Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dr. José Rizal and Dr .Máximo Viola meet in Berlin, December, 1886.

Dr. Máximo Viola’s braided narrative* of his Meeting with Dr. José Rizal in Berlin

Berlin, December 3, 1886. 

I remember leaving the Paris rail station.  The Eiffel tower's foundation-scaffolding built by Engineer Gustave Eiffel dominated the skyline. Ever so slowly, it receded behind me leaving tumbles of steel and spire.

All day long in my train compartment, I passed through a range of picturesque hills—steep, wooded, conic-shaped. Here and there dwellings and rugged crags with ruinous castles perched away and up toward the drifting clouds.    

Berlin was driving cold. Strong gusty winds blew snowdrifts along the tracks. Snow on the ground produced grey misty hues that traced the trees’ bare branches against the whitish-purplish fog that muffled the city sounds.

It was almost midnight when I arrived at José Rizal’s boarding house on 71 Jägerstrasse, corner of Friedrichstrasse., Berlin.  In the center of the city and a short walk from the train station, I reached a modest looking brick house with a grey façade adorned with a couple of dormer windows on the upper level attic floor.

I stepped out elegantly from my chaise dressed in a sartorially fit winter outfit.[1]  I proudly carried with me a brand new medical satchel--the standard handbag size--containing basic medical instruments and necessary vials and prescription pills.  I had it tooled of Cordoba leather and engraved with my name, Dr.[2] Máximo Viola, Médico-Cirujano.

I went up four flights of stairs to his 3rd floor flat and I met an unshaven person in dishabille who could hardly stand. I couldn’t have come at a most inappropriate time. José Rizal was nursing a fever. I noted his sallow skin, sunken cheeks; droopy lips, and bloodshot eyes. He told me he felt “awful.”  I insisted that he stay in bed. I promised to come back and visit him early the next morning.  I left immediately and checked in at Central Hotel on Unter den Linden Boulevard, a few blocks away.
The following morning there was a loud knock on my door. Rizal was at my doorstep.  He did not wait for me to come, but instead had come to my hotel to fetch me.  I dressed quickly and we went to his apartment to analyze his ailment that he had outlined to me the previous night.

The room had green shuttered window frames where light filtered in. Books cluttered his bed. Crumpled papers were strewn about like breadcrumbs on a baker’s counter. The wastebasket was a waterfall of sheet papers. I planted my medical satchel bag on the table nearby and fished out a stethoscope and a thermometer. I faced my patient squarely.

“Now,” I told him sternly and with pompous authority,  If you don’t mind,  I am your newly minted medico and you, Sir, are my first personal (not practice case) patient.” [3]

“I don’t mind,” said my first private patient feebly. It didn’t matter that Rizal himself was also a newly minted medico.  However in this case I lorded it over him and Rizal was too sick to object to being the object of my professional medical examination.

“Peping,[4] open your mouth.  That’s good! Healthy tonsils. But your throat is slightly irritated, indicating signs of coughing! Let’s have your temperature. 106 degrees F.  You’re running a fever although your pulse rate at 78 is borderline normal.”

“Weight 119.6 lbs.”  I shake my head in disbelief. He had lost weight considerably since I last saw him.

“Blood pressure:  156/69.” 

“No lymph nodes felt around the carotid artery. The parotid gland in the angle of the jaw and neck seem normal. Lungs seem fine, but there’s a brand new way of examining the lungs by getting transparent images called Roentgen.  We’ll see about that later. Suffering any pains?”  

My bedside manner is standard textbook material.

“Yes,” he replied and continued talking:  “I have a slight chest pain because of strain from intermittent coughing.  I run a fever every afternoon, for almost two weeks now, accompanied by heavy sweating.  I believe that’s a sure symptom of Tuberculosis. I tell you, when I was a child I was diagnosed as having the likelihood of incipient TB.” [5] 

“Leave the medical evaluation to me, and please don’t self-diagnose. That’s insane,” I said in a gentle reproach.   

“Likelihood” I emphasized, “is not the same as-- suffering from.  Have you observed any spot of blood in your sputum when you cough lately?”

“Not really.”

“Has any of your ancestors or near relatives ever died of tuberculosis?”

“None that I know of.”

“Pues, I see that your lungs are healthy. It may be TB but I’m certain it is not. I categorically dismiss your self- diagnosis. But I’ll see to it that you are referred to a German doctor who can give you a second opinion.” [6]

“A ver, you have lost weight since I last saw you, and did you say you feel tired most of the time?”

“That’s because I go to the exercise gym daily for routine weightlifting, on a dare, of course.” [7]

“Mind that you’re not mis-using your exercise routine.  Do you have a trainer to supervise your daily exercise? You may be over-exerting yourself.”

