Friday’s Flowers

The story of Tumilco, the cacique and the beautiful dancer Grenadilla is continued.

The Last of the Cacique – Part II

The besotted Governor had arranged for the enchanting Grenadilla to join him in his chambers and watch the spectacle from the window.  As they awaited the arrival of the holy procession he pressed his suit but received only laughter at his protestations of eternal devotion.  Then she caught sight of the procession and the pathetic Tumilco weighed down by chains, wearing a cap emblazoned with red devils and his body enveloped in a sack.

Once more the viceroy made the same eloquent efforts pursuing the same order as before. “Cruel! Ungrateful! Hyrca tigress! What do you demand? Speak!” Grenadilla turned quickly round, and pointing to Tumilco, who just ascended the pyre, replied:

“That you should save that man’s life!”

The Governor was startled by her demand.  If he met it the people would surely turn on him – they wanted their entertainment.  He would have an armed revolt on his hands if he met her request.  But such was his lust that he ordered the execution be suspended and the cacique brought to him.  And his command came not a moment too soon – the flame had just been put to the pile.

Tumilco was brought into the Governor’s presence and that wily worthy demanded of the unfortunate heretic that he renounce his barbaric worship.   He offered him a pardon if he were to receive baptism into the holy church.  At the point of execution how could anyone refuse, with a shrug of his shoulders Tumilco agreed.

The Grand Inquisitor, who was melting in the heat under the weight of his vestments and who never liked the smell of burning heretics anyway, was informed.  In his delight at finally having a cacique as a convert he granted the pardon in the name of mother church and all the saints.

The Governor was highly pleased with his solution until he heard the crescendoing murmurs of discontent from the crowd, unhappy at being cheated of their promised sport.  What was he to do?  How could he appease them?  Startled by a rock hitting a window of his palacio he quickly decided hit upon a plan.  Striding out onto the balcony displaying a brave front betrayed by his quaking knees he called for silence.  With great pomp and solemnity he announced the conversion of the apparently penitent Tumilco and the celebration of his baptism with great ceremony the following day.  There would be processions, feasting, and dancing;  the beautiful Grenadilla would dance for them as she had never danced before.  The jeers that had greeted his appearance turned to cheers as the fickle populace turned their thoughts from the flames of the auto da fé to the cleansing waters of the baptismal font – and the promised food, drink, and the beautiful Grenadilla.

But where was Grenadilla?  The Governor had fulfilled his promise and was seeking out his prize.  But she was nowhere to be found.  The servants searched every room and stairwell of the palace, a whole troop of guardsmen combed the streets of the city, but she was never found.  The beautiful dancer was never to be seen again in the streets of the city nor in the Mexican countryside.

An Interlude

The reader has probably concluded that Grenadilla, though proud and beautiful as the flower whose name she bears, has nevertheless a secret passion for the cacique, the young and handsome savage. The rules of the novel would indeed seem to require this, but truth has its rights which we are bound to respect. Tumilco is old ugly and broken down and if as, the foregoing chapter shows, Grenadilla loves him it is because the cacique took care of her in her childhood.  It is because she was received by him when she was an infant, poor and forsaken, and was by him protected until circumstances, which we need not relate, compelled him to leave his native province. Grenadilla by saving the life of Tumilco had acquitted herself of this obligation.

Friday's FlowersSatisfied at having done her duty, she started that very night for Europe. It was the only way in which she could avoid the persecutions of the governor. When three months out the ship which conveyed her was wrecked. Her body was thrown by the waves upon the Spanish coast.

 The Flower Fairy, being at the time in those latitudes engaged in watching over the Jessamine, received the body of Grenadilla. In the spot where she found her she caused a splendid thicket of pomegranates to rise, whose fruits and flowers like the beauty and the talents of Grenadilla were delightful to behold.


Tumilco, having been baptized under the name of Esteban, made his home in Mexico, and lived there on a small pension provided to him by the government, in consideration of his being a descendent of Montezuma. The sincerity of his conversion was often questioned, and they were thinking of again bringing him before the holy office, when he fell very sick.  He asked that a physician might be called: his charitable neighbors sent him a priest.

Friday's Flowers“Brother Esteban,” said the priest, “it is time you should commend your soul to the mercy of God.”

