martes, 18 de octubre de 2016



PART ONE - Sandra at Six
(later on, Sandra at Twelve and Sandra at Eighteen will be added, to reflect on which new things I discovered when it comes to literature)

These is the literature I read when I entered the Burrow (El Cau) at six. The first time in my life I wielded a tennis racket and saw a periodic table.
It was also my first contact with Shakespeare and Goethe, both translated into Catalan (I will put the original MSND scene and my own translation of Goethe, as well as of the davirón story and of the description of the tennis bear :) )


This was my introduction to the Bard of Avon: the faerie queen's romance with a clown actor endowed, thanks to a spell, with a donkey's head. I was immediately transported to a world of littlepeople more beautiful than us humans and far closer to nature, just to see the marital spat between Queen Titania and King Oberon come to a happy end.
I first read a Catalan translation/adaptation of this fragment, whose lowing-out of certain passages in the adaptation read by my 6-year-old self I have echoed in this edition, in the 3rd-grade coursebook of Llengua (Catalan language) from the Anaya publishing company's Sèrie Sol i Lluna (Sun and Moon Series). To be more precise, as the initial reading for Unit 12, S'obri el teló (Up with the Curtain), on dramatic texts:

Come, sit thee down upon this flowery bed,
while I thy amiable cheeks do coy,
and stick musk-roses in thy sleek smooth head,
and kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy.
Where's Peaseblossom?
Scratch my head, Peaseblossom. Where's Monsieur Cobweb?
Monsieur Cobweb, good monsieur, get you your
weapons in your hand, and kill me a red-hipped
bumblebee on the top of a thistle; and, good
monsieur, bring me the honey-bag. Do not fret
yourself too much in the action, monsieur; and,
good monsieur, have a care the honey-bag break not;
I would be loath to have you overflown with a
honey-bag, signor. Where's Monsieur Mustardseed?
Give me your neaf, Monsieur Mustardseed. Pray you,
leave your courtesy, good monsieur.
What's your will?
Nothing, good monsieur, but to help Cavalery Cobweb
to scratch. I must to the barber's, monsieur; for
methinks I am marvellous hairy about the face; and I
am such a tender ass, if my hair do but tickle me,
I must scratch.
What, wilt thou hear some music,
my sweet love?
I have a reasonable good ear in music. Let's have
the tongs and the bones.
Or say, sweet love, what thou desirest to eat.
Truly, a peck of provender: I could munch your good
dry oats. Methinks I have a great desire to a bottle
of hay: good hay, sweet hay, hath no fellow.
I have a venturous fairy that shall seek
the squirrel's hoard, and fetch thee new nuts.
I had rather have a handful or two of dried peas.
But, I pray you, let none of your people stir me: I
have an exposition of sleep come upon me.
Sleep thou, and I will wind thee in my arms.
Fairies, begone, and be all ways away.
Exeunt fairies
So doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle
gently entwist; the female ivy so
enrings the barky fingers of the elm.
O, how I love thee! how I dote on thee!
They sleep
Enter PUCK
[Advancing] Welcome, good Robin.
See'st thou this sweet sight?
Her dotage now I do begin to pity:
For, meeting her of late behind the wood,
seeking sweet favours from this hateful fool,
I did upbraid her and fall out with her;
for she his hairy temples then had rounded
with a coronet of fresh and fragrant flowers;
and that same dew, which sometime on the buds
was wont to swell like round and orient pearls,
stood now within the pretty flowerets' eyes
like tears that did their own disgrace bewail.
When I had at my pleasure taunted her
and she in mild terms begg'd my patience,
And now [···], I will undo
this hateful imperfection of her eyes:
And, gentle Puck, take this transformed scalp
from off the head of this [···] swain;
that, he awaking when the others do,
may all [···] back again repair
and think no more of this night's accidents
but as the fierce vexation of a dream.
But first I will release the fairy queen.
Be as thou wast wont to be;
See as thou wast wont to see:
Now, my Titania; wake you, my sweet queen.
My Oberon! what visions have I seen!
Methought I was enamour'd of an ass.
There lies your love. (He shows her BOTTOM).
How came these things to pass?
O, how mine eyes do loathe his visage now!
Silence awhile. Robin, take off this head.
Titania, music call; and strike more dead
than common sleep of all these five the sense.
PUCK, with magical gestures, disenchants BOTTOM, taking off his donkey head.

Music, ho! music, such as charmeth sleep! Music, still

Gods my life, stolen
hence, and left me asleep! I have had a most rare
vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to
say what dream it was: man is but an ass, if he go
about to expound this dream. Methought I was--there
is no man can tell what. Methought I was,--and
methought I had,--but man is but a patched fool, if
he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye
of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not
seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue
to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream
was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of
this dream: it shall be called Bottom's Dream,
because it hath no bottom; and I will sing it in the
latter end of a play:
peradventure, to make it the more gracious, I shall
sing it at her death.

Now, until the break of day,
through this house each fairy stray.
To the best bride-bed will we,
which by us shall blessed be;
and the issue there create
ever shall be fortunate.
With this field-dew consecrate,
every fairy take their gait;
and each several chamber bless,
through this palace, with sweet peace;
and the owner of it blest
Ever shall in safety rest.
Trip away; make no stay;
meet me all by break of day.
If we shadows have offended,
think but this, and all is mended,
that you have but slumber'd here
while these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
no more yielding but a dream,
gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
if we have unearned luck
now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
we will make amends ere long;
else the Puck a liar call;
so, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
and Robin shall restore amends.


