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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, October 28, 2016

entry arrow8:12 PM | Dasmariñas Dreaming

We were watching an old Gerardo de Leon movie from the 1960s, its beautiful masterly compositions marred forever — like an abundance of celluloid scars — by neglect and unlove. It was enough to make a cineast’s heart bleed. So, immediately following the post-screening dinner, we decided to catch a breather. “To see the town,” we said.

From the university entrance along Congressional Road in Dasmariñas, Cavite, we decided to follow our feet. It was really the best way to get around an unfamiliar place, to take in what we could of the local scene, and to be in the thick of things beyond the usual tourist claptrap. This was Katipunan country, after all. This was the birthplace of Emilio Aguinaldo. This was a place teeming with names straight off history books. That way to Imus. This way to Trece Martires. Further down is Silang.

I’ve only been here once before, but only in the most pedestrian manner, staying briefly with friends before heading off to Tagaytay nearby. This time, there was more opportunity to explore, and Dasmariñas beckoned like an adventure. “Let’s go to SM City,” Hobart said. “Let’s just take the jeepney and ask our way around” — which apparently had always been the modus all his life: I, on the other hand, lived in a fragile bubble that couldn’t see beyond a block away from my hotel room, but I was always willing to follow someone else’s lead in a blind rush to things unknown. SM City sounded like a foreign jungle, and so I said, “Let’s go.”

The traffic officer in the small island of the highway we came to told us we had to take a jeepney bound “this way” — and he indicated the direction with a wave of his hand, although we weren’t sure in the most particular way whether that was north or south or east or west. It was difficult to tell from the usual signs, the sun having long set. It was 7 PM, and we were feeling the thrill of Cavite’s equivalent of rush-hour traffic. We only knew that further down one direction of Congressional Avenue was a turn towards Aguinaldo St., leading to our hotel, the Volets, which sounded more like a robot, or a merry call to action, or a species of rare African flower. A woman in Maranao dress on the sidewalk with us told us we had to take the jeepney bound for Pala-pala and helpfully told us the fare going there (P12) — and on that eventual jeepney ride we took, I breathed in up-close, for the first time since I arrived, the interesting and teeming humanity of Dasmariñas — their looks, their gestures, their smells.

We soon got off some corner because the jeepney driver said so, and found the mall we came for to be a well-lit replica of every other SM we knew. Still, it was meant to be the start for an evening’s flaneuring adventure, and what better way to do that but make a commercial mecca the commencing step? We asked a boy in a red shirt: “What and where is the center of town, and are there bars there?” He said, “Bayan,” and yes, there were a few bars there, but he said we could do well with that where we were already: in this juncture of Dasmariñas where SM met Robinson’s Place.

But, nonetheless, we wanted to go to Bayan — which sounded so lovely to our ears. (“Taga saan ka?” one might ask, and the answer would be: “Taga-Bayan.” We giggled.) The boy told us that it was best to take a jeepney ride to Bayan (P7) from a corner near SM that had an old 7-Eleven. We went on our way, singing a mash-up of all the songs we knew that had “bayan” in its lyrics — from “Bayan Ko” to “Bayan Muna.”

Later that night, in the middle of Bayan — a quaint stretch that immediately felt like home — we would end up drinking beer in a place called Thai, and eating bucayo and calamay from a street vendor near a bridge we couldn’t bring ourselves to cross, and befriending in a jeepney a locquacious local girl named Pearl and her Japanese-Filipino friend named Maria, and watching a bunch of local boys play evening basketball on a court off City Hall, and watching a bevy of pretty twirlers practice a mean routine on a court off the Capital ng Dasmariñas, perhaps in preparation for the upcoming Paru-paro Festival.

The church itself took my breath away. To behold that old church in the evening light felt like a ghostly visit through a piece of history: people staked out a revolution against the Spanish from the confines of its stone walls, we read this from an inscription outside. And people also died there in the hands of the Japanese in the dark days of the Second World War. The front door of the church was an intricate work in wood, its sprawling surface — browned deeply — showcasing a carved narrative, with tableaus of scenes from both the Advent and Lent. And as we trailed our fingers across the impressions of those carved images, a family came: a mother, a father, their two very young children.

They came and strode quickly to the door in the dim light, and began earnestly touching its carved images like a fervent want of a blessing: the mother was touching each panel with such devotion and using those same hands to touch the head and face of her little child now being carried aloft by its father. She did that many times, and finally settled on one image, to which she brought the weight of all her prayers. I thought the scene touching, but also unreal: I had never seen such a personal ritual before, and I envied the mother’s belief in divine providence, whatever it was she was in earnest prayers for.

Was this how it was to get away from the routine of being a stranger in another town? To see things like this?

Only a few minutes later, we heard from across the courtyard the trills of orchestral music — something at once surprising, beautiful, mysterious, intriguing. An orchestra was playing from the open-air second floor of an old building right across the old church. From the porch, a bunch of women were looking out to the evening sky, and then they saw us approach.

“Can we listen to the music?” we asked.

They smiled, and gestured for us to come up the side staircase. Upstairs, filling up the entire floor, the Citizen’s Brigade Band of Dasmariñas — all of them various ages of young, from little tykes working the violin to preteen boys working the trombone and the flute — was rehearsing a piece titled “Ode to Music” under the watchful gaze of a portly, middle-aged maestro bearing his baton with a fatherly forcefulness. Once in a while, he’d tweak a bit, here and there, the playing by some of the instrumentalists. Then they finally came together in the end, reaching for their music to soar towards the Cavite stars.

It was a beautiful thing, that sensation of being embraced by music you only came across by accident of fate.

And in that space, on a balcony, watching both these children play music and the streets of Bayan below throb and flow with traffic of people and cars, I realized how it was to properly visit a place and make it familiar: get lost, get intimate with its rhythms, ask around. A hotel room is not the world.

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