Following in the Footsteps of Jose Rizal in the Czech Republic

Manila Bulletin, April 21, 2019 | Go to article overview

Following in the Footsteps of Jose Rizal in the Czech Republic


By AA PATAWARAN

I never really took Ferdinand Blumentritt seriously, though I knew how inextricable his name was in connection to the great story of Jose Rizal and the revolution of 1896.

The importance of Blumentritt to Philippine history is unmistakable, memorialized by so many things named after him here in the Philippines, such as Blumentritt Road in the City of Manila and Blumentritt Street in Naga City and in Tuguegarao. Also named after him were a market, a railway station, a few public parks, and a station in the LRT, the very first of our still growing city train system.

On invitation of Czech Tourism, I made a 10-day Central European tour early this month that brought me to Budapest, Vienna, and Prague, with ?esky Krumlov in Czech Republic thrown in.

But I had an extra treat, thanks to former Czech ambassador to the Philippines Jaroslav Olsa Jr., who took me all over one half of what was once Czechoslovakia, which has split into two independent states, Czech Republic and Slovakia, since 1993. From ?esky Krumlov, near the Austrian border, we took a road trip to Karlovy Vary, close to Dresden on the German border. On this route, I got a chance to visit the Pilsner Urquell Brewery in Plzen, the very site where the formula to all other pilsner-type beers in the world originated.

Amb. Olsa also took me on a factory tour of glassmaking legend Moser in Karlovy Vary, where I stayed overnight, staying at the Hotel Imperial, which might as well have been the fictional Grand Budapest Hotel for me, perched on a mountain slope in this fairy tale town, venue of one of the oldest film festivals in the world. The highlight of my stay in this playground of the rich, other than sharing current Czech President Milos Zeman's favorite herbal bitters, the Becherovka, was a 15-minute mineral bath at the Hotel Imperial spa with a female Slovak attendant, who was convinced there was nothing awkward, let alone embarrassing, about her looking me over stark naked from head to toe.

From Karlovy Vary, Amb. Olsa and I headed north toward the Polish border. Our destination: Litom??ice or Leitmeritz, the "Garden of Bohemia," but we were really headed 132 years back in time.

...You alone give us strength and courage and you admonish us as well when we step out of line ... all of us Filipinos are very grateful to you for your love for our Fatherland; we all agree (are of the opinion) that you are the best Filipino and do more than all of us together. --Jose Rizal, letter to Ferdinand Blumentritt

I was blessed to have had Amb. Olsa for company. More than a diplomat, he is a man of culture, with particular interest in literature. After college at Charles University in Prague, where he earned a degree in Asian and African Studies, he went to the University of Amsterdam and then to Bourghiba School of Living Languages in Tunis. Before his Manila posting in 2014, he was ambassador to Korea for six years and, before that, from 2000 to 2006, to Zimbabwe and, concurrently, to five other neighboring African nations. In his youth, in the 1980s, while Czechoslovakia was still part of the Eastern block, he founded what turned out to be the iconic Czech science fiction literary magazine Ikarie XB, which continues to exist today as Ikarie 1. An editor, translator, and bibliographer, Amb. Olsa is, in fact, a luminary in literature, especially in science fiction, with more than a few anthologies and translations to his name, including the 1995 Czech Encyklopedie literatury science fiction (Science Fiction Encyclopedia).

So, yes, we approached Litom??ice, literally on time travel, although the first order of the day was to visit a building called the Blumentritt and Rizal's Bastion (Centro Rizal Museum) that, in three stories, is a monument to the legendary friendship between Blumentritt and Rizal, replete with news clippings of the stories published in Czech papers on the historic 1887 visit. …

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