These verses were my introduction to Romanticism in general and Goethe in particular: the poem "Heidenröslein", which I first encountered translated into Catalan by Joan Maragall, in Joan Fuster's children's literary anthology Un món per a infants (A World for Children), which was published first in 1959, yet I got to know from the 1988 re-edition:

Veié un nin una roseta,
la roseta de bardissa,
fresca, bella i tan perfeta
que ell hi corre a la voreta:
mirar-la l’encisa,
la roseta vermelleta,
la roseta de bardissa.

Diu el nin: –T’arrencaré,
la roseta de bardissa.─
La roseta: ─Pensa-ho bé:
el danyar no em plau a fe,
pro sóc punxadissa─,
la roseta vermelleta,
la roseta de bardissa.

El dolent la va arrencar,
la roseta de bardissa.
La roseta el va punxar.
Ai, quins plors, quin gemegar!
Era punxadissa
la roseta vermelleta,
la roseta de bardissa.

Here is my own translation of the same Lied directly from the German into English, which I have used as a leitmotif in the Baratheon Saga. Coincidentally, the Austrian composer who put formidable and heartwarming music to these verses, Franz Schubert, was born on a 31st of January just like yours truly...

Saw a lad a rose in bloom, 
blooming on the heathland, 
young and fair, just like the morn.
He ran closer, seeing no thorn,
and beheld it, pleased lad.
Little scarlet heathland rose,
little wild and red rose!

Quoth the lad: "I'll now pick thee,
little wild and red rose!"
Quoth the rose: "I'll pierce your skin,
you'll remember, thus, your sin,
I will not regret woes!"
Little scarlet heathland rose,
little wild and red rose!

And the wild lad fiercely picked
little wild and red rose!
Red rose did herself defend,
young lad cried, to no good end,
in her, no regret rose!
Little scarlet heathland rose,
little wild and red rose!

The Rammstein song Rosenrot also draws inspiration from this Lied, which is rather popular in the Germanosphere.

In the Burrow library, there were also a few works in Valencian (our local Catalan dialect) that caught my eye; one of them was Saps què? (Do You Know?), a children's anthology published by the Generalitat Valenciana (the regional government) and penned and illustrated by the author group Mercuri Quatre in 1987. This portrayal of a quaint village square in our native Mediterranean has stuck with me ever since:

El meu poble té vint cases
moltes juntes en una plaça
i totes, noves o antigues,
es recolzen l'una a l'altra,
si vols saber d'on et parle
és la Plaça la Magrana.

No es troba mai tota sola
sempre està acompanyada,
xiquets juguen a pilota
una vella ruixa i agrana,
dos homes riuen i xarren
i la Tonica fa calça.

En arribar una festa
la plaça es vesteix de gala
paperets de color l'ornen,
és centre de joc i dansa
i en sentir música acudeix
una gentada a ballar-la.

La Plaça esclata de joia,
la festa ja és arribada
i allò que més l'acontenta
és la gent amuntegada
que li recorda els rojos grans
tan dolços de la magrana.

The versions best known worldwide of the Half-Chick are most surely Édouard de Laboulaye's and  the one Englished by Andrew Lang. Antonio Rodríguez Almodóvar's Medio Pollito is also known nationwide throughout Spain. But the version I grew up with was obviously the Valencian one gleaned by Enric Valor. While the more well-known versions star a juvenile chick who hatched like half the Cloven Viscount, with one eye, one wing, one leg, half a beak, half a head, and half a torso (thus rousing the question of whether he was a left half or a right half!), I grew up with a hero whose sobriquet of Half-Chick was due to, let us quote Valor, being "no longer a chick, and not yet a grown rooster." In other words, an adolescent. His defiance of the King, the archetypal father figure, and unlikely alliances with rivers (forces of nature), axes (forces of technology), and foxes (natural predators) as means to that end, had a profound impact on little Sandra... I also came across this story for the first time in Joan Fuster's children's literary anthology Un món per a infants (A World for Children), which was published first in 1959, yet I got to know from the 1988 re-edition:

Once upon a time, there was a little farm in the mountains, where there lived an old childless married couple, who devoted themselves mainly to raising poultry. White hens, black hens, spotted ginger hens, mammoth fighting-roosters, little English bantams with long tails pointing upwards, crowds of chirping little chicks, and fluffy mother hens. Long story short, that was all that was frequently seen around the farm and the surrounding meadows, where they never left a brick in the wall.
The snag is that the little old lady knew each and every one of all the chickens she raised; and one might as well say she had baptised them all and never called anyone of them by the wrong name.
On one certain day in May, at ten o'clock in the morn, the old lady came out of home onto the yard to feed them a fistful of maize corn and a hefty helping of boiled rice, as she usually did every morning at ten sharp for their breakfast.
"Pull, pull, pull..." she began to cluck.
And in began to storm the poultry from all four directions! Some of them across rivers, others down the hills, and some others from behind the farmhouse... And, when all of them were crowded around her as usual, she scattered the corn among them and left the little rice-basket on the ground.
And still there was something that surprised her: there was a half-chick, a quite bright-plumed and gallant one, who did not cut into the crowd of all the others, like a rude impatient fellow in a queue, plunging head first into the rice and snatching the grains of rice from under the others' wattles while they quarrelled. No sirree.
"What are you doing? You don't eat..." the old lady wondered, shoving him into the crowd. But the Half-Chick, in response, uttered "cluck, cluck" in quite a significant, defiant manner and detached himself even more from the other chickens.
"What kind of chicken is this?" the old lady asked herself. "This one is not mine at all!" This was the truth: she had never seen that newcomer before. She had to set grain aside for the Half-Chick to eat, and then, she asked around the surrounding farms if anyone was missing a half-chick, no longer a chick, and not yet a grown rooster. That is, what they call an adolescent chicken in those parts is a "half-chick." Alas, no one could tell her that they were missing one.
Thus the Half-Chick spent a few weeks, fortnights, on his own, fending for himself. Looking for his own food whenever he was hungry, as the old lady on the farm still insisted that he better had some of her grain. And one morning, at the edge of the courtyard, he began to dig for worms in the soil beside the haystack. And digging and digging, and then digging some more, his little legs brought to the light of the sun a little glittering metallic thing. Four times he pecked at it, and, when it was half-clean, he realised that it was a coin of gold!
"Cockadoodledoo!" he crowed in excitement, raising his comb to the sky, and standing on tip-talon:

"I am the one who digging, 't should be told,
in a yard has found a coin of gold!"

And thus, without further ado, he put the coin in his beak and, allez-hop! Off to the royal court! He turns around and waves the little farm goodbye, then saunters straight on strutting down the path, and up hills and down hills, and up wadis and down wadis, merrily on towards the King's place. Every now and then, he would let out a loud "cockadoodledoo!", and then began to chant this little song:

"I'm off to woo the daughter of the King;
I'm rich, I bring the metal for her ring:
I am the one who digging, 't should be told,
in a yard has found a coin of gold!"

So he reached a woodland or forest on low ground, and came across a river, which, as soon as it saw the Half-Chick, began to murmur:

"Whither are you going, Half-Chick?"
"I'm off to woo the daughter of the King;
I'm rich, I bring the metal for her ring:
I am the one who digging, 't should be told,
in a yard has found a coin of gold!"

Thus replied the Half-Chick in song.
"Only if I can let you pass," the River murmured in a deep voice.
"Enter through my beak!" the Half-Chick commanded.
And... gulp-gulp-gulp! He began to swallow the water, to chug, to quaff... and in the end he left the riverbed dry. Golly, he was thirsty! And all the River he had inside the gizzard!

But he was not feeling waterlogged at all... With a hop, a skip, and a jump, crowing his lively songs and his merry "cockadoodledoos," into the air, he kept on walking towards the royal castle.
Little by little, the path led through the depths of another forest, and there the Half-Chick came across an axe, which was doing nothing but chopping at the surrounding pine trees left and right.
"Whither are you going, feathered stranger?" clanked the Axe.

"I'm off to woo the daughter of the King;
I'm rich, I bring the metal for her ring:
I am the one who digging, 't should be told,
in a yard has found a coin of gold!"
"Only if I can let you pass," the Axe clanked in a deep voice, "for I may cleave you in twain if I please."
"Enter through my beak!" the Half-Chick commanded.
And there we have the Axe flying through the air and disappearing into the beak of the Half-Chick!

Soon, he arrived in a mountain range full of burrows, and out from the biggest burrow of them all comes a vixen, a female fox, who already with her amber eyes seemed to devour the Half-Chick.
"Om nom nom... Whither are you going, my scrumptious morsel...?"

"I'm off to woo the daughter of the King;
I'm rich, I bring the metal for her ring:
I am the one who digging, 't should be told,
in a yard has found a coin of gold!"

"One moment... That will only be if I let you pass, without you getting a single nibble!"
"Enter through my beak!" 
And the Half-Chick swallowed the Vixen whole in the blinking of an eye!

As happy as a dog with a ham bone, the Half-Chick reached, in the end, the royal castle, and in a flutter he flew up to perch on top of the wrought-iron garden gate.

"I'm off to woo the daughter of the King;
I'm rich, I bring the metal for her ring:
I am the one who digging, 't should be told,
in a yard has found a coin of gold!"

And the King, who was out for a stroll through his gardens, heard it, and, full of indignation, he shouted: "GUARDS! GUARDS!! GUARDS!!!"
When the guards stood before the King, reporting for duty, he commanded:
"Look at this pretentious Half-Chick...! Seize him and lock him up in the coop of the royal fighting-roosters! They are such big, arrogant bullies that they will surely tear him to shreds..."
Said and done. A soldier caught the Half-Chick, and wham! Locked up in the coop of the fighting-roosters! When the Half-Chick found himself surrounded by those big fierce bullies, he told the Vixen he still carried inside:
"Out, Vixen! Now is your chance!"
Out comes the Vixen, and she began to devour the juicy fighting-roosters, and, when she was satisfied, she picked the lock to the coop with her claw, and fled back into the woods.
The Half-Chick, whom the Vixen had not harmed at all, left through the open door (the guard to whom the coop was entrusted was having a siesta against the coop fence), and perched once more on top of the wrought-iron garden gate.

"I'm off to woo the daughter of the King;
I'm rich, I bring the metal for her ring:
I am the one who digging, 't should be told,
in a yard has found a coin of gold!"

