From the Memoir of Juan López

You probably know me for my poetry, or for my translations of the Mabinogion. But for once I’m going to talk about myself; rather, about the definitive event in my life.

First, some background history of my family.

The earliest records I can find of my López ancestors date back around 1022 in Lugo, in Galicia, Spain. The first name “Ambrosio” López suggests a Celtic heritage, specifically Brythonic; indeed, Lugo was in the former colony of Britonia. However, as that colony disappeared over a century earlier, and I cannot trace my ancestors back that far, there is no documented confirmation that I have Celtic Britons among my ancestors. Still, I wonder if that’s why I love the Mabinogion so much.

My López ancestors continued to live in Lugo until modern times. In 1700, with the death of King Charles II, last of the Habsburgs, they fled the country just in time to avoid the War of the Spanish Succession the following July. They moved to Veracruz, in the Viceroyalty of New Spain, where they continued to live after the War of Mexican independence.

On October 23, 1835, Mexico’s first constitution was repealed, and my great-great-great-grandfather Tomás López moved with his family to New Iberia, Louisiana, USA; four years later it would be incorporated as a city.

After the last Union troops left Louisiana in 1877, Tomás’s seventh son Fernando López (my great-great-grandfather) moved west to Bodie, California; he was too late for the gold rush of the previous year. Consequently, he later moved on to Los Angeles, and my family has lived there to this day.


This background is necessary to understand my story. Also necessary is a bit of my own backstory, which I will cover briefly here.

Although I am Mexican-American, I grew up speaking English only. It wasn’t until high school that I started to learn Spanish, but after four years I can now speak it well enough to hold a conversation with a native Spanish-speaker.

With that backstory out of the way, I can now begin the strangest event of my life.


It was February 20, 2014, around 3 pm, when I had my strange visitor (I was living alone at the time).

He was an older man, bearded, dressed like an old-time priest. His clothes were so old-fashioned that I wondered if he’d gotten lost on the way to the movie set. Surely a real priest wouldn’t dress like that.

“Hello, sir,” I said.

He spoke to me in a foreign language. At first I couldn’t quite place it; it sounded something like Spanish, but it was definitely not Mexican Spanish. My initial thought was that it might be Castilian Spanish—Spanish as they speak it in Spain. I tried again.

“Hola, señor. Bienvenido a mi casa.”

He furrowed his eyebrows as though he just barely understood some of what I’d said.

“Quid istuc est dicere?” he said.

Slowly I realized that this older fellow wasn’t speaking Spanish at all, but Latin. I hadn’t realized it earlier because he was speaking with a peculiar accent.

Still, why speak to me in Latin, even if he was a priest?

I only knew a bit of Latin, mostly from church, but I tried to communicate.

“Ave, magister,” I said. “Domus mea tibi domus est.”

He laughed heartily. I think I had the accent wrong or something, but he seemed to know what I had said.

“Quaero furem conducere,” he said.

“…Quid istuc est dicere?”

“Furem,” he repeated. “Magnum thesaurum furari.”

Great thesaurus? What was he talking about?

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand you, and I think you may have the wrong house.”

He stared into my eyes. “Myrddin sum, et Myrddin me significat.”

It was as though he had stolen my voice. My mouth hung open, but no sound came out of it.

“Myrddin.” That was no Latin name: it was Welsh! That was the accent I couldn’t place!

“Myrddin.” There was a Welsh bard by that name; he was the namesake for the wizard Merlin in Arthurian legend.

Reason told me that this was definitely a method actor who had gotten lost on his way to a movie set.

My heart told me that was not only wrong, but foolish.

“Myrddin, domine?” I said.

“Me ipsum.”

That was only the beginning, but that was the least strange part of my tale.

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