Googling the City of Naga



I have been writing about the streets of Naga but never about the city itself.


Prodded on by an old friend, I decided to check the city by way of its Google Map, you know the kind that allows you to go over the place like a bird. Then, by the magic of this technology, zoom in on its streets and even view the roofs of homes that, by sheer long stay in the place, can be recognizable way from above.


First impression lasts: one always feels the city is small. Its parks are negligible unless you visit them at night, in which case they get enlarged by the interesting human interests around them. The Quince Martires, for one, is so small one can judge the city by this landscaping accident. If indeed these martyrs are important, why allow them to squat on a land that is not monumental enough. There is no sense of proportion at all in its design. The monument towers because everything else is small around it. Then you look around and admit to yourself the trees have more elegance and gravitas in them. The same can be said of Plaza Rizal; it is no more a plaza than a boring square. Surrounded on all fours by busy streets and demarcated on the northern side by rows of fruit and peanut vendors, the park has no ambition.


Our Plaza Rizal always makes you feel grimy and dirty and, believe me, I am not moralizing.


Then we have a badly labeled, Oragon Monument. One does not know how to make sense of this grotesquerie: a badly coordinated tableau of gigantic figures in terra cotta color seem ready to lunge at anyone passing by. There is no triangle or square that would provide anyone a perspective to appraise its story. The monument sits there, sad and forgotten, unless and until the city celebrates its day. It is therefore like a combo meal: it cannot survive on its own. The city needs to continue to tell the story of the tableau for it to come alive at least.


But what programs do we have about our parks? What programs do we have about our churches?


The case of our churches is another matter. It is difficult to build activities around our old churches. There is always this love-hate relationship between the parishioners and those who take care of our churches. Remember the Black Cathedral fiasco? For all its worth, our protestations were never heard. No public forum to explain why overnight our beloved metropolitan cathedral had turned black. Overnight, we felt we do not own these churches.


In my book, there is only church in the city that has retained its charm – and this is the Old Shrine of Peñafrancia. I can almost hear the priest and institutional church telling me how churches are not meant to be charming. But churches for all their colonized past is a vital part of Naga’s present life.


When culture experts from Manila and abroad were here, I made sure I took them to what I call the Old Peñafrancia shrine and all of them were always amazed at the form and content of the old church.


Back to my googling: the bird’s eye view afforded me this truth: the city of Naga is dwarfed by the bigger municipalities around it. With 84.48 sq.km2 as its total land area, Naga is small compared to Pili with its 126.25 sq.km2, Calabanga with 163.80 s.km2, and Libmanan with its 342.82 sq.km2.


In fact, the good tour guide can, with lots of tricks, provide a casual glimpse of the city by forgetting the boundaries that hem in Naga. The city, after all, is surrounded by municipalities that are possessed of quirkiness and singularity – Canaman, Magarao, Milaor and many other places. From them, Naga can always borrow charms and unique characteristics the city has lost with its desire to be like the other cities of this republic.


Do the trick: take advantage of the seemingly unseen boundaries around Naga and freely move to Canaman with its claim of a Bikol language. Mary Racelis (former Mary Hollnsteiner) was there with other sociologists some years back because she wanted to see the Canaman of Fr. Frank Lynch, SJ, whose study of darakulang tao versus saradit na tao became one of the most important concepts in social stratification. Then we can ease to Magarao with its famed native chiropractors, who represented the country with their use of coconut oil in the world expo in Zaragoza, Spain. Then we can go back to Naga and via Marupit reach San Mateo, Camaligan, the site of the kiln where the ladrillos used for the many of the churchs in the area were baked. We can cross Felix Plazo, named after one of our unheralded heroes of the Revolution, and over the bridge, travel to Cagbunga Gainza where not one but three Dead Christ are worshipped by people.


We can go on and on linking these old, quaint towns with the small city of Naga and be happier for the seeming grandeur such connections make.