Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Monipodio's House: A Consideration of Cervantes' Villain
The latter whimsically declared itself a republic independent of the bigger burg while claiming to be the cradle of flamenco and the bullfight arts alike.
There are other barrios in other Spanish cities making like claims. But that's not the point. If you're from Triana the truth there is that they started "los toros" and "el flamenco" in Triana. Case closed.
The barrio was nothing if not historic and many locations were posted with ceramic-tiled signs explaining a particularly noteworthy event that had occurred there, or a person who'd resided and made art in the space.
"La Otra Orilla" ran a series called "Triana by Plaque" (Triana por Placas) wherein a reporter would flesh out the person or event highlighted with greater detail.
"Rinconete and Cortadillo" was inspired, was in fact that place.
Specifically, the plaque (pictured at right) claimed the Andalusian patio contained within served as headquarters for the den of thieves run by the novela's primary character, Monipodio.
We scribes turned to the actual text to determine the claim's veracity and have a little fun with literature in the process.
Obligated to Stay in Seville at the Service of Philip II, Cervantes Traveled the Nether Regions of the Imagination
According to the plaque which concerns us this week, the house found at the corner of Betis and Troya served as redoubt for a brotherhood of thieves led by the infamous Monipodio of Miguel de Cervantes novela, "Rinconete and Cortadillo."
It is enough that a student of local cultural, such as our own staff writer Marco Severo, says that this is not the case for a brief investigation into the claim to be launched.
You'll see that this investigation did not permit us to reach a sure conclusion, but did invite an engaging comparison between the Triana and Seville of today with that of Don Quixote's creator.
Cervantes came to Seville against his wishes. His petition to King Phillip II for a post in the Indies having been rejected, the writer was sent to Seville with the charge of gathering provisions for "The Invincible Armada" that would suffer a famous route in the English Channel.
Requisitioning wheat and olive oil from an unwilling populace was apparently a disagreeable task. According to his biographer Professor Valverde, Cervantes was subject to such indignities as being thrown into wells and "other tiresome pranks."
In 1597, the bank where Cervantes kept his ducados went belly-up and he found himself, not for the first time, in jail. If his incarceration in Algeria did little to dim his passion for adventure, his majesty the king was no more successful in dampening his lust for life.
In jail, Cervantes did not travel to distant locations, rather to the boundaries of his own imagination. Perhaps it was in jail where he learned the peculiarities of Sevillan thievery so wonderfully detailed in the novela.
"Rinconete and Cortadillo" is written by an outsider with the understanding of a person who has lived their entire life in Seville. En these two lads, about whom we know, among other things, "that neither one or the other exceeded 16 years of age, both of good humor, but very raggedy, broken, and maltreated."
It is no surprise for anyone familiar with Seville that the boys' first lesson upon arrival in the Andalusian capital is that it is far from an open field. In fact, it is just the opposite. Even in the world of robbing and mugging there are customs and a tax, in this case the monopoly is Monopodio's (El monopólio de Monipodio).
Having just committed their first bit of pilfering, the pair are pinched by a youth under the command of the King of Thieves who recommends they go and "register" with Monipodio and if not, "that they avoid stealing without his blessing for otherwise it would cost them plenty."
Rincón and Cortado (whose names will later be refined by the very same Monipodio), decide to take the youth's advice and depart with him from Plaza de El Salvador toward a destination unidentified by characters and author alike.
Triana is not mentioned in the ensuing discussion, nor does the Guadalquivir River, which one must cross to get there, although Cervantes informs us that the walk lasted as long as the speech by Monipodio's pawn, Ganchuelo, "which was long."
The trip is one across the surface of the soul, eschewing descriptions of the actual landscape. Ganchuelo explains to them that he, too, is a thief, but "one who serves God and good people."
"It's news to me that there are thieves in the world to serve God and good people," responds Cortado and thus it would appear that in the 16th century, as much as today, those who come from beyond quickly learned the extent to which Seville is steeped in Catholic ways.
Finally, at Monipodio's retreat, Rincón and Cortado are left to wait "in a small brick courtyard, so white and scrubbed that it emitted the richest carmine scent. To one side was a bench three feet in height and the other a broken jar with a pitcher on top that was in no better condition. Elsewhere was some matting made of cat's tail and in the middle of it all, a flower pot with basil growing.
"The youths," Cervantes writes, "looked attentively at the treasures of the house as Monipodio came down. Marking his slow pace, Rincón dared to enter one of the lower apartments accessed from the courtyard and saw two fencing swords, two shields of cork hanging from four spikes, a giant chest with nothing covering it, and more Cat's tail mats laid about the floor. On the front wall was stuck an image of Our Lady, one of those low-grade reproductions. Lower still hung a wicker basket and encased in the wall was a basin. Rincón reasoned that the first was for charity and the second for holy water. And this was true."
It was Cervantes' intention through his first draft of "Don Quixote" to pen a simple novel during his stay in Seville. If "Quixote" is, in part, a parody of the wealthy society upon which artists of his time so desperately depended, it's not out of line to suggest we find a little bit of the same in "Rinconete and Cortadillo."
The epic tale about the Madman of La Mancha was dedicated to a Sevillan aristocrat in an effort to curry favor, although it apparently did little to achieve the author's goal.
Rincón and Cortado find that the household of Monipodio is organized like that of a gentleman of the time, around a courtyard, mise en scéne and architectural symbol of the small aristocratic courts that marked the city.
In him they encounter a man who carries the contradictions of life itself.
Writes Cervantes, "The pair were in awe of the obedience and respect everyone in the house had for Monipodio, a man who was barbaric, rustic, and heartless."