Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rediscovering Rizal--in Madrid

This should have come out last December 30, Rizal Day, but the holiday revelry sidelined my blogging mojo. It's back. Anyway... In Madrid, Spain in 2009, we couldn't pass up the chance to go on a tour of the spots and places frequented by Rizal and his fellow Filipino propagandists in the historic city. Retracing their steps, walking on the streets they once walked on, entering the century-old cafes and hotels where they once congregated, helped us reimagine in a powerful, visceral way how our heroes lived and survived in the Madrid of the 19th century. What set our patriotic hearts aflutter even more was seeing that the capital of the colonial empire that tried and executed Rizal as a filibustero now hosted a proud monument to him and his world-changing ideas.

This is the Rizal monument in Madrid. A replica of the one in the Luneta showing the National Hero in a European overcoat and holding a book, it is located at a busy street intersection; the bisecting avenue in front of the monument is called Avenida de Filipinas. We visited the spot early in the day, around 8 a.m., when the streets were still deserted and the Iberian sun not out in full yet.

The monument was erected and inaugurated in 1996 to mark the centennial of Rizal's birth. A report in November last year said the monument had been vandalized, the words “Mason de mierda (Mason shit)! scrawled on its base. (Rizal was a Mason.) The Philippine Embassy subsequently reported that, upon its request, the Ayuntamiento de Madrid (the agency responsible for maintaining all such cultural structures in Madrid) cleaned the monument the following day.

At the base of the monument is a slab of stone and brass inscribed with Rizal's Mi Ultimo Adios on one side and its Filipino translation on the other.

Avenida de Filipinas, which directly faces the Rizal monument and follows the gaze of the Rizal statue. Nearby is a subway station called Islas de Filipinas.

Viva Madrid is the cafe where Rizal and his compatriots in the Reform movement often repaired to for coffee and company. The plaque on the facade says (my rough translation), This is the place where Philippine National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal got together with his compatriots to plan activities for the libertarian movement in the Philippines. The cafe-pub is still in use, open from late afternoon until early morning of the following day. Its staircase wall is lined with newspaper clippings presumably mentioning the now-historic import of the cafe. The interior--colorful tiled walls, intricate ceiling woodwork, vintage furniture--is well preserved. Lounging in this space brings you back to those cold, smoky, perhaps warmed-by-rhum (or absinthe!) evenings when Rizal, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Juan Luna et al strategized and argued and plotted for their beloved homeland half a world away.

Rizal was supposed to have stayed in one of the rooms in this apartment building. Unfortunately, he failed to mention the room number, so tour guides in Madrid can only point to the entire preserved building (No. 8), also still in use as dwellings, as the place where Rizal had his lodgings in the city.

The Hotel Ingles, site of the frenzied celebration of the Filipino expatriate community in Madrid after Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo's twin triumphs at the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884. Luna won first place for Spoliarium, Hidalgo for Christian Virgins Exposed to the Populace. The hotel, still existing, more boutique than five-star, is located along a narrow, rather nondescript street. Its lobby carries a plaque in Spanish commemorating the historic banquet where Rizal and company lauded Luna and Hidalgo. That banquet wasn't held inside the current hotel premises, but in a restaurant that is now, unhappily, a garage.

The following is from an earlier blog entry on the intersecting destinies of Rizal and Juan Luna's Spoliarium, now the crown jewel of the Philippine National Museum:

Rizal's famous toast to Luna and Hidalgo was held at the Hotel Ingles in Madrid on June 25, 1884. It became famous because Rizal, then only 23, used the occasion not only to deliver a soaring, eloquent speech--“Genius has no country, genius blossoms everywhere, genius is like the light, the air, it is the heritage of all”--but also to link his two compatriots' staggering triumph at the world's then-premiere arts competition to the Filipinos' general longing for greater freedom and enlightenment under Spanish rule.

As John Silva [of the National Museum] put it, Rizal had seized on a life-changing idea: “If Filipinos can now equal the Spaniards in the arts, why couldn’t we be equal in political rights? It was a turning point for young Rizal. He had made a declaration. Several months later, he was involved in campus demonstrations and began to write the first sentences to his anti-colonial novel, 'Noli Me Tangere.' The medical student’s career path was irrevocably altered, and he dedicated the rest of his life and even gave up his life for his country. It all started with a painting.”

PLUS: Ivan Henares' indispensable guide to “Following the Rizal Heritage Trail around the Philippines”


drei said...

You should've posted this article while I was in Madrid! :) But I might revisit the city this May, and I'll definitely drop by Rizal's hangout cafe. :)

gibbs cadiz said...

had i known, DREI, had i known. see, you've been EVERYWHERE, we can't get a-hold of you these days. :)

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