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The day that Florentino sees Fermina, home from her honeymoon and six months pregnant, in the Cathedral, he makes the decision to become rich and famous enough to deserve her.
Florentino doesn't worry about the fact that Fermina's married – he's prepared to wait for Dr. Urbino to die.
So, from this moment on, Florentino actually starts to take his career sort of seriously. He goes to his uncle and asks for a job.
Uncle Leo XII hires Florentino, even though he's a little miffed at his nephew for having thrown away a perfectly good position as a telegraph operator upriver.
Florentino spends a few years learning the ropes. One of his early tasks is to write business letters for his uncle. The only trouble is that Florentino can't seem to write anything without making it sound like a love poem. (Embarrassing.)
So Florentino works really hard, tries out every single position in the company, and eventually gets promoted up the ranks.
While they're working, Florentino's uncle will sometimes tell him stories about his father. A lot of the stories are about Florentino's dad's amorous habits and his strategies for hiding his affairs from his wife.
Uncle Leo's portrayal of Florentino's dad is different from the image he's gotten from his mother, who has always described him as a great man. She's also told Florentino the story of his father's family life – like Florentino, he and his brothers were illegitimate children born to the same mother, who named them after popes.
Florentino finds other representations of his father in his dad's old notebooks and in a couple of old photographs. While Florentino doesn't feel that he physically resembles his father, his dad's handwriting and some of his writing seems so familiar that Florentino feels he's written it himself (4.15).
Flashback to Florentino's childhood: Florentino himself doesn't remember much about his dad. Pius V never came to the House of Windows after Florentino was born, but he did provide for him financially until his death. Every Friday after school, Florentino would wait outside of the offices of the River Company for his father to come out and give him some money for the week's expenses. After Pius V dies, Uncle Leo XII continues to bring money to Tránsito Ariza.
OK, now back to the Florentino as a lovesick young man. After working for the River Company for a while, Florentino starts hanging out in the Arcade of Scribes after work in order to find an outlet for his love poetry. He writes love letters for people who don't know how to write, free of charge. He doesn't ask his clients any questions about their particular situations, but writes all of his letters while he thinks about Fermina Daza.
Florentino plays successful matchmaker to one young couple, who invites him to be the godfather to their first child.
Florentino writes a Lover's Companion, a collection of love letters inspired by his passion for Fermina. It's so long that no printer in the city wants to publish it, so it ends up collecting dust in the attic.
Florentino's friends start to worry about him, because he doesn't hang out with them the way he used to. He also loses interest in food. Clearly, his "mortal encounter with love" has changed him for life (4.24).
Florentino is so sure that he will one day convince Fermina to marry him that he convinces his mom to buy the building that they live in and start preparing it for his future wife and children.
Tránsito is getting old, and is no longer able to keep track of all her clients at the pawnshop. She liquidates her assets and uses the funds to pay for the renovation of the house.
Florentino continues his nocturnal pursuits of women on the street, looking for some sexual healing. He tries not to take them to the hotel because he doesn't want his friends to know about his new, lascivious lifestyle, but on three "emergency situations" he disguises his ladyfriends as men and takes them to a room. This plan backfires when people at the hotel assume that Florentino is doing it with a dude.
Florentino is seriously horny. He is so desperate to get in bed with all the women he meets in the parks, the market, the beaches, and the boats of the harbor, that "he [takes] them wherever he [can], and sometimes even where he [can] not, and not infrequently he [has] to hurry into a dark entryway and do what he [can], however he [can] do it, behind the gate" (4.28).
Most often, Florentino takes his girlfriends to the lighthouse, where he feels that "something of his loves…flashed out to the sailors with every turn of the light" (4.29).
Florentino develops "rather simplistic" (and frankly, offensive) theories connecting women's appearances with what he imagines to be their lovemaking styles. He plans to write a book on the topic, but his theories are squashed by his experience with a new lover named Ausencia Santander.
Ausencia has been married for twenty years and has a couple of grandkids. Still, that isn't stopping her from having an active social life. Her husband has moved out to live with his mistress and Ausencia has a boyfriend, Rosendo de la Rosa, a riverboat captain. Rosendo is a friend of Florentino's and he introduces him to Ausencia.
