La isla coronada

la isla coronada

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,

Richard II – Act II – Scene I

He decidido avanzar un tímido paso más en los procelosos mares de la auto-edición. Quien haya tenido la paciencia de seguir este blog a corriente alterna en los últimos años, habrá leído ya estos relatos. Todos tienen en común una cosa: el escenario. Se desarrollan en Gran Bretaña, país que he visitado varias veces y que entre sus peculiaridades — las pintas, los pasteles de carne, conducir a la izquierda – hay que incluir el hecho de que me inspira. Para bien o para mal, está en el paciente lector decirlo. La foto de la portada es una vista de la costa del sur de Inglaterra tomada en uno de esos viajes, y el título elegido es un homenaje a William Shakespeare.

Puede servir de aperitivo prácticamente gratuito para quien no se atreve a zamparse una novela de romanos de más de cuatrocientas páginas pagándolas sin tener idea de como escribo.



Argumentos de (poco) peso

Barrio español. Nápoles. Pinchar para fuente

En el 2017 ha pasado, sin mayor pena ni gloria, un aniversario que en teoría debería haberme importado algo. Entre septiembre y octubre del año pasado, hace veinte que dejé España y me vine a vivir a Italia. Quizás el hecho de no haber marcado la fecha en el calendario se deba a que nunca he tenido la sensación de salir cerrando una puerta, y de que aquí, a pesar de haber encontrado el compañero de una vida, al no haberme embarcado ni en hipotecas ni en perpeturar la especie, tengo siempre una especie de sensación  de perpetua transitoriedad. Además, españoles e italianos somos pueblos relativamente semejantes, con lazos entrecruzados a lo largo de la historia desde tiempos remotos: por ejemplo, el vencedor del conflicto civil entre César y Pompeyo se empezó a decidir en Munda (en los alrededores de la actual Osuna), y en pocos sitios me he sentido tan en España como en el casco viejo de Nápoles. Sin embargo, a pesar de todo, muy de tarde en tarde alguien (y siempre se trata de una persona, no de una situación, una cosa, o quien sabe qué) me hace caer en la cuenta de que “soy extranjera”. Además, cosa curiosa, el señalarme como tal viene siempre de quien se encuentra en dificultad y, a falta de argumentos de más peso, señala tal diferencia. No me voy a engañar, no se trata de una falta exclusiva del interlocutor del momento, es algo que llevamos los seres humanos en los genes, apuntar con el dedo “al otro”. Me ha pasado en el trabajo, donde, por el teléfono, mi condición de no-italiana resulta evidente (no puedo ni imaginar qué tiene que vivir quien lleva la extranjería escrita en el color de la piel o los rasgos físicos) por lo que quien, al otro lado del aparato, quería descargar su frustración por cuestiones relacionadas con la empresa en la que trabajo, tarde o temprano (perdón, más temprano que tarde) sacaba a relucir un “usted no es italiana ¿verdad?”.

Hoy la tara de mi extranjería ha salido a la luz con alguien en España. Contacté hace unos días mi editorial haciendo presente mi perplejidad por los lugares en los que se han colocado los sesenta ejemplares para librerías, la mayoría de ellos en pequeños centros en los que no conozco a nadie. Seguirán detalles en facebook, pues será el juego estrella del 2018 “¿Dónde está Marco?”, una versión-peplum de “¿Dónde está Wally?” Presumo que debe haber una serie no corta de motivos por los cuales mi primera novela sea difícil de colocar en librerías, empezando por el precio, que no es tirado por lo limitado de la… tirada, pasando por que el tema sea más o menos atractivo (¿otra de romanos? ¡por favor!), o el hecho de que yo no soy nadie y los libreros están saturados de libros… Sin embargo, el primer (y único) argumento sacado a colación por mi interlocutora era lo duro que ha sido “dejar el libro de una autora extranjera en plena campaña navideña”. Sin lugar a dudas, un argumento de peso.


So, he is alive, with the monks, protecting “the relic”. The Englishman was here, in Ireland, although I thought I got rid of him, once and for all, five years ago. I thanked my luck when he left Constantinople, his presence disturbed and irritated me. When I left that city for England, to offer my respects to the king, I found out that he was there, making trouble. Nevertheless, I decided to use his presence for my own advantage. I told the king that one of his brother’s men was inciting his people to rebellion, saying that King Richard Lion Heart was alive. I remembered his majesty that one of the many pretenders to the throne could use his testimony to brand him as unlawful usurper. I know who this “traitor” was; there were not many crusaders, survivors of the third, with a big black cross tattooed in the back. I warned king John, Dugald accompanied the soldiers and pointed at him. He was captured. But the king has failed me. He told me that everything was settled, but he lied. Of course, he thought that to abandon him in a small boat, without food nor water, with the flesh of his back whipped to the bone would be as good as to kill him without passing the sentence. The king has not been the only one to fail me, those painted beasts also. I gave them precise instructions: Fournier and the Englishman should die, the relic stolen. The other monks could live, I did not care for them.

I feel rage grow inside me. The bastard babe-slayer, as I called him that night in Constantinople, can ruin everything. I’ve worked so hard for his, all my life. I changed my destiny with my own hands. There can only be one Baron de Merville, our property cannot be divided. It is the custom that all goes to the elder brother, and the second is destined to the church. In our case it was my father who decided who was the older between my twin brother and myself. When questioned, the terrified midwife said she couldn’t say who saw the light first, covered with blood and mucosity as we were. She made a knot to our umbilical cords, but had to help also my mother. It was not an easy delivery; she had a heavy haemorrhage and was too busy trying not to die, she couldn’t care less about birthright those moments. Therefore, once cleaned and bathed, my father had to decide who would be the heir, and he chose Guy. On seeing me, he said that all that black hair in the head of a new born was surely a sign of the evil, and that dedicating my life to God I will clean, not only the original sin, but also that touch of evil in me. Poor father, equanimity has never been his forte. Thus, as my father thought me wicked even when I wasn’t, I decided to prove him right. For him I was only Guy’s corrupt copy. He was kind and generous as I was rude and selfish. Although we were identical, the pale blue of my brother’s eyes were, according to the baron, clear and bright, while mine were unsettling. His smile broad and honest, while I could only smirk, and his nose straight and noble, while mine menacing as a bird of prey’s peak.

We went to Ireland when we were boys. Growing up, my brother proved also meek and coward. How would he as Baron of Merville hold the lands that my father conquered with fire and steel? But he was not weak to my father’s eyes, of course. I was condemned to study my prayers and my Latin while he trained, without success. I was as good with books as he with swords. When I was fourteen I decided to settle the matter, once and for all. Despite our differences, my brother and I shared a passion: hunting. A dangerous sport. I confess it was not easy to prepare the accident. My father was particularly over anxious with everything concerning his favourite son. I managed, during a moment of distraction, to loosen his horse’s belts. I challenged him to a race inside the woods chasing a fox. As I expected, after a few jumps over some scattered trunks he fell from his horse. Providence lent me also a hand: he broke his neck on falling, although I had my dagger in my hand when I approached him, just in case I had to help him with the passing.

My mother did not put up with the mourning, and she followed his son a little time afterwards. Poor stupid thing as she was, I think she felt I had something to do with the business, and she always looked scared to death near me. My father spent a fortune in masses for Guy, started to use a hair shirt and to confess daily. The day of the burial he summoned me: “Raymond” – he said – “I will not deny you what’s yours by right, I will never cover the family with shame. But know that the very day you come to age you will not receive a single coin for me for your maintenance. When I die everything will be yours. Not before. Prove me that you deserve the name of Baron de Merville”.

I didn’t even argue his decision, I expected it. I went back to Rouen, and lived with some relatives. I considered the next crusade (there will always be another crusade) as my only chance to make fortune. Most of the knights searched in crusades money and recognition, but died in the East, or returned crippled and poor. I wouldn’t be one of them. I joined the flood of French knights headed to Venice, where we waited to embark. It took quite a long time to the pope and the Serenissima to establish the terms of the agreement, the amount of money that we were supposed to get and never received, and the number of galleys that would take us to the East.

I met him in Venice. He had a name, and a voice, there. An Englishman, knight of King Richard Lion Heart. He hoped to find him -or his body- near Jerusalem. But we were not headed to the holy city. Politics and religion make strange allies, and instead of fighting the infidel in Jerusalem we were to help the deposed king of the Byzantines to retake his throne. That was real good news to me. Constantinople busted with gold, and I wanted my share. I needed as much as I could get to achieve what I had in mind.

Things went better than I expected. The Englishman proved an excellent warrior. When we entered Constantinople we sacked together the house of a certain Genovese merchant, rich as Craessus. He seemed possessed by a demon. I took also that paste that he got from the Syrian merchant, much less than the amount he swallowed-up, anyway. It just quieted the bites of hunger in my stomach and gave me a little bit of euphoria, but it didn’t change me. I guess that the drug only liberates your real self. The Englishman reputes himself a knight, noble as King Arthur, but he is a monster, actually. I know that’s what I am. I’ve heard it all my lifetime.

The morning after, when the effect of the drug vanished, I did not remember him what he did in that house. I let him live in his righteous lie, condemning me from his high pedestal of chivalry values every time I stole gold, commerced with false relics, or sold prisoners as slaves. But one night, I made him face reality when we were playing dice: “your lucky will be over soon, you bastard babe-slayer”. How beautiful that moment was. The horror in his eyes, the abyss when he remembered everything: the red pulp of a child’s brain staining a wall that was white before we destroyed that family. I heard that he left the city some weeks later. I had to stay six more months in that shit hole before I got the money I needed to return to my dear father Baron de Merville with a small army of my own, richer than he will ever be. I’ve spent the last five years proving him to deserve my title, enduring his hypocrisy and cowardice, the masses before and after every manslaughter, trying to clean up his soul. It’s so easy to gain absolution: send a coffer filled with gold to the holy father, and he will send you back a nice parchment, sealed with lead and wax, pardoning you all sins imaginable. My father has not realised that the king of England is our only possible ally and protector. Not God. Who can not care less of us.

When I heard about Friar Geraldus’ mission I offered myself to escort him and the “relic” to Rome. With a small detour in England, hosted by king John. I’m sure Geraldus would have made a mess at the beginning, but not for long. I was determined to let him the glory of having convinced king John of England to deliver the holy relic to Saint Matthias to pope Innocence III.

I should be headed to the English court now. I’m not supposed to be here, hunting three monks and a “mute” in the bogs. If only he had died when he had to.

This is the backstory I have imagined for Raymond de Merville in his own words. It’s related with the previous post, the backstory of the Mute. I have placed it, in the timeline of “Pilgrimage”, when Raymond and his men are chasing the monks and the mute in the forest.

The mute

poster copy BW no words

– Tell me: how does a man without a tongue confess his sins?

– We pray for him

I have a tongue, but I don’t speak. Should I open my mouth I’d scream, or go mad. Perhaps I’d return to the sea to let the ocean swallow me up. I can’t speak, I won’t do it, not until the very end. Indeed, it is a very pleasant thing to have good people praying for me. Raymond has always had the skill to read any situation on the spot. To know people. I thought, a long time ago, that I could do it also, but I was wrong. I thought I knew him. I trusted him, although only in the very beginning of our acquittance. I even thought, waiting to embark in Venice, that we were alike, but we are not. Otherwise he’d also scream, or bit his tongue. He would, if he believed. Although all the things that I have seen I still believe in God. How can, a man like me? I don’t know. I stand on my knees for hours, and I let Friar Ciàran prayers fall upon me. He has also seen the evil, he’s hold the sword but nevertheless, he can speak. Because he has not done what I did. What would they all think of me? Would young Diarmuid still tell me about the soul of the razor-shell if he knew that once I plucked a babe by the legs as he plucked that mollusc and dashed his brains off against a wall while his mother screamed just as long as it took Raymond to cut her throat? A family of Genovese merchants. Theirs was the only house still intact in the centre of Constantinople.

I’ve tried to justify the deed, afterwards. We were hungry, pillage was the only way to get the money we were promised. I was confused. During the siege of the city the food was scarce and I cheated hunger chewing a sticky paste. One of the many Syrian merchants that fluttered around our camp had a reputation for obtaining the impossible. I asked him to find ašīš; I saw the Nizaris transformed by it during the other crusade. I swallowed all I had left when the walls of the city collapsed. I’d not need it any more. But I forgot everything. It was Raymond who made me remember. Two weeks later. We were playing dice, I was winning all the games.

“Your luck will be over soon, you bastard babe slayer” – he said in his bad English with Norman “r”s. I think I got pale. As pale as could become my face burned by the Eastern sun. I knew he was right as soon as he said it.

“You forgot?” – he continued, turning his head, looking innocently at me. I remember his blue eyes, that smirk and that false expression of candid innocence. “Apologies, Englishman. But I must say that you scared me that night”. He lifted the tiny wooden barrel containing the dice. He threw. “Double six! Bon, my luck is changing, finally”. The last sound I heard leaving that tavern was his laughter.

I cursed Raymond for reminding me of the babe. He knew that my mind had wiped out everything, but he kept it for himself until the appropriate moment arrived. I could not stand his company as much as I did before, in Venice, or during the siege. He was trying desperately to make as much money as he could, he repeated that he needed it to pay a group of armed men of his own, that he would need them back in Ireland. He disappeared for days with a strange-looking priest, searching for gold. He commerced with false relics, sold prisoners as slaves. I always reputed myself better than he, nobler, braver. He could not stand my haughty looks, my contempt towards him and he revenged the best way he could: putting me in front of the evidence. I wasn’t better than he.

The following days I tried to make terms with that part of me, and I made my living as a hired sword. When there’s a king to depose there’re many feuds to settle. It was necessary to wipe out the followers of the old usurper. I am good at killing, I made that for years. Those days it gave a new thrill to me. I took a certain pleasure to take away the life of someone that could defend himself: beat, thrust, slash, and then the next. One night the subject in my list escaped, and I chased him near the harbour. He entered a small house, I could hear him hiding in a tiny room, trying his best to conceal his breath, speaking to someone. I stormed into: a woman cried, she was holding a child in her arms, and I froze. It could have been easy for me to kill the man and let the woman go. Even when he took the baby from her arms and threatened to kill it.

“As if that would stop me” – I said. I left the room, the house and the city. I embarked in the first ship to Europe and after two months in Venice I returned to England. I still talked, those days, but very little. And when I opened my mouth it was to say that king Richard Lion Heart was alive and that he would return from the East to claim his kingdom. I knew it was a lie but people would believe anything they wanted. The friars that what we are carrying in that coffer burns infidels. I knew it was the lighting during the storm that made the reliquary hot. And that the water of that small river was not haunted by a bad fairy. When I returned to England people wanted king Richard, and I gave them that illusion. But some dreams do not last long. I was imprisoned by king John’s orders, my atonement finally began. I thanked every whiplash, every punch. When there was very little left of me they didn’t know if I was telling the truth about Richard. I never confessed. Therefore the king, afraid that his brother may return, and knowing that I was close to him during the third crusade, decided to let me live… If I survived the ocean, the hunger and the thirst.

I look different now. In Constantinople my nose was straight, my hair short and I shaved whenever I could; but I know that Raymond and Dougald had recognised me. Every time they look at me, and after what he has told me after cutting the hands of the poachers, I’m beginning to understand why I’m here. And why God has crossed our paths again. I just have to wait, I’m sure that Raymond will offer me the chance to make His will. My will.

I wrote in my Pilgrimage review that I’d have liked to learn more about Raymond and the mute. I have placed this monologue of the mute, in the film timeline, right after Raymond faces the mute for the first time. I’ve written in a previous post not to write fiction in English any more. But this came to my head in English. My apologies for the mistakes.

Raymond the desired

After waiting patiently two years (my “Pilgrimage” folder in my HD is dated June 2015 – no comment), I have been able to watch the movie. I wonder if the DVD would ever have been released if Tom Holland were not the new Spiderman. Whatever the reason, finally this film has been released, and I’ve enjoyed it very much.

This is my very personal review of the film, full of spoilers.

The triumphal entry of Raymond de Merville in the film

Pope Innocence III has ordered a cistercian monk (Stanley Webber) to bring to Rome a sacred relic kept in a distant Irish monastery. The pilgrimage of this group of monks will reveal itself full of perils, not only from the gaelic natives, but also from the Norman knights deputied for their protection. The group from the monastery is formed by three friars, a young novice (Tom Holland), and a “converso” (John Bernthal), that arrived to the community five years before in mysterious circumstances.

In Jamie Hannigan’s script there’s small room for surprises. As soon as Raymond de Merville, the Norman knight, appears on screen, we know that the monks’ pilgrimage is condemned to failure. Should this be an opera, when Raymond takes off the helmet in his first scene, the movement would have been accompanied by sombre string and brass notes, as those of Scarpia in Tosca.

Even if we don’t give importance to the fact that when the novice surprises Raymond flying a messenger pigeon he over reacts (the following challenge of the mute in the novice’s defence anticipates their final epic fight), it is obvious that, when Raymond disappears just in time to avoid an ambush in the forest by the same celtic tribe he’s supposed to chase, he’s the deus-ex-machina of the attack. Nevertheless, in my opinion, if the predictability of the plot can be a weakness for many, it is not for me. The mania in recent years for twisted plots and surprises may result in a unintelligible chaos full of gaps and plot holes. Better to tell a “simple” story well than trying to build an Inception-like plot without success.

The author has chosen to leave the backstory of the characters untold, but I think that the relationship between Raymond and the Mute would have deserved more space. It has been hinted with very few but powerful lines, but unfortunately without any previous knowledge of what was the Constantinople siege during the fourth crusade those lines are less effective.

Luckily for me I have still fresh in mind a reading of some months ago, Umberto Eco’s Baudolino, the story of a knight belonging to the king Federico Barbarossa’s retinue. The protagonist witnesses the most important historical facts during is long life, including Constantinople’s siege. The fourth crusade and this siege were characterised by relics’ commerce and its utmost cruelty.

The crusaders pillaged the city, trying to take by the force all the money that they were promised but, as usually happen in medieval wars, not paid. We all know that crusades were a bloody business, as Ridley Scott showed in his film, or for instance, the ghastly episode of the so-called Children’s Crusade. The fourth crusade and Constantinople’s siege added to the usual amount of cruelty the fact that, although the excuse was, as for the previous ones, the retake of Jerusalem, the first result was the taking of the Christian city of Zara and then was decided to destitute the head of the bizyantine empire in Constantinople. It was not a fight against Muslims, but Christians, with the ultimate objective to pillage as much as possible. As Raymond says when referring to the strange tool he will use to torture one of the monks:

“I got this from a priest in Constantinople. A strange man. He used it to persuade the Greeks to tell us where they’ve hidden all of their gold from their churches”


There was other method apart from direct robbery to make money: to pillage the relics hold in the city’s churches, or directly to create them. This is a paragraph of Eco’s “Baudolino” (the poor translation is mine)

That’s not a bad idea – said Boidi – you go into cemeteries and you find Saint Paul’s chin, perhaps not the head but Saint John the Baptist’s left arm, and so on, the remains of Saint Agatha, Saint Lawrence, those of the prophets Daniel, Samuel and Isaiah, Saint Helen’s skull, a piece of the Apostle Philip head.

Not only that – said Pevere, eager for what was to come – you only have to dig deeper and you find a piece of Bethlem’s manger, a tiny tiny piece, just not to realise where it comes from.

We will make relics as never seen before – said the Poet – but we’ll also remake those existing already, because prices of those known go up and up.

We know that Raymond was in Constantinople, and that he witnessed probably the commerce and creation of sacred relics. Some as improbable as a flask of Virgin Mary’s milk, the thorns of Christ’s crown, fragments of his cloak, skulls, limbs or organs of many apostles, saints and prophets.

No wonder that when greeting Friar Geraldus he asks him if he has taken his “souvenir”, later he will define the coffer containing the relic a “pretty box”, and when he learns the story of the precious relic (the stone that dashed off Saint Matthias’ brains and that burned afterwards all the pagans that touched it) he only says full of sceptical sarcasm: 

Raymond knows that most probably that is not the very stone that killed the saint, but acknowledges its value: it’s believed that it is. Therefore, when his plan to stole the relic to offer it to king John in order to “blackmail” with it the Pope himself is aborted by the mute, he knows he can replace it with any other rock in Ireland:

Even if we don’t find the relic another stone will do. We’ll put it in a pretty box and people will accept it. Even a king. Or a pope.

but not as long as the group of monks remain alive. Chances are simple: if they give up the stone they live because they can grant for its authenticity; otherwise, they must die.

What is Raymond backstory apart from what we know? Perhaps some years before he joined the crusaders in Venice (the sponsor of the crusade) while his father remained in Ireland to conquer gaelic territory and when he returned, years later, he was “damaged goods”. He got, during that fight, not only scars on his face, but also on his soul. The aim of that sacred venture was reduced to the end to manslaughter, serial rape, and massive killing of Greek Christians and European merchants. When he returned, transformed in a ruthless war machine, he despised his father for his “easy life” and cowardice. But he found was also despised by the men who remained in Ireland and do not recognise him any more. Raymond will revenge of all of them. Fournier, faithful to his father, will fall during the orchestrated ambush of the Celtic warriors. His father, that has become a coward who wants to obtain the salvation of his soul by donating “that rock” to the Pope, in his plans will be defeated and mocked by his own despicable son. No wonder also, being Raymond the archetypal villain that he is, that he is loyal to that wicked king John of the Robin Hood saga (following Guy of Gisborne’s footsteps 😉 ).

The biggest mystery in Pilgrimage is the mute played by John Bernthal. According to friar Ciàran, the herbalist (played wonderfully by John Lynch: the most authentic “tortured person” ever seen on screen), he arrived to the monastery five summers before, in a small boat without food nor water, and has never spoken a word. It is his body that speaks for him: strong, muscular, with a big cross tattooed in his back, that is also full of scars.

Tom Holland, Richard Armitage and John Bernthal. Original screenshot released by producer.

Raymond and his men recognise him. The knight pretends not to be sure where he has seen him, but I think he recognises him on the spot. Perhaps the mute was a veteran of the third crusade, the so-called Crusade of the Kings, and was loyal to Richard Lion Heart. Maybe his differences with Raymond began in Venice, the gathering departing port of the fourth crusade, and the conflict arrived to its peak in Constantinople. Which were the sins that, according to Raymond, the mute had to expiate?

Why was he stranded in the Irish coast, too shocked to utter a word and with his back covered by whip scars? I’d like to think that he opposed in Constantinople not also to Raymond’s loyalty to King John, but also to his methods. One thing was to fight by the side of the Lion Heart against Saladdin’s soldiers, and other to cut merchants’ throats, rape their daughters and destroy Christian churches in Constantinople.

The conflict between the cistercian monk (Stanley Webber) and the novice is more evident in the film. To return to Umberto Eco, Fra Geraldus is a mix of the diehard Bernardo Guy, and the fanatic Jorge the Venerable. Geraldus is a strong believer of the official militant church of those days. To him, there’s only one truth, there’s only one vision of the Church and God. There’s room only for piety, not for pity: the pope wants the relic, and he will have it, no matter what it takes. He will sacrifice without a second thought friar Ciàran and the mute. Or even the novice, when he gets in his way, and eventually himself, dragged to the bottom of the Irish sea by his own fanaticism.

Fra Geraldus’ single-minded fanatic view of religion will open the eyes of the novice. The herbalist, a father-figure for him as William of Baskerville was for Adso (Umberto Eco looms again and again throughout this story), will sacrifice his life for all of them, dying with the name of Christ in his lips. It will take few days for the novice to open his eyes: the sight of Geraldus’ fanaticism destroying also his close-friend, the Mute, is more than he can bear. When the last of the monks die wounded by the arrow of one of Raymond’s men, he realises that the rock that he has carried through the forest and the bog is nothing but a dead weight far away from what Christianity really is: the religion of the honest sacrifice of the herbalist and the simple life in the small monastery by the sea in the far west of the known world, not that of kings, soldiers and the pope of Rome.

Pilgrimage is a highly enjoyable film: the cast is perfect for every role, and all the actors make an incredible work. Richard Armitage plays the perfect villain, cynical and ruthless: he has a goal and he does everything to achieve it. The use he makes of the English language accentuates what Raymond is: an alien. Still no Englishman but no longer a Norman from Rouen, someone that has seen what man can be at his worse and that he accepts and supports it in order to achieve his goal: power and recognition for his family.

John Bernthal plays the soldier with post traumatic disorder with great skill; the mute is not an easy role to play and he does it without following the easy path of an exaggerated histrionics. The untold story of the mute is in John Bernthal’s eyes. And he nails it.

Tom Holland, the novice, is the look of the audience, that faces the cruelty of the medieval ages for the first time: the punishment of poachers that fish in Baron of Merville’s lands, the ambush of the Celts to the monks and the final duel between Sir Raymond and the mute. The violent ambush in the forest is useful to understand the mute as a deathly war machine.

The score is brilliant, and the Irish landscape a protagonist by itself. The big issue of this film is that 90 minutes are definitely too few, and prevent the transformation of this Pilgrimage from enjoyable to epic. I can imagine what this story could have been with double budget and thirty more minutes of footage. But with the same actors; I doubt this story would have been told so well with a different cast.

Romeo and Juliet – A novel


Hear, hear! A post about Richard Armitage! I come back on topic after many months. I could not miss to write something about “Romeo & Juliet – A novel”, the last Audible production performed by Mr. Armitage, written by David Hewson. Needless to say that what comes next is full of spoilers and should you prefer not to know anything about this before hearing the audiobook, you’re kindly invited to read this afterwards.


Richard Armitage is brilliant. His ability to work in this medium improves with each reading. If someone should ask me “show me how good is this Armitage you admire so much” I would reply “just hear him performing the part of a stammering fifteen-year-old girl in “The Convenient Marriage”. Richard Armitage does not “imitate” voices, the result would be perhaps ridiculous, but he manages to speak with tones of voice that are like brush-strokes of the characters’ psyche, triggering our imagination. I will confess something: although I love radio dramas, I’m not very fond of audio-books. If they’re not performed by Richard Armitage they usually bore me to death, and I assure you that I’ve tried quite a few. For instance, the second hearing of “Macbeth – A novel” lingers in my Audible application and, frankly speaking, the first one required a huge effort of concentration. I have also a multi-read version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula waiting to be finished for more than a year. The only audiobook not narrated by him that I have heard several times is “A new kind of war” performed by Dominic Mafham, whose technique is similar to Richard Armitage’s; but there are no female characters in that novel, the comparison of the performances of both actors cannot be complete.

I have a favourite voice in each of Richard Armitage’s audiobooks: Damerel in “Venetia”, the aunt Betsey Trotwood in “David Copperfield” (by the way I would like very much to know if he had Lesley Manville’s performance in “Mr. Turner” in mind when rehearsing that voice) or Claudius in “Hamlet”. In Romeo & Juliet my favourite one is undoubtedly Mercutio. It reminds me his Mr. Lovelace in BBC’s Radio Drama Clarissa.

Mercutio is a brawler, an ambiguous character, with a dark, self-destructive nature. His “Queen Mab” speech has been beautifully adapted; when he walks out the Capulet’s party, drunk, with Benvolio and Romeo, his drunkard speech about the “beautiful” Anna and the tumble/fumble game of words is impregnated with tenderness and melancholy. “Death will be the death of all of us”, Mercutio said that afternoon. He’s the brimstone that will kindle the tragedy, the angel of death. His curse, “a plague on both your bloody houses”, when he lies dying sounds like a lame excuse.

Anthony Andrews played Mercutio in BBC’s production (1978) – screencap



The novel, as the previous Macbeth and Hamlet written together with A.J.Hartley, is an attempt to “fill in the gaps” of the many unanswered questions that may arise in a three-hour play, for instance, how could Romeo and Juliet fall in love with only a few verses. The narrative rhythm is compelling and gripping. It’s very difficult during the first hearing to decide where to stop or make a pause, as I wanted to know “what will happen next”. I have appreciated the little stories behind each character, as for instance those of Friar Lawrence and his brother Nico, and the description of a real historical character I’ve read of many times, Isabella d’Este. She’s a mix between Alice’s Queen of Hearts and Ben Wishaw’s Richard II in “The Hollow Crown” (monkey included). The voice used by Richard Armitage for Isabella, with a strong Italian accent, completes the picture of how a Renaissance ruler locked in a gilded cage away from the reality lived by their subjects should be like. It is perhaps an extreme caricature of what the real Isabella d’Este was, but, as I have never feel sympathy for her (I’m rather on the side of her wicked sister-in-law) I cannot but enjoy this version.

I expected some changes in the known plot of Shakespeare’s play, therefore I was not shocked when I heard that at the end, Juliet survive. Honestly, I was definitely more outraged by the miraculous survival of Messala and the chessy happy-ending in the recent movie-version of Ben-Hur. Furthermore, Juliet’s decision of starting a new life alone and away from Verona is in harmony with this Juliet.

The main issue with this novel is that, unlike “Hamlet”, it endures very poorly further hearings. In this case, once the curiosity to know “what happens next” is over, issues arise. And an issue with a name and surname: Juliet Capulet.

Olivia Hussey as Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli’s film version – screencap

Historical novels are very difficult to write, and the alchemy to make a successful one as dark and unfathomable as the philosopher’s stone. Needless to say that “successful” does not equal to me automatically to best seller (I’m the one who abandoned “World Without End” in page 800); this is a post in a personal blog and I’m writing about what I like. I’m rather intolerant, when reading historical or period novels, with characters that are not coherent with the time and place where the novel is set. And this particular Juliet is any century in the future but late XVth. One of the most relevant woman in Italy those years was Caterina Sforza Riario. She was engaged when she was still a child, consummated her marriage as soon as nature allowed it, and by twenty she was already the mother of four children. The duty of a noble woman in that period was to get married and give birth as many heirs as possible; they were bred for that and Caterina did, although she was an intelligent, independent woman. When her husband, Girolamo Riario, died, she ruled her lands with such a competence and belligerence that she was known as “the tigress of Forlì”. She has a place in one of history’s most famous quotations. When Forlì was sieged by an army and they threatened to kill one of her sons, kept as an hostage, if she didn’t surrender the castle, her answer was to climb up the battlements, lift up her skirts, show her sex to the besiegers and shout: “kill him if you want, I have the mold here to make many more”. If I cannot imagine a woman like Caterina saying his father the Duke of Milan, that she would prefer not to marry Girolamo Riario, to me is somewhat difficult to accept a Juliet of Verona saying his father that she would not marry Paris. When she discusses with Friar Lawrence the equality of the marriage vows (I’d prefer not to comment Romeo’s reaction after her exploit), or wonders, after making love with Romeo for the first time, if the deed was not rather too quick, it takes almost an act of faith to accept this without even rising a brow.

Caterina Sforza – wikipedia

There’s another peculiarity of this novel that is worth discussing: the abundance of words in Italian. This shouldn’t be an issue to me, speaking this language daily (although it is, for a reason that I will explain later on), but I’m afraid that this massive presence of Italian words prevent many readers to understand the text. When I listened to “Hamlet”, I only learned after reading the written version, that what I thought was “the horizon” was in fact “the Øresund”, the Northern Sea. I wonder what the average hearer will understand of the sentence “the piano nobile in the palazzo”. Perhaps those with a more vivid imagination think that one of the entertainments in Capulet’s party was to gather around a luxurious Renaissance musical instrument (never mind if pianos did not exist yet). In my opinion the words in Italian are definitely too many for an audio book (and in the case of the “piano nobile”, not even necessary). In a printed one, foreign names or words in italics may lead the readers, if they feel like, to look what that specific word mean or where a certain place is. Nevertheless in an audio format it may be misleading, when not directly irritating. Some of the Italian words are pronounced with a misplaced accent. I’m not blaming Richard Armitage for it: as someone told him how to pronounce his German lines in Berlin Station (and apparently he was told right), someone had to tell him not only how “gn” sounded like in Italian, but that the accent in “Signoria”, is in the second “i” and not in the “o”. And many other words: antica and not antica, Brancacci and not Brancacci, or Esposito and not Esposito. This last misplaced accent was the one that made me literally jump in the couch, as this recalls to Italian speakers the dubbing of old Laurel and Hardy movies. Definitely not  what David Hewson wanted to recall in anyone hearing his work.

To make Isabella d’Este sister-in-law of Lucrezia Borgia three years before their time is an artistic license, I understand the reason why the autor “anticipated” the event for narrative purposes (although I’d have appreciated a mention about this license in the afterword of the book or his posts about the novel). This “accents issue” is a big editing mistake that would have been extremely easy to avoid, and I cannot understand why in a production like this (we’re talking of Audible, not of three friends recording a fan-fiction with their phone) the foreign words have been dealt with such superficiality. At least here, unlike in “Hamlet”, Medici was the pronounced with the right accent, not with a Laurel-Hardy Medici.

Lucrezia Borgia – Pinturicchio (Appartamenti Borgia – Vaticano)


dscn7838Me he preguntado a menudo que fue de los personajes de mi “Historia de Marco Fulvio Aquila”. Escribí estas líneas en “un momento de arrebato”, hace unos meses. Este relato podría unirse al del pretoriano Nevio en Britania, y formar otra novela. Quien sabe.

Roma – 117 d.C – Invierno

Hace frío, pero no lo noto. Aún no ha amanecido. El cielo, detrás del Coliseo, empieza a cambiar imperceptiblemente de color. La bruma se desliza entre las columnas de los templos, aumentando la sensación de irrealidad. Oigo sólo mi respiración, el leve crujir de mi coraza de cuero. Lo demás es silencio. Se ha levantado una brisa ligera, helada, que hace ondear levemente los estandartes negros que adornan los soportales de las basílicas. Mi visita a Roma será breve; no viví en la ciudad más que unos pocos días, en la zona de servicio de la domus flavia, que en estos momentos es sólo una sombra oscura detrás del templo de Cástor y Pólux. Pero, a pesar del poco tiempo que he vivido aquí, Roma cambió mi vida. La de toda mi familia.

Observo el foro desde una de las ventanas del tabularium, donde mi padre trabajó algunos meses, hace años, mientras se forjaba nuestro destino. Me duelen las piernas; he hecho el viaje en sólo ocho días, desde Germania, usando los caballos y las postas de los correos imperiales, algo que no deja de tener su ironía, vistas las circunstancias. Un día Flavius Cerialis me hizo una generosa oferta: “Si necesitas algo, estoy a tu servicio…”. Casi diez años después le he pedido que interceda para que el prefecto de mi cohorte me concediera un permiso especial; el tiempo de ir a Roma y volver. Hoy tenía que estar aquí. Le tendré que hacer otra petición cuando vuelva. No estoy seguro de si la aceptará de tan buen grado, pues una cosa es ayudarme en un viaje, y otra concederme la mano de su única sobrina, que ha criado como a una hija. Los Cerialis pertenecen a la clase ecuestre, y yo nací esclavo; una distancia demasiado amplia que colmar sin desvelar mi secreto. Aunque podría superarla con el oro de Graco, si quisiese usarlo. Pero no quiero ensuciarme con algo que fue propiedad del senador, el hombre que quiso asesinar a mi familia. Mi padre, desde hace años, hace buen uso de ese dinero construyendo bibliotecas y edificios públicos en Itálica. Yo quiero conseguir lo que deseo gracias sólo a mi esfuerzo, y a mi tesón. Acaricio el brazalete de bronce que Lavinia me regaló hace unos meses. Deslizo el dedo por su interior, noto la inscripción “ANIMA MEA”. Alma mía. Un escalofrío recorre mi espalda, pues mi mente ha pasado de la que espero sea mi mujer –no sé por qué motivo- a alguien muy distinta a la que he dejado en una estancia en el palacio. O quizás no lo era tanto cuando tenía la misma edad de Lavinia.

Ordeno mis pensamientos, vuelvo a recordar las últimas horas. Los veteranos acampaban fuera de la ciudad, a lo largo de la Via Appia, para entrar al día siguiente por la puerta Capena y rendir homenaje a Trajano desfilando en el Circo Máximo. No me costó encontrar a los de la XXX Ulpia Victrix, cerca de la tumba de los Escipiones. Reconocí los estandartes, y mientras buscaba algún rostro conocido entre los hombres que descansaban junto a las fogatas, algo llamó mi atención. En un recinto había varios caballos. Uno de ellos, apartado de los demás, rascaba la tierra con los cascos y resoplaba nervioso, moviendo la testuz. Habría reconocido a ese animal entre centenares. Me acerqué, extendí la mano y acaricié la mancha blanca de su cabeza, la única fuente de luz en un pelo negro como la boca del Averno.


“Bucéfalo… ¡Eres tú!” – había cepillado su pelo centenares de veces; hacía doce años. Entonces era el caballo más joven de toda la turma, y el más inquieto. Yo era el único que podía acercarse a él sin recibir una coz, o un mordisco. Bueno, aparte de su jinete habitual.
“¿Manio?” — sonreí. Aquella voz era inconfundible. Era lo más parecido al fragor de un trueno en un cielo sereno. La voz del centurión Cayo Popilio Lenas era capaz de llegar hasta el último jinete de la turma en el fragor de la más cruenta de las batallas. “Mi viejo caballo se ha dejado acariciar toda su vida sólo por dos personas. Una soy yo, y la otra era un zagal hispánico que sirvió unos meses en el campo durante la segunda campaña de Dacia y que, a pesar de estar asignado a esas señoritas con túnica blanca de la guardia pretoriana, sabía apreciar la compañía de los legionarios de la XXX”.

Nos abrazamos. Popilio se alegró de que hubiese cumplido mi sueño, entrando a formar parte yo mismo de un cuerpo de caballería. “Aunque no fuese en la XXX”. Hablamos junto al fuego, recordando anécdotas de aquellos tiempos; me contó cómo fue el final de la campaña en Dacia, y la siguiente, en Partia. Aquellos hombres siguieron a Trajano hasta el confín del mundo conocido; más que su emperador fue siempre su general, aquel que compartió con ellos penurias y gloria, que los conocía por su nombre, que peleaba entre ellos en el campo de batalla. Lo menos que podían hacer por él era homenajearlo, ahora que había muerto. Iban a desfilar en un triunfo póstumo por el que fue el “mejor de los príncipes”, título que le acababa de otorgar el Senado. Un triunfo por la victoria en unas tierras que ya no formaban parte del Imperio. Partia se ganó con la misma rapidez con la que se perdió. El sueño de Trajano se esfumó con su último respiro. El emperador Adriano decidió que el precio y el esfuerzo que requería conservar aquellas tierras era demasiado alto, y las abandonó. No hacía falta que Popilio o sus camaradas dijesen en voz alta lo que pensaban; flotaba en el ambiente una extraña mezcla de dolor, resignación y rabia. Durante las horas que pasé con ellos nadie mencionó al nuevo emperador. Como si no existiese. Por lo menos, hasta que las cenizas de Marcio Ulpio Trajano descansasen definitivamente a los pies de su columna, en su foro.

– “Hablando de señoritas de túnica blanca” – masculló Popilio. Escupió un hueso, y se puso de pie. Un oficial pretoriano se estaba acercando a nosotros.
– “¿Eres Manio Fulvio Aquila?” – dijo el oficial. No me reconoció, pero yo a él sí. Tengo buena memoria para las caras y los nombres; Nevio Varo era uno de los pretorianos de la IV Cohorte Pretoria en Dacia, al servicio del emperador. Había hecho carrera durante aquellos años, como lo demostraba el penacho de su casco y los torques que decoraban su coraza. Asentí. – “Ven conmigo”. No tenía cabalgadura, pues la había dejado en la última estación de posta. Popilio ensilló a Bucéfalo y me dio las riendas.

Cuando llegamos al palatino había oscurecido ya, sin embargo sabía perfectamente dónde estábamos. En una entrada lateral que da a un patio que lleva, por un lado al cuartel de la guardia pretoriana, por otro a la zona de servicio del palacio. Un poco más allá están las cuadras en las que había pasado buena parte de mis jornadas como esclavo en la domus flavia. Seguí a Nevio por unos pasillos y estancias que no conocía. Atravesamos salones, jardines; llegamos a las estancias privadas de la familia imperial. Me hicieron entrar en una pequeña antecámara. Unas cortinas negras dividían la misma; varias lucernas iluminaban la habitación, débilmente. Espirales grises de incienso subían desde varios pebeteros hasta el techo.

– “Acércate”.

No me había dado cuenta de que una mujer estaba sentada en una esquina. Vestía de negro, un velo cubría su cabeza. Cuando se lo quitó la reconocí. Como podría haberlo hecho cualquier ciudadano del Imperio. No era la primera vez que la veía; aunque nunca tan cerca como esta noche. Era Plotina, la esposa de Trajano.

– “Sabía que uno de vosotros acabaría viniendo. Estaba segura. ¿Cómo te llamas?”

Me sorprendí. Si me encontraba en esos momentos en su presencia era porque Pompeya Plotina sabía perfectamente quién era. No entendía el sentido de aquella pregunta.

– “Manio Fulvio Aquila, augusta”.
– “¿Por qué no escogiste el apellido Elio? A fin de cuentas pertenecías a la familia[1] de mi sobrino… el emperador Adriano. Según la costumbre un liberto toma el nombre de su antiguo amo”.
– “Lo hice por mi padre. Preferí tomar sus apellidos”

Juraría que Plotina se sentó aún más rígida si cabe. El tiempo la había tratado razonablemente bien; no le había dejado más que algunas arrugas en la comisura de los labios, el pelo cano y la piel que había perdido la frescura de la juventud.

– “¿Cuántos años tienes?”

Estaba seguro de que era otra pregunta de la cual conocía la respuesta.

– “Veintisiete, augusta”.
– “Marcio tenía treinta y dos cuando nos casamos, apenas lo conocía. Arreglaron todo nuestras familias. Me enamoré de él, a pesar de todo; con todo mi corazón. Era imposible no hacerlo, todos lo amaban, sus soldados… Sin embargo él… Con el tiempo mi amor se convirtió en odio. Lo detestaba. Me preguntaba por qué me negaba a mí algo que daba desde el primero al último de sus soldados, que había dado a otras mujeres antes que a mí”.

Apreté las mandíbulas y agarré con fuerza el pomo del gladio que llevaba al costado. El gladio de mi padre, con una cabeza de águila en la empuñadura. Ella lo sabía, conocía su secreto. Nuestro secreto.

– “¿Por qué me cuenta esto?”
– “Porque representas mi mayor victoria, y mi mayor derrota. Sé quién eres, sé a quién pertenecía ese gladio. Yo también tengo mis secretos. Si tú supieses…”

Rió, en voz muy baja. Era una risa desagradable, que tenía poco de humano. Me acordé de algo que me contó mi tío sobre la Sibila de Tibur. Quizás todo era un sueño y dentro de poco los ronquidos de Popilio me despertarían junto al fuego en el campamento de la Via Appia. ¿A quién tenía delante de mí, a una emperatriz o a una pitonisa? Me atreví a hacerle otra pregunta.

¬ “¿Por qué estoy aquí?”
– “Porque nada importa ya. Tú y tu familia habéis dejado de ser un problema para mí desde el momento que encendí la pira funeraria de mi marido y la sucesión estaba asegurada. Todo el odio se desvaneció, y me quedaron sólo los buenos recuerdos. Lejanos, muy lejanos. Las noches de invierno son muy largas en los puestos de frontera, lo sabes bien. Yo acompañaba siempre a Trajano, por muy escondido que fuese el rincón del Imperio donde lo mandaba Domiciano. Hablábamos mucho por entonces. Y él apreciaba el hecho de que lo siguiese, y no me quedase en algún lugar más cómodo, y lejano. Adriano… el emperador, no os considera un peligro. No os considera nada en absoluto, por lo menos por el momento. Depende de vosotros que las cosas sigan así. Depende de ti: tu padre está ocupado siendo el mecenas de Itálica, es demasiado filósofo como para inculcar sueños de gloria a tus hermanos. Además, son muy pequeños, no creo que tengan idea del misterio que rodea sus orígenes. Tu tío bastante tiene con vivir aún, nunca volvió a ser el mismo tras el ‘accidente’ de Reate. Así que quedas tú. Ya se encargará Adriano de ti, si quiere; he hecho todo lo que he podido por él, le he puesto el Imperio en sus manos. Que lo defienda él solo, yo estoy cansada”.

Las palabras de Plotina eran proféticas a fin de cuentas, y se resumían en un “el emperador sabe quién eres, no bajes la guardia”. Magnífico. Me pregunto cómo tendré que afrontar el resto de mi vida, cuánto pesarán esas palabras en ella. He empezado en el ejército desde lo más bajo, estoy a un paso de ser nombrado centurión, mi carrera parecía prometedora. ¿Qué hago ahora? Nunca podré sobresalir demasiado, pues corro el riesgo de que el emperador me vea como una amenaza. Como si quisiera serlo. No soy ambicioso ni estoy loco. Pero tampoco voy a renunciar a lo único que he querido hacer toda mi vida.

No dije nada, ella tampoco. Seguíamos los dos en silencio, creo que en mi cara se leía demasiado claramente por lo que estaba pasando, pues en un cierto punto Plotina dulcificó su expresión, osaría decir que en esos momentos parecía hasta “maternal”. De repente tuve ganas de irme de allí.
– “¿Es todo, augusta?”
– “No. Tienes que ver algo antes de irte. Has recorrido un largo camino para llegar hasta aquí, y saludar a… Ya no tiene sentido no llamarlo por lo que era. Has venido desde Germania para saludar a tu abuelo”.
Plotina se levantó, y corrió la cortina negra que dividía la habitación. Sobre un pedestal descansaba un pequeño cofre de oro y plata, con figuras mitológicas repujadas sobre el metal, adornado de piedras preciosas. En la tapa, una cabeza de Medusa, con ojos de zafiros verdes y serpientes coloreadas por cabellos.

– “Os dejo solos”

Plotina salió por una puerta lateral. No recuerdo cuánto tiempo estuve a solas con las cenizas de Marcio Ulpio Trajano, mi abuelo. Durante largos momentos no pude mover un músculo. Cuando al final lo hice, desenvainé el gladio, y lo coloqué sobre el cofre, apoyando mis manos sobre él. Sólo lo vi aquel mes en Dacia, nunca me habló. Recuerdo mi llegada al campamento de Dobreta; él había salido de la tienda en la que estaba reunido con Adriano y Apolodoro de Damasco. Saludó a todos, y durante unos instantes, mientras abrazaba a su sobrino-nieto Publio, me miró. Entonces no pude entender por qué me miró así. No volvió a hacerlo, lo veía siempre de lejos, y nunca cruzamos nuestras miradas. Años después, cuando mi padre me contó toda la verdad, creí entender qué se ocultaba detrás de sus ojos. Mi padre me dijo que la última vez que lo vio, hace once años, en este mismo palacio, antes del desfile triunfal por la victoria en Dacia, era la viva imagen de la soledad. Quizás era por eso que, mientras apoyaba mis manos en el cofre, no podía dejar de susurrar como si estuviese rezando a los dioses… “No estás solo”.


El graznido de un cuervo me saca de mi ensoñación. Ya no queda rastro de la noche en el cielo, la neblina se resiste a abandonar el foro, flota entre las columnas de los templos, los escalones de las basílicas. Debajo de esta ventana en el tabularium la plataforma de los rostra se alza sobre la bruma. Llegan a mis oídos sonidos apagados. A un par de millas de distancia los tambores de las legiones empiezan a tocar.
Alguien está detrás de mí. Nevio Varo carraspea.

– “Lo siento, tenemos que irnos”
– “Gracias por dejarme entrar en el tabularium”
– “¿Vuelves con tus camaradas de la XXX? ¿Desfilarás con ellos?”
– “No desfilaré. Regreso a Germania”

Nevio sonríe.

“Existe una sola razón por la que alguien pueda tener prisa en volver a Germania en pleno invierno. ¿Cómo se llama?”

– “Lavinia” – mientras me ajusto el casco salimos fuera del edificio.

“¿Dónde la conociste?”
– “En Argentoratum[2]. Sirvo en la VIII Augusta. Mi tía Livia es amiga de la suya, por lo que insistió en que fuese a visitarlos. La primera vez creo que ni miré a esa chiquilla que se escondía nerviosa detrás de las faldas de su tía. Cinco años después volví a verlos. Mi tía me pidió que le llevase una carta a su amiga. Cuando entré de nuevo en aquella casa no la reconocí, había cambiado tanto. Ahora que finalmente voy a ascender a centurión podré pedir su mano.”
– “Ah ¡las flechas de Cupido! Llevo tantos años usando ésta” – dijo Nevio mientras golpeaba su coraza – “que no hay manera de que uno de esos dardos centre mi corazón y caiga rendido bajo los encantos de una sola mujer.”

Extiendo el brazo para saludar al pretoriano, éste me mira y estalla en una sonora carcajada.

– “¡Por Mitras! ¡Ahora sé finalmente quién eres! No he dejado de darle vueltas a la cabeza, al final he caído. ¡Tú eras el muchacho que metió un puñado de barro en la boca del sobrino del emperador, hacer doce años, en Dobreta! Esa tarde me hiciste ganar tres denarios de plata, aposté que vencerías tú. A pesar de que el tricenarius de los especulatores os separó, no cabía duda sobre quién estaba ganando el combate”.

Monto a Bucéfalo; tengo que darme prisa, dentro de poco los veteranos de la XXX se prepararán para el triunfo.

– “Que los dioses estén contigo, Manio Fulvio Aquila. Quién sabe, si puedo reclutar mis propios hombres puede que pase por Argentoratum”

Alzo la mano derecha y saludo al pretoriano. La idea de que, no se sabe cuándo, quizás acabe prestando un servicio directo a Adriano, no deja de ser absurda. Aunque no tanto como lo ha sido este viaje a Roma.

1.- En el sentido romano. La “familia” incluía también a los esclavos de la casa

2.- Actual Estrasburgo

Palamedes, el héroe negado

WP_20160709_21_02_10_Pro 1

Hace muchos años los Golpes Bajos cantaban eso de “Malos tiempos para la lírica”. Los tiempos actuales, no es que sean mejores. Seamos sinceros, cada vez me acuerdo más de Oscar Wilde (siempre que la cita sea suya de verdad, pues los apócrifos de Wilde abundan más que las faltas de ortografía) y eso de “cuanto más conozco a los hombres, más amo a mi perro”.  Desde la política internacional, a ejemplos más cercanos, últimamente me encuentro, a veces, mirando a mi alrededor con expresión alelada preguntándome por qué la inteligencia y el uso de la razón, en la época en la que nosotros occidentales tenemos mayor acceso a la información y la educación, en lugar de ser lo habitual ha pasado a ser la excepción.

Sin embargo, de vez en cuando, pasan cosas, o asistes a eventos, que te hacen esperar, o por lo menos, no morir de pura desesperación. Compré los billetes para ir a ver el espectáculo Palamede, la storia, presentado en el Roma-Europa Festival, casi exclusivamente por dónde se celebraba: el estadio de Domiciano dentro del complejo arqueológico del Palatino, en Roma. Me dije que, si no me gustaba, por lo menos pasaría unas horas en un lugar maravilloso, donde, con mi imaginación, había ubicado los personajes de una historia. De todas maneras, las premisas eran buenas: he leído varios libros de Alessandro Baricco, y me han gustado todos. Además, el tema, un héroe griego en la guerra de Troya del que nunca había oído hablar, me parecía muy interesante.

Baricco ofreció al público una lección magistral sobre lo que sabíamos, o creíamos saber, sobre la guerra de Troya y la Ilíada, pero sin usar un tono académico, o aburrido, sino como el profesor (o profesora) guay del instituto o la universidad que era capaz de hacerte entretenidas materias que sobre el papel te parecían lo más aburrido del mundo. Ése que rompía platónicamente corazones mientras se ensuciaba la manga de la chaqueta con la tiza de la pizarra (perdón, se me ha colado una anécdota autobiográfica).

Volviendo al tema, Alessandro Baricco,  ha escrito, entre otras cosas, un libro basado en la Ilíada. Cuando se estaba preparando para ese libro, que adaptó también para el teatro, se encontró, hablando con una profesora que es toda una especialista en los textos de la Grecia clásica, con un héroe de los griegos que fue completamente borrado en la versión “oficial” del mito que escribió Homero. Se trata de Palamedes, amigo fiel de Aquiles, el más bello de los griegos, y el más inteligente. El secreto mejor guardado de los clasicistas.

Palamedes era tan inteligente que él fue quien inventó algo tan básico en la vida militar como el santo y seña para ser reconocidos en los campamentos, también se dice que inventó el ajedrez y gracias a su perspicacia, al darse cuenta de que los lobos bajaban de las montañas para devorar a los animales y hombres más débiles, evitó que una plaga de peste que decimó a la población de Troya tocase a los griegos. Fue a raíz de estas cualidades que entró en conflicto con Ulises. Cuando Baricco explica esta parte de la historia lo hace de una manera muy divertida: “lo siento, pero os voy a desmontar un mito. Os dejo un minuto y medio de música y luces para que os despidáis del Ulises oficial, el que conocéis y admiráis” Y luego, cuando acaba la música lo primero que dice “la verdad es que Ulises era una mala persona. Es más, una malísima persona”. Mientras sonaba la música que dejaba al público el minuto de reflexión para “despedirnos de Ulises”, yo recordaba los muchos defectos del héroe, que haberlos teníalos: la cantidad de cuernos que puso a Penélope por todos los rincones del Mediterráneo, la superficialidad con la que condenó a muerte a sus compañeros de viaje, y el último viaje, abandonando de nuevo y definitivamente su tierra, para desvanecerse en un lugar lejano, allá donde no se supiese para que sirve un remo. En fin, yo ya sabía que Ulises no era perfecto, y que era muchísimo más feo que Bekim Fehmiu. Pero el maestro Baricco me iba a describir un lado aún más oscuro del rey de Itaca, además de recordarnos que escuchar la voz de Ulises era algo único, que era melodiosa y suave “como nieve que cae”.

Bekim Fehmiu durante el rodaje de la Odisea (1968)

Mientras Aquiles está lejos del campo de batalla porque va a la isla de Lesbos a por provisiones (o sea, saquearla), Ulises construye un complot para acusar a Palamedes de traición: lo organiza como se debe, escondiendo en la tienda del joven una cantidad de oro que supuestamente le dio Príamo para facilitar la entrada de los troyanos en el campamento griego y aniquilarlos. Palamedes es apresado, juzgado y condenado a morir lapidado. Todo ello antes de que regrese su fiel amigo Aquiles. Éste, y no otro, es el motivo de la “ira funesta” de Aquiles, no una simple cuestión de botín mal repartido, o un quítame aquí una Briseida.

Baricco ha recogido de varios textos apócrifos (la construcción de la Ilíada es muy parecida a la de la Biblia, a un cierto punto, se descartaron y eliminaron algunas versiones y episodios, como el de Palamedes, para producir una “versión oficial” de los hechos de la Guerra de Troya) el discurso de defensa de Palamedes delante del tribunal de los griegos. Le ha dado una forma asimilable a los gustos actuales y tal discurso lo declama una actriz, muy buena, Valeria Solarino. Actriz que, obviamente, no conocía.

Alessandro Baricco y Valeria Solarino durante los ensayos.

La defensa de Palamedes es un monólogo de unos veinte minutos; con lógica aplastante el acusado desmonta, uno a uno, todos los cargos contra él. Dejando al descubierto la cruda realidad: él es una víctima… “yo no os he hecho nada, para que me tratéis así”.

Al terminar la representación salí muy despacio del lugar, pues tenía que llevar a cabo mi ritual particular, que hago cada vez que visito restos arqueológicos; algo que quisiera poder hacer con las estatuas en los museos, pero no me dejan porque no soy Mary Beard: acaricio las piedras. Toco los ladrillos, la “pozzolana”, el cemento de los romanos. Cargo las pilas, literalmente. Para no desesperar entre tanta desesperación.


Henry V goes undercover for the SWP… — dicklefenwick

Socialism needs a little touch of Harry in these benighted times. In the summer of 2012, when the world came to London and patriotic fervour was at full whack in the UK, I had the vivid experience of walking onto the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe, in front of a crowd as diverse and international as […]

via Henry V goes undercover for the SWP… — dicklefenwick

A brilliant post by British actor Jamie Parker about what’s left to the Left. The same can be applied to other Lefts in Europe (see the Spanish elections as friendly reminder; although the many cases of corruption related with the party of the current PM the Right still gets the majority of the votes). The future of liberal/left parties is based on their ability to regain those values that have been willingly snubbed and therefore conceded to the Conservatives.

Thus bad begins and (I pray that) worse remains behind

Francisco de Goya – Duelo a garrotazos (Museo del Prado)

Today, for the third time in my life I’ve been reading the news in front of the pc with incredulity. The first was on Sept. 11Th 2001, the second on March 21st 2004.

This morning, while I was discussing Brexit with a colleague at work, and I was scrolling the headlines, the last one being that Milan stock exchange had to close temporarily due to heavy looses, my boss walked in the room with his (typical) I’m-so-learned-and-important smile in his face, and said that “he was happy of Brexit because it’d be a way for Germany to loose the leadership in the EU”. Maybe I over-reacted but I shouted WHAT????? First of all because I think that the last favourite sport in Southern Europe “accuse Germany of all the evils of the world since the bubonic peast on” irritates me and reminds me the reaction of the envious in front of the successful. Maybe sometimes they’re not the most agreeable people in the world when telling the ugly truths but if the country that has overcome the economic debacle of two world wars lost and the annexation of a nation in default tells you that there’s something wrong in the way you deal with your national economy, maybe, perhaps, they are not completely wrong. But anyway, what really drove me crazy of that comment was that notwithstanding the tragic situation he “was glad”. I answered “oh, well, we will all be very glad, dancing and playing the violin on the Titanic while it sinks”. Because this is what really saddens me, and makes me angry, and fills my eyes with tears when I think about it. The truth, the fuc**ing really sad truth is that we have not learned the lesson, not even after two world wars, not even after million of people dead, not even after all the good things that a peaceful coexistence of the European countries for the first time for more than sixty years have brought to all its citizens.

And also, and moreover, what hurts me deeply inside is that the reasons argued by those who promoted the Brexit were a bunch of lies. And they don’t even feel embarrassed to declare so in tv in front of millions of people. Not even a little blush when insulting the memory of a murdered woman