An Editorial by Matthew Cornetta
A new year and a new question....Always new questions. This month I would like to offer a few speculations on this being called, the woman. And here I am a man. I have selected and translated an excerpt from Pio Baroja’s, El Arbol de la Ciencia—(The Tree of Knowledge) in an attempt to expose some of the universal truths of the stronger sex. Later, I have written what I have written and....Well, just read on.... --Matthew Cornetta
El Arbol de la Ciencia—excerpt and translation from Book II, Chapter V
Andrés Hurtado trataba a pocas mujeres; si hubiese conocido más y podido comparar, hubiera llegado a sentir estimación por Lulú. En el fondo de su falta de ilusión y de moral, al menos de moral corriente, tenía esta muchacha una idea muy humana y muy noble de las cosas. A ella no le parecían mal el adulterio, ni los vicios, ni las mayores enormidades; lo que le molestaba era la doblez, la hipocresía, la mala fe. Sentía un gran deseo de lealtad. Decía que si un hombre la pretendía, y ella viera que la quería de verdad, se iría con él, fuera rico o pobre, soltero o casado. Tal afirmación parecía una monstruosidad, una indecencia a Nini y a doña Leonarda. Lulú no aceptaba derechos ni prácticas sociales. "Cada cual debe hacer lo que quiera," decía. El desenfado inicial de su vida le daba un valor para opinar muy grande. "De veras se iría usted con un hombre?" le preguntaba Andrés. "Si me quiere de verdad, ya lo creo! Aunque me pegara después."
"Sin casarse?" "Sin casarme; por qué no? Si vivía dos o tres años con ilusión y con entusiasmo, pues eso no me lo quitaba nadie." "Y luego?..." "Luego seguiría trabajando como ahora, o me envenenaría." Esta tendencia al final trágico era muy frecuente en Lulú; sin duda le atraía la idea de acabar, y de acabar de una manera melodrámatica. Decía que no le gustaría llegar a vieja. En su franqueza extraordinaria, hablaba con cinismo. Un día le dijo a Andrés: "Ya ve usted: hace unos años estuve a punto de perder la honra, como decimos las mujeres." "Por qué?" pregunto Andrés, asombrado al oír esta revelación."
Porque un bestia de la vecindad quiso forzarme. Yo tenía doce años. Y gracias que llevaba pantalones y empecé a chillar; si no... estaría deshonrada," añadió con voz campanuda. "Parece que la idea no le espanta a usted mucho." "Para una mujer que no es guapa, como yo, y que tiene que estar siempre trabajando, como yo, la cosa no tiene gran importancia." Qué había de verdad en esta manía de sinceridad y de análisis de Lulú? se preguntaba Andrés. Era espontánea, era sentida, o había algo de ostentación para parecer original? Difícil era averiguarlo.
Andrés Hurtado had little history or experience with women. But if he had known more, and if he could have made comparisons; he would have held Lulú in high regard. Underneath the flagging hopes and low morale, he began to discover a woman who embraced a passionately human and noble idea of how things should be. She was scarcely irritated by the so-called ‘great’ sins: adultery, vice, murder... What did get under her skin however, were things like: duplicity, hypocrisy, and sugar coated intentions... Lulú was deeply driven by some evanescent allegiance to loyalty. She would always say that if some man were making advances, and she saw that his motives were sincere—then she would relent and run off with him, not bothering to care if he were rich or poor, single or married. Such revelations appeared as barbarities to her mother and sister. But Lulú had neither time nor place for the morés and protocol of society. "Each and every should do whatever they feel," she was wont to say. Her long established lack of inhibition drove Lulú to construct such sweeping opinions...
"Would you really up and run away with a man?" asked Andrés. "If he truly loved me, you better believe it!... Although, he’d probably end up beating me." "And you wouldn’t even get married?" "Marriage...? What for?? If I could live two or three years with hope and enthusiasm.... Well, no one can take that away." "And after?" "Then, back to work. I’d work again, like now.... Or, I’d take poison." Lulú was frequently given to this tendency of envisioning a tragic end for herself. She was attracted by the prospect of dying—and even more so—by dying in a melodramatic way. She said she was terrified of growing old. With incredible candor, Lulú would reveal details of her life to Andrés—each day speaking more cynically. One day she commenced their conversation, saying: "Let me tell you, I’ve seen some things... A few years back, I almost lost my honor—that’s what we women are supposed to say." "How," asked Andrés, amazed that he was privy to such revelations. "How?.... Because one of the animals in my neighborhood wanted to force me. I was only twelve—and thanks to the fact that I was screaming, and wearing pants.....if not....." She paused and then in a stagy, resonant voice, added: "Well, if not, I guess I would have been dishonored." "It seems the idea really doesn’t bother you." "Listen... For a woman like me— a woman not at all pretty, and a woman who has no option but work—the whole thing really has no bearing on life at all..." ....How much truth was there to these seemingly deep and sincere analyses of Lulú? Andrés asked himself. Were they truly spontaneous and heartfelt? Or were they some sort of ostentation which she prepared in order to appear: unique, original and attractive. It was no easy matter to ever know for sure.
.....AND WHAT ABOUT WOMEN?
They are our backbone. They are our society. Try to force a woman into a role and you can only invite heartache... Try to fit a woman into a fixed set of expectations and you stop up the faucet—cut off the flow of beauty which might have engorged your days... I don’t think I shall ever understand women. And why should I? I am a man. Yet everyday, I try to understand. Everyday, I want more and I want to share more—I want to tap into that irresistible resilience that is, woman. Perhaps I am envious. I know full well that they are the stronger sex and I only wither by comparison. I want to sit back and marvel—admire them... This is often difficult because I am supposed to belong to some type of ‘club’—the sodality of men—the male bonding thing—the third grade herding together in order to hide our gross weaknesses and share so-called common enthusiasms... I don’t understand those enthusiasms either. I guess I always liked to look at people one at a time—and those we call "women" always seemed the more fascinating—their softness, yet hardness—their ability to deliver pangs of deep desire and then leave you cold, forlorn, empty.... The bent-back, old women as well—the ones who hold up the world... My mother of course, too.... Seeing my mother at work in the fields of life, makes me ashamed to be a man—as if it were a stigma....
Note: At first I was going to write a nuts and bolts editorial about women. But, when I sat down to write, I was at once preoccupied with a woman whom I love dearly. ....And look how it has weakened my literary knees!... Look how I have retreated into weak and vague generalizations!... That says more about women than the tightest argument I could ever conjure. Like Andrés Hurtado, I shall always feel much, but never know anything, about women—our greatest mystery, our greatest glory, our most precious natural resource.