Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Two letters to Rizal

Two letters to Rizal

Posted 00:47am (Mla time) Feb 16, 2005
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the February 16, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

LAST Monday, Valentine's Day, I decided to walk around Glorietta and watch the happy couples go by. It was best to spend the evening away from traffic choke points in Pasay, Mandaluyong, Caloocan and Sta. Mesa where we have the heaviest concentration of motels. Aside from brisk sales in roses and chocolates, there must have been a big turnover in restaurants, motels and hotels that night. Everything seemed normal until 6.45 p.m., when I noticed people crowding down the escalators. There was no stampede, nothing was amiss except for establishments whose excited staff literally closed shop before 9 p.m.

When I inquired, I was calmly told that this volume of people was normal when a movie finished on the fourth floor. However, people I saw didn't look like they had come from a nice movie; everyone had his cell phone glued to his ears. Catching the fear in their faces, I just followed the flow like a lemming.

On the ground floor, I caught the scent of gunpowder. Outside, white smoke was being blown in our direction from the MRT station on Edsa beside the Hotel Intercontinental. It was useless to get in the car and add to the traffic, so I found a restaurant and ordered dimsum.

Munching on chicken feet steamed in tausi, I discreetly watched a man stare blindly at the cold food on a table set for two. His date was late.

The scene reminded me of the woman in Juan Luna's controversial painting "Parisian Life." She waited for her date to return to the table as three Filipino patriots -- Jose Rizal, Juan Luna and Ariston Baustista -- sat at the next table and examined her with X-ray vision, making her conscious and nervous. It is an ordinary painting that results in a number of interpretations, one fantastic reading being that if you look at the silhouette of the lady with her splayed legs, it resembles the outline of a map of the Philippines. Hence, the three leering men on the side are actually looking at their motherland, Filipinas, with homesick longing in a Parisian café. Another way of seeing is that the woman looks like she is hanging on a noose, hence Rizal is looking at his future, when he would die for love of his country.

Valentine's and romantic love was a column topic playing in my mind last Monday, until I was rudely interrupted by the bombing of the bus on Edsa. It's difficult to write about love in the past in the face of such senseless violence, but then half the column was already written by Josephine Bracken in two letters to Rizal written in August 1896.

Rizal requested some things to be brought to him as he waited, bored and understandably irritable, aboard a prison ship off Manila Bay. He requested his sisters or Josephine Bracken to bring an assortment of articles that included clothes, detachable collars and cuffs, mangoes, cheese (surely “kesong puti,” or cottage cheese) lanzones, terrine, and foie gras. Having been exiled in Dapitan for four years, he craved for certain foods. Bracken wrote him on Aug. 13, 1896 and apologized because she forgot to send his pants and waistcoat. Then she complained:

"Ah, my dear I am suffering a great deal with them in Trozo [where the Rizal family maintained a home after being evicted from Calamba], it is quite true they ought to be ashamed of me as they say in my face & in the Presenance of Sra. Narcisa & their children because I am not married to you. So if you heare that I don't go to Trozo any more don't be surprized..."

The grammatical and spelling mistakes are so evident in her letter that the editor of a compilation of Rizal's correspondence could not resist a seemingly objective but snide remark: "It is evident Miss Bracken does not write grammatical English."

Bracken had first lodged with the Rizal family in Trozo, but later moved to the home of Rizal's sister Soledad who was estranged from the family because she married a man they did not approve of. Misery does love company. But by staying with Soledad, she did not endear herself to her once and future in-laws. Depressed at this point, Bracken tried to break off with Rizal thus:

"If you go to Spain you see any one of your fancy you beter marry her, but dear heare me better marry than to live like who we have been doing. I am not ashamed to let people know my life with you but as your dear Sisters are ashamed I think you had better get married to some one else..."

Four days later, on Aug. 17, 1896, she was in better spirits. She wanted to visit Rizal alone, without members of his family, so they could talk and they could "be very free to each other." She bade Rizal goodbye:

"...I am always sorry thinking of you. Oh! Dear how I miss you. I will always be good & faithful to you, and also do good to my companions so that the good God will bring you back to me. I will try all my best to be good to your family especially to your dear old Parents...How it made the tears flew in my eyes when I read those few lines of you. Say darling say it makes we think of our dear old hut in Dapitan and the many sweet ours we have passed there.

"Love I will love you ever, love I will leave thee never, ever to me precious to thee never to part heart bound to heart or never to say good bye. So my darline receive many warm Affection and love. From your ever faithfull and true till death Josephine Bracken."

Rizal's written replies to the above are not extant, though we can presume that they did get to talk and settle things heart to heart.


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