Rainy day on an Uruguayan road. (Personal archive)

Seeking for La Maga

To abandon someone is worse than to be abandonned. It took a season in an asylum for Oliveira to experience that. This is not a book review, but an intimate exercise loosely guided by the novel “Rayuela”, an Argentine classic.

Paris

Julio Cortázar’s “Rayuela” is the first and only novel I had ever read which made me mirror myself into the protagonist, Horacio Oliveira. Not because I am like the moody and skeptical Argentine, (sometimes I am), but due the situations he was through, especially regarding his (broken) relationship with Lucía, intimately nicknamed by him as “La Maga”, the Witch. It made me think of the consequences of “bumping” the girlfriends I had.

I cannot remember if the author explains the meaning of this “La Maga” nickname, but it sounds like something affectionate, exploring the ludic and mysterious figure of a witch, and not of someone threatening. For those who have not read Cortázar’s magnus opus, I need to say that the chapters are organized in some sort of labyrinth, in which you have the choice of following a straight line through the first part (Oliveira’s life as an immigrant in Paris), or blend it with random notes and spin-offs spread along the book, leading to a long and hidden second part (Olivera’s return to Buenos Aires). I am not sure if this is a correct explanation of the chapter structure, but it does not matter: the author meant it to be a puzzle with no correct way to be solved.

During his stay in Paris, Oliveira lives some sort of a bum life with the disguise of a highly engaged intellectual, represented by the meetings and conversations with his eccentric bunch of friends in the same situation, El Club de la Serpiente. Lucía is part of this club, despite not being intelectually driven like Oliveira, her boyfriend. The couple is mostly described hanging out with the bunch rather than being alone, making hard to define what kind of relationship it is. They are both adults living abroad (Lucía is Uruguayan and also a single mother of a baby — Rocamadour), and in fact, they do not seem to take each other seriously until another member of the club, Gregorovius, approaches Lucía. It shows how even an aloof guy like Oliveira is subject to jealousy.

Gregorovius caressed her hair, and la Maga lowered her head. <<There is it>>, Oliveira thought, (…) <<there is it, it had to be. He is crazy about this woman, and says it this very way, with ten fingers. (…) <<I’m gonna break up your face, Ossip Gregorovius, my poor friend.>> (freely translated)

Gregorovius does not succeed and there is no need for violence between the fellows. But it takes some time for Oliveira to forget about this threat. He is sure that something happened between Lucía and her pretender, “But it’s not true, Horacio”, and Horacio Oliveria replies with one of the most canny phrases of the book: “I don’t care, consummation is ancillary.” Despite this short jealous demonstration, Lucía is the one truly ‘ancillary’ in Oliveira’s life. He has another girlfriend, Pola, and it is almost funny how coldly he compares both girls:

-But what about Lucía? And Pola? -Heterogenous quantities -said Oliveira-. You believe that only because they are women, you could sum them up in the same column. (freely translated)

At least he recognizes the need for not generalizing women, but cannot help doing that in a philosophical, distant way. To Oliveira, everything is a question of abstractneess. The alienation of Oliveira to intimacy and practical issues culminates in the tragic event which ends the Parisian part of the book alongside his relationship with Lucía. Rocamadour, her baby boy, is sick for days and Lucía does not know what to do. Oliveira comes to her place and gets to know the situation, but before he could be of any help, they are interrupted by visitors (really can’t remember if they were visited by some neighbours or one of the Club members), and after a not so long conversation, Oliveira remembers to check the baby and finds out that he is dead. He waits for a long time after the visitors go away to let Lucía discover what happened to her child.

What follows is the painful desperation of the mother and the beginning of her abandonment by Oliveira. He feels unable to comfort her, and does it so poorly that the reader could think that he is actually judging her incompetence as a mother and trying to get away as soon as possible. When he does, it happens as some sort of a not spoken break up and he never sees Lucía again.

Buenos Aires

Nothing is for free. Absolutely nothing. It is very easy to approach and get the girl, but once you realize that you are not going to stay, a burden was forever placed in your conscience. This is not about moral justice, but psychological and spiritual reality. People are not made to be “left”, and despite your best reasons to do so — I know a lot of them, I know mine and how compelling they were — you will be hurt forever at one of your thousands repressed subconscious rooms.

When back to his hometown, Oliveira starts to work with an old friend and his concubine in a circus, and afterwards, the three change to a job at an asylum. At the beginning, Horacio seems to never think about Lucía at all, but as the months go by, her subtle memory starts to materialize in the woman of his buddy. He sees Lucía at another woman due to a vague resemblance, and he is the first to call it a doppelgänger. The attentive reader knows better: Horacio sees Lucía simply because she exists in his mind. People are not made to be left, and we are able to verify it by the fact that our mind remembers people through its entire life. We forget a lot of stuff, but before alzheimer or a head trauma, we don’t forget people.

Being a blind and drowsy spring of our Generation Cuckold, Horacio tastes a hard time trying to get rid of Lucía’s doppelgänger and from one of the asylum’s workers, he almost ends up as one of its patients. The saddest part of it all is that he doesn’t let the reader be sure that he was feeling guilty for abandonning Lucía. We are left to figure it out of obviousness.

CIELO?

The book title is the Spanish word for ‘Hopscotch’ because it contains a shot on human deliverance. In this old-fashioned children’s game, you draw in the ground a linear ladder to ‘Heaven’, with optional sidesteps in its middle, throw a small rock in one of the steps and try to reach the heavenly last step jumping with one leg and without touching the step where the rock is placed. In Western Christian imaginary, Heaven is placed above the Earth (while Hell is below). But, since the hopscotch is drawn on the ground, it loses the aspect of a 3-dimensional ladder and places Heaven in the end of a 2-dimensional brickroad. That is the idea of Cortázar: our final destination is not an outworld paradise, but a continuation of Earth. If you walk facing the horizon, you will get there, or something like that.

Horacio Oliveira seems to understand this when he finally stops seeking for La Maga at his friend’s woman. But he never looks for redemption for the crime of abandonment, which makes me think that — like Cortázar — he is jumping with a sole leg to nowhere. The end of the 2d hopscotch is not Heaven, but another place on Earth to live a desperate life. He never bows to his knees to God, he never asks for forgiviness, he just keeps being a confused intellectual proud of his own decadence: an old way to Hell.


I had the same dream for every girlfriend or whirlwind romance I left behind in my life: I meet the sad and crying girl in a random place and I am able to feel an infinite tenderness towards her, a feeling that is a way stronger than the strongest feelings I am able to have while awake. This is not a big deal, but just made me sure: I do not want to ever abandon someone again. But for now, just forgive me, Father.