50 - Fantastic Latin America
Is there a place where none can leave a footprint but the starfish? María Luisa Bombal tells us the story of a pirate ship captured by a spiraling whirlpool and dragged to an endless beach, from where no one has come back to tell the story.
In the comments, we discuss what the sea takes, we present today's voice Sue Kuentz. We conclude with the life of Chilean María Luisa Bombal and narrate the first page of her most famous novel La Amortajada (The Shrouded Woman).
This episode was produced with the support of PRX and the Google Podcast Creator Program.
After rubbing shoulders with writers and poets such as Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges, in 1944, María Luisa Bombal left Chile, turning the page on a tragic chapter in her life, where obsession led her to attempt to kill the one, she once loved.
In 1931, 21-year-old María Luisa Bombal who had lived much of her life in France, returned to Chile and met 28-year-old Eulogio Sánchez, a pioneer of civil aviation and a man of fortune. Immediately, the spark of passion ignited between the two, but their romance was destined to fail.
When Eulogio distanced himself from Maria Luisa, the young woman refused to let him go. Letter after letter, she waited for a response. Devastated by the indifference of the one she adored, one night at a social gathering in Eulogio's apartment, Maria Luisa searched his closet. After finding a gun, she shot herself.
The future writer survived and traveled to Argentina to recover at the invitation of her friend Pablo Neruda. Still, failure and loneliness haunted her. In 1941, María Luisa returned to Chile, heartbroken again, and the memories of a frustrated love returned to overwhelm her.
On January 21, 1941, María Luisa calmly walked through the streets of downtown Santiago de Chile until she reached the gates of the Hotel Crillón. There she waited and after a very heated argument, Maria Luisa fired her gun at him.
Eulogio survived with a wound on his arm while Miss Bombal ended up in jail. After a short time, Eulogio forgave his aggressor. Maria Luisa was acquitted of the assassination attempt and left for the United States. When asked why she had attacked Sanchez, she replied: "By killing him, I killed my bad luck, I killed my jinx."
Hello! Dear listeners of Tres Cuentos, the bilingual podcast dedicated to the literary, historical, and traditional narratives of Latin America. I'm Carolina Quiroga-Stultz, and today we welcome the only lady fantasy writer of the season, the passionate Chilean María Luisa Bombal.
I discovered María Luisa Bombal in that book that has been like the flight log of this season, Antología del Cuento Fantástico Hispanoamericano (Anthology of the Fantasy Hispanic American short story), edited by Óscar Hahn. She is the only woman writer anthologized in that book. The tale selected to show her genius was "The New Islands." A story that was first included in the Anthology of Fantastic Literature published by Borges, Bioy Casares, and Silvina Ocampo in 1940.
Even though it's an absorbing tale, the note I made in the corner of page 166 was, "I don’t understand it. It reads like a bad dream; it's kind of confusing." Determined that I should give the Chilean writer another chance, I kept looking. On the internet, I found several references to a story by her entitled "The Tree." I read it and I liked the story a lot, but since it was so long, I decided on one that was shorter, but just as intriguing.
Today's story, "The secret," was translated by Alexa Jeffress and comes to us in the voice of a dear friend, the sweet and hilarious Texan storyteller Sue Kuentz, of whom I will tell you more in the comments.
Finally, I wanted to tell you that from the contest the “literary basket” we have some extra books to give away, but I will tell more after the story.
A pirate ship is captured by a spiraling whirlpool and dragged to an endless beach, where starfish are the only ones that leave footprints.
María Luisa Bombal
Translated by Alexa Jeffress
Read by Sue Kuentz
I know many things that nobody knows.
I know an infinite number of small and magical secrets about the sea, the earth, and the sky.
This time, however, I will only share the secrets of the sea.
Underwater, further than the deep and dense zone of darkness, the ocean illuminates again. A golden light springs up from the gigantic sponges, brilliant and yellow like suns.
All kinds of plants and frozen beings live there submerged in that glacial, eternal summer light…
Green and red sea anemones squeeze together in wide fields intertwined with transparent jellyfish, that have not yet broken their mooring to set out on their wandering destinies through the seas.
Hard white corrals tangle in the static brush where shadowy, velvet fish slip by and gently open and close, like flowers.
I see seahorses. That is, tiny steeds of the sea, whose algae manes spread out in a slow halo around them as they silently gallop.
And I know that if certain dull, grey conchs manage to lift themselves up, they may find themselves under a weeping siren.
And now I remember when as kids, jumping from rock to rock, we halted our momentum at the unexpected brink of a narrow gorge. A gorge in which the waves, upon leaving, left behind a long royal blanket made of foam, an iridescent foam, obstinate to die and whispering, murmuring… something like a message.
