Taal, Batangas, the Philippines
April 30, 2011
A quote from the film To Sir with Love:
And he had learned to love, I know not why, for this in such as him seemed strange of mood. But thus it was and though in solitude’s small part the nipped affections have to grow, in him this glowed when all beside had ceased to glow.James Clavell
The dying day bled in crimson. This was the “golden hour” – when the sun hung low over the horizon, casting its refracted rays horizontally through the atmosphere. The stately Basilica de San Martin de Tours, its massive coral stone facade squarely facing the afternoon sun, was the perfect canvas for this painting of light. Gazing at the church through this rose-colored shimmer, I remembered you, my first love.
You opened my eyes to Art. I remembered you said, “One sees not with his eyes but through his eyes. One sees with his mind.”
That trip to the town of Taal one September day in my youth was an eye-opener. I sat at your feet like a groupie, gazing at the largest church in the Far East contained entirely within the rims of your round spectacles.
You saw the church through a prism of art and history. Taal Church was not merely a massive edifice built from a formidable mass of coral stone. Its magnificence was a defiant stance against the persistent threat of Taal Volcano that had demolished the church’s previous structures through the centuries. Walls and windows, columns and ceilings were not merely architectural features; they were designed by Spanish friars to steal the thunder from the fearsome volcano and the bothersome Moro invasions. Contrasts between parallel columns and rows of arches, solid mass and niche spaces, sturdy stone walls and shattered shell windows demanded more than eyes to see, as you had said.
By the time you led me to the top of the belfry with the view that reached up to the azure sky and stretched down the verdant valley, I had fallen for the first time. You had opened not only my eyes.
Twenty-five years thence, I would be gazing up the church again, this time at the golden hour, its coral stone facade painted by fingers of light. That first glimmer of love, so tenderly unrequited, was fleeting, but the afterglow would last forever.
In retrospect, perhaps you were not my first love after all. It was Art that seduced me and would eventually redeem me from the mundane existence that had inexplicably taken over my life. It had only been in recent years that I would see the beauty of the world again not only with my eyes but through them. As the golden light streamed through my wistful remembrance, I was a student again scanning the horizon on the belfry of Taal Church with you. I realized I had not fallen; I had flown. I followed your footsteps to become a teacher and a traveler.