A “magmífica” story

Una historia magmífica

When I finished the book I remembered the first time I smelled a rose. It’s strange, of course, because who keeps a memory like that? One remembers his first kiss, or the first time he traveled alone, or the first time he thought of death, and not the first time he smelled a rose. But I do. I do remember. Perfectly.

You know I’m blind and I can’t smell, so what you’ve asked me to do is not fair. I guess you’re laughing now. I’m also laughing because, thanks to you and your question, I remember that wonderful voice of someone I didn’t know who was reading the last page of a book I couldn’t see. At that moment, I smelled the idea of a rose. I thank you because the idea of my rose turned out to be forever.

That’s what I smelled then and I smell it now. The smell of roses belongs to my grandmother’s house. Right in front of it was a small garden that seemed immense to us as children. There we were explorers in Alaska, we traveled the foothills of the Himalayas, we crossed the Amazon by boat and walked straight through imaginary stripes that were actually Nadia Comaneci’s balance beam. And in the center, like a little queen, a yellow rosebush. Round and round we ran around it, until grandmother called us to tell a story. She would sit in front of the rose bush and open the book. What charm do the yellow roses have that even García Márquez had them on his desk every day, obviously thanks to his wife who put them fresh in a vase? It must be the omen of good luck, for him it was; for grandma I think it was her perfect idea to derosicle with color in the sun to counteract the bad life she had.

-Santiago, excuse my recklessness, I didn’t want to make you feel bad. It’s all a matter of memory and of that Rosa Aragón. That woman did have ovaries!

And as we are reminded of memory, a confession boils in my mind. For a long time, years I could say, if I gave in to the desire that comes to me more and more often to exaggerate, I confused the roses with the azaleas and spent many a Sunday afternoon believing that the soapy smell of the azaleas was the elegant sweetness of the roses, which I would only get to know much later. That’s why the first time I smelled one was almost a tragedy, because I already thought I knew its smell. Thus, what for most is the stone on which time carves the memory, the remembrance, is not for me but doubt. If I remember the smell of the mother, I am not sure of tenderness, but I doubt that I was a son. If I remember the rain water hitting my soaked clothes, I doubt the shower and the summer night when the drops sang Morse. So, what was a love, could have been a pain. What was a smell might have been, in spite of all the essence, the color of oblivion. What was a rose, turned out to be azalea. I believed, convinced. But it was not. The memory was never more than the distance I took from everything that was good for me. Because, unlike ordinary people, I did not distance myself from what affected me, from what caused me pain, like unrequited love, but from what gave me pleasure. I knew very well that pleasure, or happiness itself, would degrade with time, as memories do. The memory erodes, withers like the petal of that rose, yes, or dries up like the leaf of these books that I keep in my library. Books that were touched by hands that were not my own. Hands that now seem foreign to me. Your hands. If I ask myself why I left her behind, why I walked away without giving answers, it could be summed up in this self-destructive spirit that has accompanied me since I spent my afternoons in my grandmother’s garden. I was always rowdy, I admit, but I also liked, and do like, loneliness. And against that there is nothing to do. Despite the impact of that velvety assault on my nose, that spurt of sweetness that seeped into my brain, what I remember most from that moment is the sound of the book closing, the flicking of the pages that was the end of an illusion, and then Carme’s smile when she handed me the rose in that café in the Plaza Real, a tourist trap where we had arranged to celebrate the Sant Jordi.

