Thursday, July 22, 2010

Leitmeritz, Austria is now Litomérice, Czech Republic

My Luvosîce Moment

Penélope V. Flores*

Luvosîce: July 19, 2010

Stunned from too little sleep, I blinked at the giant folio before me. My imagination is most vivid at times like this when I feel a strong connection to my roots. Memories and historical facts feel organically raw. It is hard not to be sentimental in a place like Luvosicé, three kilometers away from Litomérice. Standing there, the polished stone floor of the archive building was likened to a Sahara. My knees began to buckle. Here I am, halfway across the world facing a dark Morocco leather- bound book register. It is Folio XVII. On it’s open pages, I noted the fine delicate flourish of a signature. It showed half-way down the page on leaf IV B 8:

Máximo Viola of the Philippines (Bulacan).

I relive the visit of my ancestor for a moment. At age 26, Maximo Viola just completed his medical degree from Barcelona, Spain and was traveling with his good friend to Leitmeritz, an Austrian town of Bohemia. (At present, it is known as Litomérice, the Gateway to Bohemia, Czech Republic).

The two friends were visiting the Filipinist scholar, Dr. Ferdinand Blumentriit., who was the director of the Litomérice school.

Why this interest in Viola? Dr. Viola is my grandmother’s (Juliana Viola) older brother. I had waited years to undertake this personal journey in order to savor this moment as I traced the peripatetic footsteps of a young Ilustrado.

Ah, but wait!

Just above my granduncle’s signature, clearly another entry on the book is recognizable by the current 81 million Filipinos in the home country. The penmanship showed a very firm hand. The name was written at a slight incline ending with a strong downward and very magnetic stroke. It read:

José Rizal of the Philippines (Calamba).
Leitmeritz 16 May 1887.

My hair,which is normally limp and straight, curled like tendrils that darted off in four squiggly directions. Filled with strong emotions, I turned the other way, smearing my eye-mascara with a hurried tear.

At this point, the manager of the State Regional Archive, Ms. Jana Shejbalová, came over to my side and wrote down the name of the folio:

Gedenbuch der Königlichen Kreisstadt Leitmeritz (1840-1900).

The title page was written in High German script. Jana explained that the town of Litomérice had transferred the 19th century folio to her a couple of years ago.

“It’s a lucky coincidence,” she declared, “that you came today (Monday) because on the other days of the week, this archive is closed.”

The imposing registry is wider than my torso (shoulder to shoulder). When I held my arm forward as a unit of measure, the length went from my shoulder socket to the tip of my hand. As it spread open to the page the heavy registry book took the whole space of a 45 by 45 inch table desk. The Gedenbuch has a 5-inch back spine.

My thoughts began to unfasten as I fingered the page. Our national hero, Dr. José Rizal’s hand brushed this very page as he registered his signature 123 years ago (2010-1887). An ancient doorbell rang inside my liver. Yes, indeed. In the ancient pre-hispanic Filipino belief, the liver (kasing-kasing: not the heart) is the center of emotions. (The etymology of the word Kasintahan literally means the joining of livers.)

I heard the bell’s hushed vibration announcing in very dramatic resonance:

“You have just traced the exact page where our national hero, José Rizal, leaned on his arm and moved his writing hand across this very paper surface.”

That was my Luvosîce moment. I looked incredibly at my trembling hands.

“I won’t wash off the golden and historical aura emanating from this arm,” I swore.

“(Mag pu punas-punas na lang).”

For years this Leitmeritz (Litomérice) registry book might have lain under the eaves of the cavernous Town Hall library, occasionally to be taken down for reference by somebody, mostly historians from some universities in the Philippines; usually shepherded by recently appointed Philippine ambassadors, consuls and diplomats from Prague. But here I am, an ordinary citizen, with no embassy connections, no previous official scheduled appointment, unheralded except accompanied by my good friend Miloslav of Trebotov, a suburb of Prague, perusing the huge same book where our national hero registered his presence as a Filipino.

Back in Litomérice, I asked where Hotel Krebs was. According to Viola’s memoirs (1927), he and Rizal were billeted there in Room 12, during their May 1887 visit. The gentleman at the tourist information booth automatically corrected me.

“There’s no Hotel Krebs in Litomérice.”

“But there was one here in front of the town plaza a century and a quarter ago, “ I insisted with professorial authority.

He pointed across from the town square.

“There’s the former Hotel Rak if that’s what you mean”

According to historian Ambeth Ocampo who visited this building a couple of years ago (2008), the ground floor of the old hotel had become a bank. However, now (2010) it has morphed into a shabby commercial storefront. The outside neon sign read:

Obchodní Centrum

Miloslav (I call him Mila) Smida and I sauntered in. The shopping center at best displayed mostly made-in -China clothing.

The old “Hotel Rak” squats like a green box turtle, topped with a red tile roof with shell-shaped dormers on the top 4th floor. The confusion may have been due to the fact that “Rak” is not a “crab” but a “crayfish”. My Lolo Imo (Maximo) and most possibly Rizal were lacking in the German language nuance and could not have sufficiently distinguished the difference between a crab and a crayfish. As a consequence he wrote what came to them : “kreb” or “crab”.

Mila, who is a talented cartoonist, quickly and deftly sketched a pen-and-ink illustration of the crayfish and the 1887 visit of two young Filipino doctors and the Professor from Leitmeritz (See attachment, in future blog).

In addition, to make an impression he suggested:

“I may be wrong, but please inquire from your Ministry of Culture and Education for the correct information. Here this hotel has always been known as Hotel Rak. It's understandable that your historians depend solely on original written sources. However, if initial errors are inadvertently made, it is replicated over and over again. “

“No one bothered to ask us, locals,” he added with a wink.

It was already 3 pm. We started the trip at 10:00 am, July 19th 2010. Before repairing back to Prague, we lunched on cream of asparagus soup and fresh grilled river trout with potatoes and salad greens at a pleine-aire restaurant on Litomérice’s ancient and historic town square.

As we drove back to Prague, Mila made a brief stop at a pristine lake. On the distance I saw the shadow of an island. My granduncle’s diary said, there was an island here where Blumentritt’s family and friend hosted a picnic for the two Filipinos before they left for Dresden.

In my next chapter, I write about Ferdinand Blumentritt’s plaque and the bust of Jose Rizal that overlooks a green square on Litomérice's Rizal Park.

*NOTE: Luvosîce, (pronounced Lu-VOH-zyeet-she) is 3 km east of Litomérici, (pronounced Lee TOH myer-zheet-seh) which is an hour’s drive or 57 km from Prague, Czech Republic. A century ago, this town was known as Leitmeritz and was part of Austria. In this ancient Bohemian town, Dr. Jose Rizal and his friend Dr. Maximo Viola traveled to meet with Dr. Ferdinand Blumentritt.


Dr. Minnie Ladores said...

Wow, Penelope! Thank you for sharing this. I'm following your blog now and am looking forward to your next posting. =^_^=

Leny said...

Penelope - thank you for sharing this journey. this is very important work you are doing on a personal and professional levels. it's inspiring!