If I should live to a ripe old age
May I possess some bit of individuality, charm and wit,
That I may not be discarded when I am withered, worn, and weak,
But sought after & cherished like a fine antique.
My friends know that when it’s the 31st of May, I’m somewhere in a place far from home. The birthday gift for myself is always a trip to a place that I have never conquered. It’s my way of gathering sweet memories for my rocking chair days. I also don’t want to be like most people who live in New York who have never set foot in the Statue of Liberty (which is, of course, right in the middle of New York harbor) or be like many people of this University Town who have yet to see the twin lakes in San Jose, the rice terraces and even just one of the five major waterfalls in Canlaon, the chocolate hills in Guihulngan, the yacht anchorage in Tambobo, be in the Old Convent in Bacong and the wonderful showcase of Karl Aguila’s furniture and other art works, or simply be at Mariyah Gallery and see the works of Kitty Taniguchi that brought her to China and the USA. There is so much to see in this beautiful world.
My ageless spirit, this time, brought me to San Pablo City in Laguna!
I was still in grade school when I first heard of a place called San Pablo. My sister Joan, a social worker, had his first job there, nd she would bring home stories of this city of the seven lakes, together with the pasalubongs that Laguna is known for.
As they say, when in Manila, stay at Shalom Center in Malate where its inexpensive and safe. Being in Malate brought back memories of the days with my lawyer-father. He would sometimes bring his youngest son to his business meetings in Café Adriatico or at the Aristocrat Restaurant.
Day before my special day, I had dinner at the Café Adriatico – another great moment of nostalgia. And so I decided to have my breakfast the following day – my birthday - at the Aristocrat along the boulevard.
The 31st of May started with a walk towards Ellinwood Church where I had my prayer of thanksgiving. At Aristocrat, I ordered for some Spanish omelette, highlighted with a birthday serenade by my favorite Christian pop artist Jojie Perocho.
Jojie asked if I had a song request; I requested for my American Idol favorite, Somewhere Over the Rainbow. She sang instead Someone to Watch Over Me. It felt like a date with an angel. Her voice with much innocence was a beautiful gift. That one song would have been enough, but she gave me more-- an autographed cd copy of her album. This album has already been sold-out, with miniature jars made of the Pinatubo volcanic soil. I thought my day was already made with gifts of nostalgia and music; it was the prelude to the planned journey.
Along Taft Avenue is the Pedro Gil Station, from where I took the LRT to get to the Gil Puyat/Buendia station for 12 pesos only. Somewhere near the Buendia-Taft intersection are JAC buses that ply to San Pablo are found. I paid 150 pesos for this two-hour air-conditioned bus ride.
When I got down at San Pablo, I asked pedicab driver Benjie to give me a tour around important points for 500 pesos. He agreed. Our first stop was lunch at a carenderia called Binalot Sa Dahon and indeed, everything was wrapped in banana leaf --from the hot steamed rice to the grilled maya-maya. The next stop after lunch was Villa Escudero!
At Villa Escudero will give you two options: 885 pesos with lunch at the waterfalls and 540 pesos without lunch. I had buko for my welcome drink, and a guided tour to the Museum.
Villa Escudero is a coconut plantation founded in 1872, and acquired by Don Placido Escudero and his wife Claudia Marasigan in 1880. In was 1980 when the Escudero family opened the plantation to tourists.
The collection at the museum, with an architecture capturing the grandeur of an old Spanish church, is amazing. There are religious artifacts with a complete altar as centerpiece, right below are the life-size statues of the characters of the Last Supper -- which they have updated it to include Dan Brown’s version of having Mary Magdalene in it.
My eyes were kept busy with centuries of silver alters, carrozas, Spanish galleon trade items and ceramics. Their Philippine dioramas celebrate the ethnic and tribal traditions of our country.
On the second floor, I was drawn to the collection of gowns, coats and barongs worn by Philippine Presidents and First Ladies, from Aguinaldo to Arroyo, on their respective inaugurations. There were more from the American Regime, and the World War II collection. Knick-knacks, dolls, toys, jars, jewelry and other stuffs from all over the world are echoes of the well-traveled Escudero family.
Part of the package is a carabao cart ride around the plantation. A perfect photo opportunity is at the gate of the Escudero pink mansion as this is where the historical markers are found. While on this enjoyable ride, a guitarist and a soprano entertain you with kundiman classics.
Statues of lovers and kids playing bring to life the Philippine countryside genres. I love the spot with Lolo and Lola having a frolic with their grandchildren; near this tableau is inscribed: “If I should live to a ripe old age. May I possess some bit of individuality, charm and wit, that I may not be discarded when I am withered, worn, and weak, but sought after & cherished like a fine antique.”
When I saw this line about aging gracefully, I somehow concluded that in this family estate, Don Ado Escudero’s influence must be truly working. Even in his absence, you can feel his presence for the Villla reflects so much of his wisdom.
I wanted to enjoy the rowing at the lake near the cottages but it was time for the afternoon cultural show-- colorful culture unfolded before me, another harvest of what would surely become a sweet memory.
May 31st in San Pablo is also happens to be the day Festival of the Seven Lakes.
Seven colorful bamboo rafts paraded around Sampalok, the biggest lake, and on each stood a diwata, a lovely barrio maiden in a flowing gown, and crowned with fresh flowers.
Around the lake, the Tilapia Festival was another crowd drawer but I had to run to the old San Pablo Church where the Flores de Mayo was about to begin.
My birthday was filled with vibrant colors and they gave me more of the zeal for life – making me feel even more ageless!