Tuesday, January 04, 2011

I am not entirely sure if I have posted these pictures before; I probably have, but I like them so much that I thought I would post them again. The picture above was taken almost two years ago, in a rather deracinated cemetery in the middle of a populous, commercial district in Manila called Paco Park. The name 'Paco' was a diminutive form for 'Pancratius', the saint after whom the cemetery was named. The small chapel at the middle of the cemetery is flanked, on both sides, by graves; the arrangement of the cemetery was circular, so that the walls also held the niches, and perhaps owing to this fact (and also because Manila was a very earthquake prone city), the walls were built very thick, like a fortress.

I took the photo in a  quiet little spot behind the chapel. It was the hour of mercy, three in the afternoon, when I came to find it, lost amidst blessed stillness and the  faint din of insufferable traffic outside. According to a caretaker we saw, that spot was a burial ground  for aborted babies and also those who died through miscarriage, and those who died without the grace of baptism. As such, he said, it was probably the saddest part in the entire cemetery. For some reason, I was reminded of the pantaruxada, or la santa compana in Castellano, a ghostly company in rural Galician myth which were said to wonder around the cities in procession at night, dressed in immaculate white, and tolling the death knell: all who see this procession are said to be irrevocably marked for death. I do not know why I was thinking of the pantaruxada at that moment; perhaps, because the unbaptized really have nowhere to go, and that maybe Limbo was a terror more terrestrial than supernatural; otherworldly, yes, but not of a different planet. I do not know.

Ironically, my own parents were married in the cemetery chapel in 1988. In fact, the very reason we went there was to celebrate their twenty first anniversary. I don't really know if either of my parents has a decidedly morbid sense of humor (they always chide me for wanting to buy a coffin bed with the words 'Here lies Arch' carved on it) but I'm pretty sure that they must still be wondering what impelled them to get married there in the first place. As for myself, I am still quite haunted by that abandoned section of the cemetery. The caretaker claims that, at night, he sometimes hears faint cries coming from the old, abandoned sections of Paco Park. He lights a candle to dispel the darkness, and says a brief prayer for the repose of the restless. And yes, those are apparently real skulls on the wall.

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