Las uñas - The Toe NailsFriday, June 24, 2016
In the blog below you might be confused by the fact that some of the novels in Spanish have title where only the first letter of the first word is capitalized - and, in some not. This curious discrepancy seems to be an Argentine one (they don’t capitalize) while other countries do. The same applies to accents of authors’names. And remember to further confuse things Argentine books until relatively recently had their table of contents at the end. But then in the past Argentines used to finish their meals with soup.
Coincidence happens more often than not.
My mother often said this to me but I never bothered to ask her who she attributed it to. I have not been able to find the source.
In quite a few crime novels that I have read authors through their protagonist often state, “There are no coincidences.”
One of the most remarkable books in my diminished book collection since we moved from our large house in Kerrisdale to our small one in Kitsilano is Jorge Luís Borges’s El hacedor which he published in 1960. My fifth edition is from 1981. It is permanently ensconced on my bed table.
Borges most definitely had a sense of humour but it was dry and sometimes I find that too many people take the man much too seriously. A case in point is his little one page essay La uñas. In English that would translate to The toe (or) hand nails. The essay is about his toe nails.
When I read it (again) just a few days ago I was thinking about a Gabriel García Márquez novel Del amor y otros demonios which he published in 1994. It was rapidly followed by a translation into English called Of Love and Other Demons. In this novel a young woman dies of rabies and her hair keeps growing in the grave.
Las uñas – Jorge Luís Borges
Dóciles medias los halagan de día y zapatos de cuero claveteados los fortifican, pero los dedos de mi pie no quieren saberlo. No les interesa otra cosa que emitir uñas: láminas córneas, semitransparentes y elásticas, para defenderse ¿de quién? Brutos y desconfiados como ellos solos, no dejan un segundo de preparar ese tenue armamento. Rehúsan el universo y el éxtasis para seguir elaborando sin fin unas vanas puntas, que cercenan y vuelven a cercenar los bruscos tijeretazos de Solingen. A los noventa días crepusculares de encierro prenatal establecieron esa única industria. Cuando yo esté guardado en la Recoleta, en una casa de color ceniciento provista de flores secas y de talismanes, continuarán su terco trabajo, hasta que los modere la corrupción. Ellos, y la barba en mi cara.
Toenails - J. L. Borges
Soft stockings coddle them by day and nail-bossed leather shoes buttress them, but my toes refuse to pay attention. Nothing interests them but emitting toenails, horny plates, semi-transparent and elastic, to defend themselves–from whom? Stupid and mistrustful as they alone can be, they never for a moment stop readying that tenuous armament. They reject the universe and its ecstasy to keep forever elaborating sharp ends, which rude Solingen scissors snip over and over again. Ninety days along in the dawn of prenatal confinement, they establish that singular industry. When I am laid away, in an ash-colored house provided with dead flowers and amulets, they will still go on with their stubborn task, until they are moderated by decay. They–and the beard on my face.
From Dreamtigers, by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Mildred Boyer
This coincidence made me think of another. I have this lovely little and very slim book, El Último Rostro (1978) by Colombian-born (but he lived for many years in Mexico) called Álvaro Mutis. In that four-story collection, the title one is about Simón Bolivar before his death. The story is remarkably similar to Márquez’s novel (I have it in English) The General in his Labyrinth published in 1989. I would never cite plagiarism but I would state that inspiration is a wonderful thing especially when you are aware of it when it hits you personally.