A commotion at Villa Dupont brought the Paris police to Rue Pergolese one morning in September 1892. Villa Dupont, perhaps a typical three-storey French home with gated and manicured lawns, sat near a cafe and the main road. It was the house of Juan Luna, celebrated painter of the Salon de Paris and patriot of colonial Philippines. Yet, as any 19th century Parisian bourgeoisie knew, bohemians like Juan Luna, though a renowned painter, would not be able to support the luxury of a home in Rue Pergolese. For his art to thrive and for his young family to have food on the table, Juan Luna relied on the generosity of his rich in-laws, the Pardo de Taveras. It would be more accurate, thus, to say that Villa Dupont was a home supported by Juliana Pardo de Tavera, where Juan Luna, wife Maria Paz and son Andres lived. But that morning, things will change forever in the house in Rue Pergolese.
The police made their way out of the thirty or so onlookers at the scene. As they entered the first floor, they found a man lying unconscious near the wall. He was wounded on the chest, but he was alive.
The police heard voices from upstairs.
"Yes, you came to confirm that I had beaten my wife, that I hit Maria... You came to counsel them to take my wife away from me...But I figured out your plan...I am avenged now...You can do what you want with me... "
The police went up to find out what was going on. They found two bloodied Spanish women lying on the bed. A trace of blood from the bed led to what appeared to be the bathroom. Beside them, a man and a boy were crying, "Mama, Mama, ...."
The police approached the bodies on the bed. One of the women, an elderly lady with a big patrician nose, was dead. She bore a big wound on her head. Beside her lay the younger lady who also bore a large wound on the head. She was unconscious. They checked her pulse. It was there, but it was weak.
A maid approached the police and handed a large revolver.
"Who did this?", asked the police.
"I did." the voice heard earlier spoke. He was a short and dark man, with piercing eyes. He stood calm and composed.
"What is your name?"
"I am Juan Luna."
"Who can tell us what happened?" The police asked.
"I can." a man in a dark suit spoke.
"My name is Antonio Regidor. I'm a lawyer. These people like me were from the far east, the Philippine Islands. The young lady on the bed is his wife, Maria Paz. We call her Chiching. The elder one, is his mother-in-law, Juliana Pardo de Tavera. The man who is crying is her brother Trinidad Hermenegildo, and the boy is their son, Andres."
"The wounded man downstairs?" The police asked.
"That's Felix, another brother."
"Why did this happen?" The police asked.
At this point Trinidad butted in. "He thought she had a lover. But it's not true. It's not true. Chiching could never do that. She never had a lover. But that man is a violent man. That's how they all are from where he came from, fiercely jealous Malayans."
The police brought Juan Luna to the police station. The crowd parted as they walked down the stairs, passed Felix on the first floor, the gate, and the rue.
At the station, the police continued their investigation. They gathered the statements of the witnesses, and a day after, the report was ready. It stated,
" I have the honor of informing the Prefect of Police that yesterday at 10:30 a.m., Mr. Luna San Pedro Juan fired four successive revolver shots in his home, Villa Dupont 28, on one of his brothers-in-law, Mr. Pardo de Tavera Felix, doctor of medicine, Pirachot avenue 2 bis, on his mother-in-law, Mme. Pardo de Tavera, and finally on his own wife.
Dr. Pado de Tavera is wounded in the upper right chest: his condition gives no cause for alarm.
The widow, Mme. Pardo de Tavera, was killed instantly.
As for Mme Luna de San Pedro, she is fatally wounded. She received a bullet in the left (cranial) region.
Mr. Luna de San Pedro was arrested immediately after."
I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well
by William Shakespeare
Perhaps, it was fate that drew Juan Luna, the victorious soldier of Filipino art, to Maria Paz the lovely princess of the Pardo de Taveras of Paris. Luna belonged to a group of Filipino expats known as the Indios Bravos that the Pardo de Taveras entertained in their Parisian home. Among the Indios Bravos, Juan Luna was the most famous. Among the artists, he was the most talented. And the Indios Bravos, being drawn to the close circle nurtured by the Pardo de Taveras, naturally would be smitten by the lovely Maria Paz. Thus, when Juan Luna courted Maria Paz, and Maria Paz agreed to be his wife, it was inevitable that they would get married.
