Julio Cortázar: A selection of new translations
La tarea de ablandar el ladrillo todos los días…
The task of softening the brick every day, the task of opening up a passage in the sticky mass that proclaims itself world, each morning running into the repugnant-named parallelepiped, with the doglike satisfaction that everything is in its place, the same woman nearby, the same shoes, the same taste of the same toothpaste, the same sadness of the houses in front, of the dusty boards of windows of time with its placard “Belgique Hotel”.
Put your head like a lethargic bull against the transparent mass in whose centre we take coffee with milk and open the paper to know what occurred in whichever one of the corners of the glass brick. Refuse that the delicate act of turning the door handle, that act by which all could be transformed, is carried out with the cold efficiency of a daily reflect. See you later, dear. Take care.
Press a teaspoon between your fingers and feel its metal beat, its suspicious warning. How it hurts to deny a teaspoon, to deny a door, to deny all that habit licks until giving it its satisfactory smoothness. So much simpler to accept the easy application of the spoon, to use it to stir the coffee.
And not that its wrong if things find us again each day and are the same. That at our side there is the same woman, the same watch, and that the novel open on the table starts up in the bicycle of our glasses, why would that be wrong? But like a sad bull you must lower your head, from the centre of the glass brick push outwards, towards the other side so close to us, ungraspable like the picador so close to the bull. Punish the eyes for looking at that which roams the sky and cunningly accepts its name as cloud, its replica catalogued in the memory. Don’t think that the telephone is going to give you the numbers that you search for. Why would it give you them? You will only get what you have prepared and resolved, the sad reflexion of your hope, that monkey that scratches itself on a table and trembles from the cold. Break that monkey’s head, run from the centre towards the wall and open up a passage. Oh how they sing in the flat upstairs! There’s a flat upstairs in this house, with other people. There’s a flat upstairs where people live that do not suspect the flat downstairs, and we are all in the glass brick. And if all of a sudden a moth stops on the edge of a pencil and beats like an ashen fire, look at it, I’m looking at it, I’m palpitating its tiny heart, and I hear it, that moth resounds in the paste of frozen glass, not all is lost. When I open the door and look down the stairs, I will know that the street begins below; not the pattern already accepted, not the houses already known, not the hotel in front; the street, the living forest where every instant can hurl itself over me like a magnolia, where faces are going to be born when I look at them, when I advance a little more, when with my elbows and my eyelashes and my nails I am meticulously broken against the glass brick paste, and I stake my life while I advance step by step to go and buy the paper on the corner.
Instructions for Singing
Begin by breaking the mirror of your house, let your arms fall, look vaguely at the wall, forget yourself. Sing a single note, listen inside. If your hear (but this will occur much later) something like a landscape immersed in fear, with bonfires between the stones, with half-naked silhouettes crouched down, I think you will be well on your way, and the same if your hear a river down where yellow and black painted boats go, if you hear a flavour of bread, a touch of fingers, a shade of horse.
Afterwards, buy sol-fa and a dress coat, and please do not sing through the nose and leave Schumann in peace.
Instructions for Crying
Leaving the motives to one side, let’s address the correct way of crying, understanding by this a cry that does not engage in scandal, nor that insults the smile with its parallel and clumsy likeness. The average or ordinary cry consists in a general contraction of the face and a spasmodic sound accompanied by tears and snot, these last ones to finish, since the cry ends in the moment in which one blows one’s nose emphatically.
To cry, direct the imagination towards yourself, and if this turns out to be impossible for having contracted the habit of thinking in the external world, think about a duck covered in ants or about those gulfs on the Magellan stretch where no one goes, never.
The cry arrived at, the face will be decorously covered using both hands with the palm turned inwards. Children will cry with their jacket sleeve against the face, and preferably in the corner of the room. Average duration of the cry, three minutes.
Instructions / examples about how to be scared
In a village in Scotland they sell books with a blank page lost somewhere in the volume. If a reader ends up on that page when it strikes 3 in the afternoon, he dies.
In the Quirinal square, in Rome, there’s a spot that initiates knew until the 19th century, and from which, with a full moon, are seen moving slowly the statues of the Dioscuri that fight with their horses reared up.
In Amalfi, at the end of the coastal area, there is a pier that enters the sea and the night. A dog is heard barking beyond the last streetlight.
A gentleman is spreading tooth paste on his toothbrush. Suddenly he sees, lying on her back, a minute image of a woman, of coral or maybe of painted bread crumbs.
Opening the wardrobe to get a shirt, an old almanac falls that is worn, pages torn, covers the white clothes with thousands of dirty paper butterflies.
It is known from a travelling salesman who began to feel pain in his left wrist, precisely under the wristwatch. When the watch was torn off, blood sprung: the wound showed the marking of some very fine teeth.
The doctor finishes examining us and puts us at ease. His grave and cordial voice precedes the medication whose prescription he writes now, seated before his table. Every now and then he raises his head and smiles, encouraging us. There’s no worry, in a week we will be fine. We settle back in out seats, happy, and distractedly we look around. Suddenly, in the semi-darkness beneath the table we see the doctor’s legs. He has pulled his trousers up to his thighs, and he has women’s tights.
Instructions for Understanding Three Famous Paintings
Sacred love and profane love
This detestable painting represents a wake on the shores of Jordan. Few times the clumsiness of a painter could allude with more abjection to the hopes of the world in a Messiah that shines because of his absence; absent from the picture that is the world, he shines horribly in the obscene yawn of the marble sarcophagus, while the angel in charge of proclaiming the resurrection of his sinister flesh waits without objection for the signs to come about. It won’t be necessary to explain that the angel is the naked figure, prostituting herself in her marvellous corpulence, and that she has disguised herself as Magdalene, derision of derisions meanwhile the real Magdalene advances along the path (where instead grows the poisonous blasphemy of two rabbits).
The boy who puts his hand in the sarcophagus is Luther, that is to say the Devil. Of the clothed figure it has been said that she represents Glory in the moment of announcing that all human ambitions fit in a washbasin; but its badly painted and it moves one to think of a trick of jasmines or a flash of semolina.
Translations by Samuel Brookes
Tiziano: Sacred Love and Profane Love
© 2020 Samuel Brookes