Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ilocano living

Nestled in the lowlands of Currimao, Ilocos Norte,
is Sitio Remedios, the brainchild of Dr Joven Cuanang,
renowned neurologist and director of St. Luke’s Medical Center.
On a seaside property inherited from his mother, Dr. Cuanang
has attempted to recreate a Filipino colonial town, evoking
the Spanish “cuadricula” complete with church ( Paoay in
miniature) , seven elegant ancestral homes of local elite framing
the town plaza. He bought houses from all over Ikocos Norte,
had them dismantled systematically with each piece carefully
numbered, transported and transplanted to his kingdom
by the sea, where these inland structures were never meant to be.

Monsoon rains alternating with scorching sun ,
deteriorates even the sturdiest of building materials.
But we know that whatever is not destroyed by climate is
ravaged by fire, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or by man’s
own actions and inactions, sheer ignorance and crass
commercial greed. With all that in mind, Dr. Joven Cuanang
boldly carried on with his vision for Sitio Remedios.
The houses have names, indicating their provenance—
Piddig, Bacarra, Dingras and bahay na bato; the admittedly
composite ones, the bahay retazo, are called radrillo, puraw
and pasuquin. Because all the houses were gathered in

Ilocos Norte, there is a subtle architectural harmony quite
pleasing to the eye. A perfect host, Dr. Cuanang serves
authentic Ilocano food and has many amusing stories about how
Sitio Remedios was built. He regrets that an ancient Sampaloc
had to be sacrificed to give the plaza a perspective of the sea.
It is not square and is cobbled with what look like gigantic
river pebbles but are slabs of natural stone from a nearby quarry.

Apparently, these had to be laid out twice because the first
batch of workers knew nothing about stone, so quarry men had to
be recruited to redo the work. It was child’s play for them,
Dr. Cauanang laughed, because they had the “feel”, not unlike
the Ilocano carpenters , mostly unschooled, whose instinctive
“feel” helped them put together the ancestral houses jig saw in
a wink of an eye. They did not need “as built” plans to reassemble
the Bacarat, Piddig and Dingras houses ,but for some reason,
Dr. Cuanang asked Arch. Rex HofileƱa, an Ilongo, to design
the three bahay retazo.

Sitio Remedios is not meant to be a theme park but
is reminiscent of Nayong Pilipino which had a hint of authenticity.
To enjoy Sitio Remedios, forget the amenities you left behind in the
big city, relish how the Ilocos sun burns your skin, marvel at the
botanical splendor around you and learn the names of the flowers and
plants that Dra. Cuanang himself selected and planted. Feast your eyes
on the incredible architectural details of the Piddig, Bacarat and
Dingras houses and imagine how our forbears invented and created
those embroidered eaves, fitted wooden plans, those coquettish
barandillas and carved wall decorations.

The view from the miniature Paoay church is an alluring expanse
of aquamarine sea that turns to a vivid coral at sunset. There is a
modern infinity pool that blends with the sea, a stark white lighthouse
with an open but shaded tower, breezy enough for a delicious siesta.
On the opposite end, an Asian spa is hidden beneath luxuriant fruit
trees, palms and all manner of fragrant, aromatic vines. Done in
pebbles, paletada and grass, there are massage and meditation rooms.

The houses in Sitio Remedios are pricey (specially the
Bahay na Bato where I spent a night) but the point is for one
family to occupy a house and savor how life was in the days
of Artemio Ricarte and Juan Luna.

1 comment:

abe urmeneta said...

A very excellently crafted essay (I'm thinking E. B. White) about Ilocano living. Being an Ilocano myself, it makes me want to go back to my roots and once again be essentially Ilocano. Thanks, Mrs. Araneta.