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Down Memory Lane at the Grand Dame That Is Taal

There is nothing more unkind to history than time itself. What history strives to preserve, time eventually wears away and replaces. It is when time is in the process of eroding something that man painstakingly built and history struggles to preserve that it is at its most cruel; for time takes no prisoners.

These were my thoughts as I wandered the streets of the grand dame of Batangas, the erstwhile serene and uncomplicated municipality of Taal.

Familiarity, or so they say, breeds contempt. Sometimes, it also breeds apathy. The latter, I regret to say, was how I had looked at the grand dame until today. I have known Taal since I was a little boy; but whatever knowledge of it that I had never really rose above the superficial.

All these years, I had looked at the grand dame as nothing more than a conduit; a sleepy town along the way to my frequent destination, my Mother’s hometown of Nasugbu. It has always been a quaint little town with ageing houses that seemed to have stepped straight out of a time warp.

Who among the young – pray tell – has really been fascinated by things that time has cast aside in its relentless march towards the present and modernity? When one has a whole lifetime to look forward to, the past has only limited appeal.

I was no different as a young boy. The old houses in Taal had looked – well – old; obsolescent, even. Like they were more fitting abodes for the ghosts of people that they had outlived and had become anachronisms in the present.

Yet, when one gets to that stage in life when there is so much less to look forward to than when one was young, one eventually also learns to look... backwards! This, I suppose, is where I have arrived. Albeit, the admission is grudging.

The very same houses that I used to look at with disdain have become the bridge to a youth that I left behind in the past. And because one’s youth is always a thing of priceless beauty, so too have the old houses of Taal started to look like the precious works of art that they have always been.

The loss of one’s youth, I have started to learn, is replaced by a deeper appreciation of the past – if for no other reason than that past is never coming back.

So, today, I happily walked the streets of the grand dame, something I had never done before. My knowledge of Taal had never been beyond its main avenue. Today, though, I was determined to explore its nooks and crannies that I had never bothered to discover before.

Indeed, sometimes, to find one’s blessings, all one ever needs to do is simply to look. This, exactly, was what I did today. I looked. Like a little child hunting around the garden for Easter eggs, I could barely contain my delight at discovering the treasures that the grand dame had kept for me to one day unearth.

And the treasures that I found were so much more than the coffers of a king can ever hope to take: a basilica that rises majestically above the town; a pulpit where I could vividly imagine a Spanish friar delivering a venomous homily; Spanish architecture houses with dark halls where I could almost imagine Katipuneros holding clandestine meetings; narrow streets on which I could visualize horse-drawn calesas laboriously passing; and pre-War architecture houses inspired by the American colonizers.

While once, these houses seemed to my juvenile mind like they had no place in modernity, now it appeared as though it was modernity that was infringing on a place that it had no right to be. Cars, tricycles and that infernal destroyer of views and atmospheres – the electric wires – burst the bubble of the serenity and authenticity of the little town which now appears to grant pride of place more to horse drawn carriages and candles.

I know I will be back another day, for there are more treasures to discover. Some of the houses cry for restoration; and some just for a little attention. I pray that these houses get what they crave; for time is not only a relentless enemy, it also has this habit of always winning.