3.4 A Town Meeting

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“In a small town where everyone knows everyone it is almost impossible to believe that one of your acquaintance could murder anyone. For that reason, if the signs are not pretty strong in a particular direction, it must be some dark stranger, some wanderer from the outside world where such things happen.”
― John Steinbeck, East of Eden


All things have to begin somewhere; and the grandest works often require the most amount of people. Though we might think politicians as the scum of the earth, one must in the end participate in the political process if we want our voice to have weight. Otherwise, we are left helpless; others decide our lives for us, and those who do not cast their votes allow themselves to be enslaved by the whims of others. They are not aloof, they are not morally superior – the greatest shield of freedom is not a mighty army or a strong press; but a well-informed, well-motivated populace.

Also, Maria Clara will arrive tomorrow, so it is best we get these small-town antics over quickly.

Now, as we know San Diego’s actual rulers are the cura and the alferez, the religious and secular, and both of them self-righteous and prone to abuse how they the fear and veneration shown to them by the townsfolk. The other half of this situation is that real power means not having to bother with any trivialities. For this, the actual burden of governance is given to the local leaders.

Now the office of the Alcalde Mayor rules provinces. Below him are the Gobernadorcillios who rule small towns; and assisting him are four lieutenants – the Teniente Mayor (chief lieutenant), the Teniente de Policia (police lieutenant), the Teniente de Sementeras (lieutenant of the fields) and the Teniente de Ganados (lieutenant of the livestock). Below them are cabeza de barangays who handle the barangays and barrios, equivalent to the small villages that surround and make up townships.

The point of all this is that person over there – the Tiniente Mayor, Don Filipo Lino, leads what could be called a liberal party, if such a thing could exist, in San Diego. He is young, and wealthy, and well satisfied in his marriage, and we may return again to the Jeffersonian idea of the gentleman-farmer as the natural cultivator of social progress. He is nearly thirty in age.

Let us eavesdrop, shall we?

“The conduct of the gobernadorcillo fills me with disgust,” says Don Filipo to his friends. “It a foul scheme to put the discussion of expenses until the eleventh hour. Remember that we have scarcely eleven days left, and there is no time but to follow all dictates of the victor.”

“It does not matter,“ comes the reply. “We have all things prepared, just so that the old men do not have the majority.”

“I do not believe that will be necessary, for you see, I will instead be putting forth the plans of the old men.”

“What? Sir, what for do you abandon us at this hour?!”

“Listen,” he says in a low voice to the assembly of young men near him, “for I have just yesterday spoken with Old Tasio and Don Crisostomo.

The old man said this to me: ‘Your rivals hate you more than they do your ideas. Do you wish that a thing shall not be done? Then propose it yourself, and though it were more useful than an Bishop’s headdress, it would be rejected. But instead, once they have defeated you, have the least forward person in the whole gathering propose what you want; and your rivals, in order to humiliate you, will accept it.’ ”

“I understand now why you wanted me to speak after you.” speaks a young cabeza de barangay. “But what did Don Crisostomo say?”

“He said: ‘It is a good plan, as long as it is done quietly. I know nothing of local politics, so I do not dare interfere, but whatever happens afterwards, you can count on my support in carrying it through. I do wish to speak as well, but all other people have made their case.’“

“What does that even mean?”

“I do not care to guess, for he cuts a dangerous air.”

Another young barrio chief nods. “He is allied with the alferez now, it is said. He keeps a corpse like a trophy in his house. It might not be safe to draw him to our cause.” Oh come on! It has barely been two days. Will you people still keep on holding that over me five years from now?

“Well, whatever else, we need only our own wits and our own will. So I will propose the plan of our rivals and exaggerate it to the point of making it ridiculous! And hush- here they come, and with the schoolmaster!”

And so we all salute each other. Don Anastasio nods silently in greeting, and goes to join the group of old men. I demur from joining the group of this young men, but instead with the schoolmaster take a seat at outermost left wing of the front benches.

Soon enough arrives the Gobernadorcillo, a wispy and nervous old man named Bienvenido Barquero y Campos. Boatman, his surname means, and his ancestors must surely have grown through trade and owning a barge that goes up and down the Pasig River; or perhaps they made their wealth through building small boats, the banca used by fishermen and then expanding onto larger launches and sailcraft. It is also a common enough surname in Mother Spain, but wizened face and lightly tanned skin makes the degree of Spanish blood in his veins difficult to gauge. To me, that matters little – in this time, it is the most important.

The hubbub ceases. Everyone claims their seat as the old man crosses the room to sit in the armchair beneath the old painting of His Majesty, half hidden by faded old red curtains. King Ferdinand VII of course, Isabella II’s father, now fifty-four years dead. His decision about inheritance has killed so many. I wonder if he had good intentions to prove that his child would carry out his vision for the country more faithfully, of if he really just wanted to deny his brother the throne.

The Gobernadorcillo coughs four times, and begins to speak in a weak, croaky voice “Gentlemen – I have been so bold as to call you all to this meeting because – ahem! Ahuff! We have to celebrate on the twelfth of this month the fiesta of our very own patron saint, San Diego – cough! – but today is already the second, and – hugh!” Here his attempt was finally cut off by a fit of dry coughs.

A man of proud bearing stands up from amongst the elders, he is about forty years of age, this is the wealthy Capitan Basilio, a himself a former gobernadorcillio of the town, and an old rival of my father. He is the one who stated that after St. Thomas Aquinas had left, the world had made no progress, and that after he had left San Juan de Letran humanity had begun to retrograde.

Which one might consider nonsense, if one simply sees everything that has happened since the year 1200s; but consider that the Collegia San Juan de Letran was established by the Dominican friars, of which Aquinas was the very model, and in his life Saint Thomas refused being called philosopher. Philosophers; he saw as pagans “falling short of the true and proper wisdom to be found in Christian revelation”. To Capitan Basilio, all other arguments as chaff in the wind; he does not care to hear them.

He is about forty years of age. He is the head of the conservatives in the town.

As we have seen earlier, the liberal Don Filipo is thirtyish. How much difference a decade makes! It is said that one’s own character is shaped most in what they experience through early adulthood, and how they finally have the power to grasp their place in the world. This would make Capitan Basilio’s formative years in the 1840s – a decade which begun with seeing Hermano Pule’s religious uprising crushed soundly. A triumph of the true religious order against the pagan corruption of its teachings! He is part of the principales, the aristocracy of these isles, educated before the reforms of 1863. The natives are superstitious and easily misled; one had to be twice as resolute.

Meanwhile, Don Filipo’s formative years would have been through the 1860s, and the secularization movement. Most importantly, the rule of the very liberal Governor-General Carlos Maria de la Torre in 1869; the opening of the Suez Canal, and the opening of the Philippines to foreign markets.

We stand up at the near same time.

Capitan Basilio looks almost bewildered at this sheer effrontery. I glance from the sniffling Capitan Jose Raul Barquero and to the side, belatedly noticing his presence. How odd we must look; young and old, all in black and all in white; we cannot be any more different or opposed to each other. I tilt my head to the side and smile.

For through all this, he is not an evil man. Perhaps a bit too pompous and self-important, but he does not hold grudges unnecessarily. More importantly, his daughter is a good friend of Maria Clara, so this is a bridge I shall not see burnt. “I beg your pardon, honorable gentleman, I did not mean to interrupt.”

“You! You are… Don Rafael’s son, are you not?”

“That I am, yes. Crisostomo Ibarra, home at last. And you are Capitan Basilio! Though I have been long gone from these shores, now I recall. I remember well your oratoric gifts, good Capitan – and I apologize again, for it seems you were about to speak, and as well you should be the first! I bow to the wisdom of my elders and betters in this matter.”

His expression relaxes slightly. “I do not choose to speak first because it does not make one take first place, nor does one by speaking last makes them the least, but in order to ask humbly among all the notable persons that are present here for permission. If you have something to say, Señor Ibarra, then I will confess to not some small curiosity and will instead beg of you,” he sweeps his arm in a flourish towards the others “my distinguished friends and great worthies of our humble town, to allow this youth to speak.”

“I did not stand up to make a speech, Capitan Basilio, but also to ask permission. If I may?”

With a puzzled frown he gestures to me and says “Then you have my leave,” before sitting.

“Oh, Capitan!” I speak sharply to the gobernadorcillio, he jerks back in surprise and boggles at me. “Pray forgive my impertinence. May I approach you?”

“… Wh- what? Why?”

“I respect you and your office, and I did see that you were coughing. Please excuse me, but it just so happens that I have remembered that I always carry with me some medicinal cough drops. A soft and chewy pastille, not a hard candy like what they prefer in the Americas and Britain.” I take out from my pockets a small brass container. “You seem a bit discomfited, it is my duty to make your life more comfortable.”

“He would interrupt us for that?” I could hear someone whisper. “It is clear he does not know the gobernadorcillo at all.”

“It is true then, he is attempting to flatter the conservatives.”

While another says “So someone still knows how to show respect? We shall see. It seems frivolous to me, but it is a step in the right direction.”

“He does not realize he is only shaming the Capitan Mayor further in drawing attention to his weakness. This is still showing the ignorance of youth.”

The Gobernadorcillo squints and reaches up with his hands as if to shield himself. He takes a deep breath and squeaks out – “It is- I mean, I am fine.” He wipes at his forehead with a handkerchief and adds “It is not necessary- carry on… the meeting, that is, Capitan Basilio…” his last words come out in an intimidated wheeze. He spasms in place as he tries to suppress his coughing.

“It troubles me to see you so ill at ease, sir, and so in this instance I pray again you forgive my discourtesy, but I insist. Quite soothing and harmless, I assure you.” I shake the little case and then open it. I motion to the schoolteacher Navidad to take one. “Please. It troubles me greatly.”

He glances to the others, looking for support; he receives only disinterest. Get on with it; they imply. The stillness has become loud and uncomfortable, I am looking like a fool standing here with my arm outstretched.

So I go ahead and ignore all propriety and simply walk to him. I lay down the case on the battered old wooden desk. He looks at with trepidation, noticing the big red (BR) on the upper face, and below it the words IBARRA PHARMA – and curving around the bottom half of the case SOOTHING MINT PASTILLES.

“Safe. Delectable. Effective.” I say with another smile.

He blinks at me repeatedly, not comforted at all. I am not sure why.

Surely this simple bit of kindness will not backfire on me yet again.

————–

After that, the meeting went back on track as I had been forewarned by Rizal.

If anything, my interruption has given Capitan Basilio leave to make his opening speech even longer. “- and the previous Capitan, my venerable Don Valentin; my friend from infancy, Don Julio; and our celebrated captain of cuadrilleros, Don Melchor, and more personages whom for sake of brevity I must omit –

I am not among you the primus inter pares, but the first servant in truth,” What? But that is what prime minister directly translates into! He said it Spanish though; primera servidor. Thus he avoided any accusations of putting on airs while successfully praising himself in his own speech, taking full advantage of the ignorance of his peers. Such is the flower of eloquence in this era.

I tune out the rest of his words about imagining himself and the others as if in the midst of the Roman Senate; all as if taken from that happy pinnacle from whence humans might no longer return, and of Cicero who might have spoken in his place, who might in the end advise:

“-so I propose, in view of the short time left, and time is money as Solomon said, that concerning this important matter each one set forth his opinion clearly, briefly, and simply. I am finished.” He sits down.

