Saturday, February 28, 2009

Much Altered State

Since my last post I’ve been a non-blogger and all due to pain and drugs.

Several weeks ago I noticed a crack across the top of my rearmost bottom left molar in my much undersized mouth. The cracked tooth bothered me at times, especially when eating, so my dentist and I decided it was time to take action. Over two visits she drilled it down to size, and slapped a crown on it.

For a week it seemed fine. But then, it started to throb. I asked her to go ahead and do a root canal, something we had wanted to avoid since it was so far back in my little bitty mouth.

Doing her thing, she Roto-Rootered out the nerves in the molar’s roots, but only after working very hard to remove the week old crown. To do this she used a kind of dental slide hammer. Placing the hooked pointy end of it under the edge of the metal crown, she then sharply slammed the slide hammer to its up stop, putting tremendous force on the entire tooth, and on the entire jaw for that matter.

Of course, she did this only after injecting a healthy dose of Lydocaine. I always tell my dentists not to scrimp when it comes to anesthesia. I GOTS to have it numb Baby!

Unfortunately, the brand new cement holding that crown tightly in place was some strong stuff. She slammed that slide hammer again and again, but the crown would not budge. She would move it around to different edges of the crown, hook it in, slam it, check it, and then do it again. Each time she did it, I could feel the smashing pressure of it all the way to the base of my neck. She did this probably close to 20 times before the crown finally came loose. Even then it took another half dozen more upward smashing thumps to knock it completely loose from the molar.

I’m sure the extended violence it took to remove that recalcitrant crown is what caused the throbbing pain to take over “my entire world” as soon as the anesthesia wore off a couple hours later. She had warned me that the root canal itself was going to require the continued use of analgesics, but for no more than a day or two; so that’s what I thought was causing the thudding ache for the first 2 or 3 days.

But I’ve had root canals before and this pain was different. It didn’t resolve, and in fact got worse and worse. Nothing I took helped, and that includes Tylenol, Advil, Naproxen, and anything else I could get my hands on, except for a couple of wonderfully effective Percosets that I happened to have lying around (thanks to a buddy). The problem is that two was not nearly enough.

After a day or two of that, mind numbing desperation and despair set in. After a pleading call to the dentist she agreed to see me over the weekend. She met me at the door Saturday morning and her first remark after seeing my pinched face was “You look terrible.”

I told her I felt terrible as I slid hopefully into the dental chair. She examined her handiwork, but could see nothing out of the ordinary. She took an X-ray, but it revealed no hidden infection, as confirmed by the fact that there was no tell-tale swelling. I already knew by this time that it was irritated nerves, probably some kind of neuritis from the trauma sustained during the hammering I took on that crown during my last dental visit.

Monday morning I had Divine take me into the Mercedes Medical Center, the local Tricare hospital. We used a driver since I was in no condition to operate a vehicle myself, and like most Filipinos, Divine doesn’t know how to drive. At Mercedes Doctor Arcebido confirmed my own suspicions, declaring that the pain was neuropathic.

I nodded agreement, “Yes Sir Doc, I was already pretty sure of that. I just want relief. What kind of good drugs can you prescribe for me? Because right now I can’t sleep and I can’t eat. I want this pain to stop. Please, whatever you prescribe, make it strong!”

Humoring me, he grinned and nodded, and wrote out an RX for two meds—one for pain and the other to relax the jangled nerves.

Once home, hoping for at least some level of relief, blessedly, within 10 minutes of taking the two pills the pain subsided and I fell sound asleep. Oh it’s still there, waiting just beneath the surface; because as soon as the meds start to leave my system the pain springs right back into my jaw; although now, I think it might be resolving. I hope it’s not just wishful thinking. I’m not exactly sure—I don’t wait too long after it re-rears its angry ugly head before I pop more pills to drive it back into its dark cave where I much prefer it.

I hate pain. It’s like a living thing when you have a lot of it, especially when it persists day after day without let up. It takes over your consciousness. It becomes the center of your life. It’s horrible.

On the other hand, since I began taking my prized pills their side effects have made it impossible to be able to go into the office. The side effects include a little nausea, and a whole lot of sleepy wooziness. I have a hard time concentrating, and just trying to walk the few steps to the bathroom I look like a drunken sailor. It’s only now that I am learning to function through “the fog,” at least enough to get some things done, like right now.