“My name is not Esteban,” the cacique replied. “I am called Tumilco. Go about your business!”

“Think of God my brother!”

“Thy God is not mine,” said Tumilco.  “Will some one open the window?”

His request was complied with. The setting sun was still bright in the west.

“There is my god,” said the cacique, “and the god of my fathers.  Sun receive thy child to thy bosom.”

The priest covered his face with his hands, made the sign of the cross and murmured “vade retro Satanas.”

Tumilco was dead.

“Sooner might you prevent the sunflower from following the sun in his course, than one of these heretics from returning to the worship of their luminary. This is what we gained by not burning him.”

The charitable neighbor who pronounced the above funeral oration, had no idea that the cacique Tumilco was merely the incarnation of the Sunflower. In worshipping the sun he did but obey the laws of his being.

On this day in 1857: Dred Scott is emancipated by the Blow family, his original owners.

Friday’s Flowers

Another stroll through J J Grandville’s Les fleurs animées for a lesson from the flowers.

Its been a long while since I took a stroll through my virtual garden – the winter was long and snows deep this past year and it seemed gardens were a thing of the past. But the rains of the past few days have greened  things up a bit and I’ve found time to thumb through Grandville and read one of Taxile Delord’s cautionary tales.

Neither the writer nor the illustrator were particular favourites with the authorities – their tart observation of things political and religious often fell under the censors’ scrutiny.  The story of The Last Cacique is a bitter story of political and religious intolerance and hypocrisy. Until I read Cleaveland’s translation of Delord’s story I had no idea what a cacique was.  For him it obviously meant native of Central American and more specifically of Mexico though the Wikipedia entry gives it a wider and more political meaning.  It tells of a religious and ethnic clash and the toadying of politicians to the “bread and circuses” – though in this case it is “auto-da-fe and baptism – will of the people.  Once again behind the lovely lithographs lurks a damning and uncomfortable lesson.

The Last of the Cacique – Part I

There was a time about the middle of the last century when the city of Mexico had become very dull.  Since the death of Havradi the famous toreador the bull fights had lost their charm with the public. It was the rainy season and they could have no processions and adverse winds had prevented the arrival of the fleet from Europe. The inhabitants clamoured against the public authorities for not finding means to amuse them. The governor Don Alvarez Mendo ay Palenzuela y Arnam began at length to fear an insurrection. Having risen one day in worse humour than usual and feeling it his duty to attend to affairs of state he summoned before him the commander of the forces Don Gonsalvo de Saboya who like all Spanish officers claimed descent from Gonsalvo of Cordova.  The governor had a project in his head  “It is” said he to himself “a long time since the city of Mexico has enjoyed an auto da fe.  A spectacle like that would have the double advantage of quieting my complaining subjects and of securing the favour of the Inquisition which complains somewhat of my luke-warmness.”

And the most obvious choice for the festive pyre would be a native or cacique, a follower of the old Sun worship.  In fact there had been rumours of a renewal in the old believes amongst the locals that the Inquisition was not happy about. But of course like all politicians the good Governor doesn’t want to soil his hands with anything so unsavoury. So he delegates the task of finding a heretic to the good Commander  who not being the bravest or brightest of men delegates it to his Captain.  The Captain worries about his next commission and by happenstance discovers that his Sargent has a drinking buddy who is a Cacique and orders him to arrest his old friend.

La Grenadilla

Friday's FlowersNext to the toreador whose death was so much deplored, next to the processions, the bull fights and the arrival of the fleet from Spain the chief delight of the inhabitants of Mexico was the dancer Grenadilla.  Lord,  citizens, soldiers, sailors, everybody knew her; everybody admired her and respected her – and yet she was only a poor street dancer – a child of the common people, a gipsy and a mountebank.  Still whenever this mountebank gipsy began to dance the fandango there was not a duchess of them all who had an air more noble a more flexible form or whose movements were prouder and more graceful than were those of the Grenadilla.

Needless to say the Governor was not immune to the charms of this beautiful gypsy girl and she often danced for him in his private quarters. But when he pressed his suit she would laugh at him and run back to the streets to be with her people. When the Governor told her of the coming auto da fe La Grenadilla spread the word amongst the populace who greeted the news with acclamation.

Meanwhile Tumilco, the Sargent’s cacique drinking companion, was happily celebrating a successful day at the market at a local taverna.  His old friend the Sargent appeared but his charge was not to drink with Tumilco but to arrest the bewildered man.  He was trundled off to without a word of explanation to a dark cell away from the life-giving sun.  A month later he was led before the dreaded Inquisition where a tribunal of glowering priests demanded that he say a Pater or an Ave.  Poor Tumilco knew neither prayer and his silence condemned him as a heretic to be burned at the stake in the public square.

The Auto da Fe

In the mean time the Mexicans became impatient.

On every side was heard the inquiry “When is the auto da fe to place?  Will it be tomorrow or on the day after? Is it or proper to make us wait so long for the burning of a wicked little heretic? This is showing but small zeal for the interests of religion and little regard for the feelings of good catholics!”

All these remarks were repeated to the governor who replied “It is nothing to me. The prisoner is in the hands of the Inquisition. They may do what they please.”

Meanwhile the governor more enamored than ever of the charming Grenadilla would almost have himself worshipped the sun had it been necessary to please her. The Grenadilla however was incapable of requiring such an enormity.

At length one fine morning the inhabitants of Mexico saw the funeral pyre, which they had so long and impatiently expected, set up in the public square. The bells sounded a general peal. The fraternities of the Penitents, with banners flying, proceeded to the house of the grand inquisitor to form his escort to the elevated stand which had been reserved for him in the public square, and which fronted the funeral pyre.

Two o clock was the hour fixed for the execution.

But long before this, at an early hour of the morning indeed, the crowd had filled the place. At the windows, in the trees everywhere, one could see nothing but heads. These multitudes were talking, waving their hands, and calling impatiently for the victim. At last the cortege made its appearance on one side of the square. First came the clergy, then the Penitents, and last of all the victim surrounded by the soldiers of the Santa Hermandad.

At this moment all became still and deeply attentive.

To be continued next Friday …….

On this day in 1743: Jean-Pierre Christin developed the centigrade temperature scale.


Throwback Thursday

The Return of the Flowers – J. J. Grandville

The weather today suggests that Spring does actually happen here on PEI. Trees are starting to sprout leaves, the grass has gone from dead yellow to vibrant green to dandelion yellow, and the many tulip beds around town are breaking into bloom. Tulips are a very important industry here on PEI and many of the bulbs that are gracing flower beds in Canadian towns during this our sesquicentennial originate here at Vesey’s and Vancos. And of course this week is the wrap up week of the Tulip Festival in our old hometown of Ottawa.

JJGrandville2So to celebrate our tulips bursting forth, the industry here in PEI, and the Ottawa Festival I decided to stroll through a virtual garden that I started back in 2012 and always meant to revisit. And that stroll has led me to take another look at J. J. Grandville and Taxile Delord’s Les Fleurs Animées (Flowers Personified). I thought maybe that once again I’d delve into their allegorical recounting of what happen when flowers assumed human form and revive the Friday’s Flowers posts. And on the odd occasion highlight one or two of the flowers growing in my Virtual Garden.

Willy Or Won't He

Despite the snow fall earlier this week and this mornings minus temperatures Spring is really on its way here in Ottawa. No honestly it is!  A patch of early warm weather has nudged daffodils, hyacinths and other early spring flowers out of the earth.  Now mind you the near sub-zero temperatures have them hiding their heads but I’m always surprised how hardy so many of those seemly delicate flowers really are.

A few weeks ago to mark International Woman’s Day I sent out mimosas to the special women in my life in the form of a wonderful lithograph by J. J. Grandville from Les Fleurs Animées (Flowers Personified) a two volume set of 54 hand-coloured lithographs which propose that “Flowers are the expression of society.”

The introduction to Les Fleurs Animées was written by Alphonse Karr and the allegorical texts by Taxile Delord.  Grandville’s designs accompany their stories of the…

View original post 1,019 more words

Friday’s Flowers

I grew up surrounded by lilacs; my father and brother had poured a concrete patio beside the house; it was under the shade of a huge weeping willow and protected on two sides by stands of lilacs. Well over 8 feet high even when weighed down with great clusters of purple flowers, on warm summer nights they filled the night air with an incredible scent – slightly reminiscent of the perfume my Grandmother favoured.

