Rizal Library memories
LODESTAR - Danton Remoto (The Philippine Star) - October 6, 2017 - 4:00pm

I was a 16-year-old kid full of pimples when I enrolled as a freshman at Ateneo de Manila University. I just won first prize in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) essay-writing contest and the prizes included P3,000 in cash; a college scholarship; and five albums of stamps from the original ASEAN member-countries.

I took the entrance exams at the Ateneo, the university nearest our house in Project 4, Quezon City. I passed the exams and during the interview, Fr. Raul J. Bonoan, S.J, interviewed me. He was playing with his yoyo during the interview, doing “walking the dog” with the yoyo and asked me why I wanted to go to Ateneo. I said it was the school nearest my house. He stopped playing with his yoyo, looked at me, and asked, “Is that the only reason?”

“Well, my father told me to also say that Jose Rizal studied here, and so I should study here, too.” His pale face cracked into a smile, and that was how I passed the interview to enter the Ateneo.

I was enrolled in Business Management but every afternoon, I would go to the Rizal Library to read the essays of Kerima Polotan published in Focus Philippines, the magazine she published and edited. Focus also published fiction and poetry, and every week I did not miss reading an issue of the magazine. Ms. Polotan’s essays were written with the clarity of water, its undertow of emotions tugging at me as she wrote about hometowns and old fathers, love and its ruins, the slippery world of dreams. Later, I discovered her essays collected in Author’s Choice and Adventures in a Forgotten Country, as well as her book simply called Stories and the excellent novel, The Hand of the Enemy.

And where did I find these books? On the second floor of the Rizal Library, in the section under PS 9991. In that section I also discovered the essays of Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, essays sparkling like champagne. The essays were gathered together in her books Woman Enough and Other Essays as well as A Question of Identity. Her essays were stylish yet steeped in history, the love of country palpable in every word she wrote.

In the comforting world of the Rizal Library I also read the stories of Gregorio C. Brillantes collected in his books The Distance to Andromeda as well as The Apollo Centennial. The early Brillantes stories, the religious and metaphysical meanderings collected in that book, helped shape my sensibility and sensitivity when I was just “beginning” to write.

I felt a kinship to the characters in these early stories: young men who grew up in the province but are now studying in the city, somewhat lost and drifting, but knowing somewhere along the way, they will find their moorings and chart their own directions. In those stories, I saw his metaphor of life as a journey – with its dangerous turns and surprising joys – towards some destiny still unknown to his young people.

I still remember Brillantes answering his own question on how he began to write. “The answer . . . was tied up somehow with the town in Tarlac where he was born, and the acacias beside the house where he grew up, the sounds that wind and rain made in them. In that house, its rooms suffused by a clear white light in his memory, he learned that words, combinations of them, could unlock the doors to fancy and fable: the strange lands visited by Gulliver, Lord Greystoke shipwrecked on the African shore. . .”

Those words could very well be mine, except that I grew up in Basa Air Base, Pampanga, in a small white house with sloping roof and French windows. And instead of Gulliver and Lord Greystoke, I first read Scheherazade’s wondrous tales of a thousand and one Arabian nights, fascinated by this woman whose very life depended on her tales.

I also read about King Arthur and Guenevere and Merlin in their ancient, elegant kingdom; Robin Hood and Little John alive in the cool, green depths of the Sherwood Forest, near Nottingham whose university, in one of life’s many ironies, I now teach Creative Writing.

I could very well say that I owe Rizal Library my life: it saved me from ignorance and it has been a home and haven for me in the past 38 years.

* * *

All these come to mind now that Rizal Library is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The 50-day count down began last Sept. 28, with an anniversary lecture series. Its tireless director, Dr. Von Totanes, informs me about the grand plans for the Library’s 50th.

National treasure Ambeth Ocampo, professor of history at Ateneo and a popular writer, inaugurated the lecture series. From Oct. 10 to 28, the play Batang Rizal, written by Ateneo professor and writer par excellence Christine S. Bellen, will also be restaged at the Rizal Mini Theater. This is the building behind the main Rizal Library. One day the impish Ambeth Ocampo told me that the Rizal Mini Theater, which sits at the back of the Rizal Library, should be called Josephine Bracken Building because it is “kabit ni Rizal (mistress of Rizal).”

There will also be an anniversary program on Nov. 17, an Intrac Library Tour, and Rizal Library ambassadors’ student arm will be there to help, composed mostly of student assistants. There will also be Rizal Library Research Fellowships.

Prominently displayed on the steps of the main staircase of the Rizal Library’s First Pacific Hall atrium are the influential works by members of the Ateneo community (students and faculty alike). On the first two steps are the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, Jose Rizal’s enduring works. These are followed by landmark books, films, and music albums.

As part of the celebration of its 50th anniversary, the Rizal Library – in cooperation with the Loyola Schools Departments of Interdisciplinary Studies, Communication, and History, and ABS-CBN – presents The Lib Steps Series. A celebration of the works and individuals whose names appear on the steps of the Rizal Library, The Lib Steps Series hopes to inspire the Ateneans of today through encounters with members of the Ateneo community who have excelled in knowledge and cultural production.

This lecture on “Musika ng Bayani” by Jim Paredes is the second offering in The Lib Steps Series. It will be held this Tuesday, Oct. 10, at 9:30 in the Rizal Library. The meeting of mind never stops.

Comments can be sent to danton.lodestar@gmail.com


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