Once more he caught the King's attention, and once more the same command was shouted in a rage: "GUARDS! GUARDS!! GUARDS!!!"
"Seize him! Seize this accursed Half-Chick! Don't let him escape once more. Toss him into our largest oil jar, and caulk the cork lid tightly!"
All the soldiers together seize the poor chicken and toss him into their biggest oil jar; there the Half-Chick was sent to die, drowned in malodorous rancid olive oil. But, as soon as he has seen and heard the soldiers caulk the cork lid as tightly as they can, he calls the Axe inside him:
"Out, Axe! Now is your chance!"
Out comes the Axe and, chip-chop!, it shatters with a mighty stroke the enormous oil jar, and the Half-Chick escapes, and returns once more to his customary perch upon the wrought-iron garden gate:

"I'm off to woo the daughter of the King;
I'm rich, I bring the metal for her ring:
I am the one who digging, 't should be told,
in a yard has found a coin of gold!"

And, once more, the King lost his patience.
"GUARDS! GUARDS!! GUARDS, TO ME!!! Heap up firewood on the execution grounds, tie him to a stake in the middle, and burn him alive! Run, run, don't let him escape the third time! Third time's the charm; the scoundrel can't escape..."
And a proclamation is published, for all the townspeople to come out to the execution grounds to watch the burning at the stake of a half-chick who ambitioned no more and no less than to marry the royals' only daughter. The victim, already tied to the stake, could already hear the spectators' comments:

"That's what he deserves! For daring to offend the Crown like that..."
"A friend of a friend of a little birdy told me that he went around saying he's wealthier than our Ruler..."
"To the fire!! TO THE FIRE!!!"
"Think of that! How should the Crown Princess marry such a bantam, who has barely grown his spurs?"

The Half-Chick let them all rant and rave, and did not open his beak to breathe a single "cluck;" and all the servants had already prepared the seat-stand for the royal family and court, who had come all of them dressed to the nines to watch the execution from their privileged spot. As soon as the King, the Queen, and the Princess had taken their seats, a soldier with a flaming torch in hand walked up to the bonfire and threw his torch on the kindling. And the kindling begins to crackle all around, crickle crackle, while the crowds stood in awe with gaping mouths:
Amidst the crackling flames was heard the little voice of the Half-Chick, who gave this order:
"River, now it's your chance!"
And the River gushes out from his little beak and quenches the bonfire in two flicks of a lamb's tail, and lunges as a powerful wave against the royal seat-stand; and soon all the onlookers are in freshwater up to their thighs, and forth rolls the River through the realm, flooding orchards and pathways in its wake.

The Half-Chick, all tranquil, cuts his ties with his beak in a blink of an eye and stares at the execution grounds, which have been left half empty, and he can only see the King, the Queen, and the Princess, all three floating in their wooden seat-stand as if aboard Noah's Ark.
"Cockadoodledoo! I'm off to woo the daughter of the..." He begins to sing again, but the monarch will not let him finish; however, the Queen takes her husband by the hand and whispers something in his ear, and then, now more soothed and mellow, the King calls the Half-Chick and says:
"Stop... stop, Half-Chick; I surrender! You have won this war..."
"And, if you please, you may marry our daughter," the Queen chimes in.

The next day, the wedding was celebrated in the great cathedral; all the bells were pealing and an enormous crowd had gathered before the church to catch a glimpse of the royal newlyweds.
Such enthusiasm! The Half-Chick, standing as upright as he could, and holding his left wing in the bride's right hand, advances solemnly and full of confidence. And saluting everyone, as all the people marvel at the fact that such a lovely and svelte Crown Princess had been able to wed a middling Half-Chick, no matter how loud or how bold he might be.

In the nighttime, as the newlyweds retire to their bedchamber, the Princess begins to stroke, with her lily-hand, the Half-Chick's soft little head. Suddenly she finds that among the plumage at the nape of his neck, behind the comb, he has something little, hard, and round like a grain. She takes a closer peek and sees, surprised, that it's a shiny little thing. And, in the meantime, the Half-Chick all still and relaxed, not feeling anything like bothered. And the Princess seizes that little thing that turns out to be the head of a hat-pin, and she pulls it out, and she pulls it out... and out of the graceful head issues forth this hat-pin, little by little... and, when the whole pin is finally taken out, KABOOM!! An explosion like thunder can be heard, and the bedchamber fills with bluish smoke, and the Half-Chick is turned to a dashing Prince, who addresses her with elation (and in verse):

"Fair Princess, long preceded by your fame,
for you my heart was set on fire and flame.
To thank you not enough words I can tell
for setting me free from this magic spell.
I am a King's son, heir to a great power,
and your spouse, too, since just more than an hour...
if right now, in my human form, still you
confirm, when I was Half-Chick, your 'I do...'"
"Oh I do, I do, I do, I do, I do!" Of course the Princess could not be happier about this wonderful change, and thus, the two of them lived many years in perfect happiness.




This is an excerpt of Stranalandia (Extrañalandia in the Spanish translation), a fantasy zoological compendium by Italian author Stefano Benni, an excerpt which I first read as a unit-initial reading in another Anaya coursebook, this one from the early 90s (those vintage grammar textbooks had some very interesting reads, not like today...):

Tennis Bear (Ursus wimbledon)
According to Stephen Lupus, this plantigrade originated in Australia, yet currently it is only endemic to Strangeland. Mother Nature has predisposed it for tennis-playing: note the racket-shaped ears and the characteristic tennis sneakers on the hind feet. Tennis bears spend hours and hours on the red beaches of Seaslug Bay playing tennis against one another (Lupus counted up to 128 individuals).
The rules of bear tennis are quite similar to those of human tennis, the only difference being the lack of an umpire, since these plantigrades are endowed with an extraordinary Olympic spirit and rarely protest upon losing a match. Only in the case of severe errors do the bears get irate and perform a "zok," their counterpart of throwing the racket on the ground. Since the racket is one of its ears, the angry bear throws a large pumpkin on the ground and roars "ZOK!" (which means, more or less, "curses!") During mating season, they arrange mixed doubles matches: a male and a female on every team.
The tennis level of these plantigrades is excellent: Lupus tried to challenge one of them to a match, using himself a rudimentary wooden racket with calamari tentacle strings, and he lost game, set, and match with a score of six love (6-0). Only then did he realize that Oswaldo (a hobbit-like humanoid native to Strangeland) had eaten the strings of his racket.



