Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fieldtrip, anyone?

**The link to Leyendas de Guatemala wouldn't open after I'd written the blog to look up correct page numbers, so my apologies if they are off by a page or two. I'll fix it up once I can get into the link :) **

Even before "los árboles hechizan la cuidad entera" (p. 12) in Leyenda de Guatemala, the reader has no doubt that these tales will incorporate the sense of magical realism which best describes nature when seen from the heart of a poetic author. Such descriptions as when the serpent "reptó bajo sus pies como la sangre negra de un animal muerto" (p. 40); or a forest of human trees, where "veían las piedras, hablaban las hojas [y] reían las aguas" (p. 24). This is the kind of 'real magic' that I love. How about the arresting image of the 6 men which comprise the wind and the water? And of course the men in the water "se alimentaban de estrellas como los peces" (p. 28)....I mean, why wouldn't they?

My point is that these intriguing portrayals lend much more to the history of Guatemala than just fantasy; they give it mystery and appeal. Would a Guatemalan relate more to these tales than I did? Absolutely (I can say with little to no doubt)! However, there are common threads which run throughout these stories that connect a human race, and not just a country. Such as "el agua [que] está en todo" (p. 30), or the men of the wind and water who know that "todo es buena fruta" (p. 30) in the forest. Cheesy? Maybe. Verifiable truths? To a glass-half-full perspective: Yes. And as an ultimate test, the average reader, Guatemalan or not, needs to expand their well of experience upon reading about the central character 'El Cuco de los Sueños'; the intrepid personality which "va hilando los cuentos" (p. 12). And this is where I would like to stay: in the massive wings of this 'Cuco de Sueños' as it weaves together lullabies of stories which reak of la naturaleza and realismo mágico.

To my disappointment, however, the legends ventured to the wrong side of the tracks when they began to include aspects of societal greed and religion. Okay, so I have to admit that my mood takes a downward spiral whenever Latin American authors pursue the messy subject of religion (to those who may be agitated by this comment, my disclaimer is that religion doesn't sit well with me, but I think it's fine if it sits well with you); but I must admit that religion has been a key-player in the development of Latin America, and, as these legends revolve somewhat chronologically around the maturing of Guatemala as a nation, it seems only right that Asturias should include a varied mix of catholicism and a kind of 'mayan paganism' within the legends.

But even in these 'magical cities', the Catholic church muscles its way into a position of authority as a line is drawn between "el sacerdote y la multitud" (p. 14). It seems that even as the conquistadors arrive, "el espíritu religioso entristece el paisaje" (p. 16); and the similarities are not unfounded when "se han podrido más de tres obispos y las ratas arrastran malos pensamientos" (p. 16). But then, Asturias speaks of the 'trinidad' being santa, flor (azucena) y niño. (p. 32) Metaphors of the traditional Father, Son, and holy ghost? Perhaps these Mayan legends have taken a biblical turn. Then there is Nido, who "en un día que duró muchos siglos" (p. 32) created a town with a temple. Okay, so it wasn't the world and it wasn't in seven days, but I'm sensing some more similarities here between the dominant Catholic church and the drowning Mayan legends. Although, with these ideas of magical realism, it feels more comfortable to relate these stories to Santa Clause, than to God. Or would God be in a state of magical realism as well? This creates a perfectly sound environment for the Church to be introduced into such pagan fables, just as it seems to have 'introduced' itself into many cultures of the world. Besides, every story needs a corrupt villain.

All in all, my feeling so far is that instead of reading these legends on my laptop in my room while listening to the rain dripping outside; I would rather be told these tales from una vieja, gray and weathered, as we sit under the stars and next to the '3 men of the water' as they meander their way through the lush expanse of Guatemala. .....Does the Spanish department pay for field trips?

On another note, does anyone have any insight on the colours which are repeatedly mentioned in the legends (verde, rojo, blanco y negro)? Asturias mentions several references that these colors have (ie: organs, hair, spring storms, torpical ecstasy, promises of new lands, cruelty, etc...), but does anyone know of a central idea/image from which these color stem? Thanks!

Pura vida.


  1. yo también estoy curioso del simbolismo de los colores. Tienen un papel importante, y quisiera hablar del simbolismo en clase.

  2. Thought you brought up a lot of interesting points that I hadn't yet thought about myself.

    Although it may be sort of cheesy, I definitely agree with you that there are elements and underlying themes to these leyendas that anyone can relate to, from past or present, Guatemalan or not.

    Unfortunately, I don't think I can provide any insight on the significance of the colours :( But I do think it's a very interesting point!