He receives approving murmurs from his friends and glances over at me with a superior air. I nod in assent. Well done, for what it is worth. ‘Have I not spoken well? Ha!’ he silently conveys to the others in the gathering. He was still the first to speak, the first among equals, my words to the weak presiding Capitan did not count.

All that talk just to say: “Don’t waste words.”

There is a certain irony here, I can all but taste it, but I just cannot seem to identify why.

“Now, any one that might wish to speak may… (ahem) … may …” the gobernadorcillo attempts to say. As a renewed fit of coughing sends him doubling over, and he finally grabs for the cough drops. In between chewing, he coughs, but each cough weaker and weaker until finally he beams as it all stops. He pops a few more and chews contentedly, with his bushy mustache looking very much like a camel.

“Nyuu may du sho-“ he completes the thought.

And so Don Filipo stands up. “So then, with your permission Capitan, I now rise that I may present the very reason we have gathered here today – my estimate of expenses for the fiesta.”

“No!” the conservatives crow “this is not for you to decide! We will vote against it!”

“Gentlemen! Please! I have not yet made known the plan that we, the young men of our good town, bring here today. We are very certain it will be felt far superior to any plan our opponents will be capable of conceiving.”

This amazing presumptuousness, this arrogance of youth, so thoroughly irritates the old men to their very bowels that their hearts are ignited to present all opposition.

“Now, we have estimated that a sum of about three thousand five hundred pesos we shall be able to celebrate a fiesta that will eclipse in magnificence any that been seen before in our own or in the neighboring towns -”

“Humf! The town of Alaminos has five thousand, Biñan surely four thousand. Only three thousand five hundred in our own namesake’s festival? We are shamed!”

“Listen to me, gentlemen! Allow me this, and listen! I will convince you!” Don Filipo continues. “I propose we erect a theater in the middle of the plaza, to cost one hundred fifty pesos –“

“That will not be enough, it will take one hundred and sixty!” a conservative objected in reflex.

“Then write it down, Señor Director, we shall allocate two hundred pesos for the theater,” He gestures to the directorcillo, the town secretary. Don Filipo does not miss a beat. “I further propose that we contract a troupe of comedians from Tondo to make seven consecutive performances on seven nights! Seven performances, at two hundred pesos a night makes fourteen hundred pesos. Write down fourteen hundred pesos, Señor Director!”

Both elders and the youth stare up at Don Filipo with amazement, as one might behold a ship about to crash onshore. He proceeds heedlessly “I propose as well that we have magnificent fireworks; no little lights and fountains and pinwheels that so please the children and old maids, nothing of the sort! We want big bombs and immense rockets! We want to shake the night itself, we want to make such a sound as to frighten and deafen all who hear them! I propose two hundred of the big bombs at two pesos each, and two hundred of the big rocks at the same price. The pyrotechnics of Malabon shall provide.”

“Hmf, a two-peso bomb neither frightens nor deafens me, they should at least be the three-peso ones.”

“So be it, write down one thousand pesos for two hundred bombs and two hundred rockets.”

——

The schoolmaster leans aside and whispers to me “That’s one thousand two hundred pesos. With the fourteen hundred pesos from earlier… that gives two thousand six hundred pesos, already more than half of the proposed sum.”

“Plus the two hundred pesos for the theater itself, so two thousand eight hundred pesos,” I whisper back. “That leaves seven hundred pesos for the procession.”

——

But Don Filipo is speaking again “Moreover, that our visitors should see that we are a giving people with plenty of wealth, I propose that we appoint four hermanos mayors for the two days of the fiesta-” being the men appointed to direct the ceremonies, a position that carries great honor but also considerable expense, for he was also expected to shoulder a large share of the entertainments and feasting for the visitors; hence, the more, the lavish the celebrations, but also the lesser share of the honor “and that, each day, there shall be thrown to the lake two hundred fried chickens, one hundred stuffed capones rellenos, and forty roasted pigs, as was done by Sulla, a contemporary of Cicero, of whom our most scholarly Capitan Basilio has just spoken.”

“Like Sulla, yes, yes-” Capitan Basilio nods, flattered at the mention.

——

“I have no idea how much that is worth…” I whisper aside.

The schoolmaster replies “Another thousand, easy, but most of the cost will be borne by the hermanos mayor.”

Interesting. [Googol?]

The world-mind responds: [Census of the Philippine Islands: Taken Under the Direction of the Philippine Commission in the Year 1903, in Four Volumes]

· [Chickens: average price: 0.47 pesos]

· [Swine: average price: 5.40 pesos.]

Huh.

I must have been more influenced by future inflation and ready sums than I had thought. So it turns out two hundred pesos is not a trifling sum.

Given that rellenos are mixed minced meats and vegetables within a crispy crust, their prices are not usually given over to statistics. Let us assume a peso for each, the big ones, rivaling a block of ham. So, four hundred chickens, two hundred rellenos, and eighty pigs… at least eight hundred fifty pesos consigned to the deeps rather than eaten to one’s joyful fill.

“And so they should hate him.” Oh if only I already had a submarine! Such an offering to the chtonian depths might yet grant me luck in turn.

Perhaps to put things into perspective, right now in 1887 the silver Peso is worth 0.78 US Dollars. Don Filipo was aiming to literally throw away $2,600 – or in 2015 dollars, about $69,000!

——

“Also, since many rich people will be attention and each will bring with them thousands of pesos and his best game-cocks, I propose that the cockpit be open for fifteen days, and that all the gambling houses be free to provide games of chance, like the yampong, and games of skill, like cards, and so in some manner we recover the expenses –“

“Enough! Enough!” the young men of the assembly begin to shout.

“And finally, that we should not forget the pleasures of the soul-“

This mention of spirituality could not mollify anyone, the din only escalates. The old men could no longer bear to hear Don Filipo flatter himself as having planned the whole fiesta, and fight over themselves to be the first to speak. The young men are dismayed, feeling that Don Filipo had betrayed them, and now ready to vote completely against him.

——

And I can only think, ‘Wow. Do I actually sound like this but all the time?

I turn aside and ask. The utter lack of response from my companion seems enough of an answer. Well craps and sticks.

——

The gobernadorcillo sniffs, and makes as if to try and speak, and then only raises the brass can given him as to cover his face. He pecks at the pills within, one after the other, reminding me so much as someone munching on popcorn. No longer quite so overwhelmed by his own body, he still feels no courage in him to demand a return to order. He waits to for the tumult to peter out.

The captain of the town guards, Don Melchior, asks for permission to speak, and it is granted. But as the gathering focuses its entire attention upon him, he goes tongue-tied. Though Capitan Basilio had earlier pleaded that speeches be short and to the point, to say anything like it feels ridiculous. He sits back down again, confused and ashamed.

Fortunately, now it is Don Valentin who stands up – as mentioned earlier, the gobernadorcillio before this one – and his voice commands respect. “We cannot agree to what the Tiniente Mayor has just proposed, for it is so farcical as to be believed. What use have we for so many bombs and so many nights of the theater? It can only be desired by a young man, such as he, who can spend night after night listening to explosions without growing deaf. What for do we disturb the sleep of good folk and send children crying?

What need have we of four hermanos mayores? The visitors would go from house to house, and forget themselves. And what even is the meaning of those chickens and pigs thrown into the lake? Our visitors would only scorn us for wasting good food, and then we fast for the next six months, no! What have we to do with this Sulla and the Romans, that we should imitate their wastefulness? Have they ever invited us to any of their festivities? I certainly recall never having received any such thing, and as you can see I am already an old man!”

“The Pope lives in Rome!” Capitan Basilio prompts in a low voice.

“Ah, so I see. Then their festivals must be an observance of their fast, and the Pope must order them to throw their food in the sea, so that they will not be tempted to commit sin.” He calmly turns towards Don Filipo. “And yet, your plan for all of that is inadmissible, impossible, a complete foolishness! I have consulted here with the sensible men, and we reject it in totality! Is there one here who would speak otherwise?”

Not even the young men would protest, they shouted how much they concurred with this opinion.

“If that is what you feel, then I humbly withdraw my proposal.” Don Filipo sits down heavily, slouching in his seat.

And now that he is so resoundly defeated, a young cabeza de barangay asks for the floor. “I beg you excuse the boldness of one such as myself to speak before so many persons respected for their age, their produce, and their wise judgment in affairs, but as Capitan Basilio did request all to express their opinion, may his authoritative words excuse my insignificance.”

The old men more agreeably nod to each other, speaking of his modesty and sensibility. “A pity he does not know how to gesticulate well,” remarks Capitan Basilio.“But he is a young man and there is time yet. He hasn’t studied Cicero!”

The young man speaks “Gentlemen, if I do present to you any program or plans, it is not with the thought that you will find it perfect or accept it, but rather to show that we bow to the judgment of all, and that we wish to prove to our elders that our thoughts are the same as theirs, and that we take our ideas from those thoughts so eloquently expressed by our most esteemed Capitan Basilio.”

“Well spoken!” exclaims Capitan Basilio. “I would hear your words, young man.” The old conservative, while sitting, sweeps his arm around as to instruct the young headman how to make expressive gestures. He only succeeds in looking like trying to tread water.

“Thank you, thank you, señores. If you will permit, my plan is this… it is expected we make a grand spectacle, but spectacles such as these are already ordinary, seen many times before. Instead, we should seek to create programs that are uncommon, and endeavor so that money does not leave the town. This way, in some manner, it will be of benefit to all.”

And so he criticizes Don Filipo’s suggestions one by one. The Tondo theater, which would run one thousand four hundred pesos – what could they learn from a week of comedies? What about the kings of Bohemia and Granada, who ordered that their daughters heads cut off, or shot out of cannon, and the metal then smelted into a throne? “We are not kings, neither are we barbarians; we have no cannon, and if we should imitate those people, they would hang us in Bagumbayan!”

——

Wait, this refrain sounds eerily familiar. Life is imitative of art, correct?

People who [watch lurid plays] or [read salacious books] might be led into imitating the [perilous] contents within. People who [watch too much TV] or [play violent video games] might be led into imitating the [dangerous] activities they witness. Oh Lord. Really? I supposed we might reach all the way back into the Greek plays and find similar criticisms about the nature of entertainment there too.

There is a tingling at the back of my skull. [Googol] has additional information.

“That is a real method of execution,” I say aside to the schoolteacher. “Blowing from gun, in which the victim is tied to the mouth of a cannon, and then when the cannon is fired the hapless soul is torn into pieces going every which way. The nation actually most well known for this type of execution is not Bohemia nor Granada… but the British Empire.”

Navidad raises his brows. “Truly?”

When the British occupied Manila back in 1762 to 1764, those two years awakened the Filipinos to the eerie concept of a court system that actually functioned as intended and treated each case by its own merits, not through how well the judges might be influenced. In turn, many Sepoys, native Indian soldiers of the Army after the end of the Seven Years War in Europe decided to stay in the Philippines with their Filipina wives.

