walking in the city

Posted by Marie on Thursday, January 20, 2011 in , , ,
Street-Bound: Manila on Foot - Josefina P. Manahan
Non-Fiction, Travel; ISBN 971-27-1135-9; Anvil Publishing, 2001.

(Thank you to Anvil Publishing for my complimentary copy. Thank you to Honeylein de Peralta for coordinating this. :))

(Disclaimer: In this review, I’m going to use the word ‘walk’ in every way possible, in the acceptable form as noun and verb, but also as adjective and adverb. Microsoft Word tells me that it’s grammatically wrong. So sue me.)

In Street-Bound: Manila on Foot, Mrs. Josefina Manahan asserts that Metro Manila is a walkable metropolis. Yes, despite the dust, noise, heat, speeding vehicles, and carbon monoxide poisoning. And indeed, up to a certain point, I agree with her. So lower your eyebrows for a moment, please.

Like Mrs. Manahan, I do walking tours within Metro Manila too: sometimes with friends, and sometimes alone. But many of these are haphazard travels (especially the ones I do by myself), often without plans and often requiring asking for directions. This in particular is why I find Street-Bound pretty useful. She organized the walks in such a way that next time I can go from one spot to the next in a more systematic manner.

But there are also tours in Mrs. Manahan’s book that I haven’t done, mostly because I didn’t have the time, but also because I wasn’t aware of the potential walkability of the place. For every tour entry, she neatly arranged the information into the following: type of tour, duration, sights, what to wear, background, how to get there, the different sights, and the map of the place. There’s also one or two delightful pictures of what one might expect to see in that tour (the maps and pictures were illustrated wonderfully by one Ms. Joanne de Leon – kudos!).

The best walking tour entry in the book (for me anyway) is the Rizal Park walking tour(s). Mrs. Manahan realized that one cannot see everything in just one day so she thoughtfully divided the sights in two tours: the first one is touring the park itself, starting at the Halamanang Pilipino and Philippine relief map from Taft Avenue, all the way to the Quirino Grandstand, to see the famous Manila Bay sunset; the second one is touring the museums dotting the park, from the National Library up to the Museo ng Maynila near Roxas Boulevard. The first one I did a lot with my family when I was a kid; the second one, I’m chagrined to admit, I haven’t done yet but I’m promising to do this year.

(My friends Edrose & Joseph, looking lost in Plaza Miranda, Quiapo when
we did a Quiapo-Binondo walking tour last year.)

Sadly, Street-Bound badly needs to be updated because I believe that some of the tours have become slightly irrelevant. Partly because a lot of tourist spots have deteriorated, disappeared, or changed completely in the past nine years since the book was published (take for example, Greenbelt Park which is barely a park anymore). Some, I think, are a bit redundant; there are new and even old /tours that are better representative of that type (for example, I think Divisoria is a better market tour place than Kamuning Market). Some tours I also believe that would be better grouped together into a single tour – for example, the tours around the Quezon Memorial Circle would have been better done in one go.

So anyway, even if it’s outdated, the book is still pretty handy if you’re going to do walking tours in Metro Manila, just be prepared to be a bit disappointed. It’s probably going to be awesome if they brought it up to date, as well as add more tours. I suggest adding the CCP complex, Chinese Cemetery, Ayala Triangle, Divisoria, and La Mesa Ecopark. Plus, Rizal Park is currently undergoing renovations; better to update the Rizal Park entry in parallel with that. I do urge Anvil to do it soon, as Filipinos, especially the younger generation, are becoming more conscious and appreciative of our glorious but slowly vanishing heritage.

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a glimpse of the past, present and future

Posted by Marie on Monday, January 03, 2011 in , , , , ,
Letras y Figuras: Business in Culture, Culture in Business – Jaime C. Laya
Non-Fiction, Culture, History, Slice-of-Life, Filipiniana; ISBN 971-27-1143-9; Anvil Publishing, 2001.