Another great story from the Anaya Sol y Luna coursebooks, this time from the Castilian counterpart (Lengua 3º) of the book whose Catalan version contained the MSND scene. I was, on one hand, disappointed, by the lack of Shakespeare, but, on the other, I learned to know a new kind of magical creatures: the davirones (created by a genial Pilar Mateos), hairy asexuated tailed kobolds, similar to trolls or Moomins (anyway, Moomins are a subspecies of trolls), that live in treetops in the woodland pocket dimension of Daviroland (Davirolandia). Furthermore, feeling different emotions makes davirones change colour: for instance, they turn literally yellow with fear or green with envy. This is the initial reading of Unit , aptly titled "¿Cómo es un davirón?" ("What does a Davirón Look Like?"):

1. Do Children Exist?
Quite far away from home, far beyond the railway station and the candy figurine factory, across the seven highway bridges and through the vast expanse of the chestnut woods, there is a secret place where no buses ever arrive and where not even a single TV advert has been broadcast. 
At first sight, it looks like any other place that there may be out there. A vast meadow, by the riverside, where those yellow flowers we call dandelions grow in high amounts, as well as several good-sized trees. Some wild goats usually graze among the underbrush. That's all, folks. One might as well say that this territory boasts of nothing in particular. Yet appearances are not to be trusted, for there dwells the only surviving family of davirones that exists on Earth.
Davirones, would you believe it?, have never seen a human child, ever, in all their lives. There are even some davirones, the most mistrustful ones, who are convinced that children do not exist.
"They don't exist, no sirree. My dad says those are dragon tales."
"You mean children tales."
"Exactly, children tales."
"And still once someone told me that once a davirón fell asleep among the ferns... and saw, passing by, a boy child who was skipping like a magpie."
"I don't believe that."
"Well, he saw that boy child. And at least he hopped four times. He ate a fern, and then went for a walk along the riverbank."
"And what was that child like?"
"He had a nose."
"A nose?"
Davirones don't shut their eyes like we people do, joining top lid to bottom lid; instead, they open and shut their left and right eyelids, like shutters on a window, and, each and every time they blink, they form currents of air that frazzle and stun the butterflies.
"Among the ferns; I have just said..."
"Where did that child have his nose?"
"Ah... Don't know. I was never told that."
"I know something else," replied a short davirón in a confidential air. And all their heads were turned in the same direction, full of curiosity.
Davirones do not grow to attain a great height; the tallest are about the size of a fox-terrier standing on its hindquarters. No one knows why, but there are many short davirones. The speaker in this conversation was one of those, and yet he had the record among the cadets in the 100 meter dash, which by davirón standards is a good mark indeed, given how excellent runners they are.
"But promise me first you won't tell anyone," he demanded.
All of his companions, without a single exception, readied themselves to promise whatever it took, as long as they could find out more about that mysterious affair.
The short davirón approached the group a little and cleared his throat:
"It was on the day I was allotted to gather our ration of nuts. The basket was already full, and, being hungry, I ate some. Not many, only three. Then, I made boats out of the nutshells and cast them into the river. And the stream carried them away. Then I went back for more. And, when I was the most absent-minded, I heard a voice coming from the path, and it was not a duck, nor a goat, nor a swallow (vencejo)."
"An extraterrestrial alien's voice?"
"Yes," the speaker davirón nodded. "An extraterrestrial alien's voice."
Presently, a thick cloud obscured the sun. Without realising it, his companions were clustering all together, huddled close to each other.
"And what happened then?"
"I looked at the path, and there, close to the mouse-stone, there was a pretty weird thing with two wheels, one at the front and one at the back."
The air was still, and all the white cabbage butterflies were resting. Not a single davirón was blinking.
"I am sure it was a boy child," the shorty said.
"Did that thing have a nose?"
"It seems it had one."
"Then it was a boy child."
"I never heard that boy children had wheels," a voice was raised in protest.
"No wheels?" another voice instantly replied. "It's girl children who don't have any wheels."
"And what do girl children have got?"
"Eyes. Several pairs of eyes scattered all over the face. Some of them green, some of them blue, some of them brown..."
"So, boy children and girl children are not equal?"
Male and female davirones are ostensibly equal in appearance. Nothing on the outside can tell them apart. And, as long as they are little ones, this issue does not bother them at all. When they come of age and it's time to raise a family, each individual chooses what they want to be.
"I want to be a boy," some of them say.
"I want to be a girl," others say of themselves.
Well, they say "male" and "female." I said "boy" and "girl" only so the little ones among you may understand. Then, the males grow whiskers, long and thin and catlike ones, and the females have baby davirones. Anyway, no one there does military service and no one has more power than anyone else. And, furthermore, it may be by chance that there is always the same number of males and of females.
How could it be, then, that boy children and girl children were different?
"They are different. Girl children have softer feet, and they melt in the hot sun."
"And they shrink in water."
"Boy children do not?"
"Boy children do not. What matters about boy children is that their colour rubs off. If you touch a boy child, you get stained with ink."
"And an electric shock too."
"I would like to see that," said the tallest davirón, the one who had assured that all that jazz was dragon tales.
"Me not," replied the fraidiest one. "If I ever see a child, I get so scared I turn yellow."
When davirones get frightened, they turn completely yellow, from hair to tail-tip. They have a little fluffy tail, davirones. When they are happy, they turn bright red, and, if they make up their mind to think a lot about something, they turn blue, sky-blue. It is hard indeed to precise their natural colour, for they are always changing. In general, one may say they are a cinnamon or ginger hue; some of them have white hands and a white splodge on their bellies. Every now and then, a black-furred davirón is born, just like anywhere. And this one is very well-received, for they like the fact that there are different people. Those who have the worst luck are the shyest ones, who turn quite the intense shade of orange with shame, and that makes them twice as visible.
"And these children, what colour might they be?"
"Children are quite odd. They are striped."
"No sirree. They are checkered."
"The one I saw was shiny. And his wheels were blue."
"Children have no wheels. I have never heard that children had wheels."
"But they eat ferns, for I have seen them do it."
"That's right. And they run obstacle races. And they whinny."
"What d'you say? Those are horses."
In Daviroland, there were no horses to be seen either. There were several kinds of fish in the river, and red squirrels in high amounts all over the place; that was why it was so important to finish the nut harvest first, before the squirrels made short work of it. Some satin-furred goats gambolled in the grass. The davirones had tamed them. And, thanks to the milk they got from the nanny-goats and the great snowfalls of the winter, they were masters in the art of ice-cream making. The davirones ate ice cream in winter and hot soup in summer. They loved partridge eggs, fried on a flat rock under the hot sun.
"Children eat goats," one davirón said.
"Golly, what brutes! They'd choke on the horns."
"Anyway," the fraidy davirón gave his opinion, "I don't like talking about these things right before bedtime."
And it was already getting dark. Slowly, quite slowly, looking quietly towards the path and watching among the ferns, lest a child should suddenly appear and give them a fright, the little davirones went to sleep, and the meadow was left in silence.

