Noli 2.1 Hometown

The Philippines is a terrible name, coming from Spain. Phillip II was the father of the inquisition, who I believe died of syphilis. It is my great regret that we didn’t change the name of our country.

Imelda Marcos

You are laughing at me. I can feel it, a tingling in the back of my brain. And it just so happens this is the sort of question that [Googol] cannot answer. No, that is wrong. I can feel it. Will not answer.

I  give Doggol a flat glare. He lolls his tongue out at me.

Fine then. So I shall keep secrets from all of you too!

I have plans, but there is no hurry yet – I have arrived before All-Saint’s Day, the day before the boy’s death as prophesized by Rizal, and the head sacristan will not trouble me over merely two gold pieces.

Well, a mere sum to us, but at this point in time the peso actually trades slightly higher than the dollar, and so thirty-two pesos is a mighty sum to many. It is enough money to provoke murder.

There is something about knowing what troubles lie ahead that makes all the pains I would have suffered in another life seem so… trivial? Self-inflicted? All I had to do was to keep a lid on my temper. This explosive anger we Filipinos have, when we allow our feelings to run hot heedless of the consequences – and afterwards not to feel guilty about it, because a man insane with rage can do anything.  

So many things resolved before they even become problems if you understood what really motivated people instead of trying to apply your own values onto theirs. It is like cheating in a way.

This amuses you greatly. Why?

Ah, it does not matter. I have arrived back at San Diego. At long last, I am home!

——————-

Do not compare San Diego to Calamba! This is the world where Rizal never existed. I am created by God, born of my mother, not by Rizal!

San Diego, cradle of my youth, innocence and joy!

But  I cannot speak of San Diego without first speaking of the lake upon whose banks it sits.

San Diego is a town along Laguna de Bay, that lake shaped somewhat like a three-toed dinosaur’s footprint or a misshaped ‘W’; from whence the province Laguna derives its name. You know how Luzon has a funny shape like a man’s head, correct? If the province of Pangasinan is his pointy noise, and Manila Bay is his mouth, then Laguna de Bay is perfectly positioned to be its tongue or voice box. How apt.

Laguna is a Spanish word that encompasses not just lagoons but even inland lakes. So it is amusing to me to hear foreigners refer to it as the Laguna Lake… the Lake Lake. Even more so when the Americans would confuse the issue of Laguna de Bay as Laguna Bay… as if it wasn’t a fully enclosed freshwater body. Laguna de Bay, Laguna of Bay, for there is a township there named Bay or Ba-i, which was once the provincial capital.

Look, north of Laguna there used to be the Encomiendas of Moron and Taytay, and somewhere in Sorsogon in Bicol is a town called Bacon. These odd linguistic accidents just happen.

Let us return – to San Diego! If in Manila was struck numb by how little it had changed through the past seven years, as if I were still a little boy running across the street to buy sweets from a Chinaman’s store, San Diego seems effectively frozen in time. The road here was long and rocky, and now that I have entered the town’s main street I am struck both with such fondness – and despondency, at the impossible weight of the task ahead.

Look at this road. It is an unpaved dirt road, and then when it rains it becomes mud. All the other roads in the country are like this, if they even have one. Trade and transport all over the whole country all slows to a trickle a few months every year just because.

I look towards the lake. During rainy season the lake waters swell and the rivers flood. Sometimes there are tornado-waterspouts. They appear during extreme thunderstorms, and thus rarely a danger since no one would be out in the lake anyway. Those dark mysterious forests and swamps are also prime breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes, which in this time many believed to come from ‘miasma’ seeping out from the jungle. Foreigners are often confused why in this time Filipinos rarely wax poetic about their picturesque environs.

Oh Mother Nature, she is pretty but she is also somewhat of a pain in the ass most of the time.

Look at that mountain straight south of Laguna de Bay. That is Mount Makiling. There are legends that Mariang Makiling, a diwata or nature forest spirit lives there. Certainly Rizal waxed eloquent about her kindness.

She is a fae, I wish to say to Rizal. If she existed in your world her benevolence would be different from the moral axis of mortals. Staying away is probably the kindest thing she could do.

I stare at Makiling’s irregular skyline for moment. I will certainly avoid visiting Mount Makiling.

I can feel your indignation in the back of my skull, but eh.

Wait, [Googol], make a note.

Know then that Laguna-Bai is a spirit of the lake and Makiling is the fairy that has Mount Makiling as her domain. Though they are on friendly terms, their personalities also conflict. Laguna is a undine, and while gracious most of the time, sometimes she is fickle and prone to pranking  those who disrespect and pollute her waters; but also gifting with bounty those who draw her interest. Makiling is a much more reserved sort, constant as her mountain, and while there are many tales of spirits loving mortals, she is one who would rather reject any confession, preferring to watch from a distance and see them happy with their own kind.

