The Colored Glasses – José Echegaray

LOS ANTEOJOS DE COLOR

I

Don Trinidad de Aguirre ha muerto.

Esta noticia acaso no sorprenda a mis lectores, porque los lectores ya no se sorprenden de nada; pero debía sorprenderles.

Debía sorprenderles por varias razones. En primer lugar, porque ninguno de ellos habrá conocido al difunto, cuando todavía no era difunto. En segundo lugar, porque el suceso ha venido sobre todos nosotros con la rapidez del rayo, sin preparación de ningún género, sin un mal aviso de los periódicos, sin una papeleta de defunción siquiera: se nos dice que don Trinidad ha muerto, y no sabíamos que este don Trinidad existiese. Y en tercer lugar, porque la muerte de este señor ha sido de todo punto injustificada.

Con las entradas en y salidas de este mundo de lágrimas, sucede como con las entradas y salidas de los dramas: las hay que están más o menos justificadas, y las hay que no están justificadas de ninguna manera.

El mutis, digámoslo así, de don Trinidad, ha sido, pues, inesperado e injustificado.

Don Trinidad era joven, era rico, tenía figura simpática, talento natural, mucha ilustración, estaba para casarse con una chica preciosa y, sobre todo, gozó de una salud perfecta, hasta el momento de morirse, que esto no le sucede a todo el mundo.

¿Hay alguien que en estas condiciones se muera? Yo creo que no.

Pues, sin embargo, don Trinidad de Aguirre ha muerto.

Hace dos años viajó por Alemania; allá se estuvo unos meses y volvió del viaje como se fué: tan joven, tan rico, tan simpático, tan alegre y tan sano.

Pero en el mes de Noviembre del 96 tuvo un pequeño ataque a la vista.

Poca cosa, casi nada, enfermedad que no lo era, y que no tenía de serio más que el nombre, que no sé cuál fuese.

Se puso unos anteojos de color para quitar fuerza a la luz, y se curó en ocho días, quedándole los ojos tan hermosos, tan brillantes y tan malagueños como siempre.

Pero cambió de carácter; cambió por completo.

Era alegre y hasta bromista; resultó triste.

Hablaba, no con exceso, pero sí con amplia medida: resultó silencioso.

Su sonrisa era franca y espontánea: su sonrisa resultó amarga: las dos comisuras de la boca se le cayeron con caída trágica, como si huyesen de todo regocijo.

En suma, que don Trinidad se transformó.

Para los amigos no tuvo más que frases de desdén o réplicas punzantes, y, naturalmente, se fué quedando sin amigos: desde entonces siempre fué solo.

Antes se le veía en teatros, paseos y reuniones; después no se le vió ni era fácil que se le viese, porque se quedaba en casa. Pero en su casa, también solo; porque don Trinidad nunca tuvo parientes, circunstancia que hace más inexplicable su muerte repentina.

Durante un mes no vió más que a su novia, y como los anteojos de color dan a la fisonomía cierto carácter ridículo, convierten la cara humana en cara de lechuza, y él tenía interés en que su amada le viese los ojos siempre al natural, nunca se puso para mirarla los anteojos de color.

Pero un día, no se sabe por qué razón, se los puso: la chica le encontró muy raro y se echó a reir. Pues se ofendió tanto don Trinidad, que, después de mirarla fijamente, dió media vuelta, se fué a su casa y rompió para siempre con Rosario.

Por cierto que a poco más se muere del disgusto la pobre Rosario.

Algunos días después se encontraron a don Trinidad muerto.

Estaba junto a la mesa de su despacho; había escrito unas cuartillas, los anteojos de color estaban rotos, hechos añicos; se sospechó que los había roto de un puñetazo, porque tenía ensangrentado el puño.

Una particularidad llamó mucho la atención: todos los espejos de su casa, y los había magníficos, se encontraron rotos también.

De estos antecedentes se dedujo que don Trinidad se había vuelto loco.

Y las cuartillas que dejó escritas así lo confirmaron.

No se han encontrado todas; pero algunas que pudieron recogerse decían así:

II

Le encontré en un coche de primera; yo iba solo, cuando entró el maldito viejo. ¡Qué chiquitín, qué arrugado, qué color de tierra el de su cara!

Era como una esponja humana, que se apretó, se apretó, se le sacó todo el jugo, y no quedó más que una masa árida a modo de estropajo.

Llevaba puestos unos anteojos de color. No eran verdes, ni azules, ni amarillos, ni ahumados. Eran de un color extraño, mezcla turbia de todos los colores: como la vida humana.

El viejecillo me miraba mucho y sonreía con sonrisa diabólica. Si no hubiera considerado que era un pobre carcamal, le abofeteo.

Como el viaje era largo y siempre fuimos solos, hubo tiempo para que hablásemos largamente.

¡No! ¡El viejo antipático era todo un sabio!

Y estaba al tanto de la ciencia moderna y de los últimos descubrimientos.

Sobre todo, los rayos X le entusiasmaban. Pero sus entusiasmos concluían por unas sonrisas que hacían daño. No sé por qué, pero hacían daño.

Si el viaje dura más, yo le estrangulo. Mejor hubiera sido.

Aquí faltaban algunas cuartillas.

III

Para algo han servido el choque y el descarrilamiento.

Ya voy solo. Pobre hombre, murió aplastado. ¡Lo inverosímil!

Ahora que pienso en él, me da lástima; quizás fuese una buena persona.

Al morir me miró con cierta ternura: me alargó los anteojos y me dijo: «Tome usted, tome usted; le declaro mi heredero.»

¡Sus anteojos! ¡Sus anteojos de color! ¡Herencia infernal!

¡Bien muerto está el viejo!

Y aquí seguían imprecaciones, gritos de dolor, gritos de desesperación.

Decididamente don Trinidad estaba loco.

Venían después unas cuantas cuartillas escritas en una letra ininteligible.

Sólo en las últimas se entendía algo: frases sueltas; párrafos descosidos; las ruinas de un cerebro anegadas en un líquido amargo como escollera dispersa por los embates del mar salobre.

