Dona Ines vs. Oblivion

Overview

Matriarch of a wealthy planter family in the eighteenth-century village of Caracas, Dona Ines fights for control of a coastal-province plantation that her late husband has bequeathed to his illegitimate son by a black slave. She dies in 1780 but continues her exposition, searching to prove her rights while observing the political upheavals, natural disasters, bloodshed, and changing racial, social, and cultural strictures visited on her own and other Venezuelan families in the next two hundred years. She watches,...
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Overview

Matriarch of a wealthy planter family in the eighteenth-century village of Caracas, Dona Ines fights for control of a coastal-province plantation that her late husband has bequeathed to his illegitimate son by a black slave. She dies in 1780 but continues her exposition, searching to prove her rights while observing the political upheavals, natural disasters, bloodshed, and changing racial, social, and cultural strictures visited on her own and other Venezuelan families in the next two hundred years. She watches, finally with resignation, as Caracas becomes an unrecognizable modern metropolis and her descendants acquiesce to compromise over the disputed property.

Ultimately a journal of the tragic clash between classes, of the interface between humanity and geography, Dona Ines vs. Oblivion depicts the maturation of Venezuela more vividly than any work of nonfiction.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Winner of the Mobil Pegasus Prize for Literature, this bold novel by Venezuelan writer Torres probes the effects of violence, corrupt politics and class strife on one family over the course of 300 years, from the early 18th century to the present. Torres traces the historical roots of Caracas through the eyes of Do a In s Villegas y Solorzano, the aristocratic widow of a wealthy plantation owner who desperately fights to keep the land her family has owned since 1663. Even after her death in 1780, Do a In s continues narrating the story in her dogged attempt to keep her land out of the hands of the black and mulatto descendants of her husband and a slave woman. In effect, she becomes Caracas's chronicler as she observers the city metamorphose from sleepy plantation lands to a vibrant, hectic metropolis. Based on a real-life court case that was, incredibly, not resolved until the 1980s, the novel reveals Venezuela's cultural transformations as vividly as any history book might. Unfortunately, its slow pace and monotonous narration do not do justice to the dramatic events depicted. Even after her death, Do a In s maintains dictatorial control by revealing other characters only through her eyes. Other characters' dialogue is sparse, appearing as Do a In s relates and remembers it, so that her version of things strives to be the ultimate last word. But Torres also examines the bitter woman's diminishing hold on her domain, and it is this triumph of the living city and its inexorable journey into the future over the tenacious ghosts of the past that is the visionary thrust of the novel. In this encompassing, ambitious epic, Caracas emerges as a sensuously and politically charged survivor, the enduring hero. Five-city author tour. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Washington Times
Dona Ines vs. Oblivion will edify and captivate an English-speaking audience.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802137265
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/28/2000
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.47 (w) x 8.23 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


Doña Inés Among the Briefs

(1715-1732)


My life has been a passage through slow mornings, long days that time ran through sluggishly as I supervised the work of the slave women, watching them sweep the flagstones in the courtyard, polish the floor tiles and the glazed wall mosaics I'd had brought from Andalusia, gather the fallen leaves from the lemon tree, and water the guava tree in the yard; embroidering a point or two on a mantle or taking a turn through the kitchen to taste the soup and see that everything was as it should be before Alejandro's arrival and asking him during lunch what had been discussed at the council, what the price for cacao was and whether the ship carrying it had sunk. Sleeping an unhurried siesta later when the heat grew stronger and preparing myself for the gracious reception of visitors, giving orders and overseeing the preparation of sweetmeats and teas served on the porcelain plates and gilded glasses that I had had imported from France, waiting for the ladies to arrive and then for the slave girls to take their cloaks in the entranceway, sitting in the parlor with my daughters, conversing, inquiring about the health of our people, commenting on how heavy the winter rains had been, speaking of husbands off on their plantations, of processions, or of the party the governor was giving to ingratiate himself with us; and at the appointed hour the slave girls returned with the cloaks in a basket, and we said good-bye until soon again or until Sunday in the cathedral, where we aristocrats would be together, dressed in black and covered with capes as a sign of ourprivilege, escorted by two slave girls, one to chase away beggars and the other to spread a small rug over the dry brick floor of the church. At dusk all assembling, children and slaves, to recite the holy rosary in the chapel, dining in silence, and while Alejandro went over the accounts that the plantation administrator showed him, and I was playing solitaire, the children were already asleep and the crickets could be heard in the courtyard.

