12 June 2010


Locus Focus: Take Five!

Welcome to another Locus Focus Saturday, where you never know where you are until you get there!

This post marks my first non-fiction "setting"--one of the places from the collection of essays that a lucky reader could win in my June contest/giveaway. (One extra point for the first reader who can tell me, in the comments, why today is special for Filipinos!!!) Curious? Keep reading! =)

The Escolta
The Manila We Knew
edited by Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio

Beyond the Post Office, across the Jones, Sta. Cruz and Quezon Bridges were the so-called areas of downtown Manila. The ride from any point in Malate was not too long because the traffic was light, despite the presence of horse-drawn vehicles called caretelas and calesa. I remember Escolta for the elegant shops and movie houses, but my favourite theatre was the Ideal on the Avenida Rizal with its MGM and Walt Disney children's films and musicals. The most elegant shop for wedding gifts and jewelry in the Escolta was the Estrella del Norte, where a turbaned bumbay standing guard always frightened me. Pellicer was my mother's favourite for dress materials that she treasured in a camphor chest, and used slowly throughout the war. Heacock's, just off the Escolta, was mine, for there my father took me to buy gifts, such as a sewing kit and a watch, when I got good grades. Today former Manilans shop in the new subdivisions--Makati, Greenhills, Alabang. Escolta and Avenida Rizal are nowhere near the attractive and much-frequented areas they used to be.

-- from "A Gentle City" by Lourdes R. Montinola

For "old" Manilans, who lived in the last golden years of the 1930s, the Escolta was the avenue for shopping and a family day out.

Three essays in this collection wax nostalgic about this bustling district; and the fleeting but lovely descriptions of a handful of its stores make me wish for a more detailed book that could take me on an armchair tour.

There were jewelry stores: the Meridian and the Estrella del Norte, the latter famous for its sterling silver merchandise. There were theatres: the Capitol and the Lyric. Along with the smaller establishments, which I wish I could name one by one, was a huge department store, Berg's. And yes, there was a bookstore, Bookmark, "just off the Escolta," which sold both books and educational toys, and even printed stampitas to mark First Holy Communions. But perhaps the heart of Escolta, with a charm that shines through these collected memories, was the Botica Boie . . .

There, one could choose to sit at rectangular tables with blue-covered seats facing floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the bustling street below. We preferred the smaller round tables at the railing, where we had a bird's-eye view of the shoppers' promenades. I watched the well-dressed women attended to by smart-looking salesladies, many of them Spanish mestizas in their well-cut uniforms, bending to produce tall bottles of Agua Florida cologne or round, rust-coloured boxes of Coty face powder from the glass counters . . .

-- from "Memories of Christmas Past" by Maria Cristina D. Olbes

What really makes me sad is that local movie studios have neither the desire nor (it seems) the imagination to bring this pocket of the Philippines' genteel past back to life--at least on celluloid. I know I would love to see a sequence which takes us past the old Manila Post Office, over the Pasig River, on the Jones Bridge perhaps, with "all the barges carrying produce from other islands being unloaded by cargadores", and finally, into the Escolta . . . and into the Botica Boie in which the characters can enjoy chicken sandwiches and strawberry ice cream sodas.

Yet my sadness is not so much that I will likely never see such a sequence in my lifetime, but that the people who saw the real Escolta will even likelier never see it in theirs.

Now it's your turn!
Leave the link to your Locus Focus post in the linky
and take some time to check out and comment on those of others.
I can't wait to read what everyone has to say! =D

EDIT: If you don't feel like opening another tab just to see the linked up posts, here they are on this page. =)

Pearls Cast before a McPig, Spinalonga (The Island by Victoria Hislop)

The Seeker, The British Columbian Coast (The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland)

Spike Is Best, "A sort of castle, midway on a mountain . . ." (The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald)

Image Source: The Manila We Knew


Sullivan McPig said...

The Philippine Declaration of Independence occurred on June 12, 1898 in Cavite II el Viejo!

As for your post: sounds like it must have been a beautiful place to visit.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sully, I am so impressed by your dedication to this contest! I'm sure everyone else just "hates" you for it. ;-)

Fun and Fearless said...

Interesting. I've always liked to have a tour in Manila actually. But the pollution and the traffic discourage me. T_T

Paul Stilwell said...

Methinks "A Gentle City" is not an inaccurate label for this place.

The words from the essay, and yours, set it aglow in my mind, though, I can see, without falsity.

It also makes me think of how Beirut (of course very different from Manila) was "the Paris of the middle east" - before it too was changed by war.

Though I think I would prefer being in the old Manila to the old Beirut

Enbrethiliel said...


F&F: You'd think that we who live here would actually take the trouble to look around, but that rarely happens . . .

Paul: I remember the first time I read that passage about crossing the Pasig River and being struck at its cinematic potential. Though I'm not familiar with the bridges mentioned in these essays, I know the Pasig very well--and today it is nothing like the artery of genteel civilisation it once was. I'd love to see that.

Reading about old Manila is making World War II (not such a distant war, after all) real to me in a way it has never been before.

(And yes, I did get your hint . . . As soon as I fix up that old DeLorean, I'll pick you up and we can see Manila of the late 30s and early 40s.)

Paul Stilwell said...

And I happen to have some extra plutonium!

Camp Foogawhee said...

I read your article about "The Manila We Knew" edited by Panlilio about The Escolta. It's interesting because I have the book and that section is not in mine. I wonder if there's a different version ?
I like your blog.
Lou Gopal (www.ManilaNostalgia.com)

Enbrethiliel said...


Hello, Lou! Thanks for your comment. =)

I'm surprised to hear that there may be two different versions of The Manila We Knew. My copy is the first 2006 printing. Which one do you have?