Monday, April 28, 2008

Author's Notes on Book 2 of The Saga of Fray Paco

Author’s Notes on The Saga of Fray Paco: Book Two. Don Cesar. The Tycoon

Book 1 of the Saga of Fray Paco introduced the bird who was known in my family as Fray Paco. In Book 2, I introduce my family and the city they lived in – Manila the Pearl of the Orient. Of course – things changed as a result of the Philippine – American war – when America asserted its Colonial aspirations. As always, war brings change and during periods of change there are opportunities.

Book 2: Don Cesar the Tycoon - Chapters One and Two.

Don Cesar Ortigas Nieto, the young Tycoon presents the new 20th century. Like the Renaissance which came gradually and then exploded, so did the Industrial Revolution. The English and Dutch banks had accumulated immense liquidity due to the slave trade in Africa and in the Americas. Their vaults and coffers literally overflowed with gold, silver, diamonds and other precious metals. They swam in money. The great wealth derived from the slave trade fueled the Industrial Revolution in England. The English had enjoyed 150 years of prosperity and created a vast empire. Spain's empire was in decline and America saw the opportunity to grab some pieces it coveted – and so they did.

When the slave trade was stamped out at last in Africa and in the Americas the contingency scenarios they had devised were now firmly in place. Now they turned their eyes towards the East, India and China and all their masses of humanity to exploit as slave labor in the factories and as serfs in the agricultural industries. As a panacea to their intolerable living and working conditions they sold them opium.

The Philippines was a Spanish colony but few Spanish entrepreneurs immigrated to the islands. There was no decent employment. Those who came were adventurous and enterprising Basque and Catalan bankers and financiers. They formed profitable joint ventures with the English capitalists operating in South East Asia. All of these Moneymen including Don Cesar Ortigas Nieto practiced pure mercantilism. Between them they divided up the spoils.

Don Cesar is the young voice of the century consumed by the acquisitive itch, which he seeks to satisfy in as moral a way as he is able and capable of doing. When he discovers that this itch appears to be on a collision course with what a truly holy person might call unethical and immoral beliefs he follows his selfish pursuits. It must be said, however, that within the context of the time, Don Cesar was a cultured if not erudite man searching for an equitable balance between Knowledge and Spirituality, Lust and Self-Denial and Kindness and Thoughtlessness towards all creatures great and small.

Don Juan is destined to remain an intriguing enigma. A man of principle but which principle does he pursue? A man whose family had possessed great wealth for centuries enabling him all the time in the world to attack sacred cows and bring them down if necessary.

One who had a Muslim as his most trusted scribe. A Sephardic Jew. Fascinated by the figure of Jesus and Machiavelli. He and Don Cesar induce us the readers to examine the teachings of Jesus and view them as similar in many way to those of Prince Siddhartha – the Gautama Buddha.

Machiavelli in a prismatic light who proffered morality in Politics and who advocated separation of Church and State in the early 16th century.

Don Juan is thus a secular individual more than a religious one. At the time that Don Cesar sought his legal expertise to represent the cause of the Ortigas Nieto against the Dominican Friars and the Roman Curia in Rome; rumors abounded that he was the Venerable Master of a secret Masonic Loggia that he had founded in Manila. He was a man of Law, but again we must ask ourselves which Laws?

Don Mamerto, Don Cesar’s middle brother is the voice of the Intelligentsia. He belongs to those extraordinary souls such as Mark Twain who ferociously attack the amassing of wealth for the sake of wealth as inhuman and vicious. Don Mamerto is a Protester and a Dissenter. He spurs Don Cesar towards good deeds.

Don Torquato is the man of faith. He is devoted to the Catholic Church and does his beast to live within its precepts. In spite of this, he has an abiding respect for his eldest brother Don Cesar. He disapproves of the wealth and grandeur of the Church; in particular its vices gall him. But he is unwavering in his faith in Jesus and in the early teachings of Christianity.

Dona Urraca represents the eternal dilemma of women. Marriage and a tribe of children which inevitably devour you, the nunnery, promiscuity done in secret or the elegant salons of the Casa Allegre –a.k.a as the Happy House or the Bordello. She found another solution, which proved satisfying though solitary. Following prevailing custom, she lived with her eldest brother, Don Cesar who was a devoted brother as were Don Mamerto and Don Torquato and allowed her free rein regarding her personal life.

The illnesses, which afflicted her, are sadly still with us today. Malaria and Dengue fever are more deadly and kill more people than ever. Jet travel has seen to it that these maladies are now present in great numbers in the West.

Tomorrow I shall post a chapter on Book Three of The Saga of Fray Paco. Don Alcibiades: The Banker. This book describes the humorous early days of Fray Paco and our family – set against the roaring 20's of Manila.

P.S. The picture above is of the US General's staff in Manila - taken in 1904 (when book begins).

1 comment:

  1. Buon giorno, Isabella,

    Your author's notes are illuminating and impel the reader forward ... I am thoroughly engrossed in your family saga. I had no idea about what was going on in the Philippines in the early part of the 20th century; all this is so new to me and I think probably to all your readers as well. Your characters intrigue the reader, not only because of their outward customs and behavior, but also because of their inner life and the ideas that form and inform their actions. Eagerly awaiting your chapter from Book Three tomorrow.




Isabel Van Fechtmann

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