Rain Is A Thing That Happens In The Past
Thursday, September 04, 2014
I know they accuse me of arrogance, and perhaps
misanthropy, and perhaps of madness. Such accusations (for which I shall exact
punishment in due time) are derisory. It is true that I never leave my house,
but it is also true that its doors (whose numbers are infinite) (footnote: The
original says fourteen, but there is ample reason to infer that, as used by
Asterion, this numeral stands for infinite.) are open day and night to men and
to animals as well. Anyone may enter.
The House of Asterion
Jorge Luís Borges
La casa de
Sé que me
acusan de soberbia, y tal vez de misantropía, y tal vez de locura. Tales
acusaciones (que yo castigaré a su debido tiempo) son irrisorias. Es verdad que
no salgo de mi casa, pero también es verdad que sus puertas (cuyo número es
infinito) están abiertas día y noche a los hombres y también a los animales. Que
entre el que quiera.
|August 31 2014|
Sanity (or an escape from madness), in my case
comes from being able to do something. These days the
only thing I seem to be able or willing to do is to sit in front on my computer
At one time my early daily blog (in the
years right after January 2006) was a problem. I had to find something to write
about. I would go to my photo files and randomly sift through names. A name
would ring a bell. I would take out the file, scan one of the pictures and sit
down to write.
This has changed. I do not need to go to my
files. What I want to write about comes into my conscious awareness in non-stop
cataracts and sometimes at night in a dream. Finding something to illustrate that
idea, is easy; but not always. If I have a particular photograph in mind I get
flummoxed and depressed when I cannot find it in those files. Sometimes it is
misfiled and sometimes lost in the mess.
The catch is that a blog per day is not
sufficient to contain the flow. I could easily write three or four.
A birthday (and I am writing this a few
days after August 31, 2014) for me has always been a melancholy experience. It
conjures all the people of my past who are gone. I miss them and it
becomes more so on days like today, those waning days of summer. I miss my
childhood garden parties in Buenos Aires
with all my first cousins and friends. A birthday in some way does remind me of
my place of birth more than in any other day.
More than any other day I look at this city
and I feel I am a stranger within it. The mountains are alien and the cold cyan
sky gives me goose bumps and I shiver. The English I hear feels wrong. It rarely does not rain enough so that one can smell the pleasure of just wet pavement.
My only escape in a day like today is to
sit down and read Borges. I read his poems about going back to his childhood
homes. Reading those poems I can smell that special smell that follows the
watering of geraniums and ferns in a patio. I can smell the humid dust that
blows in with the pampero (a strong wind from the south) before the inevitable
rain and that lovely smell, a petrichor.
The Spanish of Borges is comforting.
Comforting but isolating. My friend Juan
is gone. Raúl Guerrero Montemayor is dead. My connections to that language of
romance are just about severed. All I have are the poems of a blind and then dead poet by my beside table.
Amongst my late summer melancholy I have
latched on to one piece of positive wonder. I cannot read Dante in Italian or
Goethe in German. Saramago in Portuguese is tough and my French is nonexistent.
I must read Dumas in Spanish or in English.
But consider this. I can read and enjoy
Shakespeare (and Chaucer) in English and Cervantes in Spanish.
I might just add that I can read Jorge Luís Borges in Spanish.
I am afraid that my
bragging will go one notch further. So many of Borges’s stories and poems are
about Argentina and of Buenos Aires. He wrote about
a historical Argentina
(his ancestors of the 19th century). These stories are thrilling but
not as thrilling as to read about a Buenos
Aires or an Argentine Pampa that I saw, smelled and
walked. In fact there are precise corners in the Buenos Aires poems of Borges that are in my
memory. As a man who was going blind he describes smells and sensations of
touch of places that I lived, too. It is not enough to be able to read Spanish
to read Borges. You must have lived in the city he wrote about.
Reading Borges is like
being a Dorothy whisked away by a windstorm from a black and white life of alienation
to a world of loving memory where the ripe colours do not manage to whisk away
the melancholy of an isolation that I could describe as being a penguin from
the Antarctic who has been thrust into an out of place Arctic.