A continuación copiamos algunos fragmentos.

Decía uno de ellos:

Volví a Madrid: me olvidé por completo de los infernales anteojos.

Hice mi vida de siempre: el arte, la ciencia, mis amigos, mi Rosario.

Días felices los de hoy, como eran felices los de ayer. Estaba convencido de que la Naturaleza me había traído al mundo para gozar.

Y yo procuraba complacer a la Naturaleza.

¡Ah! ¡Si no hubiera sido por los endiablados anteojos de color!

Un día ¡día aciago!, me sentí mal de la vista: me acordé de las antiparras, me las puse y me fuí a la calle.

¡Horrible! ¡Horrible! ¡Invención admirable, prodigiosa, estupenda, pero horrible!

Y decía otro párrafo:

Los cerebros se hacen transparentes, como si fuesen de cristal de roca.

Se ve la substancia gris, sus celdillas, sus misteriosos protoplasmas, la red nerviosa que por todas partes se extiende.

Se ven las ideas escritas en maravillosa escritura: jeroglíficos de aquellas microscópicas pirámides, que los ahumados cristales de mis anteojos traducen al lenguaje vulgar.

Se ven los sentimientos: cómo se agitan, cómo se estremecen, cómo circulan a modo de oleaje sutilísimo, hundiéndose unas veces, flotando otras, sin encontrar nunca orilla en aquel mar tan pequeño y tan grande.

Se ve a la voluntad ir tropezando como borracha en una y otra celdilla, cayendo aquí, mal levantándose allá, enredándose más lejos en no sé qué red de conexiones y volviendo a caer otra vez: casi siempre va a rastras.

¡Todo, todo se ve! ¡Qué admirable! ¡Qué invención tan prodigiosa!

¡Cuánta miseria, cuánta vanidad, cuánta estupidez humana en ese libro blanco y gris con red sanguinolenta!

No: realmente es un espectáculo muy divertido ver un cráneo por dentro. Y alguna vez ya suelen verse relámpagos de luz; alguna idea hermosa, algún sentimiento noble… ¡pero ay qué pocos!

¡Divertido, muy divertido! ¡Para mí no hay secretos!

Y siguen varias cuartillas, todas tachadas; sólo se leen palabras sueltas.

¡Desengaño!… ¡dolor!… ¡buen amigo!… ¿Quién lo pensara?… ¡Y yo que creí que ese hombre era un imbécil y un tunante!… ¡Mal día!… ¡Ni uno!… ¡Doloroso!… ¡Muy doloroso!… ¡Ay, Dios mío!… ¡Dios mío!…

Al fin el pobre loco coordinaba algo más sus ideas y había párrafos seguidos.

Esta observación profunda de la humanidad por dentro, cuando se trata de personas indiferentes, es muy interesante, y muy curiosa, y muy divertida.

Pero cuando se trata de seres a los cuales algún afecto nos liga, es cruel, muy cruel; es desconsoladora; es infernal. ¡Ah! ¡El maldito viejo! ¿Por qué el descarrilamiento y el choque no lo aplastaron del todo y de una vez, sin darle tiempo para este horrible legado!… ¡Ay! ¡Los anteojos, los anteojos de color!

Y lo que más me extraña es que nunca veo un cráneo solo: siempre veo dos, y son distintos.

Pero uno de ellos es el mismo siempre: vago, confuso, indeciso, incompleto.

¿Por qué será esto? ¿Por qué serán dos?

Es un fenómeno que me confunde y que no puedo penetrar; ¡pero siento no sé qué angustia intolerable!

Y aunque este segundo cráneo no lo veo bien, veo que es muy ruin.

El egoísmo es su nota dominante: ¡yo!… ¡yo!… eternamente ¡yo!

¡No hay una celdilla en todo el campo cerebral que descubro, que no esté impregnada del yo satánico! ¡Ya me repugna! ¡Ya me da náuseas!

¡No parece sino que ese cerebro es una esponja, que se hundió en un líquido en cuyas gotas todas había escrito el egoísmo la palabra yo, y que la masa blanducha se empapó del miserable y monótono flúido!

¿Pero qué imagen es esa?

¿De dónde viene? ¿A quién pertenece?

Aquí se encuentran muchas líneas tachadas.

Luego algunos borrones; luego algunas manchas como de lágrimas.

Y un párrafo final: claro, distinto, casi solemne, y frío, muy frío.

Ya lo sé; ya sé a quién pertenecía aquel cerebro.

Ayer lo vi por duplicado.

Paseaba por mi sala, llevaba puestos los anteojos de color y me asomé a un espejo.

Y me vi en él. Me vi dos veces.

Una, en el espejo directamente: era imagen viva y distinta: el espejo era bueno.

Otra, en la imagen indecisa. Es natural; mi cerebro se reflejaba en la parte interior de mis anteojos, y del otro lado, proyectada en el espacio, aparecía en imagen borrosa e incompleta.

Ya me conozco: no tengo derecho ni curiosidad para ver a los otros hombres; y yo no quiero verme ya nunca más.

Y en la última cuartilla había unas gotas de sangre.

Fué la sangre que se hizo en la mano al romper de un puñetazo los anteojos de color.

The Colored Glasses


I

Don Trinidad de Aguirre has died.

This news will hardly surprise my readers, as nothing surprises readers anymore, but it should surprise them.

It should surprise them for many reasons. Firstly, because none of them will have met the deceased, when he wasn’t deceased yet. Secondly, because what happened came at everyone like a bolt from the blue, without any kind of warning, without an obituary, without a death certificate even: we are told that don Trinidad has died, and we didn’t know that this don Trinidad had existed. And thirdly, because the death of this gentleman has been totally undeserved.

Entrances and exits in this world of tears are like the entrances and exits in plays: there are some which are more or less justified, and others which are not justified at all.

The exit, we’ll call it that, of don Trinidad, has been, then, unexpected and unjustified.

Don Trinidad was young, rich, he was in good shape, was naturally talented, very enlightened, and about to marry a lovely girl. Above all he was in perfect health up until he died, and that doesn’t happen to everyone.

