“The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother” by Gabriel García Márquez
Erendira was bathing her grandmother when the wind of her misfortune began to blow. The enormous mansion of moon like concrete lost in the solitude of the desert trembled down to its foundations with the first attack. But Erendira and her grandmother were used to the risks of the wild nature there, and in the bathroom decorated with a series of peacocks and childish mosaics of Roman baths they scarcely paid any attention to the caliber of the wind.
The grandmother, naked and huge in the marble tub, looked like a handsome white whale. The granddaughter had just turned fourteen and was languid, soft-boned, and too meek for her age. With a parsimony that had something like sacred rigor about it, she was bathing her grandmother with water in which purifying herbs and aromatic leaves had been boiled, the latter clinging to the succulent back, the flowing metal-colored hair, and the powerful shoulders which were so mercilessly tattooed as to put sailors to shame.
“Last night I dreamt I was expecting a letter,” the grandmother said.
Erendira, who never spoke except when it was unavoidable, asked:
“What day was it in the dream?”
“Then it was a letter with bad news,” Erendira said, “but it will never arrive.”
When she had finished bathing her grandmother, she took her to her bedroom. The grandmother was so fat that she could only walk by leaning on her granddaughter’s shoulder or on a staff that looked like a bishop’s crosier, but even during her most difficult efforts the power of an antiquated grandeur was evident. In the bedroom, which had been furnished with an excessive and somewhat demented taste, like the whole house, Erendira needed two more hours to get her grandmother ready. She untangled her hair strand by strand, perfumed and combed it, put an equatorially flowered dress on her, put talcum powder on her face, bright red lipstick on her mouth, rouge on her cheeks, musk on her eyelids, and mother-of-pearl polish on her nails, and when she had her decked out like a larger than life-size doll, she led her to an artificial garden with suffocating flowers that were like the ones on the dress, seated her in a large chair that had the foundation and the pedigree of a throne, and left her listening to elusive records on a phonograph that had a speaker like a megaphone. Read More
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The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll is difficult to categorize. It’s an outlaw adventure story populated by men and women who live where and how they must; these are the people who work near shipyards and the banks of unexplored river tributaries, people who value candor and honesty but for whom strict adherence to the law is often inconvenient. The book is a philosophical rumination on friendship and creation, romance and deception, obstinance and poverty.
The book isn’t a novel, but a collection of seven novellas about Maqroll the Gaviero, written by Álvaro Mutis, who is, according to the introduction and the book jacket, one of Latin America’s finest poets and best friend of Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A gaviero is the ship’s lookout, the sailor tasked with sitting atop the masts scanning the horizon. His eyes must always be active. He must be alert to the nuances of the sea and the capabilities of his vessel.
Mutis is present in these stories, but in a passive role, as reporter of the Gaviero’s adventures. Narrated in no particular order, selected so as to highlight Maqroll’s insatiable desire for experience, each story alludes to many imagined but unwritten characters, places, and events. We’re left with an incomplete impression of a rogue’s beautiful life—Mutis’s ode to his notion of the romantic seafaring gypsy.
The Gaviero is part of a group of wanderers who fascinate those who task themselves with creating whatever literature might be: the spies, pirates, and cowboys who abide the outrageous and rely as much on apathy as on strength in order to avoid the nooses and axes weilded by their enemies.
The Gaviero is not a symbol. He is a fleshed-out character, as well as the embodiment of an ideal: the knife fighters and Viking poets idolized by Borges, a mixture of Robinson Crusoe, Sam Spade, and Don Quixote. He indulges fantasy but prepares for disappointment. He lives between lawlessness and acceptability. Barkeeps lose a new friend and a good source of business when he leaves town, and one woman always sits in the main room of her home, wondering whether anything she has given will supplement his resolve. He enjoys good food, uncomplicated wine, and the company of interesting friends. The Gaviero is who we all dream of being when we contemplate throwing everything away.
Ilona Comes With the Rain finds Maqroll destitute in Panama City, Panama after the suicide of his ship’s captain. We learn this is a city “like a sedative, full of agreeable but unkept promises of unexpected happiness”; Ilona, the second story in the collection, is indicative of the tone of the collection. Washed up at a hotel owned by a fence and finding himself selling stolen goods outside of tourist attractions, the Gaviero encounters a familiar face by chance, a woman who takes him in, feeds, and clothes him. They make love and decide afterwards to open a brothel catering to men with a thing for stewardesses. It is a magical, buoyant tale and emblematic of the mixture of adventure and world-weariness that Mutis maintains throughout the collection. Before the tragic end we’re treated to stories about a pair of incubi, spirits of noblemen, who drive women insane, the dangers of allowing bookkeepers into whorehouses, and a blind Anatolian with the ability to guess a woman’s place of employment by the texture of the fabric of her clothes.
