The Mapmaker’s Opera by Bea Gonzalez
The main character, Diego is born into suspect circumstances in Seville, Spain near the turn of the twentieth century. He takes an interest in maps, birds and the New World. These passions lead him to work with a famous naturalist sketching birds in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Diego falls in love with the food, the wildlife, and, most importantly, a young woman of Merida named Sofia. The plot thickens when two birds birds whose species is on the brink of extinction are discovered in the possession of a wealthy, greedy man of the area.
In general, the book is good, albeit slow. The main star of the book is the writing, which is mostly beautiful, but I had the impression at times Gonzalez tried too hard. The writing was often too rich, too floral, too vivid, just too, too much without enough plot.
Of course, set in Mexico in 1910, there are many differences in dating and courtship. Introductions, dances, teas, it all seems to tedious! More than that, I was struck by the things that do not change.
Sofia’s Aunt Marta explains some of the intricacies of courting during that time, “The first assault, Sofia, is done with the eyes…The eyes reveal what lies deep in the gut, anyone can tell you that, and if a man is interested he will make sure to look at you in just the right way, a well-considered raise of the eyebrow if you like, at which point — listen carefully now — at which point it is very important that you do not respond in kind. Why? Because you risk being immediately dismissed as a cualquiera–a woman without morals, a woman who, admittedly, does hold attraction for a man but one he will certainly never consider in any serious way, for who would want to be married to such a woman?” (113)
Two similarities to today’s dating strike me from that passage: 1) the eyes; and 2) the cualquiera.
Dating always starts with the eyes. Either two people begin by sneaking glances at one another whilst promenading across a town square, or being stared at in a crowded bar. The initial attraction, dating, relationships, it all starts with the eyes.
The word “cualquiera” can be loosely translated as a hussy, a tart or floozy. How many times have we been given the advice that a woman shouldn’t sleep with a man before being married, or before the third month of dating, and absolutely never on the first date because men may want “that sort of girl” for a night but he never wants to marry her? (As if that’s the ultimate goal for all relationships!) I would like to think that we’re living past the age of cualquieras and floozies, but I still get looks or sighs of shock if I sleep with a new guy before we’ve been dating for a month. And if it’s after the first date? Forget about it! Disapproving looks, lectures and shaking of heads abound.
These double standards are ridiculous and have been around for way too long! We should be moving past this archaic advice, and celebrating the fact that we are no longer bound by all the superfluous and erroneous courting constraints.