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Sensuous (Scentuous) Excerpts from One Hundred Years of Solitude
Every few summers I try to tackle Gabriel García Marquez’s novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, but have never made it more than two-thirds of the way through. Still, the effort is always worthwhile, as there is a richness of detail in so many of the passages, like the ones below about Remedios the Beauty, a character who has her own impressive sillage (“a fatal emanation”).
Remedios the Beauty was the only one who was immune to the banana plague. She was becalmed in a magnificent adolescence, more and more impenetrable to formality, more and more indifferent to malice and suspicion, happy in her own world of simple realities. She did not understand why women complicated their lives with corsets and petticoats, so she sewed herself a coarse cassock that she simply put over her and without further difficulties resolved the problem of dress, without taking away the feeling of being naked, which according to her lights was the only decent way to be when at home. They bothered her so much to cut the rain of hair that already reached to her thighs and to make rolls with combs and braids with red ribbons that she simply shaved her head and used the hair to make wigs for the saints. The startling thing about her simplifying instinct was that the more she did away with fashion in a search for comfort and the more she passed over conventions as she obeyed spontaneity, the more disturbing her incredible beauty became and the more provocative she became to men….Until her last moment on earth she was unaware that her irreparable fate as a disturbing woman was a daily disaster. Every time she appeared in the dining room, against Ursula's orders, she caused a panic of exasperation among the outsiders. It was all too evident that she was completely naked underneath her crude nightshirt and no one could understand that her shaved and perfect skull was not some kind of challenge, and that the boldness with which she uncovered her thighs to cool off was not a criminal provocation, nor was her pleasure when she sucked her fingers after eating. What no member of the family ever knew was that the strangers did not take long to realize that Remedios the Beauty gave off a breath of perturbation, a tormenting breeze that was still perceptible several hours after she passed by. Men expert in the disturbances of love, experienced all over the world, stated that they had never suffered an anxiety similar to the one produced by the natural smell of Remedios the Beauty. On the porch with the begonias, in the parlor, in any place in the house, it was possible to point out the exact place where she had been and the time that had passed since she had left it. It was a definite, unmistakable trace that no one in the family could distinguish because it had been incorporated into the daily odors for a long time, but it was one that the outsiders identified immediately.
One day, as she began to bathe herself, a stranger lifted a tile from the roof and was breathless at the tremendous spectacle of her nudity. She saw his desolate eyes through the broken tiles and had no reaction of shame but rather one of alarm.
“Be careful,” she exclaimed. “You’ll fall.”
“I just wanted to see you,” the foreigner murmured.
“Oh, all right,” she said. “But be careful, those tiles are rotten.”
The stranger's face had a pained expression of stupor and he seemed to be battling silently against his primary instincts so as not to break up the mirage. Remedios the Beauty thought that he was suffering from the fear that the tiles would break and she bathed herself more quickly than usual so that the man would not be in danger….
“Let me soap you,” he murmured.
“Thank you for your good intentions,” she said, “but my two hands are quite enough.”
“Even if it’s just your back,” the foreigner begged.
“That would be silly,” she said. “People never soap their backs.”
Then, while she was drying herself, the stranger begged her, with his eyes full of tears, to marry him. She answered him sincerely that she would never marry a man who was so simple that he had wasted almost an hour and even went without lunch just to see a woman taking a bath. Finally, when she put on her cassock, the man could not bear the proof that, indeed, she was not wearing anything underneath, as everyone had suspected, and he felt himself marked forever with the white-hot iron of that secret. Then he took two more tiles off in order to drop down into the bathroom.
“It’s very high,” she warned him in fright. “You’ll kill yourself!”
The rotten tiles broke with a noise of disaster and the man barely had time to let out a cry of terror as he cracked his skull and was killed outright on the cement floor. The foreigners who heard the noise in the dining room and hastened to remove the body noticed the suffocating odor of Remedios the Beauty on his skin. It was so deep in his body that the cracks in his skull did not give off blood but an amber-colored oil that was impregnated with that secret perfume, and then they understood that the smell of Remedios the Beauty kept on torturing men beyond death, right down to the dust of their bones.
Although some men who were easy with their words said that it was worth sacrificing one’s life for a night of love with such an arousing woman, the truth was that no one made any effort to do so. Perhaps, not only to attain her but also to conjure away her dangers, all that was needed was a feeling as primitive and as simple as that of love, but that was the only thing that did not occur to anyone.†
Image is from the bookcover of One Hundred Years of Solitude, the HarperPerennial edition published in '91. Posted by Suzanne Keller, 6/5/2010.
†One Hundred Years of Solitude, English translation copyright © 1970 by Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. (HarperPerennial editon, New York, 1991, pp. 236-239 and 241)
Image is from the bookcover of One Hundred Years of Solitude, the HarperPerennial edition published in '91.
Posted by Suzanne Keller, 6/5/2010.
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