I thought that the writings, letters, documents, tales, and memoirs of Maqroll the Gaviero (the Lookout) had all passed through my hands, and that those who knew of my interest in the events of his life had exhausted their search for written traces of his unfortunate wanderings, but fate held in store a curious surprise just when it was least expected.
One of the secret pleasures afforded by walks through the Barrio Gótico in Barcelona is visiting the secondhand bookstores (to my mind the best stocked in the world), whose owners still preserve that subtle expertise, rewarding intuition, and canny knowledge which are the virtues of the authentic bookseller, a species well on its way to imminent extinction. Recently, as I was walking down the Calle de Botillers, I was drawn to the window of an old bookshop that tends to be closed most of the time but offers truly exceptional works to the avid collector. That day it was open. I walked in with the devotion of one entering the sanctuary of some forgotten rite. In attendance, behind an untidy heap of books and maps that he was cataloguing in an exquisite, old-fashioned hand, was a young man with the heavy black beard of a Levantine Jew, an ivory complexion, and melancholy black eyes fixed in an expression of mild astonishment. He gave me a thin smile and, like any good bookseller, allowed me to peruse the shelves while he attempted to remain as unobtrusive as possible. As I was putting to one side some volumes I intended to purchase, I unexpectedly came across a beautiful edition, bound in purple leather, of the book by P. Raymond that I had been seeking for years and whose very title is promising: Enquête du Prévôt de Paris sur l’assassinat de Louis Duc D’Orléans, published by the Bibliothèque de l’Ecole de Chartres in 1865. Many years of waiting had been rewarded by a stroke of luck I had long since stopped hoping for. I took the copy without opening it and asked the bearded young man for the price. He quoted the figure with that round, definitive tone of finality which is also peculiar to his proud fraternity. Without hesitation I paid for it and my other selections, and I left to enjoy my acquisition alone, to savor it slowly, voluptuously, on a bench in the little square with the statue of Ramón Berenguer the Great. As I leafed through the pages, I noticed that inside the back cover a large pocket, originally intended for the maps and genealogical tables that accompanied Professor Raymond’s exquisite text, contained instead a quantity of pink, yellow, and blue sheets that appeared to be commercial bills and accounting forms. When I inspected them more closely, I saw that they were covered by tiny, cramped writing, somewhat tremulous and feverish I thought, in an indelible violet pencil occasionally darkened by the author’s saliva. The writing, on both sides of the page, carefully avoided the original printed material on what were, in fact, various kinds of commercial forms. A sentence suddenly caught my eye and made me forget the French historian’s scrupulous research into the treacherous assassination of the brother of Charles VI of France by order of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy. At the bottom of the last page I read these words, penned in green ink by a somewhat steadier hand: ‘Written by Maqroll the Gaviero during his voyage up the Xurandó River. To be given to Flor Estévez, wherever she may be. Hotel de Flandre, Antwerpen.’ Since the book was underlined and annotated in the same violet pencil, it was not difficult to deduce that he had kept the papers in the pocket designed for more momentous academic purposes.
As the pigeons continued to sully the noble image of the conqueror of Mallorca, son-in-law to the Cid, I began to read the variegated pages where, in the form of a diary, Maqroll narrated his misadventures, memories, reflections, dreams, and fantasies as he traveled upriver, one man among the many who come down from the hill country to lose themselves in the half-light of the immeasurable jungle’s vegetation. Many passages were written in a firmer hand, which led me to conclude that the vibration of the engine in the vessel carrying the Gaviero was responsible for the tremor I had at first attributed to the fevers which, in that climate, are as frequent as they are resistant to all treatment or cure. As with so many other pages written by Maqroll in testimony to his contrary fate, this Diary is an indefinable mixture of genres, ranging from a straightforward narration of ordinary events to an enumeration of the hermetic precepts of what I assumed was his philosophy of life. Attempting to correct the manuscript would be both ingenuous and fatuous, and would contribute little to his original purpose: to record, day after day, his experiences on a voyage whose monotony and uselessness were, perhaps, alleviated by his work as chronicler.
On the other hand, it seemed a matter of elementary justice that the Diary have as its title the name of the establishment where, for a long period of time, Maqroll enjoyed relative tranquillity along with the attentions of its owner, Flor Estévez, the woman who understood him best and shared the exaggerated scope of his dreams, the intricate tangle of his existence.
It has also occurred to me that readers might be interested in having access to information related, in one way or another, to the events and people Maqroll describes in the Diary. I have, therefore, appended several accounts that appeared in earlier publications but now occupy what I believe is their proper place.
—The opening section of The Snow of the Admiral (the first of the Maqroll the Gaviero novels, all collected in The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll and translated by Edith Grossman) by Álvaro Mutis, who passed away on Sunday. We hope that, as Mutis himself did, you’ll discover Maqroll’s sea stories and adventures and enjoy them to the fullest.