The roses represented the first pleasant memory I had of the city. When I arrived, the impression could not have been worse, feeling lost in the static scene of a black and white ribbon. During the first days, I discovered that hell was not a room populated by eternal fire, no, on the contrary, it was a cold, rainy place and the demons, characters that walked with imposed elegance, dark suits, gray umbrellas, classic hats, in permanent mourning. I discovered that the city was capable of beauty and roses could be of all colors, the only clear sign of life, a yellow rose that had the smell of ripe guava.  I also remembered my grandmother the first time I visited the Roseto Comunale di Roma, there on the Palatine. Rome: my favorite city. Inevitable, the memory. Smells, colors, life. Heterogeneous roses. I could still see, so I could enjoy with all my senses so much fullness. The blindness that took hold of me was gradual, so I can testify that Borges was right: “it is not a tragic thing. It is like a slow summer sunset”. Yes, I went up to Santa Sabina, drunk. I remembered all this today. From that day, I also keep the smell of freshly cut grass, the branches of the trees swaying over the sunny sky; and then, that cold that enters the body when one arrives at the places that belong to the saints, announcing that, in truth, it is they who enter us. The texture of the wood of the bench I chose to sit on in the basilica was quite rustic. I closed my eyes – how ironic it sounds to say this now – and set out to have a serious conversation with God. Serious conversation with God. Again you will be laughing: I, the walking doubt, the blind clairvoyant, the silent speaker, was preparing to settle accounts with the divinity. Brave ignoramus. Recently I heard that the difference between atheists and believers was not so much: for the former, after death there is the nothing; for the latter, mercy.

Perhaps today the memory of that memory came back to me because it was the eve of St. Jordi’s Day and I could not leave the house. There have been several weeks of a confinement that leads the mind to surrender to a past that only now, when so little is possible, we live and value as it deserved. What more could I wish for than to be able to be in the Plaza Real again tomorrow, still full of tourists. The rose, ephemeral beauty and perpetual transience. Now I understand, now I understand why I became that memory of a memory. This is how we are the self-destructive ones. We learned the essence of contradiction in grandmother’s melancholy tales, in the old Roman stones turned today into a set of Berlusconian comic books, in García Márquez’s magic realism. We are like that. And so we will be. Like a condemnation. And precisely now, when the whole of humanity is closing in on its fears, realizing its unjust misery and paying for its arrogance in the face of the old planet, those of us who cultivate this genetic dichotomy -to tolerate a memory, to distance ourselves from pleasure, to be brave and ignorant- possess an antidote to this global covidian rot. A safeguard that I am preparing to reveal.

Una historia magmífica

However, you know very well that my old age is winning over me because of the way my memory is disrupted, like a vinyl that you turn over to continue with the music even though it is different: it is not only that I eagerly remember the inaugural memory of a rose, perpetual in my mind from its yellow perfume; the return to a Borges quote or that spinning with García Márquez references; not even because I accumulate forgetfulness due to the imperatives of age; you know that now I also have memories of that which has never happened. After several youths, I have reached the stage in which everything I have lived competes with so much that I imagine, ready to mix and even fight against each other. Don’t you think we have earned the right that what we have dreamed, fantasized and longed for has the same status of reality as the pedestrian routines and experiences of everyday life? I don’t know how to answer, nor do I want to try, too self-indulgent, too spoiled a child who gets muddled and sulks. I grope for the pruning shears and touch the dirty edge of sand, or sand, or manure, I bring the tool to my nose and smell the strong smell of the earth, the very tension of knowing that I am going to do it and once and for all end the nostalgia, the sad memory and the murmurs of a precocious old man: cutting, cutting, pruning or pruning me will be almost the same if no one calls, if nothing leaves me in suspense with a shout, a ringing bell or a door slamming shut, as it is now, so foolishly abstracted that I don’t know where I left the pruning shears. And looking for the happy shears, I remember the past again as the paradise that it really was not. The good thing about the years is that they make melancholy an emotion that vibrates in the memory like the intense midday sun. One does not want to die being happy. One does not want to kill oneself if one is able to step on the month of April and breathe deeply. So now I understand that no matter how hard I try, I will not be able to go down to the Plaza Real, nor walk along the Ramblas, nor let my eyes fall on the books that promise me worlds to live, nor buy new roses, because their fragrances have already died. And what is worse, I will no longer find you, Carme, because I will have to stay here locked up surrounded only by your memory and that of your rose (with its aroma of desires to be fulfilled) while you and your smile flee this enemy world, without tourists, without future, inhabited only by silence. And when I think that I have forgotten, the rose returns to my nose, the earth gets tangled up in my fingers and the calm light of that afternoon, clean and serene, comes back crushing so that I understand that the story I am reading, is no more than a vague reflection of the one I lived. I also remember my mother’s hands. One of the clearest memories of my childhood. Her hands holding mine in the moments before the accident, when everything turned dark and life stopped being a game to become a hospital after another, a doctor after another, one lost hope after another. Poor mom! It was not her fault, but sometimes pain confuses things and accuses the innocent without mercy.