Florentino likes Ausencia, not for her good looks or the way she cooks, but for her house, which is, admittedly, pretty cool. It's full of objects that Captain Rosendo has brought back from his many voyages.
Captain Rosendo gets really drunk before lunch and passes out. Florentino helps Ausencia put him to bed…and then he puts her to bed, if you know what we mean. Thus begins their seven-year love affair.
For a while Florentino is convinced that Ausencia is only using him for sex, because she seems "self-absorbed" in her lovemaking. Two years after they meet, though, she starts to fall in love with him. Florentino can tell because she takes his glasses off to kiss him before undressing him.
While the lovers sleep that afternoon, somebody robs Ausencia of all of the beautiful furnishings in her house, even her pet cockatoo. They leave a lewd message scrawled on the wall, indicating that they know about Ausencia's infidelity to Captain Rosendo.
Florentino continues to visit Ausencia, but not as frequently because he starts picking up girls on the trolley.
Florentino recalls one young girl that he meets on the trolley during Carnival. When he asks her out, the girl accepts, but warns him that she is crazy. He thinks she's just kidding around, and they spend the night dancing in the streets. Florentino feels happy. However, as they leave for Florentino's favorite make-out spot, the lighthouse, the girl is seized by officials from the local asylum and put into a straitjacket. It turns out that Florentino's date had decapitated her guard and escaped earlier that afternoon because she wanted to go dancing at Carnival.
Florentino is kind of bummed about the affair with the crazy girl, but as "compensation from fate," he then meets Leona Cassiani (4.45). Leona, as it turns out, is "the true woman in his life although neither of them ever knew it and they never made love" (4.45).
Leona is a young, pretty black woman who stares at Florentino with such boldness that he thinks she is a prostitute. When she follows him in the street, he's afraid that she is trying to accost him, and tells her: "I don't do that" (4.48).
Turns out Leona isn't looking for sex, but for a job in the River Company of the Caribbean. Florentino has just accused her of being a whore. Oops.
Florentino feels pretty badly about his mistake, so he gets Leona a job.
Here we get a description of the offices of the River Company of the Caribbean, or R.C.C. for short.
At work, Leona impresses Uncle Leo XII with her efficiency, common sense, and self-discipline. She is promoted to the position of Uncle Leo's Personal Assistant. Over the next seven years, she continues to move up the company ladder, and helps Florentino Ariza to do the same with sound advice, determination, and dirty tricks.
Ten years after their first meeting, Florentino propositions Leona. She tells him that she would have slept with him at an earlier time, but that at this point they know each other too well, and that she would feel as if she "were going to bed with the son she never had" (4.66). This is Florentino's first experience with being a woman's friend and not going to bed with her.
Florentino reflects that the only surviving people who know about his secret love for Fermina Daza are Fermina's cousin Hildebranda and a handful of telegraph operators. He doesn't know that Dr. Urbino, Fermina's husband, had also learned and forgotten the secret of their love affair.
One day Dr. Urbino comes to the offices of the R.C.C. in order to solicit a contribution from Uncle Leo XII to one of the doctor's artistic endeavors. Uncle Leo is taking a siesta, so Florentino is forced to entertain the doctor in his office for an excruciating ten minutes. Florentino feels inferior to Dr. Urbino, a distinction that is highlighted by the contrast in their taste for music – Florentino likes popular, sentimental music, whereas the doctor has more cultivated tastes.
The weather changes abruptly as a cyclone passes. Dr. Urbino begins to speak of his great admiration for his wife. Florentino suddenly realizes that he and Dr. Urbino share the same fate and is sad to think that the doctor, who he admires, will have to die in order for Florentino to be happy.
After meeting with Uncle Leo XII, Dr. Urbino borrows Florentino's umbrella and heads home.
Florentino tries to confess his secret passion to Leona Cassiani, but is unable to. He realizes that he will never be able to tell his secret to anyone.
Florentino thinks back on his youthful days of participating in Dr. Urbino's annual Poetic Festival, which was always motivated by the fact that Fermina Daza announced the names of the winners.
Florentino never won a prize at the festival, losing one year to a Chinese immigrant, a fact that scandalized the audience and started a debate amongst xenophobic critics who doubt the authenticity of the work. The narrator tells us that, years later, the winning sonnet was published in the paper on the occasion of the immigrant's death. The poem seemed so bad to the younger generation that there was no longer any doubt that it had been composed by the Chinese man. Aesthetic tastes change, the narrator seems to be telling us with this parable, but racial prejudice abides from generation to generation.
