The Pasig and the Stream of Stories Rivers are not just about water moving from one

place to another. Every river is a channel flowing with stories. Often, these stories are from another time. They are vignettes filled with sunlight on liquid surfaces which shimmer when one jumps from a very high place making a splash and a sound as far away as childhood. If many streams may meander in one’s memory, more so is there an abundance of tales and recollections of Manila’s great river. For the Pasig is a waterway immortalized in song, in literature, and in the visual arts. Its many narratives have been told and retold, unceasingly. One can hardly think of the Philippines’ own Guadalquivir or Tiber without recalling the haunting melody of Nicanor Abelardo’s Mutya ng Pasig. Sadly, the song already evokes the loss of place and position as the mutya or muse laments the demise of her ancient kingdom. As this piece was composed during the American Occupation, it is seen by some scholars as a reference to how the Filipinos were deprived of their freedom because of the United States’ invasion. In the field of literature, there is the short play, Junto al Pasig, written by Jose Rizal while only a teenager. In the opening scene, Candido, one of the characters, declares: —¡Cuán hermosa es la mañana! La aurora con sus albores Va acariciando á las flores Con que el prado se engalana. ¡El Pásig! ¿Oís el murmullo De las cañas en su orilla? ¿Escucháis de la avecilla El suave y variado arrullo? Candido is actually rhapsodizing about the sunrise over the Pasig. Translating “la aurora con sus albores” it can be noted that both “aurora” and “albores” refer to “dawn”. This seems redundant at first until one realizes that “albores” can also be interpreted as “whiteness” – in fact, since it is in the plural, it more precisely means “whitenesses”. So it may well be that there are many points of light or even strands of mist caressing a meadow garlanded with flowers. Rizal has his character go on to mention the murmuring of bamboo groves on the riverbanks and how little birds are singing lullabies, soft and lilting. A few lines later he will even gasp about the beauty of his surroundings (tanta belleza) in such a way that one feels that his very heart will break. Tragically, heartbreak is not an unfamiliar feeling when regarding the Pasig today. One often hears how beautiful it used to be, how clear its waters, how many a summer vacation was spent swimming or fishing in the pristine river. Looking at the once mighty

And so. came all in beige and red. Was it all a dream? Evidently not. there were all around. Perhaps to listen to more stories and to add a few more of their own. 24 hour surveillance and the like. Santa Ana. The tour guide (who was actually one of the Ferry system’s owners) began to weave a tale of transport and trade. verdant and proud beside such sweet waters. the Ganges. A more contemporary spin is found in a photograph by Jaime Zobel de Ayala. the Thames. Anecdotes from other trips and other streams would soon intermingle: the Irrawaddy. The vessels in use are for there are many images that will testify to the elegance of times past. For the light had shimmered just so. Among the adventurous passengers were Isabel Wilson. One is at first unsure what one is looking at. the subjects are still very clear. Quiapo and Paco along the way. The system covers a network of 22 stations stretching from Intramuros in Manila to Marikina. The invitation promised a pleasant cruise. Martinez’s student. Even if they are now half-remembered. bamboo groves on the shores as well as fields draped with mists and flowers. air-conditioned. a whole assembly gathered one afternoon in May to ride a pair of boats down the undulating Pasig. the itinerary included the river’s mouth in Binondo and Intramuros taking in Makati. A number of the episodes were fictional . For this particular trip. Jaime Zobel gamely joked about wanting to evoke a feeling of a bygone era. Soon the passengers were weighing in with stories of their own. They all sauntered onboard in different versions of the perfect outfit for a jaunt on Luzon’s very own Nile. The brochure even boasts that the waiting stations offer “world class amenities”: restrooms. even a guided tour. Someone remembered an idyllic boat ride long ago. sleek and svelte. San Miguel. Ching Montinola and Madeline Lim had organized a party to bid farewell to Ambassador Mercy Tuason who was leaving to take up her post in the Holy See. Marivic Concepcion. connecting the great mother lake of Bae with the metropolis. Bea. and many a cluster of bamboo had grown. the stories were always of a period when life in Manila was different. For it is said that Paz did not leave her room and created her pieces by looking out her window. Generally. operated by the Nautical Service Corporation. handicapped lifts. a Filipino – Australian Consortium. So he wore a Panama hat. fashion czar Pitoy Moreno. it is difficult to imagine that formerly. Pasig and Taguig. Almost everyone else wore white. also painted the Pasig but her works display a more distant perspective. with seating for 150 people. many came. Acting as additional hosts were Ed Bondad as well as Architect Deogracias Tablan. Then the epiphany: it is a shot taken from above. the Rhine. There is the painting of Felix Martinez where the river’s back is translucent reflecting the reticence of a powder blue sky. a sumptuous merienda in Malacanang Park. painter Betsy Westendorp. Paz Paterno. The boats were part of the Pasig River Ferry System. and his wife. someone else recounted a fluvial escape journey during the war.

