Saturday, October 13, 2012

José Rizal, the Alcohol Burner and Mi Último Adiós

Dr. José Rizal was in his cell that evening of the 29th, December, 1896.  He was due to be shot at the morning's early dawn. He was observed spending the night writing to his family and friends. He also put into paper his last thoughts-- a poem that began:

 "Adiós pátria adorada, region del sol querida...",

Morning came and while he was being led away to Bagumbayan,  he handed the alcohol lamp that burned all night within the confines of his solitary cell, gave it to Trinidad, (Carlos Quirino  the Rizal biographer, writes it was given to Josephine and Trinidad) and whispered in English (so that the guards will not understand) ...

"There's something inside."

Fast forward to 2012.  I'm now here  in Altneudorf, near Wilhelmsfeld, Germany, perusing the personal library of my good friend, Rainer J. Weber, a foremost Rizalist and Knights of Rizal chapter Commander.  He had stacks and piles of Rizaliana on toptables, chairs, floors, and I spent the whole day enriching myself with his book collections, now extant, (or it can not be found elsewhere).  One book page randomly opened into a picture of Rizal's alcohol lamp.

I was intrigued.  Was it a lamp-lamp, used for lighting?  Or was it a lamp-burner, used for boiling water.

My brain went on overdrive.

If it was a lamp to light the way, there should be a handle or finger holder.  The image showed none.

If it was a burner, then it should stand squat level and with a top gril for putting a small pot in it.  The image base was sturdy,  round topped, and practical.  It had a little grill on top.  This allowed me to assume it was an alcohol pot burner that can also serve as a light lamp.

If it was used by Rizal that night to illuminate the room, then there should be a burnt wick in the middle.  Sure enough  a middle upward intrusion and a burnt sienna wick tongued out for a match light, if needed.

If Rizal used the lamp to hide his "Mi Último Adiós," how in he world  did he do it?  Our history books just gloss over it. No explanations.  They make you guess with so little information given.




At this point Rainer and I had an idea.  Why not re-enact the physicality, capability, and compatibility of that occasion of the "lamp and the poem"?

We took out the dimensions of the paper Rizal used: 13 by 15 centimeters. (I'll check the vital stats when I get back home).  We found among Rainer's files, an exact replica, a facsimili of Rizal's Último Adiós in written script written on that correct size of paper.  The seventeen stanzas fit neatly on to the paper filling in the front and back perfectly (see photo).

Rainer folded the paper lengthwise, fan like.  Then he took one end and rolled it into a shushi roll. Did Rizal open the base of the lamp (it had a screwed top) where the alcohol spirit is poured in),  slip  the folded paper, and  closed it with a slight turn?

Nein, nein.

Too obvious.  It won't work that way. It would make a scratching noise if it rattled around inside the base where the spirit is stored.  Besides, the guards might become suspicious and confiscate it.

We analyzed the supposed width, length, and height of the object (lamp) based on the picture image  on the page before us.  Then, using Geometry: specifically--triangulation, we were able to estimate the height of the object.  That rolled piece of paper was the exact dimension of the height of the wick holder, about 13 cm in height.  That piece of measured paper was no accident.

A thought ran though our minds.  Did Rizal specifically cut out that piece of paper in that most precise and exact dimension using the lamp measurements as a template or guide in order to make it fit just right?  The thought was highly appealing. Only a methodically- minded and precisely-configured José Rizal would take the pains.

Now, the the sun had gone down.  From Rainer's lovely panoramic view of the valley below, his house daintily perched on Panoramastrasse, the  autumn afternoon was slowly drifting off, and I sadly had to leave.

But not before we finally solved the puzzle of Rizal's  Alcohol Burner and the  Mi Último Adiós .  Most likely, Rizal had taken out the cotton wick, trimmed it thin,  rolled his paper around the much thinned cotton wick, re-inserted the wick neatly into its original  holder and Presto, done!!!

Snug and perfect!  Then, with dexterity, he must have left the burnt cotton tuft a few cm. above the paper edge in order to replace its commonplace look, and handed it to Trinidad, that morning he died.

The rest is History.

These are all suppositions because our historians and our multitudinous Rizal books (a virtual publication industry in itself) never described the process for us---we, who later must need to study, learn, and to understand about Rizal and his Mi Último Adiós,

PS.  To avoid a misguided image, we should use "Alcohol burner" consistentl, instead of  going from alcohol lamp to alcohol pot or just the generic "Alcohol lamp" when re-telling this narrative.

In my next block, I'll take my readers to the Shriesheim graveyard to pay a visit to Rizal's friend, the Catholic priest Fr. Hermann Bardoff (buried there), who impressed Rizal with the religious tolerance between his landlord, the Protestnt pastor Karl Uller and this Catholic priest, while Rizal was living in Heidelberg.

One astute and analytical reader commented that if Rizal did this job, then what light did he use when tinkering with the alcohol burner?
That's a good question.  It is most likely that besides the table alcohol burner there was a candle light by the door wall, or else a candle on the table beside it, as is usual in those cases.