The Urban Roamer is taking a break at the moment to write a personal piece that I admit have some trouble composing. To be honest, I’m not that good in writing eloquent prose as what I am about to do. But as a tribute to a person who has made such a profound impact in my life, it was the best way I know to pay back.
So allow me to pay tribute right now to a woman who I’m not sure not many of you know. Even within the realm of Filipino writers, who themselves are not that well-known to the general public, she was often an overlooked figure. But to me at least, Luning Bonifacio Ira was an influential figure and one who deserves a bit more recognition.
To the few who know her name, she is remembered as a two-time winner of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, a fact that I only discovered quite recently. In fact, a book that I have, “The Best Philippine Short Stories of the Twentieth Century” contains one of those Palanca-winning short stories of hers: “Tell Me Who Cleft the Devil’s Foot”. In the non-fiction catergory, she wrote some notable titles such as “A Guidebook to the Filipino Wedding” and “Philippine Beer: Its Life and Times”.
For me, however, it was another particular book of hers that stood out and left such a deep imprint in my mind the moment I first chanced upon it many years ago. It was a book she co-wrote with Isagani Medina titled “Streets of Manila”.
Image via LiveAuctioneers
While I have forgotten much of the details as to when and where I first read it, I can still vividly remember the feeling of fascination when I first read it. For one, I was astounded to see the effort Ira managed to accomplish, painstakingly chronicling the history of almost every street in the City of Manila. While much of the information, especially on the many street names documented, was already considered dated by then (the book was published in 1978, years before I was even born), the work she did for this book still made for a great read years after. And of course, being a history and trivia buff myself, I often gravitate to books such as this one, dated as they may be.
But unlike many nonfiction titles that I’ve read before and since, there was something about “Streets of Manila” that made such a lasting impression. And it all boiled down to the way she weaved the city’s narratives into some beautiful prose. Her words create a vivid picture in one’s mind in which they never fail to capture one’s imagination. She managed to make something as mundane as “kuwentong kalye” into an intriguing and interesting narrative.
Luning Bonifacio Ira (Image courtesy of Dr. Gretchen Ira -Banaticla)
Ira’s unique way of blending of history and prose into a unique and captivating narrative soon became an inspiration for me, helping me appreciate the city and the greater metropolis that I’ve lived in through a different perspective. Eventually, it became a catalyst for me to strive to continue this narrative somehow, continuing the work Luning Bonifacio Ira started in “Streets of Manila.” It took me a while as I was getting lost and distracted along the way. But eventually I was able to realize this goal when I set off to start The Urban Roamer.
Admittedly, my writing is not yet on the same level as Ira’s in how she weaves beautiful prose. (Heck, I failed winning a Palanca twice now, but that’s another story) Then again, I do not seek to reach such levels. The Urban Roamer just wants to carry on in the job of chronicling the city as she had done 40 years ago. While I think The Urban Roamer would still be conceived in an alternate universe where at least I never got to read her book, I am sure The Urban Roamer would not have been the same and, probably would not have lasted this long without the inspiration I got from reading “Streets of Manila”.
I have never gotten a chance to meet her. And sadly, I will never be able to…at least in this life. She passed away last week at 90 years old, a very ripe old age some may consider but a great loss nevertheless. I just am fortunate to have met and be connected to her son, via social media, through whom I’ve conveyed my gratitude to her.
I have trouble saying farewells like this one, so let me just say…thank you. Thank you Ms. Luning Bonifacio Ira for your contributions to Philippine literature.
More importantly, thank you for inspiring me as a writer and an urban roamer.