And on that note, come hell or high water, I’m determined to get my butt back into the office on Monday (I hope); although I’ll probably have to have someone drive me in. I certainly can’t operate my scooter or my car like this. I’ve been feeling uneasy, having left Pete, my heroic fellow volunteer counterpart, in a bit of a pickle since the beginning of all this jaw aching mayhem.

Am I done? I think I am. I’m not sure. Anyway, let’s call it done and post it. I just thought maybe some people checking out my blog might want to know what happened to me. I’m still here, just not reading and writing much, and in a “much altered state.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

James and the F Bomb

I was going to post more about “my big bird cage,” and I will next time, but one of my gym buddies accosted me today wanting to know when I was going to write about him.

It’s true; last week after a conversation we had concerning what has been a “life changing” event for him, I told him I intended to write about it, and he’s been reading my blog ever since waiting to see what I had to say about the whole thing.

James is a good guy. I really like him. He’s earnest and a genuinely nice fellow, even if he IS from New York City with that typical in-your-face New York City way about him, including that unmistakable NYC accent.

On that note, what is it about guys from NY? Whether Jewish, Irish (like James), or even Black or Hispanic, they ALL sound like Italian mobsters. "Yo!"

Unfortunately for James however, along with the accent also came the NY tendency to use the F word, the primary derivation of choice for Jim being the one with the “ing” at the end. In fact, he inserted it two, three, even four times in every sentence, usually as an adverb or adjective.

As an aside, most words ending in “ing” are verbs, such as running, walking, talking, etc. But the way James would use the word “f***ing in no way resembled a verb. Without conscious thought, he might say for instance, “I f***ing gave that guy a piece of my f***ing mind, and he just f***ing walked the f**k away.”

It isn't just guys from NY though. These days, almost everyone seems to want to use language like this, but in James’ case he took the practice of being a potty mouth “to a whole nuther level.” So, one day in the locker room, when I noticed that he seemed to be using “the word” even more than he usually did, I decided to press him a little bit about it.

“James, no offense, but do you realize how often you use the word f***ing in your normal conversations?”

At my question he seemed a little non-plussed as he considered how to react to it.

Hesitantly, he responded, albeit somewhat carefully, as though he had been caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar, “No, not really. Is it a lot?”

I laughed, “James, you use it continuously Man. I’m just curious, do you use it so much because of your years in the Navy, or do you think it’s from where you come from? I know a lot of New Yorkers seem to use it even more than most—kind of like the mobsters do in that movie “Good Fellas.”

I could tell I had struck a sore spot with him, and seeing how he hadn’t reacted too badly to my personal observation I pressed in even more, “You know James, I KNOW that you are not a thick-headed man, but I have to tell you, when I hear you talk with all that profanity, you come off as sounding rather unintelligent, as if you are not clever enough to come up with any other word to describe how you are feeling about things OTHER than THAT word.”

Chastened, much to his credit, James looked downright chagrined. He confessed glumly, “Yeah I know. My wife has been giving me hell for years about it.”

I continued, “I doubt if you even hear yourself. It’s so ingrained that you aren’t even aware of it. I’ll never forget the worst case like that I ever saw. It was a fellow Marine watchstander named Mike Campbell, and like you, he was also from someplace in the Northeast. He came into the embassy one evening to call his mom while I was at Post 1. He made the call within earshot from the consular office and I remember being sort of shocked that almost every other word was the F word. After he hung up I asked him if he was sure that he was talking to his mom, and he said, “Yeah, why do you ask?” I told him, “Because you just used the F word like crazy, and I’ve never heard anyone talk to their mother using language like that.” Funny thing is, Mike didn’t believe me. He insisted that he never used it, not once; but he sure as hell did. Evidently, he never heard himself using it, just like you don’t.”

Jim nodded his head in agreement. “Yeah, you’re right. I need to stop. I just did not realize how bad I’ve been doing it until you brought it up.”

“Well, if you want, whenever we talk and I hear you drop an F bomb, I’ll say “boom” and make the Donald Trump gesture in your face like he does when he says, “You’re fired.””

“Okay, you do that. I need to get a handle on this.”

Still curious about the extent of his “problem,” I asked, “You have kids right? Do you talk that way around them?”

“Yep,” he admitted gloomily, “but I told them that they better not talk like that, or else. Plus, I’ve got girls, and I told them that if guys hear a girl talk like that, the impression they get is that the girl “wants something.” It makes them uneasy, but I can tell that they get the point.”

A few days ago I see James in the locker room again. He slips and uses profanity; he looks over at me and asks me why I didn’t remind him that he just dropped an F bomb. I laugh, not really believing that someone like him can ever change his foul speech patterns. It’s just too embedded; basically, I figure that after all these years, it’s who he is.

Flash forward a couple weeks to last Thursday. I see James approaching; he wants to say something so I take off my headset. He asks me if I’ve heard about the guy that died of a heart attack right there in the gym during his workout the other day. We talk off and on for quite a while with him continuing to come over and talk about “stuff.”

Finally, he asks me, “Didn’t you notice? I never once used the F word.”

He was right. Amazingly, not once did he use it; and even as we marveled over that fact, he STILL did not use it.

“How are you managing this? I would have thought it impossible knowing you!”

Proudly he told me, “It was all you Man. The way you brought it up and talked about it without getting all preachy and nasty about it, it made me want to finally do something to stop it.”

I was bowled over. “Really? I did that? Oh my God. Wow! I had THAT much affect on you that you would actually change the way you speak? Dang. I have to admit; that makes me feel pretty darn good.”

I grinned proudly, practically beaming with satisfaction, “Did you tell your wife about the conversation we had that caused you “to see the light?”

“Yup, she knows all about it.”

“Well, I hope you don’t mind, but can I write about this in my blog? I think this is pretty cool.”

James said it was fine with him and wanted to know where he could read my blog. Today, a week later, he reminded me that I said I was going to write about it and still hadn’t.

So, here it is James. This one’s for you, and again, congratulations! And forgive me if I congratulate myself a little as well.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My big bird cage

About six months ago I realized that my new porch's west side, a rectangular cage-like area, practically insisted on being a garden.

The cage part results from the need for security. Only a couple weeks after I moved in I woke up at 1 am to find a man’s arm poking through the screen in the bedroom next to mine. Seeing that disembodied arm enraged me. I scrambled back to my room to get my bolo to chop off that offending appendage, but alas, the arm’s owner heard me and made good his escape.

Anyway, the little prison cell looking area became a pretty little garden. It didn't happen overnight; of course, I did have a little to do with it. Once finished it was nice to have the view, but something was missing, something alive and moving besides the boring plants, which don't move around all that much. (I get bored easy. I MUST have action!)

Looking at the rectangular enclosure behind the bars and screen, now quite pleasing to the eye, it occurred to me that it already resembled a bird cage sans the birds. Birds! It was a minor Eureka moment. I would have birds.

I put the idea for it on my list of projects to eventually develop into reality. In other words I would bring it up to Eddie and let him mull it over. In short order that’s exactly what I did, and mulling is what he did.

Within a week he brought over a hand scrawled diagram of his vision, now our vision.

I especially liked its soaring height. Once completed it would arch up to well over ten feet. I knew the lucky birds that lived in there someday would certainly enjoy that. I mean if I was a bird, raised in a tiny cage with dozens of other birds, I’m sure I would enjoy all that room to "spread my wings."

To enclose it we decided to go with heavy duty green netting instead of metal screen. I see this netting everywhere around here used for all sorts of purposes; it’s easy to cut and shape, easy to fit, and easy to repair. I figured it would be better for the birds as well, easier on them for clutching purposes. In effect, the soft mesh would make every side of the cage a potential perching opportunity, including the topside.

Once I could pay him to start, Eddie came over one morning with his trusty well-used yellow arc welder and all the metal stock he’d need to manufacture the cage. It was already all laid out in the yard before I yawningly came out on the porch to see what all the noise was about.

We chatted for a few minutes as I had my morning coffee before I left him and one of his boys to their task. I took off for my daily couple of volunteer hours at the veterans’ service office knowing full well that I would come home to something pretty cool. It’s always like that with Eddie—leave him do his thing for a while, come back, and its Christmas morning.

Sure enough, that afternoon, there in the middle of the yard was the arching roof top of the soon-to-be over-sized bird cage. Resembling the frame of a miniature Quonset hut, its new coat of dark green paint cured in the sun for the next day’s continuing bit of progress.

By the next afternoon, again while I was at the office, four of “the boys” (they needed the extra hands and muscle to lift it) installed and welded into place the heavy roof frame. After that, all that was left to do was to make the resulting enclosure “bird tight.”