Would anyone die under these circumstances? I don’t think so.

In spite of this, Don Trinidad de Aguirre did die.

Two years ago he went to Germany; he was there for a few months and he returned from the trip as he left: as young, as rich, as nice, as cheerful and as healthy.

But in the month of November 96 he had a minor “visual disturbance”.

It was nothing, hardly anything, it wasn’t an illness, and there was nothing serious about it except its name, which I forget.

He put on some colored sunglasses to dim the light, and he got better in eight days, his eyes as beautiful, as brilliant, and as Malagan as ever.

But his personality changed; it changed completely.

He had been cheerful and even jokey; he was left sad.

He used to talk, not too much, but quite a bit: he was left silent.

His smile had been frank and spontaneous: it was left bitter: the corners of his mouth fell a tragic fall, like they were running from all joy.

In sum, don Trinidad had been transformed.

He had nothing but hateful words or tart replies for his friends, and, of course, he gradually ran out of friends: from then on he was always alone.

Before this you used to see him on walks, in theaters and meetings; afterwards he wasn’t seen, and it wasn’t easy to see him, because he stayed in his house. But at home he was also alone; because he had never had family, making his sudden death even more inexplicable.

He didn’t see anyone but his fiancée for a whole month, and because colored glasses make you look a little ridiculous, turning the human head into a head of lettuce, and he always wanted his sweetheart to see his eyes au naturel, he’d never worn the colored glasses to look at her.

But one day, no one knows why, he put them on: the girl thought he looked very strange and started to laugh. Well, don Trinidad was so offended that, after staring at her, he turned his back on her, went home, and broke it off with her forever.

Indeed, it wasn’t long before poor Rosario died of a broken heart.

Some days later don Trinidad was found dead.
He was next to his office table; he
d written some pages, the colored glasses were broken, shattered. They suspected he had used his fist to smash them, it being bloody.

One strange thing drew a lot of attention: all of the mirrors of the house, and there were magnificent ones, were also broken.

From all this they deduced that don Trinidad had lost his mind.

The notes hed written confirmed it.

Not all had been found; but some they were able to collect went like this:

II
I met him in a first class carriage; I was traveling alone, when that damned old man entered. ¡How small, how wrinkly, with his earth colored face!

He was like a human sponge, which had been squeezed, and squeezed, till all the juice was gone, and there wasn’t anything left but a useless arid mass like a scouring pad.

He was wearing colored glasses. They weren’t green, or blue, or yellow, or shaded. They were a strange color, a turbid mix of all the colors: like human life.


The little old man looked hard at me and smiled a diabolical smile. Had I not thought him an unfortunate old codger, I would have struck him.


Since the journey was long and we were always alone, there was time for us to talk to each other at length.

No! The unpleasant old man was quite the sage!

He was up to date with modern science and its latest findings.

He was excited, above all, about X-rays. But his enthusiasm was always followed by some damaging smiles. I know not how they damaged, but they did.

Had the journey lasted any longer, I would have strangled him. It would have been better if I had.

There were some pages missing here.

III
The crash and the derailment were good for something. I am traveling alone again. The poor man, he was crushed to death.
Unbelievable!

Thinking about him now I feel sorry for him; he might have been a good person.

As he died he looked at me with a certain tenderness and reached out the colored glasses towards me saying: “You take them, you take them; I declare you my heir”

His glasses! His colored glasses!
Infernal inheritance!

I’m glad he’s dead!

And after this there were curses, cries of pain, cries of desperation.

Don Trinidad was definitely crazy.

Then there were a few more notebooks written in unreadable handwriting.

It was only possible to understand anything on the last few pages: disconnected sentences; disjointed paragraphs; the ruins of a brain like a breakwater broken apart by the sea’s attacks, soaked in a bitter briny liquid.


We will copy some fragments.

One said:

I came back to Madrid: I forgot all about those infernal glasses.

I went about my life as normal: art, science, my friends, my Rosario.

Nowadays are happy days, like yesterdays. I was convinced that Nature had brought me into the world to enjoy it.

Ah! If it had not been for those cursed colored glasses!

One day, cursed day! There was something wrong with my vision: I remembered the spectacles, put them on, and went out onto the street.

Horrible! Horrible! Admirable invention, prodigious, marvelous, but horrible!

And another paragraph said:

Brains become transparent, as if they were made of rock crystal.

One can see the gray matter, the cells, the mysterious protoplasms, the neural network which extends throughout.

One can see the ideas written in marvelous handwriting: hieroglyphics from those microscopic pyramids, which the tinted glass of my spectacles translates to everyday speech.

One can see feelings: how they are incited, how they shiver, how they circulate like the subtlest wave, sinking sometimes, floating others, without ever finding a wave in that sea, so small yet so big.

You can see will stumbling like a drunk from one cell to another, falling here, getting up clumsily there, getting caught up further on in I don’t know what network of connections and falling again: it almost always drags its feet.

Everything, you can see everything! How admirable! What a monumental invention!

What misery, what vanity, what human stupidity there is in that gray and white book with its bloody network!

No: Really it is a very amusing thing to see a cranium from the inside. And sometimes one can see flashes of light: a beautiful idea, some noble sentiment… but oh, how few!

Entertaining, how entertaining! For me there is no such thing as secrets!

And there are a few more pages, all crossed out, you can only read the odd word.

Disillusionment!… pain!…. good friend!…. Who would have thought it?… and I thought that man a fool! And a scoundrel!… bad day!… Not one!…. Painful!… Very painful!… ah, oh my God!… my God!….

In the end the poor lunatic managed to organize his ideas a little better and we see the following paragraphs.

This profound observation of humanity from the inside, when it comes to those one cares not for, is very interesting, and very curious, and quite entertaining.

But when it comes to those for whom we feel some affection, it is cruel, very cruel; it is distressing; it is infernal. Ah! Damned old man! Why did the derailing and the crash not just crush him completely once and for all, without giving him time for this horrible legacy!
Ah! The glasses, the colored glasses!

And what strikes me as most strange is that I never see just one cranium: I always see two, and they are different.

One of them is always the same, indistinct, confused, indecisive, incomplete.

Why would that be? Why would there be two?
It is a phenomena which confuses me and which I can not penetrate; yet I feel unbearable anguish!

And although I can’t see this second cranium well, I can see that it is absolutely contemptible.

Selfishness is its dominant note. Me! Me! Eternally ME!

I have not found one single cell in the whole brain not impregnated by this satanic I! It is repugnant! It is nauseating!

The brain does not seem to be anything more than a sponge, drenched in a liquid in which every drop has selfishness and the world I written in it, and the doughy matter is drenched in this miserable and monotonous fluid.

But what is this image?

From where does it eminate? To whom does it belong?

There are many crossed out lines here.

One final paragraph: clear, distinctive, almost solemn, and cold, very cold.

I now know, I know to whom that brain belongs.

Yesterday I saw it in double.

I was walking through my living room, wearing the colored glasses, and I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror.

And I saw myself in it. I saw myself twice.

One, directly in the mirror: was a vivid and distinct image: it was a good mirror.

The other, an indistinct image. It is natural; my brain was being reflected on the inside of my glasses, and from the other side, projected in space, appeared a foggy and incomplete image.

I now know myself: I have neither the right to nor any curiosity to look at other men; and I do not wish to see myself ever again.

In the last section there were some drops of blood.

Blood from crushing the colored glasses with his fist.

José Echegaray ( 1832 –  1916)
Source of story: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/41106

santiago-ramon-y-cajal-drawings

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Yo no tengo soledad – I do not know Solitude – Gabriela Minstral

Es la noche desamparo
de las sierras hasta el mar.
Pero yo, la que te mece,
¡yo no tengo soledad!

Es el cielo desemparo
si la Luna cae al mar.
Pero yo, la que te estrecha,
¡yo no tengo soledad!

Es el mundo desamparo
y la carne triste va.
Pero yo, la que te oprime,
¡yo no tengo soledad!

It is the night I abandon
from the mountains to the sea.
But I, who cradle you,
no solitude for me!

It is the sky I abandon
if the Moon falls to the sea.
But I, who embrace you,
no solitude for me!

It is the world I abandon
and the sad flesh leaves.
But I, who smother you,
no solitude for me!

Spanish version comes from this website: http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/yo-no-tengo-soledad.htm

Soledad means both loneliness and solitude in Spanish, and “I do not know solitude” is a slightly closer translation in terms of meaning, but in the original poem you have assonance between “mar” “va” and “soledad” and I made the decision to keep that.

Oprime / smother is a hard word to translate too. It also means crush, oppress and pressure and squeeze, so all these meanings are implicit in the Spanish but not in the English.

Desemparo is a strange one. It means “I abandon” and also “abandonment”. It doesn’t seem to exist as an adjective, and if it is not a common adjective there is no way it could be one of the few adjectives that doesn’t change with gender (irregularities can only last in common words), so it can’t be being used as an adjective here.

Check out another interpretation here: http://arielriverospavez.blogspot.ie/2015/05/three-poems-by-gabriela-mistral.html

Del Rigor en la Ciencia – Jorge Luis Borges

En aquel Imperio, el Arte de la Cartografía logró tal Perfección que el Mapa de una sola Provincia ocupaba toda una Ciudad, y el Mapa del Imperio, toda una Provincia. Con el tiempo, estos Mapas Desmesurados no satisficieron y los Colegios de Cartógrafos levantaron un Mapa del Imperio, que tenía el Tamaño del Imperio y coincidía puntualmente con él. Menos Adictas al Estudio de la Cartografía, las Generaciones Siguientes entendieron que ese dilatado Mapa era Inútil y no sin Impiedad lo entregaron a las Inclemencias del Sol y los Inviernos. En los Desiertos del Oeste perduran despedazadas Ruinas del Mapa, habitadas por Animales y por Mendigos; en todo el País no hay otra reliquia de las Disciplinas Geográficas. In that Empire, the art of Cartography reached such Perfection that the Map of just one Province occupied an entire City. And the map of the empire, an entire Province. In time, these Disproportionate Maps weren’t enough and the Cartography Schools constructed a Map of the Empire which was the Size of the Empire and coincided with it point for point. Not such Enthusiasts for the Study of Cartography, the Generations to follow understood this extensive map to be Useless, and not without some Sacrilege, left it to the to the cruelty of the Sun and the Winter. In the Deserts of the West some tattered pieces of the Ruins of the Map remain, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is not one other relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

Small Story about a Big Map

Odin – Jorge Luis Borges and Delia Ingenieros

Se refiere que a la corte de Olaf Tryggvason, que se había convertido a la nueva fe, llegó una noche un hombre viejo, envuelto en una capa oscura y con el ala del sombrero sobre los ojos. El rey le preguntó si sabía hacer algo, el forastero contestó que sabía tocar el arpa y contar cuentos. Tocó en el arpa aires antiguos, habló de Gudrun y de Gunnar y, finalmente, refirió el nacimiento de Odín. Dijo que tres parcas vinieron, que las dos primeras le prometieron grandes felicidades y que la tercera dijo, colérica:

-El niño no vivirá más que la vela que está ardiendo a su lado.

Entonces los padres apagaron la vela para que Odín no muriera. Olaf Tryggvason descreyó de la historia, el forastero repitió que era cierto, sacó la vela y la encendió. Mientras la miraban arder, el hombre dijo que era tarde y que tenía que irse. Cuando la vela se hubo consumido, lo buscaron. A unos pasos de la casa del rey, Odín había muerto.

FIN

The court of Olaf Tyggvason, which had converted to the new faith, was visited one night by an old man, draped in a dark cape and with the brim of his hat over his eyes. The king asked him if he was good at anything, the stranger replied that he knew how to play harp and tell stories. He played ancient airs on the harp, talked about Gudrun and Gunnar and, finally, spoke about the birth of Odin. He said that three Moirai had come, that the two of them had brought great happiness and that the third said, furious:

– The boy wil not live longer than the candle that is burning by his side.

