History, remembrance & the search for home
HINDSIGHT - F Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - September 28, 2014 - 12:00am

CROSSING MANY BORDERS TO REACH HOME: FROM EUROPE TO — ASIA AND WHAT IS HOME

By Klaus Zeller

To that ancient question all of us are soon asked — “What is home?” — the former German Ambassador to the Philippines Klaus Zeller’s answer concludes this second volume of his autobiography: “Then I found Pinky (del Rosario) who accompanied me in the last 15 years of my professional life and then gave me shelter in her own country where I had friends who helped me to survive. I always was home as I am now.”

I’d like to think that I am one of Klaus’ Filipino friends and that friendship is extremely precious — and memorable — for it started when he was stationed here in the last bleak days of the Marcos dictatorship. This, then, is not a review really of his memoirs but a paean to a man who understood us and is now, in a sense, also one of us.

Klaus spent some 40 years in the German Foreign Service, long enough to know Africa, Asia as well as the history of Europe. He lectures at De La Salle University, the Asian Institute of Management and the University of Asia and the Pacific on international relations, history and development. He is too modest to write about his personal philanthropies.

For four years after the imposition of martial law in 1972, I was not allowed to travel. When I finally got my passport back in 1976, there were instances when I was still harassed, and on one occasion I was not allowed to leave for I was accused of stealing a P900 Seiko watch.

One of the most exciting trips I made during those years was to Germany as arranged by then German Ambassador Klaus Zeller. He wanted me to trace Rizal’s visit to Germany. He went to the airport to see to it that I would not be stopped from leaving.  For one, I learned so much from that trip. Rizal — his life and his writing — had influenced me tremendously. That trip helped confirm what I had always presumed — that it was the German experience that propelled Rizal’s intellectual growth.

Note that his best friend Ferdinand Blumentritt was a German-speaking scholar, that it was in Germany where his novel, Noli Me Tangere, was published. There, too, was where he became an eye doctor, an anthropologist in touch with the foremost German scholars of the time, who welcomed him into the highest councils of academe. Klaus Zeller knew all this for aside from being a student of development, he also read Rizal thoroughly and admired his erudition as nurtured and shaped in Germany.

All through those years that intellectual freedom was under siege, the writers who did not conform with Marcos felt isolated and defenseless. It was a time when we sought comfort not just from one another but also from those colleagues abroad who understood our flight and sympathized with us.

Klaus Zeller made no such statements of support but by his very actions, we instinctively knew it. At one time, during a meeting of PEN, he came with a whole case of German wine. We understood fully what that gesture meant.

After his tour of duty in Manila, I was able to see Klaus again with Pinky in Bonn, and in Canberra.

Two years ago, the first volume of this autobiography was launched. Written as a personal testimony of a fruitful career and intellectual journey, the first volume did not have as many photographs as this second volume.

We can see in the photos how Klaus Zeller has aged but not mellowed.

In one of my recent meetings, in a conversation, I tried to be diplomatic. He reproached me thus: “Frankie, shouldn’t we, at our age, always be truthful?”

Take that from a compleat diplomat, who I know has always been honest.

* * *

THE FICTION AND JOURNALISM OF NICK JOAQUIN

Anvil Publishing, Inc.

It is good news to know that Anvil’s Karina Bolasco is reprinting some of Nick Joaquin’s short stories together with his superb journalism as these were published in the Philippines Free Press, lifting that magazine to be one of the best in the region.

I first appreciated Nick when I read his story “The Legend of the Dying Wanton” in 1948. This little-known story, based on a historic battle between Moslems and Christians, is one of Nick’s first and in it, his elegant flair with language, his vivid descriptions are already evident.

All these hallmarks of his genius were to appear in his essays and journalism, in his magnificent books, A Question of Heroes and Culture as History.

