Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Revolt of Guadalajara, installment 5

A couple of months ago I began the serial translation of a 1937 novella by Dutch writer Jan Jacob Slauerhoff called The Revolt of Guadalajara. I'm going to try to be more disciplined about hashing it out but would be grateful for any insistent clamoring you could muster to that effect.

Finally in today's installment, we get some characters:

Chapter 1, pp. 11-15

Besides the churches and banks, Guadalajara also had a Gobierno Central, a representation of the federal government, a municipality, three hospitals, a Supreme Court, a tax office, four convents, an Episcopal hall, some ten big houses belonging to rich landowners and industrialists that could be called palacios with a bit of good will, and beyond that the city that, other than a number of stores and warehouses, consisted of low huts. Almost all larger buildings lay on the Avenida Central and formed the drab stretched-out skyline that was visible from the far horizon above the bald brown or grey-red plain and most resembled the back of a prehistoric animal, a crocodile or iguanodon.

In keeping with an obvious and unspoken agreement with the authorities that dated back to the era of slavery and continued in effect long after emancipation, other than the livery-coated or uniformed or priestly garbed servants of church and state, the Indians never came into the Avenida Central, such that it almost always lay dead and abandoned both in the heat of the day and in the dusky night. Only in the brief twilight hour did the carriages of the more distinguished residents pass to and fro, or a few men walk and sit on the terraces of the two cafés. Only for processions and a few national holidays did the Indians enter the Avenida too. Processions took place quite often, as the church authorities knew from centuries of experience that every people, however humbled and oppressed, must have occasional opportunity to push themselves up, to experience themselves en masse, hearing each other’s shouts, filling their noses with each other’s reeking. Coming together in the Avenida didn’t stir up any kind of mass consciousness of power; to the contrary. Devoid of will, the stream flowed in a single direction between the lines of the big buildings and was dissipated by the gendarmes once the parade had run its course. Contented, tired and sleepy they go back to their houses and rest or drink the rest of the holiday away, and rebellious thoughts never take root: they are tired and hoarse from screaming.

With the examples of Christian humility borne on litters and flagstaffs before them, they could vent their suppressed lust for life through shocking dances done to a music gone gradually over from the plodding tempos of the church to a dance beat. The hubbub of the city, the high gables on either side, these overpower them and then suddenly it is all over, the parade disbands on a silent square and they head docilely for home.

The high church authorities made the occasional remark about what they termed the degenerative influence of processions in the otherwise tranquil Guadalajara. But Monseigneur Valdés, who’d sat in the bishop’s seat over Guadalajara for twenty years, took up the defense in an articulate hand. Monseigneur Valdés wrote gladly and copiously. How otherwise could he employ his great gifts of spirit and heart?

What was this talented priest still doing stuck out in Guadalajara? Was it because of a foreboding that precisely here, in this city, something big was sure to pass? Or had he simply been forgotten? Or does the consistory of cardinals secretly have it in for great talents? Or was Monseigneur Valdés not who he took himself to be?

He took the first solution to be correct. God’s ways were inscrutable, surely something big was going to happen in Guadalajara. He never spoke about these expectations with the dean or the canons of the diocese. They believed only what they saw happen. But he did with a young Indian priest, Tarabana, who served in the little church of the Sagrado Corazón, in the middle of the old Indian neighborhood, and who wrote with a very legible hand.

Tarabana was not a pale, docile, stunted youth, like so many of his associates, he was lively, walked tall, secretly believed in the rebirth of his race.

Really it was a wonder that the authoritarian and priestly Valdés could stand this young man; or did he see reflected something of himself that never had come into its own? In the end a certain kind of intimacy had developed between them. Tarabana could listen for hours to the orations of the bishop. Usually they began along these lines:

‘Don’t be unhappy, Tarabana, with your little wooden church, any more than I am with my meager and remote diocese, that really should have had its seat on the council by now, long before González and Machado, who are less talented than I am. Something big is going to happen in Guadalajara, otherwise I wouldn’t still be here, it must be for something. It should have happened a long time ago, but we never know what obstacles stand in God’s way. He also likes to write destiny along crooked lines. But something’s coming! Just look once at Saint Iago, who has the most prophetic spirit of all the saints. Hasn’t he on the occasional rainy day ever had an ominous feeling?’

In this way he got the young priest all wound up. Tarabana often really would have liked to ask just exactly what was going to happen but he didn’t dare; when he had it on the tip of his tongue the bishop looked vacantly past him or suddenly began writing as if in midstream on a sheet of parchment that always lay ready. He’d been working for years now on a church history of Mexico, on the description of miracles witnessed in the area. If nothing happened in Guadalajara, at least in the time that he was still there, then his name would still become famous through the publication of these works. The Holy Father would reproach himself for having left Valdés moldering his whole life in Guadalajara, instead of giving him a place where he could shine.

Tarabana then stood wavering at the other end of the table. Should he go away or stay? Sometimes Valdés looked at him with boredom and confusion, in which case he knew for certain. Sometimes he stopped looking up altogether and then he off he went, swearing to himself never to return. After these visits he didn’t go to his church, where malice and brooding made it hard to hold it together, but to the hut where his parents still lived. It stood on the outskirts of the Indian quarter by the steeply pitched river that dribbled one day and ran dry the next.

Tarabana’s parents were among the poorest, but they had the good fortune of having only had one child, and a son at that. For this rare dearth of offspring—most averaged ten or more children—they thanked the gods and saints regularly.

No comments: