Discover more from Joel Bowman ~ Notes from the End of the World
A Voulez Bar Vignette
Plus Borges in Buenos Aires, a poem called Someone and a call to advanced readers...
Being with you and not being with you is the only way I have to measure time.
~ Jorge Luis Borges
So closely are certain cities associated with the writers who bring them to life that it becomes practically impossible to imagine the one without the other.
A London without Dickens? A Paris sans Sartre? A Baltimore bereft of Edgar Allan Poe?
There are no such places, of course, not in any world known to us. No Joyceless Dublin... no Dostoyevski-free St. Petersburg... no Brechtless Berlin...
Indeed, one wonders whether these places ever existed at all, even before their respective wordsmiths memorialized them on the page... (perhaps there was only ever a pre-Chaucer London, a pre-Zola Paris, a pre-Wharton New York City, etc.?)
Here in Argentina’s capital of Buenos Aires, we regularly encounter the city’s most renowned author, essayist and poet, Jorge Luis Borges. The cafés, the plazas, the streets that carry his name, even the national library itself, all stand as monuments to the great writer’s timeless contribution to the realm of letters.
As mentioned in this space before, when it comes to conceptions of paradise, of the eternal, Sr. Borges imagined a kind of library. Buenos Aires itself, meanwhile, his city of birth, seems to have imagined a kind of Borges. Quite simply, the man is everywhere here, infused in every possible description of the place, a human spirit both in and of the city.
A Voulez Bar Vignette
So it was, this past Friday, while partaking in a postprandial libation at one of our favorite neighborhood wine dives, Voulez Bar, we enjoyed another chance meeting...
Shuffling toward our table, and mottled by the purple shade of the blooming jacaranda trees, an elderly gentleman clutched the leash behind an impatient pair of corgis; one black, the other white. The journey thus far appeared to have taxed the poor fellow and he soon began to list in the gentle breeze.
Sensing the concrete sidewalk under his frail skull, we asked in gringo Spanish if we couldn’t be of help. When for a third and fourth time he pitched and leaned, we insisted politely, taking his boney arm in hand and relieving him of the straining leash. Smiling the smile of the blind, he leaned into the stranger’s support.
“Half a block, no further,” he answered in Spanish when we asked him where he was heading. “Jorge’s boys, they need their medication.”
We let him be a few buildings down, behind the glass door marked “Veterinaria,” with instructions for the bright-eyed assistant to fetch us at Voulez Bar, if any further help was needed. Fifteen minutes later, having thanked the young woman, we stood at the curb with Jorge once more, the corgis tying their leashes in knots at our knees.
“Anyone coming?” Jorge inquired with an ear to the street, his grasp tense on the stranger’s forearm.
“You must work here,” he guessed a half a block later, relaxed again, “or else you fell for an Argentine woman.”
The late lunch air carried kitchen smells from the Italian restaurant on the corner; chorizo... pancetta... salchicha. The corgis pulled breathlessly against their collars.
“And what kind of writing?”
Jorge’s milky eyes lit up. Ordinarily, the laboring novelist’s response inspires sympathy. Or pity. Or suspicion (Is this person asking for a loan?)
For Jorge, it was a treasure. Not a means to an end, but an end in itself, and a wholly satisfying one at that. Firmly he held the stranger’s forearm, full of youthful affection.
When we left him at his doorstep, with Pliny’s pledge to carry on (“Nulla dies sine linea”) he reminded us of Borge’s Someone, which we share with you now, as he did with us then...
By Jorge Luis Borges
A man worn down by time,
a man who does not even expect death
(the proofs of death are statistics
and everyone runs the risk
of being the first immortal),
a man who has learned to express thanks
for the days’ modest alms:
sleep, routine, the taste of water,
an unsuspecting etymology,
a Latin or Saxon verse,
the memory of a woman who left him
thirty years ago now
whom he can call to mind without bitterness,
a man who is aware that the present
is both future and oblivion,
a man who has betrayed
and has been betrayed,
may feel suddenly, when crossing the street,
a mysterious happiness
not coming from the side of hope
but from an ancient innocence,
from his own root or from some diffused god.
He knows better than to look at it closely,
for there are reasons more terrible than tigers
which will prove to him
that wretchedness is his duty,
but he accepts humbly
this felicity, this glimmer.
Perhaps in death when the dust
is dust, we will be forever
this undecipherable root,
from which will grow forever,
serene or horrible,
our solitary heaven or hell.
As for the laboring novelist, he has completed a second manuscript… and now he needs your help!
We’re looking for volunteer advanced readers to help proof the copy and offer feedback.
The novel braids together three narratives – an intrepid young missionary on her journey to China during the Spanish Flu (1918); a mother-to-be, trembling between life and death in Argentina a century later; and the namesake thread that ties together three generations of indefatigable women.
Advanced readers will be acknowledged in the front matter when the book is published later this year. A select few will also receive a complimentary, signed copy.
If you’re interested (or know of someone who might be…), simply reply to this email and brace yourself for our unending appreciation.
Until next week...
(NB The translation of Someone, by Sr. Borges, is that of W. S. Merwin, from Jorge Luis Borges - Selected Poems, Penguin Classics deluxe edition)
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