On the third day it was complete. I had my cage. Time to go bird shopping.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I didn't vote for him

I haven’t written an iota about politics since the election, and I probably didn’t write much about it before Election Day either. I had a sinking feeling that the best man for the job, John McCain, was destined to lose; and once the economic meltdown happened I knew he was a goner for sure. It didn’t matter who he picked as a running mate, although I would have preferred Kay Bailey Hutchison over Sarah Palin. My brother, always the optimist, remained hopeful almost to the bitter end; but I saw the handwriting on the wall and constantly bemoaned to him what I saw as inevitable. I notice he hasn’t had much to say about it either; perhaps he’s as demoralized as I am, probably not though, if I know him.

I still haven’t quite digested it. I watch the news less and less, because just the sight of that unlikely heretofore unknown upstart, snapping his gum like a school kid with that constant smirk on his face, is almost more than I can bear. He’s Eddie Murphy in the movie “Trading Places,” where a black man from the street suddenly finds himself in a high company position that he knows he’s not qualified to hold and yet acting like he actually knows what he’s doing, and WAY over his head. At least Eddie Murphy’s character kept some humility about him, unlike THIS guy, who crows out to his opposition that “He won” so get with the program.

The economy crashed when the banking system faltered, mostly due to the collapse of all those thousands upon thousands of subprime mortgages, something that surely proves the wisdom of NOT lending money to credit risky individuals, something that our government pretty much forced down the willing throats of all those big greedy lending institutions. And because of this longtime unwise policy, both Democrat and Republican administrations have been able to brag about the increased home ownership under “their watch;” a boast that I doubt we’ll hear much of for quite some time.

In retrospect, I wonder now how much of the apparent economic boom of the past decade or so was due to nothing more than the “false profits” taken from a gigantic worldwide Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. And, I wonder how much of the spending we did as consumers over that time was based on the vaporous speculative value of homes that seemed to increase in worth by the tens of thousands of dollars per year? I’m still amazed that no one saw this bubble coming to its predictable bursting end.

And now we have this president, in collusion with this congress and this senate, an unstoppable gang of liberal spending thugs, who tell us that we must spend an unfathomable amount of money to “kick start the economy.”

This is the same government that caused the problem to begin with by encouraging irresponsible lending to credit risky people multiplied by the hundreds of thousands, all of whom defaulted almost at the same time. Now, are we not doing the same thing all over again, only on an even larger scale, by leveraging our future with basically the largest subprime loan in the history of mankind?

The Obama Administration and our current Democrat majority Senate and Congress: “You want to borrow some money from me? Don’t worry, after all, I have a printing press and I can make all the money I’ll ever need to repay you!” Some South American countries did this and ended up with inflation in the hundreds and even thousands of percent.

I can hardly stomach watching him on the tube, this supercilious product of the most corrupt political system we have. When I can manage it, I force myself to listen to his condescending nonsense, but only unbelievingly, as he tells us that we must spend and spend huge NOW. He tells us with wide-eyed earnestness that if we DON’T do this, spend a TRILLION non-existent dollars, that the economy will fail to Depression Era levels. And THEN, when I see the legislature using this national tragedy (or should I say travesty) as an excuse to fund all their pent-up pet projects that the Bush Administration had put the kibosh on for the past 8 years, it all only confirms the validity of the doom and gloom I’ve felt ever since the first Tuesday of last November.

I now understand the disgust that all those deranged Bush haters felt all these years. I don’t hate the guy, but I’m quite disgusted with an electorate that bought into his glibness and his doe-eyed big-eared “good looks” (I guess beauty really is in the eye of the beholder).

He is perhaps THE most unqualified president we’ve had since Harding, perhaps the most unqualified EVER. He was a senator for only a short time before he was put forward for a “practice run” for the presidency by his handlers (after all, no one believed he could beat “Billary”). Before being put forward for the Senate by the “Chicago Machine,” his one accomplishment was as “community organizer,” where he oversaw handing out millions in aid money to poor Chicagoans. He knows nothing about the economy (although you would think he does based on what he reads on the teleprompter as of late!), he has never served in the military, he has no executive experience at all in any capacity, he’s never run a business, and he’s never really done anything. And now, we’ve made him president. Way to go Eddie! Way to go America.