Throughout the collection, Mutis takes his readers from Malaysia to Finland, from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean. We live, with the Gaviero, through malarial fever dreams, military interrogations, and assassination attempts. Un Bel Morir is perhaps the standout story. Our hero finds himself older, angrier, and more alone than ever, in a languid town on the banks of a pestilent river. Broke and bored, knowing better, he takes a job running cargo by mule train up a crumbling mountain trail for a Dutchman with cash (and questionable motives). The Gaviero must evade capture by the rebel forces he has unwittingly aided—as well as the government troops who question his history and motives.
Mutis spent most of his career as a writer crafting verse and not prose, and his poetic inclinations shine through in pieces like this one, a good story that becomes great when the beauty of the unchanging landscape is evoked and contrasted with the hero’s pitiful condition. The cycle of life. In Un Bel Morir, Maqroll, surrounds himself with beauty, contemplates it, and then tortures himself with unanswerable questions:
. . . the aroma of perpetually damp foliage, the explosion of rich, unrestrained color, the thunder of water in the ravines singing its opulent descent in boiling crests of foam, an ancient restorative peace replaced the weariness of the road and the struggle with the mules. The sordid deceptions he foresaw in the uncertain enterprise lost all reality and were buried in the resigned acceptance of his Islamic fatalism.
This is a delightful book, but not a happy one. The Gaviero symbolizes the struggle to internalize the good while accepting the inevitability of the bad, the chance to create the type of death we envision for ourselves, one with as many or as few regrets as our daily lives will tolerate.
Mutis, a thorough Romantic, compels his readers, through the Gaviero, to examine our reasons for despondency, and instructs us to cherish our innate ability to fall in love with the world and with each other. This collection is an exhortation, a reminder that circumstances change but that innocent pleasures are abundant, available, and free.
The BBC and other sources report that Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa has won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature. He is the first South American to win the Nobel in lit since Gabriel García Márquez won in 1982.
According to the Nobel website, the prize was awarded to Mario Vargas Llosa “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.”
While the special pleasures of drinking a beer have undergone something of a renaissance in the past ten years in America, what with all the awesome microbreweries popping up left and right, there remains among many a staunch and unjustified prejudice against the world’s oldest liquor. In short, wine is still the go-to beverage for fine dining, and for many, the mark of sophistication and refinement. And while we certainly don’t begrudge a glass of pinot or chardonnay, why all the prejudice? Beer goes great with food–especially fine food–and also with books. In order to make headway against overcoming beer’s unjust vulgar reputation with some folks, we proudly present a new ongoing series of beer-book pairings, hopefully lending a little weight to our favorite beverage’s literary caché. It’s Spring Break Week at Biblioklept International Headquarters, and what better way to celebrate the season than with our crisp homemade shandies paired with Gabriel García Márquez’ s Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
Shandies are made simply by mixing beer with ginger ale, ginger beer, or, preferably, lemonade. Our recipe for shandies is pretty basic. We recommend starting with a lager–Tecate, Red Stripe, or even Corona will do fine (we’re featuring Red Stripe at the BIH this week). You can certainly use an ale, but ales tend to have richer, sharper, and more complex flavors, and they tend to be not as smooth as lagers. (We suppose you could make shandies with a porter or stout or a lambic ale, but this seems kinda sorta reprehensible). Next, you’ll need either an imperial pint glass (20 oz.) or an American pint glass (16 oz.). Pour your lager into the glass, then add your lemonade in desired ratio (we prefer to fill an imperial pint glass, creating roughly a 3 to 2 ratio of beer to lemonade. Oh yeah, we’re lazy and use store bought lemonade (Minute Maid sugar free), but we’ve made our own in the past. Making your own lemonade is easy, and if you don’t know how to do it you probably are too dimwitted to be reading these words right now). Final step: stir, drink, enjoy.
We’ve chosen shandies for their crisp lightness. They’re the perfect early afternoon drink, cool and refreshing, preferably enjoyed on porches or hammocks (we don’t really recommend them for indoors or at night). We’ve paired them with a fresh little jewel of a book, Gabriel García Márquez’ s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Chronicle is a murder/love story with about a million little twists, the biggest twist being that there is no twist: we know from the first sentences exactly what will happen. Still, García Márquez’ s kaleidescopic reconstruction of the day of the murder is thoroughly engrossing, bewildering, and un-put-downable. The book’s rhetoric is hardly as morbid as its subject matter–it’s great hammock/beach reading, and its crisp lightness belies its complex flavors. Like a shandy, it slowly, subtly intoxicates you. It’s also pretty short, about 130 pages, and despite its infinite digressions, its the sort of book that you read in just one or two sittings.
Of course, maybe you’ve read Chronicle but you’re still dying to drink some shandies on your porch with a good book, and you want Biblioklept to give you a literary excuse. Well, here’s another option: take a shot at another book of infinite digressions, Laurence Sterne’s 1759 (anti-)novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. The fun of pairing a shandy with Shandy will be doubled in Sterne’s love of wordplay in the text. And sure, there’s no way you’ll finish it, but it’s not that sort of book anyway–it doesn’t finish its self! Pick it up at random, flip around, marvel at its weirdness, at the very idea that the first post-modern novel could somehow come before the modern novel. Then get up, make another shandy, and pick up again elsewhere. Fun stuff.