At UP High in Padre Faura, after the war, we read Shakespeare, notably Hamlet, which, like all the bard’s plays, teems with memorable passages like the soliloquies and lines from the dialogue, as when Hamlet tells his stoic friend, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” This, after the ghost scene.
It has become a favorite comeback, albeit hoary with age, to doubting Thomases, and one feels smug at having quoted Shakespeare in the face of a non-believer.
Sometimes, though, I, a professed materialist, have been on the receiving end of this repartee, but I would say, “What philosophy?” and thereby engage the person in a friendly debate.
I wonder, however, why lately (the past 15 years or so) I have lost my fascination for antiquaria, like old houses and furniture. I still like to visit the bahay-na-bato in cities and towns, and marvel at the antique tables, chairs, cabinets made in the last two centuries here and abroad, and acquired by the ilustrado families, the nouveau riche at the time.
I remember my childhood vacations in the town of Juban, where I was born. I didn’t grow up there, so I missed the steady company of the elders who had lived in bahay-na-bato built for managers of the Ynchausti company tending the abaca and coconut plantations in Sorsogon.
My maternal grandfather (Capitan Lino Alindogan) himself owned tracts of these lands, including a portion of friar lands in the foothills of Mt. Bulusan, and lived in a house whose ruins (mainly stone and huge rotting logs) could still be seen in his poblacion compound before the war. The other old houses can still be seen along Maharlika highway.
Turn of the century
My memories are of the vacations spent with tio Miguel (half Andalusian) and tia Loleng in the house built at the turn of the century. It was finally blown down by a typhoon.
Juban is noted province-wide as an aswang town. Why so, I asked historian Luis Dery (who comes from Gubat). He said that Juban in pre-Spanish times was a center of babaylan. It seems that with the coming of the Spaniards, the friars demonized the faith healers and shamans as witches or mangkukulam, as the Church did to the “pagan” priests and priestesses in Europe.
I have since associated old houses with dark rooms lit at night with a candle or petro-max lamp, and the call of the resident tuko. When the lamp hissed out at night at my tio Miguel’s house in Juban, my brothers and I would huddle or snuggle together with pillows (abrazador) on a large mat under a mosquito net in the sala, where we boys were banished at bedtime. Dead ancestors in ornately framed pictures looked at us from the walls of the living room.
One morning after, older brother Jim swore that he woke up at night because he heard our tio Miguel talking to some people in the camarin below, where bales of abaca were stored. Jim ventured down the staircase and saw no one in the darkened bodega. He ran back to us as fast as he could.
On a trip to Ilocos not too long ago, a friend, Emily Tiongco from the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, offered her ancestral house, Villa Fernandez, for us to stay in while in Vigan. The caretaker told us the big chalet-type house, with its stairs dividing in two in the patio, had been used earlier for the shooting of a film with Tom Cruise.
We were given the master bedroom, and had the run of the living room, like the one in Juban with fading black and white pictures of the family on the walls .
The four-poster bed had a capacious mosquito net hung from the canopy and cascading down the other end of the bed. We kept the light on in the adjoining toilet so we wouldn’t trip on the way to it in the middle of the night, in spite a street light filtering into the bedroom. My wife Elenita said the next morning that she felt presence in both the bedroom and bathroom. I said I felt the same way.
Back in Manila, Emily asked if we had met her grandmother. We could only smile weakly and thank her for the hospitality, but we vowed to ourselves never again to sleep in an ancient house doubling as a pension.
Now, long empty houses give us the creeps. I even suspect the old table sold to us by antique dealer/writer Pete Daroy may be visited by wraiths of its original owners.
At the UP writers workshop in Baguio in the mid-’90s, we housed three resource persons/writers—Sedfrey Ordonez, Gemino Abad and Roger Sikat—at a prewar chalet on Quezon Hill. The UP Baguio dormitory was already full of loud writing fellows, and not suitable for our distinguished latecomers.
We had stayed a night in the chalet (owned by Elenita’s relatives) earlier, and we experienced what we later had in the Vigan house, so I told Sedfrey if he didn’t mind staying in a haunted house. Oh no, he said.
The following day we learned that sleeping arrangements for two rooms were changed into one room. One workshop wit suggested that all three be commended for valor. Another writer, rumored to be clairvoyant, claimed the “presence” in the house by pointing them out to our group, taking turns to visit the john.
We didn’t see a thing, but I did have again that eerie feeling as I walked along a narrow corridor. The caretaker living in the basement with his family said that skeletal remains had been dug up below the house, which was used by the Japanese before the war.
Nowadays Elenita and I can no longer savor new travel experiences. The last one in October last year was a China/Vietnam cruise from Hong Kong. The immediate members of the family were with us on this sea voyage. But my wife and I spend much more time together in our sylvan retreat in Cavite, with well-wishers visiting her in bed.
A few weeks ago, a healing priest came and gave solace to both of us. One of the healing rites that he performed was a procedure that has kept me in deep thought.
The young Redemptorist priest asked me to cup my hands behind me. He pressed down hard on my cupped hands and I fell on my knees. As I stood up, he put in my shirt pocket what he calls a healing patch, a square-inch cloth patch in blue with a red cross on it. He asked me again to cup my hands behind me.
He bore down hard on them this time, with his 75 kilos of weight. I saw him lift his feet for a second or so, and I, at 82, held, panting a bit. He then did the procedure on Elenita, who already wore the healing patch pinned on her front blouse, and she did not fall. Not his full weight was used, but in her frail condition, how could she do it?
Truly, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.
The author is a retired professor of literature at UP Diliman where he was founding director of the UP Press and chair of the Department of English and Comparative Literature. He was national secretary of Philippine Center of PEN International. His latest books are “The Other View,” two-volume collection of essays, and “Sitting in the Moonlight and Other Stories” recently launched in Solidaridad Bookshop, Ermita, Manila.