Yet, like the marriage of Shakepeare's Othello to Desdemona, the wedding of Juan Luna and Maria Paz Pardo de Tavera silenced the hush talk about their racial and economic differences. Maria Paz thought that his genius and prestige as a painter would more than make up for his dark skin, shortness, and lack of manners. And thus, on December 7, 1886, the brilliant Ilocano painter, Juan Luna married Maria Paz, the young, elegant, beautiful and svelte lass of the wealthy Pardo de Taveras -- a fairy tale romance that they hoped would last for all time.
But the fairy tale romance would end quickly, for like Shakespeare's Othello, Juan Luna was a jealous man. In the words of Trinidad, Luna "was jealous, fiercely jealous, like a Malayan."
Yet, how did this Filipino couple find each other in 19th century Paris?
The story dated back to 1872. Don Joaquin Pardo de Tavera, a former Spanish lieutenant who settled in the Philippines, found a little luck. Instead of getting executed by garrote like his compatriot Fr. Jose Burgos, Don Joaquin, a progressive Spaniard ahead of his time, was deported to Agana, Guam in April 1872. Burgos, Gomez, Zamora, Pardo de Tavera, along with Maximo Paterno, Antonio Regidor and others, shared the common fate of being in the receiving end of the Spanish purge following the Cavite Mutiny of that year. The bloody purge was perpetrated by newly-appointed Governor General Isquierdo who vowed to rule with the cross on one hand and with the sword on the other. Aboard the Flores de Maria, Don Joaquin and wife sailed to Guam and made it their home for three years. Others like Antonio Regidor, a prominent lawyer, would escape early and thrive in Europe. Yet, soon after Don Joaquin they made Guam their home, they would get pardoned. And the very moment he was told they were free to go, Don Joaquin arranged to leave for Paris, France, his wife, Dona Tula de Gorricho in tow, to live the rest of his days in the liberal Parisian air. In France, the persecuted Spanish mestizos from the Philippines would find the space and accommodation for their kind of politics and art.
When the Pardo de Tavera couple arrived in Paris, they knew they could make it their new home. The horror and sadness of being deportado made them yearn for the cosmopolitan life, where coffee, good food peppered with free thought and economic activity, made living comfortable, body and soul at peace. France, in the late 19th century was the home for the artists and the republicans of the world. Dubbed the era of the Third Republic, late 19th century Paris flourished with academic, business, and artistic activities that would only be interrupted by World War II in the 1940s.
After finding a place to stay, the couple sought their eldest nephew Trinidad Hermenegildo, son of Felix Pardo de Tavera, to join them so he could study in a European school. Thus, Trinidad left the University of Sto. Tomas in the Islands, where he was studying medicine, to join his dear uncle and aunt in Paris. Later, his mother Dona Juliana, and other siblings Felix, Maria Paz (Chiching) would follow them.
When Don Joaquin died in March 1884, the Pardo de Taveras chose to stay in Paris. Trinidad and brother Felix were already doctors. Trinidad also became a published linguist and expert of Malayan languages. Meanwhile, their young sister, Maria Paz, blossomed into a beautiful young lady. About the same time, the ilustrado class in the Philippines managed to send their children to Europe to obtain some education. Among them were Jose Rizal, a poet and a novelist, Graciano Lopez Jaena, journalist, and Juan Luna, painter. The Filipinos in Paris banded together and formed the Los Indios Bravos. With the Pardo de Taveras entertaining them in their Parisian home, the Indios Bravos would spend many afternoons thinking and talking about their homeland, the Philippines.
In the same year that Don Joaquin died, Juan Luna became the toast of the Filipino community in Europe. Juan Luna, born in Badoc, Ilocos Norte, sailed to Europe at the age of 15, studied painting, and got his break from the elite Salon de Paris. The Salon was a yearly exhibition run by an association of established artists mostly connected with schools of fine arts. In 1884, Juan Luna's entry, the "Spoliarium", was awarded the gold medal. Matching his apocalyptic vision with a skilled hand, Juan Luna painted the picture of the beaten gladiators in old Rome. The picture mersmerized any one who saw it. "It is something more than the mere mechanism of genius, of the art of composition. . . Luna is a thinker." one critic wrote. To celebrate the victory, the Filipino community in Madrid threw a banquet in honor of Juan Luna and Felix Ressureccion Hidalgo, another Filipino painter who won the silver medal in the same exposition.
