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OK, so we've been left in the dark as to what happened between Fermina and Florentino half a century ago, and our curiosity is killing us. Don't worry, García Márquez delivers. Chapter 2 is all about their fifty-year-old love story.
First, we learn a little bit about Florentino and his background. At the time of the love affair he lives with his mom, Tránsito Ariza, in a rented house on the Street of Windows. His mom keeps a little shop that sells knick-knacks. Florentino is the illegitimate son of one of the founders of the River Company of the Caribbean.
His father dies when Florentino is ten years old, and the boy has to drop out of school and go to work as an apprentice at the Postal Agency. The telegraph operator, Lotario Thugut, takes Florentino under his wing and begins to instruct him in the workings of the telegraph system. He also teaches him to play the violin.
Florentino becomes very popular among his female acquaintances. He can dance, recite poetry, and play violin serenades. What a catch! These romantic skills allow the girls to overlook his dorky defects – myopia and chronic constipation.
Florentino sees Fermina for the first time when he delivers a telegram to her father, a Lorenzo Daza, a newcomer to the city.
On the way out, Florentino sees Fermina Daza teaching her aunt to read. He locks eyes with the young girl and it's love at first sight…at least for Florentino.
Florentino does his best to find out about Fermina and her family. He learns that the family came from San Juan de la Ciénaga soon after the cholera epidemic. Lorenzo's wife, also named Fermina, died when the daughter was young. Lorenzo's forty-year-old sister, Escolástica, lives with the family and wears the habit of St. Francis. Fermina is thirteen years old. The family seems to have quite a bit of money and no one can tell what Lorenzo does for a living.
Fermina attends an expensive all-girls school. Every day she walks back and forth to school, chaperoned by her spinster aunt.
Florentino sits on a bench in the park and pretends to read a book, just so he can watch Fermina and her aunt as they pass by…four times a day. Is this stalker behavior or what?
After two weeks of creepy stalking, Florentino decides to write the girl a letter. He can't figure out how to deliver the missive, however, and in the meantime he keeps writing. When the letter reaches sixty pages, he goes to his mother for help.
Florentino's mom advises him not to deliver the sixty pages of lovesick compliments. She also recommends that he start by winning over the aunt.
Unbeknownst to Florentino, Fermina and her aunt already know what's up. They've seen him sitting in the park every day, and Aunt Escolástica sagely predicts to Fermina that, one day, he will approach her and give her a letter.
With Aunt Escolástica's complicity, Fermina becomes more and more interested in the timid-looking telegraph operator.
Fermina and Florentino have a close encounter at Christmas Mass, when they nearly bump into each other in the crowd. Still no direct communication, though.
Over the Christmas vacation, Florentino anxiously sits in front of Fermina's house, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Conveniently, Fermina and her aunt begin to sit outside every afternoon at the same time to do their reading lesson.
One afternoon, Aunt Escolástica leaves Fermina alone outside for a minute. Florentino approaches her and asks her to accept a letter from him. She insists she must have her father's permission and Florentino begs her to get it, saying it's a matter of life and death. Fermina tells him to come back every afternoon and to wait until she changes her seat.
The following Monday, Aunt Escolástica again leaves Fermina alone and Fermina moves to the other chair. Fermina raises her embroidery to accept Florentino's letter and a bird poops right on her sewing. Embarrassed, Fermina hides the embroidery and looks Florentino in the face for the first time. Florentino reassures her by saying that the bird poo is "good luck" (2.23). Fermina tells him to leave and not to come back until she tells him to.
While waiting for Fermina's response, Florentino gets really sick. His mom is worried because his symptoms don't "resemble the turmoil of love so much as the devastation of cholera" (2.24). She has a doctor take a look at him, but, as it turns out, Florentino's fine – it's just that "the symptoms of love [are] the same as those of cholera" (2.25).
Florentino's mom advises him to enjoy the pleasure of suffering while he's young, because "these things don't last your whole life" (2.26). We'll see about that.
Florentino starts to neglect his work, and only keeps his job thanks to the intervention of his friend Lotario Thugut.
