Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday - Part 2

Father Reuter had finished his Elegy on the Seven Last Words of Jesus. High up in the hills of Santa Mesa, where Santol Mansion sat like its most magnificent pendant, the dirge of the bells tolling the death of Jesus came from all directions.

Without a word, because all of them felt cleansed and purified by the cathartic and awesome effect of Father Reuter’s words, the six cousins – Zita, Freckie, Dolly, Heinzie, Jaime and Lucrezia, together with their Hakka amahs struck the bronze gong in their garden.

Rex and Ruhr, the handsome German Shepherds, sat in perplexed silence.

Uncle Matthias followed from a distance. He was lost in his thoughts. His beautiful baby girl Teresita, she of the ebony curls and skin like Snow White had died on a Good Friday.
Her death remains a mystery. She was on her mother Fautina’s breast for over a year, which meant that Teresita’s immune system would have been strong enough to fight off any infections. Matt himself put her in her crib for her nap. When it seemed to Faustina that Teresita was sleeping way beyond her time she hurried to pick her up.

‘Dio Mio. E morta! Ma perche?’’

His family and clan wept with him long into the night of Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. Something splintered inside Matthias’ heart. He could see Faustina corroding herself with grief. After the funeral they both decided to practice birth control: the church be damned. She had lost her parents, both sets of grandparents as a result of the Japanese Occupation. She could not cope with the mere thought that she might lose another child.

“We are emotional cowards when it comes to having children of our own. Our numerous nieces and nephews really are a joy to us. We give thanks for that,” he ruminated.

He saw the pygmies Lakan and Danga. They had crouched behind the broad trunk of the balete tree nearby. They began systematically banging their heads softly against the bark of the tree, enough to bleed copiously but not enough to injure themselves seriously.

Why do they always do this on Good Friday?’ asked Lucrezia.

“It is their way of mourning. We must respect that,” explained Matt.

“It is really too damp and sticky out here,” whined Freckie.

“We can go back to the house. We have all struck the gong twelve times, said Matt.

Now the flamenco cante jondo would be played on the high fidelity system. Cante Jondo are the laments of the Andalusian gypsies, the race of Cale, who came from India in the 13th century Spain under Arab domination. Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived in such harmony that it created an intellectual and philosophical flowering hardly ever seen again.

The gypsy – Gitano- zingari chants of Good Friday are called saetas. It is a word lost in time, probably of Sanskrit origin. If you want to hear music from the depths of the soul, listen to the saetas, No other instruments are ever used. Sometimes the sound of a hammer on a nail is heard,” said Matt.

Lucrezia felt herself quivering.

“There is something atavistic about the human voice chanting from its entrails to lament the Crucifixion of Jesus. Many of them have their own beliefs, which are never revealed to us. This much we know, they are attached to the Virgin Mary. Jesus, his life and his death seem to have struck them in particular.”

"Sometimes the cantaoras (female flamenco singers) chant the saetas in unison," Zita told her cousins.

Other saetas are sang by a lone cantaor,” said Dolly.”

"Our ancestors did not come from Southern Spain,” spoke up Heinzie. "We are Aragonese, German Jewish and Chinese."

“Well? Where do you think we come from?” asked Jaime, “Aragon, Catalonia and Milan."

“No one is more mixed up racially than we are,” opined Lucrezia pointing to herself, Zita and Freckie. "Let’s see, I’m Italian, Ausro-Hungarian, Jewish, Aragonese and Filipino-Chinese.”

“I am the only mestiza (half breed of three quarters European in this group. The rest of you are really mongrels,” stated dotty Dolly with disdain.

“Look children,” Uncle Matt intervened, raising his voice over the ululating voices of the cantaoras. No one in the world is pure anything except for autochthonous people like the pygmies, aborigines, the Maoris. Inca, Yaqui, Aztec and other Amerindian tribes. We Europeans drove them away at best, enslaved or exterminated them at worst.”

