…si lo que es más preciado se esconde y lo más vil se deja expuesto,
¿acaso no es evidente que la sabiduría que se prohíbe ocultar es más vil que la locura que se manda esconder?
Erasmo, Elogio de la Locura

17 ene. 2011

María Elena Walsh and the Round Flower

On January the 10th María Elena Walsh died at 80 years old.

Liniers in his blog published a beautiful goodbye.
In other posts I expressed my admiration and care for her work (here and here).

But those times I talked about her music and poems, that's why today I'd like to remember one of her short stories. Or at least one of my favourites. It's deliciously ironic and sentimental at one time, funny and profound and has, no doubt, a perfect structure.

It is "El país de la Geometría" ("The Geometry Country"), first published in the 1974 short story collection El diablo inglés (The British Devil). Afterwards it was released, narrated by the author herself on the LP record Cuentopos, with music by Oscar Cardozo Ocampo.

Here it can be listened to (don't be fools silly fools and please do!) in this Uruguayan site.

And now the text:

The Geometry Country
Once upon a time there was a large white paper country. The king of this country was the compass. Why not?

The Compass. Here he comes with his two skinny legs: one  pricks and the other doesn’t.

Ho, ho, ho ho.
One pricks and the other doesn’t.
King Compass lived in a great palace made of cardboard shaped like an icosahedron, with eighteen little windows
Any one of us would have been happy to live in a palace like that, but not King Compass.

Because to be happy and completely a king he needed to find the famous Round Flower.

Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho
Not without the Round Flower.

King Compass had a mighty Army of Diamonds, a Guard of flashy Triangles, a Police Squadron of hefty Trapezoids, a Sindicate of elegant straight lines, but… he lacked the main thing. To own the famous Round Flower.
The King had planted in his patio two vertical Parallels that served as watchmen. The Parallels grew, grew and grew...
Frequently the King climbed on them to scan the horizon to see if someone was bringing the Flower, but nobody did.

He had sent forth hundreds of expeditions to search for her and nobody had been able to find her.

One day the Captain of the Diamonds had asked him:

“And what is the use of that flower, Mr. King?”
“Fool, silly Fool!” Thundered the King. “Only silly fools ask what a flower’s use is!”

And Captain Diamond, afraid that the King might prick him, slowly slided out of the door sideways.
Another day, the Commanders of the Triangles asked him:
“We’ve covered all the angles of the country without finding her, Mr. King. We almost believe she doesn’t exist. Might I ask, what is the use of this flower?
“Fool, silly fool!” thundered the King. “Only silly fools ask what the use of a flower is!” 
The Commander of the Triangles, fearful lest the King should prick him, went out quietly and sideways out of one of the eighteen windows of the Palace.
Another afternoon, the Secretary of the straight Lines Syndicate appeared before the King and was bold enough to say:

“Wouldn’t you like to get some other, more useful thing, Sire? Because, after all, What’s the use of a flower?
“Fool, silly fool!” thundered the King, “Only silly fools ask what the use of a flower is”.
Poor Miss Straight Line, afraid that the King would prick her, slipped away down a little hole in the floor. 

Some little time later, the Trapezoids arrived, battered and melancholy after a long expedition.
“Well? Did you find  the Round Flower? Asked the King impatiently.

“Not a trace, Your Majesty.

“And what the Devil did you find?”

“Ice Cubes, three dices, a ruler and a little box.

“Fed up!! I’m fed up of angles and straight lines and points! You’re all squares!!

This last insult was a great offence to the Triangles.

"I’m fed up and miserable! I want to find the famous Round Flower!"
And they all had to chorus the song that had already become the country’s Hymn.

Not without the Round Flower

Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho.

The King’s subjects, to take his mind off the whole business, decided to organize a football match.

The bleachers were full of excited Points. The Diamonds were challenging the Triangles.

Finally, the Triangles won, 1 to 0 (an astonishing feat if one considers that the ball was a cube). The Captain of the Diamonds went off to a corner to weep about his defeat.   

The Commander of the Triangles, tired and triumphant, drew near the King:

“Well? Did you enjoy the match, Your Majesty?”

“Bah, bah!” said the King, absentmindedly, with his one track mind “Let’s not waste time on matches; tomorrow we all leave on an expedition.”
Tomorrow? But we’re all very tired, Mr. King. The match lasted seven hours; you have no idea how tiring it is to play with a cube-shaped ball.”

