There is always something about being in the mountains, or in the open field, or being near the water...it evokes a feeling of nostalgia, and for the first time in a long time, I felt I was home.
I have recently been reposting Victor Velasco’s painting exhibit on Facebook, of his collection of Amorsolo-inspired paintings… those picturesque view of the farm, of the rice fields, of farmers happily harvesting their crops, the golden sun…when suddenly, I saw the very same view outside our window. Just behind the UPOU building was a rice field, and farmers were tending the field. But the sun, that same golden sun, casted its glow on the rice stalks swaying gently in the breeze. Only now, there were tractors instead of carabaos grazing the field, and in place of nipa huts, there were a few buildings and the occasional electric posts to dot the view. But nevertheless, it evoked a sense of nostalgia in me.
Today had been the most beautiful afternoon I’ve seen in years. But it didn’t start out that way. In a typical schizophrenic manner that Philippine weather is, what was hot and humid in the morning turned to scorching hot at noontime, and then the sudden heavy downpour in the afternoon, but after the last drop of rain, the clouds parted and gave way for the sun, the “golden sun.” There were no rainbows, or at least I didn’t catch one, but the sunshine…oh, it had cast its most beautiful glow I’ve yet seen on this side of the world.
I close my eyes and take all that scene in, it somehow hit a memory nerve, taking me back two decades… early mornings in our duck farm, trying to dodge that mean ‘ol gander to harvest eggs for my daily serving of leche flan… of late afternoon bike rides with my cousins to the aplaya, wading ankle deep into the lake, brushing against the floating kangkong… getting onboard a bangka, closing my eyes and hearing nothing but the strong roar of the wind, keeping my balance as it tries to knock me off my center, and opening my eyes if only to watch the sun slowly set in the horizon. I close my eyes again to grasp words and form poems in my head… I open my eyes, and suddenly I’m back at Los Baños, back at the lab.
For the first time, I felt like I was home, and I have never had this feeling in years. That painfully beautiful feeling was welling up inside of me. At first, I had taken it for nostalgia, but then started doubting the nostalgic feeling itself, and I have, for a few moments, switched back to my jaded old self… and started denying myself those serendipitous moments… until King told me to stop thinking and to just enjoy the feeling, while it lasts.
While it lasts…
I have been staying here in Los Baños for almost two months now, to work for Biomodd*. If not for the occasional trip back to Manila for laundry and paperwork, I wouldn’t have to take that 3-hour travel back and forth. But now the travel was no bother, and to me, going to Los Baños feels more like coming home. And it is funny how Angelo, our Belgian art director, looking at our Los Baños photographs, felt “homesick.”
But what is home? Truth be told, until this moment, I’ve forgotten what it feels like. Having lived in Manila alone for so long, I have been accustomed to sleeping amidst the noise of 10-wheeler trucks driving by, of sirens and shrieks in the middle of the night, waking up with a wheeze and finding large carbon molecules sitting on my pores and finding its way inside my nails and inside my kwelyo... Going through the daily notions of heavy traffic, more smog and smoke, being cooped up inside an airconditioned building, and not seeing daylight at all… finding my way through the streets in the dark… all these constituted a part of my “normal” life.
And now, I had this chance of changing environment…and what a refreshing change it was! I wake up to the aroma of freshly cut grass and fresh mountain air. Waking up to the sight of trees, the vast curtain of green, of roots hanging from a canopy of vines… of mistaking croaks of toads for cows in the night. Here, whenever people go silent, you can actually hear crickets…it’s true! And I saw fireflies! I haven’t seen one in ten years. And being able to go to the mountain and then go to the lake within a few minutes is still an awesome experience for me. And I’m always in for a culture shock. At LB square, you can order food from any stall, and sit anywhere you want, and they’ll even deliver your order to your spot. Here, they provide additional laptop tables for you, and even provide an extra extension cord to plug your laptop into. In Manila, that always means extra charge! You will earn the irate glance of the owner, and if they can’t drive you away, the guard will. Here in LB, everything is so different. But I can only hope to experience this bliss for so long.
I have not always been an urbanite. I was born in Bataan, raised in Baguio, lived in Olongapo for quite some time, where our houses have always been on the mountain, and a few minutes away from the beach. It wasn’t until thirteen years after that my daily dose of sunrise and sunsets was obliterated by the view of smog and cityscapes. But it’s the love/hate relationship with the urbanscape that has somehow molded my jaded view of reality, and it is to this form of reality that I have submitted myself to. But now, my so called “reality” has been shaken.
