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Looking Back

Love that kills

/ 09:53 PM February 14, 2012

By the time this column sees print the prices of long-stem roses and chocolates have gone down. If these flowers and sweets are beyond the “sell before” date they should be on sale by now. Dinner tables in romantic restaurants, rooms in short-time motels and motels masquerading as hotels can be booked easily by now making the date-less like me wonder why the fuss about Valentines? Shouldn’t love, devotion and sex be something constant 365 days a year 24/7 rather than an obligation on February 14?

As I took my morning stroll in the mall I saw many messengers carrying bundles of roses and gift boxes – everything seemed destined for women, making me wonder what do men receive on Valentine’s? Friends in high-end shops said they were delivering small pieces of jewelry, some sent antique furniture. This must be the next splurge after Christmas, the last indulgence of the wealthy and devoted before Ash Wednesday and the 40 days of Lent. Some readers asked why I didn’t write anything yesterday, making me explain that this column only appears on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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“Balentimes” is something new in the Philippines. Not something Andres Bonifacio and Gregoria de Jesus knew about; besides, they were busy plotting and inspiring others to join the Philippine Revolution. Jose Rizal had at least 13 women in a long list of conquests and entanglements but nowhere does Valentine’s figure in this. Emilio Aguinaldo and his first wife Hilaria del Rosario were busy plotting and inspiring others to join the second phase of the revolution and the Filipino-American War. No time for chocolates and roses.

What about our great 19th-century artists? Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo never married his model, his muse, his live-in partner of many years, Maria Yrritia. When he returned to Manila for a family visit, she was not allowed to stay in his mother’s home in San Sebastian Street, rather she was lodged in a hotel. Thus, Felix would spend most of his time painting in a “casa de campo” or vacation house in Santa Ana, by the Pasig where, it is said, he was joined by Maria. When he passed away in Barcelona in 1913 Maria brought home the body—no legal complications like that of the late Iggy Arroyo here—when she was invited by the family to settle in Manila as one of their own. Maria Yrritia returned to Paris to close Felix’s studio and settle his affairs. She packed what was left of his paintings and belongings and sailed. Alas, she never reached Manila, dying, it is said, in a shipwreck off the coast of Africa.

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Not all love stories smell of roses and taste like expensive chocolates. Sometimes love can kill. In the case of Juan Luna and his wife Paz Pardo de Tavera their love made the front-pages of Le Figaro and all the Paris newspapers on the morning of September 24, 1892. Figaro began its story thus: “The Villa Dupont was, yesterday morning, the theater of a bloody family drama.” In a fit of jealousy, anger and other emotions that mixed into a lethal cocktail called rage, Luna shot and killed his wife Paz and his mother-in-law Juliana Gorricho. He also shot his brother-in-law Dr. Felix Pardo de Tavera who tried to intervene, Felix survived with a wound on his chest. So sensational was this story that Paris feasted on it, but it is seldom mentioned in our textbooks where Juan Luna, the artist who created the moving allegory of the colonial condition “Spoliarium,” is memorialized as a patriot. We cannot have a murderer as one of our National

Heroes, so the story has been retold with Luna “accidentally” shooting these women through a locked door he tried to open with a revolver rather than keys!

While going over my file I came across “Villa Dupont C’est loin Hambourg” by Gerard Dautzenberg (Anjou: Herault Editions, 1990) sent by Celia Anna Feria then with the Philippine Embassy in Paris who accompanied me to visit the scene of the crime. We were fortunate to meet the present owners of the house who referred us to Dautzenberg, a historian, who had written about the Villa Dupont, actually it should be Villas Dupont, a group of houses in a very chic area of Paris that all share the same street address, 48 rue Pergolese. Luna rented not just a house but an adjoining atelier or studio that is now a separate 2-bedroom apartment. The murders took place in a second-floor bathroom where Luna, suspecting his wife of having an affair, shot her point blank. His meddling mother-in-law happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and when shot in the head was killed instantly. She fell into the bathtub. Luna’s wife was found on the floor by neighbors and the police, she died 11 days later. All this horror was witnessed by Luna’s son Andres who was in the bathroom with his mother and grandmother at the time. We can only imagine how traumatic this must have been for the child who later grew up and became one of pre-war Manila’s most accomplished architects.

If one reads enough history one can see that love can be patient and kind, it can also be angry and murderous. Such are the events and emotions that make history engaging. These may not fit into the academics, love of synchronic and diachronic analysis but history is a long story of life and the more we know of it the more we know the past and ourselves.

Comments are welcome in my Facebook Fan Page.

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, History, Looking Back, love, opinion, Valentine’s Day
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