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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Mercado: A fiesta time remembered

THE end days of May conclude the fiesta in San Fernando.

As a young boy I remember the town fiesta events centered at the old Cathedral, landmark and citadel of the Catholic faith in Pampanga, and the municipal hall, the center of political power in the capital town.

The old municipio, a squat, stolid building done in the common architecture of ancient pueblos, had been remodeled. 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 murky San Fernando river slithered a few feet back.

Pedestrians on Baluyut bridge overlooking the sluggish water could not fail to see red brackish rivulets, spillover from the slaughterhouse at the back of the municipio.

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’s boys.

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

During fiestas, a huge crowd gathered at the church patio where they delighted in basketball exhibition games from MICAA teams and the USAF’s Clark Diplomats. Visitors and 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 felt “safe” with pancit guisado, lumpiang shanghai, and fried chicken. Hardware magnate Quirino D. Yap would treat the MICCA team at the Rendezvous restaurant for Pampango cuisine.

It was not only during fiestas that main streets came alive with public events. Stirring excitement was provided by numerous 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 Cafe 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, Santa Ana and Arayat towns while waiting rides for Artranco or the Mallorca bus for their last trip.

Civic leaders, politicians and elite residents of the town would be seen at Magnolia. The most expensive drink of that time was “White Label” scotch followed by Schenley 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 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. Lawyer Salvador Lising was a regular patron, then an famous bachelor.

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 could be heard, so that when a real murder was done outside the theater one would hardly panic having been used to sounds of gunfire.

Another popular dining place along the street was Candaba kitchen which served traditional Pampango dishes, home-cooked style. In the mid 60’s a small bar (I cannot 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 guests 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. Some ogled at 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.

In those remembered fiestas in May, the boy waited for a ride home (to Mexico town) at the paradahan on Consunji st. Some years later, in another street and another time he would put some precious coins inside a battered jukebox. The songs he played were not about the throes of despair or faithless love.

He would play “Endless Love” and “Skyline Pigeon” like crazy, as did the lonely young men with their two favorite songs while getting drunk on some fiesta nights decades ago.


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