jueves, 31 de agosto de 2017

Cousin Bazilio

Cousin Bazilio [O Primo Basílio] (Dedalus, 2003)
by Eça de Queiroz [translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa]
Portugal, 1878

Our old friend Eça de Queiroz, last heard from on this blog way back in 2011 when the then nearly 166-year old novelist was fêted with a readalong of his great The Crime of Father Amaro, was recently dragged out of retirement and commissioned to whip up one of his celebrated tragedy-dusted confections as the dessert offering for this year's Spanish and Portuguese Lit Month.  I hope you'll agree that the luscious calorie-rich goods were delivered and then some.  Cousin Bazilio, for those of you too lazy to consult the description on the back of the book, is "a tale of sexual folly and hypocrisy and vividly depicts bourgeois life in nineteenth-century Lisbon."  In other words, a wonderfully springy springboard for the author to commit all sorts of verbal acrobatics & etc. in the name of satire and social commentary.  Somewhat predictable narrative arc aside (let's just say that Eça continues to have a penchant for killing off his most fully fleshed out characters whether their moral comeuppance is truly "deserved" or not), Cousin Bazilio is a delectable morsel less for its adultery + blackmail plot and more on account of its oddball descriptions of both humans ("She was an orphan, and there was always a faint whiff of fever about her small, skinny body" [7]) and human behavior ("'I'll lay siege to her!' he exclaimed gleefully.  'The way Santiago laid siege to the Moors!'" [62]), its earthy sense of humor ("All these agitations were playing havoc with Dona Felicidade's constrained digestion; luckily, as she herself said, she was at least able to bring up some wind.  Yes, blessings upon God and the Virgin Mary, she was at least able to bring up a little wind!") (370-371), hell, even its gleefully malicious dialogue ("Sing, little dumpling, little whore, little slut!" [183]).  "Slander aria"-like singing venom aside, mostly I reveled in the sensory overload of Eça's descriptive excesses.  A suitably decadent example of this attention to detail, tailor-made for Spanish and Portuguese Lit Month dessert debauchees as it happens, can be found underneath the author portrait below.

Eça de Queiroz (1845-1900)

They were standing outside a cakeshop.  On the shelves in the window behind them stood bottles of malmsey wine with brightly coloured labels, transparent red jellies, the sickly egg yolk yellow of doces de ovos, and dark brown fruit cake stuck with pathetic pink and white paper carnations.  Stale, lurid custard tarts grew soft in their puff pastry cases; thick slabs of quince jelly sat melting in the heat; and the dried-up shells of seafood pasties were slowly melding into one.  In the centre, prominently displayed, was a hideous, plump lampreia de ovos, a cake shaped like an eel, with a gaping mouth, a disgustingly yellow belly and a back blotched with arabesques of sugar; in its great head bulged two horrible chocolate eyes, and its almond teeth were sunk into a tangerine; and all around this rearing monster flies flitted.
'Let's go into the café,' said Julião.  'It's too hot to stand around in the street!'

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