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« Vallejo, "Ausente" | Main | Araby »
Thursday
Aug202009

Las aguas del olvido

From the title of this story ("The waters of oblivion") and its first line ("No one would cross the river"), we should be able to divine what exactly will happen in the end.  Márquez loves books almost as much he loves his wife Ivonne, who does not return his affection; one wonders, in fact, whether she ever did.  He has grown tired of the river; tired of his dog Saúl and his silly games; tired ever so slightly of this world.  To change his routine, Márquez decides to invite a young yet already established writer to his mansion somewhere among Spain's many hillocks and streams, although we are never told why he selected this writer over many others.  The writer himself does not know.  He suspects the invitation may have something to do with Ivonne, who has been less than faithful recently if she ever was before.  Our narrator, who happens to be this nameless writer so cherished by Márquez, steps towards the window and looks down upon the tennis courts of the large estate.  This is, one should say, the natural reaction of most young men entering upon the middle way of life, who behold the endless energy of less aged generations with nostalgic smiles.  He lingers on Ivonne, attracted to her curves, her pelvis, her thighs, the way she stops at the net to talk to her instructor and lover, Charlie Gómez.  Why should Gómez pay attention to these two worthless excuses for men, when

He had the general aspect of those heartthrobs who pose and sell male colognes.  Tall and invariably tanned, he seemed less addicted to Ivonne than to sports and automobiles, and when he played tennis he would tie around his forehead a striped band which Ivonne doubtless found irresistible.  Sitting across from him during breakfast, I came to think that I could consider him an imbecile without a smidgen of remorse.  But could anyone who allowed himself to be called Charlie Gómez be anything but an imbecile?

While the narrator gazes upon the frivolous urges of so many people who think that life is about entitlement, Márquez tries to tell him about the etymology of the river that no one wants to cross, Guadalete.  But his guest finds unabashed adultery more interesting, if only for a few regrettable moments.

The question is whether Ivonne merits such attention.   In the realm of conventional storytelling,  Ivonne would have been a stunning beauty from whose angelic presence Márquez could not turn away.   Had he been a writer – which he certainly isn't – he would have composed odes to the softness of her skin under an eternal sun.  Instead, our narrator finds pictures of Ivonne from another time:

In the shelves above the table lay black-and-white photos of Ivonne; in some of them she was much younger but not as well-dressed or groomed; they undoubtedly stemmed from the time before Márquez entered her life.  I found myself wondering where that had happened and why it was beyond repair.

Márquez does not share the narrator's amazement.  As Ivonne and Charlie finish a meal and skip off with "premeditated agility, as if showing Márquez and me the felicitous advantages of sport and adultery," the two bibliophiles retire to the library to gaze upon things of much truer beauty.  It is here that Márquez renews his conversation with his guest: "Guadalete is an Arab word of Greek origin," a complicated introduction that failed to touch the narrator's nerve the first time they discussed the matter.  Perhaps because novelists tend to be convinced that the only thing worth reading are novels, more specifically, their own?  Márquez is duly aware of such solipsism:

'Reading dictionaries and discovering etymologies, that's what I like,'  said Márquez, looking out the window at Ivonne who had her back to us.  'Don't take this the wrong way, but I don't know of a single novel as fascinating as the pleasure of reading a dictionary.'

He then feels obligated, as all great pedants do, to elucidate his lesson with an example, using the most immediate test rat available – in this case, Charlie.  Charlie (whom the narrator calls an "imbecile" as a sign of solidarity) could be described in plain terms as "jovial," a word ultimately derived from the name of this god.  And since we know that Charlie's only god-like qualities are his stature and complexion, we suspect that Márquez finds fiction not quite as precise as the beginnings of all things.  So while our narrator tries to palliate his host by "signing different inscriptions in each one of his books," Márquez keeps a piece of wood ready "as if calculating the possibility of doing something that made him unsure" and his dog waits patiently by his side.

The story is part of a collection by this contemporary Spanish writer who has garnered quite a few accolades in his recent years.   From what we have seen, albeit superficially, of our narrator, we are inclined to believe that he finds fiction, storytelling and the fantastic much more interesting than the tedium and worries of daily existence.  In many ways, of course, he is right.  The only means to free oneself from the onslaught of bourgeois mores is to deny their validity within yourself by obtaining a deeper meaning to your own life.  This may sound preposterous to most people who have come to believe that their lives are ordinary because they are not famous or rich or otherwise important to anyone outside of their small circle of family and friends.  But the truth is that every life is extraordinary because it is yours and no one else's.  If only the same thing could be said about that river.

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