20 - Latino Authors
The gnomes found out that the humans have found a way to counterfeit their precious ruby. But is only when the patriarch gnome tells the truth story about the firsts rubies that the gnomes understand how valuable their unique stones are. Later we talk about the political times in which Ruben Dario lived.
3. Book: Spanish American Short Story: A Critical Anthology by Seymour Menton. Published by UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles and University of California Press. The story was translated by Jill Gibian.
Translated by Jill Gibian
Retold by Carolina Quiroga-stultz and Don Hymel
“Ah! So, it’s true! So that Parisian scholar has succeeded in extracting from the depths of his retorts, from his matrasses, the purple crystal with which the walls of my palace are inlaid.”
And upon saying that, the little gnome scurried back and forth, from one place to another, with short hops, through the deep cave that served as his dwelling, causing his long beard and the bell on his pointed blue cap to shake.
It was true, a friend of the centenarian Chevreul - a would-be Althotas - the chemist Fremy, had discovered the method of making rubies and sapphires.
Excited and deeply moved, the gnome, who was erudite and had rather lively temperament, continued his monologue.
“Oh, sages of the Middle Aged! Oh, Albertus Magnus, Averroes, Raimundus Lullus! All of you failed to see the shining wonder of the Philosopher’s Stone, and lo and behold, without studying the Aristotelian formulas, without knowing the Cabala and necromancy, here comes a man of the nineteenth century to invent in broad daylight what we produce in our subterranean world. The magic formula! For twenty days fuse a mixture of silica a lead aluminate: colored with potassium dichoromate or with cobalt oxide. Words that truly resemble a diabolical language.”
The he stood still.
The corpus delecti was there, in the center of the grotto, on a large golden rock: a small ruby, round, gently sparkling, resembling a pomegranate seed in the sunlight.
The gnome blew a horn which he carried at his waist, and the echo resounded throughout the vast cavern. Within a few moments, an uproar, a mad rush, a clamor. All the gnomes had arrived.
The cave was spacious, and in it there was a strange white glow. It was the splendor of the carbuncles that sparkled in the stone roof, inlaid, sunken, bunched together, in a multitude of groups: with a soft, illuminating everything.
In that radiance, one could see the marvelous abode in all its splendor. On the walls, on top of pieces of silver and gold, among veins of lapis lazuli, a great array of precious stones created fanciful designs similar to the arabesques of a mosque. Rainbows emerged from crystals of the diamonds, clear and pure like drops of water: near the hanging stalactites of chalcedony, the emeralds radiated their resplendent green; and the sapphires, in bouquets that dangled from the walls, resembled large trembling blue flowers.
(Rows of gilded topazes and amethysts encircled the area: and from the pavement thickly set with opals, from on top of the polished chrysoprase and the agate, a thin stream of water gushed forth from time to time and fell with musical sweetness, in harmonious drops like the notes of a metal flute blown very softly.)
There was Puck, that rascal Puck who had meddled in the matter. He had brought the corpus delecti, the false ruby, the on that lay there upon the golden rock like a sacrilege amongst all that sparkling wonder.
When the gnomes got together, some with their hammers and small hatchets in their hands, others dressed up in their bright red pointed hoods embroidered with jewels, all of them curious, Puck said:
“You have asked me to bring you the latest example of human counterfeiting and I have satisfied your desires.”
The gnomes, seated with their legs crossed Turkish style, pulled on their mustaches, gave thanks to Puck by slowly bowing their heads, while those closest to him examined with amazement his pretty wings, similar to those of a dragonfly.
(“Oh Earth! Oh Woman! From the time I saw Titania I’ve been nothing but a slave of the one; an almost mystical admirer of the other.”
And then, as if he were speaking in a blissful dream state)
“Those rubies! In the great city of Paris, while flying invisibly, I saw them everywhere. They sparkled on the necklaces of courtesans, on the bizarre ornaments of the parvenus, on the rings of Italian princes, and on the bracelets of the prima donnas.”
(And with a mischievous smile he continued)
“I stole into a certain very fashionable crimson colored boudoir...There was a beautiful woman asleep. From her neck I plucked the medallion and from the medallion the ruby. There you have it.”
Everyone burst out laughing. What a jingling of bells!
“Wow, that Puck sure is a devil”
And then they gave their opinions about that fake, man-made, or what’s worse, sage-mage stone!
“Poison and Cabala!”
“It pretends to imitate a section of the rainbow!”
“The rubicund treasure from the depths of the globe!”
“Made from the solidified rays of the setting sun. “
The oldest gnome, walking with gnarled legs and a long no white beard, looked like patriarch with his face covered with wrinkles said:
“Gentlemen! You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“I, I am older than all of you, since I’m now barely fit to hammer the facets of the diamonds, I, who witnessed the building of these deep fortresses: I, who chiseled the bones of the earth, who molded the gold, who one day gave a punch to a stone wall, and fell into a lake where I raped a nymph; I, the elder, I shall tell you how the ruby was made. Listen.”
(Puck smiled, inquisitively, All the gnomes surrounded the ancient fellow whose gray hairs appeared pale in the brilliance of the jewels and whose hands cast moving shadows on the walls covered with precious stones, like a canvas covered with honey where grains of rice were flung.)
“One day, our squadrons that were in charge of the diamond mines went on strike, a strike that shook the whole earth, and we fled through the craters of the volcanoes.
“The world was happy, everything was full of vigor and youth: and the roses, and the fresh green leaves, and the birds in whose beaks the seeds enter and the chirping bursts out, and the whole countryside greeted the sun and the fragrant springtime.
“The hills in bloom were full of harmony produced by the warbling of birds and the buzzing of bees: it was a great and sacred wedding orchestrated by light: on the trees the sap glistened profoundly, and among the animals everything was stirring either in the form of bleating or chanting, and in the gnomes there was laughter and happiness.
“I had gone out through an extinct crater. Before my eyes there was an enormous field. With one leap I put myself on a large tree, an old evergreen oak. Then I climbed down the trunk, and I found myself near a stream, a small clear river where the waters babbled crystalline jokes to one another. I was thirsty. I tried to drink there...Now, listen more closely.
“Arms, backs, naked breasts, white lilies, roses, small ivory rolls topped with cherries: echoes of golden festive laughter: and there amongst the foam, amongst the choppy waters, beneath the green branches...”
“No, women. I knew which of the caves was mine. By banging on the ground, I made the black sand open up and arrived at my palace. you poor little young gnomes, you have much to learn!
“I scurried along beneath the shoots of some new ferns, over some stones which had been polished by the foamy murmuring current: and she, the beautiful one, the woman, I seized her by the waist, with this arm which was once so muscular: she shouted, I banged on the ground: we descended. Above, all was fear and wonderment: below, the arrogant and victorious gnome.
“One day I was hammering a chunk of an immense diamond which shone like a star and which broke into small particles with the stroke of my mallet.
“The floor of my workshop resembled the remains of a shattered sun. The beloved woman was resting on one side, as human rose amongst sapphire flowerpots, a golden empress on a bed of rock crystal, completely naked and magnificent like a goddess.
“But in a midst of my palace, my queen, my beloved, my beauty, was deceiving me. When a man is truly in love, his passion penetrates everything, and he is capable of transcending the earth.
“She was in love with a man, and from her prison, she would transmit her sighs to him. They would pass through the pores of terrestrial crust and reach him: and he, equally in love with her, would experience -sudden convulsions in which she extended her lips, pink and fresh like the petals of a centifolia rose. How could they feel each other’s presence? With all my magical powers, I do not know.
“I had just finished my work: a huge pile of diamonds all made in one day: the earth opened up its granite crevices like thirsty lips, awaiting the brilliant breaking up of the rich crystal. At the end of the task, tired, I broke one last rock with my hammer and fell asleep.
“I awoke a little while later upon hearing something like a moan.
“From her bed, from her quarters which were richer and more dazzling than those of all queens in the Orient, my beloved my abducted woman had fled in desperation. Oh! And trying to escape through the hole opened by my granite mallet, naked and beautiful, she destroyed her body, once as white and smooth as orange blossoms, marble and roses, on the edges of the broken diamonds. With her wounded sides dripping blood, her groans were so touching they brought me to tears. Oh, what grief!
“I got up, took her in my arms, and gave her my most ardent kisses; but the blood continued to flow inundating the room, and the huge diamond mass became tinged with scarlet.
“As I kissed her, I seemed to detect a perfume escaping from her burning lips: her soul; her body remained inert.
“When our grand patriarch, the godlike centenarian from the bowels of the earth, passed through, he found that multitude of red diamonds...
“Do you understand?”
The gnomes very gravely rose.
They examined more closely the false stone, the work of the sage.
“Look, it doens’t have facets.”
“It has a dull gleam”
“It’s round like the shell of a scarab.”
And in turn, one by one, they went to pull out of the wall’s pieces of the arabesque, rubies as large as an orange, red and sparkling like a blood-tinged diamond: and they said:
“This is ours, oh Mother Earth!”
It was an angry orgy of brilliance and color.
And laughing, they began to throw into the air giant luminous stones.
Suddenly, with all the dignity of a gnome:
“Well then, we condemn it”
Everyone understood, they took the false ruby, broke it into many pieces and flung the fragments - with terrible disdain -into a pit below which led into a very ancient carbonized jungle.