“No, that’s unnecessary. I know what I'm doing. Going to the gymnasium has been a favorite pastime of mine ever since Madrid and Paris days.”

 “But your workout alone does not explain your drastic weight loss. By the way, what did you have for breakfast today?”

“Oh, breakfast! I forgot all about breakfast.”

“Well, what did you have for dinner last night?”

“The usual water and bread, no butter. You know, that’s a healthy meal.”

“Peping, yes, healthy, only if done occasionally.”

“Indeed, friend Imô, I do, occasionally.”

 Now, what’s the immediate cause of these sunken red eyes and dark circles?”

“Oh that.  I’m busy staying up to the wee hours of the morning.  You see, I’ve just completed writing this manuscript [8] that I earlier told you about, and I’m in the process of the final edit.” [9]

“Then, you need to seriously alter your work habits that should include a good night’s sleep for at least five hours daily, until your general fatigue and afternoon fever dissipate.”

Well anyway, what do you think of my coughing, fever, afternoon sweating and general fatigue and drastic weight loss?  It looks clinically symptomatic of Phthisis to me, Señor Doctor Médico Máximo Viola.”

You, my esteemed friend, are suffering from a psycho-socio-economical and structural aberration of the body-environs, complicated by an over-extension of physical, unguided, and benighted kind of bravado.” [10]

Rizal couldn’t suppress a loud laugh. “Your words are well couched in diplomatic language, amigo, old chap.  Any medical prescription, Don Máximo?”

I need to ask you first what kind of medication you had prescribed for yourself.”

The usual Fowler’s prescription.” [11] Rizal answered.

Fine.” I replied,  “Keep the dosage light on the arsenic and continue taking it, but meanwhile my prescription is simple. Let us to go inmediatamente to a nearby restaurant.  I’ll make sure you join me everyday for a week to take a restorative menu at a restaurant [12] of my choice.   I need to monitor your actual meal measurement intake of lean body mass or nitrogen balance for at least two weeks. That’s doctor’s orders.”

 “And the next week, it will be your turn to take me to the restaurant of your choice.  Now, take your hat and cuerpo frock coat and let’s go out for a stroll.  The air is freshly crisp outside.”

I ordered extra coals from the concierge to make sure the apartment is toasty and warm upon our return. It had been freezing cold in Rizal’s room.

We entered a restaurant nearby and sat down for a meal.  I said,  As of today, let’s go easy on the rich food.”

I ordered the following for Rizal: 
Soup, [13] Bratwurst, Rotkohl, (red cabbage) Kartoffel (boiled potatoes) mit Sosse (sauce) und Weizenbier (light beer).

For myself, I ordered; 
Kraeuterhackbraten, Gemischtes Gemüse, (varied vegetables) Kartoffelpuree (mashed potatoes) mit Sosse (Sauce) und Wein (wine). [14]

What a perfect medical prescription for a malnourished and starved José Rizal, and it sure is delicious!
Es Schmeckt sehr Gut! 
Returning back to his room, I dipped into my breast pocket and handed him the diamond solitaire ring  (Saturnina’s) that he requested me to pick up from Juan Luna, the Filipino painter, from his art studio in Paris. 

*  Don Brennock, of Dublin suggested I should change the wording "braided narrative" to "have interwoven Viola's memoirs with Rizal's journals and letters..." email 14 Oct. 2013.  I replied that I like his suggestions.

[1] In a letter to Rizal, dated 21 October 1886, Viola asked if his Madrid winter outfit would be serviceable in Berlin. “Tell me… if the suits I wear in Spain can be worn there in winter, or if, by wearing them, I would be looked upon in Germany as a Spaniard, that is, backward…” p. 65.  We do not have a record of Rizal’s reply, but Viola arrived Berlin with a new set of winter clothes.
 [2] Ibid.  Viola mentioned in this letter that he had matriculated for the doctorate.
[3] I thank my brother, Dr. José Villarica, Jr. (Dr. Máximo Viola’s grand nephew), for suggesting this mock-up physical examination of Rizal based on historical records.
[4] Among friends in Madrid, Rizal was called Pepe.  Only among close friends is the familiar Peping used.
[5] See Rizal’s letter to Blumentritt dated 9 December 1886. “When I was still a small boy, the physician at Ateneo Municipal said I had incipient tuberculosis.”  José Rizal’s Correspondence with Blumentritt, NHCP, 2011, 30. Vol.1. 
[6] Viola referred him to a German doctor who confirmed his medical opinion. See Mis Viajes, 
[7] He had challenged his friends at the gym that he could lift the heaviest load during their practice.
[8] Rizal was working on the final chapters and editing the novel Noli me Tángere.
[9] See Máximo’s letter of 21, October 1886 in answer to Rizal’s request for canvassing cheap printers in Barcelona, NHI, 2011. José Rizal’s Correspondence with Fellow Reformists, pp 64-65.
[10] Viola soft-pedals his diagnosis to mean, “Malnutrition compounded by an overdose of weight lifting daily regimen” hidden in obscurant words. This reflected Rizal’s financial difficulties at the time. This is not the first time Viola shows his friendly loyal and diplomatic language when he refers to his friend, José Rizal.  (See his Mis Viajes con el Doctor Jose Rizal, 1913.)
[11] A mild form of arsenic.
[12] The etymology of the word restaurant came from the French language meaning a restful restorative health repast.
[13]Potato soup with dumplings,  
[14] Roasted Pig knuckles, prepared a little like the Tagalog national dish of “Crispy Páta” This was what I ate when I first arrived in Berlin on Oct 1st, 2012 with my Knights of Rizal hosts, Sir Gerhard Müller, and Lady Lulu.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Did Dr. José Rizal ever behave Badly against Women?  Yes, he most certainly did… just like a Macho Male Chauvinist Pig✴:  See his Travel Diary, 1891.