They are actually the source of the Filipino word ‘carinderia’ or ‘karihan’, an eatery serving meals buffet-style; fast food before the concept even existed. Not from ‘cariz’ or to look (or choose from prepared meals), but from ‘kari’, curry; and the new tantalizing but affordable tastes they introduced to the populace.

“The British Empire tends to use it as a punishment for native soldiers found guilty of mutiny or treason. The Great Rebellion of 1857 is perhaps the most notable, but just as recently as 1871 about 65 members of the Sikh Namdhari religious sect were executed in this manner.”

“Barbaric!” Navidad mutters. “But if it is for treason and mutiny, then the traitors would die of cannon either which way.”

———

The cabeza de barangay continues “and what do we learn from those princesses who mingle in battles, and scatter thrusts and blows about in combat, or who wander alone in through mountains and through valleys to be seduced by mystical creatures?” He shakes his head sadly. “Our nature is to love sweetness and tenderness in a woman, and it is most vile to us those who raise their hands to a woman- be they a prince or a countryman! And who would not shudder at taking the blood-stained hand of a maiden, even should it be stained by the blood of a giant, or a Moro, whom we all abhor?

Rather than give plays that offer no merit to our people, would it not be a thousand times better to give representation of our customs, that we may encourage our better qualities and correct our vices and defects?”

Murmurs of “That’s right” and “I should have thought of that” fill the room. He is asked, how he might accomplish this. It was one thing to offer an idea, but ideas are cheap; a man is known by his actions.

“Very easily,” he replies. “I have brought with me two dramas, which I feel sure the good taste and recognized good judgment of our most respected elders will find agreeable and entertaining. The first is entitled ‘The Election of the Gobernadorcillo,’ being a comedy in prose in five acts, written by one among those present here.

The other is in nine acts for two nights and is a fantastical drama of a more satirical nature, entitled ‘Mariang Makiling,’ written by one of the best poets of the province.”

Mariang Makiling. Satire. Ohh ho ho ohohoh no. This does not bode well. Normally, this would not be a problem. But now I, a supernatural existence, sits among you. People, you no longer can be sure she does not exist. You are not safe.

“Seeing as the discussion of preparations for the fiesta have been postponed, and fearing that there would not be enough time left, we have secretly secured actors and had them learn their parts. We did this not in presumption that our plan is the best and sure to be accepted, but because we sought to present such a display for the honor and delight of our great leaders. With a week of rehearsal, we hope there will be enough time to learn all their lines thoroughly, and introduce to volunteers parts that they may place. This, gentlemen, besides being a novel, useful, and reasonable, also has the advantage of being economical. We shall not need costumes, our wear as in our daily lives will already be suitable.”

“I will pay for the theater!” Capitan Basilio shouts excitedly.

“How much will this cost?” asks an obstinate of the old guard.”A week to learn lines, what sort of actor needs that much time? Why can we not hire a troupe?”

“Being volunteers who serve at the pleasure of this gathering, the actors ask for no pay other than a place of honor at the fiesta table. Though you might find it fit to doubt their skill, but never their heart. It is a theater of our own citizens, and shall present to visitors that we have talents of our own! They will surprise you!”

“Then, if your play needs soldiers, and guards, I shall lend you mine!” Don Melchior speaks eagerly.

“And – and – if an old man is needed…” another stammers, puffing out his chest.

“Accepted! Accepted!” the assembly cries. Don Filipo goes pale, and his eyes fill with tears. He grimaces, overcome with emotion, at the speaker. The old men think ‘He is crying from being so thwarted, then we should support this plan!’ and their voices add to din.

The young man continues his speech: “A fifth of the money collected may be used to distribute a few prizes, such as to the best school child, the best herdsman, farmer, fisherman, and so on. We can arrange for boat races on the river and lake and for horse races on shore, we can raise greased poles and also have other games in which our country people can take part.

I do concede will that because of our old established customs, we must have fireworks. Fire wheels and fire castles are very entertaining, but I do not think we need very many bombs as proposed by our previous speaker. Instead, with two bands of musicians, we will have sufficient loud merriment – and so avoid the usual quarrels of musicians who come to enliven a fiesta; but who often behave like fighting-cocks, thereafter to leave often poorly paid, underfed, and at times even bruised and wounded.

And with the left-over money, we might begin the construction of a small schoolhouse, for it is a sad state of affairs that our children should study in the cura’s stable.” The speaker nods towards the schoolmaster in attendance. But as I sit behind Navidad, our eyes accidentally meet, and he suddenly goes stiff with fright.

He looks away and concludes “Such are the outlines of my plan; the details can be worked out by all. I thank you all for listening, I am finished.”

Murmurings of pleasure run through the hall, for almost everyone agreed with this youth’s plan. Those who still objected to innovations were bid to direct their attention to Don Filipo; best to adopt it for the time being, and humiliate him.

As order was restored, all now turn to the gobernadorcillo. His approval is the only thing lacking for this unanimous, audacious plan. He wipes at his heavily perspiring face and neck with his handkerchief. In the end, he stammers out in a weak voice “I also agree, but-“

“But what?” asks Capitan Basilio.

“It is all so very agreeable, that is to say, I don’t agree… I mean, yes, I do agree-” he repeats himself and rubs at the back of his head“But the cura, you see… the cura wants something else.”

“Who is it that pays for this fiesta, ourselves or the cura? Has he given even a single cuarto for it?!” a penetrating voice cuts through the floor. It is Old Tasio, disdainfully sitting there with both palms over his cane, as a king might lean on his royal scepter.

“What does the cura want?” asks Capitan Basilio.

“Well, the padre wants six processions, three sermons, three high masses, and if there is any money left, a comedia from Tondo with songs in the intermissions.”

“But we don’t want that,” the youths and some of the old men complain.

“The curate wants it,” repeated the gobernadorcillo,. “I’ve already promised him that his wish shall be carried out.”

“Then why for what reason did you have us assemble here?”

“F-for the very purpose of telling you this!”

“Then why didn’t you tell us so at the start?!” protests

“I wanted to tell you, gentlemen, but Capitan Basilio spoke and I haven’t had a chance.” He sighs and looks down at the brass pillbox. It is empty. He speaks more firmly than before “The curate must be obeyed.”

Don Filipo stares at him dully. “The curate must be obeyed,” he repeats, and collapses his elbows onto his knees that he might rest his face on his palms.

“The curate must be obeyed, or he will tell the alcalde about us and have us jailed…” the old men morosely comment.

“Well then, obey him, and run the fiesta yourselves,” the young men exclaim, rising from their seats. “We withdraw our contributions!”

“E-everything has already been collected!” the gobernadorcillo replies quickly. He rises from his seat at well and prepares to flee.

Don Filipo slaps at his knees, rises, and approaches the official. To him he says bitterly, “I sacrificed my pride in favor of a good cause; you are sacrificing your dignity as a man in favor of a bad one, and you’ve spoiled everything.”

All the others in the assembly grudgingly and grumblingly make to depart.

And then there is only laughter.

Who is this ass, that he would take hilarity in such misfortune? Where is this sound coming from? Oh, wait. That is me.

Wait, no. Agh!

“Ahahaha.” Stop. “Angels above!” I shout. “How I have missed this! In Germany- which as you might know are mostly Protestants – though even in their Roman Catholic regions, they do not have fiestas as that we furnish.

Gentlemen! I beg of you, do not leave yet! Could you allow me a chance to speak, and perhaps that we do not leave this hall with bad feelings? Perhaps there is still a way for all of us to achieve mutual satisfaction – you, me, the cura, all of us.”

“Oh, Don Crisostomo. I have almost forgotten.” The gobernadorcillo looks at the empty tin of cough drops in his hand. He tries to return it to me, then sheepishly reconsiders giving me back only trash. “Would you happen to have more of these?”

“I do own a pharmacy in Germany. I have several boxes more at my house, for distribution at our local pharmacies.”

“You own a pharmacy, Don Crisostomo? In Europe?” Navidad echoes.

“…. yeeeees, but that is not important right now.”

“Everyone, everyone, let him speak!” Capitan Basilio shouts. He speaks to me with a chiding tone “Don Crisostomo, we find ourselves bound to a festival that is once again common and ordinary. Everything has already been decided for us, all we need to do is follow. What more needs to be said?”

“Gentlemen, you are being made to spend on command. There is a word we all know for a man who toils with no reward for his labor. I understand that with this, you might feel no enthusiasm in you to attempt to excel.

And yet, what if, I ask you – go and be excellent anyway? Could you make such a festival the best that San Diego had ever seen?”

“We could, but it would only please the cura! What good is it for us? It is not what we wanted, we want no part of it!” the young men shout.

“True, but think of this. Your plan is not accepted. But it is not the end of the world. There is always next year.”

“And then the next year, and the year after that,” Old Tasio snorts. “Don Crisostomo – hoping for that which may never come avails us not. The powerful, seeing their wishes obeyed so simply without complaint, treat it as what the people also desire; and so seek never to relax their hold.”

“I understand, but my friends, without your labor, what can be done? Orders are orders, but without the actual accomplishment of the task, one might as well be shouting at the air. And no! I do not mean by this that you boycott the event.

It is, after all, the feast of our patron. We live on the shores of Laguna de Bay, so of course we require regattas, and lights over the waters. And if we must have boats, then they should be beautiful boats.” I make as if I am stacking bricks. “You must already have realized that most of the festival will be devoted to this display, as you have done year after year. Your plan, which I laud and also wish to see accomplished, rewards the townsfolk well for their own labors both physical and spiritual.

It seems to me that this is a matter of three insufficiencies. The first: there is not enough money to do both as the cura demands and what you wish should happen. The second: there is not enough time to do both in equal measure. And the third: there is not also enough passion to attempt both with excellence.

Gentlemen, I would have you know that I was most impressed, very impressed indeed, but the ideas you have brought forth. This servant of yours only wishes to help in whatever small way to see it happen. To this ends, I propose… to solve two of these three problems, if you would care to seek to accomplish both of these goals to a mutual satisfaction.”

Don Filipo shrugs. “So, what plan do you have to solve our problems, Don Crisostomo?”

“Don Filipo, the budget for the fiesta is still three thousand five hundred pesos, is that right?”

He glances at the gobernardocillo from the corner of his eye; the older man flinches. “Thereabouts, I believe.”

“Then, if you will permit, I will double it. May the town budget for the feast of San Diego de Alcala be seven thousand pesos.”

This does not calm them. The young men only scowl, and further whisper “A puppet of the friars” and “he follows in the footsteps of Captian Tiago.” Someone whispers “But it is said that the children have long been promised to each other?”

“He seeks to claim all the notoriety for paying for the fiesta! That shameless cad!”

“Can you afford this?” Capitan Basilio asks. “Young man, it is the worst of habits to be too free with your money! No, I would dissuade you from this instead; be like your father and be more mindful of your own worth, and thus shall you build riches for your family rather than die poor.

As Cicero said, magnum vectigal est parsimonia – men do not understand what a great revenue is frugality!”

Others murmur “Yes, yes, we will not be part of this folly.”

“I do not dispute this wisdom. Yet, non quia difficilia sunt non audemus, sed quia non audemus, difficilia sunt, Capitan Basilio.” I reply. “It is not because we dare that things are difficult, but because we do not dare that things are difficult. This was said by Seneca, that great Roman mind born in the same year as our Lord, Jesus Christ.

My inheritance is not only from San Diego; I am given what I have that I might improve the lives and manners of my countrymen. Gentlemen, I do not wish to set myself above you; my wealth buys no virtue, nor expectations of loyalty. I wish to help, because I see in you greatness!

And also, I am being extremely selfish in this, not generous to a fault. I wish to see your dramatic arts realized, but also the best of your artisty in decorations and celebrations. I have brought with me from Europe a camera – several cameras, actually – and I wish to take pictures, many many pictures.”

I stretch out my arms and make the old photographer’s gesture, a viewfinder box in between by index and middle fingers. I squint through it with one eye. “This is the celebration of San Diego, these are its men. Words about the lavishness of a feast and unique qualities of Filipino festivals are vague and easy to forget; but you, Capitan Basilio, you, Capitan Valentin, you, you, our most esteemed gobernadorcillo, you, our elders who drive our culture, you, our youth who carry out its missions – good people! Let your works be commemorated not just in this province but through all nations!

A book need not be made only of words, these days you can make a book out of pictures. This is my selfish wish, gentlemen. I ask for no honors, my contributions are very little, not even worth mentioning. Much more precious is your time, and your efforts. Allow to me to soothe your concerns if just from this one corner, that you might better work wonders in another.

Never let it be said that ‘Ibarra paid for this festival’, oh no, never ever! Let the pictures stand as proof; these are the people who made the greatest contributions. And at the end of it, the cura too. Everybody wins, everybody gets what they want,”

Reluctantly Old Tasio says “And well one might also try to say Audentes fortuna iuvat – fortune favors the bold. You have wealth, so are you so greedy now for fame, young Ibarra?”

I shrug. “Fame is transient, I am about all the opposite of that. I repeat, I require no honors for this. No one owes me anything; I only humbly ask that you allow me to take photographs. Do not think of me so kind. If you shy away from the camera, I will chase you! I commemorate the victors.”

Capitan Basilio frowns, as if caught between considering me an ally or an opponent. “Seven thousand pesos for a fiesta… it would allow us to do more than our neighbors.”

“But to pay half, nonsense!” an old man speaks. “I will add more, we will accept no more than a third.”

“Gentleman, I deeply respect your positions, so I beg you to tolerate my impudence. Whatever the group may raise, I will double it. The grander the celebrations, the better for the pictorial. You could make it so grand Padre Salvi could choke on it, if you so want.”

One of the young men chuckles. “If he wants to spend, then let him spend! I will take his money.”

Don Filipo then notes “That is only one of our problems you promised to solve, Don Crisostomo. If we accept this proposal, then what of the other two?”

“Ah, good, yes, thank you for bringing it back to our attention, Don Filipo. The second problem, time, is more difficult to solve. We could achieve it perhaps by hiring more hands, but it is not one I am qualified to say. No, I am sorry to say that they say ‘time is money’ because money can only buy time with great difficulty. I am of no help here, you know your people best.”

“It is good that you understand your limits, money is no panacea. So, this leaves the third – how do you propose to motivate us? You have said we would be photographed, but that is not good. There are those of us who would prefer not to have our faces be shown all over, what of modesty and honor! No, it might even be said as an insult to think we would be led by mere lure of fame!” says Capitan Basilio.

“You are correct, Capitan, and that is why I must ask forgiveness again for my selfishness. No, for motivation, I beg for each of us to do our best – that we may not be shamed in the face of our neighbors, our rulers, and foreign visitors.

If what I have heard is correct, then Capitan Tiago plans to invite his Excellency, the Governor General Terrero himself, to his home and enjoy our festival. I too have sent out letters for some foreign diplomats and industrialists, that they might be hosted and entertained in our town, and afterward we might discuss our common interests.

I beg you, I truly beg of you, forgive my presumptuousness. At the worst, they would see just another fiesta, nothing any more memorable than any they have already experienced before in these shores. But you – today, you have presented to me the seeds of something great.

So this, I hope, shall ignite your passion. It is not just Padre Salvi’s approval you must gain. Exceed even his expectations, and greater shall be your merit. But if you fail… ah, to fail, we might find that another mediocre festival might not be so bad; only you have to live with the knowledge you have chosen not to do any more than the minimum required!

They would not insult us, saying that it is the blood of the Indios that makes one lazy, for the minimum is not worth mentioning at all. Only you will know, rather than take up the challenge, the test was avoided. You would lose face only in the next year, or in the next fiesta of the nearest other town.”

“Are you are insulting us right now?!” one of the young barrio chiefs shouts out, but from behind his fellows. “We should not be ashamed of being made to keep pretenses. You can keep your money, if you will just benefit for doing nothing!”

“No, I am not, because I know you will not fail. Seven thousand pesos and eleven days – what can you do with this? Friends! Let me see it, demonstrate to all who will come for our fiesta, your creativity, your insight, your power! Like in the plan proposed before, let everyone who works hard finally gain the recognition they so deserve!

The task before you is not easy. I offer no insult; but do not think I also plan on being nothing more than a leech! I do not wish to help only by giving money; day after tomorrow I too will be returning to Manila; what should I procure? Who should I contact? Who even are the artisans? I can hold a paintbrush as well as anyone, and craft paper flowers. We must all hurry! I know you can do this. Are we going to do this or not?

That is all I wanted to say about this matter. I am finished.”

I put my arms to my sides and bow. When I sit, however, my eyes are directed towards Don Filipo. He still looks uncertain.

After a while, he says “What you have all presented is better than my plan, I admit. I cannot dare to stand in your way now… do as you see fit.”

Much more enthusiastically, Capitan Basilio says “I approve! I approve! We shall do it all! We can have a stage built, but I fear that the people might not see the play so favorable compared to the actors from Tondo. So we should have them present it first.”

”By the way, might I say something about that?” I interrupt.

“What now, Don Crisostomo?”

“Well, if the people are not charged for seeing a play presented by our own citizenry, they might think; then what is so difficult about the theatrics of the city? Hiring a troupe costs for each show, but encouraging our own actors can be done any time. We could have this sort of thing done more than once, and rewards offered for the best new talent and new writers. You, all of you here, you might not realize what dramatic qualities are hidden inside you!

It is great that you esteemed colleagues have suggested this, presenting our own dramas. I think everyone deserves a chance to discover more about themselves. This is why I could not help myself, to see this bud trampled underfoot before it has a chance to grow. It is wonderful, truly wonderful! You are amazing!”

The cabeza de barangay from before beams and happily whispers to his friends. Don Filipo hides his face, that no one should see his smile.

“The play – does it need an old man?” asks one of the elders.

“It… it requires four?” the young man who proposed it answers. I can see that he is already frantic about the need for rewriting.

“Seven thousand pesos! Don Filipo, do not even think of trying to throw this food into the lake!” another says.

“No, no, I have learned my lesson. Let me have some lechon too.”

——

The assembly now collects into groups, grouping each person by their mutual interests. The gobernadorcillo stands apart, looking lost. He looks towards the door. I clap the schoolmaster on the shoulder and bid him to join the discussion in my stead.

“Capitan,” I nod in greeting as I sit on the desk. His attention is momentarily drawn again to the empty can in his hand. Furtively, like a shamed schoolboy, he puts it away into his pockets.

“Don Crisostomo. T-thank you.” He frowns at all the people who have their backs turned to him. “I am not sure the cura will like this…”

“He will have the minimum he has demanded, and more besides. Look at them, young and old, united in one common purpose. If he forbids this… well… unhappy townsfolk are less eager to place alms on the daily mass.”

He sighs. “Things are not so simple, Don Crisostomo. The cura… you do not understand, how powerful his office his. Look at me, I am gobernadorcillo, but I am not like Don Valentin over there or Don Basilio… they will not call me Capitan Banquo after this. If the cura says no to the name put forth by the luminaries of the town, then no one can be gobernadorcillo. If you are excommunicated…”

“I understand. It is hard, balancing so many things that people want, and they blame you for it. But I think you are stronger than you give yourself credit for, Capitan.” I smiled and look towards the distance. “It is not my youth that makes me unafraid of Padre Salvi, nor my wealth. It is because I have contacts, and influences, that he cannot even begin to comprehend.”

“I wish I had your confidence. Ah, such is luck. I am already an old man, none of this has happened to me. Becoming gobernadorcillo has not given me any power or security, I wish I had never been chosen by Capitan Valentin at all! Do this, do that, why have you done this, why have you not done that! As if I have a choice in the matter at all!”

“You are always being threatened or lectured to, Capitan? How unfortunate.” I point towards his predecessors. “They held their office with a mighty hand and a mandate, but all you need is to keep from rocking the boat and capsizing, in this matter you have also been trying to protect people.”

“I am afraid… I fear you are here to disturb the peace of this town, Don Crisostomo.” He pats at his pockets. “I do not wish to be involved, señor – please do not ask anything of me. Do not cultivate my favor, it will bring you nothing of worth.”

“There is plenty of worth!” I interpose. “You are a more worthy man than you might believe, Capitan Banquo. You only want to be done with this- ” and here I wave over at the assembly still talking, but some already leaving to return home and speak to others about their preparations “this aggravation. I understand.

I will ask of you no favors. But once you leave your post, know this – you might call on me, and I will provide for you a place – a place where there are few people and few noises, some authority that you would not need to walk or fetch things, but nothing demanded of you – a place that is cool and comfortable, and a task that pays well without having to go into meetings or to make hard decisions. Yet it will not be boring either, always there will be new faces, and new conversations. Day after day, the most that will be expected from you to make it the same as the day before.”

The gobernadorcillo shrinks into himself. “You are a little devil indeed. Such a place sounds too good to be true.”

“Yet it exists.”

“Go on then, tell me your temptation.”

“You are who you are, so how could it be anything less? A ship. A pleasure ship. A veritable mansion upon the waters – sailing from Laguna to Legaspi, from Cebu to Batangas.

You might fear that pirates might be too much excitement, but you will be provided with enough men to keep you well protected. And the beauties of our nation and the wealth of foreign shores, all first to flow between your fingers. You will be safe, you will be well cared-for, and you will be able to rest easy.”

“I- no, it is interesting, but I get seasick easily.” He looks so very crestfallen now.

“There are remedies for that. But imagine it, Capitan Banquo. Not a functionary, not an errand-man, but freedom.”

He winces. “No, it is too much. I do not want anything… I do not wish to be involved.”

“Capitan Banquo.”

“Don Crisostomo…”

“Capitan. Banquo.”

“Señor Ibarra, please.”

“The Capitan Banquo.”

“I know nothing of seakeeping! The real capitan of the vessel will only demean me silently in his heart…”

“Some of the greatest steamship lines are not actually owned by sailors, you know, this is not very much a hindrance. You are made for more than this Capitan Banquo.” I pat his shoulder, and he further shrinks into himself, then slowly uncoils like bound wire. “Someday, you will see… a horizon before you… and you are free, free from this trap of land and politics.

I will ask from you nothing; nor shall I obviously ply you with gifts that might have those powers above you, feel vindictive.”

“Then what do you want?”

“Nothing.” I shrug and continue, “To be more precise, all I require for you is to do nothing. Only that for the next year, you do not stand in my way.”

“Hieeee…” he sucks in his breath.

“I will seek to make your remaining time as gobernadorcillo as comfortable as possible.”

The old man is sweating heavily, and shakily wipes at his face and forehead. With uncommon swiftly, he leaps from his side of the table. “T-thank you, Don Crisostomo, but I really ought to be going.” The old man swiftly makes his way to the door, almost shoving away the young notables in his way.

Their eyes widen at the strange terror in the gobernadorcillo’s face. Then, eerily and as one, they turn their heads towards me. What.

Seriously, people what. What do you think I was saying? I was just trying to be helpful.


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*AN: This single-story building is probably very close to the image of the public hall as written by Rizal. Also, you are looking there at the main means of transport at the time. Not horses, oh no, that’s only for rich city folk. Behold the great Filipino supercar. Carabaos.

100% biofuels. Such green. Much fighting global warming.

3.3 In the House of Pilosopo Tasio

The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught,  as that every child should be given the wish to learn.
– John Lubbock

We have arrived at Old Tasio’s house. It is not a comparatively very big one, but the insides feel more like a large library than a domicile. We have been here once before, on the day of the dead. On that day I had also conveniently been away from my home so Sisa, Basilio, and Crispin could in privacy light candles in front of the barrel shrouded in purple satin.

In my back yard.

Even my father’s servants have dared to complain to me, “Don Crisostomo, we can no longer eat here! Please, Don Crisostomo!”

In Manila, you are honored to be buried next to the church, ah! And so, why then do the servants who work there have no problem with it? But fine. I gave them a promise of about two or three more days, and then I send the body away to Manila. If just on the matter of getting a burial, perhaps Pedro’s body could be donated to science, and then buried with the blessings of the Dominican priests after the handling of their students of medicine.

… it was just that I had no idea if this would only insult Pedro further and keep him from haunting me. Can you imagine if I were on my marriage bed and then there’s this ghost hovering nearby, leering and… no.

Just no.

What the hell. Is this some sort of ‘do not murder people for the sake of convenience’ preventative measure? There are a lot of dictators and mass murderers who do not suffer even a smidgen of this hassle. Though I presume they are only metaphorically embodying the soul of their nation.

Googol places a soft paw on my arm. All will be well, his grin seems to say.

He barks: Now speak to us about food.

————-

“Well, it can be said that while a nation is its people, in conjunction with the sovereignty of their territory, a nation’s soul is its culture! The expression of a nation’s soul can be expressed in many ways, through art and song, but none so great and lasting as its cuisine. Of course China has its noodles, in Zipangu they have sushi – raw fish wrapped in vinegared rice and seaweed, and Korea has its hot kimchi, spicy fermented cabagges. For us in the Philippines, adobo comes easily to mind – but of the second this is not a distant thought!”

Sisa, to show her gratitude, has decided to act as a housemaid in Old Tasio’s house until her house is rebuilt. I have asked for this lunch that they prepare bulalo – that is, beef bone marrow soup. While not a very demanding dish to prepare, Sisa gave it nearly fanatical attention.

Allowed to simmer for at several hours for a rich soup, what would normally be tough muscles still clinging to shanks becoming incredibly soft. Just fifteen or so minutes before serving, throw in round cabagge and pechay (leafy green chinese cabbage) and young corn, and seasoned simply with black pepper. It is a strong and hearty meal.

I behold the bowl with undisguised delight. “So simple the ingredients, yet you cannot believe how difficult to find in Europe. Batangas bulalo is said to be the best, but that is only a bit south of us, and our cows are not very different. Pechay and corn, without these it just does not taste right. What makes it most different is the quantity of the meat, how long you spend boiling the meat! If one wants bulalo for lunch, then one had best start boiling it before breakfast! Not too hot either, lest you steam away the flavor and melt the delicious bone marrow!

How I have missed this! Ah, thank you, Don Anastasio, for this feast! Thank you, Ginang Narcisa, for your labors!”

“It is of no matter, Don Crisostomo. It is my house, my responsibility, please do not insult me further by trying to pay for the food off my table.”

“Don Anastasio is truly kind! We have been nothing but a burden to you!” Sisa wails. She claps her hands above her head and bows, in a pose almost cringing. “And to you as well, Don Crisostomo!”

“No, I have only been a bother to your family. The padre cura, Padre Salvi, has for some reason decided were are to be enemies, which is… ehhh,” here I gesture in the air with my palm down “We are both young men, either it will pass or keep things interesting as we advance in years.

Don Anastasio, I apologize again for my careless words from yesterday, trying to pay for the ingredients as long as I entreated what specifically to put on your table. As you said, I am trying to accrue too much responsibility to myself, it is too arrogant and presumptuous, and futile besides. To share our troubles with others is what makes a friend!

My associations with you might be a hindrance, though I hope to improve our common situations in the long run.”

“Your humility does you credit. It reminds me much of your father, the world is poorer for his passing. Allow me to thank you as well, Senor Ibarra, for inviting me to this meal,” speaks a young man with a tired face to my left.

The meal was not just for Don Anastasio and me, but her also is the town schoolmaster. He adds “I owe everything to your father, and I cannot dare to presume upon you now.”

“You were the first to come to my house upon hearing I had returned from Spain, and showed me where to find my father’s resting place. This knowledge is more than service enough, and for this I owe you too one great favor.”

Sensing the conversation was about to head off to weightier matters, which Sisa’s character did not allow her to listen into, she asked to be excused.

She could not share the table, for not only was it considered improper at the time for the hired help to dine with their employers, she felt unworthy of it. Her departed husband was like her god whom she could not disobey in anything, except in that day she could only protest about her incapability of giving him what he wanted; and on that day he died and some irrational part of her felt it was a price for her disrespect.

The woman was the light of a home, a father its walls, and with her home burned and its walls literally gone, had she not her children to cling to she would have gone senselessly cold and lost.

“My thanks again, good woman. It is the cook’s privilege to set aside the best portions for himself or herself, please do not hesitate to eat heartily too. This much food should not be wasted. After we have all eaten, in an hour or two we all need to speak some more. All of us, including your sons, are included in my endeavors.”

“As- as you wish, Senor Ibarra!” she hurriedly replies. Away she goes, almost to flee.

I frown at her back, and seeing my disapproval, “Do forgive her, Don Crisostomo, the woman is still distraught.”

“No, in this instance I still believe I am responsible. I tried to be too clever by half, and well she might consider me her husband’s murderer. And this whole thing… though you might not care about it, surely tongues are wagging about her virtue as a woman. People who have literally nothing better to do with their lives…”

I sigh. “What I do now is not borne out of a desire to grant recompense, but it is very suitable if this family also benefits. But let us not speak of unpleasant things for now.” I turn to the other two men at the table. Don Anastasio is seated at the head, of course, so facing me on the opposite side of this rounded dining table is the teacher. “Let us eat?”

“Let us say our prayers first, do they not do this Europe?”

“… yes. Yes they do.” Oh, right. A part of me forgot that simply making the sign of the cross before eating was not enough. The future is ever in a hurry, but I have a full thirteen years before the century turns.

Losing sight of the present from being enamored with the future is one of the worst things one can do; gamblers lose themselves in this, not just at the tables but at the stock market, and whole families are lost when all you care about is the money to make their lives more comfortable.

———–

“Public education is supposed to be an obligation of the state. The Decreto de Educación de 1863 was signed by Isabela the Second, and it mandated that primary instruction be made free and that the teaching of Spanish is compulsory. Leaving aside whatever sentiments on her rule, right now it is her grandson on the throne and the law is the law. The Philippines is just so very very far away from Spain.”

We are all seated now in the sala, our bellies full and our eyes just a little bit drowsy. “You have spoken to me of your troubles, Ginoong Navidad, but I must ask you to speak of it again. It is one thing to air your problems in confidence, and it is another to speak of it in a more public setting such as this. Specially in front of a woman and children. However, and in this you have a perfect right to refuse, I believe it may help us achieve a certain perspective.”

Basilio looks terrified, while the teacher Navidad looks kindly upon him. During the time he was sick, only Basilio came to visit him, but to say why he too left school. He had become a sacristan, and he was told that it was not good for sacristan to frequent school too much, that house of secular concerns, for it reduced their esteem. The teacher clearly did not blame the boy.

“There is a certain common element here, which is the Sacristan Mayor who had gone off to flee. Padre Salvi is a relative newcomer to this town, in many ways it is the Sacristan Mayor who, in dealing face to face with the townsfolk, perpetuates the system. But now that he is gone, and Padre Salvi is burdened until a replacement can be sent, and this is bound to make him more irritable. Yet even so, is not Padre Salvi different from Padre Damaso?”

Juliano Navidad shrinks into himself, then nods. He is a man who had come into town without knowing anyone, without money or recommendations, because his predecessor had decided to go off and to the better vocation of selling tobacco. “I had once attempted to teach Spanish to the youth, not just because it was ordered by the government, but because it would be useful to them. Padre Damaso had me called to him by the Sacristan Mayor, and when I greeted him ‘Buenas noches,’ he laughed at me, and passed from laughter to insult-

Don’t use borrowed clothing with me‘, he said, ‘Be content to speak in your own language and don’t spoil Spanish, it is not for the likes of you!’ The shame and humiliation I felt then! I longed to reach out, and avenge myself, but burned only with my inability.

For how could I go against the priest, the first moral authority? Anything I might do would paint me vain, and arrogant, and a bad Christian, badly-educated and even anti-Spanish!

Though I might feel it is the law, and that it would be good for the students, under reproach one needs humiliation and resignation. Without the graces of the good cura, I could not even collect any of my pay. So I abandoned myself to my fate like a corpse upon the waves.

Don Anastasio was my succor in these times, and for this I can never repay. In this house, I was enlightened of how much more I was ignorant, and the pain of chastisement by Padre Damaso faded in the knowledge of my foolish arrogance over an incomplete understanding. And yet there remained the pain of knowing that if one does not start somewhere, one cannot get anywhere, and we are all denied even that.

Don Anastasio, you know how in my studies I have become horrified with the old system. Whippings have long been a distinctive feature of our schools, and considered the best way of making pupils learn – but instead of encouraging students to take the role of heroes, and reach out for greater possibilities in their life, instead they are robbed of their self-esteem.

When I had attempted to cease whipping students, they came to class more frequently, and when praised in the presence of their peers, were pleased and would learn more. Rather than fear being beaten for being wrong, they dared more to be correct. Again I was criticized for this! Parents told them that if I were to spurn the habits of our ancestors, children would be spoiled and become disobedient, they would learn nothing; and so they threatened to pull their children out of school.

Young Basilio, you have seen this happen! When I had begun to resort to beatings again, I had seen the betrayal and tears, and I wish I could have wept with you children! Yet the cura had threatened to tell the alcalde about me, and I could do nothing. I have tried to treat you all with all leniency as possibly, but the time for reform is long lost!

Yet even so what you say is true, señor, Padre Salvi is different from Padre Damaso. He did not scold me, but said to me that before other things my first concern should be religion; that before teaching children things like reading and writing, that they know from memory the mysteries, the Triduum and the Cathecism of Christian doctrine. I can understand why it must be done for the sake of their souls, but for children it saps their interest in the idea of schooling.”

