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It must have been a long time before men thought of giving a common name to the manifold objects of their senses, and of placing themselves in opposition to them.


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Saturday, December 12th, 2009

🦋 Imperfect

...another chapter in the annals of me learning Spanish comes with Juan Goytisolo's story "Los amigos" (from Para vivir aquí) -- two things about this story are, a very high proportion of the clauses have "we" as their subject -- so I'm getting used to another set of conjugations that I have not seen as much of so far -- and, it seems like a lot more of the verbs are in imperfect past tense than I'm used to. So that adds a new wrinkle, trying to figure out how to read that tense. The Spanish language courses say, imperfect indicative X == "was X'ing" -- this seems to generally work, although it would get extremely tedious to translate everything this way.

Until now I have recognized imperfect by the "-aba" ending -- verbs which end in -ar, which is most verbs, form their imperfect this way. But I come to find out, verbs which end in -ir and -er do not exhibit this behavior; their imperfect looks roughly like a preterite with -a tacked on to the end. I think I have been reading this, until now, as if it were a preterite -- this may account for why this story seems to have so much more imperfect in it. (Also: I had not realized that first person plural preterite construction is almost exactly the same as first person plural indicative -- when I started reading this story I thought it was being told in the present tense.)

I love the way Goytisolo opens stories. Look at this:

For the past six days I had not been getting a moment's rest. The rhythm of life in the city had changed quickly; in the faces of the men and women who covered the sidewalks was written a firm resolution, full of hope. We had discovered that we were not alone, and after so many years of shame the discovery was astonishing. Our gazes would intersect and they were gazes of complicity. The most insignificant gestures of daily life -- the simple act of walking -- took on a miraculous aura. People followed their ordinary paths silently, and this silence, from hundreds and thousands of people, was more eloquent than any word.
The story is about some friends who find themselves in a political upheaval. One (the narrator) decides to leave the country, the others are taking leave of him. The imperfect tense that's used throughout is a little confusing -- it makes it seem like the upheaval has been going on for a longer time than the "six days" mentioned at the beginning. And it's insanely frustrating not to have any idea what happened a week ago -- the narrator does not refer to that again after the first sentence. This gives me a feeling similar to The Life and Times of Michael K , of wanting more setting -- though I guess the lack of exposition is more forgivable in a short story. Is the city Barcelona? Is the political leader whose "familiar silhouette stood out on a background of airplanes, tanks, guns, ships" in the newspapers Franco?

posted afternoon of December 12th, 2009: Respond
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Sunday, December 6th, 2009

🦋 La Ronda

Some nice imagery from the opening of Juan Goytisolo's story "Making the Rounds" from Para Vivir Aquí (I am really enjoying these stories about traveling in the south -- Goytisolo is from Barcelona and I think he was still living there when he wrote these stories):

Viniendo por la nacional 332, más allá de la base hidronaval de Los Alcázares, se atraviesa una tierra llana, de arbolado escaso, jalonada, a trechos, por las siluetas aspadas de numerosos molinos de viento. Uno se cree arrebatado de los aguafuertes de una edición del Quixote o a una postal gris, y algo marchita, de Holanda. La brisa sople día y noche en aquella zona y las velas de los molinos giran con un crujido sordo. Se diría las helices de un ventilador, las alas de un gigantesco insecto. Cuando pasamos atardecía y el cielo estaba teñido de rojo.

Coming down N-332, past the hydro-naval base at Los Alcázares, you cross a flat landscape, with little forestation, marked at intervals by the cruciform outlines of windmills. One believes oneself transfixed in the etchings of an edition of the Quixote or in an old gray postcard from Holland, a bit faded. The breeze blows day and night in this region, and the windmills' sails turn with a muffled creaking. They bespeak the blades of a fan, the wings of a giant insect. When we passed through there it was getting late; the sky was stained with red.

This is kind of cool: Google Maps has streetview for Murcia. Here is a view along N-332 heading south, midway between Los Alcázares and Cartagena:

posted morning of December 6th, 2009: Respond
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Sunday, November 15th, 2009

🦋 Margaritas before swine

I'm a little over a quarter of the way through my rough draft translation of El viaje -- whether I end up revising it into something actually readable or no, it is a very useful exercise from the standpoint of helping me read the story -- it brings the imagery really sharply into focus, this process of reading the passage, sort-of understanding, setting out to render it in my own language, looking up unfamiliar terms, reading again...

Goytisolo's punctuation of dialog (which seems to be shared pretty generally in the Spanish stories I've been reading) is to set quoted text off with em dashes -- I've been using this in the translation although it's possible that quotation marks would read more naturally. Not sure about that yet. Here is a passage of dialog I liked a lot, at the end of a drunken rant in which a circus impressario is assuring some of his performers (who have been stuck in this Andalusían town for several months without any money to pay for carriage) that he's got feelers out, he's going to get them passage to Lisbon, he's going to pay everybody...

The man took the bottle by its neck and guzzled another slug. His face was soaked in sweat and he was drumming his fingers on the top of his boot.

--People today, only interested in the vulgar --he said, looking at us--. The movies, every day at the movies... The work of an artist counts for nothing...

His tongue was giving him trouble with speaking and he looked around him, his gaze full of irritation.

--I had offers from Algeciras, from Tangiers, from Morocco, and I preferred to come here... They told me that in this town people appreciate art and now look... A sacrifice in vain... Like mixing margaritas for swine...

He was too drunk to go on and he hid his head between his hands. The waiter went and came back with the bottles and, passing by us, gave a wink.

--Don't pay him any attention... Every day it's like this.

Just then, the clock on the town hall struck nine.