En route back to the Philippines, in 1891, Rizal boarded the “Melbourne” at Marseille to Hong Kong.  He kept a recurrent journal of that trip. I am always enamored of Rizal’s travel diaries.  

In 1882, on the boat “Isla de Panay,” he was an astute observer of nature and humanity especially women. In 1884, his diary entries were superbly written with imagery, colorful and highly descriptive and irreverent observations. This time, on the way to Hongkong in 1891, as I read his travel diary, something ignited my thoughts, and like a comic cartoon strip, a light bulb popped up over my head.  I was stunned on how he described and observed a woman passenger.  

In this article, I want to be straightforward at the very start.  Please consider this article as an anachronism.  I am looking at Rizal’s travel diary from the lenses of a 21st century woman, weaned from the writings of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. 1975.   During Rizal’s time, it was ordinary to put down women who stand out.  It was called being "Macho." Rizal was only doing what was the trend in the 19th century of his times.  So, when I call him *!@# (Macho Male Chauvinist Pig), I’m not dissing Rizal.  No disrespect intended.  Please do not be offended.  I use this cultural marker only for emphasis..  

Besides, sorry to say, the phrase sounds so empowering.

Back to Rizal’s journal.

Of his cousin Margarita or Itay, he writes:  My cousin is simple, much addicted to confessing and penance. Florentina, on the other hand, is a little girl of vulgar qualities.” P. 9.

Arcadia was a tomboy of an inflexible character and irritable, though she had a simple and frank nature.” P 59.

In 1888, this time, he was a “Licenciado,” a qualified medical doctor.  He had traveled widely.  

His attitude towards women, at first in his earlier travels, were full of romanticized admiration for the women.  Later, he became more critical.  For example, in his travels in Germany, he admired the women, but he gave them a left-handed compliment: 

The German girls are serious, they walk in a lively manner like men, they cut their hair short like the men, They have only gray and drab colors for dresses and they are not interested in wearing jewelry (some don’t pierce their ears) like our women in the Philippines.  P 114.

FYI Rizal, women generally want to be described as feminine, and not seen as "like men."

Of some Japanese women, he writes:  Tokyo, 1st Mar 1888.

The Japanese women are short, stout, fair and their cheeks are red. Their hair is stiffer and thicker than ours and I have seen few with good denture.”  [Rizal, do you think you are, by any chance, in a horse market examining dentures?]

However, this time around, in 1891, his attitude towards the women passengers on board the ship was…. pardon my language horrible and abominable.”   In other words, in today’s contemporary lingo:  he was behaving badly like a Male Chauvinist PIG, a real true-blue "Macho" man.

“The Lady” who came aboard the Melbourne from Marseille on the way to Colombo, Oct-Nov 1891.

Rizal notes a woman boarding the ship.  He finds out who she is from some twits.  

A handsome woman, well painted with the look of an actress, Madame de Block (?) is attracting attention for her beauty. They say that she is travelling for a scientific mission.  We shall see.  P 159. 

[Rizal,  *!@#! (you Macho Male Chauvinist Pig,) what do you mean “We shall see.”  You are thinking like:  "Who does she think she is?  I don’t believe that a woman, who, like an actress who wears make-up, can be travelling or for that matter, heading a scientific mission."]

Rizal notes her dress and makes a bet among the other Macho Male Chauvinist Pigs how many changes of dresses they would see on her during the trip!!! What a bunch of losers!

19 Oct.  The lady was dressed white this morning. We bet on how many dresses she has.  She travels gratis for a scientific mission and she stops at Colombo. P 160.

Rizal, did it ever occur to you that it was not gratis?  She could have gotten a "travel grant" plus a "research grant."