They also seemed to attract a great number of mosquitoes who felt that my person was the best dining venue in Alderwood. When I would come in – on those nights I was allowed to stay out with the family enjoying the night air – I would be covered in mosquito bites which then called for an application of a bit of lather from a bar of Lifeboy soap. In those days Lifeboy was a carbolic soap with a mild anti-bacterial power and, as far as I was concerned great healing powers – it did seem to take the sting out of those pesky bites. The fragrance of lilac mingled with the smell of carbolic soap is the Proustian Madeline of my childhood.

Fast forward to our first house in Hunt Club. It was a garden home with a patch of yard bounded by three townhouse walls and a cedar fence. It was basically hard clay, scrub grass and a small – almost Lilliputian – stone patio. But in the corner stood a lovely Persian lilac it was festooned with fragrant white blossoms. It was almost 12 feet high and by the time we moved out seven years later it was two stories high. But it almost wouldn’t have had that chance to grow if one person – who shall remain nameless – had followed through on the plan to cut it down! Fortunately clearer minds – mine said he modestly – prevailed and it became a integral part of my small garden.  Hostas, lily of the valley and Solomon seals shared its shade with a cedar deck.  The rest of the garden was dotted with fox gloves, bergamot, daisies, campanella and a lovely hardy President Kekkonen rose bush surrounded a small waterfall illuminated by a stone Japanese lantern. The background was a cedar fence covered with Virginia creeper which glowed bright red in the waning days of fall. When I think back on those days in Hunt Club I hear the sounds of the waterfall, the glow of the lantern and the scent of lilac. Of all the gardens I have had I think it was that one that I created from clay and scrub that gave me the most pleasure and contentment.


All this to introduce today’s flower – the lilac. Perhaps its just me being sentimental but I think Grandeville captured the very essence of that most gentle – but hardy – of flowers perfectly.

Someone was asking why I show multiple versions of the same print?  These were engravings that were coloured by hand and so from copy to copy there is a variation – sometimes in colouring, sometimes in shading, often in clarity because of differences in technique.  I find that often details missed in one can be found an another.  And also give the age of the books these were taken from  and the care given to them by the owners – some may be faded or discoloured which gives them, I think at least, an added dimension.

25 May – 1895: Playwright, poet, and novelist Oscar Wilde is convicted of “committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons” and sentenced to serve two years in prison.

Friday’s Flower

Being forced to learn Wordsworth’s cloying little paean to that “jocund company” in grade school I should have reason enough to detest daffodils with a passion.  But you had to give old William his due,  he had it right – a bed of daffodils nodding and swaying in the breeze is a sight that does cause the heart to raise a few levels on the joyful scale.

What I hadn’t realize until I did a bit of Googling that the daffodil is the same as  the narcissus is the same as the jonquil.  Nor did I know that it is highly toxic and though the most oft told derivation of its name comes from the Greek legend of a very lovely and vain young man it may also come from the Greek word narkao or “I grow numb”, describing its narcotic properties.

The story that Delord tells and Grandville illustrates in Les fleurs animées recounts another tale of vanity but this time the vain one is a young Sicilian beauty spoken of as a warning to all young girls.

Sadly young Louis, a brave lad, a bold sailor and a kind comrade falls hopelessly in love with the vain beauty.  She leads him on and he soon sells all that he has to buy her the fine silks and gems that she demands – thinking only of how they will enhance her beauty not of the sacrifices her smitten lover has made to obtain them for her.  Eventually, having sold all he had, Louis becomes a brigand – robbing and “risking his soul’s welfare in order to gratify the vain wishes of her heart.”

The Governor sends a detachment of soldiers under the command of a handsome young corporal to deal with the robber and Louis is killed.  When the soldiers return Narcissa attempts to ensnare the young officer the way she had once ensnared poor Louis.  But the corporal is a man of the world and sees the emptiness beyond the beauty.

Rejected by her village Narcissa seeks refuge in a grotto by a holy stream high on the mountain of Monte-Negro.  But rather than weeping for her errors and repenting of her vanity she spends the day admiring her beauty in the waters of the stream.  One day a holy man climbed the mountain bent on exorcising the demons of vanity from the cold beauty.

A chilling warning – perhaps it is only in crowds that the lovely daffodil is “jocund company”.

17 May -1152: Henry II of England marries Eleanor of Aquitaine.