Azucena Grajo Uranza’s passing seasons

FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas -
One of my most admired women is Azucena Grajo Uranza, novelist of note. Her well-received first novel was Bamboo in the Wind, her second, A Passing Season, won the Centen-nial Literary Award for the novel in English. Her third, Feast of the Innocents, is slated to come off the press shortly. I’ve written about her first novel, and today’s column will be on her second, which, like the first, is about revolutionary configurations in the Philippine historical landscape.

A few words about Azucena first. She writes in the novel’s foreword that she was born in that milieu before the Pacific War when parents spoke in Spanish and teachers spoke in English, and was thus "caught in the linguistic eye of the cultural typhoon whose gales would eventually engulf the coun-try by the nineteen-sixties."

She started writing at age 13, "amidst the anxieties of war," when paper was so scarce that she wrote her war diary and the chronicles of those uncertain years at the back of valuable legal documents kept by her father, a practicing lawyer.

She looks upon those early years of her writing as "a preparation" for the time she got to her fifties and felt it her duty to tell the story of her country which she had watched "in its journey of becoming, from the Commonwealth years, to the Pacific war, to the painful years of the dictatorship, and the post-EDSA era."
* * *
A Passing Season recreates events during the twin wars of 1896 and 1898, known as the Philippine Revolution and the Filipino-American War. Through her fictional characters, the nationalistic fervor is shown in various stages, from fired-up Pepe Herrera, who returns from medical studies in Spain where he had been absorbed into the company of exiles demanding reforms in their homeland; Juancho Aguirre, scion of a landed family who gives up the good life to teach in a school in a forsaken barrio in Batangas, to Guido Eduarte, a young lawyer who in time becomes a strong political activist, to Maria Fe de Almogueira, pampered daughter of a prominent family who joins an underground hospital for wounded revolutionary soldiers, and her brother Zosimo, a romantic revolutionary whose passion is spent on running a gourmet restaurant and later, dressing up statues of the Virgin Mary in fabulous beaded gowns. There are the ordinary folk – Tibor and Aurora, Masin and his cousin Subas and Torcuato, the servant boy who joins the epical heroes to fight for his country’s freedom.

The book is a saga of families, and here Azucena is a craftswoman. In the brewing political tempest, families are caught up in the rituals of festive yuletide preparations. These are the wealthy Filipinos, some of them with Spanish blood, the thicker the blood the better for their status and clout. How families – in this saga – particularly the well-to-do, lived towards the end of Spanish colonial rule is described in detail and obviously, to Azucena’s enjoyment.
* * *
Housewives bustle about rearranging the house furniture and decorating the living room, in many a backyard, the fatted hog is checked to see whether it’s ready for the noche buena, that sumptuous meal laid out on Christmas midnight. Lantern-makers and toy manufacturers bring out their wares, young boys and girls rehearse the villancicos and the traditional dances performed at Christmastime, costumed as shepherds and wending down the city streets.

In the homes of well-to-do families, there is general house-cleaning, the Christmas figures are unpacked from their storage, lanterns are hung from windows and buntings and bells trim doorways. In Doña Lupe’s bodega converted into a store, there are olive oil, pimientos rojas, cheeses from Holland, sausages from Pamploma, different kinds of ham, turrones from Alicante, black and green olives, wines and liquor, everything that titillated the palate of "those who missed the homeland, and of those who, never having gone to Europe, nevertheless had accustomed their palates to eat like the colonizers." Outside of Christmas, the rituals of preparing for such occasions as weddings include showing off dazzling, expensive jewelry and gowns. Even as the wealthy live and eat in style, anxiety seeps into households as word of uprisings and turbulences reaches their ears. The cruelties of the colonizers become more and more unbearable, the unjust justice system inflicted on those with half-Spanish, half-native blood. The scions of the rich – heroes of this book – take up arms to fight the enemy.
* * *
The war had broken out in 1896 as a local uprising by the Tagalogs, but had been short-lived, Azucena writes, marred by internal strife within the Filipino camp, and in less than a year, the original leader (Andres Bonifacio) was dead, and the new Caudillo (Emilio Jacinto) holed up in a hopeless position in the Bulacan mountains of Biak-na-Bato. By the end of 1897, just 15- and-a-half months after the war started, the leaders of the struggle had been loaded on a boat on their way to exile in Hongkong.

Toward the end of 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo, who was now president of the new Republic, declared that while the Spanish oppressors were all but subdued, he was still calling on "all loyal men to exercise that eternal vigilance that was the price of freedom."

But there was resistance to the the Americans. Filipinos were no less free to move around as under the Spaniards. "Because of American insistence to leave Manila in their (Filipinos’) hands," writes Azucena, "the Filipino forces were left with no choice but to encamp behind the American lines. In the areas around Manila, in Caloocan, Marikina, San Juan del Monte, Pasig, Pasay, Sta. Ana, and Pandacan, soldiers of the Philippine armed forces converged and waited for that moment when they could deliver the coup de grace on their oppressor and march triumphant into their premier city to take possession of it, free at last from the disgraceful yoke they had worn for 300 years. They were ready for that grand and final struggle and for the victory that would follow. There never was any doubt in their minds that freedom was out to be attained. For Filipinos are given to dreaming and believing in their own dreams."
* * *
Armed resistance to the new invaders filled Inang’s camp for wounded soldiers to overflowing. Here Maria Fe totally immersed herself as a nursing aide. Pepe and countless volunteers would die, too. In a brief moment after the bloody surgery on a wounded comrade, Pepe takes her into his arms. Writes Azucena passionately as she does in other romantic episodes in the book: "She quieted at last in his embrace, with his kisses, under the splashing of the crystal-clear spring water, washing away the terror and the slime of putrefaction, feeling only the assuring embrace of the man who loved her, she was sure of that now, as she lay inert in her arms, sobbing softly, confronting this moment of knowledge."

The new colonizers had prevailed; the revolutionaries’ leader, Gen. Emilio Jacinto, had been killed. The sadness over surrendering to the new regime is explicitly described in Guido’s lament upon his return home to Manila. "But Guido was disconsolate. He excused himself and went to his room finding at last the tears to shed for the lost Republic, and the fallen general . . . Within his locked room, he sobbed and wept and let himself go."

This is an engrossing saga of passing seasons, written so well by one of the country’s best novelists. The book was published by New Day Publishers, tel. 928-80-46.

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