My Year of Living Backwards: Red Queen to White Queen lll: Wreaths of the Magi


Over the next year, on Mondays and Thursdays, I will introduce consecutive passages from my new novel, Red Queen to White Queen.

The book explores how a Colombian matriarch came to exert a lifelong dominance over her family, until a newcomer threatens her reign.
At the end of each chapter, you will find a recipe from the book (see below).

Left – Roscones de los Reyes Magicos: the Wreaths of the Magi.

Cast of Characters:

Magdalena (Magda): In her 90s when the book begins, Magda is the most powerful figure in her family. Flashbacks explore the life that made her who she is.

Rosalba: Magda’s daughter, who has devoted her life to the care of her mother.

Immaculata (Imma): Magda’s lifelong servant

Dante: Magda’s husband

Seňora Moreno: Family friend of long standing

Desiderio: Magda’s son

And more to come. Click here for Part I.

Rosalba poured out the chocolate in a foaming, liquid stream, careful not spill a drop. The drink was accompanied by crisp amaretti, almond biscuits imported from Italy. It was Magda who had begun this tradition, poring over European food catalogs, then storing a year’s worth of biscuits in yet another locked cabinet. In the attic, a lifetime’s worth of empty biscuit tins were piled three deep.

On a low table in the centre of the room stood the Roscones de Los Reyes Magicos, the Wreaths of the Magi. These circular, sweet breads were filled with guava paste, then dusted with sugar. They had been borrowed from the Spanish culinary tradition and enhanced with local ingredients. No chocolate hour was complete without them.

Magda sat steadily eating her way through the treats piled high on her plate, chocolate dripping from her chin. She elbowed Rosalba when she leapt to wipe it off.

“So you live here alone with your daughter?” stammered the judge’s wife, desperate to speak of anything but her grandson.

Magda gummed her biscuit in silence.

There were, in fact, three women in the house, but no one, including Immaculata herself, would have described the arrangement that way. Thin and wraith-like, the maid slipped along in bare feet and a dress that hung limply at her waist. Immaculata had no need of the smart black-and-white uniform seen in other houses: when visitors appeared she simply faded out of sight. As Rosalba poured the chocolate, her maid remained carefully hidden, seated on a small stool located just behind the kitchen door, ready to pass her mistress anything she might require.

The dim, cavernous kitchen boasted none of the careful, white-and-gold decoration that graced the rest of the house. This was another, darker realm, one where no guest ever ventured. The two women shuffled through newspapers that were placed on the floor to soak up spills, replacing them only when they lay in tatters. The room was dominated by the giant, black stove, glowing in the darkness like a huge, belching monster.

As a little girl, Rosalba had confessed to Senora Moreno her secret fear of the stove. The older woman had welcomed these rare moments of intimacy, when the child spoke her private thoughts:

“I know it’s not really alive, but I’m afraid that one day it will turn and devour me.”

Senora Moreno did not believe in masking the truth, even to children.

“It can hurt you, of course,” she had whispered. “But you can study its moods, learn its caprices. In that way, you will keep yourself safe. ”

As the pampered child of her father, Rosalba did not then suspect she would one day be chained to this god, burning her wrists and the back of her hands as she accustomed herself to its whims. Even Immaculata approached the stove with all the caution of a priestess, barefoot on the unholy ground that surrounded it.

“Ladies, how wonderful to find you all here together.”

There was a flutter among the women as a slender man in his late 30s appeared in the doorway of the parlour. This was Magda’s only son, Desiderio, the desired one. Palms up, he strode boldly towards his mother, took her hands in his, then kissed her on both cheeks. With some difficulty, he extricated his hands from the old lady’s grasp, then saluted his sister in the same manner. The other women were encompassed within the range of his wide, white smile.

Senora Moreno watched him work the room, a French cigarette slung casually between his fingers and a knife-edge crease to his grey woolen trousers. Such sitings were rare during the chocolate hour: as one of the city’s promising young lawyers, Desiderio was usually in his office on weekday afternoons. She puzzled over his arrival, until she saw him pull up a chair next to the judge’s wife. Well trained by his mother, he understood the importance of social contacts.

Desiderio drank the requisite two cups of chocolate in the drawing room before slipping into the kitchen, where the maid waited. Senora Moreno strained to hear his words, spoken from behind the door:?

“How’s my girl?” ?

In his pocket, Desiderio kept a small bag of candy for Immaculata, known to him as Imma. He had spent his childhood slung on the hip of this tiny woman. Babies in lace caps were not permitted to roam on the floor like peasant children, their small bodies withered from the parasites they unknowingly ingested. Desiderio had been born to ride: the finest horses, the finest automobiles and, later, the finest women.

People had assumed the pampered child would never apply himself to anything. That might have been the case had it not been for his one, over-riding passion: the law. Senora Moreno wondered: What quality in Magda’s children made them so eager to throw themselves into the fire of a greater cause?

Imma was careful to maintain the master-and-servant relationship. While he was still a baby, she had dared to call him “Papito,” the nickname her family had bestowed upon her youngest brother. Magda had allowed it until the boy turned seven. On that day, Imma was instructed to call him by his formal title: Don Desiderio.

Imma had tested the words on her tongue. Which title was more fitting for the young heir of the house, who would one day hold seigniorial rights over everything in it, including the maid who shuffled through the kitchen? From that day forward she had called him by his title, even in the privacy of her mind.

“Gracias, Don Desiderio,” said Imma, accepting today’s gift of candy from his hands. Her smile almost lost in a nest of wrinkles, the old woman shooed him back into the parlour. Magda preferred to have her son to herself.

Such were the key players in Magda’s drama, in order of importance: Magda herself; Desiderio; Don Arturo, her Spanish father; Dante, her long-dead husband; and Rosalba. So it remained until another swept her power away.

Roscones de los Reyes Magicos (Wreaths of the Three Kings): Traditionally served on January 6, the Feast of the Magi, this sweet pastry was brought to Colombia from Spain. The figs and candied fruit normally used in Europe were replaced by guava paste, known in Colombia as bocadillo. I begin with sweet dough, made in a bread machine, then add the guava paste after the dough has risen.


Ingredients for the Modern Kitchen

1 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
Click here for the entire recipe.


Susan Young de Biagi is a regular contributor to prdn.

Join Susan on Thursday, March 4, for Chapter 2. All text is protected under copyright to Susan Young de Biagi.

Images are in the pubic domain.

This entry was posted in Arts & Culture, BC, Education, Food, Fun, History, Lifestyle, Lifestyle & Health, Local, Things to Do, World and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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