Chapter 10:

The Town

(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)

Almost on the margin of the lake, in the midst of meadows and paddy-fields, lies the town of San Diego.[1]  From it sugar, rice, coffee, and fruits are either exported or sold for a small part of their value to the Chinese, who exploit the simplicity and vices of the native farmers.

When on a clear day the boys ascend to the upper part of the church tower, which is beautified by moss and creeping plants, they break out into joyful exclamations at the beauty of the scene spread out before them.  In the midst of the clustering roofs of nipa, tiles, corrugated iron, and palm leaves, separated by groves and gardens, each one is able to discover his own home, his little nest.  Everything serves as a mark: a tree, that tamarind with its light foliage, that coco palm laden with nuts, like the Astarte Genetrix, or the Diana of Ephesus with her numerous breasts, a bending bamboo, an areca palm, or a cross.  Yonder is the river, a huge glassy serpent sleeping on a green carpet, with rocks, scattered here and there along its sandy channel, that break its current into ripples.  There, the bed is narrowed between high banks to which the gnarled trees cling with bared roots; here, it becomes a gentle slope where the stream widens and eddies about.  Farther away, a small hut built on the edge of the high bank seems to defy the winds, the heights and the depths, presenting with its slender posts the appearance of a huge, long-legged bird watching for a reptile to seize upon.  Trunks of palm or other trees with their bark still on them unite the banks by a shaky and infirm foot-bridge which, if not a very secure crossing, is nevertheless a wonderful contrivance for gymnastic exercises in preserving one’s balance, a thing not to be despised.  The boys bathing in the river are amused by the difficulties of the old woman crossing with a basket on her head or by the antics of the old man who moves tremblingly and loses his staff in the water.

But that which always attracts particular notice is what might be called a peninsula of forest in the sea of cultivated fields.  There in that wood are century-old trees with hollow trunks, which die only when their high tops are struck and set on fire by the lightning—and it is said that the fire always checks itself and dies out in the same spot.  There are huge points of rock which time and nature are clothing with velvet garments of moss.  Layer after layer of dust settles in the hollows, the rains beat it down, and the birds bring seeds.  The tropical vegetation spreads out luxuriantly in thickets and underbrush, while curtains of interwoven vines hang from the branches of the trees and twine about their roots or spread along the ground, as if Flora were not yet satisfied but must place plant above plant.  Mosses and fungi live upon the cracked trunks, and orchids—graceful guests—twine in loving embrace with the foliage of the hospitable trees.

[1] We have been unable to find any town of this name, but many of these conditions.—Author’s note.

San Diego and Santiago are variant forms of the name of the patron saint of Spain, St. James.—TR.

Learn this Filipino word:

nakíkipagbulungan sa bulati