this is the cow

Cuando su padre le comunicó su alarma por haber olvidado hasta los hechos más impresionantes de su niñez, Aureliano le explicó su método, y José Arcadio Buendía lo puso en práctica en toda la casa y más tarde lo impuso a todo el pueblo. Con un hisopo entintado marcó cada cosa con su nombre: mesa, silla, reloj, puerta, pared, cama, cacerola. Fue al corral y marcó los animales y las plantas: vaca, chivo, puerco, gallina, yuca, malanga, guineo. Poco a poco, estudiando las infinitas posibilidades del olvido, se dio cuenta de que podía llegar un día en que se reconocieran las cosas por sus inscripciones, pero no se recordara su utilidad. Entonces fue más explícito. El letrero que colgó en la cerviz de la vaca era una muestra ejemplar de la forma en que los habitantes de Macondo estaban dispuestos a luchar contra el olvido:

Esta es la vaca, hay que ordeñarla todas las mañanas para que produzca leche y a la leche hay que hervirla para mezclarla con el café y hacer café con leche.

Así continuaron viviendo en una realidad escurridiza, momentáneamente capturada por las palabras, pero que había de fugarse sin remedio cuando olvidaran los valores de la letra escrita.

When his father told him about his alarm at having forgotten even the most impressive happenings of his childhood, Aureliano explained his method to him, and José Arcadio Buendía put it into practice all through the house and later on imposed it on the whole village. With an inked brush he marked everything with its name: table, chair, clock, door, wall, bed, pan. He went to the corral and marked the animals and plants: cow, goat, pig, hen, cassava, caladium, banana. Little by little, studying the infinite possibilities of a loss of memory, he realized that the day might come when things would be recognized by their inscriptions but that no one would remember their use. Then he was more explicit. The sign that he hung on the neck of the cow was an exemplary proof of the way in which the inhabitants of Macondo were prepared to fight against loss of memory:

This is the cow. She must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be boiled in order to be mixed with coffee to make coffee and milk.

Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters.


an incident in the pharmacy

One morning he was persuaded to drop in at the corner pharmacy and pick up some supplies for the baby. When he returned there was a hurt, schoolboyish look on his face that I had never seen before, and he was pressing his hand against his cheek.

‘She hit me,‎’ he said plaintively.

‘Hai! Allah-tobah! Darling!’ cried my mother, fussing. ‘Who hit you? Are you injured? Show me, let me see.’

‘I did nothing,’ he said, standing there in the hall with the pharmacy bag in his other hand and a face as pink as Mecir’s rubber gloves. ‘I just went in with your list. The girl seemed very helpful. I asked for baby compound, Johnson’s powder, teething jelly, and she brought them out. Then I asked did she have any nipples, and she slapped my face.’

My mother was appalled. ‘Just for that?’ And Certainly-Mary backed her up. ‘What is this nonsense?’ she wanted to know. ‘I have been in that chemists’s shock, and they have flenty nickels, different sizes, all on view.’

Durré and Muneeza could not contain themselves. They were rolling round on the floor, laughing and kicking their legs in the air.

‘You both shut your face at once,’ my mother ordered. ‘A madwoman has hit your father. Where is the comedy?’

‘I don’t believe it,’ Durré gasped. ‘You just went up to that girl and said,’ and here she fell apart again, stamping her feet and holding her stomach, ‘ “have you got any nipples?” ’

My father grew thunderous, empurpled. Durré controlled herself. ‘But Abba,’ she said, at length, ‘here they call them teats.’

Now my mother’s and Mary’s hands flew to their mouths, and even my father looked shocked. ‘But how shameless!’ my mother said. ‘The same word as for what’s on your bosoms?’ She coloured, and stuck out her tongue for shame.

‘These English,’ sighed Certainly-Mary. ‘But aren’t they the limit? Certainly-yes; they are.’

Salman Rushdie, The Courter