In the Fifties, the Manila literati (and perhaps, intelligentsia) was rather small, and was bracketed in the Manila Bulletin, the Manila Times and the Daily Mirror and their magazines, on Florentino Torres St., parallel to Rizal Avenue where the Free Press and Nick were. Close by, in Soler, were the Ramon Roces publications and the vernacular weeklies. Within walking distance, at the foot of Dasmariñas, was the Manila Chronicle and across the Pasig, in Intramuros was the Philippines Herald. Writers from these papers often congregated at the greasy restaurants and coffee shops in Santa Cruz, and the mezzanine of Botica Boie at the Escolta. The National Press Club was yet to be built.

Another meeting place was Joaquin Po’s Popular Bookstore at Doroteo Jose corner Rizal Avenue.

When I opened Solidaridad Bookshop on Padre Faura in 1965, Nick was a frequent visitor. He usually came at around 4 p.m., stayed till six or seven, then moved on to Calle Sinco in nearby Mabini.

There was always beer in the bookshop for Nick as we reminisced about the Manila that was gone forever, about culture and history, literature and writers. He was very loyal to his friends, but some of his friends were not loyal to him.

We agreed on a lot of ideas, the need of writers to know the classics, that time is the most reliable critic, that Don Quixote, was the world’s greatest novel ever, and Rizal the ideal Filipino.

We disagreed on his Hispanophile pronouncements, on Villa, on Ulysses by James Joyce. These disagreements often led to shouting matches. If people didn’t know we were friends, they would think us the bitterest of enemies.

When Nick knew he was losing, he would bring out his white handkerchief and wave it. Of all the people, friends I’ve made, I miss him the most. He was the most decent Filipino writer I ever met.

Many did not know how much Nick detested the Marcos dictatorship, particularly our own contemporaries who helped legitimize that regime and assisted the conjugal dictatorship in the plunder of this country. He was aware as well of the violence that was committed against those who opposed Marcos.

Now, I hear young people say Marcos was the best president we ever had, that martial law brought peace and prosperity to the country. They may be forgiven for saying these things because they never experienced Marcos, Imelda and their toadies. They did not witness the jailing, torture and killing of thousands. In the first place, Imelda is back in power, glorified by media, which have no sense of responsibility to the people or to a past. And it is all there, recorded with sterling fidelity in Nick’s collected writing.

* * *

FROM PAGES OF

PHILIPPINE HISTORY

By Jose R. Rodriguez

Bulletin Publishing Company

It is often said that journalism is history in a hurry, and journalists, perhaps without being aware of it, are historians in the sense that they report important events as they unfold. They interview and write about the individuals who create these momentous occasions. If they are in print medium, what they record achieves some permanence because it is visual, in black and white (and in resplendent color, too).

But sooner or later, since journalism is history in a hurry, the paper wherein these events are embedded ends up in junk heaps or are recycled as new blank sheets. Seldom are old newspapers or magazines kept. Collectors do not normally covet them in their treasure vaults for they tend to be bulky. Their preservation is now in film, or in that vast, infinite storehouse called cyberspace.

What Jose R. Rodriguez, veteran and multi-awarded journalist has done is beyond journalism itself. He has rescued a batch of old newspapers from oblivion and came out with this book — a must-read for Filipinos who have little memory. It illustrates Philippine history as front-paged in newspapers for almost a century.

 For ancients like myself, this collection evokes nostalgia and a more profound understanding of the shaping of the Filipino nation. For the much younger generation, I hope it will impinge on their consciousness how and what it was like in the past when Filipinos were fighting colonialism, and putting together the foundation of what is now our fractured and unhappy country.

The newspapers are in Tagalog, Spanish and English. The first section deals with the end of the Spanish regime and the beginning of American rule. Nationalism and the struggle for independence are the dominant front-page themes. The most striking picture in this section is that of a flamboyant President Manuel L. Quezon with Hollywood goddess Marlene Dietrich. The youthful Quezon is well groomed and smiling in this pose with the German actress in gown and iconic headdress. This on El Debate, the Madrigal newspaper, Jan. 6, 1935.

