I really should hate this book. (if you are not interested in my philosophical thoughts about the art of story — and I certainly don’t blame you — the cat pictures start at the end of this book review. Feel free to skip ahead.)
But I love it.
Which is strange, considering that it’s written by my least favorite kind of author. (A guy with a beard).
And it’s translated from French. (Doesn’t matter. You can always still hear the French fondness for wind-baggery.)
And it’s about the most loathsome kind of travel. (It’s a stunt, in that the book describes a voyage on the autoroute from Paris to Marseilles that took 33 days because the travelers stopped at each and every rest stop, 65 in all, camping overnight in every other one. It was written in 1982 and just published in English in 2007.)
And the writer is actually South American. (Magical realism and a swarthy preoccupation with sex and bodies and manly things, and you can read the whole damn French book and never get any kind of impression about what it’s like to be in a damn French rest stop on the damn French autoroute, although you get quite a load of the author’s magical thinking and his swarthy preoccupation with sex and bodies and manly stuff.)
But I love it. And I’ve finished up my latest Commonplace Book with lots of copies of some of my favorite pages, which is why I keep a Commonplace Book in the first place. By copying out passages written in this florid, wifty, so-not-me style, I feel I get an inside-out look at the way this writer’s mind works. It loosens me up, ingrains a whole new pace of thought, word flow, and story-telling structure. Julio Cortazar is an extravagant writer, and he gives himself permission to fling images and associations and feelings in any direction, which is a bit of a thrill to witness especially since I do not have that same sense of freedom.
Because of the fluid nature of the narrative of this book I don’t have any firm concept of the journey itself, but I realized early on that if I was going to enjoy the ride I’d have to give up trying to make sense of this voyage as a linear trip from There to Here(a concession I never make easily). And the chapters (if I may be so bold to call the numerous intervals in the text “chapters”) had delightful headings.
Here’s a sample:
Where the Travelers Wonder if Absolute Solitude is Possible. Examples Proving It’s Not:
-Expected and Inevitable Visitors
-Conversation and gifts
Where the Reader Shall Agree That a Rose is a Rose is a Rose
Where Things Get Worse
Where Finally, And It Was About Time, We Speak of Trucks, Which Haven’t Stopped going By Since The Beginning, and Investigate Their Not Always Obvious Reasons for Being and for Being There
Where la Osita Speaks to El Lobo and It All Gets Said Forever
The Metamorphosis of Dreams on the Freeway
Now, bear with me, while I tell you the funniest part of this book, which gave me a real laugh out loud moment: as I noted, the book was originally written in French for a French-reading readership…by a Spanish-speaking Argentine fellow with a beard. So the joke is a bit complicated but here goes.
True story: There was a native Spainsh-speaking UNESCO interpreter translating some French windbag at some interminable UNESCO conference into Spanish. And the French windbag goes, “Comme disait feu le President Roosevelt, rien n’est a craindre hormisla crainte elle-meme.”
Yes, all us Americans can probably already guess what the French windbag was saying. He said, “As the late President Roosevelt said, we’ve nothing to fear but fear itself.”
However, the poor Spanish translator, probably numbed by the Mistral that was coming from the French windbag, had a lapse. When he translated those august words of our revered 32rd President, he said: Como decia con ardor el presidente Roosevelt, el miedo a las hormigaslo crean ellas mismas.”
[Note that I've put the two crucial words, hormis and hormigas, in bold. They sound alike, but mean vastly different things in French and Spanish. Because:]
This is actually what the Spanish translator said: As President Roosevelt so ardently said, the fear of ants is created by ants themselves.”
This is what I think is funny. So funny that I’m laughing even as I type this, and I’ve thought of this hormis/hormigas tale over and over for the past two weeks.
So here’s the cat picture:
For those of you have inquired about the renegade Bibs, I want you to know that his head is healing up fine (and I was sure he’d be bald the rest of his life — that was a really nasty head wound) and here his is, in the brief instance of sunshine that we’ve had this past week, lunging in his bachelor pad (the hutch in the backyard):
And do you all remember when I told you all The Truth About Publishing, Pat Two (blog post Feb. 21, 2011) in which I showed you this piece of public art at Madison Square Park in Manhattan:
which is made of light bulbs:
Remember? Well today is your lucky day, faithful blog readers. Because faithful blog reader Melinda happened to be in Madison Square Park a week after I took these pictures and took this picture on the pen-ultimate night of this installation:
Everybody say Ahhhhhhhhh.
(Did you laugh out loud at the French/Spanish ants story? Have you laughed out loud lately? Please share — we all need a laugh today.)