Did you understand the meaning of that message?
I do not know.
As for me, I must confess that I understood it.
I understood that it was the secret of its noble origin that the dying foam was trying to whisper into our ears…
“Far, far away and deep down” it confided in us, “there is a submarine volcano in constant eruption. Night and day its crater tirelessly boils and blows thick bubbles of silvery lava toward the surface of the water…”
But the main point of these brief lines is to tell you about a strange, unknown event, also sunken to the depths of the earth.
It’s the story of a pirate ship that centuries ago swirled around captured by a spiraling whirlpool and that kept traveling beneath the sea among unknown currents and submerged reefs.
Furious octopi gently embraced the masts, as if to guide it, while the elusive starfish cheered pulsing and sheltered in the hold.
Arousing at the end of a long fainting spell, the Pirate Captain awoke his men in one single roar. He ordered them to raise the anchor.
And the men, awakening from their stupor, ran to great lengths while the Captain remained in his tower and no sooner glanced over the landscape when he began to curse.
The ship had run aground in the sand of an endless beach that the calm, deep greenish light of the moon bathed evenly.
But it got even worse:
No matter where he turned the binoculars around the ship, he could not find the sea.
“Damn Sea,” he whispered. “Cursed tides driven by the Devil himself. Blast them! Leaving us stranded on shore… to come back and get us at who knows what unexpected and devilish hour…”
Livid, he turned his forehead and the scope upward, searching for the sky, the stars, and the encampment from where the moon watched over with its vile radiance.
But he did not find the sky, the stars, or any visible encampment.
Satan! Everything above him seemed to be blind, deaf, mute… As if it were exactly the inverted reflection of that demonic, sandy dessert where they had been run aground.
And now, to top it off, this latest abnormality. The motionless, silent, lush black sails, the pride of the ship, were inflated along the width of the mast… and this was without the slightest gust of wind.
“To land. Everyone to land,” he could be heard thundering throughout the entire ship. “Bring daggers, life jackets. And examine the coast.”
With the plank quickly extended, a half sleepwalking crew disembarked meekly. The Captain was the last in line, firearm in hand.
The sand beneath, sinking almost to their ankles, was fine, silky, and very cold.
Two groups. One marches to the East. The other, to the West. Both groups in search of the sea. The captain had ordered. But…
“Halt,” he shouted, stopping the scattered trot of his men. “The Boy stays here as watch relief. The others continue. Carry on!”
The Boy, a small child whose parents were honest fishermen, was wild for adventures and mischief and had escaped to embark on “The Terrible” (which was the name of the pirate ship, just like the name of the captain). He obeyed the order and backtracked with his forehead lowered as if he were observing and counting each of his steps.
Here comes the idiot… bow-legged… turtle – the Pirate scolds, once the boy is in front of him, so small despite his fifteen years that he barely reaches the solid gold buckle of the captain’s belt, splattered with blood.
“Kids aboard,” the captain suddenly thinks, overcome by a disagreeable, indefinable unease.
“My Captain,” the Boy says in a very soft voice, “Have you realized that our feet don’t leave prints in this sand?”
“Or that the sails of my ship give shade?” the captain replies dryly and brutally.
Then his anger seems to assuage before the naïve, interrogating face that the Boy insists on using to meet the captain’s gaze.
“Let’s go, son,” he mumbles, supporting his rough hand on the young boy’s shoulder. “The sea will come…”
“Yes, sir,” mutters the boy, as if to say: thank you.
Thank you. The forbidden words. Better to burn one’s lips first. Pirate’s Law.
“Did I say thank you?” The boy asks himself, frightened.
“I called him: son!” The captain thinks dumbfounded.
“My Captain,” the Boy says again, “during the shipwreck…”
The pirate blinks and sharply straightens his stance.
“…during the accident, I mean, I was in the hold. And when I get back on my feet, you know what? I find it full of the most disgusting creatures I’ve ever seen…”
“What kind of creatures?”
“Well, starfish… but alive. They’re gross. They beat like the entrails of a freshly gutted human… And they moved from one side to the other looking for each other, jumbling together, and even tried to trap me.”
“Ha. And you were scared, eh?”
“Quicker than an eel, I leapt to open the doors, portholes, and everything; and with kicks and smacks of the broom, I started to sweep them out. You should’ve seen how they ran along the sand all twisted up! But, my Captain, I have to tell you something… and it’s just that I noticed… that they did leave footprints…”
The “Terrible” does not answer.