“If I were to argue that Padre Salvi should support you in teaching the children to speak and write in Spanish, sadly now he would naturally oppose it.” I say to him. “I think, perhaps among others, this is also why Padre Damaso and my father fell out of favor with each other. Don Rafael approved of your reforms, but in the end even what he could do was limited to offering prizes to diligent children. The time was not ripe yet for reform, maestro Navidad, but it is now.”

I turn to Sisa and say “I hope to make you understand we are not being impious here, but that the very author of Doctrina Christiana, here made a textbook of instruction in 1863, Father Astete himself deeply wished for all servants of Spain to learn well and be united under the mother tongue. That a Spanish man might go from Philippines to Peru and be understood. Both the Law and the mother Church are one in this!”

“Yet what of progress?! There can be no such thing, better to let it all be washed away by a new deluge, to clean its lands of the people that plague it!” Don Anastasio snorts. “Foolish parents see no value in their children learning, only that they obey! As we have heard, when Navidad here attempted to slowly enlighten children with more useful works and treatises, even in Tagalog, the parents raised such protest that Padre Salvi had to take notice, and thus why even this gentle order cannot be refused nor amended for compromise.”

Maestro Navidad, children, Ginang Sisa, I will not couch my plan in mystery. I mean to build a school! Until a school is built away from under the roof of the convento, it is inconvenient and incommodious for all involved. Spanish and Spanish works must be taught, this is the law.

But Juliano, if there is the most useful thing I have learned in Europe, it is this! Being proven wrong is like being punched in the face. And I do not mean it feels like being punched; emotionally, being proven wrong is worse! Pain in the flesh is passing, the hurt from being shown stupid lasts longer.

That is why there are only two options for reform; gently, slowly and imperceptibly liberalizing even those who hold the opposite opinion, making it seem like it is their own will than your own… or with such forceful shock that they cannot resist!”

The teacher looks numb and wide-eyed at me. He blinks several times, then places a fist over his chest. “You are correct, Don Crisostomo, I had felt much the same way when my studies have revealed to me that I was an ignoramus, I had attempted to teach Spanish long before I had understood its virtues of the language and the society than produced it.

So go ahead, strike at me, sir! It cannot be worse than the indignity and weakness I have already suffered!”

“You had conviction but no power. You had a plan but no support! You acted too early, but this is no fault of yours, since the only alternative would be more of the same. You tried to break through into tomorrow, but your strength was not enough.

So how about this? The great failure of your project was that you acted alone as you are. Even if I were to attempt the same, even my wealth will do little. The great problem with this town’s instruction is that it has only one teacher.

The townsfolk feel brave enough to pressure you. Would they be so brave as to try and pressure a foreigner with white skin?

Filled with the progressive power and culture of Europe and the Americas; those who care about putting people in their proper places, do they dare pit their traditions against the colossi that bestride the world?

If you do not have power, then borrow the power of others! Heroes rarely appear alone – they are raised high by others shyer of the limelight!”

Money cannot buy loyalty. But enough money can draw the attention of even more self-righteous types (but of a more progressive bent) just aching to civilize the hinterlands, maybe to feel better about themselves in carrying the white man’s burden, maybe to prove stronger than the misfortunes of the world, maybe to do good simply for good’s own sake, and there is also virtue here. Much evil was done under this premise, yet also many good public works. It is a certain confident (to the point of arrogance) selflessness  that is different from the white guilt that permeates instead this similar epoch in the next century.

There are many who sit on the opposite face of the world, just as well as this teacher, all aching to burn with the fires of their own ideals. They only require the opportunity.

“So this, I ask you, you have tried so hard and swallowed your pride. Could you take not being the main teacher anymore, but merely the assistant?”

“Don Crisostomo, please punch me in the face.”

“… why?”

“It pains me that it would prove Padre Damaso is correct, it was not my place. But your plan is… much stronger than my own plan would have been, I admit. If it would please you at all, do it.”

Old Tasio is pointing at me with his jaw hanging open, his chin high in the air. He is halfway between laughing and a scream. “Oh you would do this? They would hate you. They would hate you so much. This is the second solution, is not? Punch them all in the faces, and they will not be able to stand up again! Ha!”

He opens his palms towards Sisa and her children. “And I suppose such a teacher would need a maid and helpers.”

Crispin looks up at me, with awestruck eyes. “I want to be rich…” he murmurs under his breath, even as he still pets and half-embraces Googol sitting by his side.

Basilio frowns at me, and then shakes his head. ‘You are not finished’’, he wants to say, but politely demurs.

And you would be absolutely correct, young perceptive one. But for that, we need to practice using certain equipment. I grin fiercely.

“Don Filipo, our Tiniente Mayor, has invited me to attend a town meeting later this afternoon. No, my plan requires all your aid in much sooner, much more direct ways. In eight days, there will be the festival of San Diego. We too have much to do, many works to prepare. It will all be revealed then.”


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3.2 Let Us Look Busy

E-mails, phone calls, Web sites, videos. They’re still all letters, basically, and they’ve come to outnumber old-fashioned conversations. They are the conversation now.

– Walter Kirn


The next day I spend writing letters.

In many ways, this is my actual job. A part of me still rails at the idea the art of letter-writing could ever vanish, yet another instinctively attempts and is puzzled at why I cannot backspace and rephrase my choice of words as I write things out by hand.

As I sit here in my father’s study, I ponder the notion of the gentleman farmer as an advocate for democracy. As a landowner myself, and a man standing at the precipice of a revolution, is this not naturally my own role?

Many of America’s founding fathers considered that the truly free man is one who can live in a manner becoming free – to have a certain amount of leisure, but also not enough wealth as to have it consume one’s attentions. The kind of wealth that comes from lands is one in which did not take up much of one’s time and could be left to properly trained subordinates, and leaving the man free to pursue his own curiosities for civics and science.

Perhaps the quintessential figure of the gentleman farmer in this era was Thomas Jefferson – author of the Declaration of Independence, the first ambassador abroad, activist, scientist, agriculturist, philosopher, polymath and visionary, he crafted with his life and ideals the model of American’s neo-classical virtues. He became the third President of the United States in 1801 to 1809 – a fine start to this century!

In many ways he opposed the establishment of a new aristocracy that aped the mannerisms of the British Empire; the corruption of the cities, banks, and all businesses which sought to curtail liberty in the name of profit; he mandated free education, free press, free voting; encouraged religious freedom and tolerance; and well did the United States model itself and its themes on the Roman Republic.

There was a romantic quality to the man who is chosen to wield absolute power, and to let go of it willingly to simply go back to the farm. Like Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, the very model of civil virtue.

This, the yeoman republic, would not concern itself much with the pursuit of wealth or social ranks, but of moral insight. Above all things he valued liberty, and thought that even a standing army a threat to the freedom of its own citizens.

He said: Our country is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation of power first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence.

Which is, after all, true. This is how colonization works. The suppression of the people’s desire to decide what is best for themselves, is a necessary foundation for the continuing and effortless enrichment of the distant entrenched few.

So how much bitter then, the resentment, for the enriched entrenched near?

He died in 1826, a full thirty-five years before the Americans fought the Civil War and his vision of the agrarian economy found its flaw in the crushing economic and industrial superiority of the north against the more agrarian south.

My spirit longs to emulate Jefferson, for the sigh of the barrios is the yearning call of the nation. A humble heart can be trusted, for it is to treat people as tools that is the beginning of evil. It feels a trifle arrogant to compare myself to a legitimately devoted polymath, but what else could I be with all this in my head? I am obligated to follow his example. I must feel deeply and truly for my people.

But also my brain rings with the lessons of a hundred years sympathetic to the more cynical Hamilton. A nation must be strong in itself, or shortly it shall cease to exist. The people can want things to happen, but there is nothing that says the people will not be wrong. Prejudice can be cured, but it takes long doing. The pitiless machinery of industry wins wars, but how then can we expect anyone to first pick up the rifle and shovel if the call does not empower them?

Slavery was not something he believed could be solved within his generation; and so it was in the next. Bloodily, brutally, but decisively.

No wonder so many are drawn to brute simplicity of the strong-man culture, the all-encompassing solutions of monarchism and dictatorships. If all people would just damn well cooperate in the plan, then in this life we might even create the egalitarian paradise.

Save for, of course, people inherently being predisposed to division. There is a strong tendency for dualism in society – the rich and the poor, the noble and the peasants, the oligarchs and the proletariat, the urban and the rural, white over black, man against woman, the norm and the degenerate, the oppressed and the enemy.

How so easy it would be to use the bigotry. Enflame the people’s passions, and you can make them do anything. As in the recollections of the psychologist Gustave Gilbert with Goering in the cells of Nuremberg:

We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.

“Why, of course, the people don’t want war,” Goering shrugged. “Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”

“There is one difference,” I pointed out. “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

“Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

It is a compelling theory. Yes: Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.

The aggregate of minds within me really, really, really want to try out the campy overdramatic delights of a being a Dark Lord.

Which is why it is fortunate that I have decided to found a media company instead.

——

The second letter is to the Diaro de Manila, one of two daily newspapers in the country and the competitor to the La Esperanza, and widely considered the less boring of the two. Founded in 1848, it would eventually be closed in 1898 when the authorities found that its presses were being used to print revolutionary material.

I asked if I might submit to them a series of articles with illustrations. If necessary, I would pay for the extra printing expenses.

Perhaps something titled “Be ye The Sub-Mariner! How Man Now Braves the Depths for the Advancement of Commerce, Warfare, and Human Knowledge!

—–

The first of these series of articles regarding submarines would be about the three different types of underwater craft – the semi-submersible, the fleet submarine, and deep explorer.

The world did not yet have a proper submarine, most were simply submersible craft with limited depth, submerged time, and underwater navigation.

The submersible had as its advantage its speed, being made to travel above the waves for most of the time. It requires much less complex construction. Among these one might find certain torpedo boats, the Confederate David-class submarines of the American Civil War, and certain others. However, just as fitting would be light pleasure craft and smuggling vessels.

A proper fleet submarine however, was not a vessel for defense. Go further than just the thought of sinking the enemy’s ships at harbor or through the obvious passageways, it is for a silly ideal world and war is rarely ideal. No, the better to force the enemy’s action than to sit and wait! France’s Jeune Ecole, the “Young School” naval policy was a mix of fast torpedo boats and stealthy submarines, good torpedoes and other such devices to prevent the dominance of the battleship through a much cheaper force. But this has its undeniable flaw, that lives are not so expensive. Sailors must go out knowing they are disposable.

Unfortunately there were severe technological challenges that must first be overcome, but the fleet submarine, properly supported with its own submarine tender ship, can penetrate any rival nation’s waters with near impunity. While coastal submarines can afford to be lone hunters, proper fleet submarines were best used as their own task forces.

The simplest and with the most ability to stay underwater for the longest and deepest, was the bathysphere held steady by its mother ship above. This deep-sea diver was the larger, stronger and slower cousin of all submersibles.

