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Fiesta in Apalit and Sulipan |

Modern Living

Fiesta in Apalit and Sulipan

SECOND WIND - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura -
We took the Pulilan exit, turned into Calumpit, went straight crossing many bridges until we hit what looked like the main street. It was lined with people selling jewelry, clothes, fiesta things. I knew from the single visit I had made here before that this street would lead me to the town church and behind that the Mercado house, the house of my paternal grandmother, Josefa Mercado (not related to the other Mercados on my mother’s side, who eventually became the Rizals). The other reason why I thought this was Main Street was its name: Gonzalez, spelled like my father’s family name, with two Z’s. Doble zeta, hija, my grand-uncle used to remind my mother when I was small.

My son Gino and I are in Apalit for the annual fiesta. It is apparently a three-day fiesta for Apung Iro – that’s St. Peter’s name locally. We are here responding to an invitation received from Tee Uyan, who invited me (and whomever I wanted to bring along) after she read my column, "Pampanga Revisited." I brought my son who, like me, never met my father. I want to pass on to him the little cherished knowledge I have of my father’s family. Apalit is a crucial part of it.

Tee is a lady who is younger than me but of the same generation. She studied at St. Scholastica in San Fernando and she has her classmates over. They come every year, Rose Caballa, who sits right next to me, explains. Tee leads Gino and me to her buffet table filled with fiesta fare in chafing dishes. There’s beef with broccoli, kare-kare with bagoong, two kinds of crab, catfish with alagao, more food. I can’t remember, though, what I partook – everything was delicious. Then it was time for dessert. Pie Kalaw brought me to try the muchi, the buko with pandan, the carabao milk leche flan. All the time at the table we were chatting with Chit Ventura, Beth Tila, joined later by Mic Simbulan, Mely and Jumi Roque, and Monette Balugod. We all got along so well it was hard to believe we had met for the first time.

After lunch Tee packed up Gino and me to watch the fluvial parade. We grabbed our umbrellas and followed her downstairs, through a small gate, up the stairs of her neighbor’s house, across the busy street, down the stairs at her cousin’s house, and a muddy walk over to the back to stand by the river and watch the fluvial parade. The river was busy with long, sleek topless bancas, and big steady ones with roofs. One even had a drunk passed out precariously on its rim, his foot dragging in the water.

"Tell me about Apung Iro," I asked Tee. She said that he was the traditional patron saint who belonged to the Gonzalez family. The house he lived in burned down – faulty wiring – but it had somehow been rebuilt. Today, he would come down the river and land in church where Mass would be said and then he would return home. "He is miraculous," she said. "It’s raining now? This means this year will be a lucky year for us."

Tee spent time chatting with her friends. The bancas this year cost P6,000, somebody whispered. Imagine, it used to cost only a hundred. Then P200, someone else mused. They all laughed. Then the fluvial parade came down the river, the big two-storied barge that carried Apung Iro and his worshippers followed by other boats that carried other saints. I saw a virgin and a Sto. Nino, also a boat with a giant white chicken, a dragon boat and another boat with a big, gray inflatable fish. Why had I not seen this before? Is it something the Department of Tourism has to discover?

Suddenly Tee exclaimed, "Let’s go, they’re going to wet us," she said, and I saw a long banca with water hoses approaching so we all ran back to the house. There I said goodbye and thanked Tee fondly for her invitation. "Until next year, June 28, don’t forget," were everybody’s parting words.

Our next stop was Sulipan. Sulipan was once the Forbes Park of Apalit. It is across the river before you hit Apalit’s main street. At the corner was my great-grandfather’s property. It still is there overgrown with vines, the stairs still leading up to nowhere were covered with flowering cadena de amor this time of year. We turned left into a tight street and drove down. I saw the house where I had spent a lot of time when I was last here. It was locked and closed. Maybe the family had migrated. Then I saw the Arnedo house, still standing proudly for over a hundred years, and as I looked up whose face do I see but Toto Gonzalez’s, Gene’s brother, my second cousin, the one person who introduced me to the Apalit fiesta more than 10 years ago. "Stop right here," I told my driver as Gino and I got off the car to say hello.

The Arnedo house is fading and lopsiding but it is still grand. It has a ballroom built for Duke Alexei of Russia when he came to visit and spent two weeks there sometime in the late 1800s. "Here in this dining room your relative, Jose Rizal, sat as guest when he came to discuss La Liga Filipina. He was quiet and shy but when his name came up in the discussion, one of the old men said he wanted to meet Jose Rizal before he died. Rizal then got up and introduced himself. This house is full of history," Toto said. I had him lead Gino through a tour of the house, its big, spacious kitchen, the lovely azotea, its roomy bedrooms and powder rooms. Gino fell immensely in love with it and asked if he could shoot a music video there. I felt my spirit soar. Generations reached out to each other and closed the gap. My great-grandfather’s generation had just reached out and touched the fifth generation down if my son does a music video here.

We could not go down to look at great-granddad’s property, to visit the stairs leading up to the sky. The street was too crowded. It was fiesta. Even the sky you couldn’t see. The road to Sulipan was so thickly covered with turquoise, yellow and white banderitas. At the corner they were selling dyed chicks in the brightest shades of yellow, red, orange, blue-green and purple. Big cars and small tricycles were traveling in both directions. It was raining, there was madness, but it was all so beautiful, I thought, as we tracked back and got our freeway tickets at the machines nearest the Pulilan exit.
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