Cabbages and Kings by O. Henry – part two

Dear readers,

Humans. We never seem to learn, do we? Look back over human history and there’s never been a period of total world peace. There’s always been a military conflict of some form on the planet, yet we never learn from it, despite all the promises to never return to such destruction and hate. Take the two world wars. The First World War was labelled “the war to end all wars”, then a couple of decades later the same countries throughout most of Europe kicked off again.

Don’t get me wrong. There are billions of nice people over the planet. Different races, politics, backgrounds, all doing their part to get by, survive, or more ambitiously, make an impact. There are also many intelligent and smart individuals. Just look at the wonder inventions (some great, some catastrophic), landing on the moon, cell phones, cures for once deadly diseases, amongst many others. Yet we are collectively a bit stupid, aren’t we?

My A-level English teacher taught me that at Bournville College of Further Education. His name was Clive and he had a curly haired perm and was a charismatic pessimist. There were four of us in the class who most the time he enjoyed winding us up by bringing up what we thought were nonesense philosophies, but he what he aimed for was to debate articulately and explain why he was wrong. Clive had an answer to everything, so he was often to quick and smart for us to prove him wrong. This class came about while studying an anthology of poems by Wilfred Owen. One of which was The Anthem of Doomed Youth, if I remember correctly. Yet this argument stuck with me because I agreed with him and still do, and it links in with Cabbages and Kings, and proves why we humans never learn.

Before I delve into my theory, I want to underline how much I enjoyed the book, mainly for the narrative wit, which charms and absurds and flows, keeping you hooked. O. Henry has fast become one of my favourite writers, and his style is one I may mimic in the future. His dialogue and description reminds me of James Michener, talking of goings on in the town, but more in a swashbucking kind of way. As mentioned in part one for my Cabbages and Kings review, the book consists of a group of short stories which interwine and come together in the end. Some are poignant, some are silly, but you get to taste the atmosphere and emotion in the town at the time. The book is also based on O. Henry’s time in Trujillo in Northern Honduras during the Banana Republic at the turn of the 19th/20th century, although he calls Honduras the “Republic of Anchuriain the book He was apparently there hiding from the US taxing authorities. The details I don’t know and will spare you.

I also enjoyed it for a romantic reason, or rather an emotive factor, in that I read it a couple of weeks before going to Trujillo myself. It wasn’t the first time. I had gone in 2013 with my Spanish friend Nacho and Mariela and fell in love with the place.

It’s a sleeply and relaxing haven which is kind of the last major town before you reach La Mosquitia. A rich concoction of different cultures, whether it be Spanish, Garifuna, Pech or North American, many realtors, many fishermen, many farmers, many shooting the breeze. People flock there for the beaches, resembling closest thing to paradise, especially if you take a short stroll to the west of Trujillo. The clouds permanently hang over the tropical forests immediately behind the town, but the sun seems to permanently shine, with a delightful afternoon breeze which burns all gringos and Chele’d Europeans not accustomed to the sun. The water is warm and clean, which feels like swimming in a sea of delicate rum, and you can walk out among the sandbanks which go out for kilometers. Talking of rum, the town roars of history, much of which involves pirates. It’s also one of the first places the Spanish touched down when they landed in the New World. It’s hard to know if the Christopher Columbus came to Trujillo. The cannons at the Santa Barbara Fort stick out on the hillside over the principle beaches. That hillside has some of the best sea-views I have had the joy of experiencing in my 38 years, though. Despite their threat, the town saw many pirate invasions and revolutions. Trujillo was also one of the focal ports during the Banana Republic. On that note, let’s return to the book.

Why was I going on about why people never learn? Well, as you might have read in the media (and on this blog) in the last few months, about elections, corrupt politicians, the US interfering with politics in other countries…well, this was all happening back 130 odd years ago. Almost direct replicas, of stir ups and protests. It’s uncanny and weird. I’m not calling the local people stupid or allowing this; it’s the politicians. The Juan Orlandos and Mel Zelayas, the continued abuse and pilfering of public funds which disables the country’s development. The same things and the powerful elite, from left and right, too short-sighted and hungry for power to actually introduce a sustainable development for the majority, which left me sad yet amused while reading it.

President Losada—many called him Dictator—was a man whose genius would have made him conspicuous even among Anglo-Saxons, had not that genius been intermixed with other traits that were petty and subversive. He had some of the lofty patriotism of Washington (the man he most admired), the force of Napoleon, and much of the wisdom of the sages. These characteristics might have justified him in the assumption of the title of “The Illustrious Liberator,” had they not been accompanied by a stupendous and amazing vanity that kept him in the less worthy ranks of the dictators.

A ghostly familiar description one might give for the current president, Juan Orlando Hernández often accused of being a dictator, or at least a quasi-dictator, using his military arm to keep the country in check, while getting support from the US.

After the ineffectual revolt against the administration of President Losada, the country settled again into quiet toleration of the abuses with which he had been charged. In Coralio old political enemies went arm-in-arm, lightly eschewing for the time all differences of opinion.

Reminds me of Honduras now, after the riots and flare-ups, the Hondurans return to their daily lives, putting up with the abuses of politicians, such as the recent scandal of the former president’s Pepe Lobo’s ex wife who was accused of wiring public funds to her personal account. People seem resigned to it. There might be a protest or a march, but people will get on with their daily lives, not knowing what to do.

The book is littered with passages like these, which left me banging my head against a wall, like I mentioned previously, in sadness and amusement, almost doing a waltz together.

I enjoyed it though. All of it. I judge books about how well I remember them, the impact and emotion they smack me with. The writing styles can often be great but the plots do nothing for me. This had a bit of everything.

I recommend Cabbages and Kings to all Hondurans or anyone coming to the country, especially in the northern areas. It’s informative and entertaining. One of my favourite books about this fascinating country. And despite it being written some 100 years ago, it holds much relevance today.

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About Nicholas Rogers

I am an English journalist/copywriter living in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and I have been here since 2011. I originally came to work with Casa Alianza, which supports street kids and vulnerable youths. I then stayed on, after meeting Pamela Cruz Lozano, who calls me her adopted Catracho. I work freelance journalism and I have my own translation business. Why did I come here? For the challenge, to open my mind and get out of my comfort zone. I love literature and I've written a book with street kids. I write novels, short stories and poetry, all of which you will find on this blog, as well as a lot of information about Honduras. View all posts by Nicholas Rogers

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