44 - Fantastic Latin America
Oh! If time could stop! The Nicaraguan Rubén Darío tells us the story of a gentleman called Doctor Z, who recounts an event that defies all scientific knowledge, the story of a young woman he met in his youth for whom time stopped.
In the comments, we talk about strange cases where time has stopped for some people. We explain the purpose of the fantasy genre in Latin America and how it differs from Magical Realism. We conclude by reviewing the life of today's author.
This episode was produced with the support of PRX and the Google Podcast Creator Program.
Standing beside the Latin sea,
I want to speak my mind.
In these rocks, olive oil, and wine
is my antiquity.
How did I get old? How?
My time has almost come.
And where is my song really from?
Where am I heading now?
Because coming to self-knowledge,
with its Whens and What-ifs,
has taken me to the abyss—
right to the very edge.
And all this Latin clarity?
What is the point of that
when I'm looking down the mineshaft:
To be or not to be.
I’m Nephelibata, happy
that I can understand
the deepest secrets of the land,
and the wind and the sea.
I and not-I is a hard way,
vague secrets I can guess,
the shards of human consciousness
from now and yesterday.
I saw the sun, ready to die,
lost in my desert dream,
and the best I could do was scream.
Then I began to cry.
(Dario, Ruben. Selected Writings (Dario, Ruben). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)
Welcome, dear listeners of Tres Cuentos, the bilingual podcast dedicated to Latin America's literary, historical, and traditional narratives. I am Carolina Quiroga-Stultz, and today we bring and old acquaintance to the show, the Nicaraguan writer Rubén Darío.
The episode's opening is one of Ruben Dario's poems translated into English in the book Rubén Darío, Selected Writings.
Curiously, it's been two years since we published the first story from Rubén Darío, "The Ruby." Before that we had been publishing myths and legends. The story along with "The Beautiful Soul of Don Damian" by Juan Bosch and "Little Saint Anthony" by Tomás Carrasquilla, were part of the first season dedicated to Latino America's literature. So, I am very grateful to those three authors because their stories made the show visible to a wider audience.
Now, that is not the only reason for bringing Rubén Darío again to the show; it just happens that the story we are presenting today, "The Case of Mademoiselle Amélie," is considered a fantasy story.
This cuento was originally published in the Argentine newspaper "La Nación," in 1894 and later reedited and included in the anthology Prosas Profanas (Profane Prose) in 1896.
However, today's English version can be found in the book Rubén Darío, Selected Writings, edited by Ilan Stavans and translated by Andrew Hurley, Greg Simon, and Steven F. White, published by Penguin Books.
"The Case of Mademoiselle Amélie" comes in the voice of the storyteller and educator Kevin Cordi, who I will present after the story.
While visiting a long-time friend, an old doctor is prompted to tell a story to explain why he disagrees with the phrase "if only time would stop." The man tells a story that defies all scientific knowledge, where a girl he met in his youth remains the same for decades, the story of a girl for whom time literally stopped.
The Case of Mademoiselle Amélie
By Ruben Dario
Read and adapted by Kevin Cordi
A story for New Year's that Doctor Z—is illustrious, eloquent, dashing, that his voice is deep and vibrant, his gestures hypnotic and mysterious, especially after the publication of his work "The Sculpture of Daydreams"—these things, you might be able to deny or accede to with certain reservations. But that his bald head is unique, remarkable, lovely, solemn, lyrical if you like—oh, that, you could never deny, I am certain! For how could one deny the light of the sun, the fragrance of roses, and the narcotic properties of certain verses?
Very well then: Last night, shortly after we saluted the midnight bells with a salvo of twelve champagne corks of the finest Röderer, in that lovely rococo dining room belonging to the sybaritic Jew Lowensteiger, the bald pate of Doctor Z—, haloed with pride, raised its burnished ivory orb, whose mirrorlike surface seemed to contain, by some caprice of the light, two sparks that formed, I know not how, a shape very like the glowing horns of Moses.
The doctor directed his grand gestures and wise words in my direction. For there had issued from my lips, almost always closed, some banal phrase. This one, for example: "Oh, if only time would stop!"
