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A re-creation of the turbulent saga of the conquest of the Americas, and Latin America using fictional and journalistic techniques.
1900: San José de Gracia The World Goes On
There were some who spent the savings of several generations on one last spree. Many insulted those they couldn't afford to insult and kissed those they shouldn't have kissed. No one wanted to end up without confession. The parish priest gave preference to the pregnant and to new mothers. This self-denying cleric lasted three days and three nights in the confessional before fainting from an indigestion of sins.
When midnight came on the last day of the century, all the inhabitants of San José de Gracia prepared to die clean. God had accumulated much wrath since the creation of the world, and no one doubted that the time had come for the final blowout. Breath held, eyes closed, teeth clenched, the people listened to the twelve chimes of the church clock, one after the other, deeply convinced that there would be no afterwards.
But there was. For quite a while the twentieth century has been on its way; it forges ahead as if nothing had happened. The inhabitants of San José de Gracia continue in the same houses, living and surviving among the same mountains of central Mexico—to the disenchantment of the devout who were expecting Paradise, and to the relief of sinners, who find that this little village isn't so bad after all, if one makes comparisons. (200)
1900: West Orange, New Jersey Edison
Through his inventions the new century receives light and music.
Everyday life bears the seal of Thomas Alva Edison. His electric lamp illumines the nights and his phonograph preserves and diffuses the voices of the world, no longer to be lost. People talk by telephone thanks to the microphone he has added to Bell's invention, and pictures move by virtue of the projecting apparatus with which he completed the work of the Lumière brothers.
In the patent office they clutch their heads when they see him coming. Not for a single moment has this multiplier of human powers stopped inventing, a tireless creator ever since that distant time when he sold newspapers on trains, and one fine day decided he could make them as well as sell them—then set his hand to the task.
(99 and 148)
1900: Montevideo Rodó
The Master, the talking statue, sends forth his sermon to the youth of America.
José Enrique Rodó vindicates ethereal Ariel, the pure spirit against savage Caliban, the brute who wants to eat. The century being born is the time of anybodies. The people want democracy and trade unions; and Rodó warns that the barbarous multitude can scale the heights of the kingdom of the spirit where superior beings dwell. The intellectual chosen by the gods, the great immortal man, fights in defense of private property in culture.
Rodó also attacks North American civilization, rooted in vulgarity and utilitarianism. To it he opposes the Spanish aristocratic tradition which scorns practical sense, manual labor, technology, and other mediocrities.
(273, 360, and 386)
1901: New York This is America, to the South There's Nothing
For 250 million dollars Andrew Carnegie sells the steel monopoly to banker John Pierpont Morgan, master of General Electric, who thereupon founds the United States Steel Corporation. A fever of consumption, a vertigo of money cascading from the tops of skyscrapers: the United States belongs to the monopolies, and the monopolies to a handful of men; but multitudes of workers flock here from Europe, year after year, lured by the factory sirens, and sleeping on deck they dream of becoming millionaires as soon as they jump onto the New York piers. In the industrial era, El Dorado is the United States; and the United States is America.
To the south, the other America hasn't yet managed to mumble its own name. A recently published report states that all the countries of this sub-America have commercial treaties with the United States, England, France, and Germany—but none has any with its neighbors. Latin America is an archipelago of idiot countries, organized for separation, and trained to dislike each other.
(113 and 289)
1901: In All Latin America Processions Greet the Birth of the Century
In the villages and cities south of the Rio Grande, Jesus Christ marches to the cemeteries, a dying beast lustrous with blood, and behind him with torches and hymns comes the crowd, tattered, battered people afflicted with a thousand ills that no doctor or faith-healer would know how to cure, but deserving a fate that no prophet or fortuneteller could possibly divine.
1901: Amiens Verne
Twenty years ago Alberto Santos Dumont read Jules Verne. Reading him, he had fled from his house, from Brazil, and from the world, until, sailing through the sky from cloud to cloud, he decided to live entirely on air.
Now Santos Dumont defies wind and the law of gravity. The Brazilian aeronaut invents a dirigible balloon, master of its own course, that does not drift, that will not get lost in the high seas or over the Russian Steppe or at the North Pole. Equipped with motor, propeller, and rudder, Santos Dumont rises into the air, makes a complete circuit of the Eiffel Tower, and lands at the announced spot, against the wind, before an applauding crowd.
Then he journeys to Amiens, to shake the hand of the man who taught him to fly.
Settled in his rocking chair, Jules Verne smooths his big white beard. He takes a shine to this child badly disguised as a gentleman, who calls him my Captain and looks at him without blinking.
(144 and 424)
1902: Quetzaltenango The Government Decides That Reality Doesn't Exist
Drums and trumpets blast in the main plaza of Quetzaltenango, calling the citizenry; but all anyone can hear is the terrifying thunder of the Santa María volcano in full eruption.