tried to explain to her fellow passengers how it was different from the Yacht Club. a splendid example would indeed raise its branches amidst the jumble of buildings. A strange slim vessel zipped past indicating that novel nautical forms were being introduced to the river traffic. a trip down the Pasig will eventually be very personal. Mrs Zobel reported that she had just dropped by there recently. Seeing the Arroceros Park with its collection of towering narras. Invariably the query emerged: what did the initials stand for? When the answer was supplied many marveled at the fact that FEATI had begun life as an aeronautics school. Like MERALCO and its rail operations. Then there was the matter of the opening scene from Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo where parts of a steam ship are hauled across the Amazon jungle.and even tongue-in-cheek: Mr Zobel teased his boatmates about the perils of the Titanic. Sooner or later. the Jesuit house and the La Ignaciana complex were pointed out. One wonders: what did it feel like to make such a crossing? Children stopped splashing around to wave as the boats went by. In fact. seeing the Boat Club. Some in the ferry . as if to bear out this point. Mrs Concepcion murmured that the structures were much larger than she remembered. its roots would be all that stood in the way of erosion and collapse. Such was the level of enthusiasm generated by the story of the visit that one almost expected the venerable Mrs Lichauco to stand at her window and wave flags to welcome the flotilla! Interestingly. transporting people across the Pasig. and Teresa. who had retired to Sta Ana. little rowboats were spied. Passing under Ayala Bridge. Perhaps one of the passengers would remember the luminous paintings of Domingo Celis probably created right on the spot. Strangely. Then one of the ladies recalled that Jessie Lichauco’s quaint house was in the same vicinity. someone shouted enthusiastically: “Marivic! Marivic!”. Nearing the buildings of FEATI. Every now and then. someone else would muse about the beauty of trees. how trees really changed the character of a river bank. At many points. For. the streets at the Paco/Ermita end still bore the name of Zobel women: Trinidad. it was Mr Zobel’s turn to be teased: now the truth was known – he had been named after a bridge! The questions all tumbled out in a merry jumble: when was this steel span built? Why was it named Ayala? It would take more research to uncover that the structure had been built in 1872 and that there had been a factory owned by the Roxas-Ayala-Zobel clan in its vicinity. Its shade would provide temporary relief from the sun for travelers on the stream. Mercedes. Certainly someone brought up the famous Jesuit dramatist. as the trip progressed. right on the river. Fr Reuter. Soon after. Sylvia. indeed. Sites and structures were matched to people. new stories would join the recollections of lost epochs. the company name still retained a vestige of its former incarnation. While Sta Ana glided by. Marivic Concepcion’s parents had founded this venerable educational institution. Who was aware that one of the contractors who built the Post Office was the father of Alfonso Yuchengco? Mrs Wilson. everyone will discern some kind of link with the river. a remark was made about the courage of the people who had fought to preserve it.

