The courtship of 'Kastila'
Looking Back by Ambeth R. Ocampo
WHILE thousands of people go around Elliptical Road in Quezon City every day, they are too preoccupied with staying alive or getting to their destination to notice the Quezon Memorial Shrine in the center of the circle. Restaurants and various stalls have sprouted all over the place over the years making the shrine an isolated island in the center of the circle.
There are differences of opinions regarding the development of this open space in the navel of Quezon City. Should it be an amusement park, or should we create a beautiful but solemn park that underlines the main purpose of the shrine as the place where Manuel Luis Quezon is buried? We hope Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte will implement the master plan that will rationalize the use of the park, draw more people in, and make them remember the life and deeds of Commonwealth President Quezon.
Yesterday, the remains of Aurora Aragon Quezon were transferred from Manila to the Quezon Memorial Shrine. She was murdered by bandits in 1949, an event that shocked the nation. Reading the lurid details in the newspapers of the time will really wind you up, so I decided to find a happier bit of information from my dustbin.
One of my regular Sunday morning phone pals was the late National Artist Honorata "Atang" de la Rama, widow of National Artist Amado V. Hernandez. I first met "Ka Atang" at the launching of a compilation of her husband's poetry. She autographed my book and we did not get to know each other well until I interviewed her for an essay I was writing on Nicanor Abelardo. Our interview went beyond the topic and she had so many anecdotes on other people that I decided to mine her memory for oral history. My one regret was that I did not record the conversations nor did I follow a set plan for interviews.
Once I asked her about a photograph of Amado Hernandez in a huddle with the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. She simply stated that she did not ask her husband about his business, private or otherwise. As soon as he stepped out the door of their house, she did not care to ask what he did. When I pushed for an answer she said, "Wala akong pakialam. [I don't care.] When he comes home, he is still my husband! That's why we don't quarrel." She then asked why a young person (I was young once) was so engrossed in the past.
"Para kang nangangalkal ng basura [It's as if you're rummaging through garbage]," she said. Despite what appeared to be a rebuff, she still came up with a footnote to the love story of Manuel Quezon and Aurora Aragon that is worth repeating here:
"One day while I was rehearsing for a zarzuela, I was told to get ready and go with a man called 'Kastila.' He would be wearing a khaki ensemble, riding breeches [and carrying] a riding whip. Someone else would take my place [and sing my parts] at that night's zarzuela.