La Grande - excerpt
Gutiérrez, walking ahead, has on a violently yellow waterproof jacket, and Nula, who hesitates at each step, unsure where to place his foot, a red camper made from a silky material with a slick and shiny texture, that in his family dialect (it was a gift from his mother), they jokingly call parachute cloth. The two bright spots moving through the gray-green space resemble satin paper cutouts collaged on a monochromatic wash, the air the most diluted, and the clouds, the earth, and the trees the most concentrated grays.
Nula, because he’d come on business—to deliver three cases of wine, a viognier, two cabernet sauvignon, and four local chorizos ordered the week before—and planned to visit a few other clients that afternoon, had dressed somewhat carefully, and besides the red camper has on a new shirt, a white, lightweight, short-sleeve sweater, freshly ironed pants, and shiny loafers that explain his cautious advance in contrast to the other’s inattentive, sure step and constant chatter as he carelessly and noisily sets his muddy rubber boots on the saturated patches of grass bordering the narrow, sandy path or in the sporadic puddles that interrupt it.
The gray background lends the red and the yellow an almost extravagant, overwrought brilliance that intensifies their presence to the eye in the empty field while paradoxically, somehow, causing them to lose, to the mind, a good portion of their reality. In the desolate poverty of the landscape, the striking garments, possibly because of their price (the yellow one, although it’s European and more expensive, nevertheless looks more worn-out) produce an obvious contrast, or constitute, rather, an anachronism. The excessive presence of singular objects, though they break up the monotonous succession of things, end up, as with their overabundance, impoverishing them.
Calmly, concentrating on each word, Gutiérrez holds forth with disinterested disdain, half-turning his head over his left shoulder every so often, apparently to remind his company that he’s the one being spoken to, although because of the distance that separates them, the open air, the movements that disperse the sounds he utters and, especially, the forceful sound of the boots against the puddles and submerged weeds, in addition to the concentration demanded by the protection of his loafers and pants, Nula can only fish out loose words and scraps of phrases, but in any case getting the general point, even though it’s only the third time he’s met Gutiérrez and even though their first meeting only lasted two or three minutes. From what he gathered at a previous meeting, as he listened with surprise and curiosity at some length when he brought the first three cases of wine, when Gutiérrez talks, it’s always about the same thing.
If Nula imagined himself summarizing those monologues in a few words to a third person, they would be more or less the following: They—people from the rich countries he lived in for more than thirty years—have completely lost touch with reality and now slither around in a miserable sensualism and, as a moral consequence, content themselves with the sporadic exercise of beneficence and the contrite formulation of instructive aphorisms. He refers to the rich as the fifth column and the foreign party, and the rest, the masses, he argues, would be willing to trade in their twelve-year-old daughter to a Turkish brothel for a new car. Any government lie suits them fine as long as they don’t have to give up their credit cards or do without superfluous possessions. The rich purchase their solutions to everything, as do the poor, but with debt. They are obsessed with convincing themselves that their way of life is the only rational one and, consequently, they are continuously indignant at the individual or collective crimes they commit or tolerate, looking to justify with pedantic shyster sophisms the acts of cowardice that obligate them to shamelessly defend the prison of excessive comfort they’ve built for themselves, and so on, and so on.
[. . .]
With regard to their ages, Nula is in fact twenty-nine and Gutiérrez exactly twice that, which is to say that one is just entering maturity while the other, meanwhile, will soon leave it behind entirely, along with everything else. And although they speak as equals, and even with some ease, they refrain from the familiar tú form, the older man possibly because he left the country before its general use came into fashion in the seventies, and Nula because, as a commercial tactic, he prefers not to use the tú form with clients he didn’t know personally before trying to sell them wine. Their use of usted and the difference in their ages doesn’t diminish their mutual curiosity, and even though it’s only the third time they’ve met, and though they’ve yet to reach a real intimacy, their conversation takes place in a decidedly extra-commercial sphere. The curiosity that attracts them isn’t spontaneous or inexplicable: to Gutiérrez, although he’s as yet unaware of the exact reasons for Nula’s interest, the vintner’s responses the day they first met seemed unusual for a simple trader, and his parodic attitude when they met again, as he mimed the typical gestures and discourse of a merchant, interspersed with discreet allusions to Aristotle’s Problem XXX.1 on poetry, wine, and melancholy, enabled him to glimpse the possibility of a truly neutral conversation, which would be confirmed immediately following the commercial transactions of that second visit.