    Now all of them have left me alone. Where are the ten children from my fifteen births? Nicolás, Alejandro, Mariana, Manuela, Antonio, Isabel, Félix, Teresa, José Ramón, Francisca. That weeping I hear, is it one of my dead children? Diego, Catalina, Juan José, Felipe, Sebastián. They've all deserted me; I'm alone, Alejandro. I'm left only with the rustle of papers against each other as I search for the title deeds I've lost, the ones my father certified in 1663. Where are those titles? Where have the files gone? I can't find them in the bedroom cabinets or in the desk in your room or by ransacking the drawers of my dresser or dumping the thread from my sewing basket or digging in the corners of the chest or snooping under the rugs or shaking the damask curtains. Where are they, those hundreds of pages? They are spinning and swirling around my head, yet I can't find them. Royal letters patent, decrees, provisions and rulings, official writs, letters and envelopes, briefs, pleas and allegations. Papers and more papers, Alejandro. All that work the scribes put in, all that ink, all that dust stored away; someday the rats will come and greedily gobble these bundles of parchment, the cockroaches will be frightened out of the cracks in the floor tiles and will leave their shit sticking to the margins, their dark smudges appearing everywhere, unmistakable, and even the signature of the king will be stained. Time, Alejandro, will erase my complaints, and my efforts will disappear, but I want my voice to remain, because I've seen all and heard all, and I'll go on searching for my titles, even if the dust from the files strangles me and I'm asphyxiated by these old pages, even if deciphering this hen-scratching costs my last rays of light and the final strainings of memory dissolve my intent to establish a chronology for the papers so the scribe can come and get his inkwells out, dip his quill, and bear witness to that memory; I want to dictate my story, which is scattered among my recollections and the documents because my past is in them along with the history of many others. My name will appear here a thousand times: Inés Villegas y Solórzano; and yours, Alejandro Martínez de Villegas y Blanco; and yours, Juan del Rosario Villegas, to which I always attach the notation my freedman, so you'll know it, so you won't forget it, not even when you're dead. Here I am, lying in bed, from where I call in vain to the slave women to come and put the sheets that smell of urine out in the sun; between the linen robe and the muslin pillowcases, under the feathers in the pillows, there the papers are hiding, I sleep with them, and as soon as I wake up I look at them and start my job of untangling them all over again until finally, at some moment when I won't know whether it's day or night, I'll have finished my task and they'll all be in order.

    What are you saying, Alejandro? I can barely hear you, speak up, you know I'm deaf and you're doing it on purpose. Don't you want me to hear you? What are you laughing at? Are you trying to tell me that I'm just like the titles, just a loose piece of paper blown away by time, and that I'm searching for documents good only for lighting the fire or for me to wipe my ass with—by myself, because the slave girls have left me alone? Are you trying to tell me it's useless to squat down and bend my back, sweeping my hand under beds, lifting rugs, digging into the crannies of dressers and chests to find the history I've lost? Well, even so, I'm going to keep on combing my sparse white hair, sharpening my foggy eyes, with my wrinkled hands trembling, taking care of my carcass so it won't crumble into dust shut up in this animal's den that my room has become and that I'll never leave until I in turn have been changed into a paper phantom.

