Rosario arrived in Alabang at 2 o’clock in the morning. We needed to wait for the dawn before travelling to our destinations for the day, so we stayed in a 24/7 coffee shop to kill the time.
We reached Rizal Park just right after the sun rose. There weren’t many people yet. I was able to show her around. I was telling her the story from a magazine about a family that went here once, and they were able to see many things that were not usually taught in school, like the symbols and markers that are not usually read or even seen. After that article was published, other publications tried to do the same thing.
While walking towards the Rizal Monument, I told Rosario that we would need to attend a book launch in the afternoon at Solidaridad Bookshop, one of the most important places that everyone should visit whenever they are in Manila. The bookstore is owned by the National Artist for Literature Francisco Sionil José. That is the place where there the International PEN in the Philippines’ monthly meeting is held, meetings that sometimes coincide with book launches.
My first visit to Solidaridad was a few years ago, at the book launch of The Chief is in the House by Joel Pablo Salud, who influenced me to write. I actually got my mantra for writing from him: “Just freakin’ write!”
While walking around Rizal Park, Rosario shot several photos of the place. I brought her to the KM0 marker and to show the inscriptions on it. She asked me why those things were written there, and my answers was “I don’t know.” Until now, I cannot rationalize to whom the revolution and independence of the Philippines should be credited and that might just be a perennial question for all eras. Later did I know that her brother was a Freemason, which is why she was curious about the logos at the top of the Centennial Clock.
Rosario said she was hungry, so we went to a fast food place near Kalaw Avenue. Before we entered the restaurant, I told her there was much to see on this street. One landmark is the Casino Español, which where the Real Academia Española convened when their former director, Darío Villanueva Prieto, visited the country. Casino Español had also housed the offices of Instituto Cervantes, the official language school of Spain for the world. The Philippines’ branch of this school is currently in Ayala Triangle. I was not sure if Rosario was listening. But, after a while, she pulled my hand and we entered the fast food joint.
As we waited for our food, she asked me where else we would be going for the day. I said we need to visit Philippine Normal University, so I can show her around the school where I am taking my master’s and, maybe, if we still had time, we could hang out with some of my classmates. When the food arrived, we ate as we conversed, then went to PNU.
We met Dr. Mediola in front of the basketball court. He is a famous figure in our academic circles and, as people at PNU like to say, you cannot call yourself a literature major if you haven’t gone through his hands. It is easy to recognize Dr. Mendiola, because he always carries eco-bags loaded with books, all of which are meant as reading material in his classes, books he’d lend to his students if they didn’t have copies of those tomes. On a personal note, he is one of the few people in whom I see much passion for educating the minds and hearts, considering that he is way past retirement age.
Rosario and I talked with him for a while and, because we both speak a few languages, we did not notice that we were already code-switching. That is sometimes a disadvantage, because I only realized that when Dr. Mediola left for his class and Rosario asked me what languages he and I were speaking.
I walked Rosario through some places inside PNU while telling her about the commercials and the movie that I recalled were shot here. I even joked that the school may really be haunted, which is why a horror movie was set here. Of course, I can only speculate.
We had a late lunch with some of my classmates before we went to Solidaridad that afternoon for the book launch of Ka Elmer Ordoñez’ The Sage of the Fugitive Priest: A Novella. I was expecting big names in the literary world would be there, because that is a thing in Solidaridad, especially since the bookshop has a small apartment upstairs, the haven of a National Artist for Literature.
I was right: Just outside the bookshop door, I saw historian and author Ambeth Ocampo. I told Rosario about Ocampo and the books he’d penned, but she said she was not familiar with him. Well, what would I expect? Her world is painting, not letters.
Inside the bookshop, I asked her to put our bags inside the locker under the shelves by the counter. That is a thing that first-time visitors to this place are unaware of. I don’t know the reason why this is so, but, that rule may have been set for safety purposes, or it can just be me getting used to doing that, because when we went upstairs for the book launching, there were some attendees bearing their backpacks and bags.
Many people were there, and most were unfamiliar to me. I also saw some big names among the Philippines’ literati—and I saw my favorite Filipina novelist, Che Sarigumba.
I whispered to Rosario that she needs to have her photo taken with Che, because I love her novel, Puso Pa Rin Ang Nagpasiya. Unfortunately, the book is out of print, so I’d have to lend Rosario my copy of it. We were walking to where Che sat when I added that I am not really a fan of love stories, but Che’s novel is a different matter. That book is not that cliché or predictable, and it will make your mind twist multiple times in different directions, just like the story does.
Looking around the area, my eyes lit upon Manong Frankie. I directed Rosario to where he was standing and said: “Love, go to Manong, I will take a picture of you with him.” She went to him and the next thing I know is they are laughing like fast friends already. So, I stole some shots of her moments with Manong. I did not know what they were talking about, but after Manong went into his library, Rosario told me that he asked her about what she was writing. She said she did not know how to break it to him that she is a painter, not a writer.
Rosario handed me a small paper bag and approached a painting outside Manong’s library to look at it. I remember that we’d brought the paper bag and its contents from the Alabang Town Center, from the Cleopatra’s Secret Natural Skin Care booth. That little shop sells organic beauty products. We were even able to meet the owner and creator of the products, Ms. Kaye who assisted Rosario’s perusal of their products and demonstrated how to mix and use some of the items.
When I looked back to where Rosario was, I saw her entering Manong’s library. I was about to stop her because I know that people are not simply allowed to enter the National Artist’s inner sanctum and writing space without permission. Before I could utter a word, I heard Manong saying to Rosario: “come, come. Pick any book that you like and it is yours.” G