The Best Story, Ever – Oh. My. Goodness!

First of all, I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year.

It has been a while since I wrote my last article for this blog. Yes, I have been busy writing my stories, several of them; but I also have my “real” work that I need to get done. I must confess that I am not a multi-tasker, especially as a writer; because I lose myself into whatever story I am writing, it is hard to come back to real life. The opposite is also true, if I am too concerned about something in real life, then it is hard for me to really get into my story.

In December, of course, I went with my family to watch the last movie of The Hobbit series. It was such a bittersweet experience. Before we went to see the movie, I came across the song that Billy Boyd, aka Pippin, wrote and sang for the final credits scene. I have to admit that listening to it made me cry, even before I went to see the movie. Of course, I had read The Hobbit as a child, and so I knew the ending and I wondered if Peter Jackson would stay true to it. I had fallen so deeply in love with Thorin Oakenshield (not the actor, but the character) in the first movie, I almost wished that Peter Jackson would disregard Tolkien’s version and allow him to live happily ever after as King Under the Mountain. I knew that would not happen though. So I consoled myself with the idea that maybe, since Tauriel was a made-up character anyway, just maybe it was Peter Jackson’s plan that she and Kili would end up together, with Kili as King Under the Mountain. Well, you know how that ended. I knew going into the movie, that I would cry when Thorin died, and I did. But I have to admit that Tolkien was right in his decision, and I ended up being satisfied that Peter Jackson respected Tolkien’s ending.

I have to say that it was Legolas that brightened the day and made the ending not hurt so bad. I don’t care if they used too much cgi and made his eyes a weird shade of green, I loved Legolas in each and every scene. Peter Jackson was 100% right to include Legolas in The Hobbit movies.

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I mention The Hobbit here, not because it is The Best Story, Ever, referring to the title of this post. Instead I mention it here, first because I am giving an account of my latest activities; but also as a base qualifier for the next part of this post. That said, Tolkien was a genius, and LOTRs, as well as The Hobbit, are two of the greatest stories ever told.

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As you know, I like Historical Fiction, specifically Historical Romance. Recently, I came across a Latin Telenovela, in Spanish, that I had heard about but had been unable to watch until now. I don’t usually watch telenovelas. In fact, I had never watched a single one in its entirety and have only watched random episodes of three other telenovelas in my life – La Pezuña del Diablo, La Potra Zaina and Viviana. Of the three, I was only interested in La Potra Zaina, because of its older world look, the horses and cowboys, and because the storyline was like a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. I never had time to watch it when it aired, maybe someday I will watch it. Since then I have developed an aversion to telenovelas.

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In spite of it being a telenovela, from the time I first heard about this more recent one, I knew that I would have to watch it someday; not only because it was a Historical Romance, but because it included the important history of the struggle for independence in the country of my birth. I came across the first episode quite by accident as I was searching You Tube for something else. I watched the first episode, and I was hooked. If I was convinced before that I had to watch it, now I knew that I had to watch it, at once. It gripped me and drew me in just as every truly good story does. However, this time it was different. This time, it was personal.

As anyone growing up with a multi-cultured childhood can tell you, the struggle to find where you fit in, and into which culture, is an ongoing identity crisis. A few months ago, I wrote about my own struggle with this issue, which you can read here, if you wish.

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The old man riding a horse pulled up on the reins to bring him to a stop in order to survey the land as it spread out before him. The hill to his right was bare, but for the lush green grass that covered it as neatly as if it were a deep, thick carpet in a king’s palace. The flowers bloomed brightly, each one more colorful than the last. Everywhere he looked life was vibrantly calling to him; the sounds of crickets, the frogs and the birds overhead. He could hear the trickle of the water as it fell down the mountain behind him, flowing across the dirt road where he was as it made its way down the mountain until far below it joined the river set deep in the valley. The horse, taking advantage of the man’s distraction, dropped his head to drink deep of the crystal clear and refreshingly sweet liquid. The man’s eyes moistened as he looked upon this land for which so much suffering had been endured, wars fought and blood had been spilled. It had been worth it, the man thought. This land, that he loved so much, for which he had been willing to give his life and for which he had spent half of his life imprisoned; it was worth it. Its people were worth it.

The sun was shining, and it was truly a new day; a day of freedom, rest and recuperation. The man wiped a tear away from his wrinkled face and taking the reins he urged the horse to continue their journey. A journey that was almost over and then he would never leave his beloved country again. He couldn’t wait to see the faces of his son and daughters again. Just a couple more small towns left before he reached the capital with all of its enchantments. What would he find there?  What kind of government had been set up, he wondered. He would dedicate his last years to make sure that it would be the best country in the world. As he came into one of the little towns, he stopped for a moment to listen as a woman spoke to her children. The sound was to him one of the most beautiful in all the world. The sound of his language being spoken without a foreign accent; it reminded him of his wife’s voice as she spoke to their children, rich and musical. He hastened to continue as the tears now fell down his cheeks unchecked. That is the moment when it hit him; he was home. After everything that had happened, after overcoming all of the obstacles, he had actually made it home. He almost couldn’t believe it to be true.

I wrote the above in tribute to the emotions that this telenovela made me feel, and in honor of a truly great man. I wish I were a better writer in order to do them both justice; but in spite of my inadequacies, I have done the best that I can. I revel in the knowledge that I am greatly enriched for having had the privilege of watching this telenovela.