Florentino is consoled for his loss to the Chinese man by Sara Noriega, a woman who Florentino notices for her "immense soprano's bosom," and to whom he makes love after the awards ceremony. They form another secret relationship that lasts five years. (4.89)
Sara Noriega was jilted by her fiancé years ago, a fact which has ruined her reputation and her hopes of matrimony.
Florentino is highly secretive about his affair with Sara Noriega, as he is about all of his amorous relationships. His mother thinks Fermina Daza has ruined him for all other women and his friends think he's gay.
Florentino and Sara Noriega get into a fight one night when, after failing to win for their entry in the Fifth Poetic Festival, Sara Noriega calls Fermina Daza a whore. Like a bad episode of The Hills, Florentino and Sara enter into some complicated negotiations. He tries to seduce her so that he can reject her, but she rejects him first. Humiliated, Florentino leaves and never comes back.
The relationship with Sara Noriega had allowed Florentino to forget about Fermina Daza for a while, but, when they break up, Florentino is back to feeling all mopey and depressed.
Thinking about how he'll have to wait for Dr. Juvenal Urbino to die, Florentino speculates as to the happy lifestyle of widows. He imagines widows to be the happiest women in the world and pictures Fermina Daza being happy with him after her husband's death.
His confidence, the narrator tells us, is "illusory," for Fermina Daza is perfectly happy with her rich husband, and never doubts that her decision to reject Florentino Ariza had been the correct one.
It's not that Fermina actually loves Dr. Urbino or anything – she loves him just as little as she loved Florentino – but he promises her much more in the way of material possessions.
Fermina resisted dating Dr. Urbino for a while, primarily because her dad really liked him. As her 21st birthday drew closer, though, Fermina reconsidered. She didn't want to wind up an old maid.
Fermina is happy with her decision to marry Dr. Urbino until they return from their honeymoon and move in with his mother and two unmarried sisters. Fermina feels trapped in the old house.
Doña Blanca, Dr. Urbino's mom, is a counterexample to Florentino's theories on happy widows. Once a beautiful and vivacious woman, she has grown old and bitter since her husband's death.
Dr. Urbino won't stand up to his mother in his new wife's defense. Fermina grows resentful.
Still, she has a newborn son. Fermina doesn't feel an instantaneous love for him, but feels her maternal feelings grow as she raises him.
Her mother- and sisters-in-law drive Fermina crazy by criticizing her every move, serving eggplant for dinner every single night, and insisting that Fermina learn to play the harp.
The harp that they order for Fermina is from Vienna and is one of the most valued heirlooms in the Museum of the City, until (prolepsis alert!) the museum is consumed in flames at some unspecified date in the future.
Their living situation is ruining their marriage and their sex life. At first the newlyweds are still able to think with nostalgia on their honeymoon, and they make love every once in a while. But after a few years Fermina comes up with every excuse in the book not to have sex.
It's at this time that the true nature of Lorenzo Daza's business dealings comes to light (though the narrator doesn't tell us what that is). Lorenzo is apparently quite the criminal. Dr. Urbino has to pull a few strings in order to cover up the scandal. Lorenzo sails back to his "native country" (wherever that is), from where Fermina eventually receives news of his death.
Despite their marital problems, this is the time in Fermina and Dr. Urbino's relationship where the two appear happiest in public. Young and modern, the couple enjoys the respect and admiration of their peers. They're at the forefront of every important social and civic event.
Fermina seeks refuge in the house of her childhood, where one day she sees Florentino sitting in his old spot in the Park of the Evangels. He looks so much like the Florentino of her memory that she thinks the vision is an omen of death, and she feels grief-stricken. For the first time, Fermina thinks she might have been happier with her first boyfriend, and this prompts her to hash things out with her husband.
The married couple stays up all night talking about how to improve their marriage. They decide to go back to Europe. At the dock they see Florentino, who looks to Fermina like a stranger again.
This is the time when Florentino's mother, Tránsito, is becoming senile. She can't remember who her son is, or who SHE is, for that matter. Florentino's mom has gotten so fat that she can't move, and she spends all her time in the notions shop making herself up to be a character from a children's story.
