Mario Bellatin’s Salon de belleza centers on the production of space, rather than on the existence of things and persons occupying or moving. Mario Bellatin’s Salón de belleza centers on the production of space, rather than on the existence of things and persons occupying or moving through an already. In Bellatin’s Salón de belleza aquariums filled with exotic fish function as Salón de belleza by Mexican-Peruvian author Mario Bellatin was first published in.
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As the disease bleleza the city, leaving its victims to die alone in a society than shuns them, at risk of attack from the predatory Goat Killer Gang, the Terminal offers precious refuge.
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Curiously—and this is what makes the novella so compelling—the narrator is more concerned with describing the tropical fish bllatin houses in the elaborate aquariums of the hospice-turned-salon than he is with the hospice itself or those he cares for within it.
This obsession is a significant part of the structure salpn the novel: What bslleza do hear much about is the rareness and uniqueness of the fish; the narrator is fascinated by the dynamics within the tank, especially those between sick and healthy fish. The sick human bodies the narrator tends to, however, are merely bodies—not rare, not unique, and bleleza little interest to him.
He insists, in fact, upon treating them thus—for his own benefit, and for theirs. To treat the patients as individuals would be to mislead them, to give them false hope. They are certain to die, and the only way to respect them is to act accordingly. Kindness brlleza almost cruel at times, too, as evidenced by the stringent rules the narrator imposes on the Terminal: Beauty Salon is a parable, but one grounded by its specific social critique.
It is notable that the owner of the beauty salon is a homosexual man prone to cross-dressing, who occasionally engages happily in prostitution—his is a body that acts in discord with socio-sexual norms.
Like his patients, who have been shunned and cast aside, he too is an outsider.
The confluence of these factors, as well, suggests an allegorical commentary on the HIV virus and AIDS and the history of the treatment of infected individuals in our society. Bellatin isolates us with his narrator, and yet keeps us at a remove from him; reading this novella resembled what I would imagine life inside an aquarium to be like, we readers fish swimming in cloudy water, behind glass, within a room that is populated but from which we are at a remove — cast outside of more traditional narrative techniques.
The narrator deflects questions about the apparent disconnect between his selfless actions and singular obsession with fish, sternly resisting self-examination.
He explains that he fell—as if belllatin accident—into running the hospice: Realizing that there were many others with nowhere else to go, he reluctantly began to take them in, too. He seems to have decided that the only way to survive is safely behind glass, submersed in a watery, submarine world, removed from a society that is far sicker than any of his patients are. By the end of the novel, he has withdrawn from this society nearly completely; his friends all seem to have died anyway, and he has lost interest in even those things that used to give him pleasure.
He allows the imperfections of the human world to intrude upon his musings on the fish. And it is this allowance, though only half-articulated, that seems to give him the integrity and steadfastness to care for the dying in their imperfection. Despite his insistent focus on his precious fish, despite everything he says, we see what he has done, and his actions belie his words.
What he has given to them, and Bellatin to us, is a model for dying, and for living; for treating the abject body with honesty and respect, despite its difference and decay—perhaps because of it. Even if it seems too much to say.
Beauty Salon by Mario Bellatin
Bellatin offers a different way of reading, and of telling, a story—one in which what is unsaid, incompletely rendered, allows respectful room for discovering and conveying more than beleza might have imagined, or were told that we could.
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