One would have to be stronger than Atlas to bear the weight of all the oceans, it would take the very bravest and most patient soul to dare the slow descent in a globe of creaking metal. All submarines have a crush depth; beyond which the pressures could no longer be resisted be the geometry of metal and the air within. A needle would survive being dropped into the deepest point of the ocean, but any gap, any vain pockets of air, would experience a crushing fist uncountable millions of tons strong.

Thus, there were three main considerations for submarine duty.

· Speed, both surface and underwater.

· Endurance and ease of operation.

· Maximum depth.

The ideal submarine is thus a matter of compromises. What is most important to you?

To me, the knowledge that man could attempt it at all was worthy of celebration. Sure, to conquer the air, that is the dream of many. But what comes up must inevitably come down, it felt a bit simple. Balloons alone had allowed us to reach up into the sky blue, and true heavier-than-air flight requires stronger engines to allow for more than one or two passengers. Passenger airships are in our future, it is inevitable, and personally it held little mystery to me. It was a matter of technical limitations.

The lively depths of the ocean’s blue however, was a place so inimical to our air-breathing form of life we might as well be exploring another planet! It was so unknown, and so I love it!

There was so much more to discover about the ocean, it was its own world eerie and beautiful, and so important to every living thing on this planet.

The complexity of submarines, their relative slow speed, and their great utility for warfare means that few are the civilians who would be allowed to own them. Groups performing oceanographic research would find these civilian submarines be most useful in exploring shipwrecks and monitoring the natural resources available just off shore. They may dive into the abyssal depths and to behold the gape-mawed creatures that wait underneath, living where there is no light, glowing with their own uncanny luminance. Small hobby submersibles were within reach, as they are more for subsurface observation there is little need to enclose them in depth-resistant hulls.

Most importantly, mapping good fishing grounds and protecting fish habitats was the key to rich sustainable harvests of the ocean’s bounty.

All I required were some small waterproof motors and efficient screws so that the divers need to tire themselves out in their pleasant undersea voyage. The hull materials I could order forged or carved by local labor, and curved glass already on the way from America.

It was a pity that in the Philippines there was no factory for the production of batteries in large quantity, for which I would have an endless appetite, but it was just as well since sulfuric acid was so poisonous and corrosive when improperly handled.

Perhaps by next month, I would have ready the Ibarra Personal Submersible for a test dive in the Laguna de Bay. And then, if it works, the patent papers which I already have ready would be filed.

—–

Also, there was that a certain Enrique Lucio Eugenio Gaspar y Rimbau was at some point a correspondent for the Diaro de Manila. The year is 1887, and in this same year I expected him to publish “El Anacronópete” – Who Flies Against Time – a Spanish science fiction novel about time travel.

It predates by a year H.G. Well’s first story in said subject matter, “The Chronic Argonauts”.

From Diario de Manila,I could ask for more contacts for my mailing list.

————

The third letter is to young Señor Mata, expressing similar content as the letter prior. He had revealed to me that the next on his itinerary was mysterious exotic Zipang. More germane to my interests, while said land had rather lackluster iron, they were driven by a hunger for good steel. They imported raw ore and coal and produce some high-quality alloys – and I required a particular form of high tensile steel for my future submarines.

I included a quick sketch of what I thought the ideal shape for a fleet submarine, with their distinctive dagger prow. I wrote: ‘If you should happen to be shown the katana, the arming sword of their samurai warrior class, you will see why this makes perfect sense to me. Battleships are a hammer, these are my swords.”

There was little to fear from someone taking the hullform and making a better submarine with it rather than all the present bulbous designs, because it was an obvious development. If you want a bigger submarine, of course you would want to put the ballast tanks outside your main hull, and then wrap it up in a more hydrodynamic shape.

I doubt this would somehow butterfly away Tsushima, wherein the Japanese Imperial Navy would soundly defeat the Russian Empire’s fleet. It was the first victory of an Asian power against a white Western one, and established Japan as the sixth great naval power. With their skillful use of wireless communications for naval coordination, and emphasis on long-range fire by big guns, it ushered the grand old age of battleships and the almost literally mad phase of research, development, and construction of the post-Dreadnought era.

A nation’s number of battlewagons directly reflected its prestige, and nothing would compare to their mastery over the waves until the arrival of the carrier. But also a short while from thence only the pre-eminent role of the nuclear bomb would stand higher as proof a nation’s might. A mighty fleet tempts one into using them.

The Philippines cannot afford any part of that i̶n̶s̶a̶n̶i̶t̶y arms race, haha oh no.

————

Another to the Jesuits, for it was a Jesuit educated priest in Brazil that made the first voice transmission over radio in 1900, and the Jesuits run the Manila Observatory. I hoped to make an appointment to visit them, though this might sound a bit suspicious to the other religious orders in the country. The Jesuits do have a certain reputation for spycraft and intrigue.

There were many common scientific interests we could speak about. Perhaps they would be interested in oceanography and a theory of plate tectonics.  Where many orders in this country dealt with matters of faith and the practical, now only the Jesuits really considered science as a part of the Christian service.

————

My baggage has already arrived from Manila.

Included within the crates are some steel frames, piping, , a pump, and a large vessel with valves. Another contained bottles of liquid ammonia. These are the parts required to make a small ice maker.

Another crate had lead plates, bottles of sulfuric acid, and a ceramic casing. All the parts for several lead-acid batteries, separated for less complications during shipping.

Yet one more crate contained more steel piping, copper wires insulated with asphalt-impregnated cotton cloth, a dynamo, and a small steam engine.

The shipment is addressed as courtesy of the McEiling Valley Trade Company.

Yeees. This person was meant to be the recipient of the first letter I had written that morning. Well again I was relieved that this person was two continents away.

I can feel the unconscious stirrings across the centuries, some avowing that I was still better off doing this alone, while others saying that I should have asked for more advantages at the start.

Tiredly, my hand beginning to cramp up, I look down at Googol sitting at the floor. “So what do you think about McEiling? Can we afford to keep doing this?”

Googol only tilts his head to the side. He still has no sympathy whatsoever about anything. He rolls over to present his belly to be scratched.

I crumple up a page into a ball and toss it. Googol races after it to fetch.

————

Another letter to the Dominicans, specifically to Padre Sybila of San Juan de Letran. I could have written directly to the Archbishop of Manila, but this was not yet such an urgent matter. It was a simple question of doctrine.

So I wrote to him the events of two days ago. Then that Padre Salvi had refused the burial of a man slain by the Guardia Civil not just in his hometown, but anywhere. Does he actually have the authority to do this? Even common criminals have a long custom of being given a Christian burial.

True, we could simply have buried him somewhere, but without a priest’s blessing on the grave it is doubted that his soul would be able to find heaven. I was very puzzled with the declaration so I had ordered the corpse pickled in wine until we could figure out this doctrinal issue. But my good intentions are getting me strange looks from the townsfolk, so please, I would very much appreciate any counsel for this situation.

————

I sigh and look to the side. I am a man of science, ghosts do not exist. Unfortunately I seem to have forgotten that my mere existence is already a supernatural phenomenon.

Pedro, yes. We will have you buried, just wait a few more days.

The broadly muscular dark man with bloody clothes glares at me. Unlike what the Japanese legends say, ghosts do have feet, it is very notable to me that he is barefoot in death as he was in life. He is less transparent than just very blurry as if always in motion. Like wisps of matter being thrown off and then combining again.

Pedro, no. The ghost attempts to kick Googol who is snapping at his ghostly essence, but his leg just passes through the dog’s head. Not one of the corgi’s hairs are even disturbed. He just sits on his haunches with that stupidly pleased look on his face.

I guess all this could still be just a hallucination. I may simply be functionally insane, this an expression of my guilty conscience. And since this dog can see my hallucinations, you the crazy dog.

Jung. Jung. Jungjungjungjung. Jung. Jungjungjungjung.

Damnation, now I have that tune stuck in my head. [Googol] stop helping.

It is sad to think that I would probably be a lot more unhinged and even more prone to jumping the gun without a therapeutic pet. I wonder – as Freud lives in this era, maybe I should also ask his opinion about this.

——-

It is nearly noon. I have been invited to have my lunch again at Old Tasio’s house, that I might finally address the lives I have ruined with my nonchalance.


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First Impressions of 31 Web Serials

All was quiet in the  dusty, empty town of web serials.  The hinges creaked on the doors of long deserted houses and any residents left were sprawled on the ground, either drunk or dead.

Then Revfitz, fellow web serialist and professional punman,walked into town and issued the challenge.  (Read this to learn more about the challenge)

31 Web Serials. 31 Days. A month of Death.

Revfitz went on a promised rampage, tearing down poor site design, bad story hooks and clunky opening lines one day at a time. He lists his seven favourite kills here.

Noli Me and the Open Road were amongst of the victims – you can find out how Revfitz tore through them here and here. (In truth, he was a little too gentle. But they were both good reviews of the openings. Gives pretty interesting feedback without dragging your entrails to the ground)

With this bloody endevour behind him, Revfitz pockets his smoking keyboard and takes his place by the bar. A sequel is promised.  Someday, there may be an article on his site. We’ll let you know when that happens. For now, he tells you to read his web serial, Existential Terror and Breakfast.

Get lost, now.

3.1 On the Day of the Dead

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As in nature, as in art, so in grace; it is rough treatment that gives souls, as well as stones, their luster.

-Thomas Guthrie


But let us not yet speak of Maria Clara. Let us turn back a few days. On the dawn of day of the dead, I prayed:

Father, I can only hope that what I am doing does not disappoint you. Watch over me in heaven, father, and be not ashamed. Your bones lie in the lake, your tomb is nature itself. You died alone and suffering, but now you are free.

You no longer need to deal with these sanctimonious assholes.

——–

Dealing with the Alferez is easy enough. A man so quickly enraged with slights to his honor, and despises uppity Filipinos, flattery works with him well enough. “It was your complete victory against Padre Salvi, sir, and the humiliation of having been fooled by a thief for so long will not be forgotten so easily.”

“Well said! I had my doubts about your… analysis… but this has worked out very well. It is not as if the cura restrains himself from condemning myself and my men as mindless thugs and murderers. But culling the herd now and then helps keep the natives nice and peaceful, already the tongues are wagging to their children that drinking and gambling would lead to such a sorry end. We have done a public service!

And that Don Anastasio cannot even say anything, for he was there to see it! You have done well with me, Don Crisostomo, and I will not forget this. But do not think I will allow lend my men to you again for any small reason.”

“Oh of course not, Señor Espina. Let us work together again if there is something sufficiently interesting. Most crimes and accusations are insipidly straightforward, really, and manhunts only tedious.” I pause to smile. “But I am reminded of something else-“

“Oh?”

“Would you honor me by accepting a small token of my esteem? Some of my baggage from abroad had just arrived. Upon sight of it in Europe, I was quickly reminded of my father and bought it, but now he has no use for it. I would much rather you have it than anyone else. It seems… fitting.” I asked him again to lend me his men merely to carry baggage, a small thing, for it was to his benefit anyway.

They unpack before him a crate, which reveals a chair made of plush velvet and its frame plated gold. Its armrests end in carved lion faces, the symbol of Spain. A footstool of similar make is included. Also within the crate are bolts of purple velvet and silk.

“Señor Espina, have you ever heard of the concept of the ‘man cave’?”