2. The Mystery of Laughter
Davirones live inside hollow treetrunks. They pick good-sized trees and have them quite well-furnished, two or three stories or floors high, for the little ones not to trouble the light sleep of the seniors. The little ones usually sleep in the attic, which is their favourite place at home. There, they can fight their pillow fights and play hide-and-seek without anyone bothering them, and take a peep upwards to see what the songbirds are doing, if they are eating or not, and if the lagging chick in the last egg has already hatched.
That night, however, Davi-davirón did not want to climb up to the attic. He said he was afraid and wanted to sleep with Granny. And his one year older brother gave the same excuse. 
"I'm afraid. I want to sleep with Granny."
And their grandmother hastened to make place for them in her bed, for she was always pampering and even spoiling them. If that was not enough, she gave them in secret a good-sized ration of mint ice cream that she had been saving for the weekend, so that both the kids wound up all dirty with liquid ice and left the bed sheets equally sticky. Davirones, we have to explain everything, are quite the messy lot, and it does not bother them at all to get stained with mud or with ink, and much less with mint ice cream.
The fact that they were afraid that night was just a simple excuse. But what was true was that they were dying of curiosity and wanted to ask Granny something. Granny, not their parents, no, because their parents always sent them right off to look up the answer in the dictionary. That was the reason why they asked her in the first place:
"Is it true that children exist?"
This grandmother davirona was among the brightest ones in the whole territory, and never in her life had she told a lie. That and the fact that she had just turned one hundred and seventy, and thus, chances to fib she had not had a few.
"'Tis true," she nodded. "Children do exist."
The two siblings sat down on the bed, completely green from hair to tail-tip, because the colour of curiosity is green. Thanks to that happy coincidence, those splodges of mint ice cream on them could not be noticed.
"And what are they like?"
Grandmothers nearly always keep the original colour of davirones, which is a clear shade of cinnamon or ginger, as we have said before, due to the fact that they take everything easy, keeping a lot of calm, and only lose their nerves when they lose their nail-clipping scissors. Then, they turn purple with fury.
"I saw them one day," she said in a tranquil voice, "when I was like you, a little older than you are now. I saw three children sailing downstream down the river, all three on a rowboat."
"Did they have got any wheels?"
"Those I saw? No," Granny replied.
She kept silence for a while and then added, whispering:
"They laughed."
"They... laughed?"
Such a great silence ensued that the songbirds were heard to stir in their nests, and the rustling of the leaves grew like a thunderstorm.
"And what is that?"
"That is when they get the laughter," Granny said.
Laughter! The two siblings looked at one another, astonished. Never had they heard that word. Davirones never laugh, and that is the only thing they are missing to be entirely and completely happy. For everything else, they gather all the conditions of happy people. They are very generous and never cease to play, no matter how old they grow. They are busy and active sometimes, and very idly lazy in other moments. They are convinced that everyone tells the truth and that everyone is well-intentioned.
"And what is laughter?"
The poor grandmother did not know how to explain it.
"I don't know how to say it."
"Is it like the ding-dong of a bell?"
"Nearly, but no, it isn't."
"Is it like the sun when it shimmers and ripples on the water?"
"Nearly, but no, it isn't."
"Like the rose garden in summer?"
"Nearly, but no, it isn't."
The two little davirones stayed thinking for a good while.
"Like having a musical box inside your heart?"
"Nearly, nearly," said Granny, "but no, it isn't."
It must be something so fantastic that there was not a single way to express it with words; something far more difficult to say than "honorificabilitudinitatibus" or "photosynthesis." What could children ever laugh at, if this was so complicated?
"The simple ones laugh at other children. The happy ones laugh with other children. And the clever ones laugh at themselves."
"And we... why cannot we laugh?"
"Because we do not know how," Granny replied. "It has always been this way."
Suddenly, the little davirones turned transparent, absolutely transparent, for that is the no-colour of sadness. That was because they had just realised that something fundamental was missing from their lives, and that, without it, it was not worthwhile to slide down a slide, or to crack jokes, or to stick an adhesive sign to a companion's back. For that reason, the jokes cracked by davirones wound up being so bland, and no one could find the punchline.
"Will we never be able to laugh?"
"It has always been this way," Granny insisted, "and no davirón has ever complained about it. After all, we are rather happy at the end of the day."
"But I want to laugh," said Davi-davirón.
"And how?" asked his brother. "For that, one needs to know."
"Then, I shall be taught."
"And who will teach you?" Granny intervened. "In Daviroland, there is no one who knows how to laugh. Not even Davironorio, the wise old sage, has succeeded in learning to smile. And that despite the fact that he knows fifty-two different ways to stumble upon a rock."
"Then, he is not that wise or worthy of being a sage," Davi-davirón frowned.
He was so transparent, out of sheer sorrow, that right through him one could see the little flower pattern on the bed sheets, and the brittle white lace on the big pillows stained with mint ice cream. But suddenly he began to turn sky-blue, a gradually more and more intense shade. And that was because he was thinking.