There was once a young man who could not decide between two loves – a comely young lass named Bonita Blanco, and a wealthy heiress named Valentina Volares. Both were mestiza, and while he was also a young Filipino of some means, his family did not own land. Bonita’s family owned land, and Valentina’s family owned a factory. The former is charming, neighborly, and with her heart open to all much beloved by the common folk. Valentina is pricklier, but her features much more strongly Spanish, and her family much wealthier. Though she often seems arrogant and disdainful, she sometimes shows moments of kindness and charity as long as no one is there to notice.

The young man’s name is Alejandro Amadeo.

His troubles were bad enough, but then Laguna and Makiling decided favor each girl. Inspired by her humility and friendliness, Makiling supported Bonita. Enjoying her brashness and wit, Laguna favored Valentina.

How will poor Alejandro survive, when supernatural powers now machinate with no full understanding of human life, to drive him to wed their favored girl!

I can feel your sheer outrage in the back of my skull. It is delicious.

Back to San Diego. There are so many memories bound here that I… I cannot! I cannot! I do not have the words. Pull as you might, the words escape me.

Go find Rizal’s lifework for the description of this town and its political situation. All I can think of right now is how these are the roads and spaces between houses that Maria Clara and I would run through as children. She had always been faster than me. And look there, the stone church, wherein while my mother was alive we would unfailingly attend mass every day at six in the early evening to listen to Padre Damaso.

It pains me.

But there is more to the town of San Diego than just its farmlands, its scrupulously religious folk, and the petty power struggle between its curate and the alferez who heads the Guardia Civil.

Perhaps what quickly draws attention, to set this apart from all other pastoral towns in the country, is that tangled forest which sits like an island upon a green sea of cultivated earth. In there are trees centuries old, woven together by wild vines and draped with moss, dark and moist, a Stygian otherworld. It is a dreaded forest and most of it is owned by my family.

The history of San Diego is the history of the Ibarra family. I shall recount to you the tale.

When San Diego was little more than a heap of miserable thatch huts around a foot-beaten street, one day arrived an old Spaniard with deeply sunken eyes who spoke uncannily proficient Tagalog. He acquired lands with the trade of clothing, jewelry, and some cash.  This Don Pedro Ebarramendia of Basque origin disturbed the locals with his deep, booming voice and the deathlike cast of his face and that when he laughed, only a deathly wheeze would come out from his mouth. None dared to challenge him.

And then, one day, he simply disappeared. It was only when a fetid odor emanating from the forest called the attention of some sheperds that he was discovered.  He hung, rotting, from a noose upon the branches of an ancient balete tree. Such a tree never stops growing, some still survive to your present, estimated by botanists to be thousands of years old. Their misshapen grasping branches, growing off the trunks like clawlike fingers, festooned with ragged veins that one might expect to spurt blood rather than sap, have ever held a paranormal impression upon the townsfolk.

Why such a man, powerful and having outlived or suppressed his enemies, should choose to die by hanging himself was a mystery never to be solved.

In his life, he was feared – but in his death by suicide, his sins perhaps in the end forcing his hand, the people threw his gifts of jewelry into the river and burned his clothing lest his blaspemous death left in them a curse. He was buried under that evil-looking tree, and from then on few had the nerve to enter the forest.

Those who entered reported eerie happenings, like a shepherd in search of his goats who spoke of strange lights; a young man who mentioned hearing an odd keening lament; and a young man wishing to prove his bravery and attract the attention of a disdainful young lady promised to spend the night under the tree, tied to it by a weave of reeds. He died mere days later from a high fever caught in the night he spent there for his bet. And much more are the fearful legends told about these dismal woods.

Soon after a young mestizo arrived in San Diego, professing himself the son of the deceased. He built a wall around his father’s grave, shortened the family name in the census papers from Ebarramendia to Ibarra, and settled firmly in the town. He dedicated himself to agriculture, primarily the cultivation of indigo. This Don Saturnino was a man of hard and violent and sometimes even cruel nature, but he was a hard worker and encouraged the development of the town. He gave out loans, and had no pity in collecting or seizing lands from those who faltered in their dues.

Though getting on in age, he married a young woman from the district of Santa Cruz in Manila, and she bore him a son; Don Rafael Ibarra, my father. He was well-loved by the peasants, and under his hand the development encouraged by his grandfather grew rapidly. The town of San Diego blossomed, more inhabitants poured in, and Chinese laborers and merchants followed them.

Eventually, it merited the establishment of its own stone church with a native priest, but then he too died and Padre Damaso arrived. Enticed by the prospects, Capitan Tiago and Doña Pia bought properties in San Diego and thus begun their friendship with its wealthiest landowner and its curate.

In those dark woods the twisted balite tree still stands, and a blackened rope still hangs in its branches, pulled to and fro by the wind.

I am Juan Crisostomo Ibarra y Igsalin. San Diego! Doom of my family! I have returned!


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