“I keep vidrio molido en los huesos”
Gabríel García Marquez
La increíble y triste historia de la cándida Eréndira y de su abuela desalmada
Mexico City, May 27, 1973
A new life, an unknown story, a body that has just come into the world that has no awareness of itself, neither of the present nor of the future. A child cannot know that “a white mole, which others call birthmark, on the cornea of the right eye”, such a small spot, can affect an entire existence.
A woman is ready to tell her story, that of her family and her country, and decides to do so by talking about her body, the moments of evolution – and revolution – but above all of involution. The body I was born into from Guadalupe Nettel (The New Frontier, translation by Federica Niola) is exactly this: the portrait of the uniqueness of a body often perceived as abnormality by others, just as happens in the images of the photographer Diane Arbus who has made diversity the prerogative of her poetics. The narrator – the author herself – lets herself go to a necessary and conscious stream of consciousness, a long confession from her to her psychoanalyst, Dr. Sazlavski.
That small white mole that covers the iris of the right eye from birth, apparently something insignificant, forces the author since she was a child to do a series of exercises to develop the lazy eye. She wears a ‘flesh-colored’ patch that covered her face from the top of the eyelid to the start of her cheekbone for several hours every day. There hasn’t been a morning when she hasn’t opposed that hellish ritual that she, despite the struggle, she has never been able to avoid. The day in which the ophthalmologist where she is being treated announces the end of that torture represents the return to freedom: for now, nothing else can be done, when she is older the girl will undergo an operation, says Dr. Penteley. .
“Besides, sight wasn’t my family’s only obsession. It seemed that my parents considered childhood as a preparatory stage during which the manufacturing defects with which one came into the world must be corrected “, writes Nettel who, thanks to his tendency to hunch his shoulders, earns the nickname of cucaracha, cockroach, a prelude to his future dedication to Gregor Samsa. He hunches his shoulders as if he wants to protect himself from something and when he can’t do it he climbs a big tree placed right in front of the building where he lives. A rampant baroness, a Cosimo Piovasco di Rondò in the middle of Mexico City. The constant pressures that the child undergoes at home certainly does not help her to relate to others: a sense of unease and inadequacy is always ready to peep out, but she does not let herself be intimidated by her body.
I’m the seventies and Guadalupe and her younger brother attend the only Montessori school in the city: the parents – the father psychoanalyst, the mother scholar – have progressive ideas and want their children to be able to choose. As time goes by, the author approaches reading, her favorite books are The portrait of Dorian Gray And The devil in the bottle and, almost as if it were a natural process, he arrives at writing. Her teacher notices her inclination and decides to organize a literary meeting and thus give her the opportunity to express herself. The little girl makes her swear that an adult would always be by her side until her parents arrived: those first stories had her classmates as protagonists and she was sure that, once they finished reading, they would praising revenge. But no, no revenge, only enthusiasm and great admiration, and disbelief and bewilderment on the part of the little writer.
Parents believe in freedom and progress not only when it comes to raising their children, but they are firmly convinced that family life must be based on free will and the abandonment of exclusivity. But that sexual freedom, that regime of “open couple” ends up leading them to separation. His father’s empty library and the disappearance of all the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel records are the final act of an unsuccessful experiment. The children somehow try to adapt to new life and, shortly after, the cohabitation with the maternal grandmother following the mother’s decision to move to France to complete her studies. Living under the same roof as your grandmother means always feeling diminished compared to her brother, losing all freedom, being forced to wear lace dresses and painted shoes, not being able to be an omnivorous reader. But there are two new holds for salvation: football and a copy of La increíble y triste historia de la cándida Eréndira y de su abuela desalmada by Gabríel García Marquez stolen by deception and read and reread in hiding. «I keep vidrio molido en los huesos» writes Marquez, and nothing can describe it better the fragility of these months of change.
In the first years of separation, children often see their father, but those encounters gradually thin out, until he seems to have disappeared into thin air. Only after a long time will they discover him “locked up in the Reclusorio Preventivo Norte, also known as Norte, a prison reserved for those who had not yet had a definitive trial”. The accusation – it seems unjust – is embezzlement.
In 1984 Guadalupe and her brother joined their mother in Aix en Provence. It is about start all over again, get accepted, fit in, with a new level of difficulty: it had to be done in a new language of which they recognize neither the sound nor those accents on the contrary. These are the years of Blaise, of his disinterested and sincere friendship, and of Sophie better known as “the pleasant illusion of having found a true friend”, of the derision for having believed in the reciprocated love of the most beautiful boy in school, and of the summer of colonie de vacances to the Luberon Gorges. For many French kids it was a wonderful experience, but Nettel felt that something was going to go wrong. On the first evening, a boy named Pierre announces with great fanfare his intention to have sex with a “meuf– a virgin girl – and the one designated would have been Guadalupe who, however, knows how to defend herself and earn – again – the approval of the other companions and other tent companions. That evening Pierre went back to sleep with a bloody nose and a series of bruises scattered here and there. During the colonies the festival of July 14 also arrives and Guadalupe disappears in the company of a young Tunisian. When she receives the news from the camp leaders, her mother is enraged and at the end of the summer she sends her daughter back to Mexico, to her grandmother.
It might seem like a real tragedy but, in reality, it is a moment of acceptance – and rediscovery – of one’s origins. Before leaving Aix, in fact, Guadalupe listens to a lesson by Octavio Paz at the Festival d’Aix that year:
“In his mouth, for more than an hour Mexican Spanish stopped being the intimate dialect that my mother, my brother and I used to communicate, and turned into a malleable and beautiful material. His poems were about water poplars, pink pepper trees and obsidians, sugar skulls, the Mixcoac neighborhood, things and places that I too had loved in a distant time and, as I understood at that moment, not entirely forgotten. In short, I remembered who we were […] I told myself that if one day I would write, I would do it in that language. “
The return to Mexico City it is a moment of reconciliation: he no longer needs to do like Cosimo and take refuge in a tree. The discovery of Kundera, Camila’s friendship which is not just an illusion, but above all the moment when Guadalupe has to deal with the question of her lazy eye and her mother is determined to use all of her savings . She consults a San Francisco doctor and the response is unexpected: the operation is useless, the matter unsolvable. At this point one would expect anger and despair, but in reality it is a real liberation for Guadalupe. Over the years she has tried to live with her body, to accept it, taking a cue from the story of Gregor Samsa but finding a new epilogue.
The expedient of the stream of consciousnessthe decision to make explicit the presence of his psychoanalyst and the silence of the latter are a way to reveal that a path of acceptance is possible, albeit painful.
More than air
more than water
more than lips
Your body is the footprint of your body.
They are the lines of a poem by Octavio Paz and they seem to have been written to give sight again to a skilled storyteller. With The body I was born intoa novel of matter and memory, Guadalupe Nettel wants to speak yes to everyone but above all to herself as a child to try to hold her in a hug.
Cover portrait of Guadalupe Nettel by Mely Avila
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