Florentino stops going out with girls as much as he used to during this time. This is partially due to the fact that he stays home to take care of his mother and partially because of an incident with a woman named Olimpia Zuleta.
Florentino meets Olimpia in a rainstorm and drives her home in his carriage. She's married to a man who sells trinkets in the market. At first Florentino isn't interested in her, but when he sees her husband preparing to sail from the port, he changes his mind and stops by her house. She's feeding her pet pigeons and gives him one as a gift.
Florentino recklessly woos Olimpia for six months, using the carrier pigeon as a go-between, and finally succeeds in getting her to sleep with him. Their tryst takes place on a riverboat that's being painted and he opens a handy can of paint and scrawls a proprietary message on Olimpia's belly (in rather lewd terms, too – this is one of the steamier moments in the book.)
That night, Olimpia undresses in front of her husband, forgetting about the message painted on her stomach. Her husband slits her throat with a razorblade.
Florentino worries that someone might learn about his part in the scandal, not so much because he's afraid the husband will try to kill him as because he doesn't want Fermina Daza to learn of his infidelity to her.
Florentino's mother dies, but not before distributing all of the precious gold and jewels buried under her bed to the neighborhood children.
Tránsito is buried in a place known unofficially as the Cholera Cemetery. Florentino plants a rose bush on his mother's grave. When he discovers that Olimpia Zuleta is buried close by, he plants a cutting from his mother's rose bush on Olimpia's grave. The two rose bushes spread across the entire graveyard, and soon people start calling it the Cemetery of the Roses.
After his mother's death, Florentino goes back to his old pursuits. One day he notices some swallows sitting on some newfangled electrical wires and it suddenly hits him – he's getting old.
Meanwhile, back in Fermina's life…the past thirty years have been great! A second, third and fourth honeymoon to Europe helped her and her husband get over their marital troubles. She's moved out of the stifling palace of the Marquis de Casalduero and she has two grown children. To top it all off, her mother-in-law finally died.
Two years after embarking on Mission Rescue-our-marriage-in-Europe, Fermina and Dr. Urbino receive a telegram informing them of Doña Blanca's death. They hurry home and, when Fermina gets off the boat, it's obvious that she's pregnant again. Someone writes a popular song about Fermina's tendency to get knocked up in Paris.
Dr. Urbino sells his ancestral family home and has a new villa built in La Manga. His sisters go to live in a convent. Fermina stays in her father's old house while the construction is going on. They fill up the new house with expensive European furniture and name their new baby girl Ofelia. They are so blissfully happy that Fermina even starts eating eggplant.
Fermina comes to think of herself as a "deluxe servant" to her husband – she manages his household, and, to a large extent, his happiness (4.151).
Dr. Urbino is at his pickiest when it comes to mealtime. Everything has to be perfect. He insists on eating asparagus all year round so that he can "take pleasure in the vapors of his own fragrant urine" (4.152). (Remember that mention of asparagus-scented urine at the beginning of the novel? Not an isolated incident.)
Aside from his picky eating habits, Dr. Urbino also refuses to help around the house, complains that his soup and coffee are too hot, and accuses his wife of cooking the most delicious meals on the days when he can't eat because he's taken a laxative.
Tired of her husband's demands, Fermina asks for a special birthday present – that, for one day, Dr. Urbino take over the domestic chores. He does his best, but by 11 am he has to give up and Fermina takes charge once again. She laughs at the "domestic helplessness of her husband" and he sulkily offers the argument that "Things did not go as badly for me as they would for you if you tried to cure the sick" (4.154).
Fermina grows accustomed to seeing Florentino in her daily life and begins to forget about their ancient love affair.
Every once and a while, though, when she least expects it, Fermina is overcome by nostalgia for the trip she once took to her Cousin Hildebranda's house. When she thinks of this time, the memory of Florentino comes back to her like a ghost. She sells her father's house because it reminds her of the pain of her adolescence, but this doesn't erase the pity that she feels for Florentino Ariza.
Fermina "[clings] to her husband," and he depends on her more and more, as they both enter into old age. The couple grows so close that they are able to guess each other's thoughts and finish each other's sentences. This is the time, the narrator tells us, when Fermina and Dr. Urbino "love each other best" and are most aware of all of the trials they have overcome together.