Thursday, August 28, 2008

Submerged in that flood tide of raw, dense, motley, and tumultuous life

Her mother was a shopkeeper who had an open-air stall selling Catalan notions and textiles in the market plaza. The market plaza: a great quadrangular space, bounded by decrepit and tumbledown old houses with porticoes, which in the morning hours filled with the village throngs in a vast bubbling of colors, smells, and noises of the most violent and blatant kind; all manner of carmines, vermilions, veronese greens, and yellows of the fruits and vegetables; scarlets, cadmiums, indigos, and purples of the peasant skirts, capes, and parasols; the balsamic aroma of the mountain grasses, the cloying odor of the pimento, afuegaelpito and pata de mulo cheeses, scent of damp earth, stink of corral and stable; cock crows, duck quacks, lamb bleats, mongrel barks; sound of hurdy-gurdy and of bagpipes, laughs, agreements and curses, the barber's oratory, and psalmody of the little storyteller, the grumbling of the blind man, reciter of tales of crimes and shipwrecks. In the early afternoon, the plaza faded out and fell into a pallid and deep quietude, without any sign of life. In the still air there wafted the bell of the neighboring church of San Isidoro, pealing Animas.

There Micaela spent the years of her infancy, adolescence, and youth. Her education might have been even worse than that of the streets, as is the education of the market, were it not that Micaela had not been born to allow herself to be shaped by the surrounding reality or to be carried along by the flux of life, but rather to correct and channel the reality at hand and the flow of life that had fallen to her lot, within herself and about herself. Primordial character trait: the absence of sensuality. Her senses did not dominate her. She almost, almost, did not have senses, since she did not use them to surrender herself to the world or to delight in its beautiful spectacle, but as spies and witnesses for the prosecution, which brought news and information from outside to the internal tribunal of her intelligence, which almost always handed down condemnatory judgments. In the center of the market, submerged in that flood tide of raw, dense, motley, and tumultuous life, Micaela sat abstracted from the sensations at hand; the colors did not dazzle her, not the smells stimulate her, not the music soften her. Her skin was lemon colored and as if cured, nerveless — an insulator — skin, on the other hand, matte, firm, knitted, and very beautiful. And, not judging with her senses but with her mind, the market, which was the sunlit sky of her world, seemed to her like a shapeless and repugnant jumble of greed, lust, ignorance, deceit, hatred, and misery. And the nighttime sky, the evening and empty plaza, like an unending tedium, a premonition of death.

— from Honeymoon, Bittermoon, by Ramón Pérez de Ayala.

Micaela early realizes that men are digusting pigs, and when she has a son she decides to raise him to be the man she would be. So Urbano's youth is sheltered and his education censored. Micaela thinks this a success, until Urbano's wedding night, when it becomes clear that the newlyweds are lacking in some essential information.

The children are "pure" but the adults are hypocrites; all of them are fools.

I picked up this book years ago for a couple bucks, but not till the other day did I grab it on my way out of the house. I'm about halfway through, and it's very funny, while still touching, wise, and poetic.

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