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The only real thing that exists at this moment on earth is our being here together...

José Saramago

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Monday, August 5th, 2013

Ciudad de Sueño

One more Bogotano poem -- this is the final image in the book, from Aurelio Arturo's poem "Dream City" (previously untranslated -- in her note, Anne McLean thanks Lillian Nećakov for help translating it. I wonder if Anne or Lillian wrote this post at WordReference?*) Searching for the full text of the poem brought me to the pdf of Guía Literaria de Bogotá, which seems like a useful resource to have at hand; the website is Museo Fuera de Lugar which itself looks pretty interesting.

Ciudad de sueño

Yo os contaré que un día vi arder entre la noche
una loca ciudad soberbia y populosa,
yo, sin mover los párpados, la miré desplomarse,
caer, cual bajo un casco un pétalo de rosa.

Muros que yo formé con mi sangre hecha esfuerzo,
puertas al sol doradas que elevé a mis espaldas,
ciudad de mil mujeres de ojos dorados, brazos
lentos y bocas rojas que en su silencio cantan.

Así como en la sombra desciende una cabeza
al fondo de una idea, rápida como piedra,
aquella ciudad loca, oh rúas de mi júbilo,
se hundía en silencios duros y en soledades negras.

Ardía como un muslo entre selvas de incendio,
y caían las cúpulas y caían los muros
sobre las voces queridas tal como sobre espejos
amplios...¡diez mil chillidos de resplandores puros!

Y eran como mis mismos cabellos esas llamas,
rojas panteras sueltas en la joven ciudad,
y ardían desplomándose los muros de mi sueño...
¡Tal como se desploma gritando una ciudad!

* Or hm, no, it appears that message was posted by the translator of Falling into Turkish! Düşen Şeylerin Gürültüsü is in Everest Yayınları's Dünya Edebiyatı Dizisi series and is translated by Süleyman Doğru.

posted evening of August 5th, 2013: Respond
➳ More posts about The Sound of Things Falling

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Hospital Bed

Speaking of Antonio, and thinking as always about identification with the narrator, I just want to note that Antonio's description, at the beginning of chapter 2, of his stay in the hospital reminds me very strongly of my own extended stay as a child after an auto accident -- the circumstances obviously quite different but the feeling of being kept in the bed not fully understanding what's going on around you is instantly recognizable.

I don't remember, however, the three days of surgery: they have disappeared completely, obliterated by the intermittent anesthesia. I don't remember the hallucinations, but I do remember that I had them; I don't remember having fallen out of bed due to the abrupt movements that one of them provoked, and, although I don't remember that they tied me down in the bed to prevent that from happening again, I do remember quite well the violent claustrophobia, the terrible awareness of my vulnerablility.

posted afternoon of August 4th, 2013: Respond
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Otras figuras bogotanas

The sound of things falling is a book about Bogotá, and poetry is a huge part of that city's history. A part I don't know much about at all... Looks like I am going to be learning a bit as I make my way through the book. Early in the second chapter we find a reference to León de Greiff, Antonio quotes from his "Admonición a los impertenentes" as he says he doesn't want his family visiting him.

Yo deseo estar solo. Non curo de compaña.
Quiero catar silencio. Non me peta mormurio
ninguno a la mi vera. Si la voz soterraña
de la canción adviene, que advenga con sordina:
si es la canción ruidosa, con mi mudez la injurio;
si tráe mucha música, que en el Hades se taña
o en cualquiera región al negro Hades vecina...
Ruido: ¡Callad! Pregón de aciago augurio!
Yo deseo estar solo. Non curo de compaña.
Quiero catar silencio, mi sóla golosina.

Como yo soy el Solitario,
como yo soy el Taciturno,
dejádme solo.
...(Y no un poeta pero) En la aula donde Antonio enseña cuelga retrato de Francisco José de Caldas:

Before dying Caldas wrote on the wall a large Greek letter θ, which has been interpreted as exclaiming "Oh larga y negra partida!"
(See Crónicas de Bogotá Segunda Edición Tomo III, Pedro M. Ibáñez)

posted afternoon of August 4th, 2013: 1 response


The tape Antonio listens to in the Casa de Poesía while Laverde is listening to his message, is a reading of one of José Asunción Silva's Nocturnes.

Una noche
Una noche toda llena de perfumes, de murmullos y de músicas de alas,

Una noche
En que ardían en la sombra nupcial y húmeda las luciérnagas fantásticas,
A mi lado lentamente, contra mí ceñida, toda,

Muda y pálida
Como si un presentimiento de amarguras infinitas,
Hasta el más secreto fondo de las fibras te agitara,
Por la senda florecida que atraviesa la llanura florecida


Y la luna llena
Por los cielos azulosos, infinitos y profundos esparcía su luz blanca,

Y tu sombra

Fina y lánguida,

Y mi sombra
Por los rayos de la luna proyectada
Sobre las arenas tristes
De la senda se juntaban

Y eran una

Y eran una
Y eran una sola sombra larga!
Y eran una sola sombra larga!
Y eran una sola sombra larga!

Esta noche

Solo, el alma
Llena de las infinitas amarguras y agonías de tu muerte,
Separado de ti misma, por la sombra, por el tiempo y la distancia,

Por el infinito negro

Donde nuestra voz no alcanza,

Solo y mudo

Por la senda caminaba,
Y se oían los ladridos de los perros a la luna,

A la luna pálida,

Y el chillido

De las ranas,
Sentí frío, era el frío que tenían en la alcoba
Tus mejillas y tus sienes y tus manos adoradas,

Entre las blancuras níveas

De las mortüorias sábanas!
Era el frío del sepulcro, era el frío de la muerte

Era el frío de la nada...

Y mi sombra
Por los rayos de la luna proyectada,

Iba sola,

Iba sola

¡Iba sola por la estepa solitaria!

Y tu sombra esbelta y ágil

Fina y lánguida,
Como en esa noche tibia de la muerta primavera,
Como en esa noche llena de murmullos de perfumes y de músicas de alas,

Se acercó y marchó con ella

Se acercó y marchó con ella,
Se acercó y marchó con ella... ¡Oh las sombras enlazadas!
¡Oh las sombras que se buscan en las noches de negruras y de lágrimas!...

posted morning of August 4th, 2013: Respond

Saturday, August third, 2013

The Sound of Things Falling

Oh boy!

—and in the rich neighborhoods of Bogotá people wore T-shirts saying Save The Hippos...

posted afternoon of August third, 2013: 1 response

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012


In the array of inexplicable matters which is the universe, which is time, a book's dedication is surely not the least arcane. It is presented as a gift, a boon. But excluding the case of the indifferent coin which Christian charity lets drop into the indigent's palm, every gift is in truth reciprocal. He who gives does not deprive himself of what is given. To give and to receive are identical.

Like every act in the universe, dedicating a book is a magic act. It could be considered as the most pleasant, the most fitting manner of giving voice to a name. And now I give voice to your name, María Kodama. So many mornings, so many oceans, so many gardens of the East and of the West, so many lines of Virgil.

Jorge Luís Borges
inscription to La cifra:
May 17, 1981

Juan Gabriel Vásquez' column from last week is fun: "About a Magic Act" is about dedications, spinning off from his dedication of The Secret History of Costaguana to his daughters, and the difficulty his various translators have had in rendering “que llegaron con su libro bajo el brazo” in their target languages -- apparently, so he learned, it is not the case in every language, that a baby can arrive with a loaf of bread under its arm (it looks at first glance like nacer con el pan debajo del brazo means roughly, "be born with a silver spoon in one's mouth") -- Anne McLean rendered it, "For Martina and Carlota, who brought their own book with them when they arrived." He looks at dedications from García Márquez, Juan Carlos Onetti, Camilo José Cela, Joyce, Hervé Guibert, Shakespeare, Borges... My own very rough translation of the Borges dedication Vásquez refers to is above.

posted evening of June 5th, 2012: 2 responses
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Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Silver, Nitrate, Shipping

"Very well," had said the considerable personage to whom Charles Gould on his way out through San Francisco had lucidly exposed his point of view. "Let us suppose that the mining affairs of Sulaco are taken in hand. There would be in it: first, the house of Holroyd, which is all right; then, Mr. Charles Gould, a citizen of Costaguana, who is also all right; and, lastly, the Government of the Republic. So far this resembles the first start of the Atacama nitrate fields, where there was a financing house, a gentleman of the name of Edwards, and -- a Government; or rather, two Governments -- two South American Governments. And you know what came of it. War came of it; devastating and prolonged war came of it, Mr. Gould."
Somehow I had gotten in mind from The Secret History of Costaguana, that Nostromo held specific allegoric reference to the building of the Panama Canal. That does not seem to be quite right... Certainly the story of the Canal is a relevant line of thought for approaching this book; and the Atacama, too -- nitrate was of huge importance when Conrad was writing this.

posted evening of May 29th, 2012: Respond
➳ More posts about Nostromo

Friday, May 18th, 2012

Sortes vergilianæ

The beauty of the Virgilian Lottery has little in common with Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky.”
My latest translation is up on The Utopian: Juan Gabriel Vásquez' column from two weeks ago, Reading Your Fortune. (Original Encontrar la suerte en los libros, at El Espectador.)

posted morning of May 18th, 2012: Respond
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Tuesday, March 20th, 2012


“War is hell,” said Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense in the Obama administration: he said it following the killing of 16 civilians, among them children, by a deranged sergeant in the Afghan province of Kandahar. This massacre unleashed on the world a series of images that one cannot look at without being reminded of similar massacres from the Vietnam War — for instance, My Lai.

-- "Shame", by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

The Utopian's blog publishes my translation of Vásquez' latest column for El Espectador: the original is "Los Avergonzados", from last Thursday.

On the subject of shameful killings: Founderstein's Michael Austin has exactly the right take on the killing of Treyvon Martin in Florida last month. (via Russell Arben Fox)

posted evening of March 20th, 2012: Respond
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Sunday, March 4th, 2012

The Platypus of Prose

In Juan Villoro's phrase, the column is the platypus of prose.

These approaches -- and more besides -- are outlined in Jaramillo's introduction: fifty pages determined, with the help of Norman Sims and of the columnists themselves, to bring the reader to the river where this platypus bathes.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez' column this week, La crónica, o cómo ponerle cercas al río, is sending me scrambling to look up references... Vásquez is here a columnist writing about understanding the genre of the column. Some of the references:

posted afternoon of March 4th, 2012: Respond

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