The succeeding sections cover the eruption of World War II, the Japanese Occupation when the major newspapers were turned into propaganda mouthpieces of the occupying Japanese forces. We see in these front pages how hard the Japanese tried to convince Filipinos about their Co-Prosperity Sphere and at the same time, how so many politicians cowered and succumbed as their collaborators.

The Liberation in 1945 by the American troops under General MacArthur depicts the physical devastation of towns and cities,  the renewal of battered Philippine institutions and the grant of Independence by the United States in 1946.

Our problems that hobbled the country are the main stories in this last section which ends with the abolition of Habeas Corpus shortly before the declaration of martial law by President Marcos in 1972.

For those who know so little about agrarian discontent, many of the headline stories focused on the Huk uprising, the leaders of that peasant revolt and the government response. That early in the Fifties and the Sixties, front page news, too, was Hacienda Luisita, just as it is today. What is ironic to this octogenarian reader is my impression that through all these past decades, nothing much has changed.

The headlines are not just about the Philippines in its post-war socio-political upheavals; they include historic events abroad and in the region most of which were also significant for us — the developments in China, the formation of ASEAN.

The comments of Rodriguez on these front pages are brief and precise to the point of being laconic. There is no authorial effort at verbal décor, but the undertones are there, particularly in the epilogue where the changes in media are clearly defined, and how important it is for journalists to stick to the old verities of an honorable profession.

In its entirety, this collection resurrects our heroic past, the efforts of those gallant Filipinos who resisted imperialism and all its subterfuges as well as those damning details about our yabang, our incapacity to be welded together into a nation. I have often said that without memory there is no nation — and alas, this is what has afflicted us all these decades — this century. We forget so easily; this book will help us to remember.

Before Rodriguez became director of the Instituto Cervantes (2006-2011) in Manila, he was in the region, and particularly the Philippines, as regional chief of the Spanish International News Agency. He has authored several books on the Philippines. For all these and more, Malacañang conferred on him the award, “The Order of Sikatuna.”

It is due to the perseverance, the perspicacity of a true Filipino—yes, Pepe Rodriguez is a proud Galician, but he also has a Filipino passport—that this important memento has been preserved. His affection for the Philippines is no transient infatuation. 

For the past 25 years, he has also been married to the beautiful portrait artist, Lourdes Coching, with whom he has two children, Lara Maria and Jose Francisco.

* * *

BOY IN THE PLATINUM PALACE AND OTHER STORIES

By Maria L. M. Pres-Felix

University of the Philippines Press, 99pp

Only a few of the young writers today know how to write a story. Many of them have gone to so-called writing workshops where they were homogenized and convinced that to make the grade they must be capable of flashy, wordy showing off. This will make their arrival noisy and glamorous. They forget that writing is storytelling — a craft that they have ignored in their avid search for style and originality.

Dada Felix is aware of the basics. Aside from being a consummate craftsman, she has both style and originality and, above all these, she knows how to write a story. She is, in fact, one of our very best writers in English today. This newest collection of her short fiction illustrates her excellence first and foremost as a storyteller. Her narrative skill is superb as borne out by these stories, none of which is boring. This is the ultimate test of good writing — the reading. Does it bore or does it not? Most of these stories are narrated in the first person point of view. Whether the storyteller is a man, a woman or even a child, he/she maneuvers in a very limited space, which tests the imaginative skill.

Dada’s language is often spare but where necessary, it is adorned not so much with adverbs and adjectives but by the skillful use of choice verbs. And there are those tiny details that contribute to the plausibility of the stories, whether they pertain to economics, crime detection or even history. All minutiae are refreshingly in place. Her futuristic account of the Revolution of 1896, for instance, is an enjoyable read, historically accurate, but at the same time, delightfully imagined.

Dada is a trained economist, teacher and exalted public servant. It is not in the bureaucracy, however, where she will leave an indelible mark. It is in literature. Just wait for her first novel, which is coming out shortly. It is seriously funny, compellingly readable, and transcendentally meaningful.

CENTER FIRST HISTORY KLAUS NICK ONE RIZAL
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