Flower power

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Last Friday night, a day before Halloween, the atmosphere at Dangwa, Manila’s famous flower market, was funereal.

Not because people were preparing to remember their dead, but because the flower dealers had been hit by a double whammy during what was traditionally the peak period for buying flowers in this country (more than Valentine’s Day): the shutdown of cemeteries for a week around All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days, and the approach of Super Typhoon Rolly.

Near midnight there were only a handful of customers at the market, which the city government had exempted from the Friday night curfew. The top buyers, mostly from hotels and other accommodation establishments, used to arrive from past-midnight to dawn, coinciding with the arrival of the flower deliveries so they could get the best of the lot. Pre-pandemic, there was hardly room to move around at Dangwa in the nights before Halloween.

This time, with hardly a soul around, I was able to buy a terrific flower arrangement for remembering my departed father, at a fraction of the usual price (no haggling) if it had been a normal Undas, plus multicolored fresh statice flowers.

It was depressing to consider what would happen to the stupendous array of roses, chrysanthemums, gerbera, carnation, anthurium and other cut flowers if they weren’t bought for the days of the dead.

The flower market has also suffered from the months-long closure of hotels and restaurants, the suspension of church weddings, and restrictions on funeral services.

*      *      *

Driving back to my home, I passed by Quiapo church, home of the Black Nazarene, where there were devotees praying outside even near midnight. A massive lighted rosary adorned the façade of the church.

Maybe some of the devotees were stallholders at Dangwa. Faced with prolonged suffering and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Filipinos are prepared to risk infection to be able to pray, and not just online but in a church. We can see this in the images of attendance at church services even in floods spawned by Storm Quinta.

The urge to pray and return to churches will likely intensify with the approach of the Christmas season. Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the Committee on Public Affairs of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, says they are considering holding more dawn masses for the nine days of Simbang Gabi to accommodate the crowds while still maintaining social distancing.

In Manila, Mayor Isko Moreno has agreed with Church officials to shorten the curfew to midnight until 3 a.m. during that special period, allowing for more dawn masses.

Secillano recently told “The Chiefs” on Cignal TV’s OneNews that the Catholic Church would no longer propose a larger church attendance capacity for Yuletide, and would simply wait for the government to decide when it would be safe enough to do this.

As we saw in the case of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, members of the clergy are not immune to COVID infection.

*      *      *

While Dangwa vendors are praying for an end to hard times, other plant dealers will likely attend mass to give thanks for their good fortune in the time of COVID.

The quarantined plantitos and plantitas have made the prices of potted plants soar to the stratosphere. Last Saturday I went to the food and plant market called Mercato Centrale, which stopped operations during the lockdowns and reopened just last weekend, this time at the Bonifacio High Street Amphitheater in BGC.

I was shocked by the prices of some of the plants. They were rare, all right, but P70,000 for a mid-sized potted leafy indoor ornamental? Also, certain species of cacti and succulents have always been expensive, but prices these days even of not-so-rare species have gone through the roof.

It was the Forbes Park-BGC clientele, however, and there was a pretty good crowd of buyers. There were visual cues on the ground for social distancing and automatic alcohol dispensers at strategic spots.

At least it was good to know that the pandemic has also created new business opportunities.

And it was good to see the dining establishments along Bonifacio High Street with many people even during afternoon merienda time. Most preferred al fresco dining, which is also the trend in other countries; people avoid enclosed, air-conditioned public places these days.

*      *      *

It was still not the pre-pandemic Saturday afternoon crowd, but mall operators should be heartened to see consumer (and promenader) confidence returning.

It probably helped that pets are allowed at Bonifacio High Street. Despite Rolly’s approach, it was a sunny afternoon, and there were a lot of humans walking their dogs, so the pet shops were likely also happy.

With the COVID quarantines, people have also had more quality time to spend not just with their families but also with their pets and plants.

You can’t talk the entire day with just your spouse and kids (the kids will wonder if you have nothing better to do). In between you can talk with the dogs and cats, and then with your plants.

I give my dogs and cats tummy rubs, and talk to my anthurium jenmanii, a.k.a. the cardboard plant and “king of kings” – a gift from my mother, years ago when even such rare plants were still reasonably priced. Today I’ve just found out that with its size, its typical price is P45,000! At the Mercato, there were only two small jenmaniis for sale, at P15,000 each.

So the pandemic is also creating business opportunities. Maybe the Dangwa flower vendors can diversify into cacti and succulents.



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