The runaway tortoise -Mundane observations

Diego Armando Maradona, one of our national heroes, is not only famous for his skillful feet and his swift hand, but also for his views on life, society and politics, which are respected by many. He has coined two idioms that I know of, and surely many more that I´m unaware of. These idioms have become so popular in Argentina and the whole Latin America that we could compare Maradona with Shakespeare when it comes to coining new turns of phrases. The first idiom actually explains why Maradona is a national hero. The original phrase is: “La pelota no se mancha,” which means “The ball should not be stained.” Because many have criticized Maradona, specially those whose teams have lost against him. Many people underline his drug and women issues, and they remark that he’s a terrible example of a sportsman. But those people surely believe football is just another sport, so I would advise them to go and watch golf instead. Maradona said what every Argentinean feels: Football is a sacred passion, which is not concerned with petty issues like anti-doping campaigns or puritanical adherence to the rules of the game. I actually think Maradona and all Argentines should be playing American football, which resembles more the vital struggle that sports represent. But a bunch of Englishmen came up with no-handball and no-tackling rules and now we have a girlish version of the original sport. But still, when you enter the field, those ninety minutes are the last minutes of your life and nothing else matters during that time. I’m not a football fan; I don’t even like sports. But Maradona showed me the extraordinariness of this sport and that’s the only reason why I follow the national team in the World Cup.

The second phrase coined by Maradona is actually the reason for these reflections. The original phrase is: “Se te escapó la tortuga,” and it means “You’ve let the tortoise slip away.” It has a convoluted origin, although its meaning is intuitive. The story behind it goes like this: It all started with a surrealist political event which took place in Argentina in the nineties’. The then American ambassador had a young son whose tortoise was missing. He had the whole secret service look for the animal, but they couldn’t find it anywhere in his estate. The Argentinean press reported thoroughly the whole affair, as no Argentine could miss the humor in the whole story. The punchline was delivered only two weeks later, when the tortoise was found. It had wandered 2 kilometers off the property. A few years later, Maradona commented on the mismanagement of Boca Juniors, the most popular football club in Argentina, and it was then that this phrase was first used, only to be repeated millions of times. The image is clear enough: You must be quite careless to allow a tortoise to slip away from you, and today I wonder what my tortoise is and whether we, humans, don’t have a tortoise wandering off right now.

The thing with tortoises is that they demand commitment. A tortoise is not like a dog, which will die sooner than you can realize that time has past. Then a new puppy comes, filling your house with barks and chewed objects. A tortoise sits silently on your garden and you barely perceive it in your everyday life and yet it will survive you. The tortoise will see the flame of your life fade out with indifference. It will contemplate your mood swings with apathy and feel only sympathy for your one-sidedness. Although tortoises can appreciate a moonless night, it has no impact on their unwavering determination. They grow shells not out of fear but out of provision and although they are very good at standing still, they also know how to steadily wander away. However, tortoises have learned enough about the vagaries of life and they don’t alter at the first chance they get but they simply wait till things come full circle.

My first reaction was to try to spot a tortoise walking out on me, but, peculiarly, it seems to be easier to find motes in our neighbors’ eyes than in our own. I would’ve thought the opposite, since I cry like a baby any time I get something in my eye, but there must be some truth to that saying. However, I really believe that Maradona’s phrase makes more sense and the Bible should read: And why beholdest thou the baby tortoise walking away from thy brother, but considerest not the giant tortoise that has just escaped you? Anyway, I agree Jesus’s version is a little more poetical.