You know, I’ve always split my vote over the years. But now, I’m thinking otherwise. Watching this Congress and Senate wanting to spend money like it grows on trees (although I don’t think we even have a billion trees in all of the United States), from now on, I will vote NOT for the democrats and it will definitely be a straight ticket ballot. I only wish we had another viable party besides the up-till-now free-spending republicans, but we don’t. God help us.

My next post, belive it or not, will be about birds. I just don't want to think about this other "stuff" for a while. Its too depressing.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Heavenly Flight

The morning of our departure day started out okay, but I should have known better; things had been going way too smoothly. That's not usually the way things go for me.

Right around 9am we all moseyed down to the hotel restaurant for our last complimentary breakfast. Halfway through it my thighs started to ache. Then the soreness migrated on to the rest of me, so that by the time I was done eating I knew I had just been “struck down” by some kind of virus. I wasn’t exactly “down for the count,” but I felt like total crap. Life sucked, at last.

When I get sick, I get quiet. I withdraw and don’t want anyone to talk to me. Just leave me alone and let me be miserable. My sick motto, “I appreciate your concern, but butt out.” I know that sucks about me, but that’s my style.

The hotel allowed us a 2pm checkout. Problem is, our flight wasn’t until close to 6. Not wanting to be miserable in public for the hour we had to wait until the shuttle left for the airport, I stayed in bed watching TV until 1:59. During that miserable hour I sat on the uncomfortable benches in the lobby directly across from the burbling waterfall feature and just stared at it. I put my music on hoping everyone would just leave me alone, but what actually kept everyone concerned about me at arm’s length was my crotchety attitude. Basically, I was being an ass. I didn’t care; every second that passed saw me feeling worse.

Divine wouldn’t even sit next to me on the short ride to the airport. She was mad at me and I was mad at her for being mad at me. Oh what fun!

She stayed miffed for quite some time. After check in I tried to find a seat as far away from noise and people, something virtually impossible to do in most departure lounges in this country. To make matters worse the Sinulog festival with its traditional dance and repetitive music (maddeningly repetitive!) was now in full swing. I had been listening to that grating melody for a week, in the malls, in the hotel lobby and restaurant, on the streets, seemingly everywhere, and I could not take even one more note of it. And now, lucky me, they were playing it right there in the airport on all the TVs and at full volume. I had had enough. I wanted to escape it, to go home.

Finally, some luck, and believe it or not, it was good! Cebu Pacific has a lot of late flights, they average about 65% late takeoffs by the stats, but they can also leave early. Sure enough, they informed us that our flight would be heading back to Clark almost a full hour early. Yes! I was feeling better already.

More luck—we were seated on the left side of the aircraft. Heading north that meant the sunset would strategically be on our side of the plane. None of that would have made a difference except for the early departure; otherwise, it would have been dark for almost the entire flight. In preparation for a flight almost full of sunset I limbered up my Cybershot camera.

Our plane with its four turboprop engines was practically factory fresh. Due to that newness the passenger windows were almost crystal clear and totally unscratched. If there was going to be good photo-ops out those pristine windows then the photos should turn out great. More luck!

I was not disappointed. The awesome vision of clouds, sea, mountains and sun as they interacted was like an amazing special effects show put on by God for almost the entire 70 minutes of that “heavenly” flight. Seeing that constantly changing spectacle from my perfect window just about made me forget that I was sick.

Afraid I might miss something, I don’t think I looked away for even a second.

The beauty of the short shuttle flight, also known as a “puddle jumper,” is the relatively low altitude flown by those aircraft. On our flight we probably never got higher than a mile or so; any higher than that and it’s hard to see anything. From three miles and up everything below is flat and featureless, even most of the clouds. Our flight north back to Angeles City however, was anything but featureless. It was breathtaking.

I’ll never forget it. Early in the flight the sun was not directly visible from behind a dark wall of clouds. Instead, it seemed to come directly from the sea’s surface as a perfectly brilliant reflection. The sky was upside down, with sun below and sky above.

Every few minutes something new would show up out there. I clicked the shutter continuously, trying different settings and hoping that I would capture even half of the beauty I was seeing. I think I got a lot of good shots. Check them all out here. I recommend seeing them full-sized as a slideshow.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Cebu City's Fort San Pedro

Cebu City’s Fort San Pedro is a mixed bag for me. I love some aspects of this very old citadel, but as a purist I was also disappointed, actually very much so.

