My Life in Lent

Next to Christmas, Lent is probably the most awaited season in the Philippines.  Not for its practices but for the long 4-day (including the weekend) break it gives.

Looking back at past Lents, how I celebrated it pretty much parallels how I grew up.

Back in childhood, if the Christmas season was the most awaited week in the entire calendar, Lenten was the most dreaded. It had all the ingredients of a childhood nightmare.  There was absolute silence–no playing and no loud noises.  It would have been okay if I was at least allowed to play the piano.  But not even my please of “It’s Chopin” were heard.  Piano playing was deemed to be too happy.  The only sound was the neighborhood broadcast of the pasyon from the baranggay hall, just a couple of hundreds of meters from our house.  The monotonous melodies would sometimes be broken by more modern tunes such as “Roll Out the Barrel” which would have me and mys sisters giggling. My mom once admonished a sister for joking that “it was probably named the pasyon coz they sing it with so much passion.”  Who would have though that a about a decade after, the pasyon would be my adult passion.  That I would actually go looking for it in nooks and crannies of far-off barrios, listening, recording, and interviewing its singers.  That I would spend an entire week in Bulacan and proudly present  a detailed documentation of this timeless tradition at ethnomusicology field school.  Listening to the Bulacan pasyon masters, I could sing along with their tagulaylays. Today, the pasyon with its traditional plaintive chants still define the Lenten season to me.

One thing I did look forward to during Lent was the showing of “Christ of the Ocean” which always brought copious tears to my sisters.  I still remember that last scene when the mother finally arrives at the church and hugs her little boy who has missing her really badly.

My parents always admonished us to sacrifice during this holiest of seasons when Christ was supposed to be dead. And like every good traditional Filipino Catholic family, sacrifice meant having no meat at all on Thursday and Friday. As a carnivore who devour meat as if it was going out of style, those 2 days were sheer hell. We would have the same menu Lenten week after Lenten week as far back as I had memory. It would be a bowl of white beans cooked in tomato sauce and flavored with dried fish. My parents absolutely loved it. One Lent, my dad in an urge to make it special, bought a package of bacalao from Rustan’s. Of course, our Ilocano cook had no idea that it was a thousand times saltier than the usual daing she had been using for years. The entire package went into the pot. My parents, especially my dad were horrified. The special white beans with bacalao had turned into the Dead Sea. A spoonful of it could  pickle your tongue and cheeks. Deep inside, I was chuckling, “There goes your bacalao. Horrid white beans will always be horrid white beans.” Next year, we were back to the usual dried fish fresh from Nepa Q-Mart. So much for my dad’s brief excursion into Lenten gourmet.

Since we were all bound at home and with nothing to do, we all looked forward to the Visita Iglesia which took us to nearby Immaculate Concepcion in New York St. to Sacred Heart in Greenhills and historic Pinaglabanan. At the Greenhills area, we would see fastfood joints such as Pizza Hut open and we would drop hints to our parents with remarks such as “Uy! Bukas ang Pizza Hut!” to be followed by “Wow! Ang daming tao.” Our parents would be stoically silent. We felt so deprived especially since we knew we were coming home to white beans.

Earning my degree in Musicology at UP, I began appreciating Lent for its traditions and practices, especially those associated with music.  One of my fondest memories was meeting my friend in his house in Sto. Tomas, Batangas on Wednesday and deciding right then and there that we already had too much of Batangas pasyon and Marinduque would be a more interesting destination.  By the time we arrived at the Dalahican pier in Quezon, all the boatds had departed and we were forced to spend the night at a dingy motel room near the port.  The next day, we literally elbowed our way into the crowd and jumped on the arriving fastcraft.  We managed to tape the pasyon, follow the Moriones around, and watch the spectacular senakulo. Even after graduation, Lent would be spent recording the pasyon, a passion that took me to as far as Ilocos Sur and as near as Bulacan.  Today, those recordings are among my most prized possessions.

As I gradually moved out of the shadows of the academe and moved into my current profession, so did my Lenten practices changed.  I am still passionate about the practices and firmly believe in its continuity but somehow, somewhere along the way, I had become much too hedonistic to give culture a thought.  I discovered Puerto Galera.  Until my dear friend Alex left for the US for good, Palm Sunday to Monday after Easter would find me frolicking at White Beach.  Everytime I hear the song, “Let the Joy Rise” by Abigail, I remember those hedonistic times.

Much recently, discovering the thrill and pleasures of hiking, Lent was a time for serious hiking in far-off trails.  Last year was at Bakun to bag the peaks of Lobo, Tenglawan, and Kabunian.  The 6 hour bus ride from Manila to Baguio followed by the 6 hours jeepney ride to Bakun was sheer road fatigue.  But it was well worth it.  I skipped Tenglawan on day 2 as I was much too sleepy.  Bakun is a place I would want to someday go back to and do all 3 peaks.  In fact, I should have been with my mountaineering group that left yesterday but a sudden change of plans is bringing me to Boracay instead.

I am taking my workmate’s bf  ticket as he backed-out due to his company-related US trip.  So with an ID bearing his name, I’m flying to Caticlan tomorrow and will return on Monday.  It will be my first-time ever to set foot in Boracay.

After such a long time of quiet Lenten seasons, I will be thrown into one helluva party. Hedonism will rear its head.  But I think I deserve it.

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