TWO months into the new year, we can’t help but look back and pine for simpler times.
We reminisce and sometimes exclaim how things were better “back then.” This feeling of nostalgia is normal, but in the late 17th century, it was seen as a pathological disorder that manifested itself in people who couldn’t adjust to the present and were fearful of the future.
Constantine Sedikides, a doctor and professor of social and personality psychology at the University of Southampton, said in a 2013 interview with The New York Times that “nostalgic stories often start badly, with some kind of problem, but then they tend to end well, thanks to help from someone close to you. So you end up with a stronger feeling of belonging and affiliation, and you become more generous toward others.”
This is probably why the Facebook group Manila Nostalgia started by Lou Gopal has become a popular repository of sepia photographs, stories and anecdotes.
Its members—over 7,000 at last count—share a love for the Manila of their youth, as seen by the regular uploads, numerous likes and comments.
“Nostalgia to me is the fond remembrance of the past; not of the Aquino assassination nor the rape of a movie star. Those are not fond memories,” Gopal told Inquirer Lifestyle in an e-mail interview.
“This is a site that anyone and everyone can enjoy without fear of getting bullied for their opinions or getting disgusted by language and the like. There’s no place for that on my site.”
Gopal was born on April 2, 1945, shortly after the end of the Battle of Manila.
“I had to subsist on mother’s milk (and she was half-starved) because there was no fresh milk and very little Klim either,” Gopal recalled. “My father was an entrepreneur who started a jewelry store in Escolta around 1949. “I would say we were middle class. We lived in apartments until my parents bought a lot in San Lorenzo in Makati around 1956 and had our home built there. That’s when I moved from the Remedios neighborhood to an ‘American-styled’ gated community. It was a whole different lifestyle.”
’50s and ’60s
He was studying in an American school in Pasay but in 1962, at 17, he left for the United States.
His memories of Manila are of its rebirth and the flurry of rebuilding after the war. “It seems there’s always been interest in the ’50s and ’60s: the cars, the lifestyle, etc… perhaps because it may have appeared to be a simpler time. For me, the interest in writing about Manila came because, being away from it for so long, I could still remember the old neighborhoods, the old theaters, my school, the restaurants and all that without being influenced by the ‘new’ things that have cropped up: some good, some bad (like the traffic).
“Most of what you see in Makati today wasn’t there when I lived in San Lorenzo. The village was surrounded by empty fields, only a few shops at the center with Rizal Theater as the anchor. So, I can still envision all that without being jaded by ‘modern’ Makati/Manila.”
He’s not the only one. Among Manila Nostalgia’s many members, a few upload photos and vignettes regularly, but they seem to have an inexhaustible supply of vintage postcards, photos and advertisements.
“My blog must have struck a chord with other people because I now have over a million hits on that site. I enjoy writing about Manila’s past not only because of my memories but also because of the research required to write it,” Gopal said.
“I have learned so much about our city just in the last five years. I put up Manila Nostalgia on Facebook to share the photos I’ve gathered over the years, and also to have a venue where others can also share their own photos and stories,” he added.
The more popular posts have been of the “older” Manila.
“Photos of people in our history are also very popular: Some of them movie stars, some society elite, but I’ve also been urging our members to post photos of themselves and their families. I want to hear about the jeepney drivers, the cocheros, the lavanderas… what are their stories? Those are equally important to my mind,” Gopal noted.
While distance and the intervening years may have lent enchantment to the view, not all of it was idyllic.
“People looking at photos of old Manila always remark how clean it all looked. Well, that’s not true. It wasn’t clean. I would walk on Taft Avenue around Libertad and it was filthy. I would walk around Echague down by Quinta Market and it was filthy. I think our memories tend to whitewash the facts.”