Thursday, October 8, 2020

Old Nautilia


I have to say that Primo Cova kept strictly to his word, to my great admiration. Moreover, he was defender, lawyer and all-round advocate of Feíta’s conduct everywhere he went. As for me, I feared her outbursts would get her stoned to death in Marineda. It is true that there was plenty of talk, feathers were ruffled, and the liberated woman was rightly branded an insolent tomboy. But as a major point in her favour, and despite the wicked and shameful interpretation to which her escapades lent themselves, the general verdict was not to assign any sinister intention to Feíta's brilliant ideas for now.

The benevolent campaign of the at times wild and slanderous Primo Cova must have contributed to this relative indulgence of the public.

Feíta’s natural ease, the clarity of her words and her impetuous manner dispelled shadows and allayed suspicions.

The most pessimistic of the naysayers predicted only that she would be irretrievably lost among the risks and hazards of the unusual life she had chosen.

Primo Cova took up cudgels on this point too.

“The girl won’t be lost,” he assured, unperturbed, as though he had the gift of prophecy, “because her natural intuition and the world she’s going to move in will teach her to be cautious. Besides, for now the girl cares little for men or cupid’s arrow. What’s on her mind is the desire to study, to learn, to revel in and flaunt her knowledge. Don’t you see how she walks, like a Caifás[i], with her short hair, boots the size of boats, blackened fingernails and petticoats awry?  

Are you certain she will fall into disrepute? 

Well, I propose a bet. I’ll wager that before this peruchón[ii] is lost, five or six of her social circle who live the old way, who don’t go out alone or give lessons, will be irretrievably lost.

Who will play for a thousand realitos[iii]!”

Since it was my territory where Feíta was making her first foray, and despite the benign atmosphere that surrounded her, I felt so awkward that I hid in my room. I stopped going to the Neira tertulia[iv] and even avoided meeting Don Benicio. Be careful: stay in your hole, mouse. Let’s not risk our beloved tranquility for anything.

Meanwhile, Feíta was breaking down barriers and could not be contained. Morning and evening, she could be seen walking the streets, free as a bird, smug, fearless and dishevelled, willfully disregarding the rules of ladies’ grooming. One might say she was an outsider who had never been to Marineda due to the eagerness and haste with which she explored the city, boldly traversing the most dangerous alleyways, visiting the countryside and surrounding areas, examining monuments and even sketching some graceful Romanesque arches and fifteenth century houses that were still preserved in the old Nautilia[v]. If she met an acquaintance off the beaten path who offered to accompany her, the girl would refuse without excuses or acquiescence.

      “I am delighted to keep my own company,” she would say, with such pleasure radiating from her green eyes that it was only right to take her at her word and leave her to indulge her whim.  

[i] Joseph ben Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest, said in the New Testament to have been involved in a plot to kill Jesus.

[ii] Galician word for marimacho (butch; a woman with masculine appearance or mannerisms).

[iii] The real and the realito were coins in circulation in Spain from the fourteenth to the mid nineteenth century.

[iv] Social gathering, where people meet to talk about current affairs, the arts and other topics of the day.

[v] According to the edition by María Angeles Ayala, published by Catedra (2019), this refers to the old city of La Coruña.