Lotario Thugut is old enough to be Florentino's grandfather. He's a big guy who sort of resembles Santa Claus, and he tries to initiate Florentino into the mysteries of sex by setting him up with prostitutes in a transient hotel for sailors. Florentino refuses – he wants to lose his virginity for love.
The hotel is a rundown colonial palace full of cubicles with peepholes. Very exciting.
Lotario and Florentino earn the esteem of the owner of the hotel, even though Florentino never hires any of the prostitutes. He simply locks himself in one of the little rooms to read poetry, and manages to overhear the secrets that important clients and local officials spill in pillow talk with the women of the brothel.
Florentino plays the violin at church just so he can get a better view of Fermina in the audience. When he tries to spice up the choral music with some love waltzes, he gets kicked out of the choir.
Florentino gets drunk on cologne, because it smells sort of like Fermina Daza. In case you hadn't noticed by this point, he's a bit of a weirdo.
Encouraged by his mother, Florentino breaks his promise to wait for Fermina's word, and approaches her as she reads with her aunt outside her house. It's been a month since Florentino gave her the letter.
Florentino asks Aunt Escolástica to leave him alone with Fermina for a minute and warns her that she'll be responsible for the consequences if she refuses.
Fermina has been feeling pressured to answer the letter, which she's read hundreds of times. She doesn't know what to say, though. Florentino reprimands her for her lack of courtesy.
Fermina apologizes for the delay and promises to respond to Florentino's letter before the end of the vacation.
Three days before school starts, Aunt Escolástica goes to the telegraph office under the pretense of sending a telegraph and pretends to forget a little prayer book containing a letter. Florentino's so happy and excited to get a response from Fermina that he spends the whole day eating roses.
Florentino and Fermina spend the whole spring writing passionate love letters to one another.
Aunt Escolástica realizes that if Fermina's love affair is found out, her brother will suspect her complicity and kick her out of the house. She allows the girl to leave her letters in secret hiding places so as to feign innocence in the matter.
Florentino writes obsessively, sometimes staying up all night to pen his letters. Fermina is more restrained, writing her letters while she pretends to take notes in class.
One night, Fermina wakes up to the sound of Florentino serenading her with his violin. She's worried that her father will find out, but Aunt Escolástica helps the lovers remain undiscovered.
Florentino continues to play his serenades for Fermina around town, but never directly in front of her house again.
We interrupt this love story to bring you a brief message about current events. A new civil war breaks out, but the narrator lets us know that this is just a continuation of the same old fight between Liberals and Conservatives that's been going on for the past fifty years. The government imposes martial law and a curfew.
Florentino is totally clueless about the civil war, and continues to play his late-night serenades. He's arrested and taken to prison for three nights. Get this, though: he likes being in jail. He wishes he could suffer even more for love.
After two years of writing letters, Florentino makes Fermina a formal proposal of marriage. In a letter. Geesh.
Fermina gets totally freaked out by this, and asks her aunt what to do. Aunt Escolástica speaks from experience when she tells her niece to say yes, because she "will be sorry all the rest of [her] life if [she] say[s] no" (2.53).
Fermina asks for some time to think it over. After four months, Florentino gives her an ultimatum. She finally agrees to marry him if he promises never to make her eat eggplant.
Florentino's mom has been saving up some money by running a pawnshop out of their home, and she uses the profits to rent a bigger section of the house to prepare for the arrival of Florentino's new bride.
Florentino, for his part, has been promoted to First Assistant at the telegraph office.
Florentino's mom advises him to have a long engagement so that the fiancés can get to know each other "person to person" (2.57). Fermina agrees to a two-year extension. The whole engagement is kept on the DL.
Lotario Thugut buys the transient hotel, and Florentino is given the permanent use of a room to use whenever he likes. He spends more time there than at work or at home.
Florentino lives at the hotel with the prostitutes who work there and an elderly woman who occupies one of the rooms. He gets to know the girls and shares meals with them, but never goes to bed with them. One evening the woman who cleans the hotel tries to seduce him, but Florentino refuses – he's saving his virginity for Fermina Daza.
