Saturday, March 24, 2007

Manila: Quiapo, heart of Manila

I just came from the book launching of Quiapo: Heart of Manila. The back cover of the book reads: "Quiapo district in the City of Manila is more than the Nazarene and Quezon Boulevard. It has excelled in painting, music, cooking and the arts. It harbors landmarks which are unique in the world. It is also neighborhoods in charming 1900s settings. In revitalizing the metropolis, Manila's centuries-old districts deserve as much care as the suburbs."

The welcome message of Dr. Fernando N. Zialcita, anthropologist and professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, really set the tone for the book and Quiapo as a unique district. And it would be a pity if I did not feature excerpts here since it was very informative and at times, intriguing. Here are some interesting parts of his speech:

"If Quiapo were in Melbourne, the rich and famous would be scrambling to live in it." These are the words of Dr. Trevor Hogan, an Australian sociologist who taught some courses in urbanism at the Far Eastern University over five years ago and who loved the streets, alleys and corners of Quiapo. I run the Bahay Nakpil-Bautista center for culture in Quiapo. We get visitors from the different embassies, like the Spanish and French embassies, who come on their own. Employees in the Department of Tourism tell us that they now get many requests for information on Quiapo.

But why Quiapo? Isn't it dirty, polluted and crime-ridden? Why do foreigners enjoy exploring the side-streets?

The heart of major cities abroad is not the shopping mall, not the gated communities but districts like Quiapo, where the rich, the middle class and the poor mix together, where your place of work is close to where you live, where the streets are lively throughout the day, and where there are beautiful historical landmarks.

In addition, there are experiences unique to Quiapo. Calle Hidalgo may now be disorderly; but it still points like an arrow to San Sebastian Church. "The street is like a stage-set" exclaimed a young Italian architect. Calle San Sebastian may be a small winding street. But it has beautiful 1920s mansions over which San Sebastian rises. On special days, the entire church is lit up. If you walk around the district, you will find inspiring scenes. For instance, between the accesorias decorated with ornate balusters and grilles, you will find patios where neighbors exchange stories while sharing steaming arroz caldo.

Quiapo is where different cultures meet. The bells of Quiapo Church alternate with the sacred call to prayer at the Golden Mosque. On another street, the Ocampo Pagoda shows off Japanese icons: carp for strength, a turtle for long-life, a dragon for Imperial majesty. You can enjoy this mixed experience only in Quiapo, the heart of Manila which is the heart of the Philippines. One of the many reasons we wrote the book was to show that if Quiapo were more orderly, it will be a showpiece.

Indeed, Quiapo is a showpiece. I finally got to walk along Hidalgo Street which Butch Zialcita had always been telling us about. For the longest time, there had been plans to revitalize the street as a heritage district which was supposed to be spearheaded by the Manuel L. Quezon University (MLQU) located along the street. But that was ages ago.

Several years have passed. The fabled and historic Enriquez Mansion, the birthplace of the UP School of Fine Arts which was housed there from 1909 to 1926, had already been ripped out of the heritage street and transferred to that property in Bagac, Bataan leaving a large empty space in what would have been the centerpiece of the heritage street. But there is still hope if we act fast. And I hope the professors there get their acts together and start working to rehabilitate their area the same way that the Far Eastern University made a great effort to clean up and prepare a rehabilitation plan for Nicanor Reyes Street and its environs.

I missed the program at the Bahay Nakpil-Bautista along Bautista (formerly Barbosa) Street where an exhibit on Juan Nakpil, national artist for architecture, was opened. The house was designed by equally renowned architect Juan Arellano for Dr. Ariston Bautista and his in-laws, the Nakpil family. I came just in time to catch the group which included Butch, restoration architect Mico Manalo, Manila streetwalker Ivan ManDy, and bloggers Sidney Snoeck, Eric Isaac, Tito Basa among many others out of the heritage house, down Hidalgo Street (which was formerly known as Calle San Sebastian) towards the current Calle San Sebastian where the book launching was going to be held.

The street actually has several American-era houses, among them the Yturralde House, which Butch mentioned was once used as the consulate of Monaco.

Sadly, from a cultural event, it had turned into a campaign rally of the Lord Mayor of Manila. Students from the Unibersidad de Manila were there in full force serving as Lito Atienza's overacting cheering squad. Every time his name was mentioned, or when Atienza referred to the kabataan ng Maynila (youth of Manila) or UDM students in his speech, they would erupt in a choreographed applause and shout out the name of Atienza in chorus. After the program, I found out why they were there: students were scrambling to sign attendance forms! Poor kids, being used for political purposes. It was funny because the real guests, those who would have gone even if they weren't forced to attend, just sat silently every time the group of students would erupt in applause. So who did the mayor's "spin doctors" fool? Definitely not me.

Anyway, I hope that while he is not busy campaigning for his son, the mayor reads the copy of the book which Butch had given him so he would know what real heritage conservation is all about. After I got Butch to sign my book, I left in a rush since I had to catch a family dinner in Libis. Now I’m home preparing for my finals week next week. Time for me to get back to my school work.

Check out my interview on the Philippine Blog Awards in The Four-eyed Journal.

Related articles
New book relives old Quiapo

Enriquez antique mansion goes kaput!

Heritage watch
Palawan wildlife trade: an alarming issue

Application for SSEAYP 2007 is ongoing. This is open to all Filipino citizens, 18 to 30 years old on April 1, 2007. Download the forms here. Deadline for application is April 30, 2007.
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