Streets of San Fernando

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012


WHILE the old Cathedral has been San Fernando’s landmark and citadel of the Catholic faith in Pampanga, the city hall is the center of political power.

The old munisipio, a squat, stolid building done in and common in most architecture of ancient pueblos, has been remodelled. It has added buildings with improvised sections to accommodate a growing bureaucracy.

As a young boy I used to visit the municipal library adjacent the townhall. On a breezy day you would smell familiar odors of riverine life. The San Fernando river is just a few feet away.

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Pedestrians on Baluyut Bridge overlooking the murky water could not fail to see red brackish rivulets, certain spill over from the slaughterhouse at the back of the munisipio.

Also located at the cramped compound was the two-truck fire station. On paydays the station was a party place with the bomberos in a drinking session. Pulutan was castaway meat cuts, pig entrails, and hog “tuwi” or half-cooked innards of diced sex organs, spleen and fat linings, courtesy of the matadero boys.

The fire chief was one Capt. Sanchez. The town’s police chief, Major Armando Cruz, was ramrod straight, walked like a US military general, with regal bearing that would put PMAayer officers in envy. His deputy, Capt. Pablo Maniago, had the same gaits but with more swagger.

During fiestas, a huge crowd gathered at the church patio which served as a basketball court. Exhibition games from MICAA teams and the USAF’s Clark Diplomates were much awaited in the annual games.

Fernandinos loved to see games between the Americans with their black-and-white composite team against the SMB Braves with their Spanish mestizo players like the Ballesteros brothers who had blue green eyes.

The favorite Filipino player of that decade was Carlos Badion, a half-Pampango; he was the Lebron James of that generation.

The American team would be feted at the Pampanga Hotel where they would feel secure with their “safe” food of pancit guisado, lumpiang shanghai, and fried chicken. Hardware magnate Quirino D. Yap would billet the MICCA team at the Rendezvous restaurant for Pampango cuisine.

It was not only during fiestas that Conjunsi street came alive with public events. Stirring excitement was provided by its dining public establishments and roadside bars.

Two iconic dining/drinking places -- Rendezvous “Magnolia” restaurant and
Everybody’s Café – were always filled with diners and imbibers.

Everybody’s was known for its fresh lumpia, balut, and lengua asado.

‘Magnolia’ was basically a refreshment parlor, ice cream being its specialty. It transformed into a drinking place in the evening with patrons from Mexico, Sta. Ana and Arayat towns while waiting for Artranco or the Mallorca bus for the last trip home.

Leaders, politics and elite residents of the town would be seen at Magnolia. The most expensive drink of that time was “White Label” scotch followed by Schenely whisky which bottles I saw in tables occupied by Dr. Prospero Abad Santos, Mayor Jose Quiwa, and their dentist and lawyer friends. Serving as court jester was Erasmo Liwanag.

The young professionals and not so “elite” would nurture their Pale Pilsen beer at the counter. Ms. Miling Yap, part owner and yet single, would be the men’s focus; all around entertainer was Mang Ponsing who went around spreading cheers and welcome to guests. Atty. Salvador Lising was a regular patron, then an aging bachelor and drinker.

At Consunji was the Alegria theatre (it had changed names many times). It showed double features which beamed amplified movie sound tracks to pedestrians. Gun fights can be heard, so that when a real assassination was done outside the theater one would hardly panic having been used to gunfire sounds.

Another popular dining place along the street was Candaba kitchen which served traditional Pampango dishes, home-cooked style. In the mid 60s a small bar (I can’t recall the name) with an attractive, nay, distractingly beautiful owner at the counter, was a magnet to young people from all walks of life and the unwalked.

Her right arm was wrapped in perpetual bandage, to hide what probably was a bad scar sustained from a lovers’ quarrel or of male violence in a jealous rage. The drinkers never asked about the bandage or the unseen wound. All summer long, from night trips as a student, two songs never failed to meet me as I pass the place. “No Other Love” and “In Despair” endlessly played in the jukebox.

The young boy has not yet fallen in love and the songs did not mean a thing to him. He watched the drinkers, most of them soused or half-drunk by the counter. Others ogle the pretty owner in quiet fascination.

I reckon most people had been in despair once in their lifetime or had vowed not to have any other love aside from the boy or girl of their dreams.

With an innocent heart in those remembered nights the boy waited for a ride home (to Mexico town) at the paradahan on Consunji street. Some years later, in another street and another time he would put in his precious coins inside a battered jukebox. The songs he played were not about the throes of despair or the vows of no other love.

He loved and played “Endless Love” and “Skyline Pigeon” like crazy, as did the lonely young men with two immortal songs while drunk and hopelessly lost on some nights decades ago.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on August 29, 2012.

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