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Black Christ Among the Neon Lights - Gregorio Brillantes

Black Christ Among the Neon Lights - Gregorio Brillantes

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Published by April Sescon
"QUIAPO IS A MEMORY, a market place, a state of mind, a concentration of priceless real estate; a dusty, clamorous bus stop, and halo-halo displayed behind cracked plate glass in the Peacetime Cafe at the foot of Quezon Bridge. It is the Samar housemaid’s introduction to the city, the loneliness of the student boarders around Recto and Morayta, the bluster and banter of beer drinkers in the bright afternoon that does not burn away the smell of stale pancit on P. Paterno."
"QUIAPO IS A MEMORY, a market place, a state of mind, a concentration of priceless real estate; a dusty, clamorous bus stop, and halo-halo displayed behind cracked plate glass in the Peacetime Cafe at the foot of Quezon Bridge. It is the Samar housemaid’s introduction to the city, the loneliness of the student boarders around Recto and Morayta, the bluster and banter of beer drinkers in the bright afternoon that does not burn away the smell of stale pancit on P. Paterno."

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Published by: April Sescon on Aug 25, 2010
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10/26/2013

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Black Christ Among the Neon Lights
Gregorio C. Brilliantes
QUIAPO IS A MEMORY, a market place, a state of mind, a concentration of priceless real estate; adusty, clamorous bus stop, and
halo-halo
displayed behind cracked plate glass in the Peacetime Cafe
at the foot of Quezon Bridge. It is the Samar housemaid’s introduction to the city, the loneliness of 
the student boarders around Recto and Morayta, the bluster and banter of beer drinkers in thebright afternoon that does not burn away the smell of stale
 pancit 
on P. Paterno.Beyond the glare, behind the billboards and the worn concrete of the commercialestablishments on Quezon Boulevard, lies one more stratum of Quiapo, a solidified eddy from thehigh tide of yesterday: one glimpses it through the grilled windows along the quieter streets, ornatefurniture salvaged from another century, stone steps leading up to a dark-stained door or down thepale tone of sunlight in a courtyard where children play their immemorial games.
Wherever one turns and whatever the moment’s angle of vision, a Quiapo distinct in facade
and spirit from what has been espied a block or a minute earlier, reveals itself casually, honestly,without inhibition, for age and customs in the center of the city have long stripped it of that self-conscious modesty which one might find in a younger town. To explore the district on foot is todiscover the brash, unceasing, multilayered life of Manila, the numerous currents that defy neat 
categorization converging on the asphalted island bounded by the city’s university row on the
north, the loop of the Estero de San Miguel on the east and south, and the maze of narrow streets off Rizal Avenue on the west.
Downtown Ambience
Strangers come and go, served by the sturdy waitresses with sensual mouths and accentsformed in distant provinces; a chance meeting on Carriedo consummates a business deal; anxiouslovers, college textbooks and folders in hand, disappear behind the grime-encrusted swingingpanels of the entrance to the tiny hotel on Evangelista; the lady with the dark glasses in the
Mercedes lowers the window long enough to drop a peso coin on the child beggar’s palm.
 
Melancholy clerks and tired insurance salesmen come out of the double feature in the TimesTheater, blinking at the hot, crowded sidewalks, while around the corner, hippodrome addicts inslippers solemly study their racing forms by the counter of their favourite bookie; in a faded houseon Bilibid Biego a young girl is playing Chopin on the piano. But to most of the passengers on theoverloaded buses slowing down after their routine descent from Quezon Bridge, Quiapo normallyoffers little distraction but for the lottery-ticket vendors waving their booklets at the crowd alreadyintent on catching another ride, hurrying as if unspeakable penalties awaited all stragglers at theend of the line: the office in Makati, the table set for supper in Sampaloc.
“Quiapo . . . Quiapo . . . “
 
