Vicente Risco- The Golden Beam

The Golden Beam and the Tar Beam
One night we- Goriño, Bastián de Paradela, Rosa, Rafael, the lord of the castle and myself- were in the mill of Uncle Xan de Barca, of Cibrao de Penapetado, when Bastián de Paradela asked him:
-Ah, Señor Cibrao, you have been to the Couto de Lourido many times. Is it true there is a Moorish princess there, who guards a treasure? And that she comes out to comb her hair with a golden comb? And that she has to give the treasure to anyone who picks up the comb from the ground when it falls from her hands?
-It’s true- replied Señor Cibrao- Quite true.
-And have you seen her?
-I saw her early one morning at daybreak. I was coming down from the hills and I saw her. She was as close to me as that little shed over there. But I ran right away without daring even to turn back and have a look… These unchristian things…
And Señor Cibrao shook his head.
-Well, if I see her- said Bastian- I’ll go up to her and, when the comb falls from her hands, I won’t be afraid to pick it up so that she gives me her treasure.
-Better go blind than do that!
-Why so, Señor Cibrao?
-Better for you to drop dead right now! Hidden in the earth at Lourido is a very great treasure. There is a golden beam and another of tar. If you get to the golden beam, you will be rich, but if you get to the tar beam then a fire will start that will burn everything for a hundred leagues around. Look: she will take you underground where there will be two separate paths; depending on which one you take, you will get to the golden beam or the tar beam. But if you pick up the golden comb, then it is certain that you will come to the tar beam and there everything will be burnt.
-What should I do then?
-Well, you carry an ivory comb in your pocket and, when the Moor girl drops the golden comb, give her the ivory one so that she can comb her hair with it. And don’t even glance at the other one or else you will be lost…
-Well, the Moor girl appears on Friday early in the morning before dawn. Just when it looks like the sun is coming up she disappears and won’t come back. She has also been seen on other days, but the most certain is Friday, which is their holy day just as ours is Sunday.
When the two young men were coming back to Paradela, each one with his ass loaded up with flour, Bastián said to Goriño:
-Boy! The day after tomorrow is Friday. Shall we go, you and I, early in the morning to Couto de Lourido?
And they went. The night before they went out as if to go partying and Bastián put an ivory comb in his pocket and at midnight they walked the three leagues to Couto de Lourido, shivering with anticipation and fear- Bastián with more anticipation than fear and Goriño with more fear than anticipation. Trembling with the cold and soaked through with the mist, they waited in an oak grove for dawn and, just as day was breaking, set off stepping on chestnut cases as they headed up the hill.
Suddenly they saw the Moorish girl sat on a rocky outcrop, dressed in gold and silk, and combing her dark hair with a golden comb. It was so long that it spread out two or three feet along the ground in bluish waves like the waves of a river. She had eyes like fireflies , dark colouring like boxwood, lips like red cherries, cheeks lit up like roses and small white teeth like silver.
The two young men were stunned for a while, as they had never seen or imagined they would see anything like her in all their lives, but in the end Bastián went forward and when the Moorish girl noticed them she dropped the golden comb which tumbled down her dress and fell to the ground, losing itself amongst the chestnut cases.
Then Bastián went up to her and offered her the ivory comb.
Whilst the Moorish girl was talking to Bastián, Goriño who had seen the golden comb fall stood looking at it eaten up with greed. It called out to him, shining like a sun amongst the chestnuts, ingeniously worked like the base of a chalice, and whilst the others were busy talking, Goriño bent casually down, picked up the golden comb and put it safe in his trouser pocket.
The Moorish girl came down from the outcrop and took each one by the hand and led them to some high rocks at the top of the hill. There she knocked with her foot on a stone and a door opened. The Moorish girl bade them go in and they carried on walking as if in a mine. Goriño held the girl’s hand as fine and soft as silk and with his other hand he caressed the golden comb which he had tucked away.
They came to the point where the path divided in two: one branch went to the right and the other to the left. The girl let go of their hands and left them there.
Bastián went to the right and kept going along the mine shaft as the path got darker and darker with every step. He wanted to see if the others were coming and realised that he was on his own. He turned around and went back to the place where the paths diverged and did not see anyone. Where could Goriño and the girl have gone? Dawn was breaking and in the end he thought it was better to take his chances, so he went back down the shaft on the right.
He went stumbling on and on into the darkness for I don’t know how long until he came up against an iron door. He knocked and it seemed to him that he could hear voices inside. He knocked again and now he clearly made out people there. On the third knock they began to slide back the door bolts and in the end the door opened.
A man dressed in a full-length green tunic opened the door. He greeted him, saying:
-Welcome. We have been waiting for you for a long time.
Bastián was stupefied. There were twelve or fourteen men there with long beards as white as snow, all dressed in the same full-length tunics with cloaks over their heads, some pure white, others blue and others green.
It was a great hall, carved right out of the rock, and lit by a three-armed lamp hanging from the ceiling. Along the walls were horned helmets, cuirasses and mail coats, defensive shields, many of which had a swan painted on them, lances, steel swords with no guard which were finished off at the end of the pommel with a twisted rope, bronze daggers in the same style, axes, helmets, bows and arrows.
These gentelemen were all seated and the ones in blue had golden harps in their hands, whilst the oldest of those in white, who was sat in the middle of them all, wore a great golden torque around his neck and a crown of oak leaves on his head.
The one who had opened the door for Bastián took him by the hand and, presenting the Assembly to him, said:
-Behold, son of Brigo and of Gael, do you not recognise the Ancients?
Bastián did not dare to speak.
And the oldest of those dressed in white got up to give him a kiss on the forehead, saying:
-Welcome to he who brings Peace and Good!
And they made him sit amongst them and then the elder said:
-Relax, my son, and listen to our story, because it will show you why you came here and what you have to do.
Then one of those dressed in blue started to speak in this manner:
-These, my son, are the Progenitors, the Men of Ancient Times and Ages. These are the ones who have survived from the age of heroes, the Glorious Grandfathers of your race. These are the priests and wise men of the Sacred Wood. We were consulted by kings and heroes died happy knowing that their deeds would be remembered by these men. The arms of the heroes are now found here hanging from these walls and the golden harps have fallen silent.
-There was a time that all of this land was pagan, but we had the Knowledge of the Ages so that, although they wandered blindly, we were here to be their guides. However, neither they nor we knew the true God.
-Then, when the last heroes died fighting against the Roman legions, around about that time the true God was born in the East. And when he died he sent one of his relatives to this land to lead the pagans out of their blindness. He arrived and washed men in pure and new water which made them reborn to the Eternal Life. As time went by all the men of this land were baptised, but we were far off, removed from the world, hidden in the wrinkles of the mountain ranges. That was the end of the Heroic Age and we were the last ones of our belief and rite. Then the people were already following other gods before they got to know the True God. And already they had forgotten us. Then we were the Ancients… And no one came to where we were to give us the life-giving waters of baptism.
-As time went by the Moors came to this land. And as we were not strengthened by baptism we could not shake them off and one of them, of great power, put the enchantment on us, the spell of the half moon. He bewitched us and here we are enchanted in this mountain until a Christian should come along to break the spell by giving us baptism and introducing us to the True God.
-But since they discovered the tomb of the man who brought the knowledge of the True God to our people, all the Moors that were in this land are also bewitched with all their treasures, and we have them right here, with a wall separating us, waiting to see if they can spoil the moment when our enchantment is broken. And that is why they send out one of their women, of untold beauty, to trick those who arrive in this place and make them lose their way.
-And here we are awaiting, as the centuries go by, the one who is to save us, sometimes singing to the sound of the harp the deeds of the ancient heroes, other times reciting the sayings of Wisdom and Tradition, other times listening to readings from the old prophecies. The years and the centuries went by and we were shut up in the inside of the mountain lit only by the perpetual lamp…
At this Bastián looked up and saw something that he had not noticed at first.
The lamp was not suspended from the ceiling as he had thought before. The vault was traversed from one side to the other by a broad beam of pure gold and from this beam the lamp was hanging. The golden beam was covered with scratches, points and lines, like tiny compressed writing.
Then the one who was talking to him said:
-That is the treasure of the cave: the beam of solid gold. But what is most valuable about this beam are the scratches that cover it. All is written in our old characters, invented by the sage Ogma, our forefather, many thousands of years ago. Here we have written in three thousand three hundred and thirty three triads all our ancient wisdom, the laws of our people and our masters’ prophecies. This golden beam will make the one who owns it not only immensely rich but also hugely powerful because it is the key to the Past, Present and Future.
-And the lamp that is hanging from it and that is shining on us represents the same burning knowledge continuing in us, because you should know that this lamp of twisted asbestos burns without consuming itself and without ever dying out.
-Everything I have said to you, my child, is no more than a small part of our secrets, which we have kept through the dark night of time. And I will tell you why you were the one the true God chose to bring his doctrine and the life-giving waters of baptism to us, and how you will know how to get out of this adventure well and break the spell over us. Not only will you be rich and powerful but, with the knowledge rescued from oblivion, you will see the glorious renaissance of your people and your land.
Now Bastián dared to speak:
-Well then, sir, what must I do?
-Take the spring water and sprinkle it over our heads saying the words of the rite of baptism.
And they all got up and stretched out their venerable heads.
Just then, suddenly, a tremendous thunderclap sounded echoing through the mountain. The earth shook with a tremor like the end of the world, the golden beam shook and the eternal flame went out.