And side by side they stand up straight under a weak green light that doesn’t know how to twinkle, before a silence so echoless, so complete, that suddenly they begin to hear.
They heard and felt inside of themselves the emergence and rise of an unknown wave. The wave of a feeling for which they cannot manage to find a name. A feeling one hundred times more destructive than anger, hatred, or terror. An ordered, nocturnal, gnawing feeling. And the heart, patient and resigned, surrenders to it.
“Sadness,” the Boy finally murmurs, without realizing it. A word whispered into his ear.
And then, forcefully, trying to shake himself from that nightmare, the captain begins to seek comfort in his irritability again, in shouting:
“Young boy, that’s enough. And let’s speak frankly. With us, you learned to hit, stab, rob, and burn… but I’ve never heard you curse.”
A brief pause, and then, lowering his voice, the pirate asks sincerely, “Boy, tell me, you must know… Where do you think we are?”
“The same place you think, Captain,” the young boy answers respectfully…
“Well, a thousand million feet below the sea, damn it,” the old pirate exploded in one of his famous, thundering laughs, that then cut off suddenly.
Because that which was intended to be a loud laugh resounded like a tremendous wail, a cry of affliction of someone who, inside their own chest, was usurping their laughter and feeling. It was the laughter of someone desperately longing for something that he knows to be irremissibly lost.
Very well, let's return from the depths of the sea where silence reigns and the water seems like an atmosphere. I wonder if the inspiration for Bombal's story came from some Mapuche legends where it is said that there are cities and towns lost under the earth, the sand or under the waters of the sea.
My mother once told me that the sea always gives back what it takes, although it may take some time. So, we can assume that those pirates may one day return to the world of those who live on the surface of the earth.
Without further ado, it's time to introduce today's voice.
Sue Kuentz is a Touring Artist with the Texas Commission on the Arts, which is pretty cool because TCA will help pay up to half of her fees through their online grant application.
Thank goodness storytelling found Sue Kuentz early in her career because she has a lot to say! Sue's storytelling passion and energy originated from her 32 years as an elementary school teacher and librarian in San Antonio. During the Pandemic, she stayed busy on Zoom, telling stories to folks worldwide and sponsoring a youth storytelling club via the Mammen Family Public Library.
She's elated to continue her storytelling live to share tales that affect the hearts and minds of all who listen! Sue excites and connects to family and adult audiences by taking them on journeys through her multicultural folktales, fairy tales, urban legends, and personal stories from around the world.
So, to those who want to see Suen Kuentz in action telling stories, I will be dropping a link to her videos and her website.
San Antonio Storytellers: http://www.sanantoniostorytellers.com/new-gallery-1
Stanger at Sabine pass: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hq5MsrEjLeI
Airmail to the Moon by Tom Birdseye. Retold by Sue Kuentz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5g4eqZ-tXjs
It's time for the announcements, the "literary basket" contest is closed, and I will be notifying the winners through an email.
However, before I continue, I wanted to tell you that we still have some books to give away to our listeners in the United States. So, on Monday, December 6th, I will be sending an email to our subscribers with the image and description of the books we have left.
All they need to do to claim any of these books is to email us back firstname.lastname@example.org telling us which book they want and what they like best about the program.
The first ones to claim a book will be the winners. It's that simple.
For example, the email you can send us can say: Hello I am Mary, and the book I want for my Christmas is... and I like Tres Cuentos because...
And voila, that's all there is to do!
Very well, let's talk about today's author. This brief biographical review was written in collaboration with Leo Quiron.
Maria Luisa Emilia Inés Bombal Anthes was born in Viña del Mar Chile on June 18, 1910. After her father's death, Martín Bombal, Blanca D'Anthes, took her daughters to France. In Paris, Marie Luisa continued her studies, and at the age of 18, she entered Sorbonne University, where she graduated in French literature with a thesis on the writer Prosper Mèrimée.
In 1931, Bombal returned to Chile and met Eulogio Sánchez, whom we mentioned in the introduction to the episode. A curious fact is that Bombal performed as a theater actress during that time, but soon decided that she had no future in that career.
In Santiago de Chile, she connected with the intellectual circles in the city. She met important writers such as Marta Brunet, Pablo Neruda, and Julio Barrenechea. Her energetic, passionate, and free-spirited personality caused amazement and raised eyebrows in what was still a very traditional society. Keep in mind that it was expected that a woman would be submissive in those times and that her education would be oriented towards how to run the home, not towards science or art.