The look the doctor gave me and the sort of smile that adorned his mouth after hearing my exclamation, I confess would have unnerved anyone.
"Dear sir," he said, "were I not totally disillusioned with youth, did I not know that all of you who are beginning to live are already dead—that is, dead in the soul, without faith, without enthusiasm, without ideals, gray-haired on the inside, no more than mere masks of life—yes, did I not know that, yet not see in you something more than a fin-de-siècle man, I would tell you that that phrase you have just spoken, 'Oh, if time would only stop!' has found in me its most satisfactory response."
"Yes, I repeat—your skepticism prevents me from speaking as on another occasion I might."
"I believe," I answered in a firm, serene voice, "in God and His Church. I believe in miracles. And I believe, too, in the supernatural."
"Ah, well. . . . That being the case, I will tell you all something that will make you smile. And I hope my narrative will also make you think."
Not counting Minna, our host's daughter, four of us had remained behind in the dining room: Riquet the journalist, Pureau the abbot just sent in by Hirch, the good doctor, and I. In the distance we heard in the gaiety of the salons the usual words of the first hour of the new year: Happy new year! Happy new year! Feliz año nuevo!
The doctor went on.
"Who among men is so wise as to say This is so? Nothing is known for a certainty. Ignoramus et ignorabimus. Who among men understands the concept of time? Who knows precisely what space is? Science proceeds by fits and starts, groping in the darkness, poking along like a blind man, and it sometimes thinks it has conquered when it manages to glimpse some vague glimmer of the true light.
"No one has ever been able to pull the snake's mouth from its tail in that endless symbolic circle. From the thrice-great Hermes to our own day, the human hand has been able to lift barely one corner of the mantle that covers the eternal Isis. Nothing has been learned for an absolute certainty about the three great expressions of Nature: facts, laws, and principles. I, who have attempted to delve into the immense field of mystery, have lost almost all my illusions.
"I, who have been called wise in illustrious universities and voluminous books; I, who have consecrated my life to the study of humankind, its origins, its ends; I, who have penetrated the Kabbala, the mysteries of the occult and of theosophy, who have passed from the material plane of the sage to the astral plane of the wizard and the spiritual plane of the magus, who know how Apollonius of Tyana and Paracelsus worked their wonders, and who, in our own day, have aided the Englishman Crookes; I, who have delved into the Buddhist's Karma and the Christian's mysticism, and know both the unknown science of the fakirs and the theology of the Roman priests—I tell you that we sages have seen not a single ray of the supreme light, and that the immensity and eternity of the Mystery form a single, frightful truth."
Then, addressing himself to me: "Do you know what the principles of man are? Grupa, jiba, linga, sharira, kama, rupa, manas, buddhi, atma; that is, the body, the force vital, the astral body, the animal soul, the human soul, the spiritual force, and the spiritual essence . . ." Seeing Minna put on an expression almost of desolation, I dared interrupt the doctor: "I think you were going to explain to us that time . . ."
"Well," he said, "since you seem not to like dissertations for prologues, let's get right to the story I was going to tell you, which is the following: . . ."
"Twenty-three years ago, in Buenos Aires, I met the Revall family, whose founder, a delightful French gentleman, had held a consular post during the times of the dictator Rosas. Our houses adjoined one another, I was young and enthusiastic, and in terms of beauty the three mademoiselles Revall would have given the three Graces a good run for their money. There is no need to mention, I suppose, that very few sparks were needed to light the bonfire of love. . .. (Lo-o-o-ove, pronounced the obese sage, the thumb of his right hand hanging in the pocket of his waistcoat as his swift fat fingers drummed on his potent abdomen.)
"I frankly confess that no one of them caught my fancy more than the others, and that Claire, Joséphine, and Amélie all held the same place in my heart. Or perhaps not the same place, because both sweet and ardent eyes of Amélie, her gay red laughter, her childish piquancy. . .. I suppose I must say that she was my favorite.