When Bastián disappeared down the mineshaft on the right the Moorish girl said to Goriño:
-Now, come with me.
And she took him by the hand and they both set off down the mineshaft on the left. They walked a stretch in the deepest dark and came to a place where the girl opened a door and Goriño found himself surrounded by five completely naked slave girls who took him and led him to a hall made of coloured marble, put him in a bath of hot water, and washed and scrubbed him until they left him shining like silver. Then they anointed him with perfumes and oils, curled his hair with irons, painted his cheeks and eyes and coloured his fingernails pink, then polished them. And when they had him fresh and shining like a blooming flower, they dressed him in a tunic of long strips of cloth, tied with a band of red silk and over that a white goatskin caftan.
Then they took him to a fairy-tale chamber. It was like a huge tent all made up of different materials, with green, orange, purple, yellow, red and blue bands embroidered with flowers, birds and dragons in gold. There were five golden lamps, each with five lights which were set in pink glass cups, and besides five gold burners which gave off smoke of incense and myrrh. His feet sank into the thick carpet that covered the floor over which many cushions of rich silk, embroidered with gold and pearls and tiger and leopard skins were spread.
At the end, held up by jasper columns with bronze capitals, there was a marble and ebony veranda with a bronze banister and on it a bed with rich cushions and gold-embroidered textiles. Here there was a bed covered by a baldachin like a cupola, made of silk and silver cloths, supported by four beautifully-carved columns and on the top an ornament of ostrich feathers.
The girl who was there took Goriño by the hand and led him to that bed. There were some stairs to go up to it and she sat down with him under the baldachin.
Then a whistle blew and well-dressed moors with big turbans started to come in and as they arrived they bowed low three times before the podium and went to sit on the pillows. Finally many slaves came in bringing bowls of tea, sweets, caramels, grapes, dates, bananas, sweet wine and hookahs loaded with perfumed tobacco. Behind them came musicians with guitars, drums, bagpipes and flutes.
They played, ate and drank and as they finished the food the musicians started to play a soporific tune. Two girls came in carrying a basket full of rose petals and danced in the middle of the chamber.
The girl took a little green jam in a golden spoon and offered it to Goriño, who tasted it. Then the girl went down from the podium, took a tambourine and went to the middle of the chamber, treading on the rose-petals.
And she began to dance.
Goriño’s eyes clouded over quickly and he beheld it all as though through a mist. Then he noticed that the lights were shining brighter, that everything filled up with light and life: the golden birds and dragons on the curtains glittered, grew bigger, moved their beaks, their wings, their twisted bodies; the smoke from the burners burned more and mixed with the fresh smell of the rose petals crushed by the moor’s feet; the sad, soporific music caressed his ears and Goriño felt himself bewitched and happy in that magical place.
The moor danced and twisted like a serpent; her eyes were like burning fires in the night; her clothes started to fall from her limbs and the enchanted perfections of her body were revealed, the most tempting witcheries, of the kind that turn you on and make you impulsive. She ended up completely naked…
She stopped for a while and then began to turn around and around like a bobbin, accompanied only by the drum a negro was playing with his hands, and in the end fell twisting and turning on the carpet amongst the crushed roses.
The moors started to shout:
-Allah! Allah! She is seeing Allah!
Goriño was a little dizzy: his heart was pumping, his temples were pulsing, he was half deaf… but then a new bewitchment began.
They picked up the girl and carried her back to the bed where he was, rigid and so hot she was burning, smelling of rose perfumes that maddened the senses, and an old moor who had helped to bring her said to Goriño:
-Christian, you are going to see the Paradise our Prophet Muhammed promised his believers!
And the girl fell groaning on his neck and put her two arms around him.
At this another moor burst in.
He was very old, weighed down with years, all wrinkly with a beard that came down below his belly. He was naked and you could count his ribs. He wore no more than a loincloth and a green turban.
As soon as they saw him all the other moors fell to the ground saying:
-The Hadji, the Hadji!
The old man, without taking the least notice of these things, shouted angrily:
-Now is the time. Bring the Christian!
The moors launched themselves like wild things at the podium, grabbed Goriño and pushed him towards the old man, who let him pass.
They put him in a big cave and the old man went behind them. The cave was lit by resin torches and was immense. There were enormous bats nailed to the walls and great lizards and beasts were hanging from the ceiling. There was a lectern with a very big book all full of writing, an oven with alembics, retorts and vials and another pot in which they had a donkey’s head that rolled its eyes and gritted its teeth.
Goriño was frightened to death.
There was a circle composed of right-angle triangles on the floor. The old man stood in the middle of the circle and made Goriño go too, along with a black cat with eyes like burning coals. From the circle, and without leaving it, the old man leafed through the book and sang, looking at the donkey’s head, but Goriño did not understand very well. The donkey’s head opened and closed its mouth and eyes and gestured with its ears.
In the end the old man stood face-to-face with Goriño and said:
-Christian, now is the time for you to receive the wages you have earned. You are going to lift the spell from us and half of our treasure will be for you. See that you have no fear and do what I tell you. You have more treasure here than all the kings in the world. With your part you will be able to buy more than a hundred provinces. For this reason, with the help of the true God and his prophet Muhammad, you have to get the golden beam. So take this torch and go there fearlessly. Go! And may the prophet go with you…
Goriño took the resin torch the old man gave him and, as he indicated, went underneath the ovens. It was a tight stretch and he had to go on hands and knees. It took a while for him to be able to stand up. At last he could straighten up, but then he had not gone more than three steps when he tripped and fell and the torch he had in his hand rolled away downhill…
A great flame shot up from there to the sky and a tremendous thunderclap rolled out echoing over the shaking mountain…
The terrible things that happened that morning! God forbid!
The whole mountain of Lourido was burnt for four leagues around so that no grass remained. In Chas, the land of Fortunato burned, with all the bread he had there along with other neighbours and aunt Chinta’s house and Mouco’s two barns. The house of the priest of Ortiz burned, which was nearly five leagues from Lourido, the sacristy was all but destroyed and all the trees in the orchard were burned along with some old chestnut trees a neighbour had there. Also two houses in San Miguel burned, and all the houses in Fontela in the parish of Ourande, which is well out of the way, and a shed and a load of firewood on the Monte Largo… It was as though the end of the world had come. All the neighbours were running away not knowing where to go and women were weeping with old men and children going ahead of them. But the explosion was so sudden there was no time to react so many people died- poor people- and many children in Fontela and San Miguel. It was as though a great fire had come and burnt everything without leaving a breath, like something otherworldly.
No. God forbid something like that should happen again. Nothing like it has been heard of even by the oldest of the old.
For many days all that land was smoking. The smell of burning was in the air for ten leagues around.
Bastián crawled out of a tunnel in the peaks. Around him the mountain was burnt and covered in ashes, here and there the charcoal of the broom and bracken was smoking. But Bastián could not see it. He was blind.
He went completely blind when the great flame went up. Now he could not see the burnt mountain but the smell of burning reached his nose.
He set out walking as well as he could until he met someone to guide him and thus he got to Paradela. As Paradela was on the far side of another peak facing north the flame did not reach it.
Bastián never said anything to anyone. He was poor and couldn’t work so he had to start begging. As time went by, as best he could, he learnt to scrape a violin and sing simple songs. And he went singing to fairs and parties and through the towns. He, who had seen those treasures.
What’s more he resigned himself to it. He married and had children. When he was an old man his children could work and although he did not need to he continued to go to the fairs and fiestas singing songs.
He never referred to that story even to his neighbours, his wife and his children. People knew that Bastián had left home one night at vespers and came home the next morning blind, the same day of the great fire of the Couto de Lourido. But when they asked him, or when he heard people talking of Goriño, of whom nothing more was heard, the blind man went quiet. And no one could make him talk.
Once, Bastián was returning to Paradela from a fiesta with his youngest son leading him by the hand. They sat on a wall to take a rest and then Bastián said to the child:
We are close to the Couto de Lourido. Once there was a very great treasure there and an enchanted Moorish girl who would come out very early in the morning to comb her hair with a golden comb. There was a beam of gold and another of tar. The man who refused her golden comb, which she dropped on purpose to deceive men, but gave her another one of ivory to replace it, came to be master of the golden beam…
Once, more than thirty years ago, I went with another friend to the Couto de Lourido one early morning. I saw the golden beam and the men who were protecting it, but my companion took the golden comb that the girl dropped and came upon the beam of tar and for that reason the whole mountain burned and many houses in many parishes all around and many fields were burned also. My companion died and I went blind.
Now there is no treasure in the Couto de Lourido. Everything burnt when the tar beam went up in flames. The moors all burned as well and the deceitful girl who came out early in the mornings to comb her hair with the golden comb. The moors all died because they did not have the grace of God; but there are some men who are awaiting someone with the courage to reach them and give them the life-giving waters of baptism and they will give him something more valuable than all the treasures in the world.
If when you are a man you have heart for it, run along there, head for the eastward side and from there where there is a cleft in the rocks, twelve palms to the right and three steps further…