But María Luisa was born to leave her mark, so much so that Pablo Neruda called her "The Fire Bee." In 1933 María Luisa moved to Buenos Aires at the invitation of Neruda, perhaps to recover from her histrionic suicide attempt after the love affair with Sánchez failed. For the next seven years, Bombal dedicated herself to writing. In 1935 she published her first novel La Última Niebla (The last mist). Three years later she released her best-known novel: La Amortajada (The Shrouded Woman).
Her literary career was on the right track, but when she decided to return to Chile, the old wounds of an unrequited love reemerged and threatened to cause her a setback. In 1941, María Luisa shot Eugenio Sánchez outside the Hotel Crillón. In 1944, after she spent time in jail, she left for the U.S.
Restarting is not easy, and it is more difficult when we are away from the people and places we know. Overwhelmed by loneliness, Maria Luisa took refuge in alcohol. But luckily that same year she met Fal de Saint Falle, a French businessman whom she married. Later, she gave birth to her daughter Brigitte.
Fully recovered from her addiction, Bombal returned to her literary works. In 1946 she published The Story of Maria Griselda and worked for UNESCO. After the death of her husband in 1969, María Luisa traveled to Buenos Aires and lived there until 1973. The following year she returned to Chile, where she lived until her death on May 6, 1980.
The literary work of María Luisa Bombal includes novels such as La Última Niebla, which marked a turning point in Latin America's literature. It is important to notice that by 1935, Latin American novels were focused on criollismo or costumbrismo, two literary trends that sought to highlight prototypes and local geographical environments represented realistically. María Luisa's aesthetic style went against these literary currents and opposedpatriarchal injustices.
Her novel La Amortajada (1938) is a precursor of the narrative technique found in the famous short novel by the Mexican writer Juan Rulfo, Pedro Páramo (1955).
Despite her undeniable contribution to literature, the name María Luisa Bombal is not widely recognized in Chile or elsewhere in Latin America. But the fire that poets like Neruda and readers like Manuel Peña saw in Maria Luisa persists in her narratives and reaches our senses like a hum that moves between time and oblivion.
That's it for today, I will leave you with a few short lines from Bombal's famous novel, La Amortajada (The Shrouded Woman), translated by Armand Baker. I will leave the link to the translated novel in the transcripts.
And after it had gotten dark, her eyes opened. But just a little, very little. It was as if
she wanted to look, while she was hidden behind her long eyelashes.
At the flame of the tall candles that were lit up to watch on her, people leaned to observe
the cleanness and transparency of the border of the eye that death had not been able to
cast a pall over. Respectfully dazzled, they leaned over, not knowing that She was able
to see them.
Because, in fact, She could both see and feel.
And with these lines that could stand alone as a short story, we end today's program. I hope I have encouraged you to read Bombal’s novel, La Amortajada (The Shrouded Woman). The last episode of the season on Fantastic Latin America will be a Christmas tale, written by an author who has already been showcased in the program, Amado Nervo.
Until the next cuento, adiós, adiós.
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.
Special thanks to ….
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The music and sound effects were downloaded from the YouTube audio library and Freesound.org
The list of credits per song can be found in the transcript.
Thanks for listening, adios, adios.
The Shrouded Woman by María Luisa Bombal. Translated by Armand Baker. URL: http://armandfbaker.com/translations/novels/la_amortajada.pdf
La Amortajada. María Luisa Bombal. Segunda Edición. Nascimiento. Santiago de Chile, 1941.
Cuentos de María Luisa Bombal. Ciudad Seva. URL: https://ciudadseva.com/autor/maria-luisa-bombal/cuentos/
Bados Ciria, Concepción. María Luisa Bombal. Consultado en Internet el 15 de noviembre de 2021 en: https://cvc.cervantes.es/el_rinconete/anteriores/julio_02/25072002_02.htm
Peña Muñoz, Manuel. María Luisa Bombal: Tres Cartas Inéditas, un Prólogo y un Posavasos. Consultado en Internet el 15 de noviembre de 2021 en: Dialnet-MariaLuisaBombalTresCartasIneditasUnPrologoYUnPosa-3401165.pdf
Memoria Chilena. Biblioteca Nacional de Chile. La maravillosa discontinuidad del transcurso interior. Consultado en Internet el 15 de noviembre de 2021 en: http://www.memoriachilena.gob.cl/602/w3-article-3597.html
Música y efectos de sonido
Mamas - Josh Lippi & The Overtimers
Mind And Eye Journey - Emily A. Sprague
To Have to in Least Water – pATCHES
Gamela - E's Jammy Jams
Hard To Let Go of Grammar – pATCHES
Drunken Sailor - Cooper Cannell
Any Thing You Can Dream - The Whole Other
FairyTale Waltz by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/