The parents extinguished the candle so that Odin would not die. Olaf Tryggvason did not believe the story, the stranger insisted it was true, took out the candle, and lit it. As they watched it burn, the old man said it was late and he had to go. When the candle had burned out, they looked for him. Just a few paces from the kings house, Odin had died.

THE END

Something More on Literature and Reality – Gabriel García Marquez

A very serious problem that our exorbitant reality poses to literature is the inadequacy of words. When we talk about a river, the furthest a European reader can stretch his imagination is to something as big as the Danube, 2,790 kilometers long. It’s unlikely that he’ll imagine, unless you describe it to him, the reality of the Amazon, which is 5,500 kilometers in length. When we write the word “storm”, Europeans think about thunder and lightning, it’s not likely that they’ll imagine the phenomena we would like to depict. The same thing happens, for example, with the word “rain”. In the mountain chain of the Andes, according to the description the Frenchman Javier Marimier made for fellow Frenchmen, there are storms which can last as long as five months. “Anyone who hasn’t seen these storms”, he says “couldn’t being to imagine the violence with which they develop. For whole hours the lightning bolts follow each other like waterfalls of blood and the atmosphere trembles under the constant peal of thunder, whose roars reverberate through the immense mountain”. The description is not quite a masterpiece, but it would be enough to make the more believing of Europeans shake in terror. And so it would be necessary to create a whole system of new words to fit the scale of our reality. There are unending examples of this. F. W. Up de Graff., a Dutch explorer who crossed the Upper Amazon at the turn of the century, said he came across a boiling stream of water where you could cook a hard boiled egg in five minutes, and that he passed through a region where one had to whisper lest torrential downpours be unleashed. Somewhere on the Caribbean coast of Colombia I saw a man recite a secret prayer for a cow with worms in her ears, and I watched the worms fall out one by one as the prayer was said. That same man assured us that he could preform the same cure from home, as long as you gave him the description of the animal and its location. On May 8th 1902, the volcano Mont Pele, on the island of Martinica destroyed, in the space of a few minutes, the port of Saint-Pierre killing and burying in lava all of its 30,000 inhabitants. Except one: Ludger Sylvaris, the only prisoner in the community, who was protected by the invulnerable structure of the private cell which they had constructed to prevent his escape.

To express the incredible reality of Mexico alone would require countless volumes. After nearly twenty years here, I could still spend hours, as I have many times, contemplating a pot of jumping beans. Well meaning nationalists have explained that this movement is due to a larva contained within the bean, but there is something lacking in that explanation: the marvelous thing is not that the beans move because they have a larva inside them, but that they have a larva inside them so they can move. Another strange experience in my life was the first time I saw an axolotl. Julio Cortázar tells in one of his short stories that he first met the axolotl in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, one day when he went to see the lions. “I looked obliquely at the dull fish until I suddenly came upon the axolotl.” and concluded: “I spent an hour looking at them and left, incapable of thinking of anything else”. The same thing happened to me, in Patzcuaro, except I didn’t contemplate him for an hour, but a whole afternoon, and returned many times. But there was something which made a greater impression on me than the animal himself, and it was the sign carved on the door of the building “axolotl syrup for sale”.

This incredible reality reaches from its densest point in the Caribbean which, in fact, extends northwards as far as the United States and southwards as far as Brazil. Don’t mistake this for an expansionist delusion. No, the fact is the Caribbean isn’t just a geographical region, as geographers of course think, but rather a homogeneous cultural region.

In the Caribbean the original elements of the early beliefs and magical conceptions from before European discovery merged with the huge variety of cultures which converged in the years that followed in a magical syncretism of inexhaustible artistic interest and inspiration. The African contribution was coerced and appalling, but fortunate. In this melting pot a sense of endless freedom was formed, a reality with neither God nor law, where every individual felt that anything was possible and there were no limits of any sort: overnight people went from bandits to kings, deserters to admirals, prostitutes to governors. And the other way too.

I was born and raised in the Caribbean. I discovered it country by country, island by island, and perhaps from there stems my frustration at never being able to think of anything or do anything more astonishing than reality. I have, at least, managed to transpose it through poetic means, but there’s not a single line in any of my books that doesn’t originate in some real life event. One such transposition is the curse of the pig’s tail in One Hundred Years of Solitude. I could have used any sort of image, but thought the horror of the birth of a child with a pig’s tale had the least chance of coinciding with reality. However, no sooner had the novel begun to gain popularity than confessions emerged from various parts of the Americas from men and women with something like a pig’s tail. In Barranquilla, a young man turned up in the papers; he’d been born and raised with that tail, but never told a soul before reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. His explanation was more astonishing than his tail. “I never wanted to say anything because I was ashamed of it” he said, “but now, after reading the novel and listening to people who’ve read it I realize that it’s something natural”. A little time later a reader sent me a clipping from a newspaper of a little girl in Seoul, the South Korean capital, who’d been born with a pig’s tail. Despite what I thought when I wrote the novel, the girl had her tail cut off and lived.

My most difficult experience, however, came with The Autumn of the Patriarch. For almost ten years I read everything I could about Latin American dictators, and especially those from the Caribbean, in order that the book I was thinking of writing would bear as little resemblance to reality as possible. I lost more hope with every step. The intuition of Juan Vicente Gómez was more penetrating than any genuine psychic power. Doctor Duvalier from Haiti had all the nation’s black dogs slaughtered, because one of his enemies, in an attempt to escape persecution from the tyrant, had broken free from the human condition and transformed himself into a black dog. Doctor Francia, whose prestige as a philosopher was so extensive that it was studied by Carlyle, sealed up the Republic of Paraguay as if it were a house and only left open a small whole for post to pass through. Antonio López de Santana buried his own leg with full military honors. The hand of Lope de Aguirre sailed down stream for several days and those who saw it pass shook in terror, thinking even in that state that murderous hand could brandish a dagger. Anastasio Somoza García, in Nicaragua had a zoo on the grounds of his house with cages of two compartments: on one side wild animals, and on the other, separated by just a wire mesh, his political enemies.

