Archive for November 16th, 2012
(I suppose I must have been consumed by a brain parasite, that I didn’t timely post this year’s version of this piece here. But, no matter. Mistah Admiral: he—still—dead.
(For, as ever, Anacaona, and all the Taino.)
They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Taino, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles. Fuku americanus, or more colloquially, fuku—generally a curse or a doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World. Also called the fuku of the Admiral because the Admiral was both its midwife and one of its great European victims; despite “discovering” the New World the Admiral died miserable and syphilitic, hearing (dique) divine voices. In Santo Domingo, the Land He Loved Best, the Admiral’s very name has become synonymous with both kinds of fuku, little and large; to say his name aloud or even to hear it is to invite calamity on the heads of you and yours.
No matter what its name or provenance, it is believed that the arrival of Europeans on Hispaniola unleashed the fuku on the world, and we’ve all been in the shit ever since. Santo Domingo might be fuku’s Kilometer Zero, its port of entry, but we are all of us its children, whether we know it or not . . . .
—Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Much about the Admiral is not known. Where he was born, and when: these are not known. The arc of his early years, when and what he studied at the University of Pavia: these, too, are not known. Where he obtained his ideas of geography, this is not known. The Admiral, it developed, did not know geography: he believed, to the end of his days, that where he landed in 1492 marked the far eastern fringe of Asia.
What is known is that when the Admiral stepped ashore on Hispaniola, he brought original sin to the New World. For the policies he pursued there exterminated that island’s people, the Taino. Every one.
“All the Indians of these islands were allotted by the Admiral . . . to all the settlers who came to live in these parts; and in the opinion of many who saw what happened and speak of it as eyewitnesses, the Admiral, when he discovered these islands, passed sentence of death on a million or more Indians, men and women, of all ages, adults and children. Of this number and of those since born, it is believed that there do not survive today, in this year 1548, 500 Indians, adults and children, who are natives and who are offspring of the stock of those he found on arrival.”
Today, “the Taino survive in the shape of one’s eyes, the outline of one’s face, the idiom of one’s language.” All the rest, is gone.
On my way back up the hill, I stopped at the cheap gas station for some fumes for the truck. While there, I thought I’d also pick up a pack of smokes.
I asked the guy for some GPCs, and he crouched down to rummage around under the counter. He began emitting muffled language, but I couldn’t understand it: he hails from the Middle East, and I do not, so there was something of a communication problem.
When his head reappeared, I was able to understand that he was offering that if I bought two packs, I could get them for ten dollars. Which is something of a deal around here. So I said yes: he sold me.
I asked him if the place always offered GPCs that cheap, and he pointed to a hand-lettered sign inlaid on the counter, offering, for a time, Marlboros and Camels, at two packs for ten bucks. He let me understand that he thought he’d pass the same deal on to me with GPCs.
I thanked him, and turned to go.
“Come back,” he said. “I give you always.”
Now, I know that he meant that if I kept coming by the store, he would recurrently sell me the smokes two packs for ten dollars. This he expressed in “incorrect” English. But I was so charmed with what he said. So much finer than “real” English.
“I give you always.” What a wonderful thought.