So I took upon myself to catch wandering tortoises to give them back to their owners. The only problem with these pets is that they can’t wear a collar for obvious reasons and very few people are foresighted enough to glue their phone numbers to their shells. So I have a couple of them hanging around me at the moment. I will proceed to describe them now, in case you can recognize any of them and take them home with you, where they belong:

I found the first tortoise on the Facebook home page. Needless to say, there are many lost animals there, but I happen to specialize in retrieving tortoises now. This is a real description which I translated from Polish:

Good morning. I don’t have a Facebook account, but I’m trying to make friends using the same rules, so every day I go out on the street and tell passers-by about what I ate, how I feel, what I did yesterday, what I’m doing now and what I will be doing tomorrow. I show photos of my husband washing his car, photos of my dog, children and me in the kitchen. I also listen to their conversations and I never forget to say: “I like it”. It works! Four people have already remarked me: Two policemen, a psychiatrist and of course, a Jehovah witness.”

Now here is why this tortoise is lost. This person fails to see that Facebook is just a reflection of who we really are and our human need for communication. What’s sad is actually that no one reaches out in the street as they do on Facebook. I personally believe that the new generation is way more sociable than the previous ones. Some people argue it’s not real: They chat instead of talking face to face, and that’s anti-sociable behavior. But what about reading books? The pride of older generations. What’s more anti-sociable than writing for no one and everyone at the same time and reading someone whose real life we don’t know anything about? Intellectually speaking, it might be arguable that previous generations are superior, but socially speaking, the current generation is unbeatable. The only problem nowadays may be that people are too sociable and that’s detrimental to other aspects of their lives. Besides, complaining about Facebook on the Facebook home page doesn’t seem a good way of making a point. They should try graffiting this on some public wall.

I found the second tortoise on Facebook too, actually, but this time in the Jezyce neighborhood group. I live in Wilda now. I lived in Jezyce for a couple of months, but I didn’t join the group for that reason. I just joined it to find out what people from all Poznan have to say. The original post was the picture of a handwritten message on the notice board of some building. It said: “Polite request: When you, Sir or Madam, set the alarm at 6 o’clock in the morning, please make it ring a little more quietly so that it doesn’t wake up neighbors around. Thank you.”

I found the tortoise among the comments. Many of them just laughs of empathy and witty comebacks; some of them descriptions of similar annoying situations and some of them reflections on the good quality of the walls of old tenement houses compared to modern constructions and on the quiet hours rules, which only apply till six am. But this tortoise was deliberately lost. It had wandered away from its owner purposefully, just to be found by me and any other person who cared to look for wandering tortoises. It read as follows:

I am a 28 yearold single man living on the third floor of a block of flats and I work on an afternoon shift. One Saturday, a neighbor about ten years older than me, who lives on the floor below me, and with whom I always maintained good relations (good mornings and that kind of stuff), complained to me that he sleeps badly because of me. In the middle of his sleep he was often woken up by the thump of what he believed to be my boots being dropped on the floor. I happen to wear steal toe boots since I work with industrial equipment, and I must admit that, when I arrive late and tired I only think of hitting the bed as soon as possible and many times I took off the boots only when I was already lying fully dressed on the bed, and I dropped them carelessly on the floor. Since I try to always be nice and maintain good relations with my neighbors (because sometimes they come in handy when I need a glass of sugar, some tool or to have a parcel collected when I’m not home) I politely apologized and said I would try to improve my nocturnal behavior.

I started paying more attention when I got home. I never heard anything from the floor above me, so I assumed it wasn’t possible to wake up anyone with the thud of my boots, but it’s true that the sound is quite loud. I carefully took the boots off every time and undressed civilly before going to bed, but last Monday I forgot out of tiredness and I dived into my bed, only managing to unlace my boots with the remnant of energy I had left. However, the thump of my right boot landing on the floor reminded me of my manners and I carefully took off the other one and laid it on the floor as if it were made of crystal. I had already dozed off when I heard a knock on the door. I didn’t react at the beginning; my subconscious was ready to forget about this incident as soon as the knocking stopped, but it didn’t. So I got up and went to open the door. It was my neighbor in his pajamas. I started to apologize with as much feeling as one can muster at one am, but he cut me short and told me in a pleading tone: “Please Sir, I can’t fall asleep till you drop the second boot.”


I'm a writer born in Argentina, but currently living in Poland. I work as an English and French teacher, translator and copywriter.

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