Martines, the theosophic dictator from El Salvador, had every public streetlight wrapped in red paper, to combat an outbreak of measles, and invented a pendulum which was held over food before eating to establish whether it was poisoned. The Morazán statue which still stands in Tegucigalpa is, in reality, of marshal Ney; the official commission which traveled to London to get it decided that it was cheaper to buy this old statue in a forgotten warehouse, than have an authentic Morazán made.

In short, the writers of Latin America and the Caribbean have to acknowledge, in all honesty, that reality is a better writer than any of us. Our destiny, maybe our glory, lies in imitating with humility, and as best we can.

Murió mientras yo estaba traduciendo esto. Descance en paz.

Original text
The Word by Pablo Neruda Something about the description of the weather at the beginning made me think of this.

La noche de los feos – Mario Benedetti

 1

Ambos somos feos. Ni siquiera vulgarmente feos. Ella tiene un pómulo hundido. Desde los ocho años, cuando le hicieron la operación. Mi asquerosa marca junto a la boca viene de una quemadura feroz, ocurrida a comienzos de mi adolescencia.

Tampoco puede decirse que tengamos ojos tiernos, esa suerte de faros de justificación por los que a veces los horribles consiguen arrimarse a la belleza. No, de ningún modo. Tanto los de ella como los míos son ojos de resentimiento, que sólo reflejan la poca o ninguna resignación con que enfrentamos nuestro infortunio. Quizá eso nos haya unido. Tal vez unido no sea la palabra más apropiada. Me refiero al odio implacable que cada uno de nosotros siente por su propio rostro.Nos conocimos a la entrada del cine, haciendo cola para ver en la pantalla a dos hermosos cualesquiera. Allí fue donde por primera vez nos examinamos sin simpatía pero con oscura solidaridad; allí fue donde registramos, ya desde la primera ojeada, nuestras respectivas soledades. En la cola todos estaban de a dos, pero además eran auténticas parejas: esposos, novios, amantes, abuelitos, vaya uno a saber. Todos -de la mano o del brazo- tenían a alguien. Sólo ella y yo teníamos las manos sueltas y crispadas.

Nos miramos las respectivas fealdades con detenimiento, con insolencia, sin curiosidad. Recorrí la hendidura de su pómulo con la garantía de desparpajo que me otorgaba mi mejilla encogida. Ella no se sonrojó. Me gustó que fuera dura, que devolviera mi inspección con una ojeada minuciosa a la zona lisa, brillante, sin barba, de mi vieja quemadura.

Por fin entramos. Nos sentamos en filas distintas, pero contiguas. Ella no podía mirarme, pero yo, aun en la penumbra, podía distinguir su nuca de pelos rubios, su oreja fresca bien formada. Era la oreja de su lado normal.

Durante una hora y cuarenta minutos admiramos las respectivas bellezas del rudo héroe y la suave heroína. Por lo menos yo he sido siempre capaz de admirar lo lindo. Mi animadversión la reservo para mi rostro y a veces para Dios. También para el rostro de otros feos, de otros espantajos. Quizá debería sentir piedad, pero no puedo. La verdad es que son algo así como espejos. A veces me pregunto qué suerte habría corrido el mito si Narciso hubiera tenido un pómulo hundido, o el ácido le hubiera quemado la mejilla, o le faltara media nariz, o tuviera una costura en la frente.

La esperé a la salida. Caminé unos metros junto a ella, y luego le hablé. Cuando se detuvo y me miró, tuve la impresión de que vacilaba. La invité a que charláramos un rato en un café o una confitería. De pronto aceptó.

La confitería estaba llena, pero en ese momento se desocupó una mesa. A medida que pasábamos entre la gente, quedaban a nuestras espaldas las señas, los gestos de asombro. Mis antenas están particularmente adiestradas para captar esa curiosidad enfermiza, ese inconsciente sadismo de los que tienen un rostro corriente, milagrosamente simétrico. Pero esta vez ni siquiera era necesaria mi adiestrada intuición, ya que mis oídos alcanzaban para registrar murmullos, tosecitas, falsas carrasperas. Un rostro horrible y aislado tiene evidentemente su interés; pero dos fealdades juntas constituyen en sí mismas un espectáculos mayor, poco menos que coordinado; algo que se debe mirar en compañía, junto a uno (o una) de esos bien parecidos con quienes merece compartirse el mundo.

Nos sentamos, pedimos dos helados, y ella tuvo coraje (eso también me gustó) para sacar del bolso su espejito y arreglarse el pelo. Su lindo pelo.

“¿Qué está pensando?”, pregunté.

Ella guardó el espejo y sonrió. El pozo de la mejilla cambió de forma.

“Un lugar común”, dijo. “Tal para cual”.

Hablamos largamente. A la hora y media hubo que pedir dos cafés para justificar la prolongada permanencia. De pronto me di cuenta de que tanto ella como yo estábamos hablando con una franqueza tan hiriente que amenazaba traspasar la sinceridad y convertirse en un casi equivalente de la hipocresía. Decidí tirarme a fondo.

“Usted se siente excluida del mundo, ¿verdad?”

“Sí”, dijo, todavía mirándome.

“Usted admira a los hermosos, a los normales. Usted quisiera tener un rostro tan equilibrado como esa muchachita que está a su derecha, a pesar de que usted es inteligente, y ella, a juzgar por su risa, irremisiblemente estúpida.”

“Sí.”

Por primera vez no pudo sostener mi mirada.

“Yo también quisiera eso. Pero hay una posibilidad, ¿sabe?, de que usted y yo lleguemos a algo.”

“¿Algo cómo qué?”

“Como querernos, caramba. O simplemente congeniar. Llámele como quiera, pero hay una posibilidad.”

Ella frunció el ceño. No quería concebir esperanzas.

“Prométame no tomarme como un chiflado.”

“Prometo.”

“La posibilidad es meternos en la noche. En la noche íntegra. En lo oscuro total. ¿Me entiende?”

“No.”

“¡Tiene que entenderme! Lo oscuro total. Donde usted no me vea, donde yo no la vea. Su cuerpo es lindo, ¿no lo sabía?”