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Vicente Risco- O Porco de Pé

The Prancing Pig

After the First World War, Don Celidonio graduated from pig to hog and wound up as mayor.  His wife swelled up like the piper’s bag.

Now he is president of the City Council and other societies.  His wife wears a chinchilla and squirrel coat.  They have a new house and another car.  There is still more they can get.

I am going to tell you about Don Celidonio’s life and that of his father-in-law and partner Baldomero García, who used to scream at his shop hands: “When a penny comes into this house, before it will go out again I will want a form filled out!”

By and by you will see how things went along.

I shall also have to tell you something about his antagonist and opposite Dr Alveiros, the liberator of Tutankhamen’s mummy, since you cannot think of one without the other.  Besides all the other aspects of this story you will find that, alchemically speaking and insofar as money goes, Dr Alveiros is the solve and Don Celidonio the coagula.

A definition of terms will not be out of place here:

Coagula: I have discovered the law of money, which is today the basic law of political economy.  This law is as follows:

Money is attracted to money in direct proportion to its mass and without reference to the square of its distance.

When I put forward this law at the back table of the Novelty Café, by the door with the bevel-edged mirrors that leads to the lavatory, Aser de Airas said to me:

“That’s no discovery; that’s nothing more than Karl Marx’s law of surplus value.  That is the law that leads to capital accumulation.  And what’s more it is a good thing, as you can see in Chapter 2, paragraph 18 of Bukharin’s summary, because only by means of the concentration of capital can we achieve centralized and socialized production, and only with centralized production can we achieve a Communist state.”

There’s no way around it:  Mr Daniel Das Airas made his money with rents, mortgages and retro tariffs.  His son Samuel made his money grow in the same way and that was how he ended up with the factory and the mines.  In short, Aser was a Communist.  Both father and son were doing no more than preparing for the coming of Communism.  If it takes its time coming, Aser will keep up the preparations…

Bah!  What more can I add?  I have never had a surplus in my pocket, either with Communism or without it; let’s see if things go Don Celidonio’s way or Samuel Arias’s.

Solve:  whether it was Karl Marx or myself who discovered the law of money, what I do know is that if you have to give, give.  And also when centrifugal force applies to money- as it does when I get a group of bitches together- there is no one who can stop it: it breaks its banks and runs away like water.

Don Celidonio is fat and arthritic.  His flabby neck hangs out; he has one or two slicked over hairs on his head; he has overgrown cheeks the colour of ham fat and just as shiny that seem to squeeze out melted lard; his buttocks and his belly hang a little low.

His whole body is covered in blubber and in the summer it sweats oily streaks and gross blobs of pig fat, like what comes out of the chorizo sausage when it is being smoked.

Just as Don Celidonio’s body is fat so are his insides.  If they were to open his head, which would have to be with a crowbar and pick, they would find lard.  Body and soul are the same: it is all grease and tallow.  Don Celidonio is the same inside and out: flesh and spirit are the same spicy chopped pork meat, soaked in the same oregano and pepper dressing.

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Castelao- Cousas

Next to Nature

It is the very moment when the earth rolls away from the light to go to sleep and a thick, milky mist rises from the roofs and starts to spread through the bottom of the valley.  There is nothing exceptional in describing what these eyes, that will be eaten by worms, can see; but there are more things to observe in this landscape, since in that thrumming mill two lovers are exchanging their first kiss and the dogs are barking in that country house with the dried up chestnut tree.

From the porch of a church we can see the valley shrouded in rain.  The pouring water softens the blue smoke against the slate roof of a shack.  The paths are covered in mud and a blanket salesman comes clacking by on his horse.  It is a painter’s vision; but there is still more in the landscape, since the church tower is ringing the death-knell and the sound is as bitter as if the dead man’s head itself were being used to sound the bell.  And we cannot make out from which house he came because they are all- all of them- sad.

A moonlit night: near a fairy tale crossroads is a wayside cross with stone table close by, on which they lay the dead to sing a response.  A gentle stream can be seen through the trees and the moon is hanging from a pine branch.  The painter must evoke something more than this, however, since on this stone table at the cross, that very afternoon, they laid the dead body of a lad who came from military service; along that narrow lane a trainee priest walks pondering over the young girl with the red kerchief who stole his vocation.  And in the distance they are wailing.

An early Sunday morning: the distant mountains are blue like a Patinir painting; broom and gorse add their touches of yellow to the landscape’s divine symphony of green.  There is much in this landscape for an artist: see there on the branch of that apple tree the blackbird of Guerra Xunqueiro [famous Portuguese poet of the Escola Nova], still ‘lucid and jovial’, is waiting to say good morning to the village priest.  Yesterday it rained.  The bells of the church are pealing out and, along the cart track from the meadows down below, the little red and black ants are coming to Mass.

Time has touched the old feudal castle with tones of gold and silver.  The serfs of the treasury are hoeing maize in the fields.  The river can be seen winding amongst shadowy willows at the valley bottom.  The sun beats down on the earth’s back.  Everything is ready to be painted because it is all a gift to the eyes; but there is more to this landscape.  Today is Midsummer’s Eve, smelling of ‘mother’s neck’, crickets are singing and the gentle breeze brings the sound of drumming from afar.  Tomorrow we shall wash ourselves with sweet-smelling herbs.

It was getting dark.  The black silhouette of a pine tree was drawn against the dark blue of the sky.  You all know that in spring the pines produce thousands of candles, taking on the appearance of giant candelabra.  How often we have felt tempted to light these candles.  Well then; a priest went by my pine tree carrying the sacrament of Extreme Unction, accompanied by two boys and four praying women, on their way from a neighbouring village.  What a miracle!  Brother Pine, conscious of this religious moment and in homage to the Holy Host, lit up its candles, which remained alight until the Sacrament was lost from sight around the bend in the road.

One day at Christmas, seeing a landscape that seemed like a Nativity, I realised that there is more beauty in wild than garden flowers.  Little wild flowers born in the fields are like the creations of Bosch or Breughel the Elder, whilst florid garden flowers look like the buttery blooms of Rubens.  From then on I set my heart on being a wild man of letters.


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The Beheaded Chicken- Horacio Quiroga

The four idiot children of the Mazzini-Ferraz family spent the whole day sitting on a bench in the patio.  Their tongues hung between their lips, they had stupid eyes and they turned their heads with their mouths open.

It was an earth-floored patio closed off on the west side by a brick wall.  The bench ran parallel to it at five metres distance and they sat there unmoving, with their eyes fixed on the bricks.  As the sun went down behind the wall at sunset the idiots had a fine time.  At first the blinding light called their attention, and bit by bit their eyes lit up; they ended up laughing out loud, red in the face with their anxious hilarity, watching the sun with a bestial pleasure, as though it were food.

Other times, lined up on the bench, they hummed for hours at a time imitating the electric tram.  Loud noises shook them out of their inertia and then they ran about around the patio, biting their tongues and grunting.  But they were almost invariably shut away in the sombre lethargy of their idiotism, and would spend the whole day sitting on their bench, with their legs hanging still, soaking their trousers with glutinous saliva.

The oldest was twelve and the youngest eight.  It was clear from their dirty and destitute appearance that they were completely lacking in maternal care.

Those four idiots, however, had once been the treasure of their parents.  After three months of marriage, Mazzini and Berta expanded their narrow love of husband and wife, wife and husband, towards a broader and more vital future: a son.  What greater blessing could there be for two lovers than that honoured consecration of their tenderness, set free from the base egotism of a mutual love with no end and, worse still for love itself, with no hope possible for renovation?

