(Today’s column — the photos only appear on this blog entry)
If you’ve been to the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros in Manila, you might have noticed the statue at the center of the plaza in front of it. That statue is also in front of the Palacio del Gobernador which stands perpendicular to the cathedral. I’ve been in that area countless times and I never noticed that statue. I may have seen it from the corner of my eyes but I never really paid attention. I wouldn’t have last Saturday if my daughter, Alex, hadn’t asked.
Alex: “Mommy, who is that?”
Me: “Aaah, I don’t know.”
Alex: “What’s that on his head?”
Me, thinking of a creative answer: “Aaahhhh … a hat?”
So, we walked closer to the statue. Up close, what was on the statue’s head looked more like a wig. Definitely not a hat but not a person’s natural hair either. And the tablet below it said: “Al Rey D. Carlos IV, en gratitud al don benifico de la vacuna, los habitantes de Filipinas.” I’m not very good in Spanish but I could work that out. King Carlos IV, “vacuna” is vaccine and “los habitantes de Filipinos” is the inhabitants of the Philippines.
Alex: “What’s he holding?”
Me, thinking of another creative answer: “Hmm… a flute?”
So, sue me, right? But Alex’s questions made me realize what I DID NOT know. When we got home, I read up to find the right answers. The statue is indeed of King Carlos IV of Spain, cast in bronze, and it stands at the Plaza de Roma. Carlos IV was king from 1788 to 1808 which leads me to presume that it must indeed be a wig on his head, French style, which was popular in European courts at the time. I still have no idea what that thing on his hand is but it’s probably a scroll. What’s his significance in Philippine history? After his daughter died of smallpox, he ordered the vaccine brought to the Spanish colonies at the state’s expense.
The plaza itself has been renamed several times. According to Traveler On Foot, “… It was called Plaza de Armas when it was used as a venue for bullfights. The name changed to Plaza Mayor when it was turned into a garden. During the American period, the plaza was named Plaza McKinley… When Rufino Santos became the first Filipino cardinal, the plaza was renamed Plaza de Roma…”
Imagine, I would never have have been prompted to read about all that had it not been for Alex’s questions. The really crazy part is that when I offered her the correct answers, I discovered that she had asked those questions as a joke. She knew what was on his head, she knew what he was holding, she knew, she knew, she knew… and she was just dissing me.
My only consolation was that even before I found out that the joke was on me, her father had already given her a dose of her own medicine. See, after leaving Intramuros, the conversation inside the car had turned to Europe, European landmarks, Édouard Laboulaye, the Statue of Liberty then on to Italy and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
When Alex asked why the tower leans, it was her father who answered. He told her it was the first multi-story carpark in the world but they parked chariots back then which were too heavy for the tower. He also said there was something wrong with the foundation of the structure because they were made with eggs and dead animals. Alex, obviously miffed (because she was not able to make us scramble for answers) but laughing anyway, responded by saying, never mind, she already knew why the Tower of Pisa leans because they had discussed it in Physics class.
And I wondered why all the questions to which she already knew the answers. Testing us, was she, about how much we knew and didn’t know? I’m no walking encyclopedia so, again, I had to research on the Tower of Pisa and found out that it leans because it was originally built on a shallow three meter foundation set on unstable subsoil. But because construction lasted for 177 years, by the time it was finished, the subsoil had settled. That is what prevents it from toppling over.
What’s even more interesting is that the Tower of Pisa isn’t unique. In a report originally published in 2007 by the British paper Telegraph, “The former East German town of Bad Frankenhausen says that the bell tower of its 14th century protestant church of Our Dear Ladies leans even more than its better-known rival in Pisa.”
Moreover, another church tower in the nearby German town of Suurhusen was said to lean at an even steeper angle and this was later confirmed by the Guinness Book of Records after officials determined that the Suurhusen tower leans at a 5.19 degree angle while the Tower of Pisa leans only at a 3.97 angle. Whether the record held by Suurhusen will be broken by Abu Dhabi’s Capital Gate, a 35-story asymmetric diagonal structure that leans at 18 degrees, is something we have yet to see.
And that is what paying attention to children’s questions results in. You learn or you risk looking like a complete fool.