20 Oct. The lady has changed her toilette and wears a lace collar.  P 161.

[Rizal, *!@# (you Macho Male Chauvinist Pig),  as a comparison, can we count how many suit changes you and your male friends have during this trip?]

Rizal entertains gossip chatter, that is, she traveled with a Russian Admiral, that the admiral left his wife and children to travel with her.  Rizal is cavalier about the perceived pretentions of "this woman."  Her name is Mme. Block/Bloch yet Rizal refers to her as “the lady in question,”  in a derogatory manner of speech. When he says “the lady” it is always in reference to Mme. Bloch.

The lady in question has Greek features, straight nose, narrow and low forehead, big eyes and the mouth is too big. P 161.


21 Oct. The lady in question is wearing a new dress. She embroiders on canvas and continues flirting with the Russian. She is not as pretty as the day she embarked. She looked much older.  P 162.


24. Oct.  It seems that the dresses of the lady is question is becoming fewer. P. 164.  

Wishful thinking, Rizal. You are now hedging your bet. 

Rizal finally figured out who she was, but his sources of information are simply unreliable blurbs.

27 Oct.  The lady in question, it is said, is going to India to collect data and documents about the French generals before Dupleix.  [Marquis Joseph Francois Dupleix (1699-1763) was a French colonial administrator in India) …that is before the loss of the French colonies.  P. 165.

28 Oct. Now, they told me that she is going to study the women of India, that she speaks six languages, very learned and correspondent of many scientific societies. P. 166.

Take that, Rizal,  you *!@#!  She is definitely something else!  By now, Rizal, 10 days a sea, begins to change his colors.  This time he writes:

29, Oct. Last night I had a delightful time listening to the lady in question play the piano and sing. P 170.

It took Rizal two weeks to approach and talk to Mme. Bloch, who plays the piano and who can also sing delightfully!

31, Oct.  At night a hypnotism session was held. The "lady" hypnotized a woman , the Austrian’s wife.  I spoke with "the lady" who impressed me as very amiable. She practices medicine and is engaged in the study of various tropical diseases, for this reason she is going to India. P 166.

By this time, our hero (*!@#!) had left his stinking pigsty behind. Why?  Because, to his utter amazement, and perhaps dismay at his own bad behavior, Mme. Bloch was indeed very well educated,  mirroring his own practice, just like him:  doctor, physician, scientist, artist-pianist-singer, author in scientific journals, hypnotist, well connected, and above all Beautiful and Rich, (proof: her trunkful of clothes).

However, Rizal, the ever  loyal *!@#!, is still commenting on her toiletries. 

4 Nov.  The lady has put on her suit that she was wearing when she first embarked.  P 172.

Let’s look at it this way, Rizal,  you (*!@#!).   She embarked on  the 19th of October, and on 4th of Nov. she came back to wearing her original wear. Assuming that she never repeated her clothes, (otherwise you would have gleefully announced it), she had actually demonstrated that she was loaded with a trunkful of outfits:  16 dresses to be exact! She had fortified her monetary Means beyond the reach of others and maybe even you. 

As an inveterate bettor,  (Rizal  always bought lottery tickets in Madrid and in Dapitan) he must have lost his bet:  a week change of clothes? He loses.  Two weeks change of clothes? He loses badly!

By the beginning of the month of November, Rizal had changed his piggy snout pouch for a sow's purse of silky pearls.

5 Nov. I had a long conversation with the lady of question bearing on medicine, the ethnography of peoples, women writers, artists, and her sentiment on literature.  She is going to India to study Indian women. P 173.

I have been talking with a delightful young woman. She spoke French, English, German, Italian, Hindi,  among others. P 173.  (Rizal, you polyglot, she's got one over you. You never included Hindi among your language skills.)
Poor Rizal! When Mme. Bloch disembarked at Colombo, his journal entries appeared sad.  At one point, he wrote that he missed her presence.

6 Nov. There are now few passengers left.  There is a void among the people. I had so many thoughts and I think myself to sleep. P  175.

Hey, good for you, Rizal.  Your journal entry, which now is open to scrutiny, corroborates my title statement in this article.   Serves you right, you thought yourself to sleep thinking how unfairly you made mincemeat out of Mme. Bloch's reputation with your  *!@#!  comments.

However, in the end, Rizal, you may be a  bloody, blessed *!@#!, but you finally barely redeemed yourself -- saved by the times you lived in.   In terms of your 19th century attitude towards women, we, the 21st century women, forgive you.



✴ For   *!@#!  say  "Macho Male Chauvinist Pig."

1. All journal entries and citation were taken from
Reminiscences and Travels of Dr. José Rizal, 1878-1896. Centennial Edition, José Rizal National Centennial Commission. 1961.