Two years after, Luna would marry Chiching. But they would not be happy ever after.
Five years into the marriage with Maria Paz, Luna was the master of his 19th century universe. He was famous. He had connections with the Spanish government. His countrymen loved him. He had a beautiful wife, a lovely daughter, and a son that could assure him his lineage was secure. To top it all, his mother-in-law gave them a stipend of five hundred francs a month; Luna could maintain his family's lifestyle without compromising his art.
But the year 1892 would not be kind to Luna. In March, her three-year old daughter, Maria de la Paz, died. A few weeks later, news reached him about his father's death in in the Philippines on September 1891. Then in July, Andres and Chiching got sick, and left for Mont Dore to get well. They left Luna alone in Rue Pergolese to grieve for his lost daugther. In between his painting and visits to his daughter's grave, Luna wrote short notes to his wife, telling her how much he loved her and urging her to take good care of Andres and to make sure he didn't catch cold. In one of these letter exchanges, Chiching mentioned that he met a man, Mr. Dussaq, and spoke highly of him. Mother and son returned home in August 12. Three weeks after, Mr. Dussaq paid a visit to the Luna residence. Luna's luck turned to worse. He turned violent in jealous rage. His universe would start to crumble.
Dutiful brothers that they were, Trinidad and Felix sought to appease Luna's rage. They asked their sister to confess, but Chiching denied she had anything to do with Mr. Dussaq. Luna demanded that he "cleanse his honor in blood." And so, Trinidad and Felix arranged a duel with Mr Dussaq. Yet, upon meeting the brothers Pardo de Tavera, Dussaq refused to duel for he had "only fleeting and mundane relations" with Maria Paz Luna. Left with nothing to appease their raging brother-in-law, the brothers thought of a legal solution. They asked Dussaq to sign a sworn
declaration of his innocense. Dussaq agreed. He soon signed a written sworn declaration that "he has never corresponded with (by letter) nor had any rendezvous with Mme. Luna, to whom she had the honor of being presented at Mont Dore last July."
But Luna would not accept it. He said he had nothing left to do, but leave his wife. Luna's resolve to leave his wife was a welcome solution to the brothers. It was a clean way out for their sister. But Luna would change his mind. Luna decided, "I don't want a separation.... I am going to leave Paris with her and our son... we will go to Vigo.... We'll live there alone, all alone; I will leave on Sunday."
Trinidad protested. Luna had only eighty francs. He couldn't go to Spain with that money. He offered Luna his own money.
But Luna refused, "No I want nothing of my wife, nothing of you either. I will live down there in poverty, and I don't want to receive anything from you....No, no, nothing. nothing, I want nothing from you. I will live from the sale of the canvases I paint down
The Pardo de Taveras were devastated. In Vigo, Chiching would be alone with this man who had turned into a violent wreck. The Pardo de Taveras would not be able to protect her. Something had to be done. Trinidad immediately summoned his brother Felix and family lawyer, Antonio Regidor, to Paris on September 22.
It was Sunday, the day Luna and family were set to leave for Vigo. The brothers were the first to arrive. Luna received them coldly. The brothers talked to their mother and sister in their room. But then, Antonio Regidor, the famly lawyer, came, not knowing the complete circumstances in which he was summoned. Luna asked him why he was there. Antonio said, "Trinidad telegraphed me to set the conditions for the separation." Luna raged.
Upon seeing the brothers enter the room, he screamed at them, "What does it all mean?.... A reunion of the family council .. What do you have the presumptim to do. ...Ah! You know I will defend mysef."
