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« Las babas del diablo (part 2) | Main | Verlaine, "Adieu" »

Las babas del diablo (part 1)

The first part of a short story ("The drool of the devil," commonly known as "Blow-up" after this film which it inspired) by this Argentine.  You can read the original here.

No one may ever know how to tell this story.  Should it be in the first person or the second, using the third person plural or continually inventing forms that serve no purpose at all?  If we could say: I they saw the moon rise, or: the inner core of my our eyes hurts, and, most of all: you the blonde woman were the clouds that keep racing ahead of my your her our all of your faces.  What the hell.

While we’re on the subject, if I could go drink a Bock around the corner and have the typewriter continue on its own (because I write on a typewriter), that would be perfection. And that is not just a figure of speech. Perfection, yes, because here the shortcoming of having to tell a story likewise involves a machine (of another kind, a Contax 1.1.2), and the best thing would be for one machine to know more about another machine than I do, than you do, than she – the blonde – does, than the clouds. But it’s all only dumb luck. I know that if I left, this Remington would remain petrified atop the table with that air of double quietness that movable objects emit when they do not move. So I must write. One of us has to write, if all of this is to be told. Better that I be dead, better that I be less committed than the rest; I who do not see anything more than the clouds and who can think without distractions (another passes by now, with a grey fringe), who can write without distractions, who can remember without distractions, I who am dead (and alive, this is not a matter of trickery – it’ll be evident once the moment arrives – because somehow I have to get started and so have begun from this point, that of back then, that of the beginning, which, after all, is the best of points whenever you want to tell a story).  

Suddenly I ask myself why I have to say this, but if we began to wonder why we did everything we did, if we merely asked ourselves why we accepted an invitation to dinner (now a pigeon is passing, looks to me like a sparrow), or why when someone has just told us a good story, something like a tickle arises in our stomach and it won't be still until we walk into the next office and, in turn, tell the story; thus as soon as this is done, we are well, we are happy and we can get back to work.  As far as I know no one has ever explained this, so that the best thing to do is to drop our inhibitions and tell the story, because at the end of the day no one is ashamed of breathing or putting on his shoes.  Those are things that are done, and when something odd occurs, when we find a spider inside one of the shoes or when we breathe we feel like broken glass, then there is something to tell, something to tell the boys at the office or the doctor.  Oh, doctor, every time I breathe ...  Always tell the story, always get rid of that annoying tickle in the stomach.

And since we're going to tell the story, let's put things in some order.  Let's go down the stairs of this house, Sunday, the seventh of November, just a month ago.  We go down five floors and it's Sunday, with an undreamed-of sun for a November in Paris, with a great desire to walk around, to see things, to take pictures (because we are photographers, I am a photographer).  I know that the most difficult thing will be finding a way to tell the story, and I am not afraid of repeating myself.  It will be difficult because no one quite knows who he telling the story truly is, if I am he or this is what has occurred, or what I am seeing (clouds, and now and again a pigeon), or if I am simply recounting a truth which is only my truth, and therefore it is not the truth apart from the truth for my stomach, for my desire to run out the door and, in some way, to put an end to all this, regardless of what may happen. 

We are going to tell the story slowly, and we are going to see what happens as I write.  If I am replaced, if I no longer know what to say, if the clouds end and something else begins (because it cannot be that one simply sees clouds passing continuously, and now and again a pigeon), if something from all of this ... And after the "if," what will I put down, how will I correctly finish my sentence?  But if I start to ask questions I will not tell any story at all; better to tell, perhaps the process of telling the story will be like a response, at least for someone who might read it. 

Roberto Michel, Franco-Chilean, translator and amateur photographer in his free time, stepped out of number 11 on the Rue Monsieur LePrince on Sunday, November 7th of the current year (now two smaller ones pass by with silver borders).  He had spent the last three weeks working on the French version of a contract on the recusations and recourses of José Norberto Allende, professor at the University of Santiago.  Wind in Paris is an oddity, much less wind that swirled around the corners and rose in punishment against the old wooden shutters, after which surprised old ladies commented in various ways on the instability of the weather these last few years.  But the sun was out as well, riding the wind and friend to the cats, for which nothing would have stopped me from turning around towards the wharfs of the Seine and taking some pictures of the Ministry and Sainte-Chapelle.  It was hardly ten o'clock and I calculated that the light would be good until about eleven, the best possible in autumn.  To kill some time I moved on to Isle Saint-Louis then walked towards the Quai d'Anjou, gazed for a while at the Hotel Lauzun, recited some fragments from Apollinaire that always come to mind whenever I pass the Hotel Lauzun (and this ought to have reminded me of yet another poet, but Michel is a stubborn ox).  And so, when all of a sudden the wind ceased and the sun became at least twice as large (I mean twice as warm, but in reality this is the same), I sat upon the parapet and felt, on this Sunday morning, terribly content.  

