Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘History’

We know nothing about Apolinario Mabini, whose 150th birthday it is today

July 23, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: History No Comments →

Leo Abaya 3
Rigodon, an art installation by Leo Abaya showing the presidents of the Philippines as players on a chessboard. Now on view at the exhibition Triumph of Philippine Art on the third floor of Ayala Museum. Photo courtesy of the Ayala Museum.

I wonder how Mabini feels about going down in history as “The Sublime Paralytic”, as if he were defined by his disability. In the first place, how does one become a sublime paralytic, by levitating?

This is like calling Kris Aquino “The Massacre Queen” or Gretchen Barretto the “ST Queen”. They probably would not like it. It reduces everything they have ever done to the movies they made in the 1990s.

And we know way, way, way more about Aquino and Barretto than we do about Mabini, and he was “The Brains of the Revolution”. I don’t know if he had a wheelchair—according to history books, he was carried by soldiers on a hammock—but in comic book terms, he would be the Professor Charles Xavier of the Philippines.

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Scenes from the history of medicine

July 18, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Art, Books, History No Comments →


The Wellcome Library, London has made a thousand years of historical images relating to the history of medicine available free to the public.

Images from Wellcome Library, London

For news on works of art, music and literature in the public domain, visit The Public Domain Review.

The July LitWit Challenge: Write a Colonial Revenge Fantasy

July 09, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Contest, History No Comments →

Indios in Paris, photo at the National Historical Commission

Some time ago, we wrote a column in which we pointed out that since our economy is doing better than Spain’s, it is time to buy Spain or at least hire domestic helpers who are Spanish. It would not make up for the abuses of the Spanish colonial regime, but it would be an arresting symbol, not to mention a hoot.

- Yñaki, dalhin mo dito ang tsinelas ko!
- Si, su majestad, heto na po an tsinelas, ano pa po an maipaqlilinqod qo?

The other day at lunch we noticed that our server was Portuguese, which means our idea is not just feasible, it is coming to pass. At the time the Philippines was “discovered” by Magellan, Spain and Portugal had “divided” the world amongst themselves.

This month’s LitWit Challenge: Write us a story, play or movie scene in which a Filipino employer interacts with Spanish domestic helper/s or yaya. No limits on length. Post your entry in Comments on or before 18 July 2014. The winner gets these books by the acclaimed Spanish author Javier Marias.


Read the review of his latest book, The Infatuations.

The LitWit Challenge is brought to you by National Bookstores.

Venganza! On Oberyn Martell, the World Cup, and Jose Rizal’s library

June 19, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History, Sports besides Tennis 1 Comment →


We know nothing about the teams battling it out in the football World Cup (except that the Italian, Spanish and Croatian teams look fabulous). But when we heard that Spain, which had lost to the Netherlands 1-5 (Was Iker asleep?), was up against Chile, we decided we were rooting for Chile. Because Pedro Pascal who played the Red Viper Oberyn Martell of Dorne is Chilean! And used his father’s accent in the role (He himself has lived in New York for ages). The Red Viper did not make much of an impression on us when we read A Song of Ice and Fire, but with Pascal in the role (and Benioff-Weiss speeding up the story), whoa!

And Chile kicked defending champion Spain out of the World Cup, 2-0. As Butch texted: Spain eliminated on Rizal’s birthday. Venganza!

Which reminded us that today is Jose Rizal’s birthday. Yikes, we had forgotten. Why is it that we mark his death rather than his birth?

What do the Red Viper and our national hero have in common? Venganza! Oberyn Martell did it through mortal combat with The Mountain (Finish him off now! Get away from that–oh yucch), Rizal’s mysterious Simoun planned to do it with some nitroglycerine in a lamp shaped like a pomegranate.

This being Jose Rizal’s birthday, we looked up the list of the books he owned in Under Three Flags: Anarchism and the Colonial Imagination by Benedict Anderson. The library that Rizal brought back from Europe included books by the following authors.

Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand (Was the steak named after him?)
Alphonse Daudet
Alexandre Dumas pere (5) – Of course, El Filibusterismo being heavily inspired by the revenge classic The Count of Monte Cristo.
Victor Hugo – Everyone read Les Miserables; today everyone sings the songs.
Alain-Rene Lesage
Eugene Sue (10), author of sensational novels that dealt with social ills
Emile Zola (4)

Edward Bulwer-Lytton of “It was a dark and stormy night” infamy
Daniel Defoe – Robinson Crusoe?
Charles Dickens – Of course, but which one.
William Makepeace Thackeray – Vanity Fair, we suppose.

E.T.A. Hoffman – Fantasy and horror author

Alessandro Manzoni – I promessi sposi

Douwes Dekker

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra – Don Quixote, we presume.

Anderson points out that these authors had been mentioned in Rizal’s letters: (Hans Christian) Andersen, (Honore de) Balzac, Johann Peter Hebel, and (Jonathan) Swift. Rizal also had access to the library of Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, in whose house in Paris he had been a guest for several months.

Love Game: A history of tennis

May 09, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History, Tennis No Comments →

Tennis in 1600. Image from BibliOdyssey.

Tennis has always been – beneath the flannelled pomp – an outsiders’ sport. For all the glamour of its major stars, the A-list oligarchy of Roger-Rafa-Novak, it remains in a small but vital way a sport liked by people who don’t necessarily like sport. And not just liked, but pored over, cherished, meditated upon and generally engaged with in a way that seems distinct from the more garrulous engagements with other mass spectator sports. It isn’t hard to see why. Tennis is a strangely intimate spectacle. At times it can resemble less a display of athletic excellence than a revelation of personality, glimpsed through the familiar repartee of serve, rally, volley, drop shot, winner. Then there is that touchingly stark on-court isolation. No other sport presents its players so nakedly to the world, alone in all that space, surrounded only by ball-grabbers and towel-handlers, engaged in the most mannered of arm’s-length emotional wrestling matches. Little wonder it is so easy to identify rather too closely with a tennis player, to imagine those distant professional athletes as warriors, victims, heroes, friends and general objects of private obsession.

Read the review of Love Game by Elizabeth Wilson at The Literary Review.

Illustrations for the Apocalypse

April 18, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Art, Books, History 1 Comment →


In the 8th century, in a monastery in the mountains of northern Spain, 700 years after the Book of Revelations was written, a monk named Beatus set down to illustrate a collection of writings he had compiled about this most vivid and apocalyptic of the New Testament books. Throughout the next few centuries his depictions of multi-headed beasts, decapitated sinners, and trumpet blowing angels, would be copied over and over again in various versions of the manuscript.




Read about the Beatus of Facundus at the Public Domain Review.