That is what Mazzini and Berta thought and, when the son arrived, fourteen months into their marriage, they thought that their happiness was complete.  The child grew, beautiful and radiant, until it reached two and a half.  But in the twentieth month it was shaken one night by terrible convulsions, and the following morning did not recognise its parents any more.  The doctor examined it with that kind of professional attention that is manifestly looking for causes in the parents’ illnesses.

After some days the paralysed limbs of the child regained movement; but its intelligence, its soul, even its instincts, had completely gone; it had ended up as a complete idiot, blubbering, hanging, dead forever on the knees of its mother.

“My son, my darling son!” she sobbed, over that shocking ruin of her firstborn.

The father, desolate, saw the doctor out.

“I can trust you to tell you this; I think this is a lost cause.  He could get better, with education up to the point that his idiotism allows, but nothing more than that.

“Yes. Yes…”  agreed Mazzini, “But tell me: do you think it is hereditary, that…?

“Insofar as hereditary illness on the paternal side go, I already told you what I thought when I saw the child.  As for the mother, well, she has a poorly-functioning lung.  I can’t see anything else, but there is a fairly rough sound there.  Have her properly examined.”

With his soul rent with guilt, Mazzini redoubled his love for his son, the little idiot that had to pay for the excesses of his grandfather.  He also had to console and support Berta continuously, who was wounded to the heart by that failure in her young motherhood.

As is natural the couple put all their love into hopes for another child.  This child was born, and his health and his clear laugh relit the fires of their forgotten future.  But after eighteen months the fits of the firstborn fell again, and the following day saw him an idiot.

This time the parents fell into deep desperation.  Their blood then, their love, was cursed!  Their love above all!  He at twenty-eight, she at twenty-two, and all their passionate tenderness was not able to create one atom of normal life.  Now they did not ask for beauty and intelligence any more like they did with the first; but a child, a child like other children!

From the new disaster new flames of painful love flickered, a crazy desire to redeem once and forever the purity of their tenderness.  They had twins, and the same process that befell the older ones was repeated, point by point.

But, above and beyond their immense bitterness, Mazzini and Berta had great compassion for their four children.  They had to pull out from a limbo of their deepest animal nature, not their souls, but their very instincts that had been wiped out.  They did not know how to swallow, change places, nor even to sit down.  In the end they learnt how to walk, but they bumped into everything through their lack of awareness of objects. When they were washed they bawled until their faces went red.  They only showed interest at mealtimes, when they saw bright colours or when they heard thunder.  Then they laughed, sticking out their tongues and emitting trails of spit, lit up by a bestial frenzy.  On the other hand they had a certain facility for imitation; but nothing more could be expected.

The frightening offspring appeared to have come to an end with the twins.  But after three years they again desperately wanted a child, and were confident that the long time that had passed would have changed their fate.

Their hopes were not realised.  And they became embittered with that burning desire that was frustrated because it was not fulfilled.  Until that moment each one had accepted his own part in the misery of their children; but the lack of hope for redemption, faced with the four beasts that they had engendered, forced out that imperious need to blame, which is the special patrimony of base hearts.

They started with the change of pronouns: your children.  And because the insinuation was loaded on top of the insult, the atmosphere grew charged.

“It seems to me,” said Mazzini on night, having just come in and washed his hands, “that you could keep the boys a bit cleaner.”

Berta continued reading as if she had not heard.

“It’s the first time,” she replied after a while, “that I have seen you take an interest in the state of your children.”

Mazzini turned his head slightly towards her with a forced smile:

“Of our children, it seems to me?”

“Oh well; of our children.  You like it that way?”  She looked up at him.

This time Mazzini expressed himself clearly:

“I think you are not going to tell me that it is my fault, are you?”

“Oh, no!”  Berta smiled at him pale in the face.  “But I also suppose you won’t…That would be the limit!…” She murmured.

“What would be the limit?”

“If anyone is to blame, it’s not me, understand?  That’s what I wanted to say to you.”

Her husband looked at her for a moment with a brutal desire to insult her.

“Let’s leave it!” he said, drying his hands at last.

“As you wish; but if you are trying to say…”


“As you wish!”

This was the first shock and there were others to follow.  But in the inevitable reconciliations, their souls were joined with redoubled fury and mad desire for another child.

Thus a girl was born.  They lived for two years with anguish in their souls, always expecting another disaster.  Nothing happened, however, and the parents indulged the little child so much that she reached the furthest limits of soft treatment and bad parenting.

If even up to recently Berta had always looked after her children, when Bertita was born she almost completely forgot the others.  Her memories alone were enough to horrify her, like some atrocious deed she had been forced to commit.  The same thing happened with Mazzini although to a lesser degree.

This did not mean that peace had settled on their hearts.  The slightest sickness of their daughter now brought out, with the fear of losing her, their resentment for their rotten offspring.  They had been collecting ice for more than long enough for their glass to be brimming and at the slightest touch the venom spilled over.  From the first poisonous interchange they had lost mutual respect; and, if there is one thing that a man feels himself drawn to with cruel delight, it is humiliating a person totally once he has begun the exercise.  Before they held themselves back because of the mutual lack of success; now that success had arrived, each one, taking the credit, felt even more the infamy of the four offspring that the other had forced him to create.

With these feelings, it was no longer possible to have any more feelings for the four boys.  The servant dressed them, fed them and put them to bed with evident brutality.  They were scarcely ever washed.  They spent almost the entire day opposite that wall, abandoned and far from the least caress.

In this way Bertita reached her fourth birthday and that night, as a result of the sweets that her parents found it absolutely impossible to deny her, the child had a shivering fit and some fever.  And the fear of seeing her die or turn into an idiot reopened the eternal wound.

They had not spoken for three hours and the reason was, as it almost always was, the heavy footstep of Mazzini.

“My God!  Can’t you walk slower?  How many times…?”

“Well, it’s just that I forget.  That’s enough!  I don’t do it on purpose.”

She smiled disdainfully.

“No.  I wouldn’t have thought you would!”

“Me neither.  I would never have believed so much of you…  little consumptive!”

“What!  What did you say?”


“Yes.  I heard you say something.  Look: I didn’t tell you, but I swear that I would rather anything than to have a father like yours!”

Mazzini went `pale.

“At last,” he murmured through tight lips, “at last, viper, you have said what you wanted to.”

“Yes, viper, yes!  But I had healthy parents!  Do you hear?  Healthy!  My father did not die in a delirium!  I would have had children like any others!  Those are your children, all four yours!”

Mazzini in turn exploded.

“You consumptive viper!  That is what I said to you, what I wanted to say!  Ask!  Ask the doctor who has the greater guilt for the meningitis of your children: my father or your clapped out lung, viper!

They carried on more and more violently until a groan from Bertita instantly sealed their lips.  At one o’clock in the morning the slight indigestion had disappeared and as inevitably happens with all young couples who have loved each other intensely once, the reconciliation came, as effusive in its coming as the hurts were wounding.

Dawn announced a splendid day, and Berta spitted blood as she got out of bed.  The emotions and the bad night she had spent no doubt were to blame.  Mazzini held her in his arms for a long time and she cried desperately, but neither of them dared to say a word.

At ten o’clock they decided to go out after lunch.  As they scarcely had time they ordered the servant to kill a chicken.

The radiant day had drawn the idiots off their bench so that, whilst the servant was in the kitchen beheading the animal, parsimoniously bleeding it (Berta had learnt from her mother this good manner of keeping the meat fresh), she thought she felt something like breathing behind her.  She turned around and saw the four idiots, shoulder to shoulder, watching the operation with stupefied faces.  Red…  Red…

“Señora!  The children are here, in the kitchen.

Berta came; she did not want them to ever set foot there.  And not even in those moments of full pardon, forgetfulness and happiness, could she avoid that horrible vision!  Because, naturally, however intense were her feelings of love for her husband and daughter her mood of ill-humour towards the monsters was that much more intense.

“María, get them out!  Throw them out!  Throw them out, I say!”

The four poor beasts, shaken and brutally pushed, went back to their bench.

After lunch everyone went out.  The servant went to Buenos Aires and the couple went to walk through the allotments.  They went back when the sun was going down, but Berta wanted to say hello to the neighbours opposite.  Her daughter got away from her and went straight back home.

Meanwhile the idiots had not moved in the whole day from their bench.  The sun had passed the wall already and was beginning to go down and they continued to stare at the bricks, more inert than ever.

Suddenly something appeared between them and the wall.  Their sister, tired of being with her parents for five hours, wanted to look for herself.  Standing at the foot of the wall, she was looking thoughtfully at the top.  She wanted to climb over it, that was without question.  In the end she decided on a broken chair, but it still did not quite reach.  She resorted to a kerosene can and her topographic instinct made her turn the piece of furniture upright and in this way she made it.

