Signs of the times
This is my column today.
When a very well-traveled friend—he has been to practically half the major cities in the world—sent me a text message to tell me that he was passing through my hometown in Leyte on the way to a lecture engagement in Southern Leyte, I groaned inwardly and hoped he would be distracted enough not to notice the marker that greets everyone that passes by our hometown.
But as fate would have it, not only was he not distracted. He was in fact, stupefied by our town marker. To be honest about it, it is kind of hard not to notice the marker because one, it is strategically located at an intersection, and two, it is a sculpture of mammoth proportions.
Just as I feared, my friend’s next text message was to tell me the vehicle he was riding in had just passed by the town marker and that he was still ROFL (that’s cyberspeak for rolling on the floor laughing). At least he didn’t get traumatized by having to behold a hideous image and didn’t threaten to sue the town officials for damages.
I don’t mean to sound patronizing and I beg forgiveness from the town officials of my beloved hometown who came up with what they probably thought was an inspired idea: Putting up a sculpture of a giant bee at the entrance of our town. We’re not talking stylized, child-friendly, smiling and huggable bee of the stuffed toy or fastfood-chain-mascot variety. We’re talking hairy legs, mandibles, and large compound eyes—the whole grisly details; in short, hideous.
The name of my hometown was supposed to have been derived from the local word for bees. One wishes of course that they didn’t have to be so literal about the whole thing; but what can we do? There’s just no accounting for taste. One can argue that there is nothing inherently frightening about bees and that these insects play a major role in the propagation of the plant kingdom. But God didn’t design these insects to be three feet high and 10 feet in length, right?
A giant sculpture that looks like a hybrid between a tarantula and a mosquito just doesn’t sound welcoming. So why is it out there as a landmark for my hometown? Because in case no one else has noticed, there seems to be this insane contest among towns and cities in this country for the distinction of having the most unique marker to distinguish their town or city from everyone else.
And so everywhere we go in this archipelago, we find arches, sculptures, obelisks, billboards, structures, etc., to announce that one is already entering or leaving the jurisdiction of a barangay, town, city or province.
The really sad thing is that no amount of artistic license or tolerance can qualify many of these as works of art. Instead of providing relief to the senses or uplifting the spirit, some produce the opposite effect. They make us smile, but not necessarily because we find pleasure in beholding them. They affect us but not necessarily in positive ways. Some, quite frankly, simply offend our intelligence.
Others leave us stupefied beyond words such as that arch that I came across in Mindanao that had the likeness of flowers, fruits, animals and people haphazardly piled one on top of another producing something that reminded me of Smokey Mountain in the seventies.
I’ve come across a giant birthing chair in Northern Luzon, all possible renditions of the fruits and vegetables in Bahay Kubo plus a few more including durian, pineapples, and why, even bananas. I’ve seen a wide variety of fish and animals in various sizes and stages of repose including a duck that didn’t look like a bird and a blue marlin that bobbed up and down.
Really, art appreciation should be made a mandatory course for all government officials so that they stop inflicting their lack of aesthetic sensibility on the people. And hopefully we stop erecting monuments and landmarks that mar our landscape.
In Metro Manila, for example, we have been cursed with such hideous structures such as the People Power Monument on Edsa, that sculpture of a teacher in Mandaluyong, and all those monuments around the city of Manila from Roxas Boulevard to Santa Cruz.
Perhaps the city of Manila should pass an ordinance decreeing a standard size for all monuments in the city since it seems everyone is intent on filling every possible public space with a monument. It just doesn’t look right when a smaller monument of Ninoy Aquino is located just a few meters away from a larger-than-life monument of Ramon Magsaysay.
Like I said, there is no accounting for taste and I am sure that there are those who will insist that that giant monument of Our Lady of Peace at the Edsa Shrine is a beautiful structure. I happen to think it isn’t, but at least it doesn’t make you want to brush your teeth every time you look at it.
The question is: Should local officials be left to their own devices and everyone be allowed to erect whatever monument they fancy?
The terrible consequences are already out there in our streets. In addition to the ugly structures that are being passed off as works of art and those hideous streetlamps that have transformed our streets into red light districts and sleazy motel rows, we also have street signs that are confusing and clearly substandard.
If you go around Metro Manila, you will notice all those street signs that are peeling away like a bad case of sunburn. In many cases, all that remains of the street sign is a tin board, everything else had been washed off. In some, the name of the street is still visible but the material used to produce the street sign had already shrunk or peeled off so that the signage now resembles a poster for Halloween.
Let’s not even go into the fact that these street signs defy logic—some only has the name of the street, others has the whole “street” printed on it, while others only has the abbreviation St. on it. In Manila, there are streets with two or three street signs in the same intersection almost one on top of each other—if it’s any consolation at least all three street signs have the same signage on them. Some abbreviate highway as “Hwy,” others use “hiway,” and I’ve seen one that said “Hway.” I am glad we Filipinos have such a great sense of humor we’ve reduced the whole thing into a running joke the way we did with Ped Xing.
I know that these are money-making ventures for our politicians. One wishes that they at least bother to make sure that those signs last longer, make sense, and don’t offend people.