Mariano José de Larra
Mariano José de Larra was born in Madrid on March 24th 1809. He had occupations including writer and journalist. He died in Madrid in February 1837 aged 27 years and 11 months old. The cause of his death was suicide.
In 1832 Larra wrote ‘Vuelva Usted mañana’, a critique on the Spanish society of the time. 180 years later has anything changed? I leave it to you, dear reader, to decide.
“Vuelva Usted mañana” “Come Back Tomorrow”
The first man who called laziness a mortal sin must have been a great person. We, who were more serious in one of our preceding articles than we ever intended to be, will not enter now upon a long and profound discussion of the history of this sin, however much we may realize that there are sins that border on the historical and that the history of sin would be rather intriguing. Let us agree to say only that laziness has closed - and will continue to close - the gates of Heaven to more than one Christian.
I happened to be thinking along these lines a few days ago, when there appeared at my house one of those foreigners who, for good or ill, must always have exaggerated ideas about our country one of those who believe either that men here are still the splendid, generous, frank and chivalrous caballeros they were in the seventeenth century, or else that they are still nomadic tribesmen from beyond the Atlas Mountains in North Africa. In the first case, they keep imagining that our national character has been conserved intact, like our ruins; in the second, they go trembling along the roads and asking whether the members of some military unit established specifically to protect them from the hazards of the highway - common to all countries are brigands out to despoil them.
The truth is that our country is not one of those that you can get to know at first - or even at second - sight. And if we were not afraid of being called bold we might easily compare it to one of those feats of legerdemain which are surprising and unfathomable to one who does not know the trick (usually based upon the merest trifle) and which, after it is known, leaves the very one who was racking his brains looking for weird explanations astonished at his lack of observation. Many times the lack of an obvious cause of things makes us believe that it must be deep to be hidden from our penetrating mind. Such is the pride of man, who would rather declare in a loud voice that something is incomprehensible if he cannot understand it, than to confess that his ignorance of it may be the result of his own mental sluggishness.
Despite this, and because there are many of us Spaniards who are really ignorant of our basic characteristics, we have no right to think it strange that foreigners cannot understand us easily.
It was one of these foreigners who came to my house bearing proper letters of recommendation addressed to me. Complicated family matters, legal claims to be made, and even vast plans thought up in Paris about investing his abundant capital here in some industrial or business venture, were the motives that brought him to our country.
Accustomed to the active pace of our northern neighbours, he assured me seriously that he intended to remain here a very short time, especially if he did not soon find something safe in which to invest his money. It seemed to me that this foreigner was worthy of consideration, and I quickly made friends with him. Full of pity, I tried to persuade him to go home right away if the object of his visit was anything except a vacation. He was astonished at my suggestion, and I had to explain myself more clearly.
I said to him, "Look, Monsieur Sans-Delai," for this was his name, "You have decided to spend two weeks here to settle your affairs?"
"Certainly," he answered me. "Two weeks will be more than enough. Tomorrow morning we look up a genealogist to take care of my family affairs; in the afternoon he searches through his books for my ancestors, and by evening I find out who I am. As for my claims of an inheritance, the day after tomorrow I present them, based on the genealogist's data, notarized in compliance with the law; and as it will be a clear-cut case of undeniable justice (since only thus will I assert my rights), on the third day the matter is up for judgment, and I have my property. As for the business venture in which I intend to invest my capital, on the fourth day I shall present my proposals; these may be good or bad, and accepted or rejected immediately, and that makes five days. On the sixth, seventh and eighth days I will see the sights in Madrid. On the ninth, I rest. On the tenth day, I take my seat on the stage coach if I do not feel like spending more time here, and I return to my home. I still have five days left over.
When M. Sans-Delai reached this point, I tried to repress a laugh that had been about to split my sides for some time, my upbringing had succeeded in stifling my untimely mirth, but it was unable to prevent a slight smile of astonishment and pity from springing to my lips, brought there against my will by his efficient plans.
"Permit me, Monsieur Sans-Delai," I said to him half in jest and half in earnest, "permit me to invite you to dine with me on the day you have spent fifteen months in Madrid."
"What do you mean?"
"You will still be here in Madrid fifteen months from now."
"Are you joking?"
"I shall not be able to leave here when I please? The idea strikes me as very funny indeed!"
"You should realize that you are not in your bustling, businesslike country."
"Ah, you Spaniards who have travelled abroad have acquired the habit of speaking ill of your country so that you can feel superior to your compatriots."
"I assure you that during the two weeks you are planning to devote to these matters, you will not even be able to speak to a single one of the people whose cooperation you need."
"What exaggeration! My energy will rub off on all of them."
"Their inertia will rub off on you!"
I realized that M. Sans-Delai was in no mood to be convinced except by experience, so I kept still for the moment, quite sure that the facts would soon bear me out.
Very early the next day we went out together to look for a genealogist, which could be done only by asking one friend or acquaintance after another. Finally we found one, and the good man, stunned by our haste, declared frankly that he needed some time for this; we pressed him, and he finally told us as a great favour that we should come around in a few days. I smiled, and we left. Three days passed, and we returned.
"Come back tomorrow," the maid told us. "The master is not up yet."
"Come back tomorrow," she told us the next day. "The master has just gone out."
"Come back tomorrow," she said on the following day. "The master is taking his siesta.
"Come back tomorrow," she answered the next Monday. "Today he has gone to the bullfight." At what time can one see a Spaniard?
Finally we saw him.
"Come back tomorrow," he told us, "because I have forgotten the document."
"Come back tomorrow, because the final copy needs touching up."
At the end of two weeks it was ready. But M. Sans-Delai had asked him for a report on the name Diez, while he had understood my French friend to say Diaz, and the information was of no use. While waiting for new evidence I said nothing to my friend, who was now in despair about ever learning about his family tree.
Obviously, without this as a basis his legal claims were groundless.
For the proposals he brought concerning several very useful business enterprises that he intended to establish, it was necessary to find a translator. With the translator we had to go through the same rigmarole as with the genealogist: what with one "mañana" after another, it took us until the end of the month. We discovered that the translator was urgently in need of money, even for his daily meals, but he never found that the time was right for working. The office clerk was the same about making copies of the translation, for there just aren't any copyists in this country who know how to write well.
And matters did not stop there. A tailor took twenty days to make him a coat which he had promised within twenty-four hours. The boot maker, with all his dallying, obliged my friend to buy a ready-made pair. The laundress took two weeks to wash and iron a dress shirt for him, and the hatter, to whom he had sent his hat for a slight adjustment of the brim, kept it for two days, so he could not go out of the house - unless he went bareheaded.
His friends and acquaintances did not show up for a single appointment, failed to notify him when they could not come, and did not reply to his inquiries. What manners! What punctuality!
"What do you think of this country now, Monsieur Sans-Delai?" I asked him when these proofs of my opinion became evident.
"It seems to me that these men are rather unusual. . . ."
"Well, that's the way they all are. They won't even eat, so as to avoid having to raise the food to their mouths."
In the course of time, however, he made a proposal to install improvements in a certain government department which I shall not name, since it is highly regarded. In four days we returned to learn whether our plan had been approved.
"Come back tomorrow," the doorman said. "The Chief Clerk did not come in today."
"Something very important must have detained him," I said to myself.
We went out for a walk in Retiro Park, and we met - what a coincidence! - the Chief Clerk, very busy taking a stroll with his wife beneath the bright sun of Madrid's clear winter skies.
The next day was Tuesday, and the doorman said to us:
"Come back tomorrow, because the Honourable Chief Clerk isn't seeing anyone today."
"Some very important business must have come up," I said.
And since I'm an impish devil, I sought an opportunity to look through the keyhole. His Honour was tossing a cigar butt into the fire, and had in his hand a puzzle from the Daily Mail which he must have been having some difficulty in solving.
"It is impossible to see him today," I said to my companion. "His Honour is indeed very busy."
The following Wednesday he granted us an interview, and - what a misfortune! - the document had been referred, unfortunately, to the only person opposed to the plan, because he was the one who would come out the loser. The document stayed under investigation for two months, and came back as well investigated as you might expect. The truth is that we had been unable to obtain any influence with a certain person who was very friendly with the investigator. This person had very pretty eyes which doubtless might have convinced him, during his free time, about the justice of our case.
