TWO DAYS IN A FAMILIAR TOWN
By Pablo A. Tariman
Many things come to mind as the Catanduanes Tribune observes its 36th year.
It is the only paper you turn to when you want to announce a coming concert and the only one faithfully chronicling the passing away of your loved ones.
To be sure, it has chronicled love, life and perfidy in the island as well as the achievements of its noteworthy islanders.
I have known Tribune’s founder, Fred Gianan, from way back when the island’s Kit Tatad still held power and influence in the 70s.
I would visit Fred in his Manila Hotel room to get in touch and always, he was happy I was making good being published in national publications.
He must have been surprised to know I was into classical music as he attended one of my concerts at the Provincial Capitol lobby and telling me, “You are into music but I also notice you are also active in the movies.”
I couldn’t tell Fred the arts is my legal wife and that showbiz was a necessary mistress. The first has a select readership and the second gets you to the masses. I am happy with both readers in the opposite spectrum.
It must have been my brother who brought me closer to the Catanduanes Tribune. When he passed away in 2012 a few days short of his 62nd birthday, I met Tribune editor and publisher Fernan Gianan who invited me to write regularly.
Cut off from the islands for many decades, I thought I would reach out to my fellow islanders most of whom have no access to the national papers.
I started with personal recollections and then turned to the movies and the arts which I cover regularly for the national dailies.
It was in that lobby concert in the late 90s that I would see Fred Gianan for the last time and so with other friends.
Other friends I saw in that concert included island poet Jose A. Tablizo who gave me a draft of a book of poetry that he wanted published. JAT, as he was called in the inner circle, chronicled the idyllic days of the island before the onset of the motel inns and the discovery of shabu laboratory near the roadside of Palta.
Was it JAT who accompanied me to visit a dear friend, writer-journalist Benny Bagadiong, nestled in his own nipa hut by the sea adjacent to his regular residence?
He passed away without getting his book published and in one concert at the provincial capitol lobby in 2001, I dedicated the event to the friends and kins I have lost: Fred Gianan, Jose Tablizo, Beda Camacho and my mother (my father moved on earlier).
I was in Virac last week to represent my late brother in a class reunion Batch ’67 under Tribune contributor Rosulo Manlangit and got reunited with the same teachers we both had in the same school (CNHS).
Got to see my teachers, Mrs. Araceli Lim, Miss Rose Surtida and Mr. Domingo Taperla. How gracefully they have aged!
Also saw my first high school crush who came with her daughter now based abroad. The face remained maiden-like especially when she changed into a school uniform to join an ensemble singing “High School Life” which was the theme song from the Maryo de los Reyes film, “High School Circa 1965” which was the year I left CNHS.
In this reunion of Batch 67, I got to see a townmate who used reigned as Miss Baras at one time – Evelyn Torrente, now Mrs. Clerigo.
Moreover, Catanduanes Midtown Inn was a familiar hangout when it was known by another name and owned by a popular politician.
If Tribune had its share of libel cases (it is a badge of honor among journalists), I had my own share of it and my first complainant was from the island after I wrote my early memoir in a popular women’s magazine patronized by the island school teachers.
In the late 70s when the inn was known by another name, I used to drink with my friend on its rooftop and later dive in the middle part of the pier at midnight in my birthday suit.
My friend wasn’t horrified while he watched by the dike. He knew I was born — and grew up — by the sea. He figured I was depressed by my first libel case and allowed me to drown my sorrow in the only way I know – to drink beer and swim my sorrows away.
A few years later, my friend died in a helicopter crash along with a media friend who had several children by different fathers.
There used to be a telegraph office on the inn’s ground floor and that’s where I received the news of my former high school classmate who passed away in Mexico and brought to a nearby cemetery with not a single patch of wood to warm her up.
When I saw her off at the Virac airport in the middle 60s on her way to Mexico, I was reading a book of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay given to me by a Peace Corps Volunteer named William Keating.
My favorite stanza was —
“My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light.”
I was in Mexico in the middle 90s and on my way to a theater to cover a cultural event, I thought of my high school classmate while someone on the taxi radio was singing “Historia de un Amor.”
Indeed, this island inn is another repository of my memories.
For the record, I was born in a village by the sea called Tilod in Baras, Catanduanes and the woman who took care of me as a child has a Canada-based daughter who is now my FB friend.
The sixties in the island saw me playing Rizal in an elementary graduation play and on to public high school in Virac, Catanduanes where I appeared in a play called “Seven Years” with classmates Gracia Lucero and Guadalupe Tomagan, among others. One Mrs. Tacorda directed the play.
This was the decade I saw my first ballet in the island. Since I cannot afford a ticket, I climbed a tree with a view of an open window overlooking the Catanduanes College stage and saw the best of Anita Kane Ballet in the late 60s.
On my last day in the island, I revisited a landmark of my youth.
Farmacia Guerrero — where I took my first typing lessons — is now gone blown to smithereens by Typhoon Nina.
However, this visit afforded me to see the Catanduanes Midtown Resort in Batag, Virac, Catanduanes for the first time.
Over beer and guinatan served by Mr. and Mrs. Napol Co, I got to reflect in this beautiful and pristine place where the only thing you hear is the sound of waves.
This idyllic part of the island brought back memories of the home province that will never come back.
Island poet Jose A. Tablizo summarized them thus in this poem —
“There are many things we do not have –
A few things we do have.
We have no hustling, wide, cement boulevards
With glittering streetlights; no sinful women
on the boulevard under the street lights,
We have no traffic jams, no ticket fixers,
We have lazy narrow roads – and lazier streams
We have devastating typhoons and generous seas
For what we do not have, we are proud:
For what we do have we are humble.”