CERVANTES PRIZE 2017 Signatures
Before receiving the 2017 Cervantes Prize,
the Spanish language’s highest literary accolade,
Ramírez wrote this piece to explain his bequeathal
to the Cervantes Museum in Madrid
in fulfillment of the protocol asked of prize winners:
two signed letters, one by Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío
and the other by national hero Augusto César Sandino.
“I can leave nothing better than the signatures of the
two Nicaraguans who bequeathed me a country”
One of the ceremonies prior to the presentation of the Cervantes Prize, which I will receive in a few days’ time from the King of Spain in the auditorium of the Alcalá de Henares University, is the ritual of leaving a bequest in Madrid’s Cervantes Institute on Alcalá Street.
The Institute is housed in an imposing building embellished with caryatids that was first used by the River Plate Spanish Bank and then by the Central Bank of Spain, which is why it has the security vaults now used for literature; bequests are deposited in the safety deposit boxes previously used by customers to safeguard their deeds and jewelry.
The bequest must relate to the life and work of the author, some object or tool connected to his/her profession, or treasured original manuscripts or books. Juan Manuel Bonet, the Institute’s director, notified me months ago so I could consider my choice. During the ceremony, when the bequest is deposited in the corresponding box, a time limit is set for opening it and revealing what is inside. That deadline could last until the author’s death; or the contents could be announced immediately.
What should I bequeath?
What should I leave in that vault? A fountain pen? Except for the dedications in my books, I hardly write by hand anymore and even jot down my notes on the cellphone. A pair of glasses? They’re one of the usual things in such cases. A typewriter? I stopped using them over thirty years ago and haven’t kept any because in 1985 I moved on to exclusively using a computer keyboard, which is why I think of myself as a digital veteran. A manuscript? The same reason holds: I don’t write by hand.
Some time ago, when Madrid’s Center for Modern Art asked me for something related to my profession for its small museum of writers, I decided on the 13 floppy disks containing my novel Divine, written on an early computer that worked with a system called Lotus Symphony. That model no longer exists today, of course, nor is it possible to decode its language. A truly dead language.
Then I thought that a better bequest is one that transcends both me and the tools of my trade. I also decided that although I’ve asked that it be taken out of the box on August 5, 2022, when I’ll turn 80, God willing, it’s to be made public from the moment it’s deposited. I bequeathed an original letter from Rubén Darío and another from Augusto César Sandino, both kept in my personal file for a long time.
Letters from Darío and Sandino
Rubén’s letter is dated, January 2, 1902, and its return address is Paris, 9 Rue d’Odessa. As can be inferred from the text, it is addressed to his close friend Dr. Luis Henri Debayle—a Sorbonne doctor residing in León, Nicaragua, who was known in his day as “the wise” and was very influential in the country. Rubén asks him to petition the government of General José Santos Zelaya to grant him the Paris consulate, which it did the following year.
Sandino’s letter, dated October 11, 1931, was written from the headquarters of his Army in Defense of the National Sovereignty of Nicaragua in the Segovia Mountains and addressed to General Simón González, Colonel Abraham Rivera and Lieutenant Colonel Perfecto Chavarría. In it he issues orders that they prepare for a military expedition from Wiwilí to the Caribbean Coast, along the Wangki River.
Both letters were typewritten, but were signed by two men who through their words and dignity together represent the essence of my country. It is they who gave us our sense of nation. Through literature, Rubén transformed the language, giving it new audacity and sounds, while his poetry turned him into a national hero, so much so that on his return in 1907 the townspeople unhitched the team of horses from the open coach that was to take him from the railroad station in León, so as to attach themselves to the shafts and haul it along amid cheering.
Sandino, who defined himself as a “city worker, an artisan as they are called in this country,” was forced to become a soldier by the pressing need to rid the country of the foreign military intervention that lasted six years. There’s a phrase of his which is that of a poet, because words laid bare by truths are also poetry: “The man who asks nothing of his homeland more than a plot of land to be buried in, deserves to be heard, and not only heard but believed.”
He told the Basque journalist Ramón de Belausteguigoitia, who interviewed him in his camp in 1933 after the peace agreement that led to his death because he was betrayed and assassinated on the orders of the first Somoza: “Ah, they think I’m going to become a landowner! No, nothing like that; I will never own property. I have nothing…” It was a vow of poverty, which in politics is like a vow of chastity, and one he never broke.
We are descendants of honor and words
Therefore, we are descendants of honor and words. They both came from the core of this small and fertile land, a rural homeland that Rubén described better than any:
“Ox that I saw in my childhood, as you steamed / in the burning gold on the Nicaraguan sun, / there on the rich plantation filled with tropical / harmonies; woodland dove, of the woods that sang / with the sound of the wind, of axes, of birds and wild bulls: / I salute you both, because you are both my life…”*
This is why I can leave nothing better among the treasures of the Cervantes Institute than the signatures, the handwriting of the two Nicaraguans who bequeathed me a country.
*Rubén Darío’s poem Far Away was translated by Lysander Kemp, University of Texas.