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An Argentinean born in Belgium, Julio Cortázar (1914-1981) lived for a time in Argentina writing and also translating authors such as Poe. His leftist politics led him to seek exile in France in 1951, where he spent the remainder of of his life freely indulging his pursuits of literature and jazz trumpet. One of his stories was the basis for the iconic 1966 UK-Italian coproduction Blowup, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and starring Vamessa Redgrave and David Hemmings, with music by Herbie Hancock and a cameo from the Yardbirds (the Jeff Beck – Jimmy Page incarnation). Cortázar had a unique, non-linear style exemplified in his major work Rayuela (translated into English by Gregory Rabassa as Hopskotch), in which the reader is given an alternate order in which to read the various chapters. His writings typically contain elements of the surreal or the absurd, such as Instrucciones para llorar (‘Instructions for crying’). These two short pieces are from the popular collection Historias de Cronopios y famas (1970), which according to the US Library of Congress already exists in English translation (Cronopios and Famas by Paul Blackburn, New York: New Directions, 1999). However, I have been unable to find the book locally and besides, I very much enjoyed playing with these little texts on my own.
V. Stevenson August 2002
THE BEAR'S DISCOURSE
(Discurso del Oso)
I am the bear in the household plumbing, I go up the plumbing in the quiet hours, the hotwater pipes, the heater pipes, the freshair ducts, I go through the pipes from flat to flat and I am the bear who goes through the plumbing.
I think they appreciate me because my fur keeps the piping clean, unceasingly I run through the pipes and I like nothing more than to go from floor to floor sliding through the plumbing. Sometimes I poke out a paw through the fawcet and the girl on the third floor yelps she's burnt herself, or I growl behind the oven on the second floor and Guillermina the cook complains how the air won't draw right. At night I go silently and then it's at my softest I go, I peep out over the roof from the chimneytop to see the moon if she’s dancing above, and then back down like the wind I slide myself to the boilers in the basement below. And in long summertime I swim at night in the starpecked cistern, I wash my face first with one paw then with the other then with both together, and this causes me a great happiness.
Then I slide around all the pipes in the house, growling contented, and the married couples toss in their beds and curse the plumbing, and some switch on the light and write little complaining notes for when next they see that janitor. I seek out the fawcet that's always left open somewhere on some floor, I poke out my nose and look at the darkness of the rooms where those creatures who can't go through the plumbing live, and I feel sorry somewhat for them when I see them, so big and clumsy so, when I hear how they snore and dream aloud, and all alone they are. In the morning when they wash their faces, I caress their cheeks, I lick their noses and I go, vaguely certain of having done the right thing. (p.88).
STORY WITH SOFT BEAR
(Historia con un oso blando)
Just look at that coaltar ball that seeps stretching itself and growing through the join window of two trees. Beyond those trees is a shadowglade and that is where the coaltar meditates and designs its ingression into ball form, in ball form and legs, in the hairslegs coaltar form that afterwards the dictionary BEAR.
Now the coaltar ball emerges moist and soft shaking off ants infinite and round, it flicks them into each footprint which arrange themselves harmonious as it walks. Which is to say the coaltar projects a bear leg over the pine needles, it cleaves the smooth ground and releasing itself marks a soft slipper torn strips in front and leaves nascent a multiple round antsnest, redolent of coaltar. And thus on each side of the way, founder of symmetrical empires, the hairslegs form goes on applying a construction for round ants that moist shakes itself.
Finally emerges the sun and the soft bear raises a juvenile transited face toward the honeygong that vainly it yearns. Now the coaltar it begins to snuff with vehemence, the ball expands to the height of the day, only hairs and legs coaltar, hairslegs coaltar that muses a prayer and glimpses the answer, the profound resonance of the gong above, the skyheavenhoney on its snouttongue, in its hairslegs happiness. (p.80).
From Julio Cortázar – Historias de Cronopios y Famas (24e.) Barcelona: Edhasa, 1999.
Translations © V. Stevenson 1999,2002