On a much smaller scale, the entrance to this ancient Spanish stronghold reminds me a lot of the gate into Fort Santiago, which is another much larger Spanish fort located inside the walled Intramuros area of old Manila. Legaspi was responsible for the building of both forts. Under his administration in the late 1500s both were first built with log palisades and then rebuilt with more permanent thicker walls of coral stone.

I’m certain that when I visited Fort San Pedro back in 1985 there was still a view of the sea from high up on its ramparts. During my recent tour of it however, as I rambled along the top of its walls, I was confused, wondering if this was the same fort. I asked one of the engaging guards, who also acted as museum guide, if there wasn’t another fort in the city, one that overlooked the sea. He didn’t know of any. Was I imagining things? Had the 24 years since my last visit really wrought such visual change?

Unless my memory is completely skewed, the last quarter century has not been kind to the view now afforded to those looking out from the fort’s refurbished parapets. In a word, it’s crummy. In another, it’s a shame.

I suppose it could be said that a similar “tragedy of progress” has happened to Fort Santiago in Manila, but not completely, since although Manila Bay is no longer observable from any portion of it, and probably hasn’t been for a century, at least it still overlooks the Pasig River, as it always will.

On the other hand, Fort San Pedro now overlooks nothing but unremarkable buildings (at best) on what was once its seaward side, while on the entrance side all one sees is a ramshackle park with lots of ongoing construction.

Even worse, just outside of an entire wall of the fort, the city has allowed what looks to be squatters to move into a double stacked row of unsightly metal shipping containers, the sort loaded onto container ships and pulled by trains and semi-trucks all around the world. This unattractive display is fully visible from what I believe to be the southwestern wall of the fort. At the foot of this same wall also happens to be where a statue of Miguel Lopez Legaspi stands; at least I think it’s him. I don’t know for sure since I didn’t feel like venturing down into that area; it just didn’t look all that tourist friendly.

It’s strange and unlikely, the sight of this bronze rendition of the Spanish Conquistador who was also the first governor general of the Philippines, towering way up there on his platform, now apparently the lord of the squatterdom to his front.

So, I got the bad part out of the way, that being that the City of Cebu has squandered a wonderful opportunity for what could have been a real draw for the city. Instead, with its very unattractive, if not ugly surroundings, Fort San Pedro is only slightly remarkable as an attraction to outsiders.

The plight of Fort San Pedro’s “uglified” surroundings brings to mind (to my mind anyway) that most Philippine towns and cities of any size do not do their “waterfronts” very well; and that is a huge shame, and a very real economic lost opportunity for sure. I say that because most foreign tourists (like me) love the sight of water, and seek it out when they go sightseeing or look for restaurants and shops. Other than Manila, along its Roxas Boulevard, I haven’t been to any other large city here that has developed its waterfront for anything other than industry. I’ve been frustrated in this quest for an aesthetic waterfront at every coastal city or large town I’ve been to so far.

Even Manila needs to get with it—last time I walked along the bay side of Roxas I had to hold my nose to keep out the stench from sewage floating in the water below the seawall. I have no idea how anyone can possibly eat in the seaside cafes along its sidewalk. I had meant to try one, but opted instead to walk across the boulevard to an inside restaurant away from that nasty smell.

Inside Fort San Pedro is another matter, a delightful one in fact. In the shaded tunnel-like entrance is a very well done set of display photos and placards explaining and showing the history of the place. I looked longingly at the pictures from long ago showing the fort with water lapping almost right up to the base of its walls. If only it still looked like that!

At one time, several decades ago during one of its earlier lives, the fort was turned into a small zoo; during another period it was used as the site of a city garden club. The Spanish, the Americans and Japanese all apparently used it militarily, and even Filipinos used is as such for a short time just after the Americans had evicted the Spaniards. It’s also been put to use housing government administration offices as well as a school building for a time.

Reading the history of the 400 year old fort reminds me of The Alamo in San Antonio, another old Spanish edifice that was used in all sorts of ways before settling into its final role as a national shrine.

I applaud the current managers of Fort San Pedro’s grounds in the excellent job they’ve done maintaining its garden-like features. I love plants of all kinds, great and small, colorful or not; and that’s exactly what you get as you walk through its lovely inner courtyard and along its wide stone ramparts. I took a lot of pictures of a lot of plants and flowers, as you’ll see in my flickr set of the fort.

