- as originally told by Pablo Torpeza
- documented by Sancho Mentira
I would not have learned of this fascinating tale had my nephew not worked in Nanorimo, the capital of the state of Chiapas, Mexico, where he heard numerous stories about the local legend. Without further ado, here is the tale in its unadulterated form. The next time you enjoy this delicious soup, I hope that you will remember this story and relate it to others at your table.
For those who do not know the history behind gazpacho, it was named after Oscar San Diaz de Gazpacho, the revolutionary from the small village of Gazpacho in Quintana Roo who led the now-obscure failed revolt on May 6, 1863, a year and a day after the Mexican army defeated French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.
Although Cinco de Mayo is a patriotic holiday in Mexico, it is not Mexico's Independence Day. Independence Day in Mexico is actually known as Grito de Delores ("Cry of Dolores"), also known as El Grito de la Independencia, or "Cry of Independence." El Grito de la Independencia is celebrated on September 16.
Incidentally, some also refer to this day as El Grito Real, or "The Royal Cry," which the movie director Henry Hathaway, in true Hollywood fashion, mistook to mean "Real Grit," but nonetheless managed to create a blockbuster rendition starring John Wayne (titled True Grit) with a storyline so far removed from the original tale that scarcely a critic made the connection at the time.
I mention Grito de Delores only because it serves as the coda to the sad tale of Gazpacho's violent demise and subsequent descent into relative obscurity. I say "relative" because his name lives on in the eponymous soup enjoyed by both Spaniards and the Portuguese, not to mention the Piraha, the obscure tribe in the Amazon jungle whose members cannot count past three. With respect to the latter tribe, ethnologists hypothesize that their enjoyment of this soup is pure coincidence, aided by the fact that they also do not know how to use fire and hence eat everything "cold." (I put the word in quotation marks because the term "cold" is relative in the heat of the Amazon, where "uncooked" would clearly serve as a more accurate description). But I digress.
In any case, on May 5, 1863, exactly a year after the Battle of Puebla, the Mexican government commemorated the first anniversary of its unexpected victory a year earlier. Gazpacho, a lieutenant in the Oaxacan Third Infantry and an ardent Mexican patriot, insisted that the celebration take place on May 6 to take into account the difference in the time zone between France and Mexico.
Gazpacho's motivation can only be explained by his excessive patriotism and his zeal for, in his words, "stuffing it to the enemy" ("rellenando al enemigo") whenever such an opportunity arose. In other words, he wanted the French to know that the Mexicans were not celebrating their own victory so much as they were gloating over the French defeat, and the most powerful way to get this message across, at least in Gazpacho's mind, was to celebrate the day in French standard time, not in Mexican standard time.
On the French side, the failed battle at Puebla a year earlier was led by none other than Nicolas Chauvin, the eponymous general after whom the term "chauvinism" was coined. Although Chauvin was in his 80s at the time of the battle, the French Army let him conduct the battle in honor of his ardent patriotism and the successes of his past campaigns.
Clearly, it was a grave mistake on the part of the French government to have let an octogenarian lead its forces into battle in foreign territory, but many in the government felt burdened by the negative publicity surrounding the annual pension that Chauvin continued to receive at a time when Bonapartism was becoming increasingly unpopular. Thus, some historians surmise, the government was eager to give Chauvin permission "to lead his own Waterloo," so to speak, and the Battle of Puebla signaled both the end of Chauvin's long and illustrious career as well as the beginning of the end of Napoleon's influence in France.
In any case, when Gazpacho wrote to the Mexican authorities with his proposal to celebrate Cinco de Mayo on the sixth of May instead of the fifth, the Mexican authorities were initially receptive to the idea, but upon discovering that they had already printed up tens of thousands of leaflets and hundreds of giant banners proclaiming Cinco de Mayo, they found it all but impossible to change the celebration to Seis de Mayo.
Gazpacho, ever the stubborn nationalist and a man known for his deep sense of pride (he was once reputed to have sent an entire platoon to the brig for a week for giggling after he fell of a horse during cavalry training), had already told his troops that the authorities were certain to change the date of the celebration to the sixth. He was so confident of this that he had ordered his own troops to prepare for the celebration by printing their own leaflets and banners to commemorate Seis de Mayo.
Thus, when he received a telegraph from Mexico City stating that the date of the celebration could not be changed, Gazpacho became obsessed with the near-certainty of being ridiculed behind his back by his troops. Rather than deal with such a dreadful outcome, a grim fate worse than death in his eyes, Gazpacho decided to lead a revolt and mobilized his troops from the Yucatan peninsula to Mexico City on muleback.
Those who are familiar with this history know what happened on that fateful trip. He and his band of Quintana Rooan troops had scarcely reached Oaxaca when they ran out of water. Jose de Camaron, a diminutive sergeant in charge of provisions, had failed to take into account that the trip on muleback would take twice as long as on horseback. Aggravating the water shortage was the fact that they had to ride through the Tabasco region, a region known for its spicy foods?all this in the early May heat of Central America.