    Now I've got to look for my titles, our titles, the ones my father certified in 1663, in order to put my chronicle together. You're probably thinking I won't find them because my eyes are worn out, that there isn't enough light around me. Where are my glasses? I don't know where I left them. Maybe I should open the windows; I'm not sure whether it's dawn or dusk, and I can sleep just the same in light or in dark, eyes open or closed, and it makes no difference to me whether I'm hearing the Angelus bells of noontime or nightfall, because the shutters are closed so the brightness won't blind me or the dew harm me. My memory conjures up the same faces, the same bodies, the same names: I feel them and smell them, they accompany me, they harass me, they don't give me a moment's peace. Sometimes I think the shadows that surround me are hiding the papers, that they know where they are but are deliberately saying they don't so I'll go on looking forever; but it doesn't matter, I'll win out over them, I've got all the time in the world to give to the hunt for my titles. I'll lift the last roofing tile and the last tile on the floor, I'll dismantle all the door and window frames, pull out all the bricks, remove all the columns, and if necessary I'll demolish my house, because I know they're somewhere, and I'm ready for all the centuries to come raining down until they appear. Time has ceased to interest me; its movements don't bother me anymore because I died a long time ago.

    And where are you, Juan del Rosario? You've sneaked away so I won't see you hiding the papers from me. You've come back to take them away, haven't you? Because you do know where they are. Or are you going to deny that you know the hiding places in this house better than I do? Weren't you born in it? Or is my memory bad? Are you not the little boy who used to run around in the servants' courtyard at the rear? Aren't you the one who would bring the jug of water to the kitchen? The one who wallowed with the pigs and chased the hens? The one who would lie in the shade of the guava tree to spin tops with my sons? It was you, and you know it quite well, don't lie to me, you lying black bastard. Tell him not to lie to me, Alejandro, wasn't he your son? I remember very well the mother of this child you made me take on as a houseboy; I can see her as if it were yesterday, putting on your poultices, serving your tea, and massaging the soreness out of the hand you'd twisted when you fell off your horse, I can hear her praying the paternoster backward at night to invoke Mandinga, the devil, I spy on her when she paces about the kitchen while the other black women are asleep and recites her incantations there and prepares potions to control people's wills. Do you think I couldn't pick out her voice when she talked to the witches? Our Lady of Guidance, whom I placed on the ridge of the roof to frighten them off, was of no use. From when she was twelve I began locking her up at night, because I recognized the evil in her already at that age, and even so she would get out, she'd find the key or Mandinga would bring it to her and she'd release herself. I knew your mother inside out, Juan del Rosario. Do you think she didn't know how to defy all the laws and decrees and ignore the rules, not worrying about the fact that servant girls were forbidden to go out at night? She seemed to be waiting all year for Carnival or Saint John's Day, and it meant very little to her that Bishop Escalona had condemned the wily, crafty liberties that are taken in games and dances, in snares by both sexes, hand contact, rude and indecent actions—and dangerous even when they stayed within the bounds of propriety. She would go out and daub passersby with coal tar and flour, but it wasn't tricks with water and paint that occupied her attention, no, not at all, what she craved were little pranks and cavortings and games of hide-and-seek. She did a good job of getting around the orders of the commissioner of the Holy Office, who had absolutely forbidden, both in the countryside and on the outskirts of town, skits and kite-flying, fandangos and dances, and processions with overdecorated images of saints, and superstitious practices at the wakes of dead babies, where it was all lewd solicitations, adultery, incest, fornication, defiance, fights, and other pernicious acts. But she, no matter how securely I locked her up, would be concentrating on where the fandango was coming from and would spend her time dancing and hooting.

    The son of the cat catches the rat. I know you well, Juan del Rosario; even if you're lurking in the corners I can see you quite well, although I can barely see anything anymore; I can smell you, though you're far away, and can hear your voice quite clearly despite the deafness that used to make the slave girls laugh at me and pretend to be speaking when they were only miming words. That white splotch is your teeth laughing too. How old are you now, Juan del Rosario? I can see that you're fifteen, maybe twenty, and that you're back from Barlovento, where your father sent you, following my advice because I told him you had none of the skills of a craftsman and that here you'd end up being a house servant with no trade, and that he should take you to the plantation, where in time you'd make a good overseer. Then you come back and go around spreading the word that your master, Don Alejandro, your master and your godfather, told you that in the Curiepe Valley there was a lot of uncleared royal land and that he himself didn't know the boundaries of his holdings. Is that true, Alejandro? Did you tell him to go there with other blacks to clear the land and set up a plantation and that the Curiepe Valley, after your death, would belong to them? I don't believe it, Alejandro. Tell me if you promised that. You're quite mistaken, Juan del Rosario, if you believed his word; what you alleged in your briefs is nothing but a pack of lies. Who was going to believe those fairy tales? The High Court in Santo Domingo? The one in Santa Fe? The viceroy? How uppity can a black man get—to write to the king! Weren't you just that bold? Here's your first supplicatory brief from 1715. Do you want me to read it to you?


... with the care and fervor of the aforesaid supplicants, which leads them to be loyal vassals, and with the large number of free men of color that we are with no place to settle, it would be good defense and a hindrance against enemies were Your Majesty inclined to give us permission to establish a village at the site of Sabana de Oro and a port in the cove of Higuerote ...


    Here your name and title appear: Captain of the Free Colored Company of the Militia Battalion of Caracas. Who gave you that rank? It could only have occurred to a mad barbarian like Cañas y Merino. What a governor you saw fit to send us, Philip V! A ruffian with his face sliced down the middle by a scimitar slash he got from the Moors in Oran. Do you know, Philip V, what he did for recreation in his spare hours, which was most of the time because, with all the hate and ill will he felt for us aristocrats, he mostly avoided government house? Well, he could find no better fun than to tie pots to the tails of cats and organize horse races with prizes for the riders who killed the most cats with their whips; and when he couldn't find cats he went after chickens, burying them with only their heads showing so he could ride along on horseback and decapitate them with his sword. That was how he devoted his time to all the many problems of the province of Venezuela, and then at night he would soothe his lust with mulatto women. But that wasn't enough for you, you bandit, you had the audacity to abduct a girl from a prominent family and besmirch her forever on the bank of the Guaire. Our patience ran out, and we sent you back. I never heard any more about you, Cañas y Merino, but I'm sure you were killed in Spain or that you rotted away in some jail. Well, that was the one, he and nobody else, who granted my houseboy and freedman Juan del Rosario Villegas the title of Captain of the Free Colored. Quite another thing was the logic and good judgment of Don Alberto de Bertodano, who viewed with Olympian disdain the ridiculous brief that petitioned and planned for the establishment of a village tight up against our plantation. Since when have blacks founded villages here? Both Alejandro and I are equally the great-grandchildren of Don Francisco Maldonado de Almendáriz, an hidalgo from Villacastín, and grandchildren of the conquistador and captain Don Pedro de Villegas, a "son of nothing" but the founder of several towns in this province, and we have amply proven our services to the Crown and our clean and worthy blood, yet even so we had to suffer the affront of that smuggler governor Betancourt y Castro, who conceived the wild idea of giving Juan del Rosario permission to seek recognition of the lands and confirmation of the title of Royal Founder that Cañas y Merino had awarded him. Recognize what and how? Wait until I find the deeds, which have disappeared because I've guarded them too closely, but I'm sure I have them, and I can recite them from memory. They said


I have and possess lands and a valley called Curiepe that are two
leagues upstream from Codera Cape on the cove called Higuerote.


    Isn't it true, Alejandro, that this is how the titles that Porras y Toledo confirmed for my father read? I can see you, Alejandro, when you left with my brother-in-law Francisco on your way to call at the government house office of Portales y Meneses (weren't you district magistrate?) and present an allegation against that uppity black bastard who did nothing but submit plea after plea. Didn't he have the cheek to write directly to the king? So it wasn't all that much for him to send a new brief to the viceroy in Santa Fe. I told you plenty of times, Alejandro, never to trust a viceroy who showed his insolence and abuse of power by ordering you deprived of the privilege of magistrate and threatened you with jail, a fine, and seizure if you didn't accept the shyster Alvarez de Abreu, who with all the law he knew could only come up with the idea of giving new permission to Juan del Rosario to gather as many recalcitrant blacks as he could find and go to Curiepe to clear my land. I can still hear the sound in the valley of their voices and machetes—supported and protected by the viceroy's having read their brief, bolstered by the idea that Portales had to execute the writ. And there they stayed while Portales resolved his doubts, sometimes for us, sometimes against. Portales thought he could just ignore the council; how mistaken he was. It was necessary to arrest him, and we held him in custody until he came to his senses, and when he did, there was nothing for him to do but take away from Juan del Rosario that rash recognition he'd given in order to cover up smuggling.

    I can't find them; I look through drawers and empty them out, I get down on my hands and knees under the beds, I lift up rugs, and I don't see the titles, but they were there, of course they were there. I can see you clearly, Alejandro, on the day you went to present them once and for all to Portales, to convince him that he should give orders to Captain Juan Joseph de Espinosa to destroy the village and bring the blacks to Caracas. Juan del Rosario, you liar, you played crazy and said you were sick in order not to acknowledge the ruling, but I know very well that your followers hid you and that you told them to accept the orders but not to carry them out, because in the long run they would win the lawsuit, because you were going to keep on writing. And when the royal decrees reached you, you felt bloated with pride, on the point of thinking you'd beaten us. Decrees from the king in your name—my, my!—all that remained was for you to stroll through Caracas with an umbrella and a cane, for you to think you were white. But in the meantime Espinosa's soldiers fulfilled their mission and set fire to the village; the sixteen houses burned and collapsed along the two streets. You'd even built a church—well, that shack of mud and palm leaves with a wooden cross, that chapel you'd dedicated to the Virgin of Altagracia and Saints Joseph and John, was turned into a torch. You lying little black bastard, did you think that I, who've known you since you were a child, you and your mother, was going to believe that you had any faith in the virgin and the saints? That trick could only serve to delude their Catholic Majesties that you and the other blacks were devoutly waiting for the visits of the parish priest from Capaya, but there it was, in ashes, and stubborn as you were, you sent a new petition to the governor, this time with a ruling from the public prosecutor that the magistrates were in disobedience of the courts, the viceroy, and the king himself; and since that was more than enough to make Espinosa's soldiers withdraw, the blacks could clean up the rubble and raise their houses again, and I had to write another allegation:


And nevertheless they have not desisted and moved off, but rather by rebuilding what was demolished they are in stubborn and notorious disobedience, rebellion, and defiance, and as rebels have acted with no respect or reverence whatever.


    Do you remember? I have it in my hand; some of the lines have been smudged or the lack of light prevents me from reading it clearly, but listen, here it says:


of the rash attempt by the black Juan del Rosario, my houseboy, freed by my hand; the aforesaid black tried to settle some people of his color on my property. For that purpose they petitioned the viceroy, who ceded them the site of Sabana de Oro, two leagues distant from the Curiepe Valley, and when a plea was made to this government the blacks went beyond the fact and against the law, without the Curiepe Valley being named or having been named, and the aforementioned despoilment, which is an indication of their sinister guile, can be verified.


    From here on there are several paragraphs I can't make out, but I imagine that they explain the folly of establishing in such a remote place and so far from the vigilance of the authorities a village of untrustworthy blacks, and I end up asking for an order of reproof and apprehension for their having disregarded the order of abandonment—because, after the burning, the sixty-six people stayed on there (there were sixty-six, weren't there, Juan del Rosario?), I have counted them from the roster of the priest from Capaya, whom you got to come in an underhanded way, making him think he was coming at my behest. Well, he was just doing his duty, and besides, didn't you go about wailing that you didn't have a church, and didn't you give the hamlet the pompous name of Nuestra Señora de Altagracia y San Joseph de la Nueva Sevilla de Curiepe? Captain-Populator, that's what you wanted to be, but you saw how Portales took the appointment away when he came cowering out of jail in Santa Fe, from which he wasn't saved by the hollering of that sanctimonious Bishop Escalona, who, on top of it all, made us place saints in niches at every streetcorner and say the rosary at all hours, determined as he was to turn the city into a convent.

    Was Portales the one who disguised himself as a monk to escape the council's wrath? Oh, no, that was Lope Carrillo. The governors we knew were so numerous that it's hard to keep them straight. Do you remember Lope Carrillo, Alejandro, or had you died already? Instead of busying himself with the problems that afflicted us, Don Lope, who had certainly been waiting more years than anybody for the job he finally got, brought suit against everyone. Who would ever know why he got it into his head that canons couldn't carry red or green umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun, couldn't have acolytes with surplices and caps lift their trains to spare them from the filth of the street when there was a procession. But the canons are bothered a great deal by the heat or they've got bad tempers, so on Palm Sunday there was a great to-do and people went out into the street more for the tumult and yelling than for the saints; the guard intervened and dispersed the priests, who didn't let the controversy pass until they filed an action and Don Lope had to leave for La Guaira dressed as a monk and with no one to hold up his train.

    What was I talking about, Juan del Rosario? I'm losing the thread, involved as I am in these briefs. How many did we write? One for you, one for me, another for you, another for me. There wasn't a moment in which we were quiet; we were listened to by the magistrate of the council, the governors, the High Court of Santa Fe, the High Court of Santo Domingo, the viceroy of the New Kingdom of Granada, and, finally, since the snake is killed at its head, we went to the Council of the Indies and to the king himself. I missed you a lot when you died; your stubbornness and your challenge were the measure of my pride. What's the matter, why don't you answer me, why don't I hear your loud voice in the courtyard? In this solitude I seem to see you playing along the porches with my children, and I hear myself calling you, mingling your name with theirs to come in for your snack and your chocolate. Those shouts from Nicolas are because you fell off the top of the wall trying to reach a bird's nest, and I'm the woman who cleans your wound and brings into the servants' courtyard the liver-salt poultices to bring down the swelling. Yes, my houseboy and my freedman, you must remember the days of your childhood, when you were trembling with fever from smallpox and I had them take you to the doctor because I feared for your life; and you must remember when I told your father—wasn't Alejandro your father?—not to sell you because Alejandrito and Nicolás had fun with you. Yes, my houseboy and my freedman, you must remember the day you were born and I picked you up, a scrap of flesh filthy with blood and excrement, and wrapped you in a sheet and washed you, and I showed you to everybody and picked out your name. And this is how you've paid me back, you uppity little black boy, saying that the lands are yours. Yours how and since when? You've got nothing—do you hear me?—nothing that I haven't given you. Nothing that hasn't come from my generosity and my power, you ragged black bastard. I carried you naked in my arms the day you were born, and I could have drowned you in our well with no remorse or punishment; you even owe me your mother, the laziest and most disrespectful slave woman I've ever had, and more than once I wanted to sell her, get rid of her, but I didn't because I was sorry for you, didn't want you to be left an orphan, and I agreed to let Alejandro give you a shack on the other side of the Anauco gorge so you would have a place to live when you left my house—but for you to boast about your father, to proclaim to the world that those lands were yours and that he gave them to you as your inheritance? That I couldn't tolerate, Juan del Rosario. Owner of my birthright? Of lands given freely? Grandson of conquistadors? Sower of villages? If you had asked me for a piece of my plantation I would have given it, the way I dressed you in my sons' clothing, the way I had you taught to read and write by their teachers, the way I let you hide in my skirts when you cried at night, confused and afraid of ghosts ... but Founder? No, that's not how you do things, my houseboy and my freedman. That's how you made me show who can growl the loudest and have succeeded in making me furious over the centuries. That's why I've devoted myself to bringing suit against you. Do you remember this document? It's the Royal Compulsory Provision of the Royal High Court of Santo Domingo of 1726. The procurator finds, to your favor, that in this whole legal tangle the one most damaged is His Majesty, because the village of Curiepe is of great use to the Crown, it will serve as a defense against English pirates and a bastion in preventing smuggling by the Dutch from Curaçao and, most of all, a refuge for so many loyal vassals who come seeking religious doctrine, because it seems that the blacks of