The four idiots, with an expressionless gaze, saw how their sister patiently managed to get balance and how on tip toes she rested her throat on the top of the wall, between her pulling hands.  They saw her look all around and look for s foothold to pull herself up further.

But the gaze of the idiots had become animated; the same insistent light was fixed in all their pupils.  They did not take their eyes off their sister, whilst a growing sensation of animal greed started to change every feature of their faces.  Slowly they advanced towards the wall.  The little one, who having managed to find a place for her foot, was about to pull herself up and drop over the other side safely, felt that her leg was being grabbed.  Beneath her the eight eyes boring into her own made her scared.

“Let go of me!  Let me go!”  she shouted, shaking her leg.  But she was drawn back.

“Mummy!  Oh mummy!  Mummy!  Daddy!”  she cried out imperiously.  She still tried to hold on to the top but she felt herself being pulled and fell.

“Mummy, oh, mu…”  She could not scream any more.  One of them squeezed her neck, pushing her curls aside like feathers, and the others dragged her by one leg to the kitchen, where that morning the firmly-held chicken had been bled, its life drained second by second.

Mazzini in the house opposite thought he could hear the voice of his daughter.

“I think she is calling for you,” he said to Berta.

They listened anxiously but did not hear anything else.  Anyway, a moment later they said goodbye and, whilst Berta went to hang up her hat, Mazzini went into the patio.


No one replied.

“Bertita!” he raised his voice, angry now.

And the silence was so funereal for his ever-fearful heart, that his back went cold with a horrible foreboding.

“My daughter!  My daughter!”  Now he ran desperately towards the end.  But as he went past the kitchen he saw on the floor a sea of blood.  He violently pushed the half-open door, and let loose a shriek of terror.

Berta, who had already started running when she heard the anxious calls of the father, heard this shriek and replied with another.  But when she rushed forward to enter the kitchen, Mazzini, as pale as death, put himself in her path and stopped her:

“Don’t go in!  Don’t go in!”

Berta managed to see the floor inundated with blood.  She could only throw her arms over her head and collapse alongside him with a hoarse sob.


Posted in Horacio Quiroga, South American Literature | Leave a comment

A Man Like Orestes- Álvaro Cunqueiro

The mist was slowly lifting from the square.  The high tower of the fort could now be seen above the red roofs, and swallows were emerging from their nests, dropping with open wings for their first morning flight.  In a house opposite the palace, a woman opened a window, leaned out and threw some faded flowers into the street.  A workman with a pick over his shoulder, mounted side-saddle and bareback on a roan ass, crossed the square heading for the Dovecote gate, the lowest of them all, barely bigger than a window, cobbled together shabbily in Portuguese fashion, and the only one that was always open and with no guard.  Near the gate, on the corner of the supports, a group of peasant women were laying some baskets with onion plaits on the ground.  There were four of them, a skinny, old, wrinkly one, who was tying a red handkerchief to her head, and three girls.  The young girls had their hair down, and it fell down their backs to their waists, as was normal for unmarried farm girls in that country.  They were chatting and laughing as they placed the baskets, arranging plaits of golden onions, red onions and blue onions.

“Up early today, eh!” the man with the ass called out to the women.

“Today is the day to make an offering of onions to saints Cosmas and Damian,” the old woman explained, whilst she tied on her white apron.

“Oh my goodness!  I completely forgot!  When I come back from watering, I’ll take them an onion plait myself.”

He stopped the ass and turned around to have a look at the baskets.

“Those are not bad!  Sweet Sicilians!  I harvest some pretty decent ones myself- spring onions.  There’s nothing better for a new mother’s salad.”

“The steward of the saints will not be giving birth,” laughed the old woman.

“I’m not taking onions for the steward, although he eats and drinks his fair share.  They are an offering for the brother saints, who were born from one womb:  Cosmas first, headfirst, with his right hand pulling on the leg of Damian, who came after.  According to the pictures in the church, they had a scroll with their name on it in the nursery, and they were born clothed by all that I can make out.  Their mother was a very fine woman, wearing a broad-brimmed bonnet decked out with rose braids.  When I was a child and my whole body was growing naturally and my head at the same rate, my ears remained as small as cherries, so small that I couldn’t make out long words- what  the grammarians who studied my case called tri-syllables or poly-syllables.  They couldn’t get in; only small and monosyllabic words like yes, no, bread, dog or whistles could.  Some aunts of mine, who were pastry cooks, took me as an offering to the brother saints with some stick-on ears made of Swiss roll sponge and, a short while after the pilgrimage, my real ears started to grow fast.  And here I am with ears a good, natural size.”

He took off his cap so that they could have a look at them.

“A little long,” commented the youngest of the girls, a smiling blonde.

“I’ve heard of that miracle,” the old woman remembered, “But I didn’t know it was you!”

“The miracle was turned into a song,” the farmer declared, shooing the ass on with his cap.

Leaving the square through the Dovecote gate, the green fields of the city stretched out before the eye, within a circle of sterile, ochre hills.  The path of the river could be made out by the tall poplar trees that lined its banks.  The dovecot was near the gate: round, with a hipped tile roof and lines of small holes for the birds under the eaves.  They would whitewash the dovecot for the day of the Ascension, and once it was done, and a new coat of red ochre had been put on the door, the painter would come and repaint the legend over the door:  The Dovecot of Bravas de Rey.  The road that came up from the meadow to the city divided in two when it came to the dovecot, then reunited in the shadow of a fig tree, right next to the moat in the shadow of the gate.

A man was seated on the stone bench against the side of the dovecot.  He got up, leaning on a thick walking stick, as if he were waking up with a start from a nap, and took a few steps to get a better view of the walls, which began the descent towards the ramparts, above the mill and the watering places, on an off-shoot of the river.  Amongst the dark, square stones grew valerian and, here and there, ivy crept as high as the battlements.  The winter rains had worked away at the foundations of a turret so that, eventually, it had fallen down.  Further down on the ramparts, clothing was hanging out to dry strung between the battlements.  In the breach that the fallen turret had left the gardens of the High School could be seen.  The man slowly made his way towards the moat, and before he arrived at the little wooden bridge, with his right foot, he pushed a pebble into the green waters where the white buttons of aquatic flowers were dotted about the surface.  He stopped next to the onion-sellers.

He was tall and the curls of his forehead almost touched the oil lamp that was hanging from the ceiling of the arch.  His large black eyes looked it over slowly and lovingly.  With his stick he pointed out one of the baskets of onions.  On the ring finger of the hand that held the stick shone the enormous violet stone of his ring.

“Twelve new crowns, sir,” said the old woman.  “A prince with paralysis could not send a better offering to saints Cosmas and Damian.”

The man with the stick and the ring was about thirty years old.  His beard was rounded, taking the sharpness away from his pointy chin.  The hair on his head was dark chestnut colour, but his beard was black.  In spite of his friendly gaze his thin lips did not seem to be accustomed to smiling.  He was stroking his neck pensively with his left hand.  The girls were watching him.  He wore his blue doublet open, and his chest peaked out from his fine white shirt.

“Twelve crowns is a lot to ask,” said one of the girls, holding up an onion plait.

“The saints remember how much the offering cost!” the old woman asserted.

More women had arrived with their baskets of onions and little, white pottery jars filled with honey, and a small market was starting up under the arcade of the square.  The man in the blue doublet, without saying a word in response to the offer they made him, went through the buyers and sellers and headed for the fountain.  He laid the stick on the floor, put his hands in the water of the fountain bowl and brought them to his face.  He repeated the action three or four times, keeping his wet hands against his sun-touched cheeks for a few moments.  A beggar came up, smiling at him, showing him a wicker cage painted green and red, with a blackbird fluttering about inside it.  The toothless beggar whistled with every word he spoke.

“He sings church music and street music!  There’s none better!  Those women wanting you to make an offering of onions to Cosmas and Damian!  Now there are no musicians in the city, why not take the brother doctors a singer!  I’ll put him to trial for you in that tavern.”

He stuck out his fat tongue and licked his lips.  He spat out a wild, greying and uncut hair smiled again and, shaking the cage, offered it with outstretched hands to the stranger.

“Because you are a stranger, aren’t you?”  the beggar asked, suddenly serious, his lively little eyes settling on the large, black eyes of the man in the blue doublet, with the silver-knobbed caneand the gold ring with its violet stone.  And, as if groping about like a blind man, or better as if, with the gaze of those little eyes that shone beneath the thick and unruly eyebrows, he were licking over the face of the stranger, or whatever they settled on, he finally came to the rich clothes, and the buckle on the belt that showed a serpent wound about a deer, then on to the fine hands, and the silver knob of the stick.  And on to the high boots that were covered with the greenish dirt of the roads on the other side of the mountains- greener the drier it got.

“If you are a stranger, you have to go to the judge for outsiders, and tell him your name.  They will put a red mark on the palm of your right hand.  You’ll have to say what you are worth.  How much money do you have?”

The foreigner, or whatever he was, put his right hand, damp as it was, into the inside pocket of his doublet and took out a gold coin.  He showed it to the beggar, who continued to offer the cage that he had in his two hands.  Then came the surprise: the blackbird, on seeing the gold, began to sing a solemn march; one he might have learnt from fifes heard in the street, like the entrance of a king or of a galley, a march to mark serious steps or the pulling of oars in unison, and from air to air the warble rose up like the raising of a flag.

“This is street music!” exclaimed the beggar.  “It’s the part they call ‘The Lion at the Gates’!  Tumpty-tum, tum, tum, ti-da, ti-da, ti-dum!  For many years it was banned and it became popular when censorship was withdrawn and that’s why the blackbird knows it.  We children used to shout out from behind the columns in the square: ‘The lion is coming!’ and they used to say that when the king and queen heard us they hid in a secret room they had.  We never found out who invented that game.”

“What happened to the king and queen?” asked the stranger, if that is what he was, putting the gold coin away.  He asked with a friendly but distant voice, out of mere curiosity, as if the king of that country did not matter the least bit to him, and he was only asking out of politeness to the hairy, dirty and ragged beggar.

“Nothing.  No changes.  One night a qualified musketeer, a complete drunk, who worked as a lion in the pantomime about Androcles in the theatre, went out with the lion skin on and shouted from the tower, where they let him shelter on rainy nights: ‘The lion is coming!’  The king and queen, according to the senators who govern us, ran and hid in the secret chamber and did not come out for a month, because the shock made them forget the word that opened the door.  A servant of the officer of the streetlights assured me that they forgot the word because the scare came when they were fornicating.”

The stranger, or whatever he might be, and the beggar went into the tavern.  The dark wine of the country, when it had filled the glasses, was crowned by fifty perfectly equal pearls.  The beggar could not take his eyes from the eyes of the man in the blue doublet.  He emptied his glass in one and said:

“If a man like you had come to the city twenty years ago, so rich and so laconic, and I spread the word around, whispering into everyone’s ear, of course, or simply pressing a hand in the shadows, to say the lion had come, the fear would have been thick enough to cut with a knife if you had wanted to go into one of our inns.”

The man in the blue doublet also drank, sipping, savouring more than the wine he was drinking another wine of another day.  He cleaned his lips with a handkerchief that he carried in the pocket of the right arm of his doublet and said to the beggar with a smile:

“No, I am not asking if the lion had a man’s name.”

Un Hombre Que Se Parecía A Orestes: the original in Spanish online

Un Hombre Que Se Parecía a Orestes; the original in Spanish from Amazon at a whacking price!

Posted in Álvaro Cunqueiro, Galician Literature | 2 Comments

Zalacain the Adventurer- Pío Baroja

A path running down from the fort passes across the top end of the cemetery and through the French gate.  This path has several stone crosses along it at the upper end which lead to a chapel and at the lower end, when it goes into town, it becomes a street.  Many years ago, on the left of the path, just before the city wall, there was a half-ruined, old farmhouse, its tiled roof weighted down with stones and its sandstone walls eaten away by the damp and the air.  On the front of the poor and decrepit house, a hole showed where there had once been a shield, and under it could be made out, rather than clearly read, a few letters that went together to make a Latin phrase: post cimera virtis vivit.

Martín Zalacaín de Urbia, who was later to be known as Zalacaín the Adventurer, was born in this farmhouse and passed his early childhood there.  In this house he dreamed up his first adventures and broke in his first trousers.

The Zalacaín family lived a short distance from Urbia but neither Martin nor his family were citizens.  Their house was a few metres outside what would count as city limits.

Martin’s father was a labourer, a dark and taciturn man who died in a smallpox epidemic.  Martin’s mother did not have much character either: she lived with the gloomy psychology typical amongst country folk and went from unmarried to married and from married to widow with absolute indifference.  When her husband died she was left with two children, Martin and a younger daughter called Ignacia.

The farmhouse where the Zalacaín family lived belonged to the Ohando family, the most ancient, aristocratic and rich family in Urbia.

Martin’s mother lived almost entirely on the charity of the Ohandos.

In such poor and miserable conditions it would seem logical that, by the effects of heredity and environment, Martin should have turned out like his mother and father: gloomy, timid and belittled; but the boy turned out decisive, brave and bold.

In those days children didn’t go to school as much as now and Martin spent a lot of time without going to sit on those benches.  All he knew about school was that it was a dark place, with some big white posters on the walls, none of which gave him much encouragement to go.  He was also put off attending this modest centre of learning because the street children did not think of him as one of their own, since he lived outside the town and always walked around in rags.

For this reason he hated them and, when some children from out of town came down the street throwing stones at the citizens, Martin was one of the most enthusiastic participants in the fighting.  He was the captain of the barbarian hordes, directed them and even seemed to dominate them.

Amongst the other children his boldness and bravery made him stand out.  There was no corner of the town that Martin did not know.  For him Urbia was the sum of all beauty, the compendium of all interest and magnificence.

Nobody looked after him.  He did not share school with the other children and he ferreted around everywhere.  His abandon compelled him to form his ideas spontaneously and to temper his bravery with prudence.

Whilst children his age were learning to read, he was going around the city walls, with no fear of the tumble-down blocks of stone or the brambles that blocked his way.  He knew where to find turtle doves and tried to get their nests.  He stole fruit and picked blackberries and wild strawberries.

At eight years of age, Martin enjoyed the kind of ill-repute that would have dignified a grown man.  One day, on leaving school, Carlos Ohando, the son of the rich family that gave the farmhouse in charity to Martin’s mother, pointed him out with his finger and shouted:

“That’s him!  He is a thief!”

“Me?” exclaimed Martin.

“Yes, you.  The other day I saw you stealing pears from my house.  Your whole family are thieves.”

Martin, although he could not deny the truth of the charge against his own person, felt he could not permit this insult to the Zalacain family, and throwing himself on the young Ochando, gave him a resounding thump.  Ochando replied with a punch.  The two seized each other and fell to the ground; they set upon each other; but Martin, who was stronger, always managed to knock the other down.  A sandal-maker had to intervene in the dispute and by kicking and shoving, separated the two adversaries.  Martin came away triumphant and the young Ochando went home battered and torn.

Martin’s mother, when she heard what had happened, wanted to make her son go to the Ochando house and ask forgiveness from Carlos; but Martin said that they would have to kill him first.  She had to take it upon herself to go to the powerful family with all kinds of excuses and explanations.

From then on the mother looked on her son as a reprobate.

“How did this boy turn out like this?” she would say; and thinking of him gave her mixed feelings of love and sorrow, which could only be compared to the shock and desperation of a hen when it sets duck eggs and sees that the babies head into the water fearlessly and bravely swim off.

Posted in Basque Literature, Pío Baroja | Leave a comment

Pedro Páramo- Juan Rulfo

I came to Comala because they told me my father, a certain Pedro Páramo, lived there.  My mother told me.  And I promised her I would come and find him when she died.  I squeezed her hands to show her I would do it; she was at death’s door and I would have promised her anything.  “Don’t fail to go see him,” she advised.  “His name is different one way or another.  I am sure he will be happy to meet you.”  Then I had no option but to tell her I would do what she said and, having repeated it so often, I continue d to say it even when they had to work hard to prise her dead hands from mine.

Even before then she had said:

“Don’t go asking him for anything.  Just demand what’s ours.  What he should have given me and never did.  My son, make him pay dearly for the fact he left us abandoned.”

“I’ll do it, mother.”

But I had no intention of living up to my promise.  Not until soon afterwards I started to fill up with dreams, and illusory thoughts fluttered through my head.  And so I started to create a world around the hope embodied in that man Pedro Páramo, my mother’s husband.  That’s why I came to Comala.

Those were the dog days, when the August air blows hot, poisoned by the fetid air of the saponarias.

The path went up and down:  “It goes up or down depending on whether you are coming or going.  It goes up if you are going; it goes down if you are coming.”

“What did you say is the name of that town you can see down there?”

“Comala, sir.”

“Are you sure it is Comala already?”

“Sure, sir.”

“And why does everything seem so sad?”

“It’s the times, sir.”

