Wednesday, November 17, 2004
: . The Newcomer and the Old Timer by José Montero y Vidal (continued)
In the same inn where Fonseca stayed was a soldier, surnamed Gómez, whom he befriended. Together they often went around the city and its suburbs, his friend serving as his tour guide.
One afternoon, as they were taking a stroll, Gomez said to this companion:
"Tonight, pleasure awaits us."
"Because it is the celebration of the feast of Santa Cruz."
"And what kind of a celebration is it?"
"Very exciting, delightful like all fiestas in the Philippines. Here, where political feuds are unheard of, one does not think of anything but fun. The indios spend much of their earnings in church activities, in fiestas, and in gambling.
"One is born, christened with bells ringing, and music and a banquet in the house. A wedding takes place, more bells, the church is lighted and covered with bunting, while the table overflows with food at all times. Someone dies, a first-class burial; three priests accompany the corpse from the mortuary to the church, to the cemetery, and then to the grave. There are responses from the bereaved, and nine days of prayers, and later the pamisan, a day where after mass there is drinking, eating, dancing, and games, all done in honor of the deceased. When the feast of the patron saint of the town is celebrated, as you will see in Santa Cruz, there is no house, no matter how small, that does not prepare a grand dinner, drinks, sweets, music, and a dance for those who wish to come. The principales shoulder the cost of a castle of fireworks, without which no fiesta will be considered happy. Millions of skyrockets and a multitude of enormous paper balloons rise up to the sky to the delight of a huge crowd that comes to enjoy the spectacle. Now you will see how we dance and enjoy ourselves greatly."
"But do you have to know the people who give those dance parties?"
"It is not necessary. In town fiestas, the generous community gladly receives as many people as there are who want to honor them by going to their houses. The amiability of the Filipinos is proverbial. They are happy when their guests leave their dance parties contented. It means a lot to them when their guests accept what is offered; a refusal could make them feel slighted. They put on their admirable best, and they are refined, courteous, obliging, and generous with the Peninsulares who visit them on the day of the town fiesta. It doesn't matter whether they are known to them or not, nor do they expect to meet them again in the future."
"It is a quality that makes them look charming to my eyes."
"What's more, they carry those qualities very well."
They were talking this way when they arrived in Santa Cruz. At every street intersection, there was an elevated monumental arch lavishly adorned. All the houses had bunting and banners. The balconies were filled with people. An immense crowd walked the streets, and bands roamed the streets playing lively marches. The metallic sound of the bells could be heard.
The carriages could hardly move. They were not allowed to take many streets.
Gómez and Fonseca got off the sipan.
"Let's enter this house where I hear some music," the former said.
"I don't think that is proper," his companion objected.
"Have no fear. You will see people with patriarchal customs."
The owners of the house saw them and hurried to invite them to the receiving room where they could sit. The room was full of elegant dalagas and bagong taos1 in their colorful attire.
Some of these young men were accompanying on the guitar several women who were playing the harp. The harp is an instrument popular among the native Filipinos, who play it admirably.
Some of the dalagas with very good voices were singing lively songs in Tagalog. When they finished, a native started to sing the kundiman, combining popular coplas, or verses, in broken Spanish with Tagalog lyrics.
Some of the coplas ran this way:
The music of the kundiman is melancholy.
Cundiman si jele,
Mas que está dormido
Ta soña con ele.
Desde que vos cara,
Yo ta mirá
No puede tragá
Mamatay, me muero,
Sacamay mo lamang.
Kundiman, lulls you to sleep
But when you are asleep
You will dream of him.
I can see it,
In your face
I cannot swallow.
I die, I die
Only in your arms.
After the song, some servants placed a small table before Gómez and Fonseca on which were two cups of chocolate and different kinds of pastry.
"It is not wise for us to drink chocolate because we have just eaten," they said.
"It doesn't matter, gentlemen," replied the owner of the house. "You can take it even if you are full."
"No, no, we can't. Please forgive us, but at this moment it would cause indigestion."
"Then eat some ice cream. I cannot allow you to leave my house without eating anything."
"Very well, we will have ice cream to please you."
They served themselves and left the house shortly.
"Ten more steps up," said Gómez:
"Let's go up the house and you will see the balitao."
"What is it?"
"A dance from Mindanao and the Visayas."
The balitao is graceful. The natives dance it while singing coplas to the rhythm of the music. Fonseca enjoyed it very much. There they were made to drink cold beer, the only thing they found acceptable. The table was full of cold cuts, desserts, and wine.
At night, all the houses, arches, the church tower, and even the trees were illuminated with many colored lights, paper balloons, and Chinese lanterns. Everybody was happy. The excitement and the sounds of merriment were indescribable.
After the procession, which amused the indios very much, dancing in many houses began. Gómez and Fonseca entered several houses and witnessed great excitement. They danced nonstop. Ice cream, desserts, and hot soup were passed around in big quantities for the ladies. For the gentlemen, there were rich, pure cigars, punch, and beer. The tables were filled with turkey, ham, and different kinds of roasts, fruits, and sweets. Each got whatever he wanted without anybody objecting in the least, unlike before, when a hundred people were required to serve the guests. During the buffet, the table was replenished six times. The menu was exquisite, abundant, and varied. The wines were the best.
The dances ended at dawn. The evening party was delightful. Fonseca left, enchanted by the praiseworthy customs. He was beginning to realize that life in the Philippines could be wonderful.
This kind of celebration takes place there almost daily, since each of the many small towns on the outskirts of the city celebrates its own feast on a different day. In that way, a good part of the year is spent on pilgrimages and dances.
The most popular celebrations in the city are the Naval de Binondo, the fiesta of Santa Cruz, and those of Quiapo and San Sebastian. In the last two places, the fairs last several days. All of them end ostentatiously like the one we have just witnessed.
The native Filipinos worry little about the future. After meeting the basic necessities of the day, which are not costly since their meals are modest, they do not think much about other needs. As a result they spend on the feast of the patron saint everything they have earned in a year's time. If they do not have money, they mortgage their lands or pawn their jewelry, everything, so long as they appear generous to their guests on the day of the big celebration, when the rest of the neighborhood literally throw the house out of the window, to put it vulgarly.
1Young single ladies and gentlemen.