One day, four months before the date set to formalize the engagement, Lorenzo Daza shows up at the telegraph office and asks to speak to Florentino. Florentino is totally unprepared for a visit from his fiancée's father – Fermina hasn't had a chance to warn him.
As it turns out, last Saturday Fermina was caught writing a love letter by one of the nuns at school – reason for expulsion. Interrogated by her father and by the school administration, Fermina refuses to confess the identity of her lover. Her dad searches her room and finds three years' worth of letters, signed by Florentino Ariza.
Lorenzo Daza kicks Escolástica out of the house, certain that she was complicit in Fermina's secret love affair with the telegraph operator. Escolástica is shipped back to San Juan de la Ciéanaga and Fermina never sees her again. Thirty years later, she will receive a letter saying that her aunt died in a leprosarium. Fermina never forgives her father for his punishment of Escolástica.
Desperate to put an end to the relations between his daughter and the telegraph operator, Lorenzo Daza goes to talk to Florentino at his work. He takes Florentino for an 8 a.m. drink, and tells the kid to stay away from his daughter. When Florentino refuses to make such a promise, Lorenzo threatens to shoot him, but doesn't.
Instead, Lorenzo takes Fermina away on a trip. When she asks where they're going, he responds, "To our death." So, it doesn't sound like it's going to be a very fun vacation (2.91).
As a farewell, Fermina cuts off all her hair and sends it to Florentino in a braid.
The journey is a nightmare for Fermina. Men and mules die. They sleep on urine-stained cots. They narrowly escape roving bands of soldiers at war. Fermina gets ulcers on her buttocks. Unpleasantness abounds.
The group finally stops in the town of Valledupar, where Fermina's mother's brother lives. They're received by a huge effusion of relatives, including Fermina's cousin Hildebranda, who will become her close friend.
Hildebranda instantly sympathizes with Fermina's torment, and consoles her with a big manila envelope full of telegrams from Florentino.
How does Florentino know where Fermina is? Lorenzo made the mistake of telegraphing his relatives to let them know he was coming, forgetting that Fermina's boyfriend is in charge of the telegraph office. Duh.
Florentino and Fermina maintain a correspondence via telegraph for the three months that she's in Valledupar, and for the remainder of her journey, which lasts a year and a half.
Fermina starts to enjoy herself, and actually feels happy in the country with her cousins and relatives. She visits a fortuneteller recommended to her by Hildebranda and is told that there's nothing standing in her way of a long and happy marriage.
The telegraph continues to play a significant role in the relationship between Fermina and Florentino. Across the wire, Fermina and Florentino solidify their plans to marry as soon as they are together again. And at one point Fermina implements the telegraph to send Florentino an urgent message requesting permission to attend her first adult dance.
Florentino becomes obsessed with the story of the Spanish galleon that reputedly sank off the coast in 1708. He hires a boy swimmer named Euclides to help him find the sunken treasure. Euclides, only twelve years old, is a clever navigator and a skillful diver.
Florentino studies the history of the San José and memorizes every detail. He learns the routes of the galleons from the period and thinks he knows the approximate site of the shipwreck.
The two young men set out on an expedition to find the sunken ship. After much searching, Euclides grows impatient with Florentino and tells him he'll never find what he's looking for if Florentino won't tell him what it is. Florentino refuses to tell.
After three fruitless Sundays, Florentino tells Euclides his secret. Euclides, more informed and skilled at navigating the sea than Florentino, changes their search route.
One day Euclides spends an extraordinarily long time submerged on a dive. When he surfaces, he spits out a couple of pieces of jewelry and tells Florentino he's found a graveyard of ships, including the San José.
Florentino asks his mother for help in financing an expedition to recover the sunken treasure. She examines the jewelry that Euclides "discovered," and informs her son that he's been duped – it's just cheap costume jewelry. Euclides swears he's innocent, but then he disappears. Florentino never sees him again.
