cross to Tinago, the hidden street and ask, what was hidden here? Turn left and be in the middle of a street named Blumentritt, an Austrian ethnographer who wrote about the Philippines and who became the friend of Jose Rizal. Walk a bit to the right and you are on Dayangdang, a street that has survived the Bikolano’s (and the Filipino’s) penchant for renaming a street after a politician (usually) or a hero (rarely). Unless the politician is also a hero, which is questionable.
Do not go straight to Dayangdang, the Kinalas republic, where every kinalasan is the original Numero Uno, but rather face the small bridge. This is Colgante, a name that means “hanging bridge.” Nothing hangs about the bridge unless you consider the unresolved cases of those who perished during the 1972 fall of the bridge.
Were the victims compensated? Were those who died during that day even considered as victims or mere unruly pilgrims?
Walk on the bridge of death and face up to Santonja. As if the Spanish occupation was not enough, here is a short street honoring another friar. Of course, we will always find excuses to honor any bishop or missionary for the sake of faith and contentious religion.
Before you can say, Buenas noches, you will encounter Penafrancia Avenue, which used to be Via Gainza. The name of the entrepreneurial bishop was dropped from the roll of street names in this city but he gained a town, the same town that legend says was cursed by the Church.
At this point, you contend with three monoliths: the palace of the Archbishop to your left, and to your right, the Universidad de Santa Isabel, which used to be the Colegio de Santa Isabel. Squint more and you can see the black Cathedral of the city.
What is next? The old seminary.
Confront the changes at this point. The cathedral is now black; the patio is cluttered with structures, including one that looks like a theme park version of the Arc de Triomphe. Where the Parisian monument was a tribute to the victories of Napoleon I, what victories are we celebrating with this our own version of the Arc? The victory of a foreign faith over the natives?
What is the narrative of this Arc? At present, the Arc and the dome obscure what would have been the massive façade – black, ashen or white – of the Cathedral.
There are many more things to say at this point. We have not even entered the church or examined the old seminary. But this is a street tour, remember.
Let us go back to Elias Angeles. Who he? Your question is spot-on: who is Elias Angeles? There is no statue of him. As we do not care really about him, we resume our walk.
We reach the Plaza of the Quince Martires. You can go to town talking about why they are not martyrs more than why they have their own bust. But no debate, please. To the side of this monument, whose designer was the same man who designed the crown for the pre-war Carnival Queen and the canonical crown of the Lady of Peñafrancia, is the San Francisco Church.
The present San Francisco Church looks unfinished. Its old belfy is practically ignored, neglected. This church has an odd history; many years ago, it was turned into a cinema. At least that is not as gross as the church of Sts. Peter and Paul along Timog, QC, which used to be a sauna bath. Talk of conversion!
Nights back, I took photos of this church and posted them online. Those who were born in the 60s and lived in Naga in the 7os and 8os could not recognize the church.
Up to the 90s, the side chapels of the San Francisco Church were used as funeral parlors. It was common for those who were attending the wake to extend the parlor up to the park of the martyrs. Each wake therefore, the martyrs died a thousand death for the lack of respect and manners of the grieving, drinking friends and relatives.
Let us move on, cross the street to where we see a hotel with a popular fastfood restaurant. The structure was called Holiday Hotel. In the late 7os, the building was condemned, meaning it was up for demolition. It still stands today.
From there we can see the back of Plaza Quezon, which is also referred to as Kiosko. Was there a kiosk there or a small store?
The area between Plaza Quezon and Plaza Rizal was where the Catholic Church used to build tall contraptions for Easter Sunday. Made of bamboo, the assemblage was literally the place where the Angel of Resurrection announced Christ having risen from the grave. This tradition went on for years until churches opted to make structures made of cement and steel right in front or on the side of the church. Heaven became, more or less, semi-permanent and boring.
Nights back, I, with Kristian Sendon Cordero, walked the streets of Naga and we reached Plaza Rizal, dark and gloomy because some of trees have lost their bulbs.
We were in quest of the suman and binutong vendors of Carangcang, Magarao. They were not there anymore. They were we late, we thought, or, like any businesses, driven away by the virus. In the park, a young girl broke loose from her group and spoke loudly to a middle-aged man: “ako nang isunod mo” (Let me be the next [person]). What was that?
Next time, the tourist guide should title his walk: “Documenting Loss in My City.”