The rain in Spain, according to Rizal

By Ambeth Ocampo
via Inquirer
MADRID, Spain—Spring may be a nice time to be in Europe, but early in the season the weather is variable: cold one day, pleasant the next, and you can have sun one day, rain the next. Many Filipino travelers feel at home in Madrid unlike any other European capital. Were it not for the language gap and the fact that Spain and Spaniards have been so much demonized in our textbook history, perhaps more Filipinos would try their luck here rather than in the United States.

Madrid is very much as Jose Rizal left it in the late 19th century. Old parts of the city are preserved so that you can learn and walk through Madrid history by looking at street names, some of which have been around for centuries, unlike Metro Manila where historic street names or those that have been “sanctified by usage” are changed at whim.

Madrid’s street names are also supplemented by historical markers on buildings, some engraved on the street that memorializes Spanish artistic and literary figures. Before the euro became a means to instill pride and memory of the past, France and Spain used to have artists and writers on their currency. Ours have heroes and presidents, reflecting a bias for political rather than cultural history.

Browsing through the 1961 compilation “Diarios y memorias” (or “Reminiscences and Travels of Jose Rizal”), I noticed that the coverage of Spain, and Madrid in particular, is not as detailed as those of other countries Rizal visited. When Rizal traveled to France, Germany, Italy or Austria, he wrote travel diaries and kept friends and family updated on what he saw and experienced. Madrid must have been so much like home to him or perhaps he was too busy studying to describe the city. To get Rizal’s impressions on the Spanish capital one must go through his letters. His diary of January 1883 to November 1884 covers his days in Madrid, but the entries pertain mostly to his expenses.

Every semester, I ask my students to go through this diary and they come up with some interesting conclusions. For example, the bookkeeping is inexact and, according to the accounting majors, the figures do not tally. They also noted that his biggest expense was not on food but on books and postage stamps. He talked about the difficulty of collecting money he had loaned, and hinted at problems that occurred when his allowance arrived late.

If you walk around Puerta del Sol today, you will see handicapped vendors selling lottery tickets, and green lottery stalls that my sister was tempted to try, except that it was marked “ONCE” and she said, “Baka ma-once tayo.” Placing a weekly bet on a lotto ticket is a habit I want to develop.

On a day trip to Aklan province early this year with Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, I was surprised when he asked the driver to make a short stop at a lotto outlet before going to the airport. Speaking from the experience of winning a sweepstakes jackpot, the mayor advised me to try my luck every weekend, especially if I’m out of town.

There must be some value in perseverance because Rizal’s Madrid diary reflects an investment of three to six pesetas a month for lottery tickets, leading his Spanish biographer Retana to remark that this was Rizal’s “only vice.” Yet when he was an exile in the southern town of Dapitan, he hit the jackpot. But because he never bought a whole ticket, the prize money was divided among him, the politico-military commander of Dapitan, and a certain Mr. Equilior. Once I gave the number of Rizal’s winning ticket in this column. Later I received an email from a reader who bet on it and won! (While he thanked me for the tip, I would’ve been happier with a “balato,” or token share.)

Rizal also mentioned in his letters the streetwalkers on Calle de la Montera who waited to pull men into dark corners. One part of this Madrid street still plies the flesh trade.

Rizal also mentioned various student protests in Madrid, and this week I have seen two quiet and orderly demonstrations in the city center.

I wonder why Rizal only mentioned snow and ice when he slipped on it. Weather he compares with home. In the Philippines we are said to have only two types of weather—wet and dry—unlike temperate countries which have four distinct seasons. In a letter to his family in January 1883, Rizal wrote a whole paragraph on rain, which normally wouldn’t be worth reading about, but when he compared Madrid weather with Philippine weather then it attains some value:

“It began to rain, which was a pleasure, but it was a little rain, ‘ticatic,’ as we say over there, lasting one week. The streets were filled with dirty and thick mud, the ground was slippery and in between the holes in the old and worn-out pavement were pools of water and little marshes like the “lubluban ng mga carabao” [mud puddles for carabaos to wallow). Afterwards a cold that penetrates through the marrow of the bones and nothing more can be asked. How ugly was Madrid! The sidewalks and streets were full of umbrellas whose merciful points left many one-eyed. When least expected, a wind would blow, turning the unfortunate umbrella inside out, placing the owner of such a flexible gadget in a ridiculous and serious embarrassment. At least over there, when it rains, it rains heavily enough to wash the streets and the houses have eaves under which one can take shelter; but here rain is very fine, like ‘matang Europa’ [European eyes]. Then, the newspapers speak of storm, but my God, what a storm!”

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