I imagined seeing through the memories of my mother: of her nostalgia amid the fragments of her sighs.  She always lived aching for Comala, to go back there; but she never went back.  Now I am coming in her place.  I bring the eyes with which she saw these things because she gave me her eyes to see: “When you go over the pass of Los Colimotes there is a very pretty view of a green plain, a little yellow with the ripe corn.  From this place you can see Comala as a white patch on the earth, lighting it up at night.”

And her voice was secret, almost whispering, as if she were talking to herself…  my mother.

“And why are you going to Comala, if you don’t mind me asking,” I heard someone asking me.

“I’m going to see my father,” I replied.

“Ah,” he said.

And silence fell between us again.

We were walking down a slope, listening to the springing step of the donkeys. Our eyes were exploding with the sleepiness, in the hot days of August.

“He’s going to throw you a fine party.”  I heard the voice of my companion at my side again.  “He will be very happy to see someone since no one has come here for so many years.”

Then he added:

“Whoever you may be, he will be pleased to see you.”

In the reverberating sun, the plain seemed like a transparent lagoon, dissolved in vapour where the grey horizon shone in the distance.  And beyond, a line of mountains.  And still further, the most remote distance.

“And what does your father look like, if I might ask?”

“I don’t know him,” I said.  “I only know his name is Pedro Páramo.”

“Ah!  Indeed.”

“Yes, that’s what they told me his name was.”

I heard the “Ah” of the muleteer again.

I had come across him in Los Encuentros, a crossroads of many paths.  I was waiting there, until this man finally arrived.

“Where are you going?” I asked him.

“I am going down, sir.”

“Do you know a place called Comala?”

“That’s exactly where I am going.”

And I followed him.  I went behind him trying to keep up with his pace, until it seemed that he realised I was following and slowed down.  After that we went along so close that we almost touched shoulders.

“I also am a son of Pedro Páramo,” he said.

A group of crows went flying across the empty sky, calling kuar, kuar, kuar.

After having come down off the highlands, we came down even further.  We had left the hot air up above and were sinking ourselves into pure heat with no air.  Everything seemed to be waiting for something.

“It’s hot here,” I said.

“Yes, and this is nothing,” the other replied.  “Calm down.  You will feel it even more when we get to Comala.  That place is on the burning coals of the earth, on the very mouth of hell.  Let’s just say that a lot of people who die there, when they get to hell come back for a blanket.”

“Do you know Pedro Páramo?” I asked.

I dared to ask because I could see in his eyes the beginning of familiarity.

“Who is he?” I asked again.

“Nastiness alive.”

And he whipped on the donkeys, unnecessarily because the donkeys were going on well ahead of us, trotting along on the descent.

I could feel my mother’s portrait I had tucked away in my short pocket, warming my heart, as if she were sweating as well.  It was an old portrait, eaten and worn at the edges; but it was the only one I knew of her.  I had found it in a cupboard in the kitchen in a pot filled with herbs: melissa leaves, Flor de Castilla beans and sprigs of rue.  From then on I had kept it.  It was the only one.  My mother was always against having her portrait taken.  She said that portraits were a kind of witchcraft.  And it seemed to be so, because hers was full of holes like needle holes and just where her heart was there was a very big one through which someone’s middle finger could easily have fit.

It is the same one I have here, thinking that it could be useful to help my father recognise me.

“Look here,” said the muleteer, stopping.  “Do you see that hill range which looks like a pig’s bladder?  Well, behind there is the Media Luna.  Now turn around that way.  Do you see the ridge of those hills?  Look at it.  And now turn around this way.  Do you see that range which you can hardly even see because it is so far off?  Well then, that is the Media Luna from one end to the other.  You might say all the land you can take in with your eyes.  And all that land is his.  The thing is our mothers gave birth to us on the floor even though we were sons of Pedro Páramo.  And the funniest part of that is that he then took us to be baptised.  The same must have happened with you, didn’t it?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Go to the devil.”

“What did you say?”

“That we are arriving.”

“Yes, I can see that.  What went on here?”

“It was a roadrunner, sir.  That’s what those birds are called.”

“No, I was asking about the village, which seems so alone, as if it were abandoned.  It seems like no one lives here.”

“It’s not that it seems like that.  That is the way it is.  No one lives here.”

“And Pedro Páramo?”

“Pedro Páramo died many years ago.”

Posted in Juan Rulfo, Mexican Literature, Pedro Páramo | Leave a comment

The Manor Houses of Ulloa- Emila Pardo Bazán

For all the rider tried to rein in his shaggy mount, pulling with all his strength on the single cord of rope and whispering calming and gentle words, it was still intent on descending the slope at a hasty trot which rattled his insides, if not running at irregular intervals at a crazy gallop.  And that incline on the royal highway to Ourense was a steep downhill, such that tradesmen when they went by would shake their heads, muttering that it had a gradient a good bit more than the percentage allowed by the law and that, no doubt, when the engineers brought the road that way they must have known how it would turn out, and some political faction, some electoral influence of considerable calibre, must have had a hand in it.

The rider was as red, not as a pepper, but as a strawberry, with the flush of a phlegmatic temperament.  Being young and delicate of build and having no beard, he would have looked like a child if the presumption of his priest’s clothing had not contradicted that impression.  Although he was covered with the yellow dust raised up by the trotting horse, it was clear to see that his suit was of plain, black cloth, cut loose and with that lack of style which distinguishes the street clothes worn by the clergy.  His gloves, torn up already by contact with the bridle were also black and new, the same as the bowler hat, which was pulled down to his eyebrows, for fear that the bumping of the ride would knock it to  the ground, which would have been the worst event in the world.  Under the collar of the inelegant frock coat a finger’s width of dog-collar showed, embroidered with small beads.  The rider showed his poor horsemanship: canted over the pommel, with his legs bent and within an inch of flying free of the stirrups, in his face there was such a fear of his four-year old that he might have been an indomitable stallion breathing ferocity and energy.

When they had come down the slope, the horse returned to its normal leisurely pace, and the rider could straighten up on the round saddle rig, the immeasurable breadth of which had loosened all the bones of his sacroiliac region.  He breathed, took off his hat and felt the cool evening air on his sweaty forehead.  The rays of the sun now fell obliquely through the brambles and thickets and a shirt-sleeved workman on the road, with his jacket lying across a milestone, was leisurely working away with a pick at the grasses in the dip at the edge of the road.  The rider pulled on his reins to halt his mount which, having left all desire to trot on the slope behind it, stopped immediately.  The workman raised his head and the gilded disk of his hat shone a moment.

“Would you have the goodness to tell me, sir, if the house of the Marquess of Ulloa is far from here?”

“The house of Ulloa?” replied the workman, repeating the question.

“That’s right.”

“The manor house of Ulloa is over there,” he muttered, stretching out his hand to indicate a point on the horizon.  “If your horse is good, you’ll make the rest of the journey quickly.  Now, you have to go to that pine wood, do you see? And then you must turn left, and then you must go down on the right-hand side, by a short cut to the roadside cross… From the cross you can’t get lost, because you can see the manor houses, a set of very big buildings.”

“But how much is left?” the priest asked nervously.

The workman shook his suntanned head.

“A mere bite.  A mere bite.”

And with no more explanations he went back to his tedious work, handling the pick as though it weighed a hundredweight.

The traveller resigned himself to keep going without knowing how many leagues make up ‘a mere bite’ and spurred his horse on.  The pine wood was not too far, and a very narrow stretch went winding through the middle of its dark bulk, where the horse and rider just squeezed through.  The path, buried in the dark depths of the pine wood, was almost impassable but the horse, which lived up to the reputation of its Galician breed for negotiating bad terrain, went forward with extreme caution with its head down, testing out with its hooves to carefully examine the furrows made by cartwheels, the stones, the felled pine trunks left lying where they were least needed.  They went forward little by little and emerged from the tight and choked pathway into the open amongst young pine trees and hills covered with broom, without having come upon a single bit of worked land, when they came upon a field of cabbages which revealed human life.  Suddenly the horse’s hooves stopped their noise and buried themselves in soft carpet: it was a bed of vegetable compost spread out according to local custom in front of a labourer’s hut.  At the door a mother was nursing a child at her breast.  The rider stopped.

“My lady, do you know if I am on the right path to get to the house of the Marquess of Uloa?”

“You’re going right, yes…”

“And is it far?”

She raised her eyebrows and looked at him with apathetic curiosity, replying ambiguously in dialect:

“A dog’s run from here…”

“That’s great, that is,” thought the traveller, who if he was not capable of guessing how far a dog could run, imagined it would be a good ride for a horse.  Well, when he got to the cross he would see the houses of Ulloa… It all depended on finding the short-cut to the right… Not a sign of it.  The track was broadening as it entered mountainous territory spotted around with the dark patches of oak wood and here and there the odd chestnut still weighed down with fruit; to right and left scattered dark clumps of heather were growing.  The rider felt a vague unease, forgivable in one who, born and raised in a quiet and dreamy town, finds himself for the first time face-to-face with the harsh and majestic loneliness of nature and recalls tales of travellers robbed and people murdered in deserted places.