I must keep my daily
reading of Borges in check if I will keep mental balance, well, balanced! Consider:
Se abre la
verja del jardín
docilidad de la página
frecuente devoción interroga
fijarse en los objetos
están cabalmente en la memoria.
costumbres y las almas
dialecto de alusiones
agrupación humana va urdiendo.
conocen quienes aquí me rodean,
mis congojas y mi flaqueza,
alcanzar lo más alto,
lo que tal
vez nos dará el Cielo:
admiraciones ni victorias
sencillamente ser admitidos
de una Realidad innegable,
piedras y los árboles.
To Haydée Lange
Opens the garden gate
docilely as a page
a frequent devotion
and inside the glance
need not fix on
now firmly in memory.
I know each custom and
and that dialect of
I need not speak
nor lie about
well they know me
my anguish and
This is as high as one
what Heaven perhaps
will grant us:
neither admiration nor
but merely to be
as part of undeniable
like stones and trees.
The first two lines in
Argentine Spanish (verja is a Spanish word used by Argentines to describe a
wrought iron gate) cannot be translated. Those two lines instantly take me to
my house on Melián. I might even imagine my friends and cousins rapping on the verja to come in to my August 31 birthday party. Untranslatable into English is the title Llaneza, A llano is flat plain, a pampa. El llano is always out there beyond the urban sprawl of Buenos Aires.
There is this beautiful poem
about rain in which time and again Borges mentions a rose (I believe not as
much as his obsession with mirrors).
By Jorge Luis Borges
Translated by A.Z.
The afternoon has
brightened up at last
For rain is falling,
sudden and minute.
Falling or fallen.
There is no dispute:
Rain is a thing that
happens in the past.
Who hears it fall
retrieves a time that fled
When an uncanny
windfall could disclose
To him a flower by the
name of rose
And the perplexing
redness of its red.
Falling until it
blinds each windowpane,
Within a suburb now
long lost this rain
Shall liven black
grapes on a vine inside
A certain patio that
is no more.
A long-awaited voice
through the downpour
Is from my father. He
has never died.
la tarde se ha aclarado
cae la lluvia minuciosa.
Cae o cayó.
La lluvia es una cosa
duda sucede en el pasado.
oye caer ha recobrado
en que la suerte venturosa
una flor llamada rosa
curioso color del colorado.
que ciega los cristales
uvas de una parra en cierto
ya no existe. La mojada
trae la voz, la voz deseada,
De mi padre
que vuelve y que no ha muerto.
The translation into
Cae o cayó.
La lluvia es una cosa
duda sucede en el pasado.
Simply does not bring
the beauty of that Borgesian Spanish. It may have something to do (and I cannot
explain it) with that accent in cayó. I remember when reading the poem that
lovely Argentine word for steady drizzle, garúa.
Borges wrote concise
little gems like this one:
actos prosiguen su camino,
Maté a mi
rey para que Shakespeare
Our acts continue on
their destined way
which does not know an
I slew my sovereign so
might plot his
But one of my
favourite (one of many about mirrors)
sentí el horror de los espejos
ante el cristal impenetrable
y empieza, inhabitable,
imposible espacio de reflejos
el agua especular que imita
azul en su profundo cielo
que a veces
raya el ilusorio vuelo
inversa o que un temblor agita
Y ante la
sutil cuya tersura
un sueño la blancura
de un vago
mármol o una vaga rosa,
cabo de tantos y perplejos
errar bajo la varia luna,
qué azar de la fortuna
hizo que yo
temiera los espejos.
caoba que en la bruma
de su rojo
que mira y es mirado,
los veo, elementales
de un antiguo pacto,
el mundo como el acto
insomnes y fatales.
este vano mundo incierto
a veces en
la tarde los empaña
de un hombre que no ha muerto.
el cristal. Si entre las cuatro
la alcoba hay un espejo,
ya no estoy
solo. Hay otro. Hay el reflejo
que arma en
el alba un sigiloso teatro.
acontece y nada se recuerda
libros de derecha a izquierda.
rey de una tarde, rey soñado,
que era un sueño hasta aquel día
en que un
actor mimó su felonía
silencioso, en un tablado.
sueños es raro, que haya espejos,
usual y gastado repertorio
de cada día
incluya el ilusorio
profundo que urden los reflejos.
dado en pensar) pone un empeño
en toda esa
la luz con la tersura
y la sombra con el sueño.
creado las noches que se arman
de sueños y
las formas del espejo
para que el
hombre sienta que es reflejo
Por eso no alarman.