When it came back from the investigation it suddenly dawned on the blessed office that that document did not belong in that department! This slight error had to be rectified: it went to the proper department, bureau and desk, and there we were after three months, still chasing our document around like a weasel chasing a rabbit, without being able to get it out of the hole dead or alive! It seems that at this point the document left the original office and never reached the other one.
In the first, they told us:
"It left here on such-and-such a date." And in the other they said: "It never reached us here.
"I swear!" I said to M. Sans-Delai. "Do you know, our document must be floating around in the air like a lost soul, and must now be perched like a pigeon on some roof in this busy town?"
We had to draw up another document. Back to the petitioning and the hurrying around! What a madhouse!
"It is absolutely necessary," said the official in a pompous voice, "that these matters go through regular channels."
That is to say, the requirement was - as in the army - that our document should spend so many years in the service. Finally, after almost six months of going upstairs and downstairs, waiting for signatures or for further investigation, or for approval, or to this office or that desk and always waiting for "mañana," it came back with a notation in the margin which said: "Despite the legality and usefulness of the proposal, petition denied."
"Ah, Monsieur Sans-Delai," I exclaimed, laughing loudly, "this is the way we handle things!"
But M. Sans-Delai, cursing all bureaucrats, flew into a towering rage:
"For this I took such a long journey? After six months, the only thing I have achieved is to have everyone everywhere say every day, `Come back tomorrow.' And when this blessed `tomorrow' finally arrives, they turn us down with a resounding negative! And I am here to invest money with them? And I am here to do them a favour? A very complex intrigue must be afoot to hinder our plans.
"An intrigue, Monsieur Sans-Delai? No man here is capable of staying with an intrigue for two consecutive hours. The real `intrigue' is laziness. I assure you there is no other; that is the great, hidden motive: it is easier to deny something than to become informed about it." At this point I should not like to leave unmentioned some of the reasons they gave me for the aforementioned denial of the petition, even though I may be digressing slightly:
"That man is going to bankrupt himself," a very serious and patriotic person told me.
"That's not the reason," I replied. "If he bankrupts himself, you will have lost nothing in granting him what he requests: he will suffer the consequences of his own recklessness or his ignorance."
"How will he succeed in his plans?"
"And suppose he wants to throw away his money and ruin himself? Can't a person even die around here without a permit from the Chief Clerk?"
"But he might harm those who have done in a different way the very things the foreign gentleman wants to do."
"Those who have done them differently? By that you mean they have done them less efficiently?"
"Yes, but at least they got them done!"
"What a pity it would be if things stopped being done badly! So then, because things have always been done in the worst possible way, must you be considerate of those who would perpetuate these inefficient methods? You might better consider whether old-fashioned people will harm up-to-date ones!"
"That is the regulation that is the way things have been done until now, and that is the way we shall keep on doing them."
"By that token, you should still be fed baby-food as you were as an infant."
"After all, Señor Figaro, he is a foreigner."
"Then why not have native Spaniards put his plan into operation”
"That's just the kind of trick they use to bleed us of our money."
"My dear sir," I exclaimed, finally out of patience, "you are making an error that is all too widespread. You are like many others who have a diabolical mania for placing obstacles in the path of any good idea - and let someone just try to surmount them! Here in Spain we are madly proud of knowing nothing, of wanting to guess at everything, and of refusing to learn from masters. Nations without technical skill that have had the desire to acquire it, have found no better method than to turn to those who know more about these things.
"A foreigner," I continued, "who goes to an unfamiliar country to risk his capital there, puts new money into circulation and aids a society to which he is contributing his talent and his funds. If he meets failure, it is an heroic one; if he succeeds, it is quite proper that he should reap the reward of his efforts, since he is bringing us benefits we could not acquire by ourselves. A foreigner who sets up an establishment in this country is not coming to bleed us of our money, as you suppose; he must settle down here, and within a half-dozen years he is no longer a foreigner by any means: his dearest interests and his family bind him to his newly-adopted country. He comes to love the land in which he has made his fortune, and the people from whom he has perhaps chosen a wife; his children are Spanish, and his grandchildren will be Spaniards also. Instead of taking money out, he came and left capital that he brought with him, investing it and putting it to work. And he has left another kind of capital - talent, which is worth at least as much as money. He has provided a living for the native Spaniards he has had to employ; he has made improvements, and has even contributed toward an increase in the population with his new family.
