Watching It Rain in Galicia

Viendo llover en Galicia by Gabriel García Márquez was originally published in El País on 11 May 1983. Translated by Seth Brooks.

     My very dear friend, the painter, poet, and novelist Héctor Rojas Herazo—whom I had not seen for a long time—must have felt sorry for me when he saw me in Madrid overwhelmed by a tumult of photographers, journalists, and autograph-seekers, as he approached me to whisper, “Remember once in a while you must be kind to yourself.” In fact, true to my determination to fulfill all of my obligations without taking into account my own exhaustion, it had been several months—perhaps several years—since I gave myself a deserved gift. So I decided to treat myself in reality to one of my oldest dreams: a trip to Galicia. Anyone that likes to eat cannot think about Galicia without first thinking about all the pleasures of the kitchen. “Nostalgia starts with food,” Che Guevara said, perhaps longing for the enormous barbecues of his Argentine homeland while talking about matters of war during the lonely nights in the Sierra Maestra with his fellow revolutionaries. As well for me, the nostalgia for Galicia had begun with food before I had known the place. The fact is that my grandmother, in the great house of Aracataca, where I met my first ghosts, was an exquisite baker, and still practiced it when she was old and nearly blind, until a flood ruined the oven and no one felt like rebuilding it. But my grandmother’s vocation was so ingrained that when she could not make bread she continued making hams. Delicious hams that, however, children did not like—because children do not like adult things—but the first taste was forever etched in my palate’s memory. I never encountered that taste again in many different hams that I ate in my good years and my bad years, until I tried by chance—40 years later in Barcelona—an innocent slice of lacón (pork shoulder). All the joy, uncertainties, and loneliness from my childhood suddenly returned in a flavor unmistakably like my grandmother’s lacones. My interest arose from that experience to unravel her ancestry, and searching for hers I found my own in the frenetic green of spring, the fertile rains, and the eternal winds of the fields of Galicia. Only then did I understand where my grandmother had gotten that credulity that allowed her to live in a supernatural world where everything was possible, where rational explanations completely lacked validity, and I understood where her desire came from to cook for and feed strangers and her habit to sing all day long. “You have to make meat and fish because no one knows what visitors would like to eat,” she always said when she heard the train whistle. She died very old, blind, and with a completely disturbed sense of reality, to the point that she talked about her oldest memories as if they were happening at the time and chatted with the dead that she had known in her distant youth. I told these things to a Galician friend last week in Santiago de Compostela and he told me, “Then she was Galician, without doubt, because she was crazy.” In reality, all the Galicians I know, and those I did not have time to get to know, appear born under the sign of Pisces.

I do not know where the embarrassment of being a tourist comes from. I have heard many friends say that they do not want to be considered tourists, without realizing that, even though they do not consider themselves tourists, they are just like them. When I travel somewhere without much time to intimately explore it, I openly accept my status as a tourist. I like to sign up for those hurried excursions where the guides explain everything you see through the windows of a bus, on the right and the left, ladies and gentlemen, because I immediately know everything that is unnecessary to see later when I go to visit the place on my own. However, Santiago de Compostela allows time for many details: the city asserts itself immediately, completely and forever, as if you were born there. I have always believed, and I still believe, that there is not a more beautiful plaza in the world than in Siena. The only plaza that has made me doubt this is in Santiago de Compostela, for its harmony and youthful air that does not allow you to think about its venerable age but appears constructed the day before by someone that had lost the sense of time. Perhaps this impression does not originate in the plaza itself but in the fact that the plaza is woven into the fabric of everyday life. It is a vibrant city, flush with a throng of cheerful and boisterous students that do not allow the city to grow old. In the untouched walls, vegetation makes it way through cracks in a relentless fight to escape oblivion, and at each step one comes across, like the most natural thing in the world, the miracle of blossoming stones.

It rained for three days, not inclemently but with sporadic sunshine. However, it didn’t seem that my Galician friends noticed this golden respite because at every moment they gave us excuses for the rain. Perhaps they were not even aware that a Galicia without rain would have been a disappointment because their country is mythical—much more than Galicians themselves realize—and the sun never shines in mythical countries. “If you had come last week, you would have seen marvelous weather,” they told us, ashamed. “This weather is out of season,” they insisted, without remembering Valle-Inclán, Rosalía de Castro, and the eternal Galician poets, in whose books it rains from the beginning of creation and an eternal wind blows that perhaps sows the irrational seed that creates so many unique and romantic Galicians.

     It was raining in the city, it was raining in the countryside, it was raining in the marshy paradise of the Arosa estuary and the Vigo estuary and its bridge, it was raining in the unperturbed and almost unreal plaza of Cambados and all the way to Toja Island, where there is a hotel from another time and place that appears to be waiting for the rain to stop and the wind to cease and the sun to shine in order to start living. We were walking through this rain like walking through a state of grace, eating handfuls of the only living seafood that remained in this devastated world, eating fish that is still alive on the plate and salads that continue growing on the table, and we knew that everything was there by virtue of that rain that never stops falling. Many years ago, in a Barcelona restaurant, I heard the Galician writer Álvaro Cunqueiro talk about food, and his description was so dazzling I thought it was a Galician delusion. Ever since I can remember I have heard Galician immigrants in Latin American talk about Galicia and I always thought their memories were distorted by the mirrors of nostalgia. Today I remember my seventy-two hours in Galicia and I ask myself if I have started to be a victim of the same ravings of my grandmother. Among Galicians—we already know it—you never know.

 

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