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Looking Back

Del Pilar’s cold winter nights

/ 05:08 AM February 07, 2018

One of life’s vanishing pleasures is salted butter. During a lecture on beta blockers and hypertension at a lunch hosted by the Philippine Heart Association, doctors at the table glanced as I resurrected a dab of unsalted butter with three passes of a salt shaker. I was confident knowing I was in a room filled with cardiologists who asked me many questions about heroes and their ailments that is worth a lecture. Juan Luna’s death certificate reads: “angina pectoris.” Literally pain in the chest or a heart attack, but Luna suffered a sudden severe headache and vomited before he passed out and eventually expired. Luna probably died of a stroke, not a heart attack. To complicate matters, there is the rumor, circulated by his mother and brother, a noted toxicologist, that Juan Luna was poisoned.

Years ago, I combed the correspondence of Marcelo H. del Pilar for symptoms of his ailments. Although he always wrote the line “Aua ng Dios at hindi aco nagcacasacit dito (By God’s mercy I don’t get sick here)” in the many letters to his wife, Tsanay, he details various aches and pains in most of them. Winter was bad for Del Pilar whose apartment did not have adequate heating. Writing from Barcelona on Feb. 18, 1889, he describes a cough treated with purgative and the biting cold that was tolerable in the daytime: “Aua ng Dios ay hindi aco nagcacasacit dito, inubo ako ilang araw at nang makapag purga ako’y nauala pagdaka. Totoong naglalamig noon, kaya ako nahuli sa ubo; ngayon ay ilang araw nang nakakalakad kaming ualang gaban kung tanghali; kung gabi ay hindi naming ina-alis paglabas sa daan.”

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In January 1890, Del Pilar complained about cough, cold and fever that he blamed on the winter and insufficient heating. By early February 1890, he moved, even if this meant paying double: two months advance rental on his flat with no heating was non-refundable. Del Pilar described chills and the urge to vomit due to the sudden cold one night. He remedied it by wearing shirt, pants, vest, jacket, overcoat, shoes and hat, then, fully clothed, he went to bed and covered himself with two blankets. His old apartment was so cold that even in the daytime he had to wear gloves indoors. The only setback was that the new apartment was not presentable for important visitors: “Ang itinatanong mong nagging sakit ko nang ako’y natititra sa calle de Monteleon No. 7 [at the time of this letter he had moved to Atocha 43 pral. Izq] ay hindi nagluat: nakaramdam lamang ako ng isang malaking panlalamig ng hating gabing ako’y natutulog doon, palibahasa’y malamig na lubha ang nayong iyon, at ang bahay naman ay sakdal din ang lamig, malaong di natitirahan at uala kaming estufa ni brasero sapagkat di pa nanasok ang invierno: sa lamig ay nagkan sususka ako at tila ako ibig ngikihin, kaya dali dali akong nagsoot ng baro, pantalon, chaleco, chaque, gaban, zapatos, gorra, at saka ako muling nahigang balot ng dalawang kumot ay sa aua ng Dios ay nakaramdam ako ng ginhawa at nakatulog ako magpa hangang umaga. Pagka umaga ay umalis na ako roon at dumini na nga ako, kaya noo’y na duble ang gastos ko sapagkat ang contrata ng bahay ay dalauang buang di ma i-iuan, may bayad na sa dalauang buan at kun iiuan ay hindi isasaoli ang labis na alquiler … Ako’y mamamatay sa bahay na iyon kundi ko agad iniwan: at wariin mo na lamangay kahit tanghali, ganong di pa invierno noon ay nag guguantes ako sa loob ng bahay, at paglabas ko sa daan ay inaalis ko ang guantes at nakaka-inis sa init. Ang tinitirahan kong ito’y mahusay, hindi malamig datapuat hindi mainam tangapan ng visitang mataas na tauo.”

In another long and detailed letter dated Feb. 18, 1890, he describes how he treated his colds and cough by sweating and the use of “polvos ni Dover.” It was hard to sweat in the winter but he managed by taking hot tea, using Dover’s Powder, wearing flannel and lying motionless under four blankets for 2 hours. If he moved a wee bit under the sheets he would hit a cold spot and drive away the sweat. Then as now, winter must have been a hard time for Filipino expatriates who pine for the warmth of home and country. Del Pilar’s letters, in the original Tagalog, remind those who forget that heroes are not made of marble and bronze, but flesh and blood that make their sacrifice all the more relevant and relatable to us who only know of them from history.

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Looking Back, marcelo h. del pilar
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