A story behind a story

I thought I’d mention something lovely that happened over the course of revising ‘Desert Whales and a Fishing Village’. There are always so many stories behind any one story set to paper, but this one was particularly special.

The essay included, for a long time, a section about the Lomas fishermen (it was cut from the final draft to tighten things up). It included this passage:

While we wait, Gregoria tells us that both she and Yoni are members of the fishermen’s cooperative, which has 80 card-carrying affiliates. She explains that some of the fishermen who work the ocean off Lomas come from La Paz in landlocked Bolivia. I love this, not least because the Bolivian Constitution (Check) includes the motto ‘The sea will be ours’ (Check)—the past century, during which Bolivia’s one-time overland passage to the sea has been Chilean territory, nothing more than a temporary, bothersome anomaly.

Once I found out about the pending publication, I wanted to check I had my facts straight, but couldn’t for the life of me find anything about that Bolivian motto.

But I remembered who had mentioned it perhaps 6 or 7 years ago: one of my favourite Latin-American studies lecturers, Carlos Uxo, in one of those asides in class that for whatever reason stays with you. So after vacillating over whether or not it would be OK to bother a really busy person, I emailed him. He not only responded straight away, but said he had just written to his 89-year-old father to check with him.

A third surprise: I heard back the very next day. Carlos forwarded me his father’s email, in which he wrote that twenty years ago he had seen the motto on a letter from a Bolivian official, and that he had jotted it down in a notebook of curiosities, which he, by coincidence, had with him (!!). The language of the email brings a smile to my face each time I read it. Here’s some of it:

Hace unos veinte años cuando era director de nuestra revista Ejército mantenía una relación amistosa con mis colegas iberoamericanos, en el ámbito de sus propias revistas militares.

Recibí una carta del oficial boliviano de estas características que me llamó la atención porque contenía un lema que podía serme útil para mis clases de geopolítica de aquel entonces. Tomé nota en mi cuaderno de curiosidades y aquí la tengo, por casualidad, al pie de la letra. Dice así :

EL MAR NOS PERTENECE POR DERECHO, RECUPERARLO ES UN DEBER.

La carta, que era de carácter particular, se perdió enseguida en la papelera.

Si puede serte útil aquel lema que a mi me llamó la atención, me alegraré. Ya ves que no es exactamente igual a la frase que tú recordabas de alguna conversación conmigo, pero tiene el mismo sentido patriótico boliviano.

Here is a translation, in which I’ve tried to stick as closely to the syntax as possible:

Some twenty years ago when I was director of our magazine Ejercito I maintained friendly relations with my Ibero-American colleagues, in terms of their own military magazines.

I received a card from a Bolivian official of these characteristics that caught my attention because it contained a motto that could be of use to me for my geopolitics classes of those days. I noted it in my notebook of curiosities and here I have it, by coincidence, to the letter. It goes like so :

THE SEA BELONGS TO US BY RIGHT,

REGAINING IT IS OUR DUTY.

The letter, which was of a specific nature, was subsequently lost in the wastepaper basket.

If this here motto that caught my attention can be useful to you, I will be most happy. You can see that it is not exactly the same as the phrase that you remembered from a conversation with me, but it has the same sense of Bolivian patriotism.

Thanks to him, that passage mentioned earlier became the following:

While we wait, Gregoria tells us that both she and Yoni are members of the fishermen’s cooperative, which has 80 card-carrying affiliates. She explains that some of the fishermen who work the ocean off Lomas come from La Paz in landlocked Bolivia. I love this, not least because communications from Bolivia’s armed forces include the motto ‘The sea belongs to us by right; regaining it is our duty’—the past century, during which Bolivia’s one-time overland passage to the sea has been Chilean territory, nothing more than a temporary, bothersome anomaly.

He is about to turn 90, now. And although the passage in which it appeared was cut this time around, no doubt the motto he so carefully recorded and explained will come in handy for some other writing project sometime in the future.

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2 Comments

  1. Hi Ms PoW, I’ve just read your beautiful essay. I think I’ve been waiting a few years for it now, since you first mentioned the whales in the desert. It is a very special piece of work. You capture the people and the landscape and the kind of dreaming that goes with whales and deserts … ahh! I am in awe.
    And what a lovely back story! Just great.

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