Monday, June 24

Happy Manila Day to you Manileños out there.

Manila is a really old city. We're celebrating our 431st foundation anniversary today. According to the city's webpage:
Manila began as a small tribal settlement on the banks of the Pasig River near the mouth of Manila Bay. It took its name from a white-flowered mangrove plant - the Nilad - that grew in abundance in the area. Maynilad, or "where the nilad" grows, was a fairly prosperous Islamic community ruled by Rajah Sulayman, descendant of a royal Malay family.
How my city got its name, and it's not from the manila envelope:
I haven't seen a single nilad plant in all my years in Manila. For all we know, it could be extinct already. There is, however, a vehicle underpass in front of the Manila City Hall called "Lagusnilad," a wordplay on lagusan (tunnel, passageway) and nilad. The tunnel used to get really flooded, and one time the street sweepers discovered a guy who hung himself in one of the wedges they used as storage space.

I come from Pandacan, which contrary to the popular notion, isn't populated with the vertically challenged. My town celebrates its fiesta every January, in time for the feast of the Child Jesus. Usually there would be street dancing,
the buling-buling. It's a huge event where all the schools and baranggays send delegations of colorfully dressed dancers. Even ordinary folks get to go and sway to band music, maskipaps. The roads are usually closed around that time.

I don't mind that. Except that these days, when they close the roads and bridges leading to Pandacan, it's because of rallies against the oil companies. Shell, Caltex and Petron all have their refineries in Pandacan. It would be a good riddance if they move out, when their contracts end on July 3. But by the way things are going, the companies will probably argue that transporting all that oil to Batangas or to some other place could take years. So in the meanwhile, we have to live vicariously. If you happen to drive by the Paco-Sta. Mesa bridge, and you are in possession of a grenade launcher or a cigarette (whichever you can fit in your purse) don't light up, or cause the whole town to burn down, what with all that petrol. So please don't.

And now for your reading pleasure, you can pick up a copy of Nick Joaquin's Manila, My Manila. I've always wanted a copy of that one. The hardbound edition costs something like Php600+ printed in nice paper. It's something every Manila boy or girl should have, and it's something I'm saving up for. While I still don't have the funds for it, I thumb and salivate over it in Powerbooks.

Or you can watch movies with "Manila" in the title. Off the top of my head, there are several you can choose from. There is Lino Brocka's Maynila Sa Kuko ng Liwanag. People often get blinded by city lights, and the promise of wealth and the good life awaiting them in the city. Urban life can be scathing and drive you to desperate means. That last shot of Bembol Roco's visage frozen in a scream is one of the most haunting moments of cinema.

Meanwhile, Manila by Night (aka City After Dark) got banned by Imelda Marcos. She reportedly cried because she cannot accept that the depravity, general poverty and the mean events in the film can actually happen in her very beautiful city. This display of humanity from someone who ordered the slums whitewashed, because the sight of poor people distresses her. Ugh.

Bulaklak ng Maynila has been adapted from a novel by Domingo Landicho, who also appears in the movie. It can be best remembered for its jumpcuts (distracting) and Angelu de Leon's awkward burlesk dance sequences. There's also Anak Maynila, an animation short which also focuses on poverty.

Over the years, Manila has gone from capital city to just plain rundown. There's been a lot of hell raised over the destruction of several landmarks, like the Jai-Alai building and the Mehan Gardens. Instead of preserving them, the city government opted to tear them down and build more malls. What defines a city is not the bland, generic structure of malls. It's the little places that strike a chord in you. As for me, my favorite places include the walled city of Intramuros itself, especially the Puerta Isabel side, the new Museum of the Filipino People in the old Finance Building across Rizal Park, Binondo, the whole stretch of C.M. Recto avenue all the way to Avenida and Quiapo.

So go forth and discover the city. Word of warning though: Manila is not for the sheltered. You have to be streetsmart and you must not whine when you find yourself lost in the dingy little streets and alleys. Have fun.

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