"She was the youngest; she was barely twelve, and I was past thirty. For that reason, and because the young creature had a mischievous, jolly way about her, I treated her like the child she was, and between the other two shared out my incendiary looks, my sighs, my squeezing of the hand, and even my serious promises of matrimony—in a word, I confess to you all a most reprehensible and horrid bigamy of passion. But oh, little Amélie! . . .
"When I went to the house, it was she who ran to greet me, with her smiles and her flattery: "Have you forgotten my bonbons?" Oh, that sacramental question! I would feel overcome with joy, after my somewhat stiffly polite greetings, and I would shower the girl with rich rose-flavored caramels and delicious chocolate drops which she, open-mouthed, would savor with a loud palatal, lingual, and dental music.
"The reason behind my feelings for this little girl with the knee-length skirts and pretty eyes, I cannot explain to you, but the fact is that when my studies took me away from Buenos Aires, I feigned emotion when I bade farewell to Claire, who would look at me with large pained and sentimental eyes; I gave a false squeeze to the hands of Josephine, who held between her teeth, so as not to cry, a batiste handkerchief; and upon the forehead of Amélie I bestowed a kiss, the purest yet most ardent, the most chaste yet wanton of all I have given in my life.
"And so, I embarked for Calcutta, precisely like your beloved and admired General Mansilla who when he departed for the Orient, himself full of youth and his pockets full of resounding new gold coins. I sailed away, thirsting for a taste of the occult sciences, and it was my intention to study among the mahatmas of India those things that impoverished Western science still cannot teach us.
"The epistolary friendship that I had kept up with Madame Blavatsky had opened many doors for me in the land of the fakirs, and more than one guru, knowing my hunger for knowledge, put himself at my disposal, offering to guide me along the path to the sacred fountain of truth, and although my lips believed they would sate their thirst in its cool diamantine waters, there was in fact no quenching my bottomless thirst. I sought with great determination, what my eyes yearned to contemplate, the Zoroastrian Keherpas, the Persian Kalep, the Kovei-Khan of Indian philosophy, the Paracelsan archoenus, Swedenborg's limbus.
"I listened to the word of the Buddhist monks in the deep forests of Tibet; I studied the ten Sephiroth of the Kaballa, from that which symbolizes limitless space to that which, called Malkuth, contains the principle of life.
"I studied the spirit, air, water, fire, the heights, the depths, the Orient, the Occident, the North, and the South, and I almost came to understand and even know, intimately, Satan, Lucifer, Astaroth, Beelzebub, Asmodeus, Belphegor, Mabema, Lilith, Adramelch, and Ba'al. In my desperate eagerness for comprehension, in my insatiable desire for wisdom, just when I believed I had achieved my ambitions, I would find signs of my weakness and manifestations of my poverty, and those grand ideas—God, Space, Time—would form a most impenetrable haze before my eyes. . .. I traveled through Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas.
I helped Colonel Olcot found the theosophical circle in New York. And of all of this—the doctor suddenly asked, staring balefully at blond Minna—do you know what true science and immortality is? A pair of blue eyes . . . or black ones!
"And the end of the story?" the young lady sweetly groaned. The doctor, more seriously than before, said: I vow to you, gentlemen, and lady, that what I am telling is absolutely true.
The end of the story? Just over a week ago, I returned to Argentina, after twenty-three years of absence. I've grown fat, quite fat indeed, and bald as your kneecap, but in my heart the flame of love, that vestal of the aging bachelor, still lives. And of course, the first thing I did was find out the whereabouts of the Revall family.
"The Revall girls!" I was told, "the girls in the Amélie Revall case!" and these words were accompanied with a special smile. I came to suspect that poor Amélie, the poor child. . .. And I searched and I searched until I found the house.
When I entered, I was greeted by an old butler, who took my card and asked me to step into a parlor in which everything bore a hue of sadness. On the walls, the mirrors were covered with crêpe veils of mourning, and two large portraits, in which I recognized the two older sisters, looked out, melancholy and dark, over the piano.