The one thing that Florentino manages to get out of his misguided search for the San José is the discovery of the lighthouse, where he and Euclides take shelter one night during a thunderstorm. He befriends the lighthouse keeper and learns a bit about the trade. Later, the narrator tells us, when Fermina Daza rejects Florentino, he will find consolation in the lighthouse. (Note: This tendency of García Márquez to tell us a little bit about what's going to happen in the future is called prolepsis. It's one of his favorite narrative techniques. We pointed it out in Chapter 1, and we'll mention it again.)
Florentino's shipwreck-hunting adventures pass the time and, before he expects it, he receives news of Fermina's return.
It's a bad season for ship travel, and the first attempt of the schooner to make the crossing from Riohacha results in a sleepless, seasick night for Fermina. Worse yet, they don't even make any progress – they wind up right back where they started.
The Dazas' second attempt to make the crossing is successful. On the ship, Fermina has a dream that Florentino removes the face she has always seen him in, because it's actually a mask. Underneath the mask, his real face is the same as the false one.
The ship arrives at port under a downpour. The passengers wait for the rain to stop so they can disembark, but it doesn't let up. Eventually a stevedore (that's someone who works loading and unloading ships in a port) wades out to the ship and carries Fermina to shore.
Fermina returns home and takes on the responsibility of running the house. Her father turns over to her the keys as if it's some sort of coming-of-age ritual.
Fermina suffers a bit of a let down when she wakes up in her house to another day of rain, and realizes she and Florentino haven't established a way to communicate now that she's home.
For his part, Florentino spends the weekend looking for signs of life in the house. He sees a light on Monday, and spends the night roaming the streets, crying with happiness and reciting love poetry. At eight in the morning he's still awake, sitting in a café, when he sees Fermina going to the market with her maid, Gala Placidia.
Fermina is taller and looks all grown up. Florentino follows her through the crowded market.
Fermina has fun shopping, but she takes some of her purchases seriously – she's buying things for her house with Florentino. Clearly she expects their marriage to be imminent – she even buys material for their marriage sheets "that by dawn would be damp with moisture from both their bodies" (2.134). Bow-chicka-bow-wow.
Through all this, Florentino follows Fermina like a man obsessed.
Then, Fermina enters the Arcade of the Scribes and, for some reason, Florentino "realize[s] that he might lose the moment he had craved for so many years" (2.135). We don't really understand why Florentino feels that sense of loss yet – let's see what happens.
The Arcade of Scribes has a bad reputation as being a sketchy shopping district where merchants sell sex toys, pornography, and items from the black market. It's also where, historically, scribes would sit and write letters for the illiterate. Fermina doesn't realize she's wandered into the Arcade of the Scribes – she's just looking for a shady spot where she can rest.
Fermina buys some golden ink to impress Florentino with and a bag of candy. A black woman offers her a piece of pineapple speared on the end of a knife, and she eats it. The whole time, Florentino watches her with a sense of awe.
Suddenly, Fermina notices Florentino right behind her. He says into her ear, "This is not the place for a crowned goddess" (2.139).
In that moment, Fermina falls out of love with Florentino. When she sees his face, she feels nothing but "the abyss of disenchantment." Suddenly, the past two years seem like a huge mistake. She "erase[s] him from her life with a wave of her hand" (2.139).
Back in her house that afternoon, Fermina writes Florentino a note, explaining that when she saw him, she realized that the love they had created was "nothing more than an illusion" (2.141). She sends Gala Placidia to return all of Florentino's letters and telegrams, and requests that he give back the gifts she has given him.
Florentino writes Fermina desperate letters, but the maid refuses to accept them. He returns everything but the braid, which he insists he be allowed to deliver in person. Still, Fermina refuses.
Tránsito Ariza requests a visit with Fermina Daza, and Fermina grants it. She meets with Florentino's mother for five minutes in the doorway of her house, but doesn't offer to let her inside.
Two days later, Florentino relinquishes the braid, and Tránsito Ariza returns it to Fermina.
Florentino doesn't have another chance to speak with Fermina alone until fifty-one years, nine months, and four days later, when he repeats his vow of eternal devotion on the night of her husband's death.