Se sonrojó, y la hendidura de la mejilla se volvió súbitamente escarlata.

“Vivo solo, en un apartamento, y queda cerca.”

Levantó la cabeza y ahora sí me miró preguntándome, averiguando sobre mí, tratando desesperadamente de llegar a un diagnóstico.

“Vamos”, dijo.


2

No sólo apagué la luz sino que además corrí la doble cortina. A mi lado ella respiraba. Y no era una respiración afanosa. No quiso que la ayudara a desvestirse.

Yo no veía nada, nada. Pero igual pude darme cuenta de que ahora estaba inmóvil, a la espera. Estiré cautelosamente una mano, hasta hallar su pecho. Mi tacto me transmitió una versión estimulante, poderosa. Así vi su vientre, su sexo. Sus manos también me vieron.

En ese instante comprendí que debía arrancarme (y arrancarla) de aquella mentira que yo mismo había fabricado. O intentado fabricar. Fue como un relámpago. No éramos eso. No éramos eso.

Tuve que recurrir a todas mis reservas de coraje, pero lo hice. Mi mano ascendió lentamente hasta su rostro, encontró el surco de horror, y empezó una lenta, convincente y convencida caricia. En realidad mis dedos (al principio un poco temblorosos, luego progresivamente serenos) pasaron muchas veces sobre sus lágrimas.

Entonces, cuando yo menos lo esperaba, su mano también llegó a mi cara, y pasó y repasó el costurón y el pellejo liso, esa isla sin barba de mi marca siniestra.

Lloramos hasta el alba. Desgraciados, felices. Luego me levanté y descorrí la cortina doble.

1

We’re both ugly. Not even in a run of the mill kind of way. She has a sunken cheekbone. Since she was eight, since the operation. The revolting mark next to my mouth comes from a severe burn which happened just as I hit puberty.

We can’t even tell ourselves we have kind eyes, those beacons which sometimes allow the horrible to scrape their way towards beauty. No, in no way.
Hers are just as resentful as mine, they only reflect the resignation with which we confront our misfortune. Maybe that’s what united us. Maybe united isn’t the right word. I’m talking about the implacable hatred that we each feel for our own faces.
We met at the entrrance to the cinema, queueing to see two beautiul somebodys. That was where we first examinined each other, without sympathy, but in dark solidarity; that was where we registered, at first sight, our respective loneliness. Everyone in the queue had a partner, and they were real partners: married couples, boyfriends and girlfriends, lovers, grandmothers and grandfathers, who knows what. Everyone -hand in hand or arm in arm- had someone. We were the only two who had their hands hanging free and tense.

We looked carefully at each other’s deformities, with insolence, without curiosity. I ran my eyes over the fissure of her cheekbone with the self-assuridness that my shrunken cheek afforded me. She didn’t blush. I liked that she was tough, that my inspection returned a meticulous peruse of the soft, shiney, beardless zone of my old burn.


Eventually we went in. We sat down in differenct rows, but adjacent. She couldn’t see me, but I, still in the shadow, could make out the nape of her neck with its blonde hairs, her young and well formed ear. The ear from her normal side.

For an hour and forty minutes we admired the beauty of the coarse hero and the soft heroine. At least I’ve always been able to admire beauty. I reserve my aversion for my own face and sometimes God. Also for the face of other uglies. Other horrors. Maybe I should feel compasion, but I can’t. The truth is that they are something of a mirror. Sometimes I wonder how the myth of Narcissis would have played out if he’d had a sunken cheakbone, or if acid had left his cheek burnt, or if he was missing half his nose, or if he’d had a scar on his forhead.

I waited for her at the exit. I walked a few metres beside her, and then I spoke. When she stopped and looked at me I got the impression she was unsure. I invited her to come chat for a while in a cafe or a confectioner’s. She accepted immediately.


The confectioner’s was full, but just at that moment a table freed up. As we passed through the people we left a trail of surprised gestures and raised eyebrows. My antenae are particularly skilled at picking up on this depraved curiosity, the unconcious sadisim from those with normal faces, miraculously symetircal. But this time I didn’t even need my well-trained intution, because mumbling and little coughs reached my ears. One lone horrible face evidentaly holds interest, but two monstrosities together make more of a spectacle, almost coordinated; something that must be witnessed in good company, together with one of those similar to you with whom you want to share the world.

We sat down, ordered two ice-creams, and she had the courage (I liked this aswel) to take a make up mirror out of her bag and fix her hair. Her pretty hair.


“What are you thinking about”, I asked.

She put away the mirror and smiled. The pit of her cheek changed shape.

“Common ground”, she said . “two of a kind”.

We talked at lenght. After an hour and a half we had to order more coffee to justify the long stay. I suddenly realized that she and I were speaking with such offensive frankness that it was threatening to go beyond sincerity and  reach something like hypocrisy. I decided to delve deeper.

“You feel isolated from the world, don’t you?”

“Yes.” she said, still looking at me.

“You admire the beautiful, the normal ones. You want to have a face as balanced as that girl on your right, despite the fact that you’re intelligent and she’s, to judge by her laugh, irredimibly stupid.”

“Yes.”
For the first time she couldn’t meet my eyes.

“I want that too. But there’s a chance, you know? That you and I could manage something.”

“Like what?”

“Whatever we want, damn. Or just get on. Call it whatever you want, but there’s a chance.”

She frowned. She didn’t want to endulge in hope. I continued:

“Promise you won’t think I’m crazy.”

“I promise.”

“The chance is to emerse ourselves in the night. In total darkness. Do you understand?”

“No.”

“You have to understand me! Total darkness. Where you don’t see me, where I don’t see you. Your body is beautiful, you know that?”

She smiled, and the fissure on her cheek turned slightly scarlet.

“I live alone, in an appartment, it’s not too far.”

She raised her head and looked at me questioningly, figuring me out, trying desperately to reach a diagnosis.

“Let’s go”, she said.

2

I didn’t just turn off the light, I closed the double curtains. She was breathing at my side. They weren’t difficult breaths. She didn’t want me to help her undress.