Among the many ways of combating oblivion and nothingness, one of the best is taking photos, an activity which should be taught to children at an early age.  It requires discipline, training in aesthetics, a good eye and sure hands.  You aren't simply lurking in wait of the lie like some reporter or catching the moronic silhouette of the big shot coming out of 10 Downing Street.  In any case, when one is abroad with a camera one is almost obliged to be attentive, so as not to lose that rough and delicious career of sunlight on an old stone, or the dancing braids of a girl returning with a loaf or a bottle of milk.  Michel knew that the photographer always operated like a permutation of his own personal manner of seeing the world, all the more since his camera rendered him insidious (now a large, almost black cloud passes by).  But he did not mistrust this fact, knowing full well that he could leave the house without the Contax and still recuperate the distracted tone, the vision bereft of framing, the light without diaphragm or 1/250 shutter speed.  Just now (what a word, now, what a stupid lie) I could have remained seated on the parapet above the river, watching the red and black pine needles pass, without it occurring to me to think of the scenes photographically, letting myself go to things letting themselves go, and running to stand still with time.  And the wind was not blowing.

Afterwards I went on towards the Quai de Bourbon until I reached that point on the isle where an intimate chat (intimate because it was short and not because it was demure, as here one suckles both the river and the sky) can be enjoyed and then re-enjoyed.  There was no one there apart from a couple and, of course, some pigeons, perhaps one of those passing now as far as I can see.  With one movement I installed myself on the parapet and let myself be enveloped and attacked by the sun, on my face, my ears, my two hands (I kept my gloves in my pocket).  I didn't feel like taking any photos, and I lit a cigarette to have something to do; I believe it was in that moment, as the phosphorus of the tobacco drew closer, that I saw the boy for the first time.

What I had taken to be a couple seemed much more like a boy with his mother, although at the same time I noticed that it was not a boy with his mother, and that it was a couple in the sense that we always bestow upon couples when we see them leaning in parapets or kissing on public square benches.  As I had nothing to do, I had enough time to ask myself why this boy was so nervous, why he so resembled a foal or a hare, placing his hands in his pockets, immediately taking one out and then the other, passing his fingers over his skin, changing his posture, and, most of all, because he was clearly afraid this one could deduce from his every gesture a suffocated fear of embarrassment, an impulse to throw himself back that came off as if his body were on the edge of flight, containing himself in a final and painful dignity.

So clear was all this from here, five meters away and we were alone against the parapet, at the end of the isle that initially the boy's fear did not allow me to get a good look at the blonde woman.  Now, when I think about it, I see her much better in this first moment when I was able to read her face (she had suddenly turned around like a copper weathercock, and her eyes, her eyes were there) when I vaguely understood what could be occurring at this moment to the boy and I said to myself that it was worth staying and watching (the wind lifted those words, scarcely murmured).  If there's something I know how to do, I think I know how to watch; and I also know that everything oozes falsity because it is what most casts us out of ourselves, without the slightest guarantee, as a smell, or (but Michel is quick to digress, one shouldn't let him recite at ease).  In any case, if the probable falsity has been predicted beforehand, looking again becomes possible; perhaps it suffices to choose well between looking and the look, stripping things of so much foreign clothing.  And, of course, all of this is quite difficult. 

I remember the boy's face more than his actual body (this will be understood later), while now I am certain that I remember the woman's body much better than her face.  She was thin and svelte two unfair words to say what she was and dressed in a leather coat that was almost black, almost long, almost beautiful.  All the wind of that morning (now it was hardly blowing at all, and it wasn't cold) had passed over her blonde hair that cut out a shape from her cheerless, white face two unfair words and left the world standing and horribly alone before her black eyes, her eyes which fell upon things like two eagles, two leaps into the void, two gusts of green mud.  I am not describing anything; rather, I am trying to understand.  And I said two gusts of green mud.

