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This year, during  Holy week, I’ve been homesick for the Philippines. So today, Good Friday, we went out for the traditional Filipino custom of Visita Iglesia, because we couldn’t go yesterday. Traditionally people visit seven churches on Holy Thursday.

During Holy Week when I was a child, we were usually at the beach, the Cresta Ola of my memories or in Baguio.

This winter was long, and the cold still sticks around the edges. The forsythia, magnolia,and daffodils all brave the cold. So did we.

The first stop was Our Lady of Guadalupe/St. James. The church was appropriately somber, the statues draped, the tabernacles agape. Such tradition was comforting.

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Beautiful and grave.

The altar of repose, the empty tabernacle all signify the sorrow of Good Friday, and set a reference for Easter Sunday’s glory.

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Our Lady of Guadalupe/St James is the parish of the Guatemalan community in New Bedford. We love going to mass here. Today, there was the added treat of seeing the traditional Guatemalan art for Holy Week, the alfombra or carpet. Isn’t this beautiful?

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When I saw this, I didn’t feel so homesick anymore, because I realized I carry all my traditions within me. If you want to find out more about alfombras visit this link:

http://kidworldcitizen.org/2012/04/06/photos-of-guatemalan-alfombras-street-decorations-for-holy-week/

The next stop was New Bedford’s famous church, St. Anthony’s. This is a most spectacularly decorated church with hundreds of angels and saints, stained glass windows, painted vaulted ceilings and seeming acres of varnished pews. We chanced upon the beginning of the Divine Mercy novena, chanted by nuns. While waiting for the prayers to start, I took some photos.

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And an angel high up …

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And a charming bunch of cherubs..

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We made one more stop at Our Lady’s Chapel in New Bedford. There were Good Friday services in Latin. Again, all the statues were shrouded. The chapel was packed.

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Under this shroud is a very lovely statue of the Infant of Prague.

I’m glad we went out today. I learned a lot about New Bedford. There is lots of Holy Week going on here even for someone who yearns for flamboyant penitential displays.

A Happy Easter to everyone! I believe.

Auntie Mary Anne died on Friday, and she will be buried today – next to my grandparents who died so long ago. Her urn will be buried, not in the ground but in a niche in a quiet courtyard of an old church in San Juan in the Philippines.

When I was nine I stood in that courtyard and men hoisted my grandmother’s coffin up into the niche. As they pushed the coffin, all the aunties and uncles, my parents, and my grandfather, were right at the opening.I didn’t understand what death was; but thought of how pretty my grandmother had been in her coffin.

All the grownups, the ones who made the rules, were weeping. My mother and aunties were draped in true black crepe – in veils that covered their faces.

Auntie Mary Anne was one of the women. She traveled far, all the way from California to be at her mother’s funeral.

Tonight, Auntie Mary Anne’s urn will be placed gently in the same courtyard. I sit here in Massachusetts, and it all seems like a plot being worked out, a twist where something agonizing happens. I can be a little removed from it.  After all, I am here in my happy life. I am surrounded by loved ones. I have my pets, my books, my American life.

Until I hear the voices of loved ones across the world, across the country.

Then it is like finding the lost key to an old lock on an old gate.  Click and the gate swings open, and  my truest self wakes up and weeps.

She is in so many memories. Swimming, walking, reading, cooking, laughing,and  singing in Baguio, Cresta Ola, New Mexico, Hawaii then back to Baguio, Cresta, and Manila.

When I was four, a missionary priest came to recruit her for work in South America, and she joked and showed us a rubber shrunken head.

She told ghost stories, she crocheted, she knitted. She indulged with food. She mostly said yes, in a world full of no’s.

I saw her last in 2012. Pulled up to Cresta’s beloved heap. She was standing there, as if it had been a week, rather than thirty-four years. I tumbled out of the van to hug her. She felt the same. “Auntie,” I sobbed, “I’m sorry I stayed away so long. I should have come home sooner.”

I was wrong about a big thing. You cannot un-be who you are. No matter how far away I’ve been, where I come from is what makes my heart beat.

Now, none of us will see Auntie in this life. There is nothing happy about her death. It is a flat sheet of aluminum in the midday sun. It is the look of an abandoned housing development in the desert . It is the industrial landscape with abandoned factories.

There were two hours between the call that said she was gravely ill, to the call that she was dead.

Between this step and that step, a life goes out across the world. One this side of the room, she lives, cross the room and she is dead. That morning I woke up with a singing heart. In a moment the world turned to ashes. Death does that.

I know, I know, we will all rise up and heal. But it’s really, really sad that she died. People say you can’t go home again. Well, you can. I did and although what I found did not resemble the idyllic landscapes of my childhood, the essence was  there.

I’ll miss my Auntie Mary Anne. I’m sorry she got so sick. I understand diabetes, but I don’t know how she got to that point of no return.

I hope when she closed her eyes in Manila, she opened them in the glory.

We will all be OK. It will just take a while.

Esperanza

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One great gift of winter for me is how I feel such an abundance hope every spring.  In climates without winter, there is a lack of the danger and desperation that winter brings. Decades ago, I asked a friend what the purpose of winter was. He said, “It builds character.” At the time I did not understand his answer. Now I do.

Years ago, winter bothered me. I felt sad, trapped, doomed. I dreamed of living in a warmer place.  But when I think of it, having lived in the Philippiens, Hawaii, and California,  people can be miserable in the sun too.   If one is equipped for winter with the proper house, car, and clothing – it is fine. The weather is what it is, but I can have a sunny day anytime.

Still, after weeks of unrelenting freezing cold, a day above freezing is a boon.  A sunny day with mild temperatures is exhilarating.

Today we went on a walk down the street and there was a yellow crocus pushing through. The sight of it – the first flower of spring gave me a surge of happiness. On the way up the stairs I looked at the lilac bushes and their branches are swelling. The birds are singing and the sharp knife’s edge of winter is gone, replaced today with a soft coolness.

Spring is coming. And with spring, comes a surge of immense hope. There will be flowers and vegetables and warm days and open windows. The empty branches will be in full foliage again. I have been patient, I have been grateful for all my blessings. For me, there is no escape to a warmer climate. This is where I live, and love it in all seasons. I am no longer afraid of winter.

This is the gift of winter- the glory of its retreat, and the surging arrival of spring. In a few weeks, the parade of flowers will begin Forsythia, Rhododendrons, Daffodils, Lilacs, Lilies-of-the-Valley.

It is about to begin.

How to get over the scary stuff.

I’m sharing pages of one my favorite books, “The Governor General’s Kitchen, Philippines Culinary Vignettes and Period Recipes, 1521-1935. The book is a classic and important book of Philippine food history and is by Felice Prudente Sta. Maria. Published by Anvil. If you are in Manila, get one! I got mine for 1500 pesos at National Book Store. Some recipes and menus are in Spanish, some in Tagalog.

I apologize for the quality of the scans.

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