Some years back, I got stranded in Madrid, but under dire circumstances, it became a blessing disguised as a ruse - to teach me a few things. The situation allowed me to roam the Iberian lands while I re-processed several visas (Schengen, Denmark, UK). I had the privilege to get acquainted with several Filipinos who embraced me whole-heartedly. I’d wake up in the morning with home-cooked Pinoy dish laid before my breakfast table. I’d find delicacies and “gifts” waiting at my room. As weeks stretched by, I was inundated with stories of heart break, of longing, and of broken dreams. I was humbled.
Facade of Eglise Saint-Sulpice. This photo only courtesy of www.sacred-destinations.com and minuk.
One gentle soul was a guy everyone called Mang Sulping (aka Sulpicio). Along with other “problematic” cases, Mang Sulping inhabited the OWWA center in downtown Madrid. During lazy moments, the old man of 72 would find his way beside me, regaling me with stories – epics of his past. There would be unwelcome anecdotes of his trysts with men (he was gay), but these were mostly told when he forgets himself. Most times, these stories were his chronological adventures from being an assistant chef in Paris, although details were sketchy why he was reduced to washing dishes and taking out the trash. Just as several Pinoys living in Europe, life was never easy for Mang Sulping. For one, he wasn’t exactly middle-aged when he started his so-called adventure.
“There was nothing left for me (in the Philippines),” he recalled. So he would rather seek the greener pastures of a very alienating foreign land. “But things are looking up,” he would smile. He told me that in a couple of months, he would get a call that would have him earning again. He would flash an earnest smile, his eyes closing into a delightful slit, his voice brimming with excitement. I was hopeful and glad for him. But another OWWA habitué, Aling Lydia, would whisper: “He’s been saying that for a year now.”
This photo only courtesy of wikipedia's beckstet.
I cannot exactly recall how he came to Madrid. Paris is a long way from Spain. I just recall a couple of nights before I headed back to London (via Paris). He knocked on my door and we sat in front of an old television. He would annotate about this TV host (presenter) and some other guests, as I obediently waited. I knew he wanted to tell me something. He moved closer to me, and tapped my knee. The grey hair on his head glistened like fruits of wisdom. “You know, when I first stepped into Europe, the first place I wanted to visit was a church named like my name - Eglise Saint-Sulpice (St. Sulpice Church). Things happened and I never got around to visiting it. But I vowed that if I ever make something of myself; that if I ever find happiness, I will find my way back to thank God. But I was never able to set foot at my church.”
Then he continued, “When you get back to Paris, will you please visit St. Sulpice, and please say a prayer of thanks for me?” I nodded and something in me stirred. Before I headed back to my room, he joked, “One day, you will write about me.”
A few days later, as my Rapido train ended a 14 hour journey at a Montparnasse station in Paris, I deposited my backpack at a hostel, then began the search for Eglise Saint Sulpice. It wasn’t hard to find. I remembered walking through the Garden of Luxembourg then asking a jovial police man, who directed me around this fashionable neighborhood until I finally found the late-baroque church, cordoned by a Visconti fountain at its façade.
Unlike the “more popular” Notre Dame Cathedtral, there were no crowds – and every corner of the interiors was mind-numbingly impressive. I sheepishly stepped inside. This disarming beauty took more than 130 years to finish. And sometimes you feel so insignificant when surrounded by immense beauty. I am far from being the most religious person in the world, but I do believe. I believe without a doubt in my mind that when I pray, somebody hears, and sometimes, little dreams turn into reality. As I looked around me, I knelt and offered my thanks for whatever it was Mang Sulping was thankful for. For happiness? Who knows. Who can decipher the keys to happiness? I was awash with emotion as I realized the gravity of realizing someone else’s dream. It felt like such a privilege.
Little did I know that Paris’ 2nd biggest church (the Catholic religion doesn’t allow more than one cathedral within a city – thus the grandeur of St. Sulpice cannot be named as a cathedral) would later become more popular through Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.
Upon my return to London, I sent Mang Sulping a postcard, telling him of my visit to his church.
I never got a reply.
Sometimes I wonder what has become of Mang Sulping.
And though this isn’t a popular daily tabloid, nor an autobiographical novel, I have finally written about Mang Sulping as he prophetically told me.
Mang Sulping, I wish you happiness wherever you are.
The pulpit. This photo only courtesy of gryffindor.