A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Monday, April 07, 2008

Last night I finished the latest novel by Cartagena born author Arturo Pérez-Reverte. It is from a series featuring his swashbuckler 17th century soldier of fortune Capitán Don Diego Alatriste. It is the 6th in the series. The first two were somehow translated into English even though these novels are written in a pseudo 17th century Spanish which is quite complex and the stories require a fair knowledge of Spanish history. I never knew, for example that Flanders was to Spain what Vietnam was to the US. In fact most of the gold and silver brought in Spanish galleons from her New World possesions disappeared there.

Pérez-Reverte has the Dumas nerve to announce the name of the three forthcoming sequels. I cannot wait. Feeling a tad depressed when I placed my book on the bedroom floor I went downstairs to look for the author's first compilation of his weekly columns for the Spanish literary magazine El Semanal. I doubt that Patente de Corso 1993-1998 (that translates to letter of marque) or its sequel Con Ánimo de Ofender (with a desire to offend) 1998-2001 will be translated into English soon.

I immediately found my most favourite essay, La Novia de D'Artagnan, which is an account of his experience with a young woman at a Buenos Aires bookstore signing. I took the liberty of translating it and hope that Alfaguara (Pérez-Reverte's publisher) does not sue me. When I finished Corsarios De Levante I felt sad that I know nobody with whom I can share my pleasure. I remembered the young girl's plight. Here it is, badly translated by me. But in spite of it I hope you understand my predicament and sadness.

D'Artagnan’s Girl
Arturo Pérez-Reverte

I figured she was in her early 20s. She was in the third or fourth row in that Buenos Aires bookstore where this author was signing. She seemed quiet and shy. She had a backpack full of books and when she finally faced me she took out a tattered copy of The Dumas Club which she had obviously read many times.

“I love D’Artagnan,”” she affirmed, “and the others.” Her voice quivered as if she had just confessed a prohibited or strange passion. She seemed like she was about to say more but didn’t and just stared at the book I now had in my hands. I wrote some warm words on the first page, I chatted with her and from there I shifted my attention to a 60-year-old woman, very handsome, with green eyes which must have been devastating on others in her time. While we chatted about Seville and the bars of Triana, I noticed that the young girl who loved D’Artagnan remained amongst the shelves with her backpack on her shoulder. An hour later, after saying goodbye to the owner and my friends she was still at the door. “I need to show you something,” she said. Her voice trembled, as if the effort to speak to me was difficult. “Please,” she added. We were next to Patio Bullrich, a fashionable mall near the Recoleta, so I felt I would not compromise myself to anything if we sat for five minutes over coffee. I looked at my watch, uncomfortably. I was in doubt.

“It’s too heavy,” the girl said as she pointed at her backpack. I began to laugh, and after a bit she did, too in her timid way. It would be impossible to not have coffee with someone who appeals to you with Porthos’s last words in the Grotto of Locamaria from The Man of the Iron Mask. So the young girl who said she loved D’Artagnan took the seat in front of me but sat on the edge. From her backpack she extracted some extremely used Alexander Dumas novels in old series installments. She had acquired them in old bookstors, she explained. Everything was there, The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne… She spoke. In spite of shyness, without even lifting her eyes from her books she spoke at length, without stopping, her many hours alone “traveling” the route to Calais, the corridors of the Louvre, fighting Jussac and the cardinal’s guards, flying the napkin at the bastion of St Gervais as a flag and escaping by sheer luck Milady's poisoned Anjou wine.

She knew it all better than I. And since she was a child, she affirmed. To prove it we played a game, a most entertaining game: The size of Constanza Bonacieux’s feet. Porthos’s three surnames. Beufort’s dog’s name. What woman uses the alias Maria Michon. Who is Bascarrat, in which chapter does he break his sword and in what chapter of Bragellone does his son appear. It what street does D’Artagnan live when he is a lieutenant of the musketeers. The only question she was not able to answer, evil Mordaunt’s father’s name, Milady’s secret son.

From the Musketeers we shifted to The Count of Montecristo and Queen Margot. From Dumas we went on to Sabatini, Salgari and the others, between Scaramouche, The Black Corsair and The Prisoner of Zenda. When I mentioned Rupert of Hentzau and Mexican swashbuckler actor Yáñez’s laugh I noticed she was crying. She did it silently and gracefully. Tears were running down her face and falling on the discoloured covers of her old books. I was disturbed so I asked her why she was playing this unpleasant trick on me. She lifted her face. She was serious: “I had never been able to talk about all this with anyone,” she said. I knew this was the truth. After I had paid for the coffees she began to slip her books into her backpack with a sweetness and care. She was careful not to bend the covers as if they were precious objects. She stood up and said, “I wish Ruritania existed.”

“It does,” I answered, “it borders Syldavia to the north and on the south with Castle If.”

She still had tears but I saw her smile. “Then, I will pay for the next coffee,” she said, “If we ever see each other in Zenda.”

After a fleeting kiss I saw her disappear in the crowd with her heavy backpack full of dreams.

Arturo Pérez-Reverte

When I thought on how I was going to illustrate this blog I remembered my fading and stained proof in dancer Marthe's files. She was from Montreal. I photographed her because she had the most amazing presence, strength and legs. Even though she is a bit older than the girl cited in Pérez-Reverte's account I think she is just fine.

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