June 24, the feast of St. John, was one of the very few times we were allowed to bathe in the sea (the other time being Good Friday to ward off evil spirits). My grandmother, who was a survivor of a tragic sea accident, never loved the sea and always discouraged us from swimming. Now, a grown up, I don’t have a love affair with the beach, the sea, or the ocean. In fact, I fear it just as I fear heights. Listening to my grandmother’s stories on her ordeal (seeing the eyes of whales, and watching people die and disappear), it’s always at the back of my mind that when Mother Nature unleashes her wrath, no one will be spared. We are at the mercy of no one. So I fear the water.
But I loved Nick Joaquin’s “The Summer Solstice”. Nick Joaquin is a Philippine National Artist, and while I disapprove of his being alcoholic, I genuinely love how he wrote his stories. There was a movie adaptation of the story, starring Dina Bonnevie and Edu Manzano and directed by Tikoy Aguiluz. My admiration for Nick Joaquin started with another one of his short story, May Day Eve, that our English teacher in secondary school had us read as part of our class requirement. Maybe it’s because I fear the night and maybe it’s because our mind is more creative as our eyes, I feared that story. That emotion I felt when I first read the story, I feel it every time I read the story. And my emotions are the only measures I use to gauge whether I like a book/story or not.
During my second year of college, we were again required to read another Nick Joaquin masterpiece, The Summer Solstice, in our Humanities class. Later on, I would come to love Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende, and Toni Morrison, and other writers whose stories somehow belong to the “magical realism” genre, and never realized how similar their stories were to those of Nick Joaquin’s. Nick Joaquin was a man ahead of his time — writing such stories before it became a trend in Latin America, before GGM received his Nobel Prize award for Literature for One Hundred Years of Solitude (another favorite, although not my most favorite), before Paolo Coelho wrote of mother god and the virgin Mary.
Today is June 24, the feast of St. John. It’s a holiday in our town, in Lazi, Siquijor. As a child, I would always equate the day with “fun,” “family,” “friends,” and “food.” As a grown-up, I’d love to think of the day as a day of enlightenment and empowerment. A day of in search of the Tadtarin. A day to remind me that before the Spaniards came to colonize our country, women were respected and deemed the equal of man. That:
“The queen came before the king, and the priestess before the priest, and the moon before the sun.”
(The Summer Solstice, Nick Joaquin)
Read the short story below: