Zelda was born in Paris, but that city always felt too small. Yes, she enjoyed the legendary cafés, the theaters, the excellent cigarettes, the glass of wine that accompanied every meal, as well as the evening walks from one side of the Seine to the other. But she needed more, much more. She started to travel at a very young age: with friends, with lovers and with her self, she roamed and savored new perspectives, new paths. She traveled so much that one day the world started to feel small too and, on reaching maturity, after understanding that the vastest and most luminous space was only to be found within her self, she decided to leave everything behind and create a really small place, a place called Mazunte, a home matching the true dimensions of her dreams.
Along the coast of Oaxaca, Mazunte arrived in Zelda’s life gift-wrapped: a magic and lively village, filled with sun and salt, like the blue crabs that centuries ago the ocean used to throw at the beaches of that paradise. In Zelda’s dictionary leaving everything behind meant reaching nature, recovering the respect for the link between life and death, acknowledging the simplicity of the most basic things. She used her savings to build a cool, doorless, open, unpretentious house. A spacious house full of hammocks, clay vases filled with fresh water, flowers, music and color. She learned to make compost of absolutely anything, to love the neighbor’s skinny and brave dog, to know every fisherman in the area, and to cook meals exactly the size of her friends’ need for affection and care. She also learned to read the ocean’s lips every morning from one of the many holes on the wall that served as windows, because the sea has a tongue of its own, and sometimes it is in a good mood and invites her to walk down the hill from her home and dive into the waves, but other times it wishes not to speak to anybody, not even her.
A few months went by before Zelda could buy any furniture. There are no home furnishing shops in Mazunte, so she had to take a three-hour bus ride all the way to Pochutla. She first bought a bed for visitors unable to get to sleep snuggled up in a hammock; she then bought a couple of easy chairs and some cushions. She had brought some precious things from her apartment in Paris and felt right at home in that surrealist house with walls offering the texture of sand. However, she had failed to find chairs and a table designed to her liking. It was not a matter of aesthetics. Of course the hands and imagination of craftspeople in Pochutla produced countless beautiful tables and chairs, but Zelda soon realized their common ergonomic mistake: all the tables were too high for the chairs, so people barely managed to pull their chin up to the edge of the plates. The indigenous men and women of the area looked like small children while sitting at the table. Some were so short that their feet would swing freely as their brown hands reached out for a tortilla and the salsa. That could not be a coincidence; the design was not innocent, it had been devised to make people always feel small, frail, needing the advice of someone taller in height, ideas, skin color, money, power. Zelda saw Italians, French and Germans on rented trucks, bringing furniture from other southern towns into Mazunte. Strolling around town, she smiled at the sight of their once pasty bodies, now tanned and sweaty, and their sunburned blond hair as they sawed the legs of the tables after meticulously measuring the height of the chairs. She wondered how many furniture legs other people must saw down before the indigenous people would stop feeling small, being treated as if they were nothing. She wondered how long would it take for them to become aware of their true size.
Perhaps it was nothing but a silly notion. Still, she went to Pochutla and looked for the oldest craftsman who sold furniture on a street corner. She did not approach him as the French woman from Mazunte. She did not share with him her theory about the ability of objects to work as deforming mirrors. She did not tell him of her hopes in changing the absurd order of things. They spoke from equality, just as she had learned to negotiate with the fishermen, and they listened to each other from respect, just as she had learned to interpret the sea. Zelda asked if he could produce a made-to-measure table and matching chairs, and his eyes looked back at her, puzzled. She explained how she had tried every piece around, but nothing felt comfortable because she was short. The old man did not understand: to begin with, Zelda looked foreign, and foreigners are always taller; secondly, tables and chairs are only good for eating, why make such a fuss over special measures? She smiled, asked him to stand up and see for himself that, indeed, she was a foreigner, but absolutely not a tall one. The old man let out a toothless guffaw as her head barely reached his shoulder. They laughed together and she offered him a cigarette. Between one puff and the next, she encouraged him to work out the length of her legs and give her an estimate. She told him about her spontaneous meetings with likable and hungry people who engaged in enjoyable after-dinner conversations. While he, motivated, sketched with words the wood and colors he would work with, she, convinced that bargaining is a way of underestimating other people’s work, thought of the old man’s possible influence upon younger artisans. Maybe, hopefully, camaraderie and honesty would suffice to fertilize such a breeding ground for rebelliousness. Who knew if the silence behind the old man’s sparkling eyes concealed the understanding of a secret code, a collective invitation to sit upright?
Zelda took the bus back to Mazunte not without feeling a bit naive, but at the age of 50 she could not afford losing hope of changing the world and its measures.
Source: http://my.opera.com/mujerypalabra/archive/monthly/?month=200704Atenea Acevedo and Mary Rizzo are members of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation is on Copyleft for any non-commercial use: it may be freely reproduced, respecting its integrity and citing the source and the author. URL of this page: http://www.tlaxcala.es/pp.asp?reference=2658&lg=en