Pilar Mateos, in the prologue to the novel, explains the making of the davirones in her own terms:

It is a truth that you and me have never gone together to ride a bike, or watch a comedy film, or take a donkey ride in the mountains. And you have never invited me to your birthday party. But that does not mean that we are two strangers to one another. I have got the feeling that I know a good deal of things about you. I know that you are clever, and that you have a sense of humour; and that you love it when, every now and then, something new happens, something different from the everyday. Surely, this year you have learned twice as much as the last year, and you have gone through quite a growth spurt. And I bet whatever you please that you have already discovered that words are magical, and that they are endowed with surprising powers. The power to reproduce, for instance, to have children and form families, to create villages, peoples, stories, worlds, feelings.
Even an insignificant word, the one with the shyest of looks, is able to arrange a mess for you as soon as you lower your guard (a poco que te descuides).
This is exactly what happened with this story.
At first, the davirón was but a noun or name, a sound with a more or less charming ring to it, but I did not know what lay within until I popped my head in, leaned forwards a little not to crash with the long stick of the lower-case d, and began walking through the insides.
And there were all of them. The davirona grandmother, the elephant, the guest-friendly girl child, and that go-getter, slightly giddy little person, who in a muddle walks the streets, mistaking traffic lights for church towers, dodging mistrustfully each and every mailbox, lest they should bite, and trying to guess whether street lights are edible or not.
It was such fun to find them there; some kind of game which works without batteries, any time any place. You can try it yourself as well, if you please.
Invent a word you like and peek fearlessly inside it, push the door, walk down the stairs, and...
Your word has no stairs? Does it lead straight to a wild beach, to a football pitch, to a hidden forest where mysterious laughter can be heard from high up in the treetops...?
Then: ¡adelante! Dare to get in there. Who knows what you'll find!



First things first: Santiago de Cuba was the hometown of my maternal grandparents, bless their souls. It's the "eye of the gator." (Cubans see their island as alligator-shaped, and Santiago lies where the eye of the gator should be; much like Castellón is the "eye of Hispania or Iberia" if one sees the Iberian Peninsula as a female profile) They fled with their only daughter Elena to Spain due to the Revolution. But still they spoke with a lot of nostalgia of the colonial elite (plantation owner and intelligentsia) world they had left behind, of their paradise lost. I owe a lot to them, all my homeschooled education, leading up to my university degree. They never returned to Santiago. Moreover, they were deceased for a lustrum when Fidel shuffled off his mortal coil (the dictator outlived them!). And I am most likely to never leave Europe.
Now this poem was my introduction to García Lorca. Serious as Sirius Black. I first saw it in a Senda 7 textbook. A textbook in Literature for high-school teens that I read as a six-year-old. I was struck by the rhythm and the surreal whimsy of these verses: like... the plantain, or male banana ("plátano macho") wishing to be a sea jelly, so soft and translucent and floppy and unphallic? A car made of black water? Romeo and Juliet? A harp of living tree trunks, a coral in the darkness (a luminescent coral in the midnight zone of the Caribbean)...? And this throbbing rhythm...

Cuando llegue la luna llena 
iré a Santiago de Cuba, 
iré a Santiago, 
en un coche de agua negra. 
Iré a Santiago. 
Cantarán los techos de palmera. 
Iré a Santiago. 
Cuando la palma quiere ser cigüeña, 
iré a Santiago. 
Y cuando quiere ser medusa el plátano, 
iré a Santiago. 
Iré a Santiago 
con la rubia cabeza de Fonseca. 
Iré a Santiago. 
Y con la rosa de Romeo y Julieta 
iré a Santiago. 
¡Oh Cuba! ¡Oh ritmo de semillas secas! 
Iré a Santiago. 
¡Oh cintura caliente y gota de madera! 
Iré a Santiago. 
¡Arpa de troncos vivos, caimán, flor de tabaco! 
Iré a Santiago. 
Siempre he dicho que yo iría a Santiago 
en un coche de agua negra. 
Iré a Santiago. 
Brisa y alcohol en las ruedas, 
iré a Santiago. 
Mi coral en la tiniebla, 
iré a Santiago. 
El mar ahogado en la arena, 
iré a Santiago, 
calor blanco, fruta muerta, 
iré a Santiago. 
¡Oh bovino frescor de calaveras! 
¡Oh Cuba! ¡Oh curva de suspiro y barro! 
Iré a Santiago.


