INTOXICATING  ILOCOS  NORTE

MANILA, MARCH 17, 2008
(STAR) RENDEZVOUZ By Christine S. Dayrit - My only brother Mark used to have a restaurant in Alabang Town Center called Fat Tuesday. I was baffled when I discovered the name of his new venture back then. Up north in Ilocos Norte, they celebrate a fiesta which is their version of Fat Tuesday. It is called Guling-Guling. Ever since my initial invitation, it has been an annual pilgrimage for me to join this special celebration. I can never discuss Guling-Guling without mentioning my favorite place — Sitio Remedios, my home away from home in Ilocos Norte.

Every time I attend the Guling-Guling festival, I stay at Sitio Remedios, the 18,000-square-meter heritage village by the sea in Currimao, owned by our dear family friend Dr. Joven Cuanang. The well-loved Dr. Joven, medical director at St. Luke’s and proprietor of Pinto and Boston Gallery, has impressively rebuilt the home where his childhood dreams all began. In this ethereal paradise, the charming chapel, plaza, restaurant, spa and seven old houses are dedicated to our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage and Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, patron saint and namesake of the resort owner’s mother.

Walking into this nostalgic architectural jewel with 500 candles flickering like fireflies through the ebony night is sheer luxury. Into the sweet arms of slumber I surrender and when I awaken, I honestly believe I am in wonderland. I honestly believe that the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. As I lay on a wooden bed under the huge billowing tree whose verdant boughs seem to connect me to the heavens, I can only begin to imagine what sentimental stories these ancestral homes now donning modern luxuries must have witnessed. If only every brick, slab of wood and tile would narrate the events that transpired through the centuries, history could be rewritten for us to savor.

When I step into the exquisite Sitio Remedios, which I consider my private refuge, I believe it is a sanctuary of choice. There seems to be no reason to want to leave as I am consumed by such loving luxury. When you find a unique gem like Sitio Remedios, where a priceless connection is made with your heart and soul, you actually never leave because it becomes part of you. Yes, there seems to be no reason to want to leave except... to join the festivities of Guling-Guling.

Fat Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday known as Mardi Gras or Shrove Day. This celebration has grown in popularity in recent years as a raucous, sometimes hedonistic event. But its roots lie in the Christian calendar as the last hurrah before Lent. This is the day when people eat all they want of everything and anything for the following day is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the long fasting period for Christians. Mardi Gras literally means Fat Tuesday in French. The name comes from the tradition of slaughtering and feasting on a fattened calf on the last day of the Carnival. The day is also known as Shrove Tuesday (from “to shrive” or hear confessions). Pancake Tuesday comes from the custom of making the pastry bread to use up fat, eggs and dairy before the fasting and abstinence of Lent begins. Other cities famous for such celebrations are New Orleans, Louisiana, Alabama, Venice, Sydney and Rio de Janeiro.

Rene Guatlo, Ilocos Norte provincial tourism officer, shared with our media friends the history of the local festivity. In Ilocano, guling-guling means “to mark, smear or make a sign” as a gesture of atonement and forgiveness for neighbors to make peace with those who have wronged them. In the past, the village chieftain would imprint the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead using wet, white rice flour. This sign signifies purity and cleansing of all sins. During the 16th century, Spanish friars oriented the townsfolk with this celebration as an opportunity for socialization. Traditionally, Paoayeños garbed in their finest clothing made of inabel like kimona and pandiling for the women and camisa chino for the men, danced their way to the place where the giant dudol or rice cake is made.

To the sound of the traditional music they sashay and sway down the streets flaunting their terpsichorean expertise as they gloriously manifest our culture. Dancing is within their blood and their affinity for music as an intercultural contact weaves into our own national identity. Folk dances such as pandanggo, Paoyeña, ariquenquen, curatsa, amorosa and La Jota Paoayeña are delightfully performed by participants. The costumes, music, spirit, purpose and character emerging from these beautiful people are all profoundly explored through these dances that reflect such values as gentleness, unity, peace, perseverance and love for each other.

The giant dudol that elicits great excitement is a major highlight of the Guling-Guling. This year, town officials headed by the dynamic Mayor Bonifacio Clemente, concentrated on the creation of the biggest-ever dudol using 24 gantas of rice flour, 50 kilos of sugar cane juice and coconut milk extract from 190 coconuts. The event was graced by former First Lady Imelda Marcos and Paoay Mayor Bonifacio Clemente. Gov. Keon commended the citizens of Paoay for living up to the challenge of preserving their rich culture and keeping the tradition of Guling-Guling alive — a priceless treasure of Ilocos Norte.

As we sipped basi wine, an exhilarating concoction extracted from sugar cane and the samak plant, commonly grown in the region, we learned more about the region. The first recorded settlement in Paoay dates back to 1593. It was formally established as a municipality in 1701 by virtue of a royal decree under Don Martin Guiang. Invasions by Moro pirates challenged the people, though they refused to be conquered. They responded heroically, saying “Maka-paoay kami” (We can manage without you). From then on, they were referred to as Paoay.

Paoay is truly blessed with intangible cultural resources that are endemic to the municipality. These include religious-inspired rituals like Guling-Guling, Tumba-Tumba and the Tambora that showcase the unique past of its people. There is also the historic Paoay Church which is a UNESCO World Heritage site; Paoay National Park which calls itself the “Malacañang of the North”; and the dramatic sand dunes which are perfect for location shooting of local and international films. Delightful cafes and restaurants abound like Saramsam (for authentic Ilocano delicacies like bagnet, diningdeng and the KBL or kamatis, bagoong and lasuna), Cafe Herencia (for pinakbet and dinardaraan pizza) and Mino’s Italian restaurant in Badoc, owned by Italian chef Giacomo Lavarone, serving local delicacies and sumptuous international cuisine like mushroom ravioli, marinara pasta and homemade sausages. For luxurious and cozy accommodations, there is the Casa Dona Emilia, owned by the family of multi-awarded director Marilou Diaz Abaya. This family-run bed and breakfast offers guests comfortable accommodations with modern amenities for that unforgettable vacation.

One of the most difficult challenges facing us today is how to promote awareness and appreciation of our cultural heritage. From the vantage point offered by the watchtower in Sitio Remedios, I gaze at the calm South China Sea and the centuries-old ancestral homes restored to perfection. It dawns on me that to preserve a culture and tradition, to celebrate a memory is simply a struggle not to forget. Our national heritage and identity must be preserved. It is the true wealth of our people.

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Sitio Remedios is located at Barangay Victoria, Currimao, Ilocos Norte. For more information, visit www.sitioremedios.com. For more information about Casa Dona Emilia Paoay, call +6377-7932925.

Cebu Pacific Air flies daily to Laoag City. For more information and reservations, visit www.cebupacificair.com.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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