Then Amah Ah Wei made one of her unfailingly true statements. 'Too much marry same-same not good. Make for idiot children and very ugly children. Look at Japanese and Jews. God love them, but difficult to find beautiful people there.”

No one replied to that. And then Lucrezia asked, “What about you, Amah and all the other Amahs?

“We Hakka first, Chinese second.” Replied Ah Wei without hesitation. After a long pause, she added, "before all, we are for Jesus first. Him we love, the son of Light who dies for everybody white, yellow, black, brown, round eyes and slitty eyes. All.”

“The tahong (fresh water clams) with fresh pieces of ginger and kangkong (a leafy, green vegetable brought from Southern China by Chinese merchants centuries ago) were delicious,” said Dona Esperanza to the assembled family members.

On Good Friday, dinner was served early in Santol Mansion. In the background, the saetas’flamenco laments still played softly on the hi-fi system. The cousins ate in silence. Tonight, conversation was limited only to the necessary. Time enough tomorrow-on Saturday of Glory and on Easter Sunday to exchange impressions and opinions about Father Reuter’s impassioned oratory.

Fray Paco, perched on a small, carved ebony chest from Tonkin muttered softly, no one knew what. Matt rose from his chair, walked towards the matriarch and slid her chair quietly. Dona Esperanza knelt beside her chair on the rare narra (mahogany) floor. With a minimum of noise, everyone followed her example. The amahs and the staff entered with their padded and embroidered silk chinelas (slippers) and proceeded to kneel as well.

“Let us recite a prayer to Michael the Archangel,” murmured Dona Esperanza.

Everyone knew it well as the celebrant and the faithful recited it at the end of every mass. It is a beautiful and powerful prayer.

“Saint Michael the Archsangel,”intoned the Mater Familias.

“Arrrkangelo Mikel,” repeated Fray Paco reverently. Fray Paco’s religious mangling was drowned by the strong voices of adults and children.

“ Defend us in battle. Be our Protector against the snares of the devil. We humbly pray, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into Hell Satan and all the evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.”

As soon as they were all seated. Dona Esperasnza nodded her head discreetly at Lucrezia.

“Ah! That’s my signal,” she said softly as she rose from her chair. Instinctively, she waited for all eyes to be upon her.

“Nena, va! (Child, go),” shrieked Fray Paco.

“Trust him to always hug the limelight and try to steal the show,” thought Lucrezia in amusement. She began.

“How did this prayer to Saint Michael come about? It was the late 19th century. The great Pope Leo Xlll, while attending a Mass of Thanksgiving at Saint Peter’s Basilica, saw in a vision demonic spirits gathering on the Vatican. The Pope walked out in the middle of the Mass, gray and stunned. He headed straight for his private study. His entourage followed anxiously. This prayer is the fruit of that experience. Leo Xlll himself wrote every word and instructed that it be printed and sent to all the Bishops around the world. It is the prayer that we recite at the end of every Mass. It is an ardent plea to Michael the Archangel to drive Satan away from us, back to their dark world.”

Freckie overturned a glass of water on the table.

“That’s Sevres crystal. I hope he did not do that accidentally on purpose. He is awfully good at those tricks," mused Lucrezia.

Everyone ignored the accident. Of course the glass of Sevres crystal broke into pieces, but their Grandmother was not attached to objects, which she could replace. She was more concerned with human beings.

“Are you all right Freckie?” she asked.

He was fine. He nodded respectfully towards his Grandmother.

Camilla and Edmund, Lucrezia’s parents, smiled contentedly. This explanation had been their daughter’s idea. Her Grandmother had considered it appropriate.

The cousins were collected by their respective amahs. Their parents hugged and kissed them good night. One by one, they filed past their Grandmother, took her proffered right hand, and respectfully bent and touched their foreheads towards her had. All the amahs followed suit.

“May Jesus and the Angels bless you. I wish you peaceful dreams,” Dona Esperanza told each one in a soft musical voice.

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