(Thank you to Anvil Publishing for my complimentary copy. Thank you to Honeylein de Peralta for coordinating this. :))

“Ordinary people live through all these grand events, against the broad sweep of history. Their names do not appear in history books, but theirs was the labor (and much of the money) that built churches and convents, roads and public works… With all of these, one can say that a town’s history can be viewed through the eyes of its residents who were players in the events of the past.”

There is not one genre to firmly categorize Jaime Laya’s compilation of essays, Letras y Figuras, except perhaps under that rather too-encompassing word, Filipiniana. While he had roughly organized his articles in six chapters (Times & Places; Rituals & Celebrations; Past & Present; Artists & Craftsmen; Possessions; and People, Words & Numbers), the essays’ topics are very diverse. Many are about history, but there are also some about culture, about places, about people – let’s just say about everything that is Filipino. But some are also autobiographical; there are vignettes about the author’s life, his work, his hobbies, and even his ideas. It’s hard to believe that these multi-faceted pieces were written by a cut-and-dried accountant and businessman (although a very successful one) and, if one believes the blurb, a hobbist that only dabbles on the culture and arts in his spare time.

Although I ought not to, it is difficult to resist comparing his historical essays with my other favorite historian, Ambeth Ocampo. While Ambeth Ocampo writes history with the gossipy pizzazz of a teacher (which he is) that deftly knows how to grab today’s attention-deficient generation away from their cellphones, iPods and laptops, Jaime Laya writes history like a grandfather (the look-at-my-mole grandpa from a Bear Brand commercial in the 80s comes into my mind) who feigns exasperation and finally sits down to weave the stories of a younger, cleaner Philippines to his delighted grandchildren. This translates into the most entertaining and assorted Filipiniana trivia and miscellany I’ve ever read outside of an Ambeth Ocampo book. My favorite one is an entry about how people relieve themselves during the Spanish times and up to the turn of the century - apparently ladies, did the deed, when necessary and hidden under their saya (and need I say, free from any frilly impediments too?), standing up. Gross and tacky, yes, but it’s not something that Agoncillo or Zaide would insert in their texts, so I like it.

The heroes of Mr. Laya’s essays are the ones taken for granted: the common folk unwritten in books, the places and locations now ignored and suffocating in pollution and urban blight, the ordinary people’s rituals, traditions and heritages that are now slowly vanishing. The pieces almost lack the usual dramatis personae – Rizal, Bonifacio, Aguinaldo – except via passing mentions. Mr. Laya did feature known historical art personalities such as Luna, Hidalgo, Amorsolo, as well as a few lesser known artists such as Damian Domingo and Ang Kuikok. It is as expected, considering his work in various cultural, artistic and historical organizations, museums and collections. The pieces about bahay na bato and other traditional houses were delightful, and were begging to be read while touring that new historical resort in Bagac, Bataan (Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is the name, according to Google).

(Image: Malacanang of the North, Paoay, Ilocos Norte)

Indeed, the initial impression I’ve got reading the first chapter is that of a travelogue. His footnotes in his Intramuros and Malacañang essays inform us that these are abridged versions of lengthier guidebooks (of which I’m now hunting). The book is best read while traveling - I imagine myself consulting the essay in Malacañang, while walking from door to door of that palace (barring rooms unauthorized to the public, of course).

Perhaps Anvil can release two further editions of the book? The first one is an illustrated version, in full color, perhaps into one of those pricey coffee-table books (I’ll probably see it in a bookstore and then sigh in yearning). But the version I’ll appreciate more is of a pocketbook size, as I had decided to include in my new year resolution making time to (re)visit and (re)experience those places and celebrations mentioned in his articles.

His personal essays were the most lyrical. While the piece about his childhood home in Sta. Cruz was very vivid, my favorite is a short one about his wife, titled “A Valentine Story”, as this woke the romantic in me:

“The wind was in her hair, he remembers, as he pointed to the city, the bay and the ocean far below a high ridge. In the flood of his memories are a swan on a quiet pond, a balustraded terrace on a misty hillside, a meadow at dusk moments after a festival of fairies, startled, had fled, scattering millions of little white flowers in their haste. Later, in the chill of the evening, he could not tell where the city lights ended and the stars began.”

Needless to say, I highly recommend you read this book. It is my best book for 2010.

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