(This piece was originally published in The Catanduanes Tribune in May 2007, l-o-o-o-n-g before I started blogging. It appeared in Sisay Kita?, a column written by Dr. Ramon Felipe Sarmiento, a respected advocate of Catandunganon heritage preservation. He graciously wrote the following intro to my essay:
Note: The recently concluded elections once again reminded us of one truly dark aspect of our Catandunganon selves. Every three years, we are made to partake of this shameful, degrading exercise. It leaves such a heaviness in our spirits, a nasty bad taste in the mouth. Why do they have to schedule elections during the merry month of May when we are supposed to bask with sunlight, indulge the senses with the scent of flowers and the taste of delicacies, and enrich the spirit with devotion to the Holy Cross and Mama Mary? The good news is that there is enough of our Catandunganon experience that could counteract the negative effects of elections. Tribune reader Chit Aldave-Tribiana, now based in the capital city, sent this charming essay about her memories of summer in Calolbon. We publish it here to remind us of the brighter side of our being Catandunganons, something that should hopefully take the better part of us and eclipse, God willing, our vices. We should not give up on ourselves. – Mon Sarmiento
I count the summers that I have not been to my hometown and I sigh over lost opportunities. The last time I visited San Andres was in 1994, so that adds up to over a decade of missed chances to go back in time – to places that hold personal significance, and with people I’ve kept special kinship with despite the years. San Andres is ‘home’ because it is where I was born, and although I was raised, schooled, and now have chosen to live with my own family in Manila, my parents, when they were still around, made sure that we spent summers with relatives and friends in good old Calolbon. Looking back now, those were unforgettably feel-good times.
It’s the peak of summer again, and memories seem to recur even at the slightest effort.
I scale the stairs to take my MRT ride to work and suddenly it feels strangely like counting the steps going up and down the Calolbon municipio – a favorite energy burner back then when the knees were stronger and the heart could take the pounding, no problemo. And all that just to get a nice view of much of the town sentro, the turquoise span of the Maqueda Channel, and the distinct contour of the Mayon Volcano on the horizon.
Going past Mother Mary’s statue at the EDSA Shrine, I couldn’t help thinking of the Batong Paloway chapel, which enshrines what is believed to be a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary. I last saw the image in the early ‘70s when it was about the size of a regular postage stamp; it has reportedly grown bigger since then, and sadly, has been the subject of a few controversies. I, myself, am puzzled as to how a probable reproduction of a Renaissance painting on a stone found its way into the barrio. The painting, which is called the Madonna del Dito or Our Lady of the Thumb, is sometimes attributed to Carlo Dolci, a 17th century Italian painter. Interestingly, the question of who actually painted the Madonna del Dito still has no definitive answer. Of course, for many devotees, faith has no need for proof or logic, and in the final reckoning, believing unconditionally is what really matters. There’s no denying though that the Batong Paloway image is one of the most beautiful representations of the Virgin Mary in a dolorous form. Whatever the true story is behind the ‘growing stone’, San Andres is a must-see place if only because of Batong Paloway.
Where we live in the city, a group of young people have started hanging buntings on the streets in preparation for the feast of San Isidro Labrador in the middle of May. That’s when I ache for the slew of fiestas taking place back in San Andres during this merry month, especially those in Sta. Cruz, Salvacion, Datag, Tibang, Carangag, and Lictin. The city folks could learn a lot from Calolbonganons, or from Catandunganons for that matter, on celebrating fiestas – from the de rigueur novena, to the pabayle, to the fiesta proper, down to the segunda dia.
For nine consecutive nights before the fiesta, the barrio jovenes keep themselves busy by organizing the novena prayers to their patron saint. This means, among other things, decorating the ermita, inviting the parapoon and hiring a gitarista. The novena attendees are lucky if the jovenes are the hardworking type, because then, their goodie bags or tandan after the prayers would include not only biscuits but also ibos and pinurunan. With thoughts of the pinurunan, I feel my craving reaching its peak. This delicacy, which is made from ingredients and materials largely found in the province, virtually takes a village and trusty teamwork to prepare. Especially when it is used as tandan, I view it as a metaphor for the barrio folk’s piety, diligence, and strong sense of community.
A cabo and his or her group members who are assigned on a given novena day, usually source the materials for the pinurunan. Other jovenes give either cash or contributions in kind, such as rice, coconut, sweet potatoes, and sugar. The rest pitch in by working the grindstone, preparing the lukadon and the langkoy, wrapping the pinurunan, or tending the hours-long steaming. Wrapping itself can be a creative expression. The easy way is to wind the despined coconut leaf or langkoy around the round-shaped dough in a radial fashion and tie the neat package with a knot; the fancier way, which is rarely done nowadays, is to weave the langkoy, mat-like style, around the dough. Because of the coconut content, pinurunans do not keep for a long time. But then, what took hours to prepare is virtually demolished in a flash. After a bite into the chewy texture with the distinct sweetish, nutty taste, there’ll be no reason for leftovers.
The pabayle, which comes after the novena, draws volumes of memories that perhaps it is best left for another round of musing. For now I imagine dusk setting in, creating silhouettes of coconut trees with their fronds waving gracefully in a nature dance. From somewhere, the faint strains of a guitar, which earlier accompanied the songs of the pious, drift into my consciousness, lulling me to dreamland. The whole pinurunan experience fades into the night, but not without leaving its tacit lesson: prayers coupled with hard work have their just rewards in due time. For some, the rewards may come fast and sure like the tandan after the novena. Others may have to count years, but if they wait, life’s blessings do come without fail. Many of those youth group members who are now way past their jovenes days hold positions of governance in their town or elsewhere. Clearly, their first shots at leadership had served them well.
I’ve just passed up another chance to visit San Andres. Although writing about it eases the longing somehow, I know I’ll have to do something about going back sooner rather than later.
For now, I invoke echoes of summers past in my mind… and I’m home.