In my quest to cure my intellectual laziness, I’m hoping that reading Like Water for Chocolate in its original Spanish will prove to be a watershed moment.
Not that I’ve seen any improvement in my attempt to read Kant.
If you didn’t see the 1992 movie (or just need a refresher), the plot goes something like this: in 19th-century Mexico, during the revolution, 15-year-old Tita falls in love with her handsome neighbor Pedro. When Pedro asks Tita to marry him, their love is thwarted. Her mother (Mamá Elena) will not permit the marriage because Tita, as youngest daughter, is bound by family tradition to be her mother’s handmaid until Mamá Elena’s death. Pedro decides to marry Tita’s older sister Rosaura instead so as to live in the same household as his beloved. This brings about many complications, as you might imagine.
Throughout the novel and movie is an underlying theme of cooking. Tita’s emotions are expressed through the food she makes, and everyone who eats her cooking experiences those emotions. The guests leave Pedro and Rosaura’s wedding weeping after eating the cake Tita baked, for one example.
It’s an entertaining book and movie. Mamá Elena is a wonderful (if one-dimensional) character, Disney-esque in her evil.
Back in 1993, when I saw the movie, Pedro’s actions and the smoldering heat between he and Tita all seemed reasonable. But on reflection, I think I was distracted by the beautiful Marco Leonardi.
Reading the book made something readily apparent: Pedro is an idiot. Not only was it completely stupid for him to marry Tita’s sister, but his constant stalking of Tita, who is trying to move on with her life, borders on creepy. And the poor girl gets no relief even after her mother dies; just when it looks like she’s found real love in Dr. John Brown, Pedro intervenes again. But he won’t leave Rosaura. Nope, Pedro’s going to play it both ways, and Tita, distracted by lust, continues to make poor decisions.
Still, it was fun to read this as a married adult instead of as the unattached, hormonal teenager I was when I saw the movie. Today I would take Dr. Brown over Pedro, thank you very much. He actually cares about Tita and is responsible and kind AND IS NOT MARRIED TO HER SISTER.
I did pick up some interesting Spanish in the course of reading this book. You know how we use an onion as a metaphor for the many layers of a person? The Spanish equivalent is lettuce and its many layers of leaves.
I read a lot of recipes in the book and descriptions of cooking, and one frequent direction was to squeeze broth or some other liquid through a thick cloth. The Spanish word for thick is tupido. Something that is thick es tupido. Someone who is thick is stupid, and the word in Spanish for stupid is estúpido.
Perhaps I’m making up that etymology by combining two words, but I doubt it. This isn’t like the urban legend that Nova is the combination of No va, meaning “it doesn’t go,” which is why the Chevy Nova failed to sell well in Mexico. (It did fine, sales-wise.) That would be the equivalent of claiming that women refuse to see a therapist because they are afraid of the rapist. If women refuse to see a therapist it’s because bitching about our problems to our girlfriends is much cheaper and more fun besides.
Not that there’s anything wrong with seeing a therapist.
Anyway, here’s a link to a Spanish website with a trailer for the movie. I can’t get a direct YouTube embedded link because the movie trailer contains nudity. If that isn’t an illustration of our cultural difference, I don’t know what is. Enjoy!
Categories: Brain Workouts