desert and mountains outisde of oaxaca 1924 brett
Desert and mountains outside of Oaxaca by Dorothy Brett 1924/5

In our fourth blog exploring Dorothy Brett’s memoir we focus in on Lawrence’s relationship with a young boy called Rosalino, who was his moxo in Oaxaca. A mozo is an assistant, servant or male porter who ‘really goes with the house’. But what was it about the boy that so intrigued Lawrence?    

In Oaxaca, Lawrence developed quite a fatherly relationship with Rosalino, their mozo. In Mornings in Mexico, he describes seeing him ‘lurking in the patio, and glancing furtively under his brows’. This furtive glance is different to the ‘black, incomprehensible, but somewhat defiant stare’ of other Indian boys, leading Lawrence to wonder whether he might be a bit different. ‘The difference lies in a certain sensitiveness and aloneness, as if he were a mother’s boy’ which is in stark contrast to ‘the bold male glare of most of the Indians, who seem as if they had never, never had mothers at all’. This is classic Lawrencian analysis, focussing in on one minor detail to make broader observations of an entire culture.

Rosalino works for four pesos a month, and his food. He owns ‘two cotton shirts, two pairs of calico pantaloons, two blouses, one of pink cotton, one of darkish flannelette, and a pair of sandals.’ His morning duties mainly consist of sweeping the house with ‘a sort of duster made of fluffy reeds’. In the afternoon he lounges about waiting for the wind to blow so that he can go through the process again. In the evenings he sleeps in the doorway to the home, the zaguán, on ‘a low wooden bench about four feet long and eighteen inches wide’.

The only thing keeping Rosalino warm at night is a threadbare serape. When Lawrence expresses his concern for the young boy, a local priest advises that mozos are used to living like this. But just because they are used to living like this doesn’t make it right, and so they head off to the market to rectify the problem. The market is on the Mitla Road which Brett describes as being ‘ageless’ and ‘timeless’ due to the ‘ceaseless flow of silent, trotting people: the slow oxen carts, the little tripping burros, with the large baskets hanging on each side, or with women crouched on their backs with a baby in front and one behind’.

Lawrence instructs Rosalino to choose a new and warmer serape from a pile. ‘For a moment he stares at you incredulously’ observes Brett, ‘then, with a broad smile and a gleam of white teeth, he begins to bargain. He sees the one he wants, and in true Indian fashion he goes about getting it as cheaply as he can. We move off, knowing that the job will be a long one.’ Rosalino succeeds in getting one incredibly cheap. ‘You give him the money and he hurries back, returning with the treasure folded over his shoulder. From that moment, he is your slave.’

oaxaca2
Oaxaca master weaver. Photograph from loccal.org

Lawrence was incredibly fastidious when it came to money, largely because he lived so much of his life in poverty. Sea in Sardinia, for example, is full of details about the cost of travel and food, so he no doubt admired Rosalino’s bartering skills. From that point onwards, Lawrence gave him money to bargain for essentials. ‘This he simply loved to do’ he observes. ‘It put him into a temper to see us buying without bargaining, and paying ghastly prices.’

Rosalino comes with a complicated history. After refusing to be conscripted for the army, Brett notes he is ‘so severely beaten that his back is permanently injured.’ This means he’s unable to carry heavy weights. This wasn’t an ideal situation for Lawrence given his own poor health, but he admires Rosalino for standing by his principles: ‘He is one of those, like myself, who have a horror of serving in a mass of men, or even of being mixed up with a mass of men. He obstinately refused, whereupon the recruiting soldiers beat him with the butts of their rifles till he lay unconscious, apparently dead.’

oaxaca sign x3
Doorway on the right is Lawrence’s former home in Oaxaca.

