Looking Back

Rizal on German food and women

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Fall is a wonderful time in Japan. When leaves turn from green to yellow or red, they transform mountainsides into blazing landscapes that I have only seen on calendars and tourist brochures. Trees and flowers are to be found even in central Tokyo, so there always is an alternative to being indoors or inside a mall. Without a cell phone or Facebook, all this natural and man-made beauty around would not be enough to ward off homesickness. Even that viral video of that obnoxious girl using her alleged education and call-center English on a poor lady guard at an MRT station made me miss home.

Somebody once asked what Rizal would have written in a blog, what photos he would have posted on FB, what sharp one-liners he would have rolled out on Twitter. If you read his multivolume correspondence, you will know what his world was like, what he saw, what he shared with family and friends.

Every schoolchild knows about Rizal and the women of Malolos or Maria Clara, and how he held them up as a model for Filipino womanhood. What few know is that he advised his own sisters to be like German women! In a letter to his younger sister Trining on March 11, 1886, he said:

“Since I left our country [four years ago] I have received only four or five lines written by your hand, one or two insignificant news about you and nothing more. I don’t know how you are and I cannot imagine your person. You were very small when I left. Now within two months you are going to be 18 years and in four years I suppose that you have grown up and you are becoming a young lady.

“At your age, German women seem to be 20 or 24 years, as much for their faces as for their ways. The German woman is serious, studious, and diligent, and as their clothes do not have plenty of color, and generally they have only three or four, they do not pay much attention to their clothes or to jewels. They dress their hair simply, which is thin, but beautiful in their childhood. They go everywhere walking so nimbly or faster than men, carrying their books, their baskets, without minding anyone and only their own business.

“As I said to Pangoy, they love their homes and they study cooking with as much diligence as they do music and drawing… If our sister María had been educated in Germany, she would have been notable, because German women are active and somewhat masculine. They are not afraid of men. They are more concerned with the substance than with appearances.

“Until now I have not heard women quarreling, which in Madrid is the daily bread… It is a pity that in our country the principal adornment of all women almost always consists of clothes and finery rather than of knowledge. In our provinces, women still preserve a virtue that compensates for their little instruction—the virtue of industry and tenderness. In no women in Europe have I found the latter virtue in such a high degree as among the women there. If these qualities that nature gives to the women there were exalted by intellectual qualities, as it happens in Europe, the Filipino family has nothing to envy the European. For this reason, now that you are still young and you have time to learn, it is necessary that you study by reading, and reading attentively. It is a pity that you allow yourself to be dominated by laziness when it takes so little effort to shake it off. It is enough to form only the habit of study and later everything goes by itself… I hope to receive a letter from you to see whether you are progressing or not. If you can, write me in Spanish.”

Rizal wrote a separate letter to his family describing the snow and winter cold that gave him rosy cheeks:

“The wind blows with great force, beats the tree branches, and makes the snow whirl, lashing and reddening the face. Despite the fact that I’m not sanguine, my cheeks are red and at that I’m not very stout.”

He narrated how he spent his days studying eye medicine and German, he talked about children tossing snowballs or riding snow sleds. He even spoke Tagalog with a German who had lived in Singapore, and while each could not understand the other, Rizal recognized many Tagalog words from Malay.

Rizal also wrote about his daily routine and budget:

“Now I lead an entirely different life from what I had lately. I eat outside. The house with service costs me 28 marks—this is 7 pesos, each mark being worth 2  reales  fuertes. Breakfast served at the house costs me 40 pfennigs; I lunch at the restaurant; for 2 reales 18 cuartos they give me soup, three dishes, dessert, and wine, besides potatoes, salad, cabbage and other vegetables, for it must be noted that German cooking is all full of vegetables and many things mixed together. At night I buy two small rolls that cost three  cuartos, cheese, fruits, and a piece of sausage or butter. All in all, the heating, light, laundry, room, and food cost me some 30 pesos a month or a little less. Add to these expenses the cleaning, etc. so that for 40 pesos one can live well in Germany, if one doesn’t have to buy clothes and to travel from time to time.”

Some of Rizal’s letters should be included in textbooks to breathe life into a hero petrified into monuments of bronze and marble. Unfortunately, some people are uncomfortable with a hero of flesh and blood, fearful that his example will be copied by the youth who should be seen but not heard.

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Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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