“Fool, silly fool! We leave tomorrow.”
Early next morning the King reviewed his troops. He had decided to head the expedition himself. Diamonds, Squares, Triangles, Trapezoids and Straight Lines stood in line, awfully sleepy and escorted by a few Points who had been recruited as volunteers.
There they all go, in search of the famous, mysterious, coy, Round Flower.
The King’s expedition crossed desolate pages and copybooks, China ink rivers, dense pencil shaving forests, India rubber mountain ranges.  Searching, always searching for the blessed flower.

They inspected every angle, every corner, every nook, under wind, rain, sleet and sun glare.

“I give up”, said the King at last.  “Maybe you were right and that blessed Flower doesn’t exist. Maybe you weren’t all such silly fools as I thought. Let’s go back home.”
When they got back, the King locked himself up in his room, terribly sad and miserable.
A little while later Mrs. Line went in bringing him his little chalk soup and  was  very  worried at seeing him so sad.
“Mr. King”, she said to comfort him “Don’t you know that it is always better to sing and dance than to mope?”
When Mrs. Line had slithered away under the door, the King, who wasn’t deaf to advice, said:
“Well, all right, let’s try:  Tra la la.”  And he sang and danced a little.
Dancing, dancing, dancing, he found out, to his great surprise, that he had drawn a beautiful Round Flower on the floor of his room. And he kept on dancing till he had drawn flowers and more flowers and they soon became a garden.

Ho, ho, ho, ho
And the Flower he did draw.

María Elena Walsh

(English translation by María Lía Macchi)

Isn't it lovely? 

It seemed perfectly well as a farewell to someone who must have searched a lot during her life and, more than once, would have discovered that what she was looking for could be found in herself.

8 comentarios:

AJP Crown dijo...

Yes, that's lovely. Thank you, María Lía, for your beautiful translation. Now I should read it to a smallish child, but since none of them speaks English or Spanish here, I'll read it to my 16-year-old instead.

Julia dijo...

I can lend you my kids... sometimes they're absolutely lovable, other times I wish I could send them to Norway... :)

Marìa Lìa dijo...

I`m glad you enjoyed it, AJP. (I`m also glad that we're on a first name basis now.) I'm sure your sixteen year old daughter will enjoy the story. Any sixteen year old who keeps goats as pets is sure to be very sensitive and capable of appreciating a story meant for children but also for some special grownups.

TC dijo...

A lovely children's tale which also has, like so many of the best children's tales, a certain resonance for those of us who would (foolishly in some cases) care to think of ourselves as adults.

My completely unsupported speculation would be that some people have the Round Flower template in their soul... ab ovo, as it were. Other people? -- all edges and angles... again, perhaps, "from the womb".

(I for one, currently not mending very well from some broken bones, have the uncanny sensation of having been made of all the wrong pieces, arranged at all the wrong angles. If I were Artur, I'd probably be able to explain this architecturally. But then, I suspect Artur of being a bit of a Round Flower Type himself, even though he toils professionally in the realm of precise geometries. And nothing against precision, mind you.)

Perhaps there are whole genetic lineages of Round Flower and Cubic Types.

This would argue for immediate intermarriage on a mass scale, if only to take a bit of the edge off things.

(Reality as it is currently constituted is definitely much too sharp and bumpy to be considered comfortable.)

AJP Crown dijo...

When I was young, I got used to calling my friends' parents "Mr & Mrs", but of course nowadays I'm closer in age to the parents than to the friends. Anyway, I like the name María Lía Macchi.

TC, precise geometries in architecture can often be a crutch for fuzzy thinking, so I've become more wary of them than I used to be. You just need to be precise in the ideas. Get well soon.

Julia dijo...

I'm glad you like it, Tom.
I'm sure I had heard this story when I was a kid, but I re-discovered it as a grown up when I bought a new edition of the record "Cuentopos" for my children. When I listened it then I was shocked for its beauty and perfection. Sometimes we need to grow a little to appreciate some things. At least intellectually and in a rational way, but who says that this is the good way of appreciate things?

Yes, AJP, I think (well, in fact I know) you're in the middle of me and my mother's age.

Tom, again, get well soon!

anaA dijo...

Thank you Maria Lia! I looove ME Walsh' tales and song and I have been searching for their English translation for ages. Have you ever translated any other Cuentopo such as Littld Angel? Cheers!

Julia dijo...

Thank you for your comment Ana. María Lía is my mother, I'll let her know that you wrote here.
She has translated as my request (for another post I wrote elsewhere) some of M.E. Walsh songs. You can see them here: