Tagged: middle class


Oh, how fast the evening passes / cleaning up the champagne glasses. (Lorde)

Hortensia, Begonia, Margarita y Azucena se encuentran una vez por semana. Que todas tengan nombres de flores es pura coincidencia. Sin embargo, en el colegio se las conoció por todas partes simplemente como Las Flores. Son amigas desde hace décadas, pero esto no quita que tengan sus secretos y reservas. No por nada se evitan las conversaciones sobre política y religión, y no solamente en familia, sino también en las reuniones de Las Flores. Como buenas hijas de clase media en un país católico, tienen penas y vergüenzas para dar y convidar, pero como buenas hijas de clase media en un país católico no las comparten con nadie. La emancipación les sirvió para no más confesarse con un cura; ya ninguna va a misa obligada por la madre o el esposo. Ya no quedan tantas madres y esposo tampoco. Más allá, la emancipación no ha llegado y Las Flores siguen con sus penas y vergüenzas cada una por si sola.

A Begonia por ejemplo le da pena invitar a sus amigas a su casa porque cree que su sala es la más pequeña. Además, no sabe cocinar bien, y más pena que el tamaño de su sala le da ofrecer paquetes del supermercado a la hora de los onces. Hortensia, por el contrario, es muy buena cocinera y le encanta experimentar. Por eso, cada vez que vengan las amigas, hay otra delicia recién horneada esperando a las invitadas. Pero Hortensia vive más al norte que las demás y el trancón de vuelta a la ciudad es horrible en horas pico. Por eso solamente se encuentran en la casa de Hortensia cuando la cita es por la mañana. Margarita es la menos avergonzada de las cuatro, pero se da cuenta de que las demás aún después de tantos años la siguen juzgando por ser tosca. Ella lo atribuye a su descendencia alemana, aunque su único nexo con este país sea su pasaporte. Azucena es la que más se preocupa por su apariencia. Tanto así que no asistió al entierro de su prima porque su (ahora ex-)esposo se untó un zapato en caca de perro y no pudieron ir así. Pero Azucena es también la mas aventajada en cuanto a guardar apariencias, porque es la más rica de las cuatro. Esta tarde, Las Flores se encuentran en la sala de Azucena, la sala que más avergüenza a Begonia. Continue reading


8. Reading: The Blind Assassin

Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin (2001, Virago) is a book about the cruel workings of families. Even though there’s no actual assassin in it, several people die along the way. The protagonist Iris Chase describes the life of her sister Laura, who committed suicide at the age of 25. This story is intertwined with Laura’s posthumously published novel, The Blind Assassin, a mixture of science-fiction and dime-novel romance. The overall topics in recounting the short life of Laura and it’s repercussions in the life of Iris are intrigue, moral and provincial high society, and how things are covered up in families for the sake of guarding appearance. It is unclear to what degree all family members were conscious of rotten apples, but they get to a point when they can no longer be ignored.

I like to imagine that Laura could have been autistic in a time when this diagnose would not yet exist. She’s often described as special, taking things all too literal and relating colors to feelings, among other things (I know, this is a very simplistic idea of autism, and I’m convinced the lightness of the “traits” is intentional from the author’s perspective). The story also shows how the abuse of one family member can affect the life (and effectively screw) of others, it’s lesson about how all play their parts in the conspiracy, and that one has to break off to actually break the cycle. Yet, in the end no one is right, and nothing is going to be right ever again.

When I was younger, I would close to never read books of more than 200 pages. I think Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 changed my mind here. However, I still find it astonishing how different long books work. The moment I actually get engaged in the stories is when the average 200-pages book already comes to an end. The art clearly is to make you read those first 200 pages, of course. Atwood made it, and by the middle of The Blind Assassin I almost didn’t want to put it away, and only did so because it was late at night and I had to be fresh for another day in the field.

How did I come across the book?

It was a Christmas present from a befriended couple. They said they thought it might be interesting to me because it treated topics like family memories, and because the author had a reputation for developing multi-dimensional female characters. Boy were they right.

When and where did I read it?

I took it to the field and started on the plane there. Since it is quite a doorstopper, it took me a while to finish. I’m glad I took it, and certainly hadn’t expected it would fit so nicely with my research interests in the genesis of middle class family life. Even though it is placed in Canada, it gave me some inspiration on what topics to look for in the interviews with my informants here in Colombia. So one answer to my earlier query about what to read in the field might be to tempt fate and take something you didn’t even think could be useful there.

It was only three weeks after this that Aimee fell down the stairs. I mourned her, of course. She was my daughter. But I have to admit I mourned the self she’d been at a much earlier age. I mourned what she could have become; I mourned her lost possibilities. More than anything, I mourned my own failures. (p. 533)