For those of us of a certain persuasion, the color yellow has become a frontpage protagonist since Amanda Gorman, dressed in her strikingly beautiful coat, addressed the American people at Joseph Biden’s Presidential Inauguration. Her poem “The Hill We Climb” moved me like no one else’s speech. Her words resonated with me, bringing tears to my eyes. I remembered then that one of the first outfits my mother sewed for me when we arrived to this country was a yellow angora dress with a matching bolero jacket. I wore it to the Senior One-Act-Play Tournament in my only year of American high-school in Seattle. I ran up the stage wobbling in my first high-heel shoes to receive the Best Director Prize for The Apollo of Bellac, by Jean Giraudoux. For me, Amanda represented every girl of color, every immigrant like me, who could stand up and proudly be herself. In Amanda’s words “… a time where a skinny Black girl… can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.”
Yellow is the color symbolic of happiness and light in Manuel Vilas’ novel, Ordesa, recently translated into English by Andrea Rosenberg (Riverhead). I saw the review in the New York Times and promptly ordered it in Spanish and suggested that we read it in one of my reading groups. I had never heard of Vilas, a contemporary writer from Spain. Could it be that I was losing touch with my academic field, the contemporary novel? Not to worry, Vilas is a poet and Ordesa is his first narrative work. I often wonder what am I doing belonging to two reading groups, one in English and another in Spanish. Haven’t I read enough books for a lifetime? And then something magical like “discovering” Manuel Vilas happens.
Ordesa is the name of one of the oldest national parks in Spain. Situated in the Aragonese Pyrenees it’s known for its picturesque Monte Perdido (Lost Mountain). The protagonist of the novel, an alter ego of the author, visited the park with his father in the late nineteen sixties. For Vilas this beautiful spot symbolizes his happy youth, the love he felt for his parents, his innocence before he became the troubled adult of the rest of the novel. One of the details he remembers well is the yellow parka he wore that cold day in Ordesa National Park. Full disclosure: not everyone in the Spanish reading group was as smitten with this book as I was. And the critics agreed with them; Michael Schaub titled his review for NPR “Ordesa Is a Difficult Read–But Stick with It.”
Coincidentally, in an epilogue of sorts, I agreed to write a paper for a congress in Madrid this coming July, even though I had promised myself to stop attending conferences when I retired. I was ready for a trip to my hometown anyway. Not surprisingly, I decided to write about Manuel Vilas and his provocative novel. But due to the pandemic, the congress is being held virtually and I had to send a video of my paper from my summer place at the Jersey Shore as a Dropbox attachment–much more challenging than writing the paper itself! Unexpectedly, this experience has turned out to be one of those moments when my personal and my professional lives appear to be in perfect synchronicity.
Let’s keep on reading books and blogs, Concha
P.S. The painting behind me with its vibrant yellows is by Charles Kalick a Philadelphian artist.