The bus conductor’s cry, heard just about ev
erywhere in Manila, beckons to the commuterbound for the center of the city as brief destination or stopover. More than Avenida Rizal, PlazaMiranda and environs
is
downtown, as any alert 
 provinciano
migrant learns soon enough. For thetourist who must co
nsult a street map the seat of the city’s heart should be evident from the shape
and sprawl of the metropolitan boundaries: Quiapo has long replaced Intramuros or Binondo orSanta Cruz as the district from which radiate, as do the spokes of an immense wheele, the transport routes leading to the borders of neighboring provinces. An impious thought, to belabour ageographical point. For an unfriendly missile targeter at this computer the correct impact zone forMetro Manila may well be the Quezon Boulevard side of Quiapo Church, within stoning distance of the plaque reminding passersby of the wisdom of Ramon Magsaysay:
Can we defend this in Plaz Miranda? 
 
and right where the vendors of herbs and
anting-anting
medallions and urine-yellowcure-alls in San Miguel beer bottles clutter the patio beneath the statues of Saint Philip, Simon,
Stephen, James the Great and James the Minor, gazing blindly out at the traffic of Manila’s busiest 
thoroughfare.
“Quiapo . . . “
 Early in his career as a jeepney driver for a doctor-businessman, Roger Lomibao used toshout himself hoarse in his daily, hourly bid for passengers on the Quiapo-Pasay route. Noy anymore. Some years ago he acquired his own jeepney and a kind of professional élan which lets the tinsigns on his windshield draw a profitable load on each trip. He has changed address more than onceand has logged thousands of kilometres on diverse routes, both north and south of the Pasig, but aswith most of his hard-driving brethren, Quiapo remains the central terminal or the chief waystation, a lucrative one he would be loath to give up for another. Being his own ma, the husky, curly-
 
haired farmer’s son from Moncada, Tarlac, can now give himself a day off from the road whenever
the spirit moves him. Which is not often, as he has a growing brood to feed and send throughparochial school in San Juan, Rizal, where with a married cousin he splits the rent on a crampedapartment.But one day in the year he is definitely, absolutely not going to work the Quiapo route. Hewill, however, spend most of that day in Quiapo
on foot, barefoot, to be exact, for Roger Lomibao,although not yet a certified member of that vast and rather mysterious fraternity known at the
Hijosde Nazareno
, is one of the more fervent devotees of the Black Christ.On January 9 he is one of the tens of thousands of men with a vow, a
 panata
, to keep asweating, struggling, single-minded swarm such as the city never sees except on that day when theLord of Quiapo,
Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno
, is borne in a procession that is indisputably the most massive, the most spectacular
to the genteel Catholic, no less than the scoffer, the most appalling
 manifestation of the popular religion in the Only Christian Nation in Asia. The most authentic, aswell one might add, for unlike the more publicized varieties of pageantry designed to lure theforeign tourist, the phenomenon of the
Nazareno
had its beginnings deep in the faith and frenzy of past centuries.For the past three years Roger Lomibao has been in the thic
k of the Quiapo fiesta’s awesome
throng, the barefoot mob of zealot clad in the traditional white T-shirt and rolled-up pants, towelsdraped on shoulders or tied around heads, and each impelled by an irresistible fervor, part ritual,part riot. The men train and flounder in a seething mass, ever on the edge of chaos but nevertoppling over, as if held in check at the crucial moment by a miraculously replenished courtesytoward the
Nazareno
. The
carroza
of the Black Christ is borne on the shoulders of the most privileged members of the
Nazareno
brotherhood. The chief of the
Hijos de Nazareno
himself, alarge, sinewy character named Aling Enriques, rides shotgun, as it were, together with a couple of lieutenants, to push back or knock down the overzealous trying to clamber aboard. The men pushand charge toward the Image, scramble up and step on the heads and shoulders of the crowdswirling around the platform, reaching out with towel or handkerchief to touch the Black Christ, towipe and comfort their suffering Lord, then diving away in a sort of swoon and rolling back over thesurface of bobbing heads. Others meanwhile fight for a handhold on the two lengths of rope tied topull the carriage forward.

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