After ensuring he was suitably dressed, Lawrence then drew on his experience of teaching to help Rosalino with his self-education. Rosalino had been attending a night school for two years for reading and writing and was set the task of learning and copying a series of long poems. But the problem was ‘he had written the thing straight ahead, without verse-lines or capitals or punctuation at all, just a vast string of words, a whole foolscap sheet full.’ Realising that he was having difficulty, Lawrence stepped in and offered to teach him every morning for one hour. Mozos were not used to this level of kindness and so this latest gesture had a profound effect on Rosalino, leading to mimicry. Lawrence enjoyed a bath every Saturday evening and a clean shirt on a Sunday. So Rosalino goes to the public bath every Saturday and on a Sunday ‘he appears in a gorgeous flowered shirt, spotlessly clean’. But he only has two shirts and so Lawrence buys him some more.

He was fed well too. Instead of the daily diet of tortillas, ‘we started feeding him from our own meals, and for the first time in his life he had real soups, meat-stews, or a fried egg, he loved to do things in the kitchen. He would come with sparkling black eyes: ‘Hé comido el caldo. Grazias!’ (I have eaten the soup. Thank you.’)–And he would give a strange, excited little yelp of a laugh’.

When Rosalino suddenly went missing one day, Lawrence was understandably annoyed. He’d shown the boy fatherly affection and so was offended when he thought this wasn’t being reciprocated. Brett records a typically irrational outburst: ‘Give friendship and they deceive you and go. They don’t really care – they really hate us. It makes me hate them.’ Rosalino had left because he was homesick for his people. This had been brought on by accompanying Lawrence and Frieda on long walks to small and remote villages. But he returned a few days later.

Observing that one minute Rosalino is ‘thrilled and happy’ the next he is imbued with a ‘black, reptilian gloom, and a sense of hatred’ – he could almost be talking about his own erratic mood swings. ‘He didn’t forgive himself for having felt free and happy with us. He had eaten what we had eaten…He had been happy, therefore we were scheming to take another advantage of him. We had some devilish white monkey-trick up our sleeve; we wanted to get at his soul.’

Lawrence had an indifferent relationship to his childhood home of Eastwood. His novels evoke glorious landscapes destroyed by industrialisation. As much as he may have felt the occasional pang to return home, whenever he did he couldn’t get out of there quick enough. It would lead him to observe ‘I can be anywhere at home, except home.’ So too Rosalino found himself conflicted; when they trekked to Huayap, an Indian hill village reminiscent of his former home, ‘the black Indian gloom of nostalgia must have made a crack in his spirits.’

Martin Secker UK 1927 First printing
Martin Secker first print (1927)

In Mornings and Mexico, Lawrence goes into hilarious detail about Rosalino’s indecisiveness which is worth quoting at length.

‘At lunch-time on Monday he said he wanted to leave. Why? He said he wanted to go back to his village. 
Very well. He was to wait just a few days, till another mozo was found.
At this a glance of pure, reptilian hate from his black eyes.
He sat motionless on his bench all the afternoon, in the Indian stupor of gloom and profound hate. In the evening, he cheered up a little and said he would stay on, at least till Easter.
Tuesday morning. More stupor and gloom and hate. He wanted to go back to his village at once. All right! No one wanted to keep him against his will. Another mozo would be found at once.
He went off in the numb stupor of gloom and hate, a very potent hate that could affect one in the pit of one’s stomach with nausea.
Tuesday afternoon, and he thought he would stay.
Wednesday morning, and he wanted to go…’

This indecision echoes Lawrence’s own travel plans when he was first invited to New Mexico by Mabel Dodge Luhan, as reported in an earlier blog. He constantly delayed his plans, took detours east to Ceylon and Australia so that ‘strengthened with Buddha, noisy, rampageous America might be easier to tackle,’ and pretty much back tracked on everything he planned and promised to do. No wonder he writes so affectionately about Rosalino’s failure to return to his roots. It was a route he had taken himself many times.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How can we capture his friendship with Rosalino? How do we represent his time in Oaxaca? Do we need a serape for visitors to keep warm or should we build in a zaguán so you can snuggle up at night and guard our project? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact, get involved and submit ideas here.

FURTHER READING

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