Other children were seen paddling make-shift single vessels crafted from flotsam. Eventually the island would be home to a famous orphanage known for its contraption to receive babies dropped off anonymously. Perhaps it was the fact that the river had suddenly become quite broad. Over there was an abandoned warehouse. One could not help but ask: Why were these buildings not cherished and celebrated? What had happened to this city? At the start of the trip. the former Ayala Headquarters. Charade. Mrs Montinola has said in her introductory talk that she was hoping that more people would patronize the ferry system. dear Audrey would remark: “I suppose all of this is leading somewhere” – an observation that could very well have applied to the trip at hand. For the voyage did lead somewhere. As the writers of Streets of Manila would suggest. their voices would echo in a most unnatural and absurd manner – an example of the special effects of the good old days. It had obviously served in the past as a place of retreat and regeneration.” . Sometime during that famous ride in Paris. it had finally reached its climax: the mouth of the Pasig and the distant waters of Manila Bay. but there is so. It was clarified that they were actually picking up plastic and other garbage from the river for recycling and selling. Was the contraption still there? Nobody knew the answer. Passing beneath still another bridge. a discussion arose regarding the island’s name. their boat would periodically go under one of the many spans that traversed the Seine. perhaps it was the sight of the hulking mass of Fort Santiago. one was reminded of a scene from the movie. Each time. sadly. or the classical façade of the Post Office. Floating alongside Isla de la Convalencia. Mr Zobel summed it up when he said. There was something about the brisk salty wind that created a sense of anticipation. Thinking about this. Many finally ventured out of the cabin into the open air. the passengers were suddenly astir. so much more that has to be done. Whatever the reasons. the passengers who had been watching the young paddlers fell silent. the Capitol Theatre with its marvelous Art Deco façade. here was a house with capiz windows open to the breeze.expressed concern that the water was not the most suitable for swimming. a number of exquisite architectural jewels presently stood half empty: the El Hogar building which housed amazing staircases with gryphons for balustrades. people actually went there to “regain their Iberian vigor”. Manila had its own Bund where. Other companies had tried to set up a river transport service in the past but failed. What was it like to live such a life? On and on the river flowed. “We look at everything we pass with love. or even the towers of Binondo. As Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant carried on their coy cat-and-mouse courtship. The rest just waved back. Stories were now told about the many former palaces of industry that lined the shore. solid and sober as its huge stone pillars. It is not an easy task convincing the members of the public to allow the Pasig to play a more significant role in their lives.

In contrast. Carrying the unromantic appellation of “linear parks” they have the distinction of allowing more people to be better acquainted with the charms of Manila’s central channel. rivers are the pride of the community. This is probably the real point: the elite of Bangkok still value living beside the artery that continues to define the life of their metropolis. . perhaps because of the blindness of greed. Yet. In Seoul. the Oriental. Salman Rushdie wrote a book. The question then is: should one paraphrase this statement and apply it to Manila? Is the tragedy of the Philippine capital the fact that perhaps because of the trauma of war. her job is not just one of cleaning. Still there is hope. there is always hope. it had become a metropolis that had could no longer remember its river? Only the future will settle this question. rightly boasts of its splendid terrace beside the waters of the Chao Praya. Even now. of remembering and reinvention. in the end. After surviving a world-wide call for his death. a bit of nostalgia to be briefly recalled and then shunned.In other cities. it means finding ways to make the river more alive in the lives of the greater community. Haroun and the Sea of Stories. for the Pasig. Even now. perhaps because of the deracination of miseducation. the Pasig is now just seen as a nuisance. It means asking Manila’s elite to return to the river. It begins with a memorable line: “there was once… a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name”. Gina Lopez is applying herself to the task that other formidable leaders like Mrs Amelita Ramos had taken on in the past. Gina has announced that she will start by rehabilitating one of the dirtiest branches of the Pasig system. one more story in a long and mighty stream. much is made of the fact that the stream that runs through the main business district is now clean and a charming park has been developed around it. Hers is a greater. Some of the most beautiful houses including several ambassador’s residences are located on the river banks. For revitalizing the Pasig will also be a matter of memory. recreation areas have also been developed along the Pasig’s shores. one of the world’s best hotels. All that is certain is that the answers will form part of what will be. more complex calling. In Bangkok.

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