The hour was approaching, although nobody would admit it. Dinner had finished unusually early and my mother did not have to nag us for once to clear the table. The dishes were washed, dried and quickly put away. It was a miracle of efficiency. Our nightly squabbles were forgotten as we all settled down in front of the television waiting impatiently for the SBS news bulletin to end. My father who pretended to be absorbed in some weighty political biography quietly closed his book. My grandma who was snoring lightly came awake as if by alarm clock and my uncle instructed me to shut all the doors in order to keep at bay any drafts that might be impertinent enough to disturb us. Cocooned in our little box, the outside world could wait for the time being.
At last the thumping chords and the swell of melodramatic strings with their kaleidoscope of photo stills announced the beginning of Cuna de Lobos. This Mexican telenovela existed in a world apart. It deserved to be known only by its original title. Such was its impact that it was not for years afterwards that I recognised it in its English translation – Cradle of Wolves.
The title was clue enough of what would follow. This was years before the slow burn of a Scandi Noire. The titular wolves were let out of their lair immediately.
If Cuna could be relied upon to deliver, then we usually played to script. My uncle, though, was a true fan exclaiming at each twist of its outlandish plot and recapping the action that passed bare moments before. His exclamations would be met with a chorus of: ‘shush! I’m trying to listen,’ and the volume would be raised steadily over the course of each outburst until by the end of the episode the television was blaring. Numerous languages were spoken at home, but Spanish was not one of them. Nonetheless, in the circular language of soapies packets of dialogue were repeated again and again and we absorbed them by osmosis mouthing them moments before the actors uttered them. Even now I recognise the patterns and faithfully repeat them when viewing more recent productions.
The ruthless matriarch whose machinations were the engine of this series was a study in seductive evil. Nowadays we would use words like psychopath or sociopath to describe her deadly charm. The younger and far more attractive cast were putty in her hands and she manipulated them like a master puppeteer. The only thing they seemed in control of were their fabulous bouffants of hair – this was the 80s. In fact, she manipulated the audience with the same ease offering up a cocktail of irresistible charisma and calculating intelligence. We bought the improbable eye patch which concealed a healthy eye. We would have even accepted a laser eye, had the story demanded it. Her hapless victims only had their secret love to sustain them while we, the audience, felt an almost visceral hate for this diabolical woman while at the same time yearning for her redemption. The writers understood this and dangled the possibility in front of us as her enemies closed in. More fools were we. The trap had been set. She retracted her claws for a moment and became a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Lulled into a false sense of security and a wish for a comforting resolution we forgot the cardinal rule that a predator only has eyes for its prey and its place in the food chain.
While it lasted, the whole family was caught in the make believe world of this Mexican telenovela. Somehow we completely bought the cardboard sets which stood in for the houses of the fabulously wealthy. We certainly never questioned how these business tycoons lived such insular lives where the fate of their colossal fortunes was decided, not in the boardroom, but in the bedroom. Like a hydra the stories were many headed and when one plotline was tied off several others appeared in its place until at last a voice intoned ‘Coming up next’. It was the signal that the episode was coming to an end and for life to resume its accustomed rhythms. My mother would then pass around cut fruit and cups of tea to calm our excited nerves. Reluctantly the doors would open to admit the usual drafts, grandma would promptly fall asleep and dad would resume his book. The wolves had returned to their cradles…until the next time.
© Tropical Writers Inc 2024