We should have started earlier. But NOT on empty stomachs. We had our fill by the time we left our meeting place in Don Bosco Pugad’s Coffee and Saints. It was also mid morning by the time we hit the road to visit the lake towns of Laguna around the Bay. You may consider it a Visita Iglesia, if you like. Three churches and a few other sites. Started with Pila, Laguna. Now off to Paete, the woodcarving capital of the country. (Chisel is “Paet” or “Ukit” in Tagalog) Lanzones Country. And birthplace of the yoyo.
The art of TAKA (paper mâché) seems big in this town. Much like what I saw in Angono, Rizal — another town rich in art, history and culture. It also happens to be the political campaign season so there were TAKAs around and along the main road leading to the beautiful church. Men and women figures sculpted out of paper peeking out from windows and balconies. By themselves, they looked interesting. But what really got our interest was the Paete Church with its lovely baroque architecture with floral bas reliefs.
The Paeteños have preserved their centuries-old tradition of woodcarving. Inside the Church honoring Saint James, you’d find religious icons and centuries-old paintings by Paeteño artists including those by Jose Luciano Dans. It is said that this art flourished long ago that one shouldn’t be surprised to find locally-crafted masterpieces in churches, palaces and museums in other parts of the world. Besides, the same craftsmanship is displayed on buffet tables on many cruise ships as descendants of these Paeteño woodcarvers found another niche in ice sculpting! Can you beat that? Wood or Ice, there is no shortage of carving skills from this community.
There is no record of it but Paeteños believe that the yo-yo which is a Philippine invention actually began in Paete. I wouldn’t be surprised. The art galleries cum dining places we wanted to visit along Quesada Street were both closed, but we’ve seen enough woodcarved religious and not-so-religious icons to conclude that the art continues to flourish here.
And then there are the 200 year old paintings of Jose Luciano Dans. This Paeteño was commissioned by the Spanish friars to paint St. Christopher. Dans’ rendition of a St. Christopher with Oriental features didn’t meet with the friars’ approval and so the mural was replaced by another painting of the same saint with European features. The 2nd painting was on wood and installed over the mural. The discovery of the original mural was fairly recent when restoration work had to be done on the “European” saint. As it turned out, the mural was better-preserved.
We actually failed to see the 2nd painting since it was taken down for restoration works. We also failed to buy any Lanzones. Worse, the 2 art galleries cum dining areas along Quesada Street where we intended to have lunch were both closed. Hungry past noon, we ended up in Bengas, a local eatery serving home-cooked food. No pretensions, no frills. Just simple meals like lumpia and Pancit ulam. The latter is a very Pinoy thing. Like noodles are everywhere in Asia, but methinks only Filipinos eat noodles with rice. So it’s not surprising why Paeteños came up with Pancit Ulam.
While in Paete, we hardly met any other tourists. Foreign or Local…… Zilch! A pity. No wonder the local carvers are seeking better pastures carving ice instead. Mind you, ice carving is actually more demanding. Unfortunately, each creation melts into insignificance unlike woodcarvings. Sigh. 😦