Having this opportunity of being located outside of Manila, and having witnessed this beautiful sight, it brought back a yearning inside of me. A yearning to go back to the mountains, running to the field, running back to the shore. A longing, an ache that is so deep that no words can describe. But what I have come to discover, is that the feeling is not isolated, but shared by many. Ask any Filipino what their idyllic scene of the Philippines is. Whether you are an urban or rural Filipino, or a Pinoy overseas, most of the time it would somehow point back to those images of mountains and rice fields, and water and that “golden sun.”. I liked Victor’s title for his exhibit “Balik-Tanaw: Images Beyond Nostalgia”. Those days of the golden sun are not mere images to evoke that warm, fuzzy feeling. It is beyond nostalgia, it is the yearning that Filipinos share of finding ourselves. It is a yearning for identity, of returning… of coming home.
Not just a Tourist best-seller…
I have had this privilege of visiting Paete and talking to the townsfolk, and I have often been amazed at the fact that nowhere else, not even in the nearby towns, can you find an artisan as superiorly skilled as the Paete woodcarvers. It is with this amazement that I have been inquiring of them. Was it the mountains? Was it the lake? Was it in the water they’re drinking? Talking to the artisans, I’ve asked them what their motifs were and what were their dominant designs. I was told, that if they were not going “commercial”, they would be carving sceneries of the mountain and the rice field. But I have thought otherwise, I have often thought that the bukid theme was the “commercial” theme, nothing more than a tourist bestseller. But for them, it was the other way around. If they wanted to sell, they would be carving “modern” designs. But if they had their choice, it would still be the bukid. And this all came as a surprise to me. A pleasant surprise.
It instantly brought me back to an old audio lecture at the stockroom. I have accidentally stumbled upon an audio recording of Ambeth Ocampo’s lecture. I cannot recall the exact words, nor can I recall the exact topic, but I distinctly remember how he noted that the Ermita artists during the 40s-50s were being critized for their choice of genre, the idyllic country scene. But I also remember how Ambeth pointed out, that in the time of war, where images of death and chaos were prominent, to think of such peaceful and serene scenes at that time were, in fact, even revolutionary. Those may not be his exact words, but that was what stuck in my head. But then the modernists have prevailed, and through the years, a “realistic” view of the Philippines was more acceptable.
I have often encountered people with an aberrance to those idyllic sceneries, saying it is too “traditional”, too perfect, too pristine, too “unrealistic”, that it as nothing more than wishful thinking. And I’ve often wondered, maybe they were “allergic” to anything that is “pleasant”? Paving way for the only definition of “reality” as that of grit, hardship and poverty, and this has become the norm, to showcase the Philippines otherwise would merit an accusation of being “in denial”. But then, this “unrealistic view” has been glowing outside my window and I have been staring at it for a full hour or so. And it has struck something at the core of my being.
May I quote from Victor’s retrospect, “For a long time in the development of Philippine art, such dreamy, idealized representations – what some critics say, naïve -- defined the ethos and sensibility not only of Philippine art but of being Filipino.”
Can you deny that this is the imagery that is ingrained in the heart of every Filipino?
Of evoking emotions…
I have never felt peaceful and jilted at the same time. I could not believe that I was experiencing this beautiful sight, as if from a dream. And I almost tried to pinch myself, I might just be in the middle of one. Right before me lay the vast plain and beyond it stood Mt. Makiling. To my right were beautiful patches of green with the prominent sign, “Rice Science for a Better World”*. Looking at the golden rice stalks, and the farmers tending those patches, it instantly flashed back a scene of farmers finally entering their land… “144…144!!!”* I hear their cries of joy, their children’s laughter fills the air…only to be cut by the sound of gunshots… And then I could hear Ka Rene’s* last speech, and yet another gunshot, but his words were still ringing in my ears…and then it all was dampened with the sound of the breeze, of the rustling of the leaves as the sun gave away its last golden rays, and slowly fade into a curtain of red fading to blue, fading to grey.
I have never imagined that a single ray of light would illicit a myriad of deep seated thoughts and emotions inside of me. Can we still bring it all back?
It is all dark now. I take another glance at the pictures I have just taken, then look at the Ermita paintings, glance at the folks’ sweet faces, the green fields, the blue skies, and the golden sun. That was all they ever wanted, that was all we ever wanted, and are still wanting to this day… It seems that every Filipino’s notion of home, whether they would like to admit it or not, always points back to those images. An era long gone, but not forgotten, which we are always seeking and hoping for.
More often then not, it is the Filipino’s yearning to come home, to return to their own.
* I.R.R.I. (International Rice Research Institute) motto
* 144 hectares of land that was turned over to Sumilao farmers after their march from Bukidnon to Manila.
* Renato "Ka Rene" Penas, farmer leader, paralegal, slain in an ambush a few days after CARPer has been passed.
Facts on Ka Rene's murder:
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