I was also pleased to see that apparently many of the original Spanish cannon are still on display on the walls, although now only the huge barrels are left, minus any wheels or carriages, and forlornly propped up on their original firing embrasures.

Driving away from the fort, we asked the driver about the odd looking deep pit-like construction going on not too far from its inland side. I was surprised when I believe he told us that it was a subway in the making. Unless we misunderstood him, I don’t know of any other subway in this country. The public tram in Manila is all above ground. I’ll have to do some more sleuthing on that one.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Magellan's Cross, and the City Square it sits in

The day before we were to head back to Angeles City we did a tour of Cebu City proper. We made a deal with a taxi driver for three hours for 650 pesos. Now that's not a bad deal, only about 14 bucks. We probably could have gone lower still, but he seemed like a good chap, so what the heck.

We told him we wanted to see "the sights," but he didn’t seem to get what we meant by the phrase. So, I got specific and asked him if he knew about Magellan’s Cross and the old fort. Aha! He got that. He seemed to know the location of both of those sites, so, off we went across to Cebu City from Mactan.

Magellan’s Cross is the first place
we stopped. With the big time annual Sinulog Festival just kicking off, which I understand lasts for more than a week, evidently there were lots of folks in town to help celebrate it. Along with all these people, we checked out the cross pavilion located right in front of a church devoted to The Santa Nino, or the Christ Child; or at least that what it says on the sign in front of the church.

The story behind this religious festival, "The Sinulog," goes like this:

More than 40 years after Magellan’s death, Legaspi and his men returned to these islands to make good on the original claim for them for Spain made by the ill-fated Magellan. Using overwhelming firepower and lots of Spanish steel to destroy all resistance, Legaspi didn’t repeat the mistakes of Magellan. While looting one of the villages in what is now Cebu City, one of the Spanish soldiers found a wooden statue of the Christ Child that a priest under Magellan, some 40 years earlier, had presented to Hara Amihan, the wife of Rajah Humabon. The statue was a gift to celebrate the occasion of the Cebu queen's conversion to Christianity. The finding of the statue was declared miraculous by a priest under Legaspi and he declared the site a holy one. So, upon it, or near it, the basilica of San Augustin was built.

So that explains the Sinulog festival and the origin of the Santo Nino Basilic
a, but the tale of Magellan’s Cross is a bit different. The pavilion for the cross is in the square outside the entrance to a basilica and across the square from the Cebu City Hall. There is also a university in the vicinity, also named after The Santo Nino, the evidence of it being groups of nursing, and other medical type students in their training whites, all roaming about all over the place.

The sign inside the kiosk-like pavilion says that the cross in there encases the remains of the original one planted by Magellan in 1521. Now excuse my skepticism, but if you really think that any of the original cross still exists, and it’s there, inside that cross on display, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Still, I found it to be historically significant, because even though the Spanish priests that started the tradition, did so in the early 1700s, about 200 years after the time of Magellan, it's still important because of how long it's been there, and thus probably marks the spot not too far from where Magellan actually did plant his cross. As they say in the big city, “it’s
all good.”

The colorful mural on the ceiling above the cross depicts Magellan planting one for Spain, and in doing so, the bringing to this part of the world, among other things, Christianity. It also marks the arrival of a whole new set of traditions and culture, and perhaps most importantly, it marks some 350 years of Spanish dominion over the Philippines. I mak
e no judgments here on whether or not that was a good thing; as an interested observer of history, it just is.

After the moment or two it took to take several photographs at the cross pavilion and to read the captions, we decided to take a lap around the outside of the large square. I took photos of the view as we sauntered around to the left, past the college, city hall, past a fellow in charge of burning candles to The Santo Nino, and finally to the larger-than-life statuary of Jose Rizal way up on his concrete pedestal, forever conducting business at his over-sized desk. If you don’t know who Rizal is, then you kno
w nothing of this country. I call him “Jose the Brilliant,” and he is THE MAN.

We took our time and did the whole thing in a liesurely 25 or so minutes. We texted our taxi man, met him back at his sedan, and headed out to the nearby Fort San Pedro. There is a lot to like about that fort, and a lot to comment on. More on the fort probably in the next post.

In the meantime, when you have time,
check out here the full flickr set of photos I took of Magellan’s Cross and the immediate environs.