——–

Dealing with Padre Salvi was more infuriating. With his gaunt features, chalky pallor, and dark hollowed eyes he looked more frail and unthreatening than anything. Yet, in many ways, I would have an easier time trying to change the mind of a brick wall.

“Come now, Padre Salvi. I am not asking for much. I understand you are exhausted with All Soul’s Day, specially with how your chief sacristan has up and abandoned you. I completely understand if you do not want Pedro to be buried here at all, that is fine. That is completely fine. But even a criminal is owed a Christian burial, if  instead somewhere else.”

“Thieves who steal from the church are damned in this world and in the next. The offerings given to the Mother Church are made holy, those who steal from them are nothing less than heretics! He is cast out, and no amount of your money will sway this good judgment!”

“It was your sacristan that has been stealing, Padre Salvi.”

“That indolent was surely an accomplice. Theirs is a family of thieves, like father like sons!”

“The boys are innocent. It was your sacristan. You know this.”

“The boys only escape punishment due to the intervention of more worthy others. I am not to be swayed by mere youth, there is evil even in young souls. They are much more easily tempted.”

Padre Salvi sees himself as above most the concerns of the mundane. Yes, even his lust for Maria Clara, no matter how hypocritical it seemed. Though he does not resort to violence as much as Padre Damaso, he does not forgive even half as easily.

After all, without temptation, there can be no saints. The priesthood in the Philippines had long solved the moral quandary of betraying their vows of chastity and poverty. All that is offered to the church becomes holy. I could perhaps trace his collapse to Crispin’s death – if he could murder a child and get away with it, what more could he do?

Without that trigger, he sees himself still completely righteous and should resist the sweet words of a worldly devil. He has just been betrayed by someone he had thought completely his ally, one trusted by Padre Damaso his predecessor, and the blood of the native truly showed itself as a corrupting influence.

I sigh. [Googol], spirit of knowledge, how do I convince Padre Salvi to lift his injunction upon Pedro’s corpse?

Superimposed upon my vision, a hallucinatory info box –

  • FIGHT
  • MAGIC
  • ITEM
  • FLEE

Thank you, [Googol]. Thanks for nothing.

I am reminded again how sometimes the witness of all human knowledge could be so astoundingly useless. I guess that is the meaning of having nearly infinite INT and absolutely zero WIS. Perhaps also that was the meaning of why mankind was given the gift of free will; something that not even the angels that sat at the foot of God been graced.

(Which by the way is odd to me, because then how could the angels Fall? Free Will thus is far more than just the capacity to disobey.)

“Padre Salvi, please. I am being polite and respectful of your authority here, that I do not simply have his body buried in the woods somewhere. I can pay all the relevant fees for the burial. Please, Padre Salvi. I cannot keep Pedro’s corpse pickled in a wine barrel at my house for much longer! That is simply bizarre.”

“I would question more why you would think it appropriate to do so in the first place, Don Crisostomo.”

“We have no morgue or morticians! We have no ice house. I had to do something.”

“Why is that? I question more why you feel responsible for the death of a thief. It is suspicious to me. Like that of a guilty conscience?”

“Padre Salvi, I am but two days returned from Europe. I have no way of having planned for anything like this to happen. This is charity. Yes. That is definitely it. Charity.

Power for its own sake is pointless, wealth left unused might as well not be there. The Good Book says that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to reach heaven, but I am still young, and if the rewards of my good works are to be claimed in this life than that is enough for now.”

He bulges one of his eyes in a suspicious leer. Padre Salvi is the one who actually looks like a ghoul. So why did the people of this town now shrink from me as Victor Von Frankenstein?

——–

Don Anastasio did not laugh at my face when I first raised that complaint earlier this morning.

So now I say to him after reporting my (expected) failure “I am surprised, with your prestigious library, that you do not have the works of Mary Shelley. Frankenstein was written at the turn of this century, surely you have heard of it?”

He gestures to the shelves behind him. “As you can see, I have many treatises and personal accounts, but I rarely have time for frivolous novelas. I am a seeker of knowledge.”

“I see. I must disagree, however, for it is novelas – in fiction – that sometimes we can often see an exploration of the themes that make us human. As much as many novelas as indeed so much frivolous nonsense, a few more become classics by illuminating to the present and for future readers the pains and stirrings of their society. Cervantes, for example, is he not a novelist we both esteem?”

“I do not spurn novelists as such, Don Crisostomo, but even with Cervantes it is better to see first which novelas stand the test of time.”

“Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, was first written in 1818 and well-loved even today. If it is a work of horror, it is a creeping horror of our own mortality and prejudices. So I heartily recommend it you. I have a copy among my belongings.”

“If you say so, then I will certainly read it.”

“May I also store-“

“Don Crisostomo, you should know I do not care overmuch for the state of the body after death. I have lost even the bones of my wife to the inattentiveness of the town gravekeeper. But the man’s widow and her children now live here, and even I think it would be vile to inflict upon them such a gross reminder of their misfortune!” Though his face is sympathetic, his voice is firm. I cannot presume much more on his kindness. “You have chosen this. Keep it at your house.”

I press my fists to my forehead and groan. “It sure sounded like a clever solution at the time.” It was good enough for Admiral Horatio Nelson, after all! Wounded fatally at the Battle of Trafalgar by a stray musket bullet, his ship’s surgeon decided that rather than bury him at sea his body should be picked in brandy and brought home for a state funeral.

The old man now laughs. “Why are you hesitating now? Do as you would wish, be daring, as is the power of the youth.”

“No, now that people know of it, I cannot pull ‘The Mystery of the Disappearing Corpse in a Barrel’ else some might think Pedro would have risen as a zombie. No, he needs to be good and buried publicly, for I do feel partly responsible for setting this all in motion. I do not tarry with the occult.”

“A zombie?”

“A word used by the shamans in Haiti, the living dead.”

“And yet you say you do not tarry with the occult?”

I sigh heavily. “It does not exist. No one can bring life back into the dead, nor even the illusion of life. What is gone is gone, it is up for those left behind to carry on with the unfinished business they left behind.”

Old Tasio stared carefully at me. “In truth, Don Crisostomo, you puzzle me. You are clearly a clever young man, I can see that, but I believe it is most unwise to get yourself tangled in matters of politics and religion. Yet your eyes are clear, you are not hunting for a purpose or indulgent in life’s pleasures as so many of our youth. You have more in mind than just this matter of a family’s unjust fate. What are you truly after?”

“Is it really so hard to believe that I had heard of a possible tragedy and since I was in a position to try and mitigate the damage, I simply tried to help?” I pointed to my face. “What has changed? Is this really the face of a dishonest man? I have not lied or manipulated anyone since I have -”

Maria Clara.

I struck me with the force of a thunderbolt. I winced at the stabbing pain in my heart. Of all people, I tried to manipulate Maria Clara. No, of all the people in the world! Never her. I should not have done this. Googol, tell me, is fate rebounding against the vow I had sworn to the heavens?

“I have not come into this county with any ill intent. Don Anastasio… I am a mirror. I only give people what they want to see in themselves. It is not hard to find common interests, but sometimes people seem more intent in being divisive, in finding faults in others, just to feel superior in their differences. If you are aloof with me, I will be aloof with you, if you greet me as a friend, and then that is what I will be – and most honest of all I will be against my enemies.”

“Then what about your friends? Your family?”

“I will be among them myself, who only wants to see them all safe and happy.”

“Many have sought to only make sure of such an honest and upright deed, do take care that you do not lose them in the pursuit of power.”

My eyes are drawn to the dark, nearly bloody red liquid in my wine glass, then then towards the east, past the Pacific, and into America. I shiver at the murky vision of wide Cheshire grin.

“Don Anastasio, I already have power, of a sort, the extent of which will be made clear in the next few days. I only fear that without someone to temper my eagerness, like yesterday I will do much more unintentional damage.”

Maria Clara! You might not know it, but I have ill-treated you, and I am sorry.

“Don Anastasio!”

The old man jerked back in surprise. “What? What is it, Don Crisostomo?”

“I beg you. I need advice.” I took a deep breath and clenched my fists. “I need love advice.”

——-

I am not like my father, who ignored mass as inconsequential. I might not believe in purgatory, nor that exhorting dead saints to pray for my father’s soul would have greater spiritual force under the eye of god, but sitting there in the front pews staring Padre Salvi in the face discomfited the young priest.

It was petty revenge, since within my skull I could be capable of infinite patience and in split attentions write out and prepare in timeless labor the work which would shake the country. It was a stormy night while he said his mass, and the tolling of the bells irregular, and more did Padre Salvi understand the spiteful mistake caused by his tiredness. Even so his homily was about ungratefulness.

Afterwards, close to midnight I found the spot where my father’s bones were cast into the waters. It was during this time that the stars are defeated by the shining of so many candles. Graveyards become starfields of regret.

But my father now rests in a place with a greater vigil light, every night. I set afloat a handmade wooden boat upon which I placed flowers and a lit candle. It is in the deep of night, the skies had already cleared. The moon has risen high above the waters.

“Father, I am not a righteous person…” I confess to the waters. “I hope you will not be too disappointed in me. My power is unearned, my means are completely unfair. My whole existence is that of a cheat, there is no justice in me.

As a greater man than I once said: Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. I greatly fear that I am not strong enough for this test.

Father, they say this is the day when the gap between the living and the dead are the weakest, so if you can hear me, please – give me a sign. I am afraid that what I will do is worse than wasted effort, but put Maria Clara in danger. All is pointless if she comes to harm. I know you have loved my mother greatly, so please, if you can, help me in this.

Give me a sign, if you can. The Angel of the Lord is with me, but of all the angels it is a bit thoughtless. I have another ally in the distance, but that one is almost more trouble than it is worth. I have cheats, I have mysterious abilities, but none of these things address how I am not in any way smarter than you and my mother have made me.

I ask for your blessing one last time, father. If at all possible, could someone else take up this abnormal duty? You are with God now, let me know, if there is at all someone who could do this instead, someone who would not cack it up!”

There is only the gentle stirrings of the guileless waters. Laguna de Bay makes no reply.

“I am going to cack this all up, someone do something. Take this away from me before everything goes careening out of control.”

Nothing but the breeze and the distant call of cicadas.

“THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE!” I shout at the lake and at the moon. “I am not half as smart as I pretend! The burden of so many lives… I have not done anything yet, but already it threatens to crush me! I am not the one you-“

The sound erupts in my skull and casts me down into the ground. My black tailored clothes become all soaked with mud and grime as I lie there wracked with blinding pain.

Electionem vestram
YOU ARE CHOSEN

Vos mos sumo aliis
YOU WILL CHOOSE OTHERS

Quod licet omnes vos estis
YOU ARE ALL THAT IS ALLOWED

Ascendunt PRAENUNTIUM
ASCEND, HARBINGER

Ne tenebrae ruinam!
LEST DARKNESS FALL!

——-

I have returned home to sleep. All is dark and silent.

“Oh shut the hell up, Pedro. Nobody wants you,” I tiredly mutter as I throw off my formal clothes, nearly mindlessly dressing myself in a rougher but warmer camisa, and shuffling off to bed I go. I ignore the insulted look as my clothes passed through his face.

And so endeth the day of the dead.


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