By By Pablo A. Tariman
posted 23-Apr-2019  ·  
629 views  ·   0 comments  ·  
What is left of Farmacia Guerrero, the first pharmacy in the island.

In recent visits, I like walking the streets of the capital town and figuring out what’s left of the island of your affection.

I like walking through this street where I used to buy cooked food in the early 60s. I was hoping I’d come across my favorite dinuguan and candinga and yes, the cocido. I find this carenderia just a few houses away from my English teacher’s house and for once I savor what’s left of the island cooking.

The only culinary survivor it seems is the matchless and original cocido of Sea Breeze where my favorite waiter Eddie offers my favorite cocido served with linantang pili as my special request.

Other eateries are trying to look cosmopolitan but to no avail. Only the looks have it but the essence of this island is lost in those high-rise buildings now fast changing the Virac landscape.

One cringes to see what was once the Farmacia Guerrero of my high school days. It is now covered by an improvised edifice that now looks like a gargantuan coffin. The last time I saw its owner, she was on the ground floor of what was once an elegant house. She was taking a nap in a native bangco and she was wondering who I was. From her I heard lines which to me epitomized what was noble and true about the islander.

Sample from her words of wisdom, “Maski magkaon na lang ako ning baybay basta dai ako macaon ning hinab-onan (“I prefer having sand for dinner rather than feast on stolen money”).

From what I heard, she was a former beauty queen and I saw her regal picture on FB. In the last days of her life, she kept her money in glass containers. It was understandable that she lost quite a sum of money one fine day to a tricycle driver who drove her from the market.

There is a good measure of nostalgia as I look into what used to be the symbol of power and influence in the island. It used to be called the White House and it used to be the tallest building in the island in the 60s.  Now it is bleak and grey with a large tarpo showing the son and grandson of its original owner coddling fighting cocks. One can’t figure out how he can give the town a good future while busy with fighting cocks.

I like visiting the former vice mayor still holding on to the family’s ancestral house. He served me coffee while I asked how he sees the coming elections. Like it or not, this islander is the heart and soul of the capital town. He loves classical music; he loves beautiful women and nearly all islanders young and old kiss his hands as a sign of courtesy. There will be no one like him who was witness to those early times when wild pigs and deer inhabit the island.

The other vanishing landmarks:

The Catanduanes Theater where I used to watch FPJ-Susan Roces and Charito Solis movies has disappeared—a victim of the CD and DVD revolution. In front of the site is the first Jollibee branch and the first Mercury Drug branch on the island.

As always, I like visiting my hometown who gave me a citation for my contribution to the performing arts. I feel sad because I have never done anything in my hometown. My previous concerts started in Bato and ended in Virac and nothing beyond.

As usual, I take a good look in a seaside barrio called Tilod where I was born 70 years ago.

In the town proper, I miss the original houses of the Magistrados, the Vergaras, the Tolledos and the Josons.

Only the small island we call Minabalay remains as a poignant reminder of the past. It was around this little island where we held our picnics.

In my last hour in Baras, I hire a tricycle and tell the driver to take me around.

As I observe the new houses and the newly painted church, I think of the Chinese businessman doing sums on his abacus, our boat rides to a nearby sitio to get drinking water, and my waking up early to perform my chores as an altar boy in the church. I relive the tsunami of the 1950s and the terrible typhoons of the 1960s, during which our neighbors got drunk to the tune of “Historia de un Amor.”

I suddenly have an eerie recollection of the cemetery on a hill overlooking the sea: In one All Souls’ Day visit when I was in grade school, I visited my grandfather’s tomb and, looking down, I felt my hair stand on end because my name was on it. That was so simply because I carry my grandfather’s name.

In the past I lived in Quiapo, Manila; in Albay province; and in Parañaque City. For now, home is Pasig City where my only prized possessions are my four grandchildren and another one based in Frankfurt.

Now I am not sure if I miss my hometown or I just miss my past. I feel the urge to return and relive the past, but I know it’s not possible.

The writer Thomas Wolfe has been proven right over and over again: “You can’t go back home [again] to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time—back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

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