uva uvam vivendo varia fit.
^not pig Latin.
I recently finished my second reading of McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, originally written for a movie featuring Fonda (our favorite “Grapes of Wrath” man). If you’ve never read it, you really should pick it up. A caveat, though: at eight-hundred pages, Lonesome Dove is no quick read. But it’s fast, and it’s interesting, and it fills your dreams with images of cattle and dead Indians.
Trust me, it’s good.
If you have read it, you’ll most likely remember that ridiculous sign ex-Ranger Augustus McCrae put up by the road. Along with “Deets, Joshua” and “We don’t rent pigs”, McCrae had written the Latin phrase “uva uvam vivendo varia fit”. When asked what it meant by partner Woodrow
Wilson Call, McCrae piggishly responded “It’s a motto. It just says itself.”.
McMurtry, either out of laziness or a love for subtlety, never actually explains explicitly what that motto means. So I, being the star reader that I am, googled it (brownie points right here).
Wikipedia says that it means, roughly, “A grape (uva) other grapes (uvam) seeing (videndo) changes (varia fit)”, a translation seconded (and thirded and etc-ed) by other sites. But what do grapes have to do with the Wild, Wild West?
Well, grapes, nothing. But the metaphor? Everything.
We have built up a perception of cowboys as lonely and solitary figures. Indeed, the very title of the book indicates a forlornness and lack of company. However, the reader sees the very opposite in the tale. McCrae and Call are almost always inseparable. Lorena Wood leaves her silence for Clara Allen and her intimate household. Jake Spoon’s fate concretes the rule: “ride with a horse thief, die with a horse thief”. And, most obvious, the majority of the book details a cattle drive from Texas to Montana, with the hands constantly helping each other and learning from each other. So no, very little about the book is lonely at all. If anything, McMurtry is really big on fraternities. Even the pigs come in groups.
So why the heck did Larry (the cucumber) name this book Lonesome Dove?
My guess is that he was trying to be symbolic (a little blurb: look up “Symbolism, and Why We Can’t Just Say What We Mean” by yours truly). These men (and Lorena) were leaving behind the little town of Lonesome Dove, traveling together in each other’s loving and sometimes hateful company. The descriptions of the drive are filled with conflicts (over whores) and dialogues (about whores) and card games (not connected to whores). However, when Call returns to Texas, the setting reminds the reader of a ghost town. Xavier killed himself. Bol is left alone. And Dillard is walking down the street alone.
So what’s McMurtry’s point?
Lonesome Dove = forever alone.
Cattle drive to Montana = a traveling fraternity with grapes as its motto.
Seriously, though, read this book.