A Discerning Afternoon in Sorsogon City

Wednesday, November 09, 2016


I partly blame Sorsogon for how I turned out. For twenty years, I've equated summer with 14-hour car rides, blue marlins either fried or sinigang, and days spent in Manunggul Beach getting sunburnt. My mama was born and raised in a sleepy town on the southern part of Sorsogon, and she had made it a point for us to come here every May. She remained oblivious, up until the end, to the fact that every visit had fed (and probably inspired) my wanderlust. 

The town she was from was called Bacon. Pronounced not like everybody's favorite food but with the ba of bazaar, its rustic wide open spaces contain several of my most cherished childhood stories. But this is not about Bacon and childhood. (If you want to know more about it, you can check here and here. Oh, and also here, and here.) This is about its neighboring city of Sorsogon and the now. 

Sorsogon City is my kind of city – a fact I've realized only very recently. Capitalism mans its till, sure, and Progress lurks perpetually along its periphery, but I sense in it a layer, something faint but undeniably there, that could never truly be erased by modern ideals. This layer I do not sense in Makati, or in Ortigas and BGC – cities, for better or for worse, that have been far too stripped of their former selves that it's hard to imagine them as something other than what they are now. On the other hand, there's Cebu City, Manila, and Antipolo, all possessing this layer which makes cities poetic, in that it inspires nostalgia. This diaphanous layer had ensured Sorsogon City remains recognizable to anyone, even with the countless transformations over the years; even if it's just your first time seeing it. In spite of the modern buildings that now make up most of its topography, the city's origins endure. Its history permeates through asphalt. Through the bright LED lights, its true character smiles and beckons. It took me more than two decades and my mother's death to notice this, and it was only after two more years, with a brand new set of sensibilities, that I decided to take a closer look.

It was a bright afternoon in August and the air smelled faintly of coconut oil. The jeepney Dennis and I were riding traveled with ease. No heavy traffic on this side of the world; only stretches of newly-paved roads flanked with fields verdant with young palay. Fifteen minutes later, the rice fields transitioned – seamlessly it seemed – into commercial establishments. A pawnshop, a bank, a couple of grocery stores, and a gasoline station signaled our arrival to the Capital. From the jeepney terminal near the SM Savemore, Dennis and I walked the length of Rizal Street and found our way inside a beautiful structure.

We were at the heart of the commercial hub. Consistent with the layout designed (and eventually imbibed to our aesthetics) by our Spanish conquerors, standing in the center of the Center was what used to be Spain's symbol (and source) of power: a church. In my mind, I have a blurry image of a young me hearing mass in this very church, plus a recent memory of having visited it. Both times I had failed to see how magnificent a structure it really was.

The architecture was neoclassical in style, reminiscent of the United States Capitol in Washington. The facade was white with yellow accents, and features two angular towers flanking the soft curve of a dome. The interior was just as grand. Supported by doric columns, and adorned by golden filigrees and portraits of saints, the ceiling soared and arched. The tiled floor was polished to a degree that it looked like still water, creating a dizzying upside-down reproduction of everything. In front, a gold-trimmed altar housed the crucifix, and images of Saints Peter and Paul, after whom the church was named.
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We did not dwell here too long, though, for we felt that the city has something more to offer.

Venturing out just a little farther from the church, into a side pocket that opens up to the sea, Dennis and I found ourselves spending the rest of our afternoon the same way the locals do: waiting for, and eventually witnessing, the sunset at Rompeolas. Breakwater
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Rompeolas is the city's version of Baywalk and here is where students go to hang after school, where families take a stroll, where old souls looking to reminisce linger, and where artists try to make. That day the sunset was not the usual glorious kind, but the overall scenery was just as colorful. Stalls selling your typical street food line one side of the park, and huts and sheds are plenty. A part of the bay was enclosed to make fish pens, and some parts were dedicated to recreational kayaks. There's even a large sculpture of a trio of pili – Bicol's most prized produce – right in the middle of the boardwalk. All the while, the familiar scent of the ocean was cutting across my nostrils and, in the distance, my eyes could trace the dark looming forms of mountains. 
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Not long after the sun had set that Dennis and I decided to call it a day. On our way back, we caught sight of the dome of Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral. Above corrugated aluminum roofs, the structure stood out like a benevolent sentinel. It was different, but not so much that it looks out of place – just enough for it to make the city's skyline so much more interesting. 

After a couple of photos from our angle, we continued towards the busy city streets, but my thoughts were transported back inside the church – to that brief moment when I was sitting alone while Dennis took pictures. Despite my general indifference to religion, I've always felt a kind of peace inside churches, especially during regular days when no mass is taking place. Thinking about the proverbial layer, (searching for it in fact,) of a blanket that's woven out of a place's essence, I realized, albeit belatedly, something inside the church. Perhaps it was the grandeur of it all, or maybe just the acoustics, but that layer was more palpable – more present – in that moment of quiet, in that near-empty church. The character of Sorsogon City seemed to converge within that structure, perhaps on account that it was so unique and distinctive.
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Who knows, really, perhaps it was God.


Check out my Facebook page and this album to know more about the city of Sorsogon. 

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