The many conquests of Rizal
One wonders how some people will balance their celebration of Valentine’s Day that falls on Ash Wednesday this year. Will people keep the ash on their foreheads when they go out on a romantic date tonight? Those who have other plans for Valentine’s Day might have to forget the line spoken as the cross, made from the ash of last year’s palaspas, is drawn on their foreheads: “Go and sin no more.” While everyone was complaining of the exorbitant prices of fresh flowers this week and the shortage of boxed chocolates, I was busy thinking of a Valentine’s Day topic I haven’t covered before.
In desperation I clicked on Rizal on the internet and found nine women romantically linked to the national hero. A third of the names on the list are familiar to everyone: Leonor Rivera, O Sei-san and Josephine Bracken, the others may well be more obscure but readily available with some research: Segunda Katigbak, Leonor Valenzuela, Consuelo Ortiga y Rey, Gertrude Beckett, Suzanne Jacoby, and Nellie Boustead. These are the names of women who appear in all biographies of Rizal. However, my reading and rereading of Rizal’s writings over the years have uncovered stray references to women whose names are lost in history. For example, a woman he encountered while she was chasing butterflies who we only know as “M” or “Minang,” a prostitute in Vienna who has become, for the overly imaginative, the missing link in the great urban legend that makes Rizal the father of Adolf Hitler. Then there is the woman hidden under the letter “L” whom he visited after jilting his first love Segunda Katigbak: “I spent the two nights that followed this day in visiting, together with L., a young woman who lived toward the east in a little house at the right. She was a bachelor girl older than we were. She was fair and seductive and with attractive eyes. She, or we, talked about love but my heart and my thought followed [Segunda] K[atigbak]. Through the night to her town … my father, who had learned about our visits, prohibited us from continuing them, perhaps because the name of the Oriental maiden did not figure in his calculations. I did not visit her again.”
Then there are other names provided by Rizal himself in a diary entry in May 1882: “Leonores, Dolores, Ursulas, Felipas, Vicentas, Margaritas, and others: Other loves will hold your attention and soon you will forget the traveler. I’ll return, but I’ll find myself alone, because those who used to smile at me will save their charms for others more fortunate. And in the meantime I fly after my vain idea, a false illusion perhaps. May I find my family intact and afterward die of happiness!”
To date I am still trying to figure out the codes in the letters of Jose M. Cecilio to Rizal. For example, in a letter of August 1882:
“We played tresiete (T…, O…, Galicano, and I), but afterwards O… spread out her cards and asked me to bet on one of them. Without hesitation I bet you on a horse against one five and I won. Then I told her that it was a clear proof that what I told her about her love affairs were true. I don’t know if she understood that you were the proxy of S … but I informed her that he was present and she knows too well who he is.
“T…, your intimate friend, how she remembers the things that you used to do when she was single. She requests me to give you a pinch of her F…, born after your departure from this capital city. They asked me how long were you going to stay there and I answered them that at least 10 years and when you returned you could make love to F… Then Orang, Candeng, Chengoy, and Titay, who were present, answered that you would kiss their hands … I rejoined that there was no other remedy, but Mariano, brother of Mentang, split the subject in the middle saying that it could not be so for the reason that you ought to have two objects. Here Troy burned. All of them, including Capitana Sanday, send you their most affectionate regards and Orang wishes you to find there a good-looking girl.”
One would think there is nothing left on Rizal to write about, but the more I learn the less I know.
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