The old houses of this island


I Love You Much Too Much

Perhaps I hold your heart too tightly

But who am I to say

If I should hold it lightly

Then it might slip away

—from an old Yiddish song known popularly as

“I Love You Much too Much”


I am walking along the street of Silay. This street, the place tells me, is called Cinco de Noviembre. It is already the 29th of November. The month is waning, and the street regrets. The air is a bit humid. Beyond the trees, I will find out, is the sea unseen from the memories of this old site. A scene of the sea is too much if one is strolling through a place, a small city, of ancient trees and old, old houses.

I am with the Executive Committee on Cinema of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. We are making a sidetrip to Silay after days of thinking about films and encouraging young filmmakers and energetic festival directors about the might of films made from margins, of cinemas produced out of the periphery.

The town of Silay is an appropriate ending, cinematic perhaps, but rightfully so for this odd bunch of film scholars, documentarians and cineastes. We thus shake off the humidity and settle in our consciousness a production design of a slight chill in November and a cozy warmth in our heart.

We enter a house. It is called “Balay Negrense.” The house is not anymore a home but a museum. Ian Rosales Casocot, the good writer from Silliman University, pulls me aside and whispers: “The problem with preserving houses is that you kill it.” Ian, an inestimable fictionist, uses the word “death” to imply the tragedy of the act of heritage preservation. But death, like the fiction of the sea and eternity, is also too much to bear when one’s late afternoon is framed by remembering, edited by nostalgia and directed by imagined histories.

We go up the fan-like staircase of the old house. We are late; the museum is closing. The home, you might say, is not open to visitors anymore. We do not insist. The genteel lady at the wide door beams and pushes aside the rope that separates us from recalling an invading.

We enter the house. We look around. We do not know where to go. The ground floor has lost the division between the private and the public. There are no more forbidden areas in this home that was once the place only for those who built it and those who lived in it.

The kind lady suggests we can listen to her story. She shows us a table of kinship, a diagram of clan.

On the wall of the small room near the foyer is a photograph of a woman, her head tilted in a haughty pose. The haughtiness

becomes her. She is Conchita Gaston, the Filipina soprano noted for her “Carmen.”

There are more photographs on the second floor. As we climb the stairs, we note the omen of the “oro,” the “plata” and the “mata.” Gold, silver and death. If one already knows how death can wait on a step, why choose morbidity? Perhaps, a carpenter is evil, the architect reckless?  Perhaps, this is a generation that sees fate as a trickster?

On the second floor, the breeze is vicious in its tenderness. The walls have more photographs. This is a house of beautiful women. One is staring at us. The conversation drifts to arranged marriages and personal choice and happiness. She is lovely beyond compare.  The footnote from the past supplies us with modifiers of loneliness and recrimination.

You are right, Ian: the problem with heritage houses is the preservation of memories that will never be ours. We are the eavesdroppers, the intelligent gossips pretending to eat histories when we are really gobbling down the intricacies of intrigues and rumors to make monuments and antiques delectable.

In any exquisite town or city, with special spaces for lovely mansions and memories, we forget about the matter of poverty, of grounds that may never supply us with the giddiness of the gilded past.

Realities are like the haze of the white, distant sea apprehended from a dark porch. There is a brighter haze of homes unoccupied by those who loved them. We want to stay in these loves, in emotions that are curated, imprisoned in storyboard we mistake for true documentations of an era beyond critique and review.


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Image Credits: Jimbo Albano

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