I, who have felt the
horror of mirrors
Not only in front of the
Where there ends and
An impossible space of
But of gazing even on
water that mimics
The other blue in its
depth of sky,
That at times gleams
back the illusory flight
Of the inverted bird,
or that ripples,
And in front of the
Of subtle ebony whose
Like a repeating dream
Of something marble or
Today at the tip of so
many and perplexing
Wandering ears under
the varying moon,
I ask myself what whim
Made me so fearful of
a glancing mirror.
Mirrors in metal, and
Mirror of mahogany
that in its mist
Of a red twilight
The face that is gazed
on as it gazes,
I see them as
Executors of an ancient
To multiply the world
like the act
Sleepless. Bringing doom.
They prolong this
hollow, unstable world
In their dizzying
Sometimes in the
afternoon they are blurred
By the breath of a man
who is not dead.
The crystal spies on
us. If within the four
Walls of a bedroom a
I am no longer alone. There
is someone there.
In the dawn
reflections mutely stage a show.
Everything happens and
nothing is recorded
In these rooms of the
Where, magicked into
Now read the books
from right to left.
Claudius, king of an
afternoon, a dreaming king,
Did not feel it a
dream until that day
When an actor shewed
the world his crime
In a tableau, silently
It is strange to dream,
and to have mirrors
Where the commonplace,
Of every day may
include the illusory
Profound globe that
God (I keep thinking)
has taken pains
To design that
Reared by every dawn
from the gleam
Of a mirror, by
darkness from a dream.
God has created
nighttime, which he arms
With dreams, and
mirrors, to make clear
To man he is a
reflection and a mere
Vanity. Therefore these alarms.
Interesting it is that
the translator in that last sentence misrepresented Borges’s meaning in order
to keep the rhyme! It should read Therefore they do not alarm.
During most of my life I
have been attracted to and pulled by mirrors. I may have been 6 or 7 and my
mother had been doling out to me American candy corn (never enough of it) from
her bedroom armoire. One afternoon I decided to help myself to more. I opened
one of the doors and snatched the bag of precious American Embassy booty. As I
was about to feed myself I noticed that there was a mirror on the inside of the
door. I stared at myself. I saw a stranger (There is someone there). Then
slowly like a big explosion in my head I identified that stranger as myself. Perhaps
on that day I became an individual. Perhaps hidden from me but instilled by the guilt I felt in hoarded all that candy corn, the idea of something called death. Borges writes and wrote about labyrinths, tigers, roses, mirrors, blindness and death.
Borges wrote in his Al Espejo (to the mirror) these wonderful last two lines;
Cuando esté muerto , copiarás a otro
Y luego a otro, a otro, a otro, a otro...
When I am dead, you will copy another
And then another, an another, and another, and another...
Texas - Jorge Luís Borges - I Dream Well There
Wednesday, September 03, 2014
|Mike East, Alex Waterhouse-Hayward - Santa Fe Ranch, Texas 2011|
These days past my recent birthday I feel,
as the heat of the waning summer, a sense of alienation from my surroundings.
When my friend, Argentine painter Juan
Manuel Sánchez (who alas moved back to Buenos
Aires some years ago) and I used to sit for coffee he
would often talk of a Canadian love for penguins. One of our favourite places
for coffee, on 16th and Oak, had the penguin symbol on its window. Sánchez
would smile in puzzlement until we found a mutual common ground.
Everybody knows that penguins inhabit the
Southern Hemisphere (and creep closely to the Equator on the Galapagos) and
that polar bears live exclusively in the Arctic.
We decided that the two of us were penguins in the arctic, out of place and
particularly in the opening days of the 21st century, out of time.
In 2011 I decided to drive our Malibu to Austin and south Texas. My Rosemary and I
were accompanied by our two granddaughters, Lauren and Rebecca. One of my goals
was to visit my friend Mike East at his ranch.