At the top of his voice the town crier reads the proclamation of the sovereign government. More than a hundred towns in this section of Guatemala are being destroyed by avalanches of lava and mud and an endless rain of ashes while the town crier, protecting himself as best he can, performs his duty. The Santa María volcano shakes the ground beneath his feet and bombards his head with stones. At noon there is total night. In the blackout nothing can be seen but the volcano's vomit of fire. The town crier yells desperately, reading the proclamation by the shaky light of a lantern.
The proclamation, signed by President Manuel Estrada Cabrera, informs the populace that the Santa María volcano is quiet, that all of Guatemala's volcanos are quiet, that the earthquake is occurring far from here in some part of Mexico, and that, the situation being normal, there is no reason not to celebrate the feast of the goddess Minerva, which will take place today in the capital despite the nasty rumors being spread by the enemies of order.
1902: Guatemala City Estrada Cabrera
In the city of Quetzaltenango, Manuel Estrada Cabrera had for many years exercised the august priesthood of the Law in the majestic temple of Justice upon the immovable rock of Truth. When he got through stripping the province, the doctor came to the capital, where he brought his political career to a happy culmination, pistol in hand, assaulting the presidency of Guatemala.
Since then he has reestablished throughout the country the use of stocks, whips, and gallows. Now Indians pick plantations' coffee for nothing, and for nothing bricklayers build jails and barracks.
Almost daily, in a solemn ceremony, President Estrada Cabrera lays the foundation stone of a new school that will never be built. He has conferred on himself the title Educator of Peoples and Protector of Studious Youth, and in homage to himself celebrates each year the colossal feast of the goddess Minerva. In his Parthenon here, a full-scale replica of the Greek original, poets pluck their lyres as they announce that Guatemala City, the Athens of the New World, has a Pericles.
1902: Saint Pierre Only the Condemned Is Saved
On the island of Martinique, too, a volcano explodes. As if splitting the world in two, the mountain Pelée coughs up a huge red cloud that covers the sky and falls, glowing, over the earth. In a wink the city of Saint Pierre is annihilated. Its thirty-four thousand inhabitants disappear—except one.
The survivor is Ludger Sylbaris, the only prisoner in the city. The walls of the jail had been made escape-proof.
1903: Panama City The Panama Canal
The passage between the oceans had obsessed the conquistadors. Furiously they sought and finally found it, too far south, down by remote, glacial Tierra del Fuego. But when someone suggested opening the narrow waist of Central America, King Philip II quickly squelched it: he forbade excavation of a canal on pain of death, because what God hath joined let no man put asunder.
Three centuries later a French concern, the Universal Inter-Oceanic Canal Company, began the work in Panama, but after thirty-three kilometers crashed noisily into bankruptcy.
Now the United States has decided to complete the canal, and hang on to it, too. There is one hitch: Colombia doesn't agree, and Panama is a province of Colombia. In Washington, Senator Hanna advises waiting it out, due to the nature of the beast we are dealing with, but President Teddy Roosevelt doesn't believe in patience. He sends in the Marines. And so, by grace of the United States and its warships, the province becomes an independent state.
(240 and 423)
1903: Panama City Casualties of This War: One Chinese, One Burro,
victims of the broadsides of a Colombian gunboat. There are no further misfortunes to lament. Manuel Amador, Panama's brand-new president, parades between U.S. flags, seated in an armchair that the crowd carries on a platform. As he passes, Amador shouts vivas for his colleague Roosevelt.
Two weeks later, in Washington, in the Blue Room of the White House, a treaty is signed granting the United States in perpetuity the half-finished canal and more than fourteen hundred square kilometers of Panamanian territory. Representing the newborn republic is Philippe Bunau-Varilla, commercial magician, political acrobat, French citizen.
(240 and 423)
1903: La Paz Huilka
The Bolivian liberals have won the war against the conservatives. More accurately, it has been won for them by the Indian army of Pablo Zárate Huilka. The feats claimed by the mustachioed generals were performed by Indians.
Colonel José Manuel Pando, leader of the liberals, had promised Huilka's soldiers freedom from serfdom and recovery of their lands. From battle to battle, as he passed through the villages, Huilka returned stolen lands to the communities and cut the throat of anyone wearing trousers.
With the conservatives defeated, Colonel Pando appoints himself general and president, and, dotting all the i's, proclaims: "The Indians are inferior beings. Their elimination is not a crime."
Then he gets on with it. Many are shot. Huilka, yesterday's indispensable ally, he kills several times, by bullet, blade, and rope. Still, on rainy nights, Huilka awaits the president at the gate of the government palace and stares at him, saying nothing, until Pando turns away.
(110 and 475)
1904: Rio de Janeiro Vaccine
With the slaughter of rats and mosquitos, bubonic plague and yellow fever have been vanquished. Now Oswaldo Cruz declares war on smallpox.