That’s right, life: a useless mirror of what was thought, dreamed and believed, always far from the reality that others see. Cutting short, the only solution. Because, if not now, when? I would never have another opportunity to carry something so heavy with so little effort.

The yellow roses come back to my mind. But this time they are not those that fell as rain after the death of José Arcadio Buendía, but those that burst in Chekhov’s room just dead. Unexpected flowers. Flowers of death. There are already many days in this damned confinement, also unexpected. Too much time alone with my memories and my books. Memory and present come together to create images that are less and less happy. Going out to the streets. Now I can say, with the patina of lucidity that the passage of time grants, weaving all the memories and moments that the perfume of that flower, symbol of all that has united us, awakens in me, that we have been happier than we had then predicted. We did not have an eternal path of roses. It is true. We also had to cross rocks and swamps, climb steep peaks and trust the dark night, until we reached the joy of the meadow and understood that the important thing is to have arrived here together. And, while I slide my fingers with an ease learned during many years by the invisible and bristly constellations of the books I love, I wonder if going into the memories will not be something similar to slowly unraveling the secret of a rose, slowly introducing a finger between its petals to reach its secret heart like someone trying to grope at the treasure of time. Isn’t that also, in the end, the essence of life, even of this moment of confinement and darkness in which I find myself now? And yet, for someone who has been groping so long with no one at his side to hold his hand, confinement has a familiar, almost comforting, texture. That sick rose, magnanimous in its last hours, owner of a tragic value in spite of knowing that it was consumed by that insatiable caterpillar: our last mother, Death, as just as cruel, unable to discriminate between the miserable ones and the lucky ones, those who rot in the riches and those others who find the grace of the divine in the fortresses of poverty. What to do, then, with all these memories, with these anguishes and sadness that consume the sweets of our life? I have already read poets, philosophers and wise men who wrote so many books and treatises about heart and mind, and not a single word, not a single promise, has been worth to calm down my doubts.

Grandmother didn’t hesitate, she had the rose bush pulled up and it was Rosa Aragón who comforted me that afternoon when the gardeners were busy carrying out the matriarch’s orders and I was past the age of running with my cousins. I didn’t understand it until that night of Sant Jordi when Carme said goodbye forever. She would never read to me again, she was leaving, far away, to where I had come from.

We are like a sentence, I repeated myself resisting death. Carme was gone. Neither were Grandmother’s gardens nor the tireless tumult of the Plaza Real. I was alone in front of an open book and could hardly be distracted by looking out the window. There was no one left out there. I had been warned: that the illness, that the confinement, that China, that it was better not to be with others. I wanted to scream, run to the balcony, catch something, anything, even if I was blind. Everyone had disappeared from the streets and from my memory. There was no one there. I had no choice but to take the same book. To open it again from the beginning. To turn the pages as if I were turning the cards of a game. And start again from the first page.

MAGMA Editorial
Letters in transit
Thursday, April 23rd, 2020

  • Cristian Vázquez
  • Christopher J. Castañeda
  • María de Alva
  • Fermina Ponce
  • Germán Padinger
  • Álvaro Hernando Freile
  • Lautaro Vincon
  • Federico Palomera
  • Dixon Acosta Medellín
  • Antonio J. Quesada
  • Meli Navas
  • Ana Belén Albero Díaz
  • Ángel Loureiro
  • Fidel Masreal
  • Juan Manuel Chávez
  • Jordi Gracia
  • David Gambarte
  • Jorge León Gustà
  • Paz Martín-Pozuelo
  • Inma Chacón
  • Marina López Planella
  • David Roas
  • Belén Galindo Lizaldre
  • Juan Senís
  • Antonio Tamez Elizondo
  • Miquel Bota
  • Constanza Ternicier
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