Soon, Claire and Joséphine: "Oh, my friend, oh my friend!" That was all. Then, a conversation filled with reticence and timidity, broken phrases, and sad, very sad smiles of intelligence. From all I could manage to piece together, I gathered that neither of these young women had married.
As for Amélie, I dared not ask. . .. My question might strike these poor creatures as some sort of bitter irony, remind them perhaps of some terrible and irredeemable disgrace and dishonor. . ..
And just then I saw a little girl come skipping in, with a body and face exactly—but exactly, my friends—like those of my poor Amélie. She skipped over to me, and in that other girl's very voice exclaimed: "Have you forgotten my bonbons?" I was speechless.
The two sisters looked at each other, stricken with a sudden pallor, and shook their heads disconsolately. . .. Muttering some words of farewell and making a gauche bow, I rushed out of the house, as though pursued by some strange gust of wind. Since then, I have learned everything.
The girl that I believed at that moment to be the fruit of a guilty love affair is Amélie, the same young creature that I left twenty-three years ago. She has remained a child; the course of her life has been halted. The clock of time has been stopped at a certain hour—who can say out of what unknown god's inscrutable plan! Doctor Z—was at that moment entirely bald . . .
Very well, let's check the time in your phones or watches, and make sure that while you were listening, time did not stop.
Now, I remember that old saying, "be careful what you wish for." How many times have I wished for something carelessly and, when it finally happened, it was not what I hoped it would be. All I have to say is that words have power, for good or bad.
While writing this commentary, it occurred to me to look on the internet at any articles that mentioned the possibility for someone to get stuck in time, and apparently, it is possible.
On July 19, 2009, ABC News published an article titled "Doctors Baffled, Intrigued by Girl Who Doesn't Age. "
The article written by Bob Brown tells us, "Brooke hasn't aged in the conventional sense. Dr. Richard Walker of the University of South Florida College of Medicine, in Tampa, says Brooke's body is not developing as a coordinated unit, but as independent parts that are out of sync. She has never been diagnosed with any known genetic syndrome or chromosomal abnormality that would help explain why. [...] She still has baby teeth at 16, for instance. And her bone age is estimated to be more like 10 years old. [...] Brooke weighs 16 pounds and is 30 inches tall. She doesn't speak, but she laughs when she is happy, and she clearly recognizes the people around her. She has three sisters: Emily, 22; Caitlin, 19; and Carly, 13. All three are bright, active and of normal size and development. They say that Brooke has ways of expressing herself like the teenager she is. [And although] she looks like a 6-month-old, she kind of has a personality of a 16-year-old."
Well, there you have it.
Now we travel from Baltimore, where Brooke lived, to the other side of the world, to South Korea. In the article "Meet the 26-year-old man who never grew up," published on June 22, 2015, on the UK website Metro, we are told about a young man who still looks like a ten years old boy.
Journalist Alison Lynch tells us that "Shin says he enjoys drinking beer, going on dates, and clubbing on the weekends. But, he says, he hasn't yet hit puberty because he suffers from a rare condition known as Highlander Syndrome." The condition has caused his body to age at a very slow – almost imperceptible – rate.
I know sometimes it is hard to believe this kind of thing, but there are all kinds of oddities in the world that science and medicine are still trying to solve. Like Rubén Darío said in the story: "Science proceeds by fits and starts, groping in the darkness, poking along like a blind man, and it sometimes thinks it has conquered when it manages to glimpse some vague glimmer of the true light. "
I'm sure more than one scientist obsessed with eternal youth must have already subjected those with abnormalities looking for a way to extend humanity's youth.
This reminds me of old circuses where these types of conditions or syndromes were known as freaks and were exploited to satisfy the curiosity of those who believed themselves to be very normal. I will leave in the transcript the links to the two articles and another one that I found about the so-called "freaks" exhibited in the old circuses.
It is time to present today's voice, Kevin Cordi, who graciously read and adapted today's cuento.
Kevin D. Cordi, Ph.D., is a Professional Storyteller who has traveled to over 40 states, England, Japan, Canada, Scotland, and Qatar sharing the rich value of the storytelling and story-making process. He also serves as an Assistant Professor of Education and Literacy at Ohio University Lancaster. He is the author of many books on art, most recently You Don't Know Jack: A Storyteller Goes to School published by the University of Mississippi Press in 2019.
He recently served on Learning for Justice Advisory Board (formerly Teaching Tolerance) and is currently a Global Teacher Education Fellow with the Longview Foundation. He believes that stories can change the world. We just need to listen more closely to what people are telling us. Stories have the potential of bringing us together. Find out more about his work at www.kevincordi.com
All right, before I tell you more about what fantasy is, and of course, before talking a bit more about Rubén Darío's life, I want to remind you of a few things.
First, if you have not done it yet, please subscribe to our newsletter through our website. Also, we sincerely appreciate your efforts in helping us grow by sharing the episodes with your friends or when you use them in your classes.
In addition, I wanted you to know that I appeared in the podcast AFAR, travel tales, where I told a very summarized version of my journey to the US. So, I will be leaving the link to that episode in the transcripts. Listen to the episode here.
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Moving on, in the prologue of the book Antología del Cuento Fantástico Hispanoamericano (Anthology of the Fantastic Hispanic American Short Story), Oscar Hahn tells us that Hispanic American fantasy began in the mid-nineteenth century. One of its first exponents was the Ecuadorian writer Juan Montalvo with his story "Gaspar Blondín," published in 1858. The story's style reflects the literary current of romanticism. It describes a gloomy environment, where the main character is linked to an underworld and demonic life with hints of eroticism.
Hahn continues by saying that the deliberate search for what was fantastic or marvelous was propelled by the modernist writers and their followers, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They overvalued fantasy and praised the fruits of imagination. During the nineteenth century, to say the least, they were fascinated by the occult and opened to other doctrines coming from the east. To refresh your memories, you can refer to episode 35, "The Bonze's secret" by Machado de Assis. In the comments, we talked about spiritualism and other quite common practices in the nineteenth century.
Finally, before anyone gets Fantasy and Magical Realism confused, let me clarify that they are not the same. According to the Brazilian author Irlemar Chiampi, the goal of fantasy is to cause in the reader a physical reaction – a worry or fear, to plant the seed of doubt. In contrast, Magical Realism provokes an effect of enchantment. Within Magical Realism, there is no doubt, no fear; instead, all wonders are reality's natural ingredients.
Very well, it is time to talk about the life of today's featured author.
Félix Rubén García Sarmiento, better known as Rubén Darío, was considered the prince of Spanish Literature for his significant impact, innovative style, and for being the leading Spanish-American promoter of the modernist current.
The Nicaraguan author was born on January 8, 1867, in Metapa. At a very young age, Rubén Darío had superior language skills, and when his parents' marriage fell apart, young Rubén found refuge in literature. His continued fascination with reading led him to develop his first verses at the age of ten. These activities allowed him to overcome the absence of love between his parents, which led them to abandon their marriage of convenience. At this point, his great-uncles Félix Ramírez Madrigal and Bernarda Sarmiento took over his upbringing.
At the age of fourteen, he began publishing in several media, including the newspaper "La verdad de León" (Leon's Truth) . During this same time, Félix Rubén started calling himself Rubén Darío, acknowledging the nickname by which his paternal family was known "Los Darios."
In 1882, the young Nicaraguan writer revealed his fascination with the bourgeois life. In a meeting with the president of El Salvador, Rafael Zaldívar, with whom he crosses a couple of words, Rubén Darío assures him that he wants to achieve a good social position. As a result of his conviction, he begins a path full of modern and fantastic compositions hoping to achieve recognition. But it was not until 1888 that he managed to get closer to his dream, thanks to his prestige achieved with the publication of the book Azul (Blue).
Like the character of Doctor Z, in his story "The Case of Mademoiselle Amelie," published in 1894, three women marked the life of the Nicaraguan poet. His first wife, Rafaela Contreras, died suddenly, in 1893.
The second and most complex of his relationships was with Rosario Emelina Murillo. She was a strong adolescent crush that marked him deeply due to her beauty (according to the poets' description). Several years later, he met her again. Unfortunately, and as soon as he became a widower, Rosario and her brother forced him to marry her. This union was difficult from the start and. Gradually the marriage turned into a nightmare that lasted for more than a decade.
The third lady, and his most precious love, was Francisca Sánchez-- a poor, illiterate Spanish woman. In 1898 Dario was sent to Spain as a correspondent for the Argentine newspaper "La Nación" to report about the country after the war against the United States. That is where he met Francisca, who, as the poet himself said, would be the woman who gave him her sweetness, love, and respect until the end.
The author traveled through Europe and Latin America, and eventually died in 1916 in Nicaragua, leaving a remarkable legacy for the Hispanic literature.
After his death, Francisca zealously guarded his literary legacy – stories, manuscripts, and letters of the poet in a blue trunk – for more than 40 years. It was not until 1956 that Francisca donated the chest to the Spanish State.
To conclude today's program, I want to share a very short poem from today's author, Rubén Darío, about living many lives.
First, I was a bed of coral,
then a beautiful gem,
then green and hanging ivy on a stem;
then I was an apple,
a lily growing in the fields,
a young girl's lips as she yields,
a skylark singing in the morning;
and now I am lik e a palm
in Jehovah's light, a soul or a psalm
that is sung to the wind.
(Dario, Ruben. Selected Writings (Dario, Ruben) . Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)
And that is all for today. We will be back next Thursday with another episode in English from the Mexican writer Alfonso Reyes. He tells us a story that describes what happens when a severed hand comes to live. Until the next cuento! Adios, adios.
Tres Cuentos Podcast is produced with support from PRX and the Google Podcasts creator program.
Tres Cuentos is an exercise of creative writing, researching, and retelling.
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Thanks for listening, adios, adios.
Rubén Darío, Selected Writings, edited by Ilan Stavans and translated by Andrew Hurley, Greg Simon, and Steven F. White Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Web: Actualidad Literatura. “Biografía de Rubén Darío. Escrito por: Carmen Guillén”. URL: https://www.actualidadliteratura.com/breve-biografia-de-ruben-dario/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ActualidadLiteratura+%28Actualidad+Literatura%29
Web: Cervantes.es. “Rubén Darío. Biografía”. Actualizada: septiembre de 2016. URL: https://www.cervantes.es/bibliotecas_documentacion_espanol/creadores/dario_ruben.htm#:~:text=Biograf%C3%ADa-,Rub%C3%A9n%20Dar%C3%ADo.,es%20F%C3%A9lix%20Rub%C3%A9n%20Garc%C3%ADa%20Sarmiento.
Web: Acta Literaria, versión online. “Prodigios que abruman: dos cuentos de Rubén Darío”. Biografía. Escrito por: Margarita Rojas y Flora Ovares. URL: https://scielo.conicyt.cl/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0717-68482001002600009
Web: Metro. "Meet the 26 year old man who never grw up". Alison Lynch. Monday 22 Jun 2015. URL: https://metro.co.uk/2015/06/22/meet-the-26-year-old-man-who-never-grew-up-5257017/
Web: Allthatsinteresting.com "44 Vintage Photos Of Sideshow "Freaks" That Will Leave You Unsettled". By Erin Kelly. Published on April 22, 2019. URL: https://allthatsinteresting.com/sideshow-freaks#24
Web: abcnews.com. "Doctors Baffled, Intrigued by Girl Who Doesn't Age", By Bob Brown, June 19, 2009. URL: https://abcnews.go.com/2020/Health/girl-age-brooke-greenberg-baffles-doctors/story?id=7880954
Web: ciudadseva.com. “El caso de la señorita Amelia”, por Rubén Darío. URL: https://ciudadseva.com/texto/el-caso-de-la-senorita-amelia/
Androids Always Escape by Chris Zabriskie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Source: http://chriszabriskie.com/honor/ Artist: http://chriszabriskie.com/
Fig Leaf Times Two by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Brandenburg Concerto No4-1 BWV1049 - Classical Whimsical by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Temptation March by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Hyperfun by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
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