What effect has ‘the silent pain of the species’ in Silvio’s soul?
This was the question that I had to write a short essay about in a Spanish literature and conversation class a few months ago. I attended the class in the Cervantes Institute in London because I knew that my fluency in Spanish left much to be desired and because I like literature, obviously. I had imagined that in class I’d have the opportunity to speak about Hispanic authors and that I would have to read some books at home so that we could discuss them in class afterwards.
¿Qué efecto tiene en el alma de Silvio «el silencioso dolor de la especie»?
Esta era la pregunta sobre la que tuve que escribir un pequeño ensayo para una clase de literatura y conversación española hace unos meses. Asistí en la clase en el Instituto Cervantes de Londres porque sabía que me falta mucho la habilidad de hablar con fluidez y porque me gusta la literature, claro. Había imaginado que en clase tendría la oportunidad de hablar de autores hispánicos, y tendría que leer unos libros en casa para que podríamos discutir sobre ellos en clase.
When I picked up El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha by Cervantes last week and opened it on the first page (okay, in my edition that would be page 113), and read,
En un lugar de la Mancha,
de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo…
In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind, there lived not long since one of those gentlemen…
…I felt the heady effect of a sudden shift in time and space: all at once I was somewhere in La Mancha, under a harsh sun, confronting whitewashed windmills.
(Cervantes once looked at these.)
—¿Qué gigantes?—dijo Sancho Panza.
—Aquellos que allí ves —respondió su amo— de los brazos largos, que los suelen tener algunos de casi dos leguas.
—Mire vuestra merced —respondió Sancho— que aquellos que allí se parecen no son gigantes, sino molinos de viento…
“What giants?” said Sancho Panza.
“Those thou seest there,” answered his master, “with the long arms, and some have them nearly two leagues long.”
“Look, your worship,” said Sancho; “what we see there are not giants but windmills…
It is not often that you pick up a book – no matter how old, how famous – and you’re transported with such urgency before you even finished reading the first half sentence. But the unassuming En un lugar de la Mancha… must be the most well-known and memorable first line in Spanish-language literature – ever.
Somehow it doesn’t quite work the same way in other languages.
Two years ago I read No One Writes to the Colonel (El coronel no tiene quien le escriba) by Gabriel García Márquez on the train en route for a day’s hiking. (It was just the right length.) Yesterday it was the first genuinely nice day of the year, so we went hiking; and I re-read No One Writes to the Colonel on the train.
I mean the first time round I thought it was brilliant and my Spanish is two years better now.
A cross to keep away the ghosts from Gibbets Hill
View from Gibbets Hill
The Devil’s Punch Bowl
St Bartholomew’s Church
(The day’s hiking wasn’t bad either.)
There’s only one problem with No One Writes to the Colonel: I feel completely discouraged from picking up any of García Márquez’s other books ever again: there’s no way he could have surpassed this one.
In a city under siege, the bodies of gruesomely murdered young women begin to appear. And at every spot where the police finds a corpse, a bomb has fallen. Is there a connection?
This is the (brutally simplified) premise of The Siege, a historical novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. A novel set in Cádiz during the French siege in 1811 and 1812, in the era of the Napoleonic Wars, two years during what the Spanish call the War of Independence.
En una ciudad bajo sitio aparecen cadáveres de jovencitas asesinadas en una manera horripilante. Y en cada lugar en que el policía encuentra un cadáver, ha caído una bomba. ¿Hay alguna conexión?
Eso es la premisa (simplificada de manera brutal) de El Asedio, una novela histórica por Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Una novela ambientada en Cádiz durante el asedio francés en los años 1811 y 1812, la era de la Guerra de la Independencia.
Hay libros de los que no hay nada que escribir porque todo se ha dicho ya. Y hay otros de los que no hay nada que escribir porque lo único que puedes hacer es citarlos. Impresiones y paisajes por Federico García Lorca es uno de esos últimos.
La noche tiene brillantez mágica de sonidos desde este torreón. Si hay luna, es un marco vago de sensualidad abismática lo que invade los acordes. Si no hay luna…, es una melodía fantástica y única lo que canta el río…, pero la modulación original y sentida en que el color revela las expresiones musicales más perdidas y esfumadas, es el crepúsculo… Ya se ha estado preparando el ambiente desde que la tarde media. Las sombras han ido cubriendo la hoguera alhambrina… La vega está aplanada y silenciosa. El sol se oculta y del monte nacen cascadas infinitas de colores musicales que se precipitan aterciopeladamente sobre la ciudad y la sierra y se funde el color musical con las ondas sonoras… Todo suena a melodía, a tristeza antigua, a llanto.
I was at work – and I was angry. Somebody else c**ked up hugely, I was left to cope with the fallout and it was just all getting too much.
We all have days like that of course. Some people get so angry on such days that they end sticking the kitchen knife into the person responsible for their misery. (If you ever feel this way inclined, you’d better avoid taking a job in a kitchen – you’ll do much better in life.) I do stop short of knifing incompetent idiots at work but I was very angry so to take my mind of it I went to fetch a glass of water and sneaked a look at the next Everyday Inspiration prompt on my phone. It was, “Let the Scene Write Itself”.
How opportune when I’ve just read a book titled A Day of Anger.
When I travel anywhere I like to take a book that relates to the place I’m visiting. It’s usually a novel set there or a book on the history of the place – or more likely, one of each. Walking down Milsom Street in Bath after you read Persuasion becomes that just a little bit more special. The Torre de Oro in Sevilla seems far more impressive when you know its history. And so, planning to visit Venice soon, I recently embarked on re-reading the Alatriste series of Arturo Pérez-Reverte because Book VII, The Bridge of Assassins, is set in Venice. Those famous churches, bridges and canals will acquire a certain sinister significance when viewed through the eyes of the would be assassins of the Doge.
As soon as the old woman entered the miserable hut, Lituma knew what she was going to say. And sure enough, she says it, although Lituma can’t understand a word because she’s speaking in Quechua. But even while he waits for his adjutant, Tomás Carreño to translate, he knows what’s being said: that a third man has gone missing from the village – if you can designate the place as such – of Naccos.
I finished reading Of Love and Shadows by Isabel Allende. It felt not one book but two (plus a dictionary of synonyms). A perfectly good love story which unfortunately isn’t the sort of story I particularly care for: “Of Love…” And the perfectly good story of life under military dictatorship: “…and Shadows“. The title should have been my clue! The best story in the book, that of the Leal family escaping one military dictatorship only to end up in another and then having to escape back, got a bit lost in it; to me it would have merited a book on its own. Continue reading “Of Love and Military Dictatorship”→
I bought the book El coronel no tiene quien le escriba (No One Writes to the Colonel) a few months ago for the unconvincing reason that the title put me in mind of my father (it’s lucky he doesn’t read English so he can’t take offence). That, and because I had liked Relato de un naufrágo (The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor) which I read the month before. So I bought El coronel and then kept on not reading it, thinking it was just the right size to take on holiday in October. In the end I couldn’t stand it any longer and took it with me for the train on the day when we went walking on the South Downs’ Way. Just as well, because I finished it that very night, so it would have left me rather short of reading material during the holiday.