Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Tandang Sora in Blue

Ten years have passed but still haven’t forgotten childhood aroma of diesel-filled air of Pasay. I remember Lola jealously tending her magic garden which flourished with a variety of herbal plants. She was village herbalist and I remember when I was only 5, people came in and out of her garden asking for toppings of talinum, pandan, sarasa, kakawate, dahong isis, alagao and katuray. Fruit trees  included bayabas, caimito, atis, ipil-ipil and kamias. Lola was meditative in her activities, highly-organised and viciously protective of nature and lifeforms. She boiled leaves of a certain herb which us kids drank for tummy aches. That herb eventually became notorious at the advent of Vietnam war and birth of hippies in early 60’s. Sarasa leaves when you have an infected swelling on your leg (wonderfully cold, those leaves!). There’s guava leaftops for toothache and post-circumcision wounds. Scientists have now isolated anti-biotical properties of guava leaves.

We’re just a stone’s throw away from La Salle and St. Scholastica, and I’m really excited to see the place again. Pasay is where I grew up and I have two siblings there who chose to stay. I was there in ’89, ’98 and now ’08. Hmm I wonder, figure 8 must have something to do with my travel life;-) Most of my family have lived in Canada since the 60’s but I never wanted to go as snow and cold make me itchy and crazy! Blame the troppo kid in me:-)

Oh Lola knew everything aside from a green thumb and handled carpentry tools as well, aided by a sharp lateral thinking. No nylon ties then, she used iron wires to build a protective fence around her nursery. She can knot an iron wire better than a boy scout.

Has history deliberately forgotten our senior citizens? Lola’s (grandmothers) are so full of wisdom and caring, a warm-hearted input for generations of Filipino parents and children to evolve in a compassionate womb, and I still wonder why there’s no such thing as Lola’s Day.

Take Tandang Sora aka Melchora Aquino. She was a caring nurse of the Philippine Revolution (1896). Perhaps Lola of Katipunan would be more appropriate than Mother of Katipunan

Where did Tandang Sora hang out during the upheavals? Of course at Tandang Sora Avenue in Quezon City. There’s a place there called Banlat (Banilad) and this is where my Pareng Heber Bartolome (of Banyuhay ni Heber band) lives. It looks like an old, brick castle with an intriguing, stylized sculpture of Andres Bonifacio atop roof's facade. The place is historic, the old trees and walls witnesses to one of our nation’s revolutionary upheavals. This is where Tandang Sora took care of wounded Katipunan soldiers. One can readily imagine dramatic and horrific scenes of war. On her lap would be a dying Katipunero reminiscent of La Pieta.

Tandang Sora was born in Banilad, Caloocan where she tended a small sari-sari (variety) store in Balintawak (scene of the First Cry which launched the Philippine revolution). She gave first aid (of that time) to sick and wounded Katipuneros and when the Spaniards found out, they kicked the poor old woman to exile in Marianas. Soon the Americans were running the country and Tandang Sora among other exiles were returned home. Possessions lost, they lived poor, sick, old and betrayed. She died March 2, 1912 at the age of 107. Her daughter Saturnina took care of her for a while.

Today that old house in Banlat is called Banyuhay ni Heber Arts & Music Center. When not busy with his numerous painting, writing and singing activities, Pareng Heber tends his garden like Tandang Sora would. The place is surrounded by vegetables and medicinal herbs. If you are in Manila this April, come visit Banlat and see my UV exhibit there that will run for a month (tentatively).

Younger brother Ricky and his artist friends Jonet and Bodjie have also been very supportive, even constructing a Mulat pyramid and preparing promotional posters and streamers. (Thank you guys! I really appreciate your help. I'm bringing awesome Aussie red wine for youse!:)

Tandang Sora in Blue is part of my Tres Kantos exhibits (3 venues) in Manila which include digital art and editorial cartoons published in the Sydney Morning Herald and other Australian publications since 1980.

I was reminded of my own Lola while I painted Tandang Sora. Painting her and using unusual pigments which are ultra-violet light reactive is challenging yet fun. During daytime, Tandang Sora (and my other UV paintings) can’t be seen as other spectra of light dominate. However under the dark light beamed on a glowing, historical past, the concept or spirit of caring by the aged shall always serve as reference points as to how far we have realized that Tandang Sora shall be us sooner or later..and we shall be a lone, dim candle in the vast darkness. Tandang Sora lives within the Filipino family, quietly observing, imparting wisdom to grandchildren, immune to asides and verbal abuse for her petty mistakes as she is accused of senility. Lest We Forget.

Images: Photos of Tandang Sora in Blue (Invisible painting/UV-reactive painting visible only under UV light aka blacklight). This image is part and central of Mulat (Invisible UV paintings) exhibit by Edd Aragon at 170 Banlat Rd, Tandang Sora, Quezon City which opens on 12th April this year. 

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