Wednesday, February 21, 2007

12. Street of Earthly Delights and Petty Thrills

During the rainy season, on the way home from school, I would walk in one of the inner and smaller streets parallel to Espana to watch older kids race small wooden boats on swelled open sewer canals. Mother didn’t mind the occasional half-hour lateness of my arrival from school although the first time it happened I got a scolding. It made her anxious because she thought I lost my way. There were other attractions, which led to meandering aside from the boat races. One I vividly recall was the eagle in one of the side streets. The eagle was tethered to a tree stump inside the back lot of a fashion designer’s shop. Karlos Burgos, I think it was. It was not the majesty and power which an eagle should evoke that attracted me to this scene. It was more sympathy to a pathetic looking creature seemingly resigned to its being tied to a tree stump. Everything about the bird looked tired, worn out and simply without dignity; denied the birthright of an eagle. Much later on the same feeling was to recur upon seeing Clarence the eagle, the Ateneo mascot, as he seemed to be on the verge of distemper upon being paraded with tinges of blue dye on his feathers during the opening ceremonies of the NCAA.
A favorite side trip was the University of Santo Tomas campus. The vast grassy expanse of the football fields was a glorious sight. It was a respite from the treeless, ungreen environment of drably colored side-by-side apartment houses, which was the typical Sampaloc neighborhood at that time and even now. Before pollution took over the city there were still dragonflies, grasshoppers, ladybugs and other amiable creatures in the grassy turf of the UST campus. I caught and placed them in soft drink bottles and brought them home to play with. The bottles were refilled in two days after the demise of the bottle inhabitants due to either suffocation or ennui (inside a bottle they die of that too so I was told). The UST campus was also the place where the kids in the neighborhood flew kites on weekends and played catch with either a tennis ball or any rounded thing. It was also a place for doing gymnastics, doing cartwheels, “patintero” and just plain juvenile rough housing.
Then there was the UST museum, an indelible visceral and quite surreal experience. I would like to revisit the old UST museum and relive the scary experience of looking at what seemed to be a collection of creepy oddities. Saints in their dusty and thread worn regalia, bottles of deformed fetuses in chloroform and other stuffed freaky animals, and so many other weird artifacts that had cost me some sleepless nights then.
Three streets before reaching our house in Maria Cristina I would make a right turn from Espana to Governor Forbes Street then emerge into Earnshaw Street. At the turn of the corner an abandoned old stately house would loom overhead casting a dark and foreboding shadow that seemed to reach out to the passersby. Instinctively kids would quicken their gait as they passed in front of the house. I could have avoided it by not turning from Espana but it would be the last adventure before I reach home and the impulse to pass by it was always too strong to resist. From that point I would break into a sprint homeward. At the sight of my mother at the doorway I would rush to her and snuggle into the safety of her bosom. She would smile at such a display of affection not knowing that I was just calming the excitement I felt from the scary encounters of the walk home.

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