|The Lady, the Chef and the Courtesan
Published by Rayo
August 2003; 0-060-53042-1; 256 pages
Secrets of the Living Room
I will first share with you a few stories that capture the nature of a lady. The nuns at the San José de Tarbes School for Girls imprinted on me from a very early age an exquisite code of civility that has served me well in every social situation I have ever encountered.
Common courtesy is formally known as etiquette. Etiquette is a lot like art. While it can take many forms, depending on the surface on which it will ultimately be displayed, all truly great art is founded on the same underlying principles.
The Carmelite nuns took manners so seriously that I often thought civility must be second in importance only to religion. The code of conduct we were taught in school covered every challenge imaginable, from sitting in a chair properly to hosting a party for an ambassador. What I aspire to pass on to you through these stories is more modest in scope, but it will accomplish much in shaping your life as a lady. There are, of course, perfunctory rules of protocol that you must endeavor to learn and put into practice, I trust that your mother will have made sure you learned those at the appropriate time.
Etiquette is actually a very simple skill that requires little more than the ability to put oneself in someone else's place and to observe what is needed of one in any situation. Think of it as a way of living inspired by thoughtfulness, consideration, and respect for others and for oneself under any circumstances.
To this day, I can hear the Mother Superior admonishing me for not "sitting in curves." She would tap me gently on the shoulder, look at me with a smile in her beady eyes, and say, "Gabriela, you could improve your posture. A lady always sits in curves."
Even as I was being taught the strict tenets of good society in school, I was simultaneously learning about native beauty rituals at home. It is this very combination of modern civility and primitive lore that makes South American women so captivating.
In the pages that follow, I hope to honor both our beguiling traditions and the gentle manner of the women who showed me how to move majestically through the world. If you apply the principles set out in these stories, mi querida, you will save yourself from having to experience many unpleasant things.
First I will reveal to you our native beauty rituals and explain the art of seductive conversation, the meaning of courtship, the importance of good society, and your influential role as the mistress of the house.
Once you have mastered the art of being a lady, I will give you a taste of the kitchen, so you can learn the recipes that stir a man's desire. As you indulge your senses in the essence of what it is to be a chef, you will discover what makes some women successful in the kitchen and most others not.
Finally, I will entrust to you the key that unlocks the bedroom door. With this you may gain access to a world that men long to enter. Seduction and submission will tempt you, but behind closed doors, you will discover the difference between courting mere desire and satisfying ravishing lust.
Although these rules guided my life and often provided me with comfort, they also brought me great pain. Eventually, from a retrospective vantage on an entire life's experience, I acquired an equal respect for the rules that were meant to govern my actions and the forces that took them away. This is why I have chosen to pass on to you what I know of each.
And should you be fortunate enough to have a daughter, it will be your duty to see to it that these gifts are in turn handed down to her.
Con mucho cariño,
Yamila was a mestiza.
She grew up in Canaima, a beckoning place in the middle of the Amazon where nature yields an unfamiliar bounty and where the native Yanomarni Indians and the Spanish conquistadores once intermingled to produce the most primeval beauty.
Canaima is also home to the black puma, a cat whose predatory gaze forgives no prey and to whom many ritual dances are dedicated in hopes of appeasing its spirits.
As if the bounty of the Amazon forest were not enough to lure the senses, Yamila's homeland is also blessed with the tallest waterfall in the world, Angel Falls, whose waters descend proudly and majestically as if from heaven. The most extraordinary trait of el salto Angel is not its height, which is impressive enough, but the enormous pool below, where its rapid waters feed furiously into the Churun River, a tributary of the Caroni.
It may be such awe-inspiring natural surroundings that instill in us South American women our almost cultlike reverence for beauty. La belleza is the name given to the scrupulously cultivated sensual attitude that we are taught to nurture from an early age.
As the Spanish aristocracy began to settle in Caracas after the Conquista, it begat a social class that was to be known as the criollos, or mantuanos. The latter name for these Venezuelan-born descendants of the Spaniards referred to the mantas, or drapes, that their women wore over their dresses to cover themselves.
Over time, some members of the ruling class interbred with the indigenous population; their offspring were labeled mestizos.
The ethnic majority of the Venezuelan population was and still is identified as mestizo. The remainder is known as indigena, or Indian. This smaller group lives predominantly in the Amazon region and, as a discrete entity there, has maintained its traditional, national, and regional customs as well as its language, Papiamento.
When she was still a young girl, Yamila, as was customary, was brought to Caracas, where a family from the capital was expected to educate her in exchange for her services as a housemaid ...
According to a Latin American proverb, in order for a woman to discover her power over men, she must learn to be a lady in the living room, a chef in the kitchen, and a courtesan in the bedroom. After perfecting the grace and elegance of each, a woman will ultimately understand her own potential in life, and the command she has over everyone around her, including herself.
When Pilar is left her grandmother's legacy books, she not only discovers what she is missing in her own life but also discovers the secret life her grandmother carried with her to her grave.
Bound in black silk, the three books teach the sacred beauty rituals that South American women have followed for centuries, the rules of social etiquette every young woman must master, and delicious recipes to seduce men -- recipes that can teach the strong-willed Pilar how to be the perfect lady, wife, and lover.
As Pilar reads through the diaries, she slowly begins to discover the importance of tradition and how to incorporate the secrets into her life as an independent, professional woman. And finally, perhaps -- with her grandmother's wise words floating in her mind -- she will find the courage to follow her heart, wherever it may lead.
Weaving together the story of a modern woman with that of a grandmother's time-honored traditions, The Lady, the Chef, and the Courtesan is a compelling novel of history, seduction, love -- and what it truly means to be a woman.(back to top)
Marisol has been a fashion model, banker, belly dancer, chef, aerobics and college language instructor, and most recently, a public relations professional. A native of Venezuela, she currently lives in Denver.