Pandemic Rizal: Frontliner, ‘HalaMAN,’ and cyclist
Jose Rizal was not a “plantito.” The Pambansang Bayani as a plant hobbyist is better served by the more masculine moniker “HalaMAN.”
“Titas of Manila” began as a term to describe upper-class ladies who lunch. “Titos of Manila” followed soon after. Filipinos are reared to recognize and respect age, to defer to elders. It is a sign of good breeding for the young never to address elders or people they don’t know by their first names or by their nicknames. That’s why anyone older or not known to the speaker is addressed as ate, kuya, misis, lolo, lola, apo, ingkong, nay, tay, miss, ma’am, madam, sir, or mamser. In the Rizal family, elder sisters were addressed as [Se]ñora, and the brothers were addressed as [Se]ñor Paciano or Jose by their younger sisters.
When I am asked what Rizal would have done during the current pandemic, my standard reply is that we do not know, because he lived in the 19th century and we live in the 21st. We can only speculate, based on the 25 volumes he left behind, what he would or would not do. As a physician, he would have been a frontliner. With his knowledge of plants starting from his childhood in Calamba, he could be a HalaMAN. Would he be cooking or baking sourdough bread? Probably, because he did know how to cook. When he was a student in Europe, his family sent him a regular supply of miki noodles.
What most people do not know is that if they lived in our times, Rizal and Marcelo H. Del Pilar would probably travel around the city in bicycles. Del Pilar, better known as Plaridel, left us with four volumes of writing: two volumes of essays he wrote, culled mostly from the Filipino propaganda paper in Spain, La Solidaridad; and two volumes of correspondence. Pla-ridel’s letters to his wife Tsanay contain a reference to the velocipede, an early form of the bicycle that had a big wheel in front and a small one behind.
On June 20, 1894, Plaridel wrote that his regular exercise consisted of walking to the Velodromo in Madrid, getting on a velocipede at 5 a.m., and riding it till the sun forced him to stop. Cycling had increased his resistance. He once complained of shortness of breath and having to clutch the handrails when ascending a staircase. But after taking to the velocipede, he could run up 80 steps quickly. In September 1894, Plaridel reported that his bouts of depression were cured by riding a bike to exhaustion. Recommending it highly to Tsanay, he wrote: “Mag-aral ka kaya ng velocipedo.” He was not alone, as cycling was the craze in 19th-century Madrid and Barcelona. Unfortunately, autumn arrived, and when settling into winter, Plaridel had to give up cycling due to the cold or inhospitable weather.
Writing from exile in Dapitan on Dec. 18, 1895, Rizal requested his mother: “I should like you to buy me a second-hand bicycle, neither very bad nor very good and which would not cost more than 100 pesos. Pepe Leyba could do me the favor of buying one to use in my trips to the town; neither very good nor very bad. In the next mail, I’ll send you the money together with another 100 pesos for Father and you.”
Pepe Leyba was a family friend who won the November 1894 Carrera de Bicicletas in Bacolor, Pampanga, and was awarded a ribbon painted by Juan Luna. He was the best person to choose a bike, but the bike did not arrive, so Rizal followed up on Jan. 15, 1896, telling his mother: “I don’t want you to give me the bicycle as a gift, but I want to buy it with my own money. At Ullmann’s they sell new and good ones for 175 pesos, but I want one that is less expensive, sturdy, second-hand, for use in these very rough places so harmful to metal objects.”
He repeated this in a letter to his sister Trinidad on the same date: “I do not want a deluxe bicycle; what I like is a sturdy one that can run on sand and on these bad roads, and does not cost more than 100 pesos.” A month later he gave up, writing to Trinidad on Feb. 12, 1896: “Leave the bicycle this time.” Rizal’s only regret was that he taught his nephews how to read, take dictation, write well, do math and fractions, speak English, lift weights, and swim, but he did not have a horse and a bicycle to teach them how to ride.
So aside from being a frontliner, a HalaMAN, and home cook, what else would Rizal do in our times? He would be the poster boy for cyclists.
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