“What a wolves’ country!”  he said to himself, overcome with dark thoughts.

His heart was cheered at the sight of the short-cut, which could be made out on the right, narrow and steep between the double stone wall of the edges of two hills.  He was going down, trusting in the ability of his horse to avoid tripping, when saw something almost within touching distance that made him shudder: a black painted wooden cross with white adornments half toppling from the broad wall it was raised on.  The priest knew that these crosses marked the spot where some man had met a violent death and, crossing himself, he said the Our Father whilst the horse, no doubt because it could smell the scent of some fox, trembled lightly with its ears pricked and took up an agitated trot that quickly brought them to a crossroads.  In the frame made by the branches of an enormous chestnut tree the roadside cross was raised.

Rough hewn of common stone, it was so poorly worked that at first sight it seemed like a Romanesque monument, although it was really only a hundred years old, the work of a quarrymen with aspirations to be a sculptor.  The cross in that place and at that moment under the natural canopy of the magnificent tree was poetic and beautiful.  The rider, feeling calmer and full of devotion,  took off his hat and said:  “We adore you, Christ, and we bless you since by your most holy cross you redeemed the world,” and as he prayed, his gaze sought out the manor house of Ulloa in the distance, which had to be that great rectangular building with towers away at the end of the valley.  His contemplation was brief, and the priest nearly fell to the ground when his horse was put to flight, its ears back, crazed by fear.  There was good reason for this: very close by two shots had been fired.

The rider was cold with shock, gripping the pommel, without even daring to look around in the undergrowth to see where his attackers might be hiding but his anguish was short-lived because already from the riverbank behind the cross a group of three men was coming, preceded by three hunting dogs, whose presence was enough to show that the guns of their owners were only a threat to the vermin of the mountain.

The leading hunter seemed to be about twenty eight or thirty: tall with a good beard, his neck and face burnt by the sun; but as he was coming bare-chested and with his hat in his hand the whiteness of his skin where it had not been exposed to the elements could be seen on his forehead and chest, the diameter of which spoke of a robust physique. This supposition was confirmed by the little tuft of curly hair in the middle of his breast.  His legs were protected by new leather gaiters, buckled up to the thigh; on his right thigh hung the string net of a full game bag, and on his left shoulder rested a modern, double-barrelled shotgun.  The second hunter seemed to be a man of low condition, a servant or tenant-farmer: he had neither buckles on his boots, nor anything more for game than a simple burlap sack; his hair was shaved to the scalp; he had an old-fashioned musket tied up with string and in his shaved and lean face with its strong, straight features there was an expression of canny wisdom, of savage cunning, more becoming a red Indian than a European.  As for the third hunter, the rider was surprised to see he was a priest.  How did he recognise this?  Certainly not in his tonsure, matted over with a thicket of grey hogs hair, nor even in the shaving of his face since the tough grey sprouts of his bluish beard were at least a month old; less still in the dog-collar which he did not wear, or the clothes which were like those of his hunting companions, with the addition of some patent leather riding boots that were very worn and torn at the creases.  However, he was clearly a priest, showing the formidable seal of ordination, which not even the flames of hell can annihilate, in some indefinable expression of his face, in the manner and posture of his body, in his gaze, his walk, in everything.  There was no doubt: he was a priest.

The rider went up to the group and repeated the familiar question:

“Would you mind telling me if I am on the right path to the house of the Marquess of Ulloa?”

The tall hunter turned to the others with familiarity and authority.

“What a piece of luck!” he exclaimed.  “Here we have the outsider…  You, Primitivo…  Well, you have won the lottery; I was thinking of sending you to Cebre tomorrow to meet the gentleman…  And you sir abbot of Ulloa…  Now you have someone to help you sort out the parish!”

As the rider was still unsure, the hunter added:

“I suppose you are the chap recommended by my uncle, Señor de la Lage.”

“His servant and chaplain,” he relied happily, trying to dismount and aided in that ticky operation by the abbot.  “And you…”  he exclaimed turning to face his interlocutor, “…are the Marquess?”

“How is my uncle?  You… from Cebre on horseback, eh?” the other replied evasively, while the chaplain watched him with interest bordering on lively curiosity.

There was no doubt that seen like this, in manly dishevelment, his skin moist with a light sweat, the shotgun resting on his shoulder, the Marquess was a fine figure of a lad; all the same his arrogant persona gave off a certain wild and uncouth savour , and the hardness of his gaze contrasted with the straightforward and affable welcome.

The chaplain respectfully made his copious explanations.

“Yes, sir, quite…  I left the stagecoach in Cebre and they gave this horse which has tackle in a pretty state…  Señor de la Lage, so good and with that sense of humour he always has…  He would make the stones laugh…  And very handsome for his age…  It seems to me that if he were your father he could not be more like you…  The young ladies, very good, very happy and very healthy…  Good news from the young gentleman in Segovia.  And before I forget…”

He looked in the inner pocket of his overcoat and brought out a carefully pressed and folded handkerchief, a weekly paper and lastly a wallet of black Morocco leather fastened with an elastic band, from which he withdrew a letter and hand it to the Marquess.  The hunting dogs, not needed and panting with tiredness, had sat down at the foot of the cross; the abbot was picking apart a cheap cigar with his nail to roll a cigarette, with the rolling paper stuck by a spot to his lip.  Primitivo, resting the musket butt on the floor and his chin on its barrel, drilled his black eyes into the newcomer with an inscrutable intensity.  The sun was slowly going down amid the autumnal tranquillity of the landscape.  Suddenly the Marquesss cackled with laughter.  His laugh was vigorous and piercing and despotic rather than communicative.

“My uncle,” he exclaimed, folding the letter, “always such a famous joker…  He says that he is sending me a saint to preach to me and convert me…  It seems that one cannot avoid having sins, eh, sir abbot?  What do you say to that?  Isn’t it true I don’t have any?”

“It’s well known, well known,” muttered the abbot, in a hoarse voice. “Here we all keep the innocence of our baptism.”

And as he said it, he looked at the newcomer through his spiky, savage eyebrows, as a veteran looks at the green recruit, feeling deep inside a disdain for the beardless little priest, with his child’s face, where only the severity of the blond frown and the ascetic expression of his features appeared priestly.

“And your name is Julian Alvarez?” the Marquesss asked.

“Here to serve you for many years.”

“And you couldn’t find the manor house?”

“It was a job finding it.  Here the country folk don’t answer one’s questions or give a clear indication of distances.  So that…”

“Well, now you will not get lost.  Do you want to ride now?”

“Sir!  I wouldn’t think of it!”

“Primitivo,” the Marquesss ordered, “take this animal the other way.”

And he set out walking, talking to the chaplain who was following him.  Primitivo obediently remained hanging behind, just like the abbot who lit his cigarette with a paper match.  The hunter leaned close to the priest.

“And what do you this of the boy then?  Tell me.  He doesn’t command much respect, eh?”

“Bah!…  He’s used to ordering little boys around now…  And later, all dog-collars, little gloves, parsley and endives…  If I were the archbishop I would send the gloves to the devil!”

Posted in Galician Literature, Pardo Bazán, Pazos de Ulloa | Leave a comment

Opening Chapters

On Opening Chapters you will find the first chapters of Spanish novels.  It is a showcase for my work as a translator and an opportunity for general readers to dip their toes into a literature with which they may not be familiar.

I am focussing on three main categories:

Galician novels- Galicia is the north western autonomous region of Spain.  Modern and contemporary Galician literature exploded after the nineteenth-century rexurdimento.  From the sharp, satirical edge of Vicente Risco to the magisterial, historical sweep of Otero Pedrayo or the incisive, learned detail of Álvaro Cunqueiro, Galician literature has a coherent national identity.

Spanish novels- I read widely both in Spanish literature and in the literature of South and Central America.  Here you will find opening chapters from some of the great novels of the Spanish tradition from Pérez Galdós to Juan Rulfo.

Spanish Art Theory- The seventeenth-century saw the publication of a wide variety of polemical literature asserting the nobility of the art of painting.  This literature casts a revealing light on the work of the great painters of the Spanish Golden Age.  From Pacheco to Palomino, I shall be posting representative samples of this writing in English.

I run a parallel blog with translations of poetry:

These pages are a free resource for anyone who wants to use them.  If you are interested in contracting my services for translation work, you can see the details of my rates and services at:

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