Maddened by hunger and thirst, Gazpacho's troops began to raid every village they passed, killing the men, raping the women, and taking whatever water and other provisions they could find. At one point the brigands were so disoriented by thirst that they killed the women and raped the men, but the discovery of a well on the border of Chiapas and Oaxaca helped to set their murderous and sexual instincts back to their original state.
By the time they reached the middle of the Oaxacan plains, they were met by the troops of the official Mexican military, who surrounded them for eleven days until Gazpacho's men ran completely out of the water they had stored from the well. When they surrendered to the troops on the twelfth day, the captain of the Mexican army (whose name has now been lost to history) is reported to have executed Gazpacho on the spot rather than arresting him, because they, too, did not have enough water for the return journey to the capitol. This last bit is apocryphal, I believe, but when Gazpacho asked the captain for a sip of his water, the captain is rumored to have said, without a hint of irony, "No soup for you today."
It is not clear why it is that Spaniards and the Portuguese enjoy this soup today rather than the French, given that it is the French who rejoiced for days on end upon hearing of the news of Gazpacho's death. One theory has it that gazpauche (the original French term for the soup) eventually lost favor in France because of the inferior quality of their olive oil, not to mention the relative distaste for garlic on the part of the French, at least compared with their Spanish neighbors. Another is that a cold soup in a nation known for its bone-chilling dampness was as welcome as German tanks and artillery crossing the Maginot line. Whatever the reason, it is interesting, nonetheless, that the French to this day express ironic sympathy by making a violin-playing gesture and crooning in maudlin fashion, "Pas de soupe pour vous aujourd'hui."
Another interesting side note is that the French, who were predominantly Roman Catholic at the time, are reputed to have believed that Gazpacho was a hardened atheist, mistaking his name Oscar San Diaz Gazpacho for Oscar Sin Dios ("without God") Gazpacho. This is particularly ironic since Gazpacho himself was also a devout Roman Catholic. Nonetheless, the French simply loved to take their meals with the soup, ironically honoring Oscar Sans Deux Gazpauche, or "Oscar the Atheist Gas Pouch."
A competing theory of the westward migration of the soup on the European continent is that the gypsies introduced gazpauche to the Moors, who brought the recipe down to Andalusia as they made their way across the Strait of Gibraltar.
I don't know much beyond this because all I know is what I heard from my nephew in the early days of my writing career. He himself heard the tales from countless people in Quintana Roo who claimed to be related by blood to this regional hero, including one man who, according to my nephew, served as assistant to the chief of staff in the US embassy, which at the time was located in Nanorimo, the capital of the state of Chiapas.
The above story on the eponymous origins of gazpacho was said to have been first posted on the web in a private geek forum in the days of Arpanet. It was originally attributed to Mark Twain and said to have been written around the time of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." As can be seen by a host of modern references, however, the piece--like the ingredients of gazpacho--has been cut, sliced, chopped, and diced so that the current version bears little resemblance to the original.
Subsequent painstaking research by this author has shown, not conclusively but nonetheless beyond a reasonable doubt, that this apocryphal history was pieced together by Pablo Torpeza, an obscure, bumbling historian whose only claim to fame was having mistakenly claimed that the quesadilla saltamontes, or grasshopper quesadilla, was not actually the appetizer of choice used in Mayan ritual sacrifices, but rather the pozole verde con hormigas asadas, or green pozole with roasted ants. It has now been established that neither the quesadilla saltamontes nor the pozole con hormigas was used during the virgin sacrifices, though the issue of whether salt-rimmed lime margaritas were offered to the gods as an aperitif remains an open question to this day.
The above is Torpeza's account of the brief, forgotten history of what is now an obscure footnote to the story behind the Cinco de Mayo celebration in Mexico and its intermingling with the origins of gazpacho, a cold Spanish-style soup made from tomatoes and other vegetables and spices. This account retains the revisions, additions, and other bastardizations responsible for the most current version accepted by the Gazpacho Literary Society of Quintana Roo (GLSQR), a loose coterie of young writers, artists, and musicians devoted to preserving the memory of the life of Oscar San Dias de Gazpacho, the forgotten Mexican revolutionary whose name nonetheless inspires militant devotion in the eyes of this burgeoning, though undeserving, vanguard.
Subsequent research has suggested that the life and times of Oscar San Dias de Gazpacho began with his obscure, humble origins in the small village of his namesake and culminated with the equally obscure but tragic circumstances surrounding his death, not in 1863 as is believed by GLSQR, but rather some two decades later in Esmeraldas, Ecuador, under equally sad and obscure circumstances. This research, undertaken by this author over the course of nearly twenty years of painstaking study--and which includes a thorough examination of the recently uncovered notebooks on this and other subjects by Mark Twain--does away with the literary license so responsible for the bastardizations seen here in Torpeza's account.
It should be noted here that the only other accounts behind the origins of gazpacho and its connection to Mexican revolutionary history can be found in Howard Zinn's A People's History of Revolutionary Foods and Julia Child's How to Cook Like a Revolutionary, but both authors are dead and the books are sadly out of print.