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Policarpa Salavarrieta (1795-1817) is a much beloved historical figure in the country of my birth. She is on our money, she is immortalized in statues and paintings, and she is the symbol of true female heroism for our young girls to emulate. Notice that I don’t use the word feminism. Yes, she did fight for equality, but her fight was not against the male population; she wanted equality for all people, no matter their gender, race, social position or ideology. She was against oppression in whatever form it presented itself. In that regard, I would call her more enlightened than many other female historical figures. Personally, I have always despised the suffragette movement because instead of fighting for equality for all, they turned it into a ridiculous gender war. I guess I was lucky to grow up in a country where the fairer sex was valued, even treasured, as the second most valuable national patrimony, the first being our children.

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As I said before, I was hooked from the first episode. Actually, the first twenty-three minutes or so were good, but it was after that. When the story goes back in time, and we meet La Pola’s parents, that is when it happened to me. Their house looks very similar to several of the neighboring houses where I lived as a child, with its thatched roof and humble structure; actually the house I grew up in, had dirt walls and a dirt floor. Then her parents spoke, and it was as if I was suddenly transported back in time to my childhood. I have read in a few books about the powerful effect that hearing the language of your childhood has on a person who has not heard it in a long time. That is exactly what happened to me when I heard the main character’s father speak. I knew this guy; he was my next door neighbor. I played with his daughters and drank lemonade made by his wife. La Pola herself, was a personal friend of mine, as her facial expressions and her hand movements, as well as her innocent delight in asking questions, were all just the same as those I grew up seeing in the faces and gestures of my childhood playmates. The actress that plays her when she is young did a wonderful job. Watching this telenovela is the closest that I will ever get to going home in my lifetime. Now I live in the city, and people speak differently than what I grew up hearing, life is different now. I long to be able to go home, even for just a short time, but that life no longer exists. Thanks to this telenovela, I was able to get a glimpse of it.

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There has been some criticism that this telenovela added a lot of fiction in order to make the love story, as well as the dates and the order in which certain events happened. It is true. I was on episode twenty-something when I decided it was time to find out what truly happened. So, I went online and googled the biographies of the major characters. Although the two main characters, La Pola and Alejo, are both executed on the same day, and it is true that they were partners in crime, so to speak, in that they were both spies and were in league with the rebel forces, maybe even leaders of the movement. It is evident that they knew each other and worked together. There is no proof that they were in a romantic relationship. Although the idea is not a new one, as the first rumors, that they were lovers, is almost as old as the story itself. The first written account of their romantic relationship emerges two years after their death, in a play written in 1819, to commemorate her life and death. More recent historians claim that was a fabrication, and there is no proof to corroborate it.

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Personally, I don’t care if the love story is complete fiction. I am in awe of the ability of writer, Juan Carlos Pérez Flórez, to write the most amazing love story that I have ever known, and the ability of director, Sergio Cabrera, as well as the four actors (two young and two adult) who brought it to life. As a person who has read a ton of love stories and watched another great amount of them; I realize just how absurd this statement sounds. I stand by it however. The story of Romeo and Juliet doesn’t hold a candle to this one. As much as I hate love triangles, the one in this story doesn’t leave a bad taste in the mouth or make you lose faith in true love. The important thing is that the two never stop loving each other, and never set their affections on anyone else, even if at times they might pretend to do so. This is, by far, the greatest love story I have ever seen, heard or read.

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Besides, there is more than one amazing love story in this telenovela. The story of Antonio and his wife Magdalena is just as tear jerking as it is sweet and powerful. Speaking of Antonio Nariño, I fell completely in love with his character. Now there is a true hero and to whom I dedicate my opening story—A dreamer as well as an idealist, a philosopher as well as a pragmatist, a general as well as a pacifist. Known in his time and in two continents as having one of the most brilliant minds; I think he is the most well-balanced specimen of a man that I have ever seen. I really truly believe that the real Antonio Nariño was not much different than how he is portrayed in this telenovela; hats off to the actor who portrayed him in the telenovela. Of one thing I am certain and that is that they got the facts of his life correct. Sure, they added some padding to the story, but not anything important. The people know and love him too much to let them get away with any blatant errors.

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I wasn’t going to post this on my blog, but this telenovela has had the most amazing impact on my life that I will never be the same again. Another ridiculous, yet true, statement. When I finished the final episode, number 98 (each one is 45 minutes long) after a total of 75 hours of viewing time; it was 5 am. I was tired, but I was so stunned that I could do nothing more than sit there looking at the blank screen for about an hour. This was not because the ending had taken me by surprise. No. Like I said, I googled all the biographies, even those of the bad guys, and read them all completely before I was more than a few episodes into the story. I knew the ending right from the start. Still I was so impacted by the story that I was left stunned. It has now been several days since I watched the final episode, and all I can do, is think about it. I haven’t had a good night sleep since I began watching it.

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I have work to do and things to get done, but my mind is still back in that era with those people. I know that writing about something can sometimes dislodge it enough from a person’s mind for them to move on and get back to real life. That is why I decided to write this post. Maybe now, I can get back to doing what I need to do, although I have no desire to do so.

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I do beg your pardon that so far I have not been able to find this with English subtitles. Here is the first episode, and even if you don’t understand Spanish, you might want take the time to watch the opening theme which gives you a taste for what I have been talking about. I mean you were interested enough to read this far, right?

I finally decided to write this after trying to explain to my sons why I think it is so important for every Colombian to watch this show, telenovela or not. This is their heritage. I can identify with the poorer characters in the show and I can feel great national pride in their accomplishments; and yet I will never be any more Colombian than those Españoles who were “manchados de la tierra”. Which is a derogatory term given by the European Spanish to those people of Spanish blood who were born in this country, making them second class citizens in Spain. I am proud to be “manchada de la tierra” which means stained by the earth. I don’t do tattoos, but if I were into getting tattoos, I would tattoo it across my arm in a prominent spot.

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