To Zaragoza or to the puddle: an old Spanish story

Cartoon from Madrid Cómico in 1885.

This is a translation of an old story from Spain, specifically from Aragón, a region whose main city is Zaragoza. As I began work on the translation, I ran into a problem: the story is about a baturro. How should I translate that?

Literally, at least today, it means “a rustic from Aragón” according to the Royal Spanish Academy. The story is older, though, and back then, the word meant a little bit more, according to the Great Aragón Encyclopedia. A baturro would not merely be rustic but a little foolish and not very intelligent. More than that, a baturro would embody the stereotypical virtues and defects of the people of Aragón, above all pigheaded stubbornness and no small amount of pride and independence.

How could I embody all that in English? Bumpkin, redneck, hayseed, hick, yokel? The roots for some of these words are too deep in United States culture. How about provincial? Merriam-Webster’s definition includes the ideas of “limited outlook” and “unsophisticated.” That might have to do, with an added adjective or two.

The story, then:

***

One day Saint Peter grew bored. He hadn’t needed to open the Heavenly gates for some time, so he asked God to return him to the world to see what was happening down there. “No mortal has come to see us in many long years,” he said. [Translator’s note: Maybe they were all headed the other way.] With His divine blessing, Saint Peter jumped down to Earth. He had barely arrived, traveling on the road to Zaragoza, when he met a local provincial rustic and asked him where he was going.

“To Zaragoza,” he said.

“God willing,” the saint replied.

But, filled with the typical stubborn pride of the Aragón people, the rustic insisted, “Whether He wills it or not, I’m going to Zaragoza.”

The Fisher of Men, unhappy with the answer, used his God-given powers and turned the rustic into a frog. Then he tossed him into a nearby puddle. There he spent several years suffering during bad weather, dodging stones thrown by children, and enduring a thousand other calamities.

When Saint Peter had finished his mission and was ready to return to Heaven, he revisited the road to Zaragoza, restored the rustic to his human form, and asked him again where he was going.

“You already know. Zaragaza,” he said, even more determined than the first time.

“God willing, my friend, God willing,” the saint said sweetly.

“Not by God nor by [the original tale redacts the word] prayers. I have already told you: to Zaragoza or to the puddle!”

And so, the Apostle, seeing how impossible it was to bend the man’s will, let him continue peacefully on his way.

***

This is why, if you visit Zaragoza, you might see a few little frog statues in the city.

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