Curaçao, the ones called Loangos, come to these shores because they want to be Christians. I challenged that in my allegation: who do they think they are, telling me that those foreign blacks are loyal vassals? They ran away to Barlovento because we Spaniards treated them better, and besides, I have the makeup of your villagers quite clear in my mind, and I know by name the ones who were born here and the ones who came in illegally. You yourself paid the consequences of an alliance with them, because they not only tried to displace the native blacks who initiated this lawsuit, but they took away the little parcel of land you'd left to your only daughter. Yes, in that decree of the High Court of Santo Domingo it asks that the briefs be remitted, that the blacks remain in the area, and that Portales be fined for his misconduct in burning the village. Look, Portales, you did the right thing by sailing off to Spain and doing it fast; things hadn't gone too well for you around here. When that royal decree arrived, I found out only later; they didn't give me notification, to my detriment—surely you don't imagine, Juan del Rosario, that I wouldn't have an attorney to answer the court. I waited two years, and when the verdict was handed down—I have it here, from 1728—I asked that it be revised. Do you know what the judges and the procurators in Santo Domingo replied? They returned only 117 1/2 pesos to me as a settlement because the Curiepe Valley had never been confirmed or settled. One hundred seventeen and a half pesos! Did you think you could mollify me with that amount, Philip V? Did you think I was some white-trash woman selling olive oil in a tavern? You were very mistaken, my Lord King, if you thought this lawsuit was the kind that could be settled with 117 1/2 pesos. I asked for the decision to be reconsidered, and I kept waiting; I couldn't let it stay that way, Juan del Rosario, you know that quite well because you know me. Didn't I bring you up in my home, and weren't you my houseboy? That blockheaded business of their paying my costs, which the Royal High Court sent to keep me happy—it didn't even come close to my figure, so I told the judges who heard the case that they hadn't heard too well; and since it was obviously necessary for me to shout louder, I had recourse to the Council of the Indies and field suit in their Hall of Justice. was there any hope? Well, I kept on hoping and waiting, and in 1731—look here—I received a royal decree, as is proper, authorizing a new act of dispossession. Oh, but then I came up against García de la Torre, who was already pretty much an enemy of ours, and as soon as he received his staff of office, he rushed to the defense of the Guipuzcoana Company. How many doubloons a year did they pay you to establish that monopoly? Some said a thousand, others said two thousand. You, too, Garcia de la Torre, you told me to wait, that you were all tied up with the revolt of Andresote's black Indians in Yaracuy; that was your excuse for not taking up my writ of dispossession. All right, I answered you then. And my wait was an evil omen for you because, just look, they accused you of smuggling and sent Lardizábal as investigating judge. You placed all the royal charters on top of your head and swore to obey your king and liege lord, but you were lost, Garcia de la Torre. Another one who dressed up in monk's clothes and hid in a monastery until he found a schooner to take him back to Spain. And you, Lardizábal, look what I told you, that you don't know these blacks, that it's one thing to bring down a governor and another to deal with these people. When you went in with your men, they left, making you think they'd been frightened because they remembered when Portales burned their homes. I told you not to believe them, but you paid me no attention, only babbled the nonsense you'd thought up to keep them docile: that I pay them for the improvements they'd made and put a pledge in writing, all of which I ignored. In the meantime they stayed in the area, working their small plots and waiting for me to be distracted so they could seize their chance to return. Years of truce, during which I let time pass.

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Table of Contents

Part One: 1715-1835
Doña Inés Among the Briefs (1715-1732) 3
Requiem 16
The Colonial Siesta (1743-1766) 21
An Audience with Charles III 30
If You Don't Want Me (1789-1810) 37
A Chronicle of War (1810-1814) 43
Lament for the Destruction of Caracas 65
In the Shade of Cacao (1814-1834) 70
Part Two: 1846-1935
Doña Inés Among Liberals (1846-1899) 85
Epitaph for General Joaquín Crespo 102
The Venus of San Juan (1900-1905) 113
Dominguito Finds Another General (1905-1929) 130
León Bendelac Discovers America (1926-1935) 138
Part Three: 1935-1985
Doña Inés Is Nostalgic 167
Don Heliodoro's Gift 188
Ernestino's Memory 206
NewBriefs 221
End of a Lawsuit 235
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