It was time to go back; we got up.

The very brief paragraphs and heavy use of ellipses are characteristic of the story.

I read a quote from Goytisolo somewhere that he considered Marks of Identity (1966, so half a decade after this) his "first real novel" -- maybe I should put that on my list.

posted evening of November 15th, 2009: Respond

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

🦋 Goytisolo, Varda

I'm glad I watched La Pointe-Courte when I did, as I'm now seeing loose parallels between it and everything I am reading... Sort of the archetypal melancholy romance.

Paco se había sentado en cuclillas, algo más lejos y antes de abandonarme del todo, le pregunté:

--¿De qué vive la gente aquí?

Se entretenía en escurrir la arena entre sus dedos y no levantó, siquiera, la cabeza:

--De la pesca.

--¿Y tú? --Me extendí boca arriba y cerré los ojos--. ¿Qué quieres ser?

Su respuesta, esta vez, llegó en seguida:


Me dormí. Tenía conciencia de que, al cabo de unas horas, olvidaría la fatiga del viaje y no deseaba otra cosa que cocerme lentamente, cara al sol.

En una o dos ocasiones, me desperté y vi que Dolores dormía también.

Con la vista perdida en el mar, Paco hacía escurrir aún la arena entre sus dedos.

Paco was squatting a bit further down the beach; before giving myself up to sleep, I asked him:

--What do people live on, here?

He was distractedly letting the sand run through his fingers; he didn't even raise his head:

--On fish.

--And you? --I turned my mouth up(?) and closed my eyes--. What do you want to be?

His response, this time, came directly:


I slept. I was aware that after a few hours, I'd forget the fatigue of the journey; I didn't want anything besides to let myself bake slowly, my face to the sun.

Once or twice, I woke up and saw that Dolores was sleeping too.

His gaze lost in the sea, Paco was still letting the sand run between his fingers.

I'm thinking I will work on a full translation of this story.

posted morning of November 14th, 2009: Respond
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Friday, November 13th, 2009

🦋 El viaje

A book of short stories by Juan Goytisolo, Para vivir aquí (1960, and containing the story La guardia that I was reading a couple of weeks ago), arrived in the mail this week, and I have been reading bits and pieces of it. The first two stories did not really grab me but as I look at the beginning of the third I am feeling pretty interested.

The journey

El cartel indicador se alzaba al final de la recta, con las letras pintadas de blanco, sobre el yugo y las flechas descoloradas. Desde la carretera se divisaba de nuevo el mar, liso y como bruñido por el sol y, más cerca, una zona cubierta de rastrojeras se extendía hasta los muros cuarteados de la fábrica en ruinas. A un extremo del campo, dos hombres batían la paja con sus bieldos. Era casi las doce y la calina que envolvía el paisaje, inventaba caprichosas espirales de celofán sobre el asfalto medio derretido.

Dolores frenó más allá del cartel y nos detuvimos a mirar, junto a la cuneta. El pueblo se extendía sobre una pendiente escalonada de terrazas y la cúpula de mosaico de la iglesia reverberaba a la luz del sol. De no ser por el bullicio y griterío de los chiquillos, se hubiera dicho que nadie vivía en él. Muchas casas estaban desmoronadas o en alberca, y sus fachadas maltrechas testimoniaban la existencia de una época de prosperidad y trabajo de la que la chimenea agrietada del teso y los restos alcinados de un molino constituían un recuerdo nostálgico. Ahora, toda la vida parecía concentrarse en el mar, y el puerto abrigaba medio centenar de embarcaciones protegidas por un espigón de obra, liso y curvado como una hoz.

-- ¿Qué te parece? --dije, señalando con el brazo, hacia el mar.

--Como sitio tranquilo, lo es --repuso Dolores, sin gran entusiasmo.

Translation attempt below the fold.

posted evening of November 13th, 2009: Respond

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

🦋 In the penal colony

What a way to be introduced to a character! From Juan Goytisolo's La guardia:

Recuerdo muy bien la primera vez que lo vi. Estaba sentado en medio del patio, el torso desnudo y las palmas apoyadad en el suelo y reía silenciosamente. Al principio, creí que bostezaba o sufría un tic o del mal de San Vito pero, al llevarme la mano a la frente y remusgar la vista, descubrí que tenía los ojos cerrados y reía con embeleso. ...

El muchacho se había sentado encima de un hormiguero: las hormigas le subían por el pecho; las costillas, los brazos, la espalda; algunas se aventuraban entre las vedijas del pelo, paseaban por su cara, se metían en sus orejas. Su cuerpo bullía de puntos negros y permanecía silencioso, con los párpados bajos.

I remember well the first time I saw him. He was sitting in the middle of the courtyard, his torso naked and his palms resting on the ground, laughing silently. At first, I thought he was yawning or he suffered from a tic or from St. Vitus' Dance; when I raised my hand to my forehead and cleared my view, I found he had his eyes closed and was laughing, in a trance. ...

The kid had sat himself down on top of an anthill: ants were crawling across his chest; his ribs, his arms, his back, some were venturing among his tangled hair, passing over his face, entering into his ears. His body swarmed with dots of black and he remained silent, his eyelids down.

Wow. This is a real trip to visualize -- I've been looking forward to reading this story of Goytisolo's, which is the last one in the book of Spanish-language stories I've ben reading for the past few weeks, especially since Badger recommended him to me as a major influence on Pamuk... I'm not understanding this story well enough yet to talk about it in the context of literary influence or parallels... but man! What a stunning image.

Update: added a little context from the first paragraph.

posted afternoon of October 10th, 2009: 1 response
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