rizal, madrid, and me

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europe / on the road / spain
Nope, we're not in Manila

In no other European city have I felt more conscious of being Filipino than in Madrid. (Not even when I visited Seville.)

An Argentinian colleague of mine at work joked once, while I was dutifully gathering my documents for yet another Schengen visa application, that I should be rather bitter at having to need a visa to visit Spain. Weren’t we all part of the mother country’s empire? At that time, I laughed it off, saying we Filipinos are seasoned pros at visa applications. I didn’t really mind.

But did I? What would Rizal have thought of Schengen visas? What would he have thought of modern Madrid?

Dr. Jose Rizal is the Philippines’ national hero. He lived and studied in Madrid in the 1880s; he even wrote Noli Me Tangere–the novel that sparked the revolution that ended 300+ years of Spanish colonization in the country–in a flat along Calle Pizarro.

Rizal probably would not have thought much of needing a visa to visit Spain. He had actually advocated–among other essential freedoms–that the Philippines be a Spanish province. Other Filipino national heroes such as Andres Bonifacio took this a step further with the Katipunan and the Philippine Revolution.

Times have changed much since then–diplomatic relationships forged, country friendships sealed. Maybe if Rizal were walking around the city now he’d be pleasantly surprised to see this.

Islas Filipinas, meaning 'The Philippine Islands'

Islas Filipinas, meaning ‘The Philippine Islands’

And even more surprised to find this, a little further on along the Avenida de las Islas Filipinas.

Nope, we're not in Manila

Nope, we’re not in Manila

It’s a replica of the Rizal national monument in Luneta Park, Manila. His last poem, Mi Ultimo Adios (My Last Farewell), written on the night before his execution, is displayed in both its original Spanish and the Filipino translation.

Ang Huling Paalam

Ang Huling Paalam

Walking around the city, he might be pleased to see a Filipino chef running the show in Spanish institutions like Botin, established 1725 and having the distinction of being the oldest restaurant in the world, as confirmed by the Guinness Book of Records.

Botin's specialty: Castilian roast suckling pig. The waiter, who is also Filipino, gave us a bowl of rice (not normally included in the meal) after he heard us conversing in Tagalog

Botin’s specialty: Castilian roast suckling pig. The waiter, who is also Filipino, gave us a bowl of rice (not normally included in the meal) after he heard us conversing in Tagalog

Rizal is unlikely to have visited Botin though, since he was often broke while in Madrid. He wrote letters to his family about the costs of things in Europe and how much more expensive they were than back home. Rent is four pesetas, drinks are two pesetas, 90 centimos–that sort of thing.

But he was a well-traveled guy, a keen and curious observer of places he visited. He traveled to Germany, various cities in Spain, Belgium, and France. If he were here today, he’d probably retrace his footsteps all over Europe.

What might sadden him, however, is the extent of the Philippine diaspora he’d most likely observe on such a trip: the number of Filipinos who need to work outside the country to earn enough to support their families back home, the number of Filipinos with poor working conditions,the number of Filipinos who’ve chosen never to return.

Random shots of where the the Fiancé and I went in Madrid, while I contemplated this in my head.

Climbed to the Catedral de la Almudena rooftop for a fantastic view

Climbed to the Catedral de la Almudena rooftop for a fantastic view

Walked amazed at the opulence of the Palacio Real interiors

Walked amazed at the opulence of the Palacio Real interiors

Had the most authentic, chocolatiest churros at the Chocolateria San Gines

Had the most authentic, chocolatiest churros at the Chocolateria San Gines

Hung on the bull's horns (literally) outside of Plaza de Toros

Hung on the bull’s horns (literally) outside of Plaza de Toros

Marveled at Goya's Black Paintings at the Museo del Prado

Marveled at Goya’s Black Paintings at the Museo del Prado

Hung out at Parque del Retiro and watched the locals go boating

Hung out at Parque del Retiro and watched the locals go boating

Sunned ourselves at the Plaza Mayor square

Sunned ourselves at the Plaza Mayor square

Had tasty cocido (meats in rich broth) at La Bola

Had tasty cocido (meats in rich broth) at La Bola

We also took a day trip to El Escorial, a palace at the foothills of the scenic Guadarrama mountains.

On the train en route to El Escorial

On the train en route to El Escorial

The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial

The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial

Actually, I won’t pretend to have grand answers to the questions I posed at the start of this post. It would take historians more well-versed than I in Rizal’s life to even begin to understand what he would make of OFWs or the Philippines today.

As for me, I still ended up filing my application and going through the process to get my third Schengen visa. My curiosity about new places, people, things, and food overpowered the little “inconveniences.”

If only for this curiosity, maybe (just maybe) there’s a bit of Rizal in me.

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The Author

I am 100% Filipina. I've lived in Manila, Jakarta, and London. Right now, I'm firmly planted in the tiny island of Singapore! I caught the travel bug early on. I also love reading, dark chocolate, spur-of-the-moment food trips, Fridays, dachshunds, and lazy weekends with my family or the Hubby.

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