I could see nothing. Nothing. But all the same I could tell that now she was unmoving, waiting. Cautiously, I extended a hand, until it reachd her chest. The touch transmited an invigorating, powerful sensation. This is how I saw her stomach, her parts. Her hands saw me too.

In that moment I realized that I had to tear myself out (and tear her out) of that lie that I myself had fabricated. Or tried to fabricate. It was like a lightning bolt. We weren’t that. We weren’t that.

It took all my courage, but I did it. My hand slowly assended to her face, I found her furrow of horror, and I started a slow, convincing and convinced caress. In fact my fingers (at the beginning trembling a little, then gradually more serene) passed many times over her tears.

Then, when I least expected it, her hand also reached my face, and passed time and again over my scar and the smooth flayed skin, that hairless island around my sinister mark.

We cried until dawn. Disgraced. Happy. Then I got up and opened the double curtain.

El drama del desencantado – Gabriel García Márquez

…el drama del desencantado que se arrojó a la calle desde el décimo piso, y a medida que caía iba viendo a través de las ventanas la intimidad de sus vecinos, las pequeñas tragedias domésticas, los amores furtivos, los breves instantes de felicidad, cuyas noticias no habían llegado nunca hasta la escalera común, de modo que en el instante de reventarse contra el pavimento de la calle había cambiado por completo su concepción del mundo, y había llegado a la conclusión de que aquella vida que abandonaba para siempre por la puerta falsa valía la pena de ser vivida.

FIN

 

…the drama of the disillusioned fellow who hurled himself onto the street from the tenth story, and on his way down experienced the personal lives of his neighbours through their windows, the little domestic tragedies, the furtive loves, the brief moments of happiness, word of which had never reached the shared staircase, so that in the moment of bursting open against the pavement of the street his conception of the world had completely changed, and he had come to the conclusion that the life he was abandoning forever through that false door was worth living.

The end

Subh Milis – Séamus Ó Néill

Bhí subh milis,

Ar bhas-crann an dorais.

Ach mhúch mé an chorraí,

Ionam d’éirigh,

Mar smaoinigh mé ar an lá,

A bheas an bhas-crann glan.

Agus an lámh bheag,

Ar iarraidh.

There was jam,

On the door handle.

But I quenched the anger,

That rose inside of me,

For I thought of the day,

When the handle would be clean.

And the small hand

Missing.

Había mermalade,

En el pomo de la puerta.

Pero estinguí la ira

Que me subió,

Por pensar en el día

En que el pomo estaría limpio,

Y la mano pequeña,

Ausente.

The City – Constantino Cavafy

La ciudad

Dijiste: “Iré a otra ciudad, iré a otro mar.
Otra ciudad ha de hallarse mejor que ésta.
Todo esfuerzo mío es una condena escrita;
y está mi corazón – como un cadáver – sepultado.
Mi espíritu hasta cuándo permanecerá en este marasmo.
Donde mis ojos vuelva, donde quiera que mire
oscuras ruinas de mi vida veo aquí,
donde tantos años pasé y destruí y perdí”.
Nuevas tierras no hallarás, no hallarás otros mares.
La ciudad te seguirá. Vagarás
por las mismas calles. Y en los mismos barrios te harás viejo
y en estas mismas casas encanecerás.
Siempre llegarás a esta ciudad. Para otro lugar -no esperes-
no hay barco para ti, no hay camino.
Así como tu vida la arruinaste aquí
en este rincón pequeño, en toda tierra la destruiste.

The City 

You said: “I’ll go to another city, another sea.
Another city has to be better than this.
My every effort is a written conviction;
and my heart is – corpse like – buried.
How long will my mind remain in this wasteland.
Wherever my eyes rest, wherever I look,
black ruins of my life I see here,
where so many years of my life were spent, destroyed and wasted.”
You won’t find new lands, nor other shores.
The city will follow you. You will wander through the same streets. You’ll grow old in these same streets.
You’ll always arrive back at this city. For another place – don’t hope –
there’s no boat for you, there’s no path.
Just as you destroyed your life here
in this small corner, in all the earth you destroyed it.

 

Original Greek.

Professional English translation.

Ciudad Seva – Source of Spanish translation.

El aplastamiento de las gotas – Julio Cortázar

Yo no sé, mira, es terrible como llueve. Llueve todo el tiempo, afuera tupido y gris, aquí contra el balcón con goterones cuajados y duros, que hacen plaf y se aplastan como bofetadas, uno detrás de otro, qué hastío. Ahora aparece una gotita en lo alto del marco de la ventana;se queda temblequeando contra el cielo que la triza en mil brillos apagados, va creciendo y se tambalea, ya va a caer y no se cae. Está prendida con todas las uñas, no quiere caerse y se la ve que agarra con los dientes, mientras le crece la barriga;ya es una gotaza que cuelga majestuosa, y de pronto zup, ahí va, plaf, desecha, nada, una viscosidad en el mármol.
Pero las hay que se suicidan y se entregan enseguida, brotan en el marco y ahí mismo se tiran;me parece ver la vibración del salto, sus piernitas desprendiéndose y el grito que las emborracha en esa nada del caer y aniquilarse. Tristes gotas, redondas inocentes gotas.Adiós gotas, adiós.

I don’t know, look, the rain is terrible. It rains all the time, outside congested and grey, here against the balcony with hard and curdled drops, which go plaf and smash like punches, one after another, it’s tiresome. Now a droplet appears on the top of the window frame; trembling against the sky which shreds it into a thousand extinguished lights, now it grows and it totters, now it’s about to go and it doesn’t. It’s grasping with every nail, it doesn’t want to fall and it clings on by the teeth, as its belly grows; now it’s a large drop hanging majestically, and soon enough zup, there it goes, plaf, undone, nothing, a viscosity on the marble. But there are those whose suicide and surrender is immediate, they emerge on the frame and right there fling themselves; I can make out the vibration of the jump, their little legs breaking off and the screech which intoxicates them in that nothing of the fall and their annihilation. Sad drops, round innocent drops. Goodbye drops, goodbye.