While my family had a bit a problem
navigating around the possibility of rattlesnakes and an intense heat I was
comfortable with it all including the dust I encountered during the castration
of soon not-to-be young bulls.
At the large ranch house we seemed to hover
and live in the kitchen where we ate the best Mexican/Texan food imaginable.
The jingling of East’s spurs early morning, en route to talk to his cowboys,
was music to my ears.
I have chosen to illustrate this blog with
a snap taken by my Rebecca of yours truly on East’s premier horse, Grammercy
Flow. I don’t look as comfortable as East does. But I do know how to ride even
if I have forgotten my early years of galloping after South American ostriches
on the flat pampa while listening to the “tero-tero” (Vanellus chilensis).
I could not put my finger on why it was
that I felt comfortable in a Texas
plain. Perhaps it had to do with my four years at St. Edward’s High School in
the mid to late 50s. In many respects this penguin got a taste for that peculiar
American way of life that is unique (or was unique) to Texas.
This involved seeing women in bobby socks
raise their right hands in what in Italy is the sign for cornuto (the thumb and
little finger extended) in praise of their University of Texas football team
(hook’em horns) and listening to my favourite Brenda Lee rasp out her tunes.
It involved being taught my Brothers of
Holy Cross who with a few exceptions were not from Texas and their drawls were,
like Brother Edwin’s, from New Orleans.
Somehow my experience with an American way
of life was centered in Texas.
But it was in the beginning of my tenth
grade that a young cowboy (taciturn he was) came into our dormitory. He was in
the 9th grade but there was no room for him in that other 9th grade dorm. I
watched him and noticed the dust, his boots, his Western shirt, his floppy hat,
his look and I found not an alien but what surely was someone that I was
familiar with. He was not a gaucho and he was not wearing bombachas held up by
a rastra nor did he wear a facón or a pair of alpargatas. His boots were
Because we were from
separate school years we were never close but somehow I kept a watch over him. How
could I have known then that our alliance was that of a polar bear to a penguin?
I must clarify here
that at my bedside table I always have a worn Jorge Luís Borges – Obra Poética –
Today I carefully read
his poem Texas
and with a bit of research found out here that Borges felt very comfortable in Austin:
A visiting professor position in the
Department of Romance Languages at the University
of Texas brought Borges to Austin in late middle
age. He was in residence for an entire fall semester, from September 1961 to
January 1962. He taught two courses on the poetry of Argentina, giving an open lecture,
too, on one of his own personal obsessions, Walt Whitman. All accounts agree
that he greatly enjoyed his classes and colleagues, welcomed being immersed in
what has often been described as the heady academic atmosphere of the
university at that time. He also developed a true affection for Austin itself, and apparently it became nothing short of a
favorite spot of his in the United
States. For Borges, however, the beauty of
the leafy capital city on the Colorado River was a bit different than it might
be for the usual appreciative visitor, not merely a matter of local scenery; in
fact, when he lived in Austin his increasingly clouding loss of sight, which
had begun some years before, was already at the stage where it prevented him
from fully taking in the visual (he was totally blind at death). As affable,
ever-smiling Borges reportedly said later concerning why he liked Austin, why he always
found it very beautiful: “I dream
también. Aquí, como en el otro
continente, el infinito
que muere solitario el grito;
también el indio, el lazo, el potro.
también el pájaro secreto
los fragores de la historia
una tarde y su memoria;
también el místico alfabeto
astros, que hoy dictan a mi cálamo
el incesante laberinto
de los días
no arrastra: San Jacinto
otras Termópilas, el Álamo.
también esa desconocida
y ansiosa y
breve cosa que es la vida.
Texas by Jorge Luis Borges
trans. Mark Strand
Here too. Here as at
Edge of the
hemisphere, an endless plain
Where a man’s cry dies
a lonely death.
Here too the Indian,
the lasso, the wild horse.
Here too the bird that
never shows itself,
That sings for the
memory of one evening
Over the rumblings of
Here too the mystic
of stars leading my pen over the page to names
Not swept aside in the
Labyrinth of Days: San Jacinto
And that other
Thermopylae, the Alamo.
Here too, the never
Anxious, and brief
affair that is life.