Then, with joined hands, they began dancing a wild sonorous dance in their rubies, on their opals, within the confines of those gleaming walls.
And they celebrated with laughter seeing themselves enlarged in the form of their shadows. By this time Puck was flying outside, in the buzzing of the new dawn, on his way to a flowering meadow. And the murmured - with his usual blushing smile.
“Earth...Woman...Because you, oh Mother Earth! You are great and fertile, your breast is inexhaustible and sacred: and from your dark womb flows the sap of the sturdy trees, and the gold and the diamonds-like water, and the chaste lily. Everything that is pure and strong and that may not be falsified! And you, Woman, you are spirit and flesh, all love!”
Two of Ruben Darío’s life concerns were the increase of materialism in our societies due to positivism (the philosophical system based on rationality), and the disunity of our countries. Both issues are somewhat seen in the story.
Humans and gnomes are somewhat obsessed with precious stones. The firsts found a scientific way to counterfeit a ruby, and for a moment, the gnomes admire the fake piece. But it is only until the patriarch gnome tells the story of how the first rubies came to have their distinctive red color, from the blood of his beloved – the woman he had kidnapped- that the gnomes realize how unique are the gems they laboriously extract from the earth.
And again, all the gnomes are united under the banner of that romanticized past story, their hard work, and the exquisite stones they give shape.
Thus, we will talk about the often romanticized past, and the banners that unite us. In other words, today, we will look at the political times in which Ruben Dario lived, and how he responded to that. My hope is that it will give us a better understanding of his full body of work, that at times seems contradictory. I encourage you to read his works since he was a very cosmopolitan man and a prolific poet, writer, and journalist.
Félix Rubén García Sarmiento was born on January 18th, 1867 in Nicaragua, and died February 6,1916 in his home country after having traveled extensively through Central and South America, and Europe.
In the literary world, he was known as Rubén Darío, and accredited as the one who initiated the Spanish-American literary movement known as modernism that flourished at the end of the 19th century.
By the time Rubén Dario was born, the Central American countries that we know today as Guatemala, Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras had gained their independence from Spain 46 years earlier. This occurred as the result of the Act of Independence of Centro America on September 15, 1821.
Since these countries were in a way born at the same time, like quintuplets, they spent at least another century trying to become one republic.
By 1880, Ruben Dario was 13 years old, and had already published his first sonnet in a newspaper. At this same time, a third forceful attempt to unify the neighboring countries were executed, this time led by the Guatemalan President Justo Rufiño; but of course, it didn’t work, and the initiator was killed.
However, those in hopes of having a stronger, and larger Central American nation did not give up, and there were a couple of more attempts. The fourth one lasted two years, from 1896 to1898, and was called The Greater (Mayor) Republic of Central America. The last attempt to create a united republic occurred in 1921, but it failed after only six months.
My guess is that all those failed attempts led Rubén Dario to support the idea of political unity of Central America, and even for a nationalist unity of Spanish speaking Latin American countries.
Such unity, according to RD, needed to celebrate their common Spanish heritage, Catholic faith, and the indigenous past. Oh! the past that is often romanticized in tales like the gnome’s story of the ruby.
Darío hoped for Latino America to be united, and for him, a good start was the shared indigenous history of Latin America. Darío admired the greatness of the past civilizations; he said: "If there is poetry in our America, it is in the old things; in Palenke and Utatlan, in the legendary Indian and in the courtly and sensual Inca, and in the great Montezuma on the golden seat.”
In his poem To Columbus, Rubén Dario weeps for those good old days:
¨ Ill-fated admiral! Your poor America, your beautiful, hot-blooded Indian virgin, the pearl of your dreams, is now some hysterical woman who has convulsions, tics, and pallid skin. A disastrous spirit has occupied your land. Where once united tribes lifted their maces high, an endless civil war has gotten out of hand: those of the same race fight and watch each other die.
If only white people could have had the same ways as Atahualpa, Moctezuma, and other great kings. When the iron race of the Spaniard’s seeds were sown in America’s wombs and grew, there was a mix of great Castille’s heroic deeds with an indigenous mountain fortitude, too.”
Here’s another example of how much he admired the indigenous past. He dedicated a poem to the great Toqi Mapuche leader Caupolican who led the resistance against the Spanish conquistadores in what is modern-day Chile.
“He walked, walked, walked. The daylight saw him, the dusky evening saw him, the cold night saw him, and always the tree trunk was on the titan’s back. “The chief, the chief!” his thrilled clan acclaims him. He walked, he walked. Dawn said: “Enough!” and the tall brow of great Caupolicán was lifted up.”
