This week I am reading a book (I have read it once before) that is perfect for a man who will be 80 this year. It is written by an Argentine novelist who died in 2011 when he was 99 but wrote his memoirs Antes del Fin (Before the End) in 1999. What is particularly interesting about Ernesto Sábato is that he was a nuclear physicist and an anarquist. He lost his interest in absolute science and feared the use of nuclear weapons so at age 37 he became a writer. His novel Sobre Héroes y Tumbas is in my opinion the best Argentine novel.
What makes these little short essays in Sábato’s memoirs special, and to the point, is that they are easy to read but he weaves into them profound memories that somehow match my own like the sound of a horse-drawn carriage on a cobble street or the long wait the night before the Epiphany for the three wise kings to deposit gifts on the shoes out my door; or the disappearance of that custom to be replaced by that of an old fat man in a red outfit and with a long white beard.
There was this wonderful paragraph about material objects that floored me. My translation into English follows it.
In the solitude of my study I observed my father’s watch,
the old New Home
sewing machine of my mother's, a silver pitcher, and a Colt that father always had in a drawer, and which later it went as an inheritance to my older
brother [he had 10 of them] , until it was placed in my hands. I feel that I am
a sad witness of the inevitable transmutation of things, that change to that of
an eternity alien to the men who used them. When these objects survive their
owners, they return to their useless condition of being things and all their
magic, all their candour, disappears like an uncertain ghost facing the weight
of those that lived them. The remains of an ilusion, only fragments of a dream dreamed.
The two objects in this blog have a special meaning to me. The Canon Pellix was owned by my friend Abraham Rogatnick. When he died, his lawyer contacted me and gave me the camera. While my family might know about my first camera (a Pentacon-F in pristine condition) they would not understand the connection of the camera to a friend they knew who came to all our family Christmas Eve dinners.
The Italian switchblade in my desk would equally draw a blank and they would not know that it ws given to me by my Argentine aunt, Sarita de Irureta Goyena in Buenos Aires weeks before I left to return to Mexico in 1967 She said I might need protection in that long trip ahead on board an Argentine merchant marine ship. With the knife she gave me a little jar of whale oil to keep is snapping open in a flash.