Chapter 1: - Page 4 of 10

A Social Gathering

(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)

Quite in contrast, the other priest, a Franciscan, talks much and gesticulates more.  In spite of the fact that his hair is beginning to turn gray, he seems to be preserving well his robust constitution, while his regular features, his rather disquieting glance, his wide jaws and herculean frame give him the appearance of a Roman noble in disguise and make us involuntarily recall one of those three monks of whom Heine tells in his Gods in Exile, who at the September equinox in the Tyrol used to cross a lake at midnight and each time place in the hand of the poor boatman a silver piece, cold as ice, which left him full of terror.[4]  But Fray Damaso is not so mysterious as they were.  He is full of merriment, and if the tone of his voice is rough like that of a man who has never had occasion to correct himself and who believes that whatever he says is holy and above improvement, still his frank, merry laugh wipes out this disagreeable impression and even obliges us to pardon his showing to the room bare feet and hairy legs that would make the fortune of a Mendieta in the Quiapo fairs. [5]

One of the civilians is a very small man with a black beard, the only thing notable about him being his nose, which, to judge from its size, ought not to belong to him.  The other is a rubicund youth, who seems to have arrived but recently in the country.  With him the Franciscan is carrying on a lively discussion.

You’ll see, the friar was saying, when you’ve been here a few months you’ll be convinced of what I say.  It’s one thing to govern in Madrid and another to live in the Philippines.

But—

I, for example, continued Fray Damaso, raising his voice still higher to prevent the other from speaking, I, for example, who can look back over twenty-three years of bananas and morisqueta, know whereof I speak.  Don’t come at me with theories and fine speeches, for I know the Indian. [6] Mark well that the moment I arrived in the country I was assigned to a toxin, small it is true, but especially devoted to agriculture.  I didn’t understand Tagalog very well then, but I was, soon confessing the women, and we understood one another and they came to like me so well that three years later, when I was transferred to another and larger town, made vacant by the death of the native curate, all fell to weeping, they heaped gifts upon me, they escorted me with music—

[4] In the story mentioned, the three monks were the old Roman god Bacchus and two of his satellites, in the disguise of Franciscan friars,—TR.

[5] According to a note to the Barcelona edition of this novel, Mendieta was a character well known in Manila, doorkeeper at the Alcaldía, impresario of children’s theaters, director of a merry-go-round, etc. —TR.

[6] See Glossary.

Learn this Filipino word:

bantáy-tumanà