Sunday, December 21, 2014

No Island is an Island: Chapter 25: The Stories We Tell* Pirates of the Caribbean

Mom and I read and translate the gold tablet in the dim light.

 I follow the story carefully and then mentally lay other stories I know on top of it, like layers of overhead map transparencies revealing the topography of a story. 

People, families, cities, nations all become the stories they tell about themselves, the stories they distill and delete and crop into a good story, a story with a point, a story worth remembering.

Cienfuegos tells itself a story about a delightful mestizo virgin named Marilope that goes something like this.

Around 1530 in the region of Cienfuegos a beautiful mestizo girl was born to a very agreeable Spaniard and his Indian wife who of course loved him and he loved her.

 History has forgotten the mother's name, but father's last name was Lope. I suspect she was really named Maria de something Lope and perhaps even had "Isabel" thrown in for respectfulness and history shortened her name down to Marilope.

It is said that Marilope was the most beautiful kind and gentle girl, inheriting the very best features and disposition from her father (Spain) and mother (Cuba). 

It is also said that, like her father and other devout conquistadoring Catholic men of his generation she admired, Marilope loved God fiercely and decided to dedicate her life to serving God.

 She did not imagine for herself a life of wifehood, of compromises, of service. She didn't wish for children. She just wanted to live free, on her bay, facing the wind, delighting in the presence of God. 

Then the pirates showed up. 

The Caribbean technically had been given to Spain by the Pope in the Treaty of Tordesillas. However, after Britain's break from the Catholic Church and the subsequent  the failure of the Spanish Armada, Spain saw her military power falter in the Americas.  To encourage Spain's decline, Britain authorized "privateers" (pirates) to sack and pillage Spanish outposts.

What history knows is that a pirate sneaking around the coast of Cuba came up on the Bay of Jagua where Marilope lead a charmed and protected and enchanted life.

The pirate's name was Jean (or he could have been John or even Ian), sometimes remembered as Jean the Fearless, other times as Jean the Daredevil and Jean the Brave.

The arrival of his boat pirate must have struck terror in some hearts. Perhaps they raced to the makeshift church and prayed. 

Perhaps the people around Marilope fought back. But from how the story unfolds it doesn't sound like there was a big battle. So scrap that theory.

I imagine that the pirates spied the tiny town and docked far away. Two pirates wandered into town. Not a threat. No problem.

 Then four more arrive a few days later.  

Then ten more. Over the course of a few more days the rest slip in and join them, and after a week the they outnumbered the Spanish 3:1 and knew where the rum was. 

I imagine the pirates were delighted by the sun, by the wind, by the view, by the rum.

The story says that Jean the Fearless was enchanted by Marilope, and that she was at first naively shy to him.   

Legend says that the pirate, the lonely drunk daredevil woman-starved pirate with a brash reputation, falls in love with Marilope at first sight. 

He had never met a woman who had so much abundance to give, such riches of laughter and delight, who enjoyed every day to its fullest from dawn until the moon glowed over the bay.

Legend says that at first she was nice to him, then she was frustrated with him, and then she started to get scared when he didn't understand that she really didn't want him to touch her or look at her that way.

He wanted her. Legend says he wanted to take her and keep her and bring her away with him, but I'm also thinking he wanted her in a more immediate and carnal and stereotypically pirating kind of way.

She refused him, reminding him she loved no one more than God. 

He told he she didn't have to choose between him and God, that she could have both. And he would give her jewels and slaves and take her all over the world. 

She told him no, she already belonged to God, please please just let her be and stop touching her like that and step back a little.

 I'm not sure whether this conversation went on in Spanish, Spanglish, or sign language, but I can't imagine that he took it well at all.

When Marilope refused to agreeably go away forever with the pirate, he became violently irate.

She ran.

He chased her.  

She was winning and then Jean's men popped out of a turn and were about to grab her.

That's when God stepped in and  protected Marilope by sending miraculous cactus shoot up between Marilope and the marauding pirates of the Caribbean. They couldn't reach her. 

She was also stunned and stood there a minute too long, just long enough for Jean to catch up.

Unable to tolerate being scorned by a beautiful virginal mestizo Catholic woman, Jean shot the object of his desire in the chest.

Marilope immediately disappeared and a white dove flew into the sky. 

Where her body fell a vine of bright yellow flowers grew. 

Those bright yellow flowers, pure, dignified and laughing at the sun, have become known as Marilope, the flower of Cienfuegos as a memory of the mestizo girl who would not surrender her love of God.

When we finish reading and translating the story I am suddenly overwhelmingly sleepy. Now I can rest, now I understand that the symbolized flowers I had been seeing all day in the architecture, that's what they were.  Marilope flowers, a statement of city faith, of pride.  I knew what they were, I knew what they meant.

But I wasn't through. It didn't make sense.

"Mom, he was a drunk pirate and she was a naked virgin. Did he really want her on the ship? Aren't women on ships unlucky? And anyway, if he wanted her, I'm not sure there would have been a lengthy negotiation. I think she was raped. They cut that part out."

My Mom nods in agreement and we leave it just there, out there, like a question and an answer as we climb the white stairs up to our room  for our last night in Cuba.