By the thousands Brazilians die of the disease, while doctors bleed the moribund and healers scare off the plague with the smoke of smoldering cowshit. Oswaldo Cruz, in charge of public health, makes vaccination obligatory.
Senator Rui Barbosa, pigeon-chested and smooth-tongued orator, attacks vaccination using juridical weapons flowery with adjectives. In the name of liberty Rui Barbosa defends the right of every individual to be contaminated if he so desires. Torrential applause, thunderous ovations interrupt him from phrase to phrase.
The politicians oppose vaccination. And the doctors. And the journalists. Every newspaper carries choleric editorials and cruel caricatures victimizing Oswaldo Cruz. He cannot show his face on any street without drawing insults and stones.
The whole country closes ranks against vaccination. On all sides, "Down with vaccination!" is heard. Against vaccination the cadets of the military school rise in arms, and just miss overthrowing the president.
(158, 272, 378, and 425)
1905: Montevideo The Automobile,
that roaring beast, makes its first kill in Montevideo. An innocent pedestrian crossing a downtown street falls and is crushed.
Few automobiles have reached these streets, but as they pass, old ladies cross themselves and people scamper into doorways for protection.
Until not very long ago, the man who thought he was a streetcar still trotted through this motorless city. Going uphill, he would crack his invisible whip, and downhill pull reins that no one could see. At intersections he tooted a horn as imaginary as his horses, as imaginary as his passengers climbing aboard at each stop, as imaginary as the tickets he sold them and the change he received. When the manstreetcar stopped coming, never to pass again, the city found that it missed this endearing lunatic.
1905: Montevideo The Decadent Poets
Roberto de las Carreras climbs to the balcony. Pressed to his breast, a bouquet of roses and an incandescent sonnet; awaiting him, not a lovely odalisque, but a gentleman of evil character who fires five shots. Two hit the target. Roberto closes his eyes and muses: "Tonight I'll sup with the gods."
He sups not with the gods but with the nurses in the hospital. And a few days later this handsome Satan reappears perfidiously strolling down Sarandí Street, he who has vowed to corrupt all the married and engaged women in Montevideo. His red vest looks very chic decorated with two bulletholes. And on the title page of his latest book, Funereal Diadem, appears a drop of blood.
Another son of Byron and Aphrodite is Julio Herrera y Reissig, who calls the foul attic in which he writes and recites the Tower of Panoramas. The two have long been at odds over the theft of a metaphor, but both fight the same war against hypocritical, pre-Columbian Monte-idioto, which in the department of aphrodisiacs has progressed no further than egg yolks mixed with grape wine, and in the department of literature—the less said the better.
(284 and 389)
1905: Ilopango Miguel at One Week
Señorita Santos Mármol, unrespectably pregnant, refuses to name the author of her dishonor. Her mother, Doña Tomasa, beats her out of the house. Doña Tomasa, widow of a man who was poor but white, suspects the worst.
When the baby is born, the spurned señorita brings it in her arms: "This is your grandson, Mama."
Doña Tomasa lets out a fearful scream at the sight of the baby, a blue spider, a thick-lipped Indian, such an ugly little thing as to arouse anger more than pity, and slams the door, boom, in her daughter's face.
On the doorstep Señorita Santos falls in a heap. Beneath his unconscious mother the baby seems dead. But when the neighbors haul him out, the squashed newcomer raises a tremendous howl.
And so occurs the second birth of Miguel Mármol, age one week.
1906: Paris Santos Dumont
Five years after creating his dirigible balloon, the Brazilian Santos Dumont invents the airplane.
He has spent these five years shut up in hangars, assembling and dismantling enormous iron and bamboo Things which are born and unborn at top speed around the clock: at night they go to bed equipped with seagull wings and fish fins, and wake up transformed into dragonflies or wild ducks. On these Things Santos Dumont wants to get off the earth, which tenaciously holds him back; he collides and crashes; he has fires, tailspins, and shipwrecks; he survives by sheer stubbornness. But he fights and fights until at last he makes one of the Things into an airplane or magic carpet that soars high into the sky.
The whole world wants to meet the hero of this immense feat, king of the air, master of the winds, who is four feet tall, talks in a whisper, and weighs no more than a fly.
(144 and 424)
Excerpted from Century of the Wind by Eduardo Galeano, Cedric Belfrage. Copyright © 1984 Eduardo Galeano. Excerpted by permission of Open Road Integrated Media, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted December 30, 2008
I Also Recommend:
Using lively writing Eduardo Galeano tells the poignant tale of the oppressed and the poor of Latin America. Unlike so many history books that are dry accounts of dates and places, this book is written in a unique style between poetic stanza and mini essays. Each passage creates either a portrait of some figurehead or a snapshot of some historical event. <BR/><BR/>I highly recommend it, not just for history buffs or Latinos like myself. I think it's a great piece of writing about the ongoing human struggle between the haves and have nots.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 1, 2009
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