Editor`s Note - PEN International

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Editor`s Note - PEN International
WORDS ... ABOUT PEN INTERNATIONAL
About PEN International
Published biannually, PEN International presents the work of contemporary writers from
around the world in English, French and Spanish. Founded in 1950, it was relaunched in
2007 with the express goal of introducing the work of new and established writers to each
other and to readers everywhere. Contributors have included Adonis, Margaret Atwood,
Nawal El Saadawi, Nadine Gordimer, Günter Grass, Han Suyin, Chenjerai Hove, Alberto
Manguel, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Moniro Ravanipour, Salman Rushdie, Wole Soyinka and
many others. PEN International is the magazine of the worldwide writers’ association,
International PEN. For more information about our work, and for submission guidelines
to the magazine, visit www.internationalpen.org.uk.
À propos de PEN International
Le magazine PEN International paraît deux fois par an. Il présente des œuvres d’écrivains
contemporains du monde entier, en anglais, en français et en espagnol. Fondé en 1950, il
a été relancé en 2007 avec pour but exprès de présenter les œuvres d’écrivains débutants
aux écrivains établis, et vice versa, ainsi qu’aux lecteurs du monde entier. Il a recueilli la
contribution d’Adonis, de Margaret Atwood, de Nawal El Saadawi, de Nadine Gordimer, de
Günter Grass, de Han Suyin, de Chenjerai Hove, d’Alberto Manguel, de Ngugi wa Thiong’o,
de Moniro Ravanipour, de Salman Rushdie, de Wole Soyinka et de nombre d’autres. PEN
International est le magazine de l’association internationale d’écrivains, PEN International.
Pour plus d’informations sur notre travail, et pour prendre connaissance des conditions de
soumission de contributions au magazine, rendez-vous sur www.internationalpen.org.uk.
Acerca de PEN International
PEN International es una publicación semestral que presenta el trabajo de escritores
contemporáneos de todo el mundo en inglés, francés y español. Esta publicación nació
en 1950 y ha sido relanzada en 2007 con el objetivo de presentar el trabajo de escritores
reconocidos y noveles a otros escritores y lectores de todo el mundo. Hasta ahora hemos
recibido aportaciones de Adonis, Margaret Atwood, Nawal El Saadawi, Nadine Gordimer,
Günter Grass, Han Suyin, Chenjerai Hove, Alberto Manguel, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Moniro
Ravanipour, Salman Rushdie y Wole Soyinka, entre otros. PEN International es la revista
de la asociación internacional de escritores, PEN Internacional. Para obtener más
información sobre nuestro trabajo y sobre cómo hacer aportaciones a la revista,
visite www.internationalpen.org.uk.
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WORDS ... CONTENTS
Contents
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EDITOR’S NOTE
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COMMEMORATION:
WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
Ed Sowerby 1971:: Nguyên Chí Thiên
POÈMES DE PROSE
Sylvestre Clancier Histoire de fouilles / Histoires de fous / Histoires
de maux / Histoires de mots
POEM
Sujata Bhatt Truth Is Mute
CONMEMORACIÓN:
COMITÉ DE ESCRITORES EN PRISIÓN: 50.º ANIVERSARIO
Jamie Jauncey 1972: Xosé Luís Méndez Ferrín
STORY
Pauline Melville Is This Platform Four, Madam? Is It?
ESSAI
Patrice Nganang La Mort de la littérature francophone
POEM
Olive Senior Her Granddaughter Learns the Alphabet
EXTRACTO
Donato Ndongo-Bidyogo Los Hijos de la tribu
STORY
Esther Heboyan Picture Bride
COMMEMORATION:
WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
Tamara O’Brien 1986: Adam Michnik
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BLOOMBERG FOUND IN TRANSLATION / DÉCOUVERT
EN TRADUCTION / DESCUBIERTO EN TRADUCCIÓN
CONTE
S. Y. Agnon Les Bougies
Traduit de l’hébreu par Rita Sabah
EXTRACTO
Susana Medina Juguetes filosóficos
Traducido del inglés por la autora
POEMA
Victor Terán Luna
Traducido del zapoteco por el autor
50 Years, 50 Cases
WORDS ... CONTENTS
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COMMEMORATION:
WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
Matt Turner 1990: Aung San Suu Kyi
EXCERPT
Casey Merkin The Crimes of Paris
CUENTA
Sara Caba Le Temo
POEM
Anzhelina Polonskaya Two Birds
POÈME
Larissa Miller Intitulée
GRAPHIC ESSAY
Amruta Patil Seated Scribe
COMMEMORATION:
WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
Nick Parker 1997: Faraj Sarkoohi
POÈME
Abdelmajid Benjelloun Les Yeux de Pessoa
POEM
John Mateer Pessanha’s House, Lisbon
RECOLLECTION
Walerian Domanski Smoke Factories
CONTRIBUTORS
Back cover:
COMMEMORATION:
WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
Elise Valmorbida 2010: the Unknown Writer
Musine Kokalari
1960
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WORDS ... EDITOR’S NOTE
Editor’s Note
TROILUS:
Words, words, mere words, no matter from the heart:
The effect doth operate another way.
Troilus and Cressida, Act V, Sc. III
Welcome to the 2010 spring/summer issue, which shares its theme with International
PEN’s Free the Word! festivals in Linz, Austria (October 2009) and London (April 2010),
playing on Troilus’s cynical dismissal of his errant lover’s letter in Shakespeare’s
tragedy. Free the Word! London gathered dozens of writers from as many countries,
and here we present works by many festival participants including Sujata Bhatt,
James Kelman, John Mateer, Pauline Melville, Donato Ndongo-Bidyogo, Amruta Patil,
Nawal El Saadawi, Olive Senior and Michela Wrong. The festival’s inaugural event,
a discussion about the re-shaping of English to express different cultural identities,
is transcribed on page 71.
Elsewhere, Kelman gives us the music of Glaswegian Scots through a conflicted
pub-goer; one of Melville’s mysterious Gypsies obsesses over his final destination;
Patil reflects on the proliferation of ‘scribes’; Senior experiences language as legacy;
Walerian Domanski recalls a Stalinist fiction made policy; Lucio Lami remembers a
haunting cry from a war zone; Susana Medina’s sculptress discovers el placer complejo
del lenguaje; Patrice Nganang pronounces francophone literature ‘dead’; Rafik Schami
chronicles the history of Arabic script; and Christopher L. Silzer learns his true name.
This issue also commemorates fifty years of International PEN’s Writers in Prison
Committee (WiPC), which has campaigned tirelessly on behalf of endangered
minds, voices and words the world over. International PEN and the WiPC have
launched ‘Because Writers Speak Their Minds’, a yearlong campaign of anniversary
events, writing, petitions, special projects, case studies and much more (visit
www.internationalpen.org.uk for details).
Marking the occasion in these pages, we present six poems from 26:50, a creative
collaboration between the WiPC and the writers’ association 26, conceived in
conjunction with the WiPC’s own selection of fifty emblematic cases to illustrate the
sad continuum of oppression as well as happy instances of reinstatement in cultural
life.
Words, words, nothing but … words? Indeed. Nothing but words, and the whole of life
expressed though them: we hope you enjoy this issue, dedicated to the possibilities
and limitations of language, and to the men and women shut up for exploring them.
Mitchell Albert, Editor
[email protected]
WiPC
50 Years, 50 Cases
WORDS ... WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
Ed Sowerby
1971: Nguyên Chí Thiên
It took me eight minutes to learn fifty words by heart last night.
You didn’t remember fifty, you remembered five hundred.
And not words, whole poems. Paperless poems.
Stories from the Steel Trap.
Forty years later it’s others who memorise them.
Shows it’s not the ink that makes a writer.
Poet Nguyên Chí Thiên
. was detained repeatedly by the Vietnamese
authorities for his writings and for ‘spreading propaganda’.
He spent a total of twenty-seven years in prison, and was released
in 1991. He lives in the US. See: ‘Because Writers Speak Their Minds’,
the fiftieth-anniversary campaign of International PEN’s Writers in
Prison Committee; www.internationalpen.org.uk and http://2650.tumblr.com.
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DES PAROLES ... SYLVESTRE CLANCIER
Sylvestre Clancier
Histoire de fouilles / Histoires
de fous / Histoires de maux /
Histoires de mots
I. Ethnologie
Il avait une verrue banale au bout du pied, à chaque pas pesant
des racines de Kwayanupik écorchaient sa verrue ; n’en pouvant
plus, il demanda à son porteur Kornu de la tribu des Tarézons de
lui faire un pansement. Ce dernier lui dit de s’asseoir au pied
d’un grand Kanayou (lat : Quercus rosandus) et de l’attendre là.
Quelques instants plus tard, le porteur revint en compagnie
de deux guerriers de la tribu des Phrypouyes qui tenaient dans
leurs bras des herbes Katayules (hypotheticae) des tiges de
«Saxhos» (instrumenti musicae), des cheveux d’hommes dingos
(delirio trementes) et des écailles de Krokos (reptili magni).
L’un des guerriers s’adressa à notre héros en ces termes :
« Ya – veve – rhuorhi, /yin – halo – boudhu, /dwa – acha –
Kemhou, /wen – hanyeme – fezebo, /bhonan – pou – vhanpu,
/yedemenh – daha – mopa, /pakre – pudelhatri, /bhude – tatre,
/thordem – pherinbend, /dhaj – dhouye, /konetha – pehne –
yeta, /porth – inpend, /zemanh. »
Hélas, le porteur Kornu de la tribu des Tarézons ne connaissait
pas la langue Phrypouye.
Notre héros se mit à pleurer, les deux guerriers s’enfuirent en
criant.
II. Géologie
« Ferrugineux est le métal, diamantaire est le charbon » se dit un
jour, saisi d’une illumination soudaine, Narcisse Bougie. « Mais
alors, allons-y, devenons riches ! » s’écria-t-il.
Sans même s’en douter, il renouvela sur-champ une expérience
historique. Tel Bernard Palissy il jeta ses meubles au feu, dans un
but cependant différent puisqu’à vrai dire il n’en avait pas : sa
seule motivation étant la certitude de s’enrichir.
Il commanda ensuite un amas de charbon, il choisit
l’anthracite pour son haut degré de parenté avec le diamant.
WiPC
50 Years, 50 Cases
DES PAROLES ... SYLVESTRE CLANCIER
Il le fit entreposer dans sa maison, n’épargnant qu’un étroit réduit
d’où, se nourrissant de pain et d’eau, il pourrait le contempler à loisir.
Il savait que la recherche de l’or en pierre, à partir de certains
principes philosophales, avait en vain préoccupé avant lui bon nombre
d’honnêtes gens ; mais, sachant que le diamant était incomparable,
il n’avait pas la moindre idée d’échec.
Ses connaissances géologiques lui disaient qu’en plusieurs
millénaires le charbon se changeait en diamant. Aussi, frénétiquement
enthousiaste, il se mit à observer jour et nuit la lente évolution de
son stock. Armé d’une loupe, il inspectait avec minutie les moindres
fissures de chacun des boulets dans l’espoir d’y déceler un éclat plus
intense.
Son espoir était si ardent qu’il ne vit point le temps passer : le poids
des ans ne pesa point sur ses épaules.
Un matin, ou plutôt on ne sait quand, ses yeux se firent diamants :
le charbon resplendissait. Il ouvrit sa fenêtre : le monde n’existait plus.
Il faisait froid, une immense épaisseur de glace entourait sa maison.
Il ne put enflammer ses diamants, et mourut bien avant qu’ils ne
redeviennent charbons ardents.
III. Métallurgie
Les galeries s’emplissent du bruit de ses pas, les portes claquent, les
murs résonnent et renvoient sa voix. Oui, Mr Peter Schönhold a la
vulgaire manie d’inspecter tous les jours sa maison de retraite.
Sous ses pieds crissent des graviers d’argent et vole une poussière
d’or. En effet, Mr Peter, roi de l’acier suédois, eut l’idée voici quelques
années de parer sa demeure de divers métaux rares. Un jour, il aime
surveiller son jardinier taillant quelques haies de cobalt ; un autre, il
ordonne à ses gens d’orner de pommes d’or ses compotiers d’ivoire,
puis il s’en va allègrement pousser sa tondeuse chimique sur son gazon
d’airain. Mais aujourd’hui, après une courte promenade, Mr Peter s’en
va s’asseoir sur son fauteuil cuivré. De là, il s’attarde à contempler la
massive statue d’argent allégorie du Temps qu’il a fait ériger au nom
de la devise.
Par la porte restée entrellée, notre roi de l’acier perçoit soudain
des voix. Prêtant l’oreille, il entend de méchantes paroles :
« Le Schönhold, c’est une vraie tête de bois.
– Oui, c’est même un vrai cœur de pierre.
– Tu as raison, et nos malheurs ne sont pas près de finir, car le
bonhomme a une santé de fer. »
Alors, le roi de l’acier suédois se tord de douleur sur son fauteuil
cuivré.
Toute une vie perdue : il s’en rend compte maintenant. Que lui
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importe que le Temps soit de l’argent, puisqu’il lui faut apprendre de
la bouche de ses gens que lui-même, pauvre être misérable à la santé
de fer, n’est rien qu’une tête de bois et un vrai cœur de pierre.
Il s’est levé, est allé au jardin pour congédier son jardinier et lui donner
ses pommes d’or. Puis il est rentré, a fermé ses volets et, se fiant au
conseil de ses gens, est allé se coucher. Ainsi, ayant en peu de temps
perdu son argent, sa tête de bois, son cœur de pierre, Mr Schönhold a
sans plus attendre mis au clou sa santé de fer : on l’a trouvé mort le
lendemain. Son modeste enterrement s’est passé sans histoire ; le jour
suivant, Schönhold, le roi de l’acier, était oublié.
Aujourd’hui, si lors d’un voyage en Suède, on fait un détour par la
ville de Hockmarhaüsen, on peut voir dans un coin du cimetière une
tombe abandonnée sur laquelle sont gravés ces mots :
« Ci-gît Mr Peter Schönhold
Il avait un cœur d’or. »
WiPC
50 Years, 50 Cases
WORDS ... SUJATA BHATT
Sujata Bhatt
Truth Is Mute
Truth is mute, she says,
but you need words to find it.
A bull’s head in water, a mermaid’s split tail –
centuries in silt, and the words that came down to us:
a blue spell of longing, now translucent on paper.
Is filigrane the sound you want
or is it watermark?
How many dictionaries
do you need for the words you seek?
Remember, she says,
instinct is wordless
even as it lives within words.
Remember, she says,
love will be silent with love.
Mother tongue, father tongue –
when the child started to speak
she used all her words at once,
at once in a rush: pani, water, Wasser.
When the child started to speak
she meant fish and Fisch.
How many languages must you learn
before you can understand your own?
When she lived on a mountain
amongst people whose language
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she did not know, her own language turned
into a festival of fruits, and a festival of birds.
When she lived on a mountain
oxygen-deprived, near ice-covered rocks,
she only dreamt of the sea
night after night – algae and seaweed.
Will oxygen determine the meaning of your words?
Remember, she says,
love will be silent with salt.
Remember, she says,
truth is mute, and love will be silent.
WiPC
50 Years, 50 Cases
PALABRAS ... COMITÉ DE ESCRITORES EN PRISIÓN: 50.o ANIVERSARIO
COMITÉ DE ESCRITORES EN PRISIÓN: 50.o ANIVERSARIO
Jamie Jauncey
1972: Xosé Luís Méndez Ferrín
El general y tú
compartíais un derecho
Ese torpe bastardo
boca llena de astillas
la lengua maternal
Mas cuando le puso
su bota encima
olvidó que los clavos
en el régimen de prisión
afilan la Resistencia
aguzan el desprecio
Mientras que la verdad
como la saliva o la sangre
se abre camino
cuando hasta las lenguas están atadas
Traducido del inglés por Franco Pesce
Poeta, novelista, ensayista y profesor, Xosé Luís Méndez Ferrín
estuvo en prisión bajo los regímenes de Franco y Suárez, en España,
por la producción de ‘propaganda’ y por su actividad política.
Fue liberado en 1980 y hoy vive y trabaja en España. Véase: ‘Porque
los escritores dicen lo que piensan’, la campaña del quincuagésimo
aniversario del Comité de Escritores en Prisión de PEN Internacional;
www.internationalpen.org.uk, y también http://26-50.tumblr.com.
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WORDS ... PAULINE MELVILLE
Pauline Melville
Is This Platform Four, Madam?
Is It?
The taller of the two men was clearly agitated. He was in his twenties with a pale,
oval face and dark glasses. His light stone-coloured mackintosh flared out slightly
as he turned on his heel this way and that. Next to him stood a man wearing a
light tweed jacket who might have been his father. The two men waited together
on the concourse of Newcastle station. The station had recently been modernised.
In an attempt to leave the Victorian era behind and enter the modern world it had
been painted in bright nursery colours. Blue scaffolding enclosed the kiosks. Red
tubular railings ran along the pedestrian bridge linking the other platforms.
But the huge black overarching iron structures that supported the roof echoed
the cat’s cradle of iron bridges over the Tyne and managed to hold the station in
the grip of the city’s industrial past, open to the gritty airiness and invigorating
breezes of the north. The older man’s white hair blew about in unruly wisps. There
was something bucolic about him. He was portly, red-faced and moustachioed.
The tweed jacket gave him the appearance of an English country squire. His
feet were planted apart firmly on the ground. It was clear by his faint swaying
backwards and forwards that he had been drinking. Beyond him a glinting skein
of railway lines stretched away into the distance.
The station was full of early evening summer light. Passengers had started to
gather in anticipation of the London train. The younger of the two men approached
a middle-aged woman who was sitting on a bench with her brown bag pinioned
between her feet.
‘Is this platform four, madam? Is it? Is it?’
There was a hint of menace in the polite insistence of his questioning.
The woman looked up to check the sign on the platform. The sign, directly
overhead, said PLATFORM 4 in large letters.
‘Yes. This is platform four.’
‘Are you sure?’ He hovered in front of her, shifting from one foot to the other.
‘Yes.’ She pointed to the sign.
‘Good,’ he said. Without looking to where she was pointing, he turned away
again. To the woman’s obvious surprise, she saw him approach someone else on
the platform.
‘Excuse me, sir, is this platform four?’ He asked the same question of the smartly
dressed business man who stood nearby. Having reassured himself that this was
indeed platform four, he returned to stand by the older man.
The older man, oblivious to the comings and goings of his companion, readjusted his stance, once more setting his feet apart in the manner of a landlubber
trying to catch his balance at sea He swayed forwards, corrected himself against
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50 Years, 50 Cases
WORDS ... PAULINE MELVILLE
the pull of gravity, found the upright position, placed one hand on his chest and
began to sing. His voice was light and melodious:
In summertime when flow’rs do spring
and birds sit on each tree,
let lords and knights say what they will,
there’s none so merry as we.
Other waiting passengers looked away. The songster seemed to have stepped out
of a different period of history. When he had finished singing he looked around and
said, in a melancholy tone, to no one in particular:
‘Have you been to Milton Keynes? There’s nothing there.’ He paused. ‘Nothing
there,’ he repeated, and heaved a great sigh, staring into the middle distance.
The son, in contrast to the father’s relaxed manner, appeared precise, fastidious and
nervous. There was something mocking in the expression on his pale face as he
looked around the station. He waited for a minute or two before accosting another
passerby:
‘Excuse me, sir. Is the next train going to Doncaster? Is it the six-forty-five? Is it?’
The passerby glanced at his watch and nodded. There was no mistaking the relief
and intense satisfaction on the young man’s face as he acknowledged the gestured
response: ‘It is. Good.’
After a while the train that had been waiting in the distance began to snake its
way slowly along to platform four. The woman on the bench stood up. Passengers
drifted towards the edge of the platform. The young man turned and saw the
approaching train, which caused a fluster of movement on his part, first toward the
train; but then he swung suddenly away, and addressed a girl with spiky Mohican
hair who was trying to fold up a buggy and at the same time keep an eye on her
toddler:
‘Is this the train going to Doncaster?’
What had seemed from far away to be a toy metamorphosed into a huge
train with buffet cars and dining cars gliding slowly towards them, rumbling and
creaking as it came to a halt.
‘Yes. This is it.’ She smiled and indicated the departures board, which stated
clearly that the London train left at six-forty-five from platform four and would
stop at Doncaster. ‘Look, see up there.’ But the young man was already quickening
his pace to a loping run as he made his way back to his father.
‘This is it. Quick,’ he said to his father with some urgency. ‘Everyone has said
that this is it. They all say so. I have made several checks. The word is out that this is
the right train.’ The father took his time ambling down the platform, a can of lager
grasped in his hand. The son walked next to him, casting sharp anxious glances
into the empty carriages. Hobbling behind them came the middle-aged woman
whom the son had first addressed on the bench.
The two men boarded the train and made their way down the centre aisle.
They settled down opposite each other across one of the Formica-topped tables in
the bleakly lit compartment. The woman was following them. She struggled to lift
her bag into the overhead rack, then sat down heavily across the gangway from the
pair. A handful of other passengers occupied the surrounding seats. The son could
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not resist turning to ask one of them:
‘Is this platform four?’ He received an affirmative grunt. The father scrunched
up his empty can of lager, stuffed it down the side of his seat and pulled another
can from his pocket, opening it with a fizzing spurt. As the train set off the younger
man leaned towards the woman across the aisle:
‘What time does the train reach Doncaster?’ he asked.
‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘But it’s after York.’
‘After York?’ He sounded suspicious. His forehead wrinkled into a frown.
The dark glasses looked at her with blank threats.
‘Yes. Doncaster is after York,’ she added with a friendly smile.
‘After York? Are you sure? Is it? Is it? I get confused. I’d hate to be wrong.’
He suddenly seemed struck with heart-rending anxiety.
‘We’re Gypsies.’ The older man leaned towards the woman, addressing her
with an expansive air of intimacy and wreathing her with beer fumes: ‘We’re
going to Doncaster. There’ll be plenty of Gypsies there tonight. The king is buried
there. With his cat.’ He gazed down at the plain tabletop and shook his head with
concern:
‘Although the cat hops out sometimes.’ He looked up at her again with mischief
in his eyes. ‘Yes. We’re on the Donny. We’re on the Donny tonight. We’ve come from
Edinburgh. Bathgate. There will be plenty of us at the gathering tonight, coming
from all over the country. We’ll pour ale on the grave. And have a big party. A great
shindig. That is what we do.’
The son was sitting up straight and staring ahead. The seat back caused a tuft
of his hair to stand up on the back of his head.
‘Yes.’ The older man rubbed his hands together with relish. ‘We’ll have a good
time tonight. Everyone will be in Doncaster tonight. It’ll be cushty.’
The train plunged into a tunnel with a screaming hoot, and the lights in the
compartment dimmed. He leaned forward:
‘It’ll be cushty. Cushty.’
The woman’s interest was aroused. She was left with the impression that
travellers were making their way from all over the country through the dark night
on their way to this secret gathering in Doncaster. Suddenly she wanted to join
them.
‘Where will you stay?’ she asked, curious.
The father’s reply was immediately evasive. ‘Oh I dunno. In a pub, perhaps.
Someone will put us up. We will stay somewhere. That’s for certain.’
‘We will not be staying nowhere,’ added the son in a tone that sounded oddly
supercilious. Suddenly he leaned towards her and announced in a confidential
undertone:
‘I’m going to marry and settle down one day.’
‘How many children will you have?’ she asked, smiling.
‘One or two – if the wife will let me.’ He slumped back suddenly into his seat
and looked wistful as he stared out the window at the darkening landscape.
The red-faced father gazed ahead in a bucolic haze and took another sip of lager.
He addressed his remarks to the whole carriage:
‘My wife is buried in Lincolnshire. On the way back we shall make a detour to
Newton by Toft. That is near Market Rasen. Her name was Rosemarie. I want to put
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50 Years, 50 Cases
WORDS ... PAULINE MELVILLE
flowers on her grave. Hollyhocks, I think. She liked those. And lupins. Ah, now there
it is beautiful. There is nothing in Milton Keynes.’ He started to sing a song about
the River Afton in a tuneful voice as the train rumbled along. Then he stumbled
over the words of the song, whistled for a bit, took a swig of lager from his can and
picked up the thread:
‘Oh, wild whistling blackbirds …’
He lapsed into silence, moving from side to side with the motion of the train.
Outside the night grew dark. The lighted train moved through the countryside.
The train stopped at York station which caused a flurry of questions from the
young man to ensure that it was not Doncaster. As the train set off again people
returned from the buffet car, clutching polystyrene boxes of food as they tried to
retain their balance and slopping hot coffees from plastic cartons. The carriage
filled with the aroma of lukewarm chips.
The train pulled into Doncaster.
‘This is Doncaster, I think,’ said the woman, cupping her hand over her eyes
and resting her forehead against the window as she tried to see out into the
darkness. The name of the station was flashing past. ‘Can you see the signs?’
she asked. ‘The train is pulling in too fast for me to read them properly.’
‘We don’t read signs, madam,’ said the son haughtily as he looked around him
for someone else to ask whether or not the train had arrived in Doncaster.
‘We don’t read at all. We can’t read,’ added his father sagely and with
satisfaction, as though they were the wiser for it. ‘It was offered to us, but we
turned it down.’ He whistled a soft tune under his breath as he got up from his
seat. ‘We don’t need to read words while we’ve got tongues in our throats. All those
squiggles and marks that are supposed to be words. We don’t need them. We can
listen. We have tongues. We hold things in our heads. And besides, we have our
own signs.’ He put his finger to the side of his nose and winked.
The son turned to the woman in the seat behind him:
‘Is this Doncaster, madam? Are you sure? Is it? It is. Good.’
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DES PAROLES ... PATRICE NGANANG
Patrice Nganang
La mort de la littérature
francophone
La tragédie des peuples dominés est qu’ils doivent en des intervalles réguliers
répéter les étapes de leur domination. Cette répétition c’est l’histoire de leur
littérature quand celle-ci est inféodée à leur histoire politique: ainsi une génération
qui aux cris de « retour aux sources! » découvre les valeurs de son moi racial est
succédée par une autre qui, elle, se dissout dans l’universel en une aventure où
chacun tragiquement croit avoir raison. A ce même moment s’entend le cri de
‘retour aux sources!’ d’une nouvelle génération qui elle aussi croit innover en
remplaçant race par nation, et qui va être dépassée par une autre qui découvre
soudain les limbes du cosmopolitisme. Comme si ceux-là qui ne juraient que par
la race n’étaient pas des cosmopolites! Tragique est cette aventure, pas seulement
à cause du piétinement de l’esprit qu’elle comporte, mais surtout à cause du
circulus vitiosus dans lequel elle enferme l’intelligence de nombreuses générations.
L’histoire de la littérature africaine d’expression française est marquée au signe de
cette cyclique répétition, écrite qu’elle est sous ce double leitmotiv, d’abord racial
et puis national, qui l’un comme l’autre ouvrent sur leur propre sabordement. Le
premier leitmotiv, son histoire est d’accord là-dessus, invente en 1939 le mot pour
se désigner dans le Cahier d’un retour au pays natal d’Aimé Césaire, la négritude, en
plein cœur de l’expérience coloniale et au début d’une mortelle guerre mondiale,
et découvre son espace d’expression en 1948 dans l’Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie
nègre et malgache publiée par Léopold Sédar Senghor. L’Anthologie était une œuvre
de circonstance, qui réunissait surtout des intellectuels francophones basés à Paris,
on le sait ; mais elle était aussi une volonté d’inscription des mots de ces écrivains
africains dans l’histoire générale des peuples noirs, un enracinement donc, 1848
étant la date de l’abolition de l’esclavage dans l’espace français. « Schoelcher
s’élevait avec fougue », tels sont d’ailleurs les premiers mots de ce livre devenu
classique, « contre le préjugé qui attribuait aux noirs une ‘incapacité cérébrale’
et proclamait ‘que la prétendue pauvreté intellectuelle des nègres est une erreur
crée, entretenue, perpétrée par l’esclavage. » Victor Schoelcher, cet abolitionniste
à qui Aimé Césaire consacrera bientôt un livre. Dire qu’il s’agissait de la prise de
parole de l’affranchi, c’est souligner une évidence; mais croire qu’ainsi la littérature
arrachait un peuple au paradigme de sa domination, c’est dire un leurre dont les
écrivains d’Afrique ne sont pas encore sortis.
S’il est inutile donc de signaler que Senghor, Césaire et Damas, le masculin
triumvirat de la négritude, avait conscience de commencer l’histoire intellectuelle
africaine contemporaine sur un nouveau pied; et c’est-à-dire surtout de cirer les
chaussures de ce pied-là au noir, l’histoire de la littérature des peuples d’Afrique
nous a enseigné entretemps, elle, que dans les sifflotements de leur entrain
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poétique, ils répétaient l’écho d’une voix qui avait été entendue au début du siècle,
au cœur de l’Amérique de la Negro Renaissance. L’anthologie-maitresse d’Alain
Locke, The New Negro : Voices of the Harlem Renaissance publiée en 1925, le lieu où
cette voix s’était trouvé son élan, réunissait cette génération d’Africains-Américains
qui dans les sources de la race voulaient trouver l’origine de leur chant. La clôture
du grand cri enfermé entre les pages de l’anthologie de Locke aura lieu avec Ralph
Ellison, l’auteur de Invisible Man, et chantre de l’intégration, qu’il formula d’ailleurs
clairement dans son « Haverford Statement », en plein cœur des révoltes de 1969,
quand la jeunesse noire animée par ce qu’elle appelait « nationalisme » l’appelait
« sell-out », c’est-à-dire « vendu » : « j’insisterai sur mon affirmation personnelle de
l’intégration sans perte de notre identité unique en tant que peuple comme étant
le but possible, en fait inévitable des américains noirs », leur répondra-t-il. Si donc
la négritude fait écho à la Harlem Renaissance, et d’ailleurs Senghor a toujours
insisté sur cette généalogie transatlantique, la découverte par le poète-président de
la « Civilisation de l’Universel », du « rendez-vous du donner et du recevoir » comme
étant son achèvement nécessaire, ne peut que faire écho à cette vision clôturante
d’Ellison. Il faut peut-être lire les dernières pages de l’essai-mitraillette de James
Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, pour voir l’explosif que cette communauté par-delà les
races représentait pour une Amérique couchée dans le lit hirsute du racisme.
C’est pourtant dans les pages même de l’Anthologie de Senghor, en une
introduction bien historique celle-là, « Orphée noir », que Jean-Paul Sartre aura
défini l’achèvement de l’idée de la négritude comme logique, et pronostiqué
sa clôture comme sabordement. ‘En fait’, écrit-il dans des lignes qu’aura le plus
souligné Frantz Fanon, son lecteur assidu, « la négritude apparaît comme le temps
faible d’une progression dialectique … Ce moment négatif n’a pas de suffisance
en lui-même… Il vise à préparer la synthèse ou réalisation de l’humain dans
une société sans races. Ainsi elle est pour se détruire, elle est passage et non
aboutissement, moyen et non fin dernière. » Frantz Fanon précise, dans Peau
noire, masques blancs, publié en 1952 : « Jean-Paul Sartre, dans cette étude a détruit
l’enthousiasme noir »; et il continue perspicace, car il a compris que c’était l’acte de
décès du mouvement qui était écrit ici avec son introduction : « l’erreur de Sartre a
été non seulement de vouloir aller à la source de la source, mais en quelque sorte
de tarir la source. » Pourtant ce qu’il n’aurait peut-être pas soupçonné, Fanon,
c’est que « l’erreur de Sartre » sera très vite celle de Senghor, car dans l’évolution
de son histoire, avec la « Civilisation de l’Universel », la négritude senghorienne
écrira son propre sabordement, comme pour encore mieux donner raison à son
bienfaiteur critique et préfacier parisien de 1948 ! Ah, n’est-ce pas là, dirait-on,
déjà une répétition de cette histoire qui dans la littérature africaine-américaine
avec Ralph Ellison avait clôt jadis les promesses racialisantes de la Harlem
Renaissance ? Si seulement avec la fin de la négritude, le cercle qui limite la parole
africaine dominée était ici enfin voué aux archives des idées ? Que non ! Il faudra
qu’il se trouve aussi des tentacules caribéennes pour, dans le dépassement de la
négritude cesairienne par cette autre trinité masculine, Chamoiseau, Bernabé
et Confiant, découvrir également dans le flamboyant tombeau de la creolité sa
suicidaire épiphanie ! Ainsi donc, comme possédée dans ses trois manifestations
par la dictée d’une identique pulsion ontologique, la littérature des peuples noirs
a-t-elle toujours trouvé, ici et là, des États-Unis aux Antilles et en Afrique, son
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DES PAROLES ... PATRICE NGANANG
anéantissement au bout d’une évolution par tout logique qui la fait tragiquement
déboucher dans la béatitude universelle de son émiettement.
Comme s’il n’y avait de mort digne que lorsqu’elle ne se vit pas une, mais
deux, mais trois fois, le second leitmotiv de la littérature africaine d’expression
française n’échappera pas à la logique répétitive de son histoire encerclée dans le
paradigme de la domination. Or ici, c’est Frantz Fanon qui définira sa parturition
dans les sources des projets nationaux africains de 1960. La critique de la littérature
africaine ne s’est pas encore vraiment éloignée de la répartition dans Les Damnés
de la terre en trois phases, des textes produits par les écrivains du continent :
d’abord la littérature assimilationniste, née sous le parapluie de la condition
coloniale ; ensuite le réveil à la race dont la jouvence abreuve l’écrivain au point
de le constiper ; et puis enfin, plus importante pour Fanon, la littérature nationale,
fruit d’une conscience bâtie au fourneau de la nation au matin de sa naissance. Fi
de la race dans ce projet national des idées africaines, oui, mais c’est pour découvrir
dans la nation l’origine de la littérature nouvelle, et continuer l’inféodation de
la chose littéraire sous le projet politique, même si différent, celui-là ! Ils sont
nombreux les auteurs qui figurent dans ce canon de la littéraire derechef enracinée
dans la politique, qui au Congo avec Tchikaya U’Tamsi, au Sénégal avec Mariama
Ba ou Boubacar Boris Biop, au Cameroun avec les derniers romans de Mongo Beti,
ont écrit cela que sont les nations en réalité : des fictions. Or dans leur dos voici
recommencer le parcours qu’on sait déjà, d’une littérature qui à peine née, de
manière effiévrée court déjà vers son propre sabordement heureux! Ici avouons-le
le chemin est autre, même si les étapes sont presque calquées sur le leitmotiv qui
à la négritude avait déjà dicté son suicide. Les pages les plus illisibles aujourd’hui
de Les Damnés de la terre, sont sans doute celles dans lesquelles Fanon argumente
avec peine contre l’idéologie de la bourgeoisie néocoloniale, idéologie qui pour lui
a une désignation bien claire : le cosmopolitisme. Pour Fanon le cosmopolitisme
n’est pas seulement économique, donc dépendance par rapport à la métropole ;
dans une tradition bien marxiste qui lui préférait l’internationalisme, il est avant
tout idéologique : sa littérature est assimilationniste. Au lieu du cosmopolitisme
c’est donc plutôt l’internationalisme qui fera l’auteur martiniquais embrasser la
cause algérienne à rebours du triangle infâme qui a inscrit dans l’Atlantique les
racines de la diaspora noire, car le cosmopolitisme voilà pour lui bien l’ordure à
jeter ! C’est au nationalisme qu’il offre au contraire un futur, et par extension, au
panafricanisme qui selon lui le conclut.
Certes nous écrivons aujourd’hui au chevet du projet identitaire : plus que
le sabordement senghorien, le génocide qui eut lieu au Rwanda en 1994 en a
marqué la plus cinglante conclusion. Nous écrivons à l’extérieur du parapluie des
États : l’émigration ininterrompue des auteurs africains et même l’implosion de
certains États tel la Somalie ou le Soudan auront été suffisants pour nous dire
combien nos pays sont mortels. Pourtant surtout c’est au milieu des ruines du
projet national qui porta l’indépendance de bien d’États africains que s’installe
la racine de nos mots. Voilà les conditions qui suffiraient pour expliquer le retour
en force aujourd’hui du cosmopolitisme. S’il est difficile de trouver amusant cela
qui faisait rire un Mongo Beti quand il écoutait le sud-africain Lewis Nkosi se
présenter au congrès des écrivains africains de Berlin en 1977 comme étant un «
Africain anglo-saxon », c’est sans doute parce que nous vivons bien dans une autre
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époque, nous. « Nous somme orphelins de nations », disait Sami Tchak ; des beasts
of no nation, lui répond le titre d’un roman récent d’Iweala. Même les malheurs si
chantés jadis de l’écrivain en exil ont perdu de leurs lustres, l’exil comme concept
n’étant plus entendu lui aussi que comme un autre chapitre du projet national.
Des « migrants », dit-on plutôt aujourd’hui, ou alors des « nomades » – nous
sommes des écrivains « accessoirement africains », selon la formule de Waberi.
Cosmopolitanism d’Anthony Appiah peut tracer dans la Grèce antique la généalogie
des actes communs posés dans le marché de Koumassi, actes qui sous un regard
entrainé à la lecture fanonienne, et qui à travers Hegel puisait lui aussi chez les
Grecs, n’y aurait sans doute vu que démission la conscience nationale. En réalité,
une réécriture de notre temps est en train d’avoir lieu. Elle cherche ses concepts en
tâtonnant, mais refuse d’aller en profondeur. Son credo c’est la dénationalisation de
la littérature africaine. La dénationalisation de la littérature francophone africaine
aujourd’hui fait cependant écho à sa déracialisation annoncée déjà en 1948 par
Sartre. C’est que la dialectique de l’histoire des peuples dominés est inévitable
dans sa cyclique nécrophagie. Plus pauvres en concepts que nos ainés, des auteurs
africains ont découvert aujourd’hui soudain dans les promesses de la « littératuremonde en français » et accumulé dans un manifeste publié dans Le Monde, des
mots pour réactualiser, paraphrasons un peu Sartre ici, « la synthèse ou réalisation
de l’humain dans un espace français sans nations », tandis que dans les concepts
d’Édouard Glissant ils ont trouvé l’écume notionnelle pour dire leur continent: «
l’identité-monde ». Dites, comment ne pas rire, car la dialectique est ce couperet
qui ici aussi de cette nouvelle littérature francophone annonce déjà la mort, alors
que le continent africain a encore tant d’histoires à raconter ! C’est le monde (en
français) qu’ils veulent conquérir, nous disent ces auteurs francomondiaux – et ils
croient innover! Les critiques ne peuvent que se réjouir, eux pour le bonheur de
qui la littérature africaine a été réduite par ses propres auteurs a deux librairies
parisiennes. Mais il y a pire cependant que ces balbutiements théoriques, car au
fond, la littérature africaine francophone ne répète que le cercle de sa fuite en avant
qu’on sait déjà, et dont la conclusion au fond a toujours été son anéantissement.
Or cette fois ce n’est plus la négritude ou la nation, c’est la littérature africaine
que ses auteurs mettent sur la balance. Eux qui heureux entérinent la mort de
la littérature francophone dans l’’universel’ de la ‘littérature-monde en français’,
entendent-ils cette voix si proche pourtant qui leur conseille d’inverser le tout,
bref, de revenir au b a ba de la chose littéraire, et leur chuchote un mot qui est un
sésame? Ce mot c’est shümum. Avec lui, c’est l’écriture préemptive qui annonce
une fois de plus son train.
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WORDS ... OLIVE SENIOR
Olive Senior
Her Granddaughter Learns
the Alphabet
I myself had learnt the alphabet, once, long ago,
in a place that was small and known.
But my forgetfulness has grown.
Here, your marks on paper scratch at my heart
as if they were the dragon’s teeth sown,
that split our tongues, that made us scatter,
that made me forget myself, my own alphabet.
I’m a poor guide but I want to erase those scratches,
wipe the slate clean. I’m handing you over
so you can go to places that I have never seen.
This magic leads you on, doesn’t it? These hooks
that pull the sounds fresh from your mouth
and place them in your fist.
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PALABRAS ... DONATO NDONGO-BIDYOGO
Donato Ndongo-Bidyogo
Extracto de la novela
Los Hijos de la tribu
Los Hijos de la tribu es la tercera parte de la trilogía iniciada con Las Tinieblas de
tu memoria negra y continúada en Los Poderes de la tempestad. En ella, el autor
narra la historia de Guinea Equatorial a través de un personaje principal, sin nombre,
símbolo de todo el pueblo e hilo conductor de la saga. Mientras la primera de estas
novelas abarca el período colonial, y la segunda describe los efectos sobre las personas
de la dictadura de Francisco Macías, el primer presidente del país, Los hijos de la tribu
– aún no terminada – comparte con el lector las vicisitudes del pueblo guineano en su
empeño por recuperar la libertad y la dignidad.
En el primer capítulo (al que pertenece el fragmento publicado) se presenta el
ocaso de un régimen personalista, y se sugieren las transformaciones de un país y
de una sociedad decididos a trascender una etapa ominosa para labrar un futuro
esperanzador. Futuro representado por Niña Tasia, la esposa más joven del anciano
déspota, y que contribuirá de modo decisivo al alumbramiento de una nueva
sociedad que saldrá del oscurantismo.
Del capítulo ‘Cero’
Niña Tasia sollozaba acurrucada en el rincón, los ojos velados por las palmas de
sus manos. Antes que la desgracia que caía sobre ella, viuda a los diecinueve años,
le asustaba ser la causa ¿directa? de la muerte de su marido, por las exigencias
de su cuerpo joven que el lujurioso anciano no podía satisfacer; su legendaria
virilidad queda ba reducida a las interminables, exasperantes y monótonas
peroratas oníricas sobre sus hazañas pretéritas, increíbles para ella, a la vista
de la ruina humana que gimió como niño la noche que se reconoció incapaz
de consumar la desfloración; pero, sobre todo, le aterraban las dudas ante su
incierto futuro, cómo reaccionarán los familiares de mi esposo tras los funerales,
me cargarán el muerto sólo porque expiró entre mis piernas, y me maltratarán,
me encarcelarán, o, apartada de mis hijos, seré confinada en mi mísera aldea,
donde apenas he terminado la casa de cemento que mi padre pidió en dote, por
la tacañería proverbial de un fulano considerado entre los magnates más sólidos,
ante el cual doblaban la cerviz los poderosos de la Tierra aunque lo tuvieran por
un choricete basto y advenedizo, cuya ocupación principal y más grata consistía
en recontar cada semana los billetes de divisas que abarrotaban decenas de
maletines diseminados por sus palacetes, cotejar sus numerosas cuentas repartidas
por medio mundo, evaluar sus inversiones en diversas empresas internacionales,
controlando el destino de cada céntimo, y regodearse en la fortuna acumulada
por el chico listo del ínclito Nze Mebiang, cuyos sortilegios de nigromante le
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PALABRAS ... DONATO NDONGO-BIDYOGO
habían preparado para ser líder entre los líderes y rico entre los ricos. Sesiones de
autoafirmación que culminaban con el visionado de las cintas que mostraban las
lujosas mansiones que poseía allá y acullá en las principales urbes extranjeras y
demás paraísos terrenales, todo ello fruto del latrocinio constante de los recursos
que negaba a su desventurado y mísero pueblo. ¿Para qué tanta avaricia si a la
eternidad se parte tan desnudo como se llega? Y aun cuando todavía no fuese
el tiempo de las plañideras, el luto oficial, Niña Tasia hacía lo imposible por
manifestar su dolor ante la irreparable pérdida, aunque en verdad no sintiese
sino alivio en aquel malhadado trance que daría un vuelco inesperado a su vida:
sólo era otra de las muchas prisioneras perpetuas del serrallo. Necesario actuar
con inteligencia y discreción, ser cauta hasta el detalle, estudiar sus gestos, pasos,
actitudes, palabras, para no dar con sus huesos en las mazmorras del crudelísimo
Esom Esom ni caer víctima de los maleficios brujeriles del fiero Obigli o torturada
con su saña sádica por los perversos y crapulosos sobrinos, todos ahí de pie,
contemplando el cipote desafiante con el que el momio salió victorioso de mil
lances –decían- y que escondía en sí mismo la prueba de su final, que el astuto
hermanísimo quizá no tardara en descubrir. Niña Tasia se arrepentía ahora de
la presteza con la que había dado la voz de alarma al retén de guardia apostado
al otro lado de la puerta cuando, de súbito, el vejete encaramado sobre ella cayó
inerte sobre su cuerpo y cesaron los siempre agónicos y roncos resoplidos: apenas
tuvo tiempo de reaccionar, de pensar. No debió sucumbir al pánico. Conocía bien
los hábitos de la corte de los milagros, cómo se las gastaban los íncubos en las
salvajes noches de aquelarre. Un país en el que los leales eran impunes y todos los
habitantes reos de muerte, con la sola excepción del preboste y su acólito Esom
Esom, único que le humanizaba quizás por su lealtad perruna: aunque dotada
y por tanto tan esposa como las otras, en realidad sólo era la novena concubina
oficial del muy lascivo Jefe Supremo, y tanto su juventud como su condición de
favorita podían volverse contra ella si sus intrigantes rivales se confabulaban
con los allegados del abuelete depravado y decidían sacrificarla para resarcirse
de la desgracia. No era descabellado imaginar tal contubernio. ¿Y si, cumpliendo
la tradición, la desposaba Esom Esom? Lo sabía: ninguna posibilidad de zafarse
al destino; no soportaría ese sino inevitable, no lo soportaría. Lo juró: preferible
el exilio a pertenecer a semejante patán; antes muerta que ser poseída por un
criminal perverso cuyas manos chorreaban tanta sangre inocente.
Se sentía incómoda en el cuarto pestilente, del que tampoco podía huir.
¿Qué hacer? Pensó en su madre. Aunque participara en la conjura familiar para
entregarla al poderoso y decrépito galán, quien con tal unión desmentiría las
habladurías recurrentes sobre el cáncer que le había vuelto impotente, en el fondo
la disculpaba, sabedora de que ella no había encontrado forma de impedir el enlace,
no sólo por no ser capaz de resistir la tiránica coacción de su ambicioso progenitor,
sino porque la negativa acarrea ría males irremediables para la familia y el clan.
Su sacrificio aportaba seguridad y bienestar. ¿Quién osaría negarle algo o molestar
a los parientes de la favorita de Su Excelencia? En aquel mundo de miedo, congoja
y sordidez, era una óptima solución: sus hermanos obtuvieron buenos empleos;
sus cuñados –en realidad sus hermanas- prosperaron; la envidiaban sus amigas;
circulaba en coches imponentes; le sobraba la comida, y enviaba a su madre sacos
enteros de arroz y pescado salado, macarrones, garbanzos y cajas de tomate frito
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enlatado. Los suyos se alimentaban ahora como blancos. Y engordaban. Ella misma
satisfacía sus caprichos más allá de lo inimaginable. Viajaba a Europa para hacerse
la manicura y renovar su ajuar … Bueno, y para … abortar. Dos veces. Doloroso
pensar en esos dos crímenes, matar a los hijos de su único amor. Le indujo a injerir
el fármaco con la misma inocencia – quién sabe si con la misma luciferina
seducción- que cuando le convenció de que los dos primeros embarazos eran
el fruto culminante de su brío sin par. Henchido de soberbia, se lo había tragado.
Increíble la estulticia del viejo majadero. Un verdadero botarate. Mas tenía que
reconocer que ambos amaban con especial devoción a aquellos retoños tardíos:
el padre putativo porque confirmaban ante el mundo incrédulo su potencia
inmarcesible; ella, porque los había concebido en verdaderos actos de amor. Nadie
en la vida sería capaz de descubrir la jugada. Sólo ella conocía su secreto. Pero no se
atrevió a multiplicar el engaño: alguien – las otras, los cuñados, él mismo – podría
dudar de dotes tan portentosas, rayanas en lo milagroso. O puede que su Amor,
herido, proclamara la impostura. Imposible confiar en los hombres, decía su madre,
y por eso abortó. Dos veces. Por su seguridad y prosperidad, y el bienestar de su
familia. Luego conoció los anticonceptivos, y cesaron las noches de zozobra …
Y le había convencido, hacía un instante, de que tomara la píldora; no, dos mejor
que una, el efecto será doble, le animó, sonriente, distendidos sus sensuales labios
carnosos, al aire sus dientes regulares, blanquísimos, su piel clarita, tersa y suave,
y sus hermosos pechos turgentes, rellenitos cuan mango en sazón. Y al poco cayó
desplomado sobre ella, con la cosa bien dispuesta, como nunca había sido, algo
grotesco, vaya. Pareció una broma; luego se asustó y perdió el juicio. El terror la
aniquiló. El Dios de la Justicia era testigo de que no fue su intención. Todo había
sucedido por Su designio. Ella era un mero instrumento de la voluntad del Altísimo.
Nunca se le ocurrió que dos pastillitas pudieran matar. Sólo deseaba divertirse un
poco a costa suya, reír sus gracias, alegrarle la tarde, alimentar su petulancia. Pero
estaba hecho: ninguno creería la verdad, que un puro accidente aceleró la Historia;
había logrado consumar el deseo de medio país; podrían pensar en una
determinación alevosa, hacer de ella una arpía, un monstruo sin entrañas al
servicio de la oposición radical o del terrorismo internacional, una enemiga del
régimen que le daba de comer tan opíparamente, quién sabe si … Y en tal caso …
Quizá … Quizá fuera mejor recrearse en los hechos positivos: tenía sirvientes, era
respetada, temida; la distinguían al pasar, los coros cantaban loas en su honor;
había escalado hasta la cima y podía considerarse ‘alguien’ en la sociedad y no la
niña anónima, flacucha, pobre y bella que fue hasta que bailó para él en aquella
gira por su comarca cuatro años atrás. En ese tiempo, había ido aprendiendo a ser
Señora, según la llamaban sus subordinados y todos, para dejar atrás para siempre
a la inocente y agreste campesina que estaba destinada a ser. Todo ese lustre a
cambio de soportar en silencio sus bufidos, sus repugnantes manoseos, su
horripilante piel macilenta, fofa y arrugada, el hastío de sus besos salivosos, su
asque rosa boca desdentada cuando se quitaba los postizos al dormir. Seguridad
y prosperidad. A cambio de guardar sus secretos, de mentir por omisión, de fingir
siempre, de callar siempre, siempre. No recordaba haber sido joven. Nunca disfrutó
de la vida. Nunca fue feliz. Aunque se daría cuenta mucho tiempo después, al
principio deslumbrada por la ensoñación perpetua a causa de la molicie placentera
en que transcurrían sus días, desde el primer momento había envejecido como él,
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obligada a transitar por esas sendas peligrosas para mantener su honor y no
cometer ningún desatino que revolviera el espíritu desalmado del ogro vengativo.
Superar siempre las asechanzas. Saber contener sus emociones. Remontar con
coraje y vigor cuanta adversidad plagaba su funesta existencia en su jaula dorada.
La melancolía como estado permanente, igualito que los animales que viera una
vez en un zoológico de Europa, donde los saltos y la bulla de felinos y monos
carecían de viveza, de la alegría espontánea de las fieras en libertad. Calculando
cada paso, midiendo cada palabra, cada gesto. Tristeza, tristeza infinita reflejada en
sus ojos secos, cansados de llorar. El cuerpo anheloso de ternura, no saciado con la
fingida entrega mercenaria. Asfixiándose en sus cómodos aposentos, celda insufrible, sin más compañía que los niños, sin asideros, hastiada, el tedio irremediable
de las noches y los días. ¿Había merecido la pena? Recordó los consejos de su
madre, sé fuerte, hija, y muy paciente, y nunca olvides que el éxito de la mujer
radica en la mater nidad y en su capacidad de aguante. Recordó sus caricias
amorosas, su complicidad más allá de la comprensión. Hubiera preferido tenerla
ahora a su lado, refugiarse en sus cálidos brazos para que la guiara en trance tan
azaroso, pero estaba lejos, en el poblado. Se encontraba sola, atrozmente sola.
¿Qué hacer? Aunque … Quizá no estuviese tan sola: él también pensaba en ella,
sí, sin sospechar que le necesitaba más que nunca, que anidarse en su pecho le
consolaba, podía serenarla. Sólo él representaba el indubitable triunfo de la bondad
sobre la maldad, la certidumbre del final de un destino aciago, la honda esperanza
en el esplendor venidero. Sólo él, con su abnegación, aportaba cierta ilusión a una
existencia tan banal. Sólo él podría sufrir con ella, asumir su dolor, compensar las
amarguras. Sólo él, a dos pasos apenas, tras la puerta cerrada, resentido por los
celos, resabiado por el despecho, humillado por la impotencia, carcomido por el
odio, sufriendo en silencio, siempre aguardando impaciente la salida del sátrapa.
Esperando a que le rindiera el letargo de las soporíferas tardes bochornosas y
dormitara en cualquier rincón de sus palacios para acudir a su lado. Aprovechando
cualquier resquicio en el quehacer cotidiano para regalarse con las sobras del viejo
carcamal y poseerla a hurtadillas, fogosa, ardorosa, desesperadamente fundido en
ella como si fuese su última oportunidad antes de la consumación de los siglos.
Soñaba a veces que él le mataba e iniciaban juntos una nueva vida; no podía ser
tan difícil si siempre estaba a un paso tras él, portando su cartera y sus teléfonos
móviles o acercándole el trono para que posara sus voluminosas nalgas flácidas.
Pero ni se atrevía a pensarlo: la fantasía redo blaba su angustia. Determinados
anhelos son más peligrosos, más pecaminosos que la traición carnal, que ese amor
funesto, con dolor de muerte, que les situaba en el filo del desastre, esa pasión
embravecida por el pavor que laceraba sus sentidos en las ausencias y en cada
encuentro. ¿Había merecido la pena? ¿Qué sería de él, de ella, de sus hijitos
inocentes, de su familia toda, ahora que acariciaba la posibilidad de sentirse limpia
y libre por vez primera?
Menos aturdida que cuantos permanecían encerrados en aquella habitación en
penumbra, decorada con primor, infranqueable, sellada, Niña Tasia se dispuso a
esperar. Ninguno sabía qué, y poco importaba, pero debían hacer de la necesidad
virtud. Pensar. Sopesar. Calcular. Relegar al transcurso del tiempo la solución de
todos los enigmas. Quizás hubiesen llegado al final de la partida. Quizá ya sonaran
a lo lejos las trompetas de Jericó. O quizá no todo estuviese perdido y quedara
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alguna rendija por donde hallar la salvación. Seres despiadados, brutales, ahora
embotados por la bruma de sus almas atormentadas, intuían el ocaso de su era,
e imploraban, humildes y fervorosos, a sus espíritus protectores, y a todos los dioses
del Universo, la suficiente presencia de ánimo para controlar la situación y salir
con bien. No debían precipitarse. Nunca desfa llecer, porque era posible el milagro:
Su Excelencia el Mariscal de Campo Don Gumersindo Nze Ebere Ekum, Presidente
de la República, Jefe de Estado y del Gobierno, Coman dante en Jefe de los Ejércitos
y Presidente-Fundador del Partido para el Bienestar del Pueblo, Invicto Caudillo y
Guía Supremo de la Nación, había salido indemne de la prueba final, y en cualquier
instante resurgiría de entre los muertos para restaurar el orden secular y la paz
y armonía felizmente reinantes en el país.
(Trabajo en curso, 2010)
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Esther Heboyan
The Picture Bride
So I wrote this story, a story in black-and-white pictures of the sort purveyed over
the years by Ara Güler’s ‘Istanbul’ and Robert Doisneau’s ‘Paris’, the two sonorous
cities of my life (but that is another story; let us not get carried away). I wrote this
story about a picture bride, a type one finds in the hamlets of ancient Anatolia as
well as in the cosmopolitan quarters of Urbania.
This picture bride, known as Aghavni Tchamitchyan, wore a melancholy smile
in the pictures that journeyed by mail to strange lands, awaited by a Mardiross
in São Paulo, a Hrant in Montreal, a Zaven in Lisbon, a Dikran in Johannesburg,
a Mihran in Abidjan, a Theodoros in Salonika and, finally, a Garbiss in Vienna.
However, for Aghavni, who had been pining away in her parents’ record store at
Beyo-lu, a hole in the wall wedged between a cigarette stand and a trinket trade
of some sort, none of those fervently auditioned and photographed suitors seemed
to possess the good looks and stamina of her Elvis, the one and only, her prince,
her pasha, for now and forever.
‘I’d rather not,’ she would say to her parents, who had happily married off three
elder daughters.
Off to Melbourne flew beautiful Nadya: husband running a jewelry store, one
daughter fluent in Australian English and Western Armenian. Off to New York
sailed generous Zepur: wife to a delicatessen owner, mother of two healthy boys.
As for bright Sonya, who settled so glamorously in Vienna, going to the opera and
so on, in the wake of her husband – a doctor – she did, at one point, nurture hopes
of introducing her youngest sister to an interesting fellow versed in Mekhitarist
theology and miniature painting. But Aghavni failed to show any interest in
Garbiss the Viennese.
‘What’s wrong with you?!’ her parents would exclaim, taking turns. And then,
to each other: ‘What’s wrong with her?’
Bending over like a tilting snowdrop, elbows resting on the star-studded glass
counter, Aghavni’s brain, eyes and ears filled with the velvety voice of Elvis Presley;
the young woman thus whiled away her time in a side alley of Istanbul’s heartbeat.
Rain, sleet or snow, she was welcoming even when other people groaned and
grumbled. On such days she shut the door, which sported an unfortunate sign
– THIS SHOP IS OPEN – and ecstatically turned up the volume of the German
gramophone to rock, body and soul, to the King’s tremors, until her father or
mother stomped in to curb her foolishness. Sometimes a customer entered,
much to Aghavni’s dislike, with a view to rummaging through the vinyl singles
she had tenderly arranged. Or worse, he would dart about with lurid glances, as
though, instead of a shop entrance, he had come across a bright orange light bulb
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disentangling him from family, home and decency.
Now and then, an Armenian youth posing as a lover of à la franga music
walked in, faking a purchase of Adamo’s ‘Tombe la neige’ or Cliff Richard’s ‘Living
Doll’. But somehow Aghavni knew the 45-rpms were most likely destined for a
sibling or cousin. She could also tell the young men had been dispatched there
by a conspiring trio that included her dutiful mother, her just-as-dutiful godmother
and a despicable matchmaker fattened on gold, dolmas and lies. The most
disheartening fact: those young Armenian men, dashing and well-intentioned
though they might be, would unrepentantly enjoy nothing but à la turka music
unto their grave. And she, Aghavni Tchamitchyan, who truly craved the mellow
foreign sounds and undecipherable lyrics of unreachable rockers and crooners,
would forever be denigrated by a houseful of in-laws and perhaps be banished
to the back room to listen to Elvis purr and pulse on a second-hand Grundig:
Are you lonesome tonight?/Do you miss me tonight?/Are you sorry we drifted apart?
Aghavni cried her heart out when her Elvis, the one and only, her prince, her
pasha, to whom she had secretly vowed infinite, fecund love, took for a spouse a
certain Priscilla Beaulieu, who smiled from every newspaper and magazine cover.
The caption invariably read: ‘The King has found his Queen.’ Elvis’s bride looked like
a queen, all right. On all the pictures – without exception. Whether photographed
full-face or in profile, that Priscilla looked as though she were made of silver and
pearl, so pretty in her lush white gown and rippling raven hair adorned with an
ethereal bridal veil.
Aghavni wept for days. At first, she devoted herself to cutting out the
newspaper clippings and the black-and-white pictures while she wept. Then
she wept while gazing at the pictures and reading the articles. For two months,
she stayed in her bedroom above the tiny record shop, shedding tears, blowing
her nose into an unattractive feature, listening to Elvis’s amorous voice for
hours on end.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ yelled her parents, taking turns. They flailed their
arms and shook their heads, but mostly tss-tssed as Oriental parents are wont
to do.
To make matters worse, moreover, they now had to run the shop themselves,
and to explain their daughter’s illness to all who would listen. ‘What’s wrong with
her?’ they asked each other again, once acquaintances and customers were out
of sight.
As Aghavni Tchamitchyan chewed on her misery, sudden hope materialised for
Nazar Nazarian of Paris. There, in that world-famous capital city, in his very wallet,
trilled the most promising picture bride of all time. Somehow, the destiny of this
one lonely soul had to merge with that of another.
This is when I came into the picture to write this story of this black-and-white
bride coveted by lonesome Nazar. I went through three family albums to find my
picture bride, the kind whose life story is either totally lost to younger generations
or dealt out in bits and pieces. This one, with the wry smile? No one could
remember, as though she happened to be an unwanted guest at her own wedding.
That one, wearing the tiara? That must be, let me think, that must be chubby
Artin’s eldest daughter, what was her name, by the way? Oh, look at this one, a
legend in her time, a true nightingale, and such grace. And wasn’t that one called
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Astrig, you know, the girl from the Adana orphanage, the one who was married
to her foster parents’ son?
To my utter amazement, not one Aghavni Tchamitchyan leaped out of the
yellowing pages. Further research proved necessary in the homes of friends and
relatives, all transplanted to distant lands with sets of photographs. To write
a simple story, I thought, one goes a long ways off. Apparently luck, or fate, or
whatever you call it, never quite fits the time and place a storyteller selects.
Therefore I had Nazar Nazarian of Paris come across the snapshot of Aghavni
Tchamitchyan by pure chance. A travelling friend of his, having journeyed all the
way to Salonika, had been so enamoured with Aghavni’s picture that he handed it
over to Nazar as a proof of their manly friendship. At the time, Nazar was regaining
the confidence to want a second wife. The quest took the form of a long letter, plus
a black-and-white photograph of the awaiting groom in front of the Eiffel Tower.
‘That one?!’ howled the intended bride. ‘You can let him rot, in Paris or not!’
Whereupon her parents tss-tssed in their parental manner and passed the pictured
groom to relatives in Tarlabasi,
Tarlabas , who were evidently cursed with a worse case in
their own home.
At the other end of the postal route, Nazar Nazarian of Paris kept up his
expectations. Never a womaniser like his cousin Garo, a near twin, to whom he
had been inevitably compared all those years – forty-three years, if one wished
to keep track – he grew adamant about finding his other half, she palatable like
dough cut into halves and laid on the kitchen counter before kneading, a herald
of festivities. Nazar loved Aghavni’s picture: a young Armenian woman from
Constantinople, a face daintily chiselled, a full-fledged body in modern dress, which
modestly covered her knees and shoulders. A perfect match, he thought to himself.
What Nazar liked about Aghavni most: she was born almost the same day as he,
a sure sign of fate; she lived in Constantinople, he on the Rue de Constantinople by
Gare Saint-Lazare; she had been christened ‘Aghavni’, like his ailing mother, and he
was also very fond of the aghavnis that flew to his balcony – every day he would
feed those birds, contemplating them, talking to them and playing his saz to on
drowsy Sunday afternoons.
It was on one such afternoon in Paris that Nazar’s mother, who lived in a
two-room apartment below his, after hearing her son strum the saz listlessly,
encouraged him to hunt for another wife in their city’s Armenian circles. But Nazar
would have none of it. The second-generation Armenian girls in Paris did not speak
Armenian, or cook Armenian. Many smoked, wore miniskirts and ran around with
French men. Like his first wife. A whore, according to his mother. Gone with their
shop assistant, after eight months of conjugal life.
From his mother’s vengeful fury, Nazar had salvaged a snapshot taken on the
beach at Saint-Raphaël, a picture of happy newlyweds in summertime. It had been
their only vacation: she left him in the fall. Nazar didn’t miss her as a person, or as a
wife (how could he?). But he missed her warmth, her brown body, her laughter, too.
‘Too loud, too loud, she laughs like a whore,’ his mother would harp. Nazar winced
at the memory.
‘Well, well, well, show me that would-be bride of yours,’ intoned Nazar’s
mother at teatime, settled in her armchair by the window. ‘Oh, my! Look at all the
excrement on the balcony! My son, are you building Noah’s Ark, with pigeons up
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there? What’s wrong with you?’
The son poured the tea, nicely brewed as in the old country, and served a plate
of kurabiye he had purchased at the Armenian grocery by the Métro Cadet. He put
on his mother’s favourite song by Safiye Ayla, Kâtibim. His mother began humming
along:
Üsküdar’a gider iken aldı da bir yağmur … Kâtibimin setresi uzun, eteği çamur …
Kâtip uykudan uyanmis, gözleri mahmur … Kâtip benim ben kâtibin, el ne
karsır …
Casting a glance at her own wedding picture on the wall, she sighed. Once so
young, now so old. ‘So, my son, are you or are you not going to show me that bride
of yours?’
That evening, as Nazar sat down to write what he thought to be a love letter
to Aghavni of Constantinople, he had no idea that she would never respond. As far
as he was concerned, all was set. A man wished for a wife; a single woman, young
or old, when solicited, had to fulfil that wish.
Because stories meander this way and that, Aghavni Tchamitchyan’s story,
too, took a new turn. The girl in Istanbul had been secretly dating a man, a Turk of
Greek and Italian origin with some Albanian blood running in his veins too. This,
Nazar Nazarian did not know. At the time, nobody knew.
Only I, the storyteller, knew. Having examined all those picture brides, I could
guess in whose eyes, whether cheerful or melancholy, simmered the story of love.
Suppressed love, unrequited love, betrayed love all drew my empathy. Love at
first sight, love against all odds, love spanning a lifetime all triggered my absolute
admiration. I became all those picture brides. I was in Athens, Rome, Chicago,
Toronto, I was everywhere. I found names on the back of the snapshots. Shakeh
and Mihran, Beyrouth, 1953. Parantzem and Berdjo, Marseilles, 1937. Ani and Roupen,
New York, 1961. For the anonymous, I invented names, which I had stored in my
exiled mind: Talin, Alin, Vartoohi. I also invented stories – life stories, love stories
(which do, incidentally, coincide with life stories), picture stories (remnants of
childhood stories, no doubt) …
This being one of those stories.
When somehow the story has to wind to its climax, when the dough must be
kneaded (to borrow lonesome Nazar’s favourite expression), there is but one option
left: knead it, and bake it into any shape you want. Why not a heart shape, of all
things? It is a heart-shaped picture that had started it all.
The Turkish pretender, a brown-haired, blue-eyed heartbreaker of a man, had
come by every evening for a week and bought several singles, among which
was The Beatles’ latest hit, Michelle, and on a Saturday afternoon, after browsing
through the à la franga collection with a connoisseur’s gusto, had left a paper heart
on the square counter. On the other side, a scribble: Tomorrow, meet me aboard the
2.15pm vapur to Büyük Ada.
When tomorrow came, a falsehood – an outing long due with her best friends
– allowed Aghavni to skip a Sunday at home. Cheeks, limbs and heart aflame,
like a heroine out of Katherine Mansfield’s or Edith Wharton’s stories of love in
picturesque settings that Aghavni, of course, had never heard of in those days, the
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shopkeeper’s daughter ran to the Karaköy harbour, purchased her fare and
climbed the ferry as one embraces destiny, come what may. For in the very city
of Istanbul dwelled her Jimmy Dean, her Elvis Presley, now and forever. There
he stood, silhouetted against the blue horizon, braving the wind and everything
else. At first shy and perhaps a touch reluctant, Aghavni soon discovered the
exquisiteness of love. She named her lover ‘My-Handsome’, though one side of
his family called him ‘Niko’ while the other side insisted on ‘Gino’, not to mention
those who preferred ‘Süleyman’ to ‘Niko’ and ‘Gino’ put together.
On the following Sunday, as soon as they stepped on the island of Büyük
Ada, they asked a phaeton driver to take a snapshot of them, on the back of which
Aghavni wrote: My-Handsome and me – arrival at Büyük Ada, June 1969. Then they
let the horsecab carry them to the opposite side of the island, where hilltops and
beach coves afforded sufficient intimacy. First they bounded all the way to the
Greek monastery, holding hands, exhorting each other to hike the steep, rocky lane.
Were I a worshipper of symbolic omens, I would make them trample a scary snake
of some sort. I choose not to, though, despite the fact that, a long long time ago,
I saw a real-life greyish snake on that same island. Consequently, once atop the hill,
the lovelorn couple beheld the seascape, panting, kissing, laughing. Afterwards, in
what seemed to be a time warp casting off the hours, days and years of their lives,
they leaned against the shaded stonewall of the monastery, eager for more kisses
and caresses. Aghavni let Süleyman press his lips, hands and body against hers.
She tasted his tongue, swift and vigorous, joyous like a song. She felt the bulge of
his sex, its boldness. ‘Let’s go back down,’ she murmured.
There were more Sundays. Saturdays too. For the youth of Istanbul, the hot
summer meant long days at the beach, boat excursions to the Prince Islands or to
the cities on the Asian shore. Aghavni had a ready-made palette of lies to present
to her parents. Unlike her best friends, she could not introduce Süleyman to her
family and say: ‘Here is the young man I love.’ She thought they would expect her
to complete the sentence with: ‘Please, forgive me.’ They would ask her to give
him up. On the spot. Just like that. And how could she? Süleyman was the voice,
the presence, the comfort she had longed for. She knew he would never be invited
into her home. Most likely she herself would never be welcome into his. Call it the
heritage of history, or the unwritten law of the country, or a custom stuffed with
hypocrisy when all, without contest, gorged themselves on the same food, drink
and music. When all knew the meaning of love.
Therefore, as far as Aghavni Tchamitchyan was concerned, Süleyman
remained her secret lover in that unique photo taken by the harbour in Büyük Ada.
She imagined herself as his bride, kissed the picture goodnight and good morning,
night after night, day after day, awaiting a resolution of some sort.
This is when I, the storyteller, step in again. I have heard of miraculous
resolutions in all areas of human existence, and in some ways have the power
to devise at least one, despite the fact that I myself never ever was a believer in
miracles. To add more despondency to the picture, I happened to recall the story
of poor Armenoohi from Dolapdere, who hanged herself after her father –
a staunch Apostolic Orthodox – had chased her wooer, a Catholic, a traitor.
This is one of the reasons I considered sending Aghavni Tchamitchyan to a
hammam in the fall of that same year. I pictured her in the Galatasaray hammam
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where my own mother insisted on taking my sister and me. The occasion
was our first – and last –homecoming trip. My sister and I both fainted, almost
simultaneously. Our Europeanised bodies had not been ready for the vaporous,
racy damp heat of a Turkish bath. To this day the sight of a tin bowl with its
pageantry of frothy nudeness churns my heart, bones and guts to nausea.
The only other time I felt disgust for exhibited female flesh was in an Iowa City
open-air swimming pool where sturdy women, mostly students, shaved their legs,
forelegs and armpits in a frenzy. Never before had I witnessed such a collective
ritual to eliminate what was, after all, body hair. Were those American girls made
of rubber skin, to resist the stinging chlorine of the pool? And if not, was selfinflicted torture the rule for baiting a partner in the lounge or water area?
There is no telling who among the Midwestern bathing beauties was about to
catch a date, a mate, a long-lasting love, as Aghavni Tchamitchyan, followed by her
dutiful mother, no less dutiful godmother and her impeccable twins, walked into
the hammam on that October morning. There is no telling. But that seems beside
the point.
‘What extraordinary skin you have, my Sweetie, so smooth, so light,’ said the
godmother to Aghavni. ‘Yes, so smooth, so light,’ she repeated, as they all stepped
into the steamy, slippery inner bath chamber, wobbly in their borrowed takunye
that clanged on the tiled floor of the hararet; and as though there was a need for
a second emotional outburst, the godmother again said: ‘What an extraordinary
skin you have, my Sweetie, so smooth, so light.’
Aghavni never took such remarks for compliments. They expressed persistent
jealousy on the part of the godmother whose own daughters, the twins Verjin and
Mari, had darker skin, indeed dark as dark can be, inherited from their father’s side,
of course, a point no one failed to highlight at baptisms and at the birthdays that
followed baptisms.
Aghavni had always dreaded those moments of flattery that inevitably led
the godmother to fondle and sometimes pinch – yes, even pinch – with hands
heavily fleshed and ringed, that alien white skin of hers. Verjin and Mari, inclined
to imitate their mother in all fields of life (and one could foresee a future of bulky
ruby fingers, God bless all coffee-readers’ souls) would also cajole and pinch her: in
childhood, playing their vicious parts at playtime, and in adolescence, vying with
their long-designated rival to the point of stupid cruelty. (‘Go to Hell! Both of you!
You mean little misses!’ Aghavni had slapped the twins when they once tried to
kiss her on the mouth.)
Sitting on the curve of the navel stone, Aghavni was in no mood to remove her
pestemal and expose her nakedness to the other women. At that very moment,
she felt exposed enough in her perspiring vulnerable whiteness of leg, arm and
shoulder. The godmother’s phrase oozed through her head as though coming from
many a tedious year: What extraordinary skin she has, our Aghavni, so smooth, so
light. As time elapsed, the twins, Aghavni sensed, had developed such a deep dislike
toward their fairer relative that she never confided in them. For one second, though,
she wished she could.
‘Come on, don’t be such a mourner!’ bleated one of the girls, who was being
scrubbed by an attendant. Aghavni ignored the invitation to lie down on the
heated marble, and looked at her belly under the white towel. Not much roundness.
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Not yet, anyway. There was some time to go before she gained any weight. She
stared all around her: hanging breasts, thighs, buttocks, bellies. Hordes of women.
Imperfect, yet resigned, and surprisingly cheerful. Aghavni stood up and walked
to an alcove to the left of the hammam. There she turned on the fountain, sank to
her knees and began punching herself, like she used to punch the çörek dough for
Easter. (That had set her elder sisters giggling.) Now she only had her eyes to cry
with, as the saying goes. So she cried, as her blood silently turned the water red.
Then she passed out.
That could have meant the end of Aghavni Tchamitchyan.
But it is not the way I want the story to end.
I have heard of women who had survived all kinds of tragic circumstances.
I personally know several who have pulled themselves from the worst trauma.
Skin-deep betrayal, beatings, rape, incest, imprisonment, torture, brain tumours,
psychosomatic eczema, typhus, joblessness, bug-infested lodgings, starvation,
drug addiction, abortion, public humiliation, political exile, the death of a child.
There is no end to those stories. Fortunately, there are always women blessed with
good luck, the kind of luck that propels them to stardom, princedom or dazzledom.
Therefore, I will give the story its glorious twist, with a Hermann Cennetoğlu
from Manchester, England playing deus ex machina. A near-botanist in his spare
time, but mainly a florist in pursuit of happy effects, this Hermann Cennetoğlu
spotted his ‘Magnolia-Girl’ from a distance. On a three-day visit to Istanbul, he
happened to meet Aghavni Tchamitchyan at a social gathering. It was love at first
sight.
‘You must know …’ Aghavni confessed. ‘You must know that I love Elvis Presley,
and that I am with someone else’s child.’
‘I understand,’ he answered.
‘You pry not. I blabber not. It’s best.’
‘It’s best,’ agreed the man from Manchester. ‘May I have a picture of my bride,
though? To remember you by. It will be a while before you reach England.’
‘I’d rather not, Dear,’ she replied. ‘A picture bride is the last thing I want to be.’
WiPC
50 Years, 50 Cases
WORDS ... WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
Tamara O’Brien
1986: Adam Michnik
Like you, I never believed in an ideal state.
Just messy, domestic democracy.
Our history’s a digging out from under,
Our politics simple: the ousting of tyrants.
I was schooled, like you, at Adam Mickiewicz.
At seventy, grant me the grace
Of that grin they couldn’t wipe from your face.
Essayist, editor and political organiser Adam Michnik was
imprisoned for a total of six years in Communist Poland for his
writings and activism. In 1989 he participated in the creation of
the Soviet Bloc’s first non-Communist government. He lives and
works in Poland. See: ‘Because Writers Speak Their Minds’, the
fiftieth-anniversary campaign of International PEN’s Writers
in Prison Committee; www.internationalpen.org.uk and
http://26-50.tumblr.com.
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DES PAROLES ... DÉCOUVERT EN TRADUCTION
FOUND IN TRANSLATION
DÉCOUVERT EN TRADUCTION
DESCUBIERTO EN TRADUCCIÓN
SPONSORED BY
Made possible with support from Bloomberg, ‘Found in Translation’ features
at least one story, excerpt, poem or essay per issue, newly rendered from
any source language into English, French or Spanish. The works will have
never before been published in these languages, or will have been previously
published for a limited readership only.
S. Y. Agnon
Les bougies
Traduit de l’hébreu par Rita Sabah
Je décidai de prendre le temps d’aller à la plage. J’étais bien trop occupé pendant la
semaine pour penser à me baigner, mais la veille du shabbat, dans l’après-midi, je me
libérai de toutes mes obligations, pris une liquette propre et partis me baigner.
En chemin, je rencontrai monsieur Apropo. C’était un homme d’une taille
inférieure à la moyenne, avec un gros ventre tout rond ou peut-être carré, le dos
courbé et la tête posée sur le cœur, le visage toujours gai et un sourire figé sur les
lèvres. C’est ce sourire qui m’attira, même si je savais qu’il ne m’était pas adressé.
Je lui fis un signe de tête et lui dis bonjour. Après m’avoir salué à son tour, il me
demanda si j’allais prier chez les kabbalistes. J’acquiesçai en silence, mais sans même
prononcer un mot je lui avais menti. Je ne voulais pas lui mentir mais il m’était
difficile de ne pas être du même avis que lui. J’étais gêné, comme à chaque fois
que je rencontrais monsieur Apropo, car je savais que je ne lui donnais pas entière
satisfaction, sans doute parce que j’avais regardé sa fille alors qu’elle ne m’était pas
destinée.
Je finis par le suivre et rentrai avec lui dans une maison que je ne connaissais
pas. Tout y était prêt pour le shabbat, mais les gens de la maison vaquaient à leurs
occupations comme s’il s’agissait d’un jour de semaine. Il y avait là un homme qui
vendait des livres écrits en samaritain. Je les feuilletai et, à ma grande surprise, je
compris tout ce que je lisais. J’eus l’impression que ces pages m’étaient connues, soit
parce que je les avais écrites moi-même et qu’elles avaient été retranscrites dans
cette langue, soit parce que j’avais voulu les écrire, en vain parce que ma plume ne les
WiPC
50 Years, 50 Cases
DES PAROLES ... DÉCOUVERT EN TRADUCTION
avait pas trouvées. Mon vieux père se tenait à l’écart et me regardait en silence.
La kippa vissée sur la tête, il avait les yeux mi-clos et semblait habité par une tristesse
venue d’un autre monde. Ses papillotes blanches tombaient sur ses joues maigres
telles des clochettes d’argent dont on n’entendait jamais les grelots.
Pendant que je lisais, la lumière déclinait. Haïm Apropo partit de son côté et
moi je restai figé sur place. C’est alors que je vis, plantées dans quatre chandeliers
en bronze, quatre bougies sur le point de tomber. Je voulus les redresser afin qu’elles
ne brûlent pas la nappe et la table. Une bougie se tordit dans ma main, une autre
fondit dans mes doigts, et les deux dernières finirent par se déformer elles aussi.
Je commençai à regretter d’avoir suivi monsieur Apropo et de m’être mêlé de
ce qui ne me regardait pas. Mais maintenant j’avais déjà commencé, je ne pouvais
plus revenir en arrière. Je m’épongeai le front et posai mes affaires pour me libérer
les mains, puis je revins à mes bougies. Mes mains se ramollirent et mes doigts
s’embrouillèrent.
En relevant la tête, je vis qu’on avait déjà allumé les lumières de shabbat dans
toutes les habitations du quartier et que mes hôtes avaient l’air irrités. Je me dis,
les bougies ont été allumées partout dans ces maisons avant la prière du shabbat.
En tout cas, il fallait se presser. Je jetai un regard sur mon vieux père. Sa lèvre
inférieure s’allongea et s’affaissa, comme s’il était mécontent de ce qu’il voyait.
Une fois de plus je me dis : me voilà avec les bougies des autres alors que je suis
sensé me baigner.
Au moment où je me souvenais de la mer, elle apparut devant mes yeux ;
beaucoup de gens avaient de l’eau jusqu’au nombril. Je me demandai comment
j’allais faire pour me sortir de là quand un homme se pencha par la fenêtre, regarda
dehors puis retourna la tête et dit : « Mésopotamie. » La Mésopotamie n’avait rien
à voir là-dedans, mais je compris qu’il s’agissait d’un langage crypté. Cette personne
utilisait un langage abstrait pour ne pas m’embarrasser. Je pris peur et je me dirigeai
vers la plage.
La mer se souleva et les eaux se dressèrent comme un mur. Puis la mer se retira
et les baigneurs continuèrent à patauger dans les flaques d’eau luisantes dans la
lumière du soleil couchant. Certains étaient nus, d’autres habillés légèrement, et
d’autres encore avaient leur liquette sur les yeux, comme s’ils n’avaient pas fini
de l’enfiler. Je cherchai un endroit où poser mon paquet mais je ne trouvai aucune
place libre. J’étais gêné d’être la seule personne habillée parmi tous ces gens nus.
Quand je décidai de m’en aller, je vis comme un pont jeté sur la mer. Je posai mon
paquet sous le pont, près d’une flaque d’eau, j’ôtai mes vêtements et me préparai
à sauter à l’eau.
Soudain, j’eus peur de ne plus distinguer le vêtement que je venais d’enlever
de la liquette propre que j’avais emportée avec moi. La mer remonta et me mouilla
les pieds. Je m’élançai et grimpai sur le pont. Et le voilà qui s’ébranle et commence
à bouger.
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PALABRAS ... DESCUBIERTO EN TRADUCCIÓN
Susana Medina
Extracto de la novela inédita
Juguetes filosóficos
Traducido del inglés por la autora
Juguetes filosóficos trata sobre nuestra relación con los objetos, las cosas, los fetiches,
los secretos de familia que se pueden descubrir a través de sus pertenencias. En este
extracto del segundo capítulo, la narradora medita sobre la dislocación lingüística
que experimentó al comienzo de su vida en Londres.
En aquel tiempo, el tiempo no existía, era tan estimulante, la abolición del tiempo.
Era el tiempo de correr, los pensamientos reflexivos te impedían correr, tenían
demasiado peso, había algo entorpecedor en la reflexión, yo quería correr. Corría en
todas direcciones, saboreando el hecho de que hiciera lo que hiciera, no importaba
lo inconsecuente que fuera, estaba aprendiendo una lengua nueva. Saboreaba riñas
con novios, donde aprendía formas nuevas de expresar la furia, insultos oscuros,
expresiones absurdas como ‘no te hagas las bragas un lío’, y a veces incluso visitaba
al gerente de mi banco con transacciones complicadas para recibir enseñanza
gratuita en inglés financiero. Pronto me dí cuenta de que la mayoría de la gente
en esta ciudad, incluida yo misma, hablaba un inglés raro. La mayoría de la gente
era de otro lugar. Durante mis años adolescentes, había aprendido algo de inglés
escuchando canciones pop que traducía concienzudamente y cantaba a voz en
grito sabiendo que el canto no es mi punto fuerte. También, durante tres años había
aprendido una versión patois en el colegio con una mujer guapa y alegre que había
logrado convertir la lengua inglesa en un dialecto que sonaba perfectamente a
español, lo que me hizo sospechar que practicaba una forma audaz de sátira. Sus
palabras inglesas tenían una calidad angular, su entonación era perfectamente
andaluza y había transferido bastantes sonidos del español al inglés, haciendo que
sonara como una catástrofe sofisticada, un accidente con estilo a la espera de un
estudio lingüístico de mutaciones extrañas del inglés.
El inglés que hablaba cuando llegué a Londres, sólo me permitía los intercambios
más básicos. Asistí a clases de inglés con jóvenes misionarios involuntarios
que viajaban por el mundo diseminando la lengua de un imperio que se había
trasladado al otro lado del Atlántico. Hacía los deberes, escribía las palabras nuevas
en un pequeño cuaderno rojo. Aprendí inglés con un punk inglés auténtico, John K.
Lucía una cresta verde. Era un desastre a tiempo completo, pero un punk de verdad,
para mí el equivalente de la realeza inglesa, un novio trofeo del que hablar con mis
amigos en Almería. Era de Mile End. Su habla era una mezcla del londinense de la
clase popular y el argot más callejero. Me enseñó cómo pedir un cigarrillo: ‘got a
fag, mate’, a decir ‘innit’, ‘blimey’, ‘wa´er’ y a no decir ‘my’ sino ‘me’: ‘me brother’, ‘me
grub’. Me despigmalionizó a su manera. Rápidamente desarrollé un acento y un
vocabulario que asombraba a mis profesores de inglés. Yo ni siquiera sabía que había
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50 Years, 50 Cases
PALABRAS ... DESCUBIERTO EN TRADUCCIÓN
adquirido un acento cockney. Cuando lo dejé, me persiguió durante un tiempo.
Me dejó un mensaje en el contestador en el que suspiraba: eres un puta tan
encantadora, eso es lo que adoro de ti. Luego otro que decía: púdrete en el infierno.
Luego otro: me gustaba tanto la forma en la que tarareabas mientras … Y luego otro:
¿todavía me quieres? Entonces cambié de número de teléfono. Supongo que me
cansé del realismo sucio. Fue entonces que conocí a Mary Jane.
Mi ignorancia lingüística era tan flexible que mi acento se transformó en un
acento afectado cuando conocí a Mary Jane Prendergast. La conocí en la Escuela
Slade de Arte, en una fiesta anual que se celebraba con fresas y nata en el patio
interior. Se me acercó, me puso una fresa en la boca, extendió la mano y dijo: Mary
Jane Loquesea, encantada de conocerte.
Mary Jane era una estudiante madura, de bonito pelo pelirojo largo y liso, en su
mejilla un lunar aterciopelado que era una entrada insospechada a otra dimensión.
Había sido asistente de dentista, hablaba con gran cariño sobre los instrumentos
relucientes, las prótesis, llevaba ropa de colores cuando todo el mundo iba vestido
de negro. No estábamos interesadas en la pintura. Nos interesaba más crear
esculturas con objetos encontrados, encuentros inesperados de cosas, entidades de
alguna forma perturbadoras, objetos inquietantes. Mary Jane hizo un monstruoso
ojo femenino, con pestañas rizadas extra tupidas. Yo hice unas narices de Pinocho
que se retorcían en formas caprichosas.
Es extrañíííííííííííííísimo, Mary Jane solía decir, alzando las cejas, abriendo los ojos
hasta el grado más excesivo, estirando la palabra hasta el límite, deformándola hasta
que la palabra se descomponía dejando un rastro espectral que flotaba alrededor
de ella. Le encantaba transformar lo perfectamente normal en extraño. Extraño.
Nos encantaba todo lo extraño. Por supuesto, la normalidad era definitivamente
extraña, a veces nos interesaba ese tipo de extrañeza, pero la mayoría del tiempo
cultivábamos situaciones enrarecidas. Cultivábamos todo lo que nos empujara a
una realidad diferente. A las dos nos fascinaban los traumas, las patologías, las
compulsiones, las fronteras borrosas, los placeres negativos. Lo explorábamos en
nuestras vidas, en nuestro trabajo. La repetición, el deseo, la destrucción, eso era lo
que nos atraía, objetos desagradables, la belleza de lo abyecto, transmutar la mierda
en oro y el oro en plumas.
[…]
Mira esa flor, es extrañíííííííííííííísima.
Mary Jane me enseñó a reconocer flores extrañamente libidinosas, a buscar
esculturas involuntarias, a observar la forma, el color y la textura de las cosas
naturales y fabricadas. No me dí cuenta hasta que empecé a hacer de escritora
fantasma sobre Buñuel, pero de alguna forma, estábamos trabajando dentro de
la tradición surrealista. Inconscientemente tuvimos que sentir que esa tradición
no estaba exhausta, especialmente la tradición de objetos ominosos, de objetos
perversamente sexualizados. Nunca conectamos nuestro trabajo al surrealismo
pues lo veíamos como un movimiento prehistórico y remoto que había sido
completamente absorbido por la publicidad. Pero como nosotras, los surrealistas
estaban interesados en poner lo visible al servicio de lo invisible, habían explorado
el sex-appeal de lo inorgánico, veían la demencia como un lugar de exploración
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PALABRAS ... DESCUBIERTO EN TRADUCCIÓN
artística. Como los surrealistas, queríamos crear una atmósfera de ambivalencia
psíquica, provocar a través de la ambigüedad, el terror sublime, la belleza abyecta.
Nos hundimos en las profundidades de la abyección para crear una obra que fuera
interesante. Sin lugar a dudas, algunos de los surrealistas tenían cuelgues con las
mujeres. Nosotras también teníamos cuelgues con los hombres, pero más que nada,
con nuestras identidades de mujer. Nos dimos cuenta de que de muchas formas
estábamos metidas en un mero juego de invertir los papeles. Por aquel entonces no
entendíamos que a veces se teme al objeto de deseo, que a veces el deseo con su fuerza
ilimitada es como para temerlo. Se nos hizo cada vez más imposible ignorar que
estábamos convirtiendo al miedo en sarcasmo.
Estuvimos todo aquel año tratando de solucionar estas cosas. Mary Jane estuvo
consultando sus cosas con la almohada. Yo desmenucé mi escritura hasta su esencia
más mínima. Solía escribir cuentos antes de conocer a Mary Jane. Cuentos sobre
dulces hombres desastre, toda mi vida giraba alrededor de la búsqueda de historias.
Entonces me cansé de las historias. Había leído tantas. Escrito tantas. Decidí que lo
que me encantaba de la lectura, de la escritura, era la forma en que una frase
encarnaba una verdad insospechada, las constelaciones perfectas de palabras, el
ritmo, el placer complejo del lenguaje. Las historias se volvieron sospechosas, la ilusión
de que había un significado tras todo este caos, una mentira. Quería seguir la lógica
de los sonidos, quería descubrir las afinidades secretas de las palabras, no quería
sacrificar la vida de las palabras con el fin de contar una historia. Desmenucé las
historias en fragmentos. Y los fragmentos en más fragmentos. Quería algo diferente.
Los fragmentos eran tan resistentes.
Palabras. Me fascinaban tanto por su significado como por su música. Me
encantaba la forma en que fluían juntas hacia melodías impredecibles, su pulso, su
sonido como materia, su textura. Me encantaban las palabras en todas las lenguas,
pero sobre todo me encantaban las palabras en español. No quería sacrificar mi propia
lengua materna para adoptar una lengua nueva como hacen algunos extranjeros
cuando se van desnudando de su lengua materna para encajar en una cultura nueva,
sólo para descubrir que no encajan en ninguna de las dos. Era una forma de agarrarme
a mi identidad lingüística. Leía ávidamente en mi propia lengua para mantenerla
a la perfección. Escribía en mi propia lengua mientras aprendía inglés, incluso si no
lo podía compartir con nadie: en general, los ingleses tienden a ser resueltamente
monolingües, un excentricismo vergonzoso, un escándalo.
Me hice adicta al diccionario. Había algo desconcertante cuando buscaba la
traducción de palabras españolas al inglés y viceversa. Había siempre huecos
escurridizos en las traducciones. Había algo que se perdía y algo extra. En ambas
lenguas había palabras sin equivalente. El diccionario daba equivalentes, cuando
en realidad se trataba de aproximaciones pobres. Una palabra quería decir cinco
cosas diferentes en una lengua, pero no quería decir la mitad de esas palabras en
la otra, sino que por el contrario significaba un conjunto de palabras diferentes. Las
palabras se perdían en otras palabras, formando constelaciones que cambiaban
continuamente. Y luego no podía oler del todo a las palabras inglesas, no podía del
todo degustar su sabor, su ambiente emocional. Las palabras españolas siempre
me sonaban mejor. Mi relación con el inglés era diferente. Era aprendida, no me
pertenecía del todo, carecía de la textura de años de experiencia, la textura de un
diccionario altamente subjetivo, aunque me encantaba escuchar a Mary Jane.
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50 Years, 50 Cases
PALABRAS ... DESCUBIERTO EN TRADUCCIÓN
Victor Terán
Luna
Traducido del zapoteco por el autor
Luna. Blanca luna preciosa
como el brillo de los ojos del cazador infortunado
que avizora un conejo en el monte.
Luna cáscara vaciada y enmohecida del cachimbo.1
Luna vientre preñada.
Luna delirante
como el coladero que sueña ser colmado de agua.
Luna huevo malogrado.
Luna fruto maduro del gomero:
regálame un pedazo de tu júbilo
para refrescar la vida de mi pueblo.
Luna huipil 2 de ceremonias
que engalana la cabeza de las zapotecas:
regálame las luciérnagas que habitan en tu corazón
para alumbrar los caminos de mi gente.
Luna intacta, luna llena.
Luna que goza riendo a carcajadas
y golpeando las nalgas con las palmas de la mano.
1. Cachimbo: árbol americano cuyo fruto redondo y cascarudo proporciona
alimento a los pájaros y a los niños campesinos.
2. Huipil: Camisa suelta de mujer, sin mangas y adornada con vistosos bordados,
generalmente usada por la poblacíon indígena de las Américas.
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50
WORDS ... WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
Matt Turner
1990: Aung San Suu Kyi
Volunteer opportunity: beautiful but oppressed country requires
courageous figurehead to stand against murderous military
despot. An inspirational motivator, your key responsibilities
include: lifelong self-sacrifice, promoting democracy and nonviolent resistance (despite intense provocation). Must be willing
to work long hours (mainly from home). No holiday entitlement.
Positive outlook essential. Apply within.
Political opposition leader, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and author
Aung San Suu Kyi was elected Burma’s Prime Minister in 1990,
a result negated by the ruling military junta. She has been
under house arrest for fourteen of the past twenty years.
See: ‘Because Writers Speak Their Minds’, the fiftieth-anniversary
campaign of International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee;
www.internationalpen.org.uk and http://26-50.tumblr.com.
WiPC
50 Years, 50 Cases
WORDS ... CASEY MERKIN
Casey Merkin
Excerpt from the novel
The Crimes of Paris
The Crimes of Paris is a darkly comic anti-travelogue and histoire de la déception
amoureuse. The opening section, ‘Les chroniques de Bruce’ , from which this excerpt
is taken, follows the experiences of the narrator, Casey, with his ‘sometimes fictitious
French roommate’ , Bruce (whose influence is felt in the casual use of French
vocabulary and typographical style throughout the novel). Casey has recently
landed in Paris after a so-called divorce in Los Angeles.
Café Philosophique: The Institution of Marriage
One of the great advantages of my new apartment is that it’s only a five-minute
walk to the Canal Saint-Martin. Paid for in wine by Napoléon and built to bring
fresh water and goods into the city, the canal now supplies the 19e, 11e and 10e
arrondissements with a wash of young guitar players and elderly winos. From
the Bassin de la Villette to the rue du Faubourg du Temple (whence it continues
underground all the way to the Porte de l’Arsenal, just below the Bastille), the
bords du canal are a popular pique-nique destination and a home away from
homelessness for the hundreds of sans abris who have taken up residence there
in tents.
To kill time before meeting up with some people at a club upstream, B. E. and
I are sitting over a couple of demis at Chez Prune, a café branché located along the
canal in a bobo section of the 10e. For the past half hour, he’s been telling me about
his attempts to get some trim in Paris, and how they have all ended in failure.
But with a frustrated shake of his head, he changes the topic :
–So how’s life with Bruce ? You know, it’s never too late to look for a place
together.
–Yeah, I moan, and go through all that shit you have to do here to get a legit
place ?
–It’s not that big a deal …
–The paperwork, the agents, the intense scrutiny of your bank history –
which, incidentally, I don’t even have in France –, finding a guarantor willing
to cover a year’s worth of rent … If I at least had a visa, that would be one thing.
Besides, I told you : I don’t want to live with another American.
B. E. has been in France for a few months already on a student visa. (I should
mention that « B. E. » is not really his name. For years now, he’s been using his
initials as a nom de plume, a literary affectation I find hilarious. Since my arrival,
I’ve been adding to the ostentation by encouraging everyone we know to call him
« B. E. », and it’s actually become an identity he begrudgingly embraces.) B. E.’s
master plan was to get into the country by taking a course at the Sorbonne, make
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WORDS ... CASEY MERKIN
some contacts, land a job and then secure a more permanent visa. Either that or
meet a French girl and get pacsé. So far, though, he’s mostly met foreign students
and Americans.
–What do you and Bruce do, anyway ? he asks. I mean, what do you talk about ?
The truth is, I tell him, we don’t talk about much. There’s not a lot of partying
chez nous. We generally watch at least one horrible movie per night, usually during
and after dinner. Bruce has been educating me on classics from the seventies such
as Les Bronzés and the work of Franck Dubosc (including Les Petites annonces and
Camping), as well as modern cinematic masterpieces like Brice de Nice (yes, thank
you, I’ve already made that joke). If Bruce is out, I might have some people over for
dinner. But otherwise, our only guests are our pieds-noirs neighbors and Vincent,
a friend of Bruce’s who stops by on Wednesdays after his Yammani-ryū class to
watch bo staff martial arts videos. So far, though, it is a comfortable arrangement.
If I don’t want the company, I just go to my room. (The same cannot be said of
Bruce.)
–Well, if you don’t want to live with me, I guess you’re doomed to life with
a meathead.
–He’s not a meathead. He’s just … spécial, as the French say. In a way, we have
a lot in common.
–You both idolize Arnold Schwarzenegger ?
–We’re both divorced, and–
–For fuck sake, will you please stop saying that ?
–What ?
–You’re not divorced. You were never married !
–Not in the strictest sense, no. But I lived with Madeleine for four years.
So breaking up was like a divorce. What’s the difference ?
–It’s not the same, B. E. insists.
–Lot of marriages don’t even last that long.
–It’s still not the same. There’s a psychological difference. You were never
married, so it’s still just another « New York divorce ».
–We lived in L. A.
–You know what I mean.
–Listen, for all intents and purposes, we lived together as man and wife.
We shared a bedroom and car payments, split the groceries and ate together
every night. She sat and peed while I brushed my teeth in the morning, I sat and
yawned while she watched television at night. What does it matter that we didn’t
take part in the atavistic rituals of a religion neither of us practices ? Or have the
state sanction our union with a piece of paper and a tax penalty ? So what if we
didn’t spend an ungodly sum of money to announce to the world that we loved
each other, or make a grand public statement to our family and friends about our
supposed promise to die together ? The only difference is that we didn’t buy into
an outmoded social institution in which two people lay a claim to owning each
other. That’s all just the abracadabra of marriage.
–Precisely, says B. E. That’s how it works. It’s like voodoo. Once you believe in
it, the spell’s been cast. And breaking it is a psychically traumatic process with all
kinds of unexpected repercussions. You never had that, and so you can’t call it a
divorce.
WiPC
50 Years, 50 Cases
WORDS ... CASEY MERKIN
–Semantics !
–Anyway, says B. E. dismissively. Explain to me again why you didn’t just marry
Maddy … She’s beautiful, brilliant, accomplished. I never saw you two fight, you
always seemed happy with her. So what the fuck are you doing here ?
That’s a funny question coming from B. E., considering he was the one who
convinced me that I could use a change of continents. But now that we’ve had it
out a little bit and B. E. has focused us on the heart of the matter, we take a brief
pause to refresh ourselves with couple of long pulls of bière blonde.
–Because, I continue, marriage is an unreasonable proposition. A promise made
without any knowledge of what’s to come. It’s like a credit card contract – which
is itself an oxymoron. You can’t have a contract where each party can change the
terms of the agreement at any point without the other’s knowledge.
–Yeah, yeah, B. E. agrees half-heartedly, your beloved can always get fat or grow
boring, but–
–It is a promise based on nothing. A promise made blindly.
–Some would call that promise an act of faith, says B. E.
–
–Bad
faith, I shoot back. La mauvaise foi … It’s a perfect example of salvation
mentality.
–What’s that supposed to mean ?
–People have this expectation that once you’re married, the job is done.
They’re saved. That’s it, it’s over. This one relationship is going to be the perfect
arrangement. As if there isn’t still more work to do, if only you can get across that
finish line. That’s why people invest so much in it. It’s become a goal unto itself,
whereas really it’s just another stage in a relationship, one that can go anywhere
after that point. There’s a kind of religiosity to marriage.
–Obviously, B. E. interjects. It’s supposed to be a sacred union, after all.
–But I mean that people need marriage the way they need religion. They’re
not strong enough to stand on their own without a story to back it all up. Both are
crutches. Expecting everything to come from one relationship, just as expecting
all good things in life to come from God, is an enormous shirking of responsibility.
We’re all too willing to give up our independence. Do we really need to believe in
a lie in order to function ?
–Your argument is just a tad lopsided, Casey. You’re ignoring the fact that
marriage means different things to different people. You can’t just generalize about
everybody else’s expectations. Sometimes a marriage really does serve a purpose.
–Sure, and arranged marriage also serves a purpose. If anything, the real
foundation of marriage is laid bare there : sexual and economic rights over a
woman or a man. Voilà, quoi ! The sad part is that Westerners pretend that our
form of marriage is somehow fundamentally different. As though the process of
selecting one love to the exclusion of all others is any less random than having a
mate assigned to you.
–You always have to be an extremist, don’t you ?
–And yet as enormously as Americans believe in the system – we marry way
more than Europeans – we divorce more than anyone in the world !
–How odd, B. E. observes pensively after sipping his beer. You have this
philosophical rejection of marriage, and yet you tell people all the time that you’re
twice divorced.
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WORDS ... CASEY MERKIN
And to this I offer a toast.
–
–Divorce
, I can believe in! That’s real enough …
–OK, fine. But what are you looking for that you haven’t already had ? What
do you expect to find ? No relationship is perfect, you know. It’s like my uncle told
me once : « Of course, I’ll always find a woman who is more attractive, or has more
money, or is more talented than my wife. But I choose my wife. She is my wife. » …
I mean, isn’t looking for something more than what you already have an illusion
just as damaging as your rejection of marriage ?
And for that I have no answer. Instead I pull out my mobile to check the time.
–You want to get out of here ? I ask. B. E. nods and lets out a weary, already-hadone-demi-too-many sigh. After a brief battle of wills with a surly waiter intent on
ignoring us, we pay our addition and stroll out into the damp air of an early March
evening. Leaving the warm and lively atmosphere of the café makes the mild
midwinter seem chillier than it really is. The lights are on along the canal, and we
cross the street to reach the pavement that runs alongside the slow-flowing water.
We walk in silence up the Quai de Valmy until we come to a turn in the street.
A little further along, we start up an incline in the pavement, and the bank of the
canal falls away on our right. Below, we spot a small camp of SDF (sans domicile
fixe). The canal is lined with them in sections, and a few homeless men pass
a bottle as they cook over a small fire. The air is acrid with the smell of burnt
turpentine or plastic – they’re burning whatever scraps they can find in the street.
On the other side of the lock, the water is once again up at our level, and we
stop for a moment to examine something we spot on the surface : a baguette and
a tampon floating bloatedly side by side in the water. For a brief instant, I love
that Paris, this city famous for its beauty, should be flawed by so many such dirty
details.
B. E. dispels my moment of appreciation :
–Have you ever considered that with concepts like this – marriage, nationalism,
religion, family – that you tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater ? That
because you can tear down the superstructure of the idea, you dispense with the
foundations ?
–Oh, come on. It’s not like you buy into that shit either.
–No, I don’t, says B. E. But I don’t think I get quite as pissed off about it. I don’t
get all Revivalist preacher about it the way you do.
–I just know what I want, that’s all.
At this, B. E. bursts out laughing.
–Oh, really ?
He’s laughing so hard he clutches his stomach and practically doubles over.
–OK, no, I admit it. But I know what I don’t want.
–Well, that’s as good a start any, I guess, says B. E.
(Work in progress, 2010)
WiPC
50 Years, 50 Cases
PALABRAS ... SARA CABA
Sara Caba
Le Temo
Lo miro de reojo, con temor de que mi mirada inquisitiva lo despierte. Poco
entiendo del modo en que funciona, a veces pienso que posee poderes secretos,
que lee mi mente y se da cuenta del hueco que cargo en el corazón, y que por eso
me mira con esos ojos como estrellas partidas que cuelgan con un brillo cegador
del vacío. No parece ser una mirada de niño pequeño, pareciera más bien ser la
mirada de un ser que es consciente de que algo no anda bien, desde antes de
haber nacido, quizás incluso desde la preconcepción. Se ha quedado dormido
después de haber correteado por el parque. El parque, las caminatas, y los largos
desplazamientos en bus nos han salvado la vida.
Es un niño intenso, no solo a mí me ve con esos ojos estallados y firmes, ve
al mundo del mismo modo, quizás desconfiado ya de todos y de todo. Se entretiene
en un universo particular al que yo no estoy invitada ni quiero estarlo, mirando
las flores, tocando su textura, inhalando sus esencias, contemplando los patos
del estanque, tras los que no corre, como veo que hace el resto de los niños,
sino que sólo los examina, se acerca lo suficiente como para poder aprehender
sus rasgos, guardando distancias prudentes para evitar ser picoteado, parece
también entender esto: el peligro y las distancias que nos protegen del daño.
Yo me siento en una banca, lejana, tratando de capturar algo de la esencia de este
ser al que no comprendo aunque yo misma haya creado. Desearía poder abrir un
libro, sumergirme en las letras, abstraerme como solía hacerlo hasta hace poco
menos de dos años, pero no me es posible, no me es posible tampoco unírmele
y disfrutar la vida desde su enigmático planeta, entonces vivo en un limbo en
que nada se define, todo es una membrana nebulosa en la que mi hijo y yo
flotamos, él creciendo, yo callando. Somos como dos sombras que de vez en
cuando se toman las manos, como una pareja de amantes sombríos que caminan
por el parque con poco que decir.
Cuando se cansa viene a mí, nunca yo a él, y estira sus pequeños brazos
para que le coloque el abrigo. Es la señal de que su hora de juego ha terminado.
Un escalofrío me recorre la espalda y se me eriza la piel, no entiendo el mecanismo
de este diminuto ser, el modo en que decide y hace. Veo que los otros niños son
distintos, no deciden por sí mismos, son las madres quienes se acercan a ellos, los
abrazan, los plagan de besos, y son ellas las que levantan los bracitos de los niños
juguetones y distraídos, y son ellas quienes deciden que es hora de marcharse.
Mi hijo es como un pequeño robot autosuficiente, o un adulto triste atrapado en
un cuerpo infante que viene a mí, alza sus brazos, comunica fin. Le pongo el abrigo
de ositos de colores, le coloco el gorrito como para hacer una gracia pero él se lo
retira, con un gesto seco y duro, quizás copiando el modo en que yo misma le he
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PALABRAS ... SARA CABA
colocado el abrigo segundos atrás. Miradas huecas se encuentran, y dos manos
se juntan por inercia en un ángulo muy bajo, casi a ras de suelo.
Nos montamos al bus, subimos al segundo piso atravesando grandes
obstáculos. Soy la única madre que con alma descarriada se apresura para sentarse
en el asiento frontal del segundo piso. Al niño parece gustarle también, es de los
pocos momentos en que lo veo reír, y viéndolo trazar esa sonrisa que pareciera
venir de un lugar que se conserva puro aún siento que lo quiero y que me quiero
reír con él, pero entonces me ve y sus ojos explotados se apoderan de nuevo de su
rostro, apagan las risas, y dos seres tristes emigran a sus mundos. El niño cae en un
sueño profundo a los pocos minutos, sacude sus manitas con apuro, sus párpados
que ahora cubren su inquietante mirada se mueven a intérvalos impredecibles,
me pregunto si soñará y cómo soñará careciendo de tanto lenguaje. Conoce pocas
palabras, mamá es una de ellas. Me pregunto si sueña con mamá, y cómo será
mamá en sus sueños. Me pregunto si sueña con todo aquello que pareció disecar
con sus ojos, si en sus fantasías puede tocar a los patos sin que lo dañen, y mamá
es como las otras mamás.
La gente dice que tiene mi boca, que tiene mis ojos, pero lo cierto es no que
es así, no tiene nada de mí, sino que es poseedor de sus órganos propios, es una
persona distinta a mí, un ser que no termino de entender, y entonces me doy
cuenta de que le temo. Mientras el bus serpentea, y se suben y bajan diferentes
personas que me miran extrañadas, me pregunto si le temo por no entenderlo
o no lo entiendo porque le temo. Miro su perfil, su pequeñita nariz que de tan
pequeña pareciera más la nariz de un perrito que la de un humano, observo su
pecho diminuto que respira rítmicamente, y me cuesta creer que todo eso haya
salido de mí. Nueve meses preguntándome cómo sería, y sobre todo, si lo querría.
No te preocupes, al nacer te enamorarás, me decían las poquísimas personas a las
que me atrevía a confesarles que no sentía nada, solo un estómago en aumento,
unos pechos hinchados, una nausea persistente. Ya verás que te llegará, a veces
toma un poco más de tiempo. Cuánto tiempo sería ese tiempo, me preguntaba
mientras veía al niño que ahora empezaba a hacer como que se iba a despertar.
Le toco la cabecita tibia y tersa tratando de mimarlo, de perpetuar ese sueño
que nos trae paz a los dos, pero el roce de mi mano causa el efecto inverso, y antes
de darme cuenta tengo la mirada de ese cóndor clavada en mí. Retiro la mano
antes de permitirme que lo haga él, me la sostengo con la otra, me sudan ambas,
el niño me mira sin tregua, le ruego que vuelva a dormir, no se inmuta, le imploro
con desesperación, el silencio continúa siendo su respuesta, le digo que mamá
necesita descansar, y un brillo cegador cubre su mirada mordaz, le digo entonces
que es un niño malo y que no lo quiero. Gira la cabeza, sus ojos continúan brillando,
diluyéndose en un horizonte que ya ha empezado a oscurecer.
WiPC
50 Years, 50 Cases
WORDS ... ANZHELINA POLONSKAYA / LARISSA MILLER
Anzhelina Polonskaya
Two Birds
from Dalmatian Cycle
Two birds on the grey, ashy sand.
The sleeping bird is on the right; her feathers are dull
and forgetting has prepared a place for her in the fallen leaves.
The wind tears a feather from her wing, to write
in the rain’s invisible ink the word umbra
on one side and lumen on the other, over where
the second bird cries over the dead one, opening its yellow beak.
Sending you this picture, I only want to say
that I can be both birds at once.
Translated from Russian by Andrew Wachtel
Larissa Miller
Intitulée
Je n’ai qu’un seul tableau chez moi –
C’est une image en cadre blanc:
Le jour de juin, jardin charmant
Dans ma fenêtre à claire-voie,
… Et la maison, puis la bordure.
Là où le peintre a oublié
De mettre au clair sa signature; –
Une herbe verte et délavée.
Traduit du russe par Nikita Makarov
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WORDS ... AMRUTA PATIL
Amruta Patil Seated Scribe
WiPC
50 Years, 50 Cases
WORDS ... AMRUTA PATIL
49
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WiPC
50
WORDS ... WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
Nick Parker
1997: Faraj Sarkoohi
We do not like
the words you choose.
So, we have chosen
some for you:
I flew to Germany.
I stayed for a month.
I contacted no one.
You are mistaken.
Everything is normal.
I am fine. I am fine.
Isn’t that how you tell a story?
Now. Come with us.
Essayist and editor Faraj Sarkoohi was imprisoned by Iranian
authorities under the Shah’s regime as well as under the Islamic
Republic. A key figure in the anti-censorship movement that has
seen many its writers die since the mid-1990s, he was tortured
and threatened with execution before being released in 1998.
He lives and works in Germany. See: ‘Because Writers Speak Their
Minds’, the fiftieth-anniversary campaign of International PEN’s
Writers in Prison Committee; www.internationalpen.org.uk
and http://26-50.tumblr.com.
WiPC
50 Years, 50 Cases
DES PAROLES ... ABDELMAJID BENJELLOUN
Abdelmajid Benjelloun
Les yeux de Pessoa
Pessoa s’efforçait
de dévier systématiquement
de tout ce que la vie lui offrait.
Allons donc !
Non, il marchait dans les rues
le ciel
dans les poches
et le regard rivé
sur l’amour !
Sur l’amour seul.
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WORDS ... JOHN MATEER
John Mateer
Pessanha’s House, Lisbon
Carlos, in his long black coat,
stands at the end of the bar
like a magi, listing the names
of cities in Africa and Asia,
giving his opinion on each.
Ana Paula, historian and poet,
with her big green maternal eyes,
listens, her Luanda of last week
vast as the Forbidden City.
And Mónica, too, my Galician love,
has in her heart, at very least,
Torre de Hércules. While Miguel,
the publisher, paces back and forth,
planning, plotting … The first
time I met Carlos was in Macau,
outside the smoky Á-Mà Temple,
he wore a black suit and walked us
along the Inner Harbour to show
the Wall of Dissimulation,
Pessanha’s other home. In his essay
on the poet’s house, it’s a chaotic museum;
Chinese scrolls, statues, plates
everywhere, except in the bedroom
where Camilo sits, tearfully presenting
his mother’s rosary. Carlos may be
right: there are the starry conurbations
of the departing world, and then,
always, the kindly void of the Mother.
Like this bar that, he says, he’s
frequented over the decades,
each time under a different name.
WiPC
50 Years, 50 Cases
WORDS ... WALERIAN DOMANSKI
Walerian Domanski
Smoke Factories
In 1955, I sat on the Regional Party Committee of the city of Kielce, as First Secretary
for Economic Affairs. That summer was a hot one; the sky seemed aglow at all
times. One day, my assistant informed me that the Secretariat of the Party Central
Committee in Warsaw was convening an urgent conference, and that my presence
would be required: I had only twelve hours until it began. I immediately informed
my wife and sent for my driver, and for the rest of the day attended only to the
most urgent problems on my desk.
I arrived in Warsaw the following day, and checked into a room that had been
reserved for me at the hotel where the Central Committee meeting was to take
place. It had also been arranged that meals would be served in a special canteen.
I met a few old friends who were also in attendance. We settled down at 10am
for the beginning of the conference, which was led by Jakub Berman, a highranking member of the Polish Politburo who was known to have Stalin’s trust.
He began the conference in typical fashion – but the topic of our meeting, it turned
out, was not so typical.
‘Comrades,’ Berman began, ‘I am very pleased to welcome you all. The theme
of this conference is the prevention of unemployment.’
Now, with the great achievement of communism came, supposedly, full
employment. In communist Poland we could not refer to the ‘unemployed’, for in
fact no one could be unemployed. Berman emphasised that we could not allow this
chief principle of communism to be disrespected.
Yet Polish production had shown a dangerous tendency to slow down, for
various reasons – sites throughout the country had been informing us that the lack
of materials and orders from abroad were preventing them from having anything
to produce. Our trading partners, including the Soviet Union, China and other
communist countries, were experiencing economic difficulties of their own, and
cutting off orders, especially for consumer goods. We had full order books only for
coal, steel, sulphur, freight cars, ships and military equipment. (The Soviet Union
and China, evidently, were not slowing down defence spending.)
The time had come, Berman exhorted us, to take drastic measures to maintain
full employment. First we considered a transfer of workers from industry to
agriculture, but agriculture was already overstaffed. We wondered if perhaps
sending our workers to foreign countries on international contracts was the
answer, but this idea was rejected as too risky, as workers there might either be
recruited by Western intelligence services or defect entirely. Our Soviet comrades
were also very likely to protest such a notion.
No, we comrades concluded, the only way to solve this problem was to build
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WORDS ... WALERIAN DOMANSKI
factories, which would be required to employ workers without the necessary
hard-to-come-by materials for production. They would, moreover, need to operate
at a low cost, without the need for skilled labour.
Meeting such conditions naturally proved a daunting challenge, but finally
one of the comrades from the Secretariat came up with a brilliant idea. ‘Build
smoke factories,’ he said, by which he meant factories constructed for the purpose
of producing nothing but … smoke!
A murmur of surprise rippled through the room. Party activists were accustomed to controversial ideas from the Secretariat – but smoke factories? It was really
an astonishing suggestion.
‘Comrades, please be quiet!’ intoned Berman. ‘The use of these words is strictly
confidential – for internal use only. In practice, we shall call these ‘smoke factories’
something else. But for now the phrase reflects the essence of things. This idea
can meet our requirements and produce a fast, cheap and simple solution to our
problem. Most importantly, it will employ workers.
‘I shall repeat once again: our objective is to employ, employ, employ. There is
no other way! An unemployed worker easily becomes a class enemy. If worker does
not work, he does not earn, and if he is not earning, he will be angry and vulnerable
to propaganda from the West. We shall not proceed unless everyone here agrees.
Of course, we need to fine-tune the technical details of “Codename: SMOKE”.’
He continued: ‘The first, obvious question is: what kind of material will be used
to produce the smoke? To that I answer: any material! Smoke can be produced
from poor-quality, cheap coal, from waste wood, straw, hay, litter and so on. Local
authorities will be able to decide for themselves what materials will, for them,
be cheapest to burn, and most easily accessible. In the event of any shortage of
materials, the factory can simply stop production, and no great economic loss will
have been incurred. This is precisely the advantage of the “smoke factories” idea
above all others!’
It was concluded that even if the plants were to operate at only 50 percent
efficiency, no crushing economic blow would result. Should a factory be required
to close, the workers would be sent on forced leave, and paid 80 percent of their
lost earnings. Interruptions in production would not pose any problem as with
normal factories. In summertime, workers could be deployed to Agricultural
Production Cooperatives in the countryside to harvest grain, potatoes and beets
and work on water irrigation systems. But their main place of work was to be
at the smoke factories.
There remained the question of the transport of raw materials. Here again, this
issue would be at the discretion of the local authorities. Transport could take place
by rail, road, water and even horseback. It would cost, yes, but nothing was for free.
We must give to get, we were reminded.
‘Now I shall take your questions,’ Berman announced.
One conference attendee asked: ‘What will happen when information leaks
out about these factories to our enemies? What if it is announced on Radio Free
Europe?’
‘We have a solution to that,’ Berman said confidently. ‘These factories will
be classified as military production. Strict secrecy will apply, under penalty of
imprisonment. In addition, we must employ only trusted employees, Party
WiPC
50 Years, 50 Cases
WORDS ... WALERIAN DOMANSKI
members – especially the workers fuelling the furnaces as well as those involved
in the actual production of the smoke. The other employees will not know how the
materials are being used. Every factory will have an official security department to
intimidate anyone who might be tempted to become talkative. Moreover, if they
did talk, who would believe them in the West? It would seem incredible to them,
the existence of smoke factories!’
Another question was fielded: ‘What titles do we give the workers, and what
will their wages be?’
‘There will be no high wages,’ Berman replied. ‘Salaries will be only moderately
better than the lowest-paid. As for titles? Whatever! Something persuasive can be
easily invented – these are details for lower levels of government, Comrade.’
‘How will we recruit employees, if wages are to be so low?’
‘We expect a slowdown in economic growth in Poland, so the question of
employment should pose no great difficulty. Smoke factories will be constructed
only in areas at risk of unemployment.’
‘What about the effect on the ecology?’ asked one forward-thinking comrade.
Berman had an answer for this, too: ‘In military production, the environmental
protection officials can say nothing. Military factories have a free hand in this
regard. No one has any rights over them. Of course, should the wind, for example,
blow too much smoke to neighbouring housing units, the factory will cease
operation temporarily.’
‘Who will give the orders for the construction of these factories? The Ministry
of National Defence?’
‘Yes, but only after recommendations from the Secretariat of the Party Central
Committee, and after consultation with the Economic Planning Commission and
other central economic institutions.’
‘Will each province have a factory?’
‘This will depend on the situation of the labour force in the region. Upper Silesia
certainly will not need these factories, but eastern Poland will have the greatest
number on account of low industrialisation there. Distribution will be determined
by the Economic Planning Commission. But now, let us break for a two-hour lunch.’
We made our way to the reserved canteen, where a lively discussion took place.
I trusted very few comrades, so I seated myself at the far end of the room next to a
reliable official from Lower Silesia whom I considered a friend. We had known each
other since our days as Communist Party members and later guerrillas.
‘Marian, what do you think of this idea?’ I asked.
‘You know,’ he replied, ‘that we are not here to think, only to implement the
recommendations of the Politburo or the Secretariat. I think … what the Party
thinks!’
‘I know,’ I replied. ‘But the idea is so shocking that the hair on my head is
standing up. I feel like I am dreaming …’
‘I am shocked too, Walerian,’ Marian confided. ‘Out of all the things I have heard,
this idea is truly extraordinary.’
‘Do you remember the policy of punishing workers in court for being five
minutes late to work?’
‘I do. It failed in practiced. Administrative costs were higher than the savings in
production. Although that idea was not so stupid.’
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I sighed. ‘What is happening in this country? So many workers achieving 200
percent or even 300 percent of their production capacity, and still no goods in the
stores?’
Marian looked at me and grimaced. ‘It is bullshit, this “300 percent”. Mere
propaganda. Production is interrupted independently of the workers, though in
addition we employ many people who should not be employed: alcoholics, lazy
people. The full employment principle is a hiccup in the economy.’
‘Hence this crazy idea of smoke factories!’
‘Quiet, please,’ Marian chided me. ‘From an ideological point of view, this is not
a stupid idea. The October Revolution in Russia promised employment to everyone.
The Manifesto from 22 July 1944 in Poland promised it too. Otherwise, what would
the differences be between communism and capitalism?’
‘Well, the differences are significant at the level of the lives of the common
people. Fortunately, Poles cannot go abroad to compare standards of living.’
‘Believe me, Walerian, many Poles prefer socialism; whether you work hard
or not, your salary will be same.’
‘Of course, without socialism in Poland, we would not be in power as
Communist dignitaries …’
‘True. But how long will socialism remain in Poland? I wonder.’
‘As long as it persists in the Soviet Union! I do not like the Russians much,
but it is in our interests to remain bound to them as long as we can.’
‘Yes,’ I sighed, ‘but it’s costing Poland so much …’
‘“Nothing is for free,” he quoted Berman. “We must give to get.”’
We laughed and rejoined the conference, which was resuming. Detailed
discussions ensued, and several ‘improvements’ to the plan were introduced.
The gathering ended the following evening, and we all dispersed back to our
respective provinces.
My province was to build a total of seven smoke factories. From Marian I
found out that five were built in Lower Silesia. How many were built throughout
the entire country, I still do not know: the numbers were subject to military secrecy,
to which the intimidated smoke-factory employees adhered. Wily old Berman,
Stalin’s confidant, had been proved correct. Nor did news about the scheme leak
to the West, and if it had, it would probably not have been believed.
Had I not participated in the conference and later received hundreds of
encrypted instructions concerning the construction and operation of smoke
factories, I would not have believed it myself.
WiPC
50 Years, 50 Cases
WORDS ... CONTRIBUTORS
Contributors
S. Y. Agnon est né en 1888 en Galicie (aujourd’hui Ukraine) de parents juifs religieux. Il vécut de longues
années entre l’Europe et la Palestine, où il finit par s’établir jusqu’à sa mort en 1970. Empreinte d’un grand
onirisme, son œuvre complexe plonge ses racines dans les textes bibliques, talmudiques et hassidiques et
explore les multiples facettes de l’âme juive, religieuse et laïque, traditionaliste et moderne, dans une quête
de perfection et d’absolu. Lauréat du prix Nobel de littérature en 1966, il est aujourd’hui un grand classique
de la littérature hébraïque moderne.
Abdelmajid Benjelloun est né en 1944 à Fès, Maroc. Il était professeur à la faculté de Droit à Rabat de
1976–2005. Il travaille sur l’histoire du mouvement nationaliste marocain dans l’ex-Maroc espagnol depuis
une quarantaine d’années, ayant soutenu une thèse de doctorat à la faculté de Droit de Casablanca, en
1983. Il a publié six livres et plus de 200 articles sur le sujet. Il est écrivain, ayant à son actif quarante livres
(histoire, poésie, aphorismes, nouvelles, romans, etc). Il est membre fondateur de la Maison de la Poésie au
Maroc, et membre de l’Union des Écrivains du Maroc. Depuis 2009 il est Président du Centre Marocain du
PEN International. Il a produit, de 1999–2006, une émission culturelle hebdomadaire, Paroles d’esplanade,
à la chaîne de radio nationale marocaine RTM Chaîne Inter, en français. Il est aussi peintre.
Sujata Bhatt was born in Ahmedabad, India, and was raised in India and the US. She received her MFA
from the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, and later received the Commonwealth Poetry Prize
and the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award for her first collection, Brunizem (1988). She also received a Cholmondeley
Award in 1991, and the Italian Tratti Poetry Prize in 2000. She has translated poetry from both Gujarati
and German, and has been a Poet-in-Residence at the Poetry Archive, London. Her work has been widely
anthologised, broadcast on radio and television and translated into more than twenty languages.
Sara Caba nació en Costa Rica en 1977. Actualmente reside en Londres, donde llegó después de haber
vivido en Copenhague, Boston, y Estocolmo. Ha colaborado con varios medios culturales de su país en crítica
literaria y de cine, lleva un blog semanal en www.saracaba.com donde reflexiona sobre temas diversos, y
está trabajando en la conclusión de su primera novela. Sus relatos breves han aparecido en publicaciones
tales como The Barcelona Review y Narrativas. Combina la escritura con la enseñanza del español como
lengua secundaria.
Sylvestre Clancier, président du PEN club français, est natif du Limousin, berceau de sa famille. Il est
l’auteur d’une vingtaine de recueils poétiques dont on retiendra notamment: Expansion du domaine de
la bulle (2010), Généalogie du paysage (2008), L’Animal animé (1999), Profil du songe (1971) et nombreux
d’autres. Il a publié des essais sur la poésie et sur Freud, et un ouvrage de « politique-fiction », Le Testament
de Mao (1976). Après avoir été éditeur, il a enseigné dans les Universités Paris 13 et Paris 1 Panthéon
Sorbonne, fondé l’Association des amis de Gaston-Miron et a été élu membre de la prestigieuse Académie
Mallarmé. Il préside La Nouvelle Pléiade qui décerne chaque année le Grand Prix International de Poésie de
langue française Léopold Sedar Senghor.
Walerian Domanski was born in 1943 in Russia. In 1946, he accompanied his parents on their return
to Poland, and the family settled in Lower Silesia. In 1967 he obtained an MA in structural civil engineering
from Wroclaw University of Technology. In 1980 he became an activist in Poland’s Solidarity movement.
In 1981 he was chosen as a delegate to the union’s first national convention in Gdansk, and later served in
the union’s leadership in Lower Silesia. He was jailed, and following an amnesty in 1986 he left Poland for
the US. In 1969 he wrote a story about his experience as a junior football player, eventually won Second
Prize in a contest sponsored by a literary magazine in Wroclaw. In 1975 he published another humorous
story, ‘Fish’, in a trade magazine for the Polish publishing industry. Though he would become known as
a cartoonist, his next literary effort came at the age of sixty-five, with a collection of seventy (currently
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unpublished) stories about life in Communist Poland from 1945–80, which recount tales of ordinary
people trying to adapt themselves to the absurdity of life in that era.
Esther Heboyan is a Paris-based writer, translator, academic and mother. She was born in Istanbul in
1955 to Armenian parents who emigrated first to Germany, then to France. Later on, she herself moved to
Great Britain, then to the United States. She holds an MA in journalism from the University of Iowa, Iowa
City, and a PhD in American literature from the University of Sorbonne-Nouvelle, Paris. She has published
a short story collection, Les Passagers d’Istanbul (Editions Parenthèses, 2006) and a volume of poetry, Les
Rhododendrons (Editions Empreinte, 2009). Her English-language work has appeared in Ararat magazine,
New York, and online at Armenian Poetry Project (http://armenian-poetry.blogspot.com/). A second story
collection, Comme un dimanche d’août à Burgaz, is due in 2011 from Editions Empreinte.
Jamie Jauncey ayuda a la gente a encontrar su lugar en el mundo a través de la palabra escrita.
Como escritor, instructor y coach, trabaja con empresas de todo tipo. Sus dos novelas más recientes,
The Witness (2007) y The Reckoning (2009), fueron preseleccionadas para el premio Royal Mail de libros
infantiles de Escocia. Jauncey fue presidente de la Sociedad de Autores de Escocia y en la actualidad es
director del Festival Internacional del Libro de Edimburgo, el más grande del mundo. Su tío bisabuelo, R.
B. Cunninghame Graham, fue presidente fundador de PEN Escocia. Jamie escribe semanalmente sobre
lenguaje en su blog http://afewkindwords.blogspot.com
for his collection of short stories The Good Times (1989). His recent novels include You Have to Be Careful in
the Land of the Free (2004) and Kieron Smith, Boy (2009) which won the 2009 Scottish Arts Council/SMIT
Book of the Year Award. His newest collection of short stories is titled If It Is Your Life (2010).
Nikita Makarov est né à Dax dans le Sud-Ouest de la France en 1987. Bilingue, il a fait ses études
en France et en Russie. Il terminait ses études supérieures à l’Institut littéraire de Gorky auprès de l’Union
des écrivains russes à Moscou en 2009 en qualité de traducteur littéraire dans la section française.
Son travail de fin d’études concernait la traduction poétique en français de Lermontov, Le Novice.
Il vit en France et en Russie.
John Mateer was born in South Africa. He has published books and chapbooks of poems in South Africa,
Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Macau and Portugal, as well as a prose travelogue on Indonesia. His latest
publications include The West: Australian Poems 1989–2009, Ex-White/Einmal-Weiss: South African Poems
(2009), a collection of poems on the vestiges of Portuguese empire, Southern Barbarians (2009) and, with
Layli Rakhsha, English and Persian translations of his early Afrikaans poems. Recently he has been in China
researching the work of the French archaeologist, novelist and poet Victor Segalen.
Susana Medina es autora de Souvenirs del accidente, Cuentos rojos, Juguetes filosóficos, que es su
primera novela en inglés, y del corto cinematográfico Los Juguetes filosóficos de Buñuel, que se ha mostrado
ampliamente en el Reino Unido. Escribe tanto en inglés como en español. Su tesis de doctorado Borgesland,
un viaje textual por los espacios imaginarios en la obra de Jorge Luis Borges, es su primera incursión en el
género de ensayo. Colabora con diversas publicaciones de arte y literarias, y enseña literatura hispánica
en la Open University, Londres. Su obra multi-media se encuentra esparcida por internet. Ver www.
susanamedina.net
Pauline Melville was born in Guyana in 1948, and has worked as an actress in British film and
television. Her collection of short stories, Shape-shifter (1990), won the Commonwealth Writers Prize
for Best First Book, the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award and the Guardian Fiction Prize. Her first novel,
The Ventriloquist’s Tale (1997), was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and received the Whitbread Award
for Best First Novel. Her most recent novel is Eating Air (2010).
Casey Merkin is an American writer who left Paris in 2009 and is rumoured to currently reside
in Alaska.
Larissa Miller est née à Moscou en 1940. Elle est l’auteur de dix-huit livres de poésie et de prose,
dont deux livres en langue anglaise. Son recueil poétique en deux langues Guests of Eternity (2008)
a paru en Angleterre. Elle est membre du l’Union des écrivains russes depuis 1979 et ainsi que du
centre russe du PEN International depuis 1991. Elle vit à Moscou. Pour plus d’informations consultez
www.larisamiller.ru
Donato Ndongo-Bidyogo nació en Niefang, Guinea Ecuatorial, en 1950. Escritor y periodista, fue
director adjunto del Centro Cultural Hispano-Guineano de Malabo (la capital de su país), y director del
Centro de Estudios Africanos en la Universidad de Murcia, España, donde reside desde hace varios años
WiPC
50 Years, 50 Cases
WORDS ... CONTRIBUTORS
por su oposición a la dictadura. También fue delegado de la agencia de noticias española EFE en África
central, y profesor visitante en la Universidad de Missouri – Columbia (Estados Unidos). Su Antología
de la literatura guineana (1984) es considerada por la crítica internacional como la obra fundadora de la
literatura escrita en Guinea Ecuatorial. Además de relatos cortos, ha publicado libros de historia (Historia
y tragedia de Guinea Ecuatorial [1977], España en Guinea [1998]) y las novelas Las tinieblas de tu memoria
negra (1987), Los poderes de la tempestad (1997) y El Metro (2007), que le han situado como uno de los
escritores africanos más sobresalientes del momento.
Patrice Nganang est un auteur camerounais qui est né en 1970. Il est romancier, essayiste et poète.
Ses œuvres sont traduits en plusieurs langues. Son dernier roman, Mont Plaisant, a été publié par Phebus
en 2010.
Tamara O’Brien taught English at Adam Mickiewicz University in 1984 and subsequently, after a
long and winding road that took in a bookshop and two Councils (Camden and The British), became a
copywriter. She now enjoys creating perfect worlds with words. Her website is at www.tamaracopy.com
Nick Parker lives on the outskirts of town. By day he’s a creative director of the language consultancy
The Writer. By night he writes very short stories, very slowly. His first collection, The Exploding Boy and
Other Tiny Tales, is due out in summer 2010. Drop him a line at [email protected]
Amruta Patil is a writer and artist whose work aims to seamlessly blend text and image.
She is the author of a graphic novel, Kari, and co-editor of Mindfields, a magazine about ideas and
alternative education. She has an abiding love for mythology and history and a growing interest in
sustainable living. She is currently working on a graphic novel based on the Mahabharata. Her website
is at www.amrutapatil.com
Franco Pesce está iniciándose como escritor y traductor (según él, dos labores casi iguales). Nacido
en Santiago de Chile, vive actualmente en Londres, ciudad que dejará pronto para comenzar en la
Universidad de Cambridge un doctorado en literatura hispanoamericana. Escribe en http://frangopeixe.
wordpress.com y lee correos en [email protected]
Anzhelina Polonskaya was born in Malakhovka, near Moscow, in 1969. Since 1998 she has been
a member of the Moscow Union of Writers and, in 2003, became a member of Russian PEN. In 2004 her
book A Voice was published in English by Northwestern University Press as part of its acclaimed series
‘Writings from an Unbound Europe’ and shortlisted for the 2005 Corneliu M. Popescu Prize for European
Poetry in Translation as well as for the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European
Languages’ prize for literature in translation.
Rita Sabah a obtenu son diplômée de l’Université de Ramat-Aviv (Israël) en 1983. Elle traduit de
l’anglais et de l’hébreu plusieurs essais et pièces de théâtre. Également journaliste, elle collabore
régulièrement avec Le Monde Diplomatique. En 1999, sa nouvelle intitulée « Dans le mellah de Meknès »
a été publiée dans la Revue d’études palestiniennes.
Olive Senior is one of the Caribbean’s most internationally recognized and acclaimed writers and
has also won recognition in her adopted country of Canada. Among her many awards and honours she
has won the Commonwealth Writers Prize and F.G. Bressani Literary Prize, was nominated for Canada’s
Governor-General’s Literary Award and was runner-up for the Casa de Las Americas Prize and the Pat
Lowther Award. She is also the awardee of a rare Gold Medal from the Institute of Jamaica. Her body
of published work includes four books of poetry, three collections of short stories and several awardwinning non-fiction works on Caribbean culture including The Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage.
Ed Sowerby is a professional copywriter based in London who has written for all sorts of businesses
and brands over the years, from Nike and Guinness to Greenpeace, the National Gallery and The Climate
Group. He first cut his quill at The Writer, where he won two Communicators in Business awards.
Since then he’s been brand language manager at Orange, and is now senior copywriter at the creative
consultancy Figtree. When he’s not writing, he is a keen goalkeeper, an impatient fisherman and a
terrible cook. He can be contacted at [email protected]
Víctor Terán nació en Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, en 1958. Es profesor de enseñanza media.
Su obra ha sido publicada en muchas revistas y antologías internacionales. En 1993, 1998 y 2005, recibió
la beca del Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes para Escritores en Lenguas Indígenas, con las
cuales escribió las obras Yuuba’ xtí’ Guendarusaana (El dolor del abandono, 1995), Xpacaanda’ Cha’ba’
(El Sueño del Flojo, 2000), y la obra inédita Diidxa’ ndahui naquite (Relatos breves de humor). También
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tiene publicados los libros de poesía Sica ti Gubidxa Cubi (Como un sol nuevo, 1994), Ca Guichi Xtí’
Guendaranaxhii (Las
Las Espinas del Amor
Amor, 2003), y el libro de cuentos Ti gunaa qui runa (Una mujer necia,
2006). De 1999 a 2003 fue asesor y miembro del jurado dictaminador de las becas del Programa de Apoyo
para Escritores en Lenguas Indígenas del FONCA. Es maestro, ha recorrido México y el Reino Unido leyendo
su obra literaria, y actualmente labora en la Jefatura de Sector 03 de Escuelas Secundarias Técnicas del
Istmo oaxaqueño.
Matt Turner has been a copywriter for over fifteen years, writing for the business, consumer
and public sectors. He is also an experienced project manager and tone-of-voice consultant, and a
co-founder of Writers Ltd, a leading copywriting company with offices in UK, Paris and Sydney.
For more information, visit www.writers.uk.net
Elise Valmorbida is an Italian-Australian writer who runs the communications agency word-design
and teaches creative writing at Central Saint Martins. Her published works include The Book
of Happy Endings (2007), many short stories and three novels: Matilde Waltzing (1997), The TV President
(2008) and The Winding Stick (2009). Honoured by the Edinburgh International Film Festival as a
Trailblazer, she is the script consultant and producer of award-winning indie feature film Saxon, released
to critical acclaim in 2009. She is a member of English PEN and the not-for-profit writers’ association 26.
She has worked closely with International PEN on the 26:50 project as well as the creation of a new brand
identity. Her website is at www.word-design.co.uk/books
Andrew Wachtel is Bertha and Max Dressler Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern University,
where he also serves as dean of the Graduate School. His most recent published books are Russian
Literature (co-authored with Ilya Vinitsky, 2009) and The Balkans in World History (2008). He is active as a
translator from Russian, Slovene and Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian. His book-length translations of A Voice
by Anzhelina Polonskaya and The Prophecy and Other Stories by Drago Jancar were published in 2006 and
2009 respectively. He is currently working on a research project on wine and globalisation
in the Balkan and Black Sea regions.
WiPC
50 Years, 50 Cases
WORDS ...
International PEN
Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339
E-mail: [email protected]
Website: www.internationalpen.org.uk
Presidents Emeritus: Homero Aridjis; Ronald Harwood CBE; Francis King CBE;
György Konrád; Mario Vargas Llosa; Per Wästberg
Vice Presidents: Margaret Atwood; Niels Barford; Andrei Bitov; Alexandre Blokh;
Sook-Hee Chun; J. M. Coetzee; Georges Emmanuel Clancier; Moris Farhi MBE; Gloria
Guardia; Nadine Gordimer; Nancy Ing; Lucina Kathmann; Kata Kulavkova; Joanne LeedomAckerman; Predrag Matvejevic; Toni Morrison; Boris A. Novak; Antonio Olinto; Michael
Scammell; Thomas von Vegesack
Board: John Ralston Saul (International President); Eugene Schoulgin (International
Secretary); Eric Lax (International Treasurer); Markéta Hejkalová; Michael Butscher;
Takeaki Hori; Yang Lian; Mohamed Magani; Kristin T. Schnider; Haroon Siddiqui
International PEN staff:
Interim Executive Directors Sara Whyatt and Frank Geary
Finance Manager Anthony Archer
Communications Director Emily Bromfield
Bookkeeper and Administrative Assistant Sandrine Fameni
Interns Rebecca Hammond, Nick Chapman, Kate Joseph, Makila Nsika
Writers in Prison Committee Programme Director Sara Whyatt
Africa/America Researcher Tamsin Mitchell
Asia/MENA Researcher Cathy McCann
Research and Campaign Assistant Patricia Díaz
International Programmes Director Frank Geary
International Programmes Assistant Ana Fletcher
Literary Events Director Kate Griffin
Registered Charity No. 1117088. For details of how to support International PEN,
please contact the office on +44 (0)20 7405 0338 or [email protected]
WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE
OF INTERNATIONAL PEN
50TH ANNIVERSARY
‘BECAUSE WRITERS SPEAK THEIR MINDS’
Visit www.internationalpen.org.uk for details.
WiPC
50
WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
2010: The Unnamed Writer
by Elise Valmorbida
Here is a mind
caught in the elision
between personal, political.
Here is a nib
charged with invisible ink
that under iron heat
turns blood-brown.
Here is a silence.
(Death happens in brackets)
but still you can hear
the bell of the voice,
chiming, tolling,
the scratching of the pen.
See: ‘Because Writers Speak Their Minds’, the fiftieth-anniversary
campaign of International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee;
www.internationalpen.org.uk and http://26-50.tumblr.com.
IN THIS ISSUE: ED SOWERBY / MICHELA WRONG / SYLVESTRE CLANCIER
/ JAMES KELMAN / SUJATA BHATT / JAMIE JAUNCEY / PAULINE MELVILLE
/ PATRICE NGANANG / OLIVE SENIOR / DONATO NDONGO-BIDYOGO
/ ESTHER HEBOYAN / TAMARA O’BRIEN / S. Y. AGNON•RITA SABAH
/ SUSANA MEDINA / NAWAL EL SAADAWI•MONA HELMY / VICTOR
TERÁN / MATT TURNER / CASEY MERKIN / SARA CABA / ANZHELINA
POLONSKAYA / LARISSA MILLER / RAFIK SCHAMI / AMRUTA PATIL / LUCIO
LAMI / MARGARET BUSBY•OLIVE SENIOR•JAMES KELMAN•MAYA JAGGI
/ NICK PARKER / CHRISTOPHER L. SILZER / JOHN MATEER / ABDELMAJID
BENJELLOUN / WALERIAN DOMANSKI / ELISE VALMORBIDA
PEN International is online at www.internationalpen.org.uk