Before we move on, let’s reflect for a minute on the idea of the “indigenous past or history” because I feel that expression tell us that the idea of vindicating anything that was indigenous can only be considered in the past tense.
Therefore, the inclusion of indigenous communities in the political, and economic affairs of all Latin American countries rarely has ever been part of the debate. Because their past has been romanticized, is often only their glorious history, and monuments that matter, not their present.
I venture to say that there is respect for the distant indigenous past but disdain for the current indigenous people’s situations. Thus, Latin Americans struggle so much to recognize the living native communities as worthy of our admiration and brotherhood.
Now, I am not criticizing Rubén Dario for his interest in the indigenous people’s past, and apparently disinterest for their present. I appreciate his concerns and for raising awareness, but he was stuck in time. Part of that was the whole idea of being united under a common faith, that for centuries had been trying to tame the souls of women, and minorities. But in Ruben Dario’s defense, I’ll say that he was one of the few that pinpointed the matter. So, that was a start.
But let’s go back to Ruben Dario’ political ideas. Unity was primary for the success of our newly born countries, and a good role model of unity was the United States.
Indeed, since Ruben Dario´s times the idea that the United States as the role model for all Latin America has been engraved in people´s minds. This at least partially explains why we hear people comparing their small countries with the big giant, and thinking that everything is great and perfect here.
I´ll give you a silly personal example. When I first came to the US to study, I was on a phone conversation with my mother one day. I told her that I had seen a roach in my dorm. She thought I was lying or not seeing right. To her, it was impossible that the United States had roaches or rats.
And like my mother, many have similar, and more distorted ideas about the US. I’ll say that one thing is sure, the US is good are marketing their victories, and washing the dirty laundry at home, as they say in my country.
Rubén Dario knew that. He was aware of the United States’ voracious political appetite. He, and many other intellectuals of his time protested the intervention of the ¨Giant of the North¨. During Ruben Dario´s time, the United States successfully achieved:
1. The acquisition of Puerto Rico and the protectorate over Cuba, after their war with Spain in 1896, when they supported Cuban’s independence from Spain.
2. The built, owned and operated the Panama Canal since 1903. In a very sneaky maneuver, the US acquired Panama from Colombia by facilitating a revolt that resulted in Panama’s statehood. The US was then able to dictate all facets of daily life by creating the Panama Canal Zone. This lasted until it was finally returned to Panamanian control in 1979.
3. US intervention in The Mexican Revolution of 1911, the US forces that assassinated President Francisco I. Madero and the military occupation of Veracruz
4. The United States occupation of Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933, that was part of the Banana Wars (1898-1934), when the US military intervened in various Latin American countries.
Indeed, RD had something to say about that in his Poem to Theodore Roosevelt:
“You are the United States; you are the future invader of that ingenuous America which has Indian blood, which still prays to Jesus Christ, and still speaks Spanish.” [...]
“You believe that life is a burning building, that progress is a volcanic eruption; where you place your bullet, you place the future. No. The United States is powerful and great. When it shakes, there is a deep-seated tremor that moves down the enormous vertebrae of the Andes.”
Despite his criticism of the US’s foreign policy regarding Latin America, RD admired the US’s capacity to unite to reach a common goal. This is in contrast to our countries fighting each other and retarding the growth of the region.
In his poem “Saluting the Eagle” we see RDs appreciation of the US
“Welcome, magical Eagle! With strong and enormous wings, you cast your great continental shadow throughout the South. In your talons, ringed in the most brilliant of reds, you bring a palm of glory, the color of limitless hope. In your beak is the olive branch of a vast and fertile peace.” […]
“E pluribus Unum! Glory, victory, work! Give us the secret of the way you labor in the North, the way our children might cease to be cut from Latin cloth and learn perseverance, vigor, character from the Yankees.
Give us, illustrious Eagle, the way to make multitudes who will build another Rome and Greece with the juice of the world they know, and let them extend their light and their empire with sober strength, using the Eagle, the Iron Bison, and Gold as their models, and let them have a golden day for which they can give thanks to God!”
Very well, dear listeners, I hope you enjoyed this quick brush of history, there is much more to say, but this all the time we have.
Tres Cuentos tells you that one story or one verse may not change the world but if we shouted out loud like a rebellious chorus, oh! We can spin the world the other way around and do something good.
In our last episode of Latin American Authors, we will travel to my home country, Colombia, to meet one author that I grew up reading in school, the witty and hilarious Tomas Carrasquilla, who found a unique way to express what he thought and experienced through humor. And of course, we will explore the political times in which he lived.
Until the next cuento, adiós.
Dance Macabre – Kevin McLeod
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Machinations by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
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Serious Piano by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
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