One thing that surely made my granny Ana, bless her soul, wince (aside from communists, socialists, Buddhists, and frogs) was boxing. She said it was a barbarians' sport, uncouth and too violent. However, Camilo José Cela was one of the Spanish authors she praised and adored the most, recommending me to read Cela, who wrote the prologues to my preschool-age Gloria Fuertes poetry books. At El Cau they had a little Cela book from that deep-green-with-golden-letters Renfe book collection (Biblioteca de Literatura Universal), Café de artistas y otros papeles volanderos. It contained the Franco-era anthem of the Spanish Boxing Federation, in the Voltairian essay "Lecturas para el desayuno" ("Breakfast Reads") that quickly became my favourite -- among other things, for listing the left- and right-wing newspapers of each Spanish region (the Levante and Las Provincias that Cela gives for my own Valencia Region are still being published and read) and this anthem, a heartily welcomed song as a breather from his chaotic prose, that I happened to learn by heart and remember through the years (and now I'm 24!). Since I haven't found the tune, I sing it to the tune I composed in my childhood: the first four stanzas to the Imperial March of Star Wars and the two latter to the refrain of La Marseillaise (¡Arri-i-iii-ba boxeado-o-ooor!). Here is the fragment, putting the boxing anthem into context to understand the profound sass and irony of the author:

Pero no todo ha de ser calamidad ajena a la hora de la delicia del desayuno propio. El espíritu también hace acto de presencia en las páginas concebidas para la digestión, y la poesía está latente en ellas. Véase, si no, el himno de la Federación Española de Boxeo, del que nos instruye la prensa.

Bravo y leal,
siempre señor,
por los caminos del deporte
va el boxeador.

Noble ademán
del vencedor,
cuando la mano da al vencido
de corazón.

Fuerza y valor,
lucha y ardor,
son la bandera, santo y seña
del boxeador.

Un nuevo amanecer
brota con nuevo sol,
premio a la fe y a la ilusión
del boxeador.

¡Arriba, boxeador!
Tu victoria responde a tu honor.
¡Arriba, boxeador!
Eres reflejo de la historia de lo español.

¡Arriba, boxeador!
Siempre a luchar,
siempre a vencer,
va el boxeador.
¡Arriba, boxeador!

El himno no puede ser más sentido y emocionante, y de él puede decirse, sin miedo al error, que agrada a todos los españoles, con la sola excepción de los espíritus derrotistas y enemigos de la crítica constructiva, que tampoco faltan entre nosotros. De lo que ya no nos informa el periódico es si fue o no fue cantado en la olimpiada de Méjico (sic), después de las tundas que nos dieron, no los caballerosos púgiles adversos, sino la altura sobre el nivel del mar y las lamentables actuaciones de los árbitros, impropias del espíritu olímpico.


Another book that was available at the Burrow library was Calderón de la Barca's masterpiece. The whole play being in verse, I gladly learned some passages by heart as well. This is one such passage of those I still know by heart: the cupbearer/royal advisor telling the king how he drugged the crown prince, locked in a keep way out in the provinces, to convey him back to the royal palace in a carriage:

Viéndole ya enfurecido
           con esto, que ha sido el tema
           de su dolor, le brindé     
           con la pócima, y apenas
           pasó desde el vaso al pecho
           el licor, cuando las fuerzas
           rindió al sueño, discurriendo
           por los miembros y las venas 
           un sudor frío, de modo
           que, a no saber yo que era
           muerte fingida, dudara
           de su vida.  En esto llegan
           las gentes de quien tú fías   
           el valor de esta experiencia,
The official English translation goes like this:

This, his usual theme of grief,
having roused him nigh to madness,
I occasion took to proffer
the drugged draught: he drank, but hardly
had the liquor from the vessel
passed into his breast, when fastest
sleep his senses seized, a sweat,
cold as ice, the life-blood hardened
in his veins, his limbs grew stiff,
so that, knew I not 'twas acted,
death was there, feigned death, his life
I could doubt not had departed.

There are two Dermarkian translations, one I have done in pentameter (think Shakespeare) and one in ballad meter (think The Rains of Castamere; in fact, it suits best to be sung to that tune):


Thus, since I had brought forth the cause of what
troubled him, into fury soon he burst.
I saw this, and upon that I relied,
and reached the draught to him; he seized the cup,
and barely had the prince this liquor downed,
not yet washed down his throat into his chest,
when, suddenly, all strength forsook his frame,
and a cold sweat ran through his every vein,
his blood freezing to ice; if I knew not 
his death were counterfeit, I'd surely doubt
that he, pale, cold, and breathless, was alive.


And thus, since I'd opened his wounds,
he could not hold his rage,
I saw 'twas time to reach the draught:
as thought, was set the stage.

No sooner was the liquor strong
washed down into his chest,
that he felt sapped of all his strength,
and thus, lay down to rest.

Through every vein his blood ran cold,
a cold sweat drenched his skin...
if I knew not the truth, I'd swear
there was no life within.

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