Let's be fair, however: the boy was rather well-dressed and sported yellow gloves that I could have sworn belonged to his older brother, a law or sociology student.  It was funny to see the fingers of the gloves peering out from his jacket pocket.  For a long while I did not see his face, hardly a profile, that wasn't half-bad
an astonished bird, the angel of Fra Filippo, rice and milk and the back of an adolescent who wanted to go in for judo and who had already fought a couple of times for an idea or a sister.  At two o'clock sharp, perhaps at three o'clock sharp, one found him dressed and fed by his parents, but without a cent to his name, having to deliberate with his comrades before choosing a coffee, a cognac, or a pack of cigarettes.  He would walk the streets thinking about his female classmates, about how good it would be to go to the movies and see the latest film, or buy novels or ties or bottles of liquor with green and white labels.  In his house (his house would be respectable; lunch would be at twelve and there would be romantic landscapes on the walls with a dark foyer and a mahogany umbrella stand by the door) his homework time would slowly inundate him, as would being mama's great hope, resembling papa, and writing to his aunt in Avignon.  For that reason, every street, all the river (but without a cent) and the mysterious city of fifteen years with its signs on its doors, its spine-tingling cats, the carton of French fries for thirty francs, the porno magazine folded in four, solitude as a hole in his pockets, those happy meetings, the fervor for so many incomprehensible things things, however, illuminated by a complete love for the availability akin to the wind and the streets.   

This biography was the boy's as well as any boy's, but him I now saw isolated, turned solely towards the presence of the blonde woman who kept on talking to him.  (I am tired of insisting, but two long, frayed clouds have just passed.  I think this morning I did not look once at the sky, since as soon as I presented what happened with the boy and the woman I could do nothing but watch them and wait, watch them and ...).  In summary, the boy was uneasy and, without much effort, one could guess what had just happened a few minutes ago, at the most half an hour ago.  The boy had arrived to the end of the isle, seen the woman and found her attractive.  The woman had been expecting this because she was here waiting for it, or perhaps the boy arrived before the woman and she saw him from a balcony or a car, and went out to meet him, starting up conversation on any old subject.  And surely from the very beginning he was scared of her and wished to escape, and, of course, he would stay, cocky and sullen, feigning experience and a pleasure in risk and adventure.  The rest was easy because it was taking place five meters from me and anyone could have measured the stages of the game, the ridiculous parrying; his greatest charm was not his present, but his prediction of the d
énouement.  The boy would have given the pretext of an appointment, some kind of obligation, and would have run off stumbling and confused, wishing to walk with self-assurance, naked beneath the mocking gaze which would follow him until the end.  Or perhaps he would remain, fascinated or simply incapable of taking the initiative, and the woman would begin to caress his face, play with his hair, speak to him voicelessly, and then quickly grab him by the arm to take him with her, as he, with an unease that perhaps began to acquire desire, the risk of adventure, roused himself to put his arm around her waist and kiss her.  All this could have occurred, but may not have occurred, and Michel perversely waited, sitting in the parapet and, without even realizing it, readying the camera to take a picturesque photo in a corner of the isle with a couple gazing at one another and having nothing in common to talk about. 

Curious that this scene (the nothing scene, almost: the two who are there, unequally young) had an aura of disquiet.  I thought this was something that I inserted; I also thought that my picture, if I were to retrieve it, would restore matters to their silly truth.  I would have liked to know the thoughts of the man in the gray hat seated at the wheel of the car stopped at the loading dock which was on the sidewalk, and whether he was reading the paper or sleeping.  I had just discovered why people within a car almost disappear, lost in that wretched private suitcase of beauty which lends them movement and danger.  Nevertheless, the car had been there all this time, forming part (or deforming this part) of the isle.  A car: how should one say an illuminated street lamp, a public square bench.  Never the wind, the light of the sun, these materials were always new for the skin and the eyes, and also the boy and the woman, alone, placed here so as to alter the isle, so as to show it to me in another way.  In the end, it might have occurred that the man with the newspaper had been attentive to what was happening and felt, like I, the malignant aftertaste of all expectations. 

Now the woman had suavely turned around until the boy was between her and the parapet; I could see him almost in profile and he was taller, but not much taller, and nevertheless the woman seemed to be dangling above him (her laugh, all of a sudden, a whip of feathers), crushing him by simply being there, smiling, passing her hand through the air.  Why wait any longer?  With a sixteen diaphragm, with framing in which the horrible black car would not be included but the tree would, I would need to snap a space especially grey ...

Reader Comments (4)

Why did you omit the second paragraph of the story? "Seated ready to tell it," etc.

June 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterQuixote

Thanks, Quixote, for pointing out this curious omission (must not have pasted correctly). The story should be complete now.

June 18, 2014 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

Thank you for this wonderful translation!

March 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMHE

You're welcome, MHE, and thanks for your comments!

March 17, 2016 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

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