Convinced of these important truths, all wise and prudent governments have welcomed foreigners. France owes her high degree of prosperity to her great hospitality; Russia owes to foreigners from all the world the fact that she has become a great power in much less time than it has taken other nations to become so. The United States owes to its foreign immigration . . . But I see by your expression," I concluded, interrupting myself at an appropriate moment, "that it is very difficult to convince someone who has made up his mind not to be convinced. If you were in control of the government, we could certainly look forward to great things from you!"
And having delivered myself of this philippic, I went out to look for M. Sans-Delai.
"I am leaving, Señor Figaro," he told me. "Nobody has any time in this country to attend to anything. I shall limit myself to seeing the most noteworthy things here in the capital." "Ah, my friend," I said to him, "you had better leave in peace if you don't want to lose what little patience you still have left; the majority of our national treasures cannot be seen." "Is that possible?" "Aren't you ever going to believe me? Remember what I said about those fifteen days....”
An expression on the face of M. Sans-Delai indicated that the recollection was an unpleasant one.
"Come back tomorrow," they told us everywhere, "because we have no visiting hours today. Fill out a slip so you can get special permission."
You should have seen my friend's face when he heard this about permission slips! In his mind's eye he was picturing the document, the petition, the six months, and . . . He said only:
"I am a foreigner." A fine recommendation for my kind compatriots to hear!
My friend became more and more bewildered, and understood us less and less. We had to wait days on end to see the few rare relics we have preserved. Finally, after six long months (if there can be one six-month period longer than another) my protégé returned to his own country, cursing Spain and agreeing that I was correct in the first place. He took back with him excellent impressions of our customs: he said especially that all he had been able to do in six months was always to "come back tomorrow," and that at the end of all those "mañanas" that never came, the best thing - or, rather, the only good thing - he had been able to do was to leave the country.
Can he be right, leisurely reader (if you have reached this point in what I am writing), can the good M. Sans-Delai be right in speaking poorly of us and our laziness? Is it likely that he will return with pleasure the day after tomorrow to visit our homeland?
Let us leave this question for tomorrow, because you are probably tired of reading today; and if tomorrow, or some other day, you are not too lazy - as you usually are - to come back to the bookshop, too lazy to take out your purse, and too lazy to open your eyes to leaf through the pages I still have for you to read, I shall tell you how it happened (and I see and understand all this, and leave a lot untold) that I have many times, led by this same influence which is born of the climate and many other factors, lost out in more than one amorous adventure just because I was lazy; how I gave up more than one project I had begun, and the expectation of more than one job that would have been perhaps obtainable, if I had shown a little more activity; or how, in short, I gave up - just because I was too lazy to pay a call I owed or should have made - social connections that might have helped me a good deal during my life.
I shall confess to you that I do nothing today that can be put off until tomorrow; I shall tell you that I get up at eleven in the morning, and take a siesta in the afternoon; and that I spend seven and eight hours at a stretch loafing at a table in a cafe, talking - or snoring - like a good Spaniard. I shall add that when the cafe is closed I drag myself slowly to my daily appointment (because out of laziness I make only one), and that I can be found glued to a chair smoking one cigarette after another and yawning continually until twelve or one o'clock in the morning; that many evenings I do not dine because I am too lazy, and that I am even too lazy to go to bed! In short, my dear reader, I shall state that despite the many times I have been in despair during my life, I have never hanged myself - and it was always due to sheer laziness.
Let me conclude for today by confessing that for more than three months I have had the title of this feature story - "Come Back Tomorrow" - at the head of a piece of notepaper, and that during this time I have wanted to write something on it every evening and many afternoons. But every night I would put out my light, promising myself with the most childish faith in my own willpower, "Ah, well, I'll write it tomorrow!"
Thank Heaven this "mañana" finally came, and it isn't too bad. But alas for that "mañana" that will never come!