Sunday, March 15, 2009

El Museo del Ratoncito Pérez

In Ireland and the U.S. we have the tooth fairy ("la hada de las dientes"). In Korea and Japan, children are exhorted to throw their baby teeth on the roof "for good luck", while chanting some kind of ditty to a magpie. In Mongolia, baby teeth are hidden in a piece of meat and fed to the dog. (Hey, I don't make this stuff up, OK?) In France, it's the Bonne Petite Souris who is charged with exchanging baby teeth for new ones.

Here in Spain, a mouse plays a key role as well. But not just any old mouse. No, indeed. It's the famous Ratoncito Pérez:

It is a little-known fact that el Ratoncito Pérez was born and lived in Madrid. And that there is a museum in his honor in the house of his birthplace, at the Calle Arenal #8, a mere quarter of a mile from Kilometer Zero in Plaza del Sol:

At this site, in the Prast pastry shop, in a tin of biscuits, lived the mouse Pérez, invented by Father Coloma in the eponymous story, written for future king Alfonso XIII when he was a child.

On Thursday I visited the museum. Thus I can reliably inform my readers that the biscuit tin in question was a tin of Huntley and Palmer's biscuits, and that the story was written when Alfonso was just eight years old. The story features the eponymous mouse, el Ratoncito Pérez and a very aristocratic child named Bubi, who is an obvious stand-in for the prince:

bubi 002

Bubi is understandably nervous about the whole losing-a-tooth business:

bubi 003

But through his magic powers, the little mouse is able to transform Bubi so that he can accompany him on his tooth-gathering activities throughout Spain, thereby dispelling his fear (at the cost of giving him distinctly mouse-like features, but I suppose some willing suspension of disbelief is called for here):

bubi2 001

And so, ever since, el Ratoncito Pérez, by royal decree, goes on his nightly mission of exchanging baby teeth for little gifts of toys throughout the land.

Admission to the museum is only one Euro. When I went I was the only visitor, so I received individual attention from the lady guide, who was obviously delighted that someone had wandered in off the street. A cultural experience not to be missed!

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