The brothers warned their mother and sister to lock themselves in the room for Luna was very upset. Then, they asked their lawyer to join them in a cafe outside the house so they could brief him about the problem. In the cafe, they ordered a few drinks and some food. But before their orders could arrive, the maid had summoned them back "Come quickly monsieur wants to kill madame.!"
The bloody event was about to begin on that Sunday morning in the house in Rue Pergolese.
In Luna's mind that morning, he was the oppressed.
More than a week before, Luna followed his dear wife as she went to 25 Mont Thabor. He lost sight of her, but in the entrance of the building he saw Mr. Dussaq. Luna asked Dussaq if he lived there. But Dussaq said he did not, and he was there just to meet someone. What was Luna supposed to think? Certainly, in his mind, his Chiching was there for a rendezvous with Dussaq.
He pressed his wife for an answer. He asked her brothers for help. But Chiching never admitted anything. She claimed she was not unfaithful to him. But what about that visit to that house with Dussaq?
In the Philippines, adultery was more than just a crime. It was an insult, the strongest that any man could ever get. It demeaned his being. It made him a worthless fool. And it meant more that his Chiching had fallen for a white Frenchman. It was a negation of everything that Luna ever was and ever would be.
But Luna loved his Chiching so dearly that he knew he had to give her a chance. Paris had been a temptation. The fame, money and comfort drew his family apart. While Luna worked on his art, his wife was distracted by the shopping places of Paris. And since her mother was always there to provide for her needs, Chiching could do what ever she wanted.
Thus, Luna decided to give his wife a chance. They were leaving for Vigo, south of Portugal -- away from the temptations of the city and away from the trappings of her family's wealth.
Luna made the decision to leave. Nobody could stop them, for after all he was the master of the house, the master of his family, and the captain of their fate.
But what a surprise for Luna on that Sunday, when the brothers Pardo de Taveras arrived with Antonio Regidor, the family lawyer compatriot of Don Joaquin Pardo De Tavera around. What was going on? Regidor said he came to discuss the separation.
Separation? What separation? Luna, Chiching and son were on their way to Vigo that morning -- that was the plan.
Separation was betrayal. The Pardo de Taveras betrayed him. They were taking her away from him. They were going to destroy his family. They were going to ruin his universe. His only hope for the restitution of his home was doomed. They were using their wealth and power against the Indio from Ilocos whose only sin was trying to restore his honor.
"What does it all mean?.... A reunion of the family council .. What do you have the presumptim to do. ...Ah! You know I will defend mysef."
The fools looked surprised that he was upset. He saw them whisper something to each other, they went upstairs to the room where his wife was, and then they scampered downstairs towards the gate. He saw them leave.
Meanwhile, Luna looked for his revolver, his only weapon against the oppression. He raged at the brothers. He raged at his wife. He raged at her mother. He was going to kill her. He was going to kill them all. Nobody could take her away.
Minutes past and Luna found his revolver, and proceeded upstairs to look for his wife. But they hid inside the bathroom. Like a beast hungry for his prey, Luna paced back and forth outside the bathroom.
"Fools! I will kill you Chiching!", he cried.
Then, he heard the gates creak. Luna looked outside the window. The traitors were on the ground. He fired a shot. Felix fell. He got him alright. But Felix was not who he wanted.
He knocked again in the bathroom. He kicked it. He banged it. Inside the bathroom, his wife and mother in law wailed. "Help us! Help us!".
Then, suddenly, he found himself inside the room with his mother-in-law and wife. How did he get inside? Did he destroy the lock? Did he find another way in? It didn't matter now. What mattered was it was the exact moment when his life would change.
He pointed the gun to the head of his mother-in-law. He pulled the trigger. And the first shot was heard. She fell on the bathroom floor, lifeless and bloodied, a sight to horrify generations of Pardo de Taveras of the world.
He fired another shot.
Then, he fired at Chiching, his dearly beloved wife.
He bore a large hole on her head. The marriage was over. His dear wife was going to die. He stood there for a moment not knowing whether to be happy or be sad.
Luna saw Trinidad enter the room. He handed the revolver to the maid as he spoke, "This is all your fault Trinidad, you are the cause of all that happened here, you are the cause of everything."
The house in Rue Pergolese was a home no more.
(To be continued)