Aracoeli - Excerpt
For about two months now I have had a temporary job with a little publishing firm, where I am engaged in translating or in reading texts under consideration, on which I prepare brief written reports. For the most part these are little pamphlets or popularizing works of a practical-scientific nature, or socio-political, or even snobbish-didactic.
The firm, as far as I know, consists altogether of two office rooms complemented by a dark, windowless toilet. One of the little rooms serves chiefly as storeroom; the other is occupied by me. Though the Chief (in his not infrequent but hasty appearances) sometimes refers to his “office personnel,” to all appearances the only personnel in the place is me. The glass door on the landing bears the words Ypsilon publishing and, below, the word push. It announces visitors with a long hiss, immediately followed by the entrance of the visitor in question. These, as a rule, are aspiring authors—the majority of them elderly—who, with their famished and almost grim appearance, increase the natural chill of the place and plunge me at once into a confused distress.
In the office, according to the agreement, I must spend my days, from nine till one and from four till seven-thirty.
At first, I welcomed this job as a stroke of luck (in fact, my income, always pitiful, recently has not been enough to pay the rent of a little furnished room); but I very quickly realized that my brain sentenced it to irreparable rejection. On reading those little treatises, from the very first lines, I had the sensation of swallowing glue. I cared nothing about their subjects; indeed it was inconceivable to me that other thinking brains could care about them. Now and then I lost the thread. And though I had given up, some time earlier, all drugs, light or heavy, and even—within the confines of possibility—alcoholic beverages, I would relapse into my morbid vice: sleep. Then all of a sudden I would pitch forward, asleep, mouth agape, onto my works. And I would bestir myself, with an effort, at the hiss of the front door, to find before me, all ready and waiting, another of those dire visitors, standing there and looking askance at my swollen eyes and the line of saliva trickling down my chin. It also happened that those bouts of dozing brought me dreams, or rather, fleeting deliriums, futile and grim. For example, the print, there beneath my nose, would become myriad moths, which swarmed from the pages, reducing them to a white powder.
Every day new pamphlets and new galleys were unloaded on my desk. And the mere sight of those piles, the moment I entered, was enough to nauseate me. My scant productivity surely could not escape even the busy, quick glances of my laconic boss. And no doubt Ypsilon Publishing for some time had anticipated my inevitable, imminent discharge.
In any case, towards the end of October I was paid my second month’s salary, which remained almost intact in my pockets until the annual national holidays of early November. The duration of the holidays was calculated generously, thanks to the national custom of long weekends. Four days: from Friday, October 31 (the eve), to Tuesday, November 4 (once a patriotic holiday). And so this morning (Friday, 31), I set out on my journey.
For some time I have been sedentary. And further, the word holiday or vacation has always suggest to me a squalid merrymaking tribe, drunk on plastic bags, Coca-Cola, and frantic transistors. I have never been abroad, until now. And this decision to leave burst over me in an extreme sensation of risk and madness, but also of an unknown enthusiasm (enthousiasmos = divine possession). At first, all the same, I was dubious about the itinerary. Where, in fact, could a character like me go, apprehensive and misanthropic, and with no curiousity about the world—about any place in the world? And then enthousiasmos pointed out the only itinerary possible, indeed obligatory, for me.
Anda niño anda
Que Dios te lo manda.
And so now (it is about eleven in the morning) I have set out, leaving Milan, in search of my mother, Aracoeli, in the double direction of the past and of space. Concerning her prehistory in Andalusia I had always kept myself ignorant, much as in my boyhood. And even now, for me, seeking her did not mean documenting or collecting testimony, but going away from here, following the traces of her former landscape, as a strayed animal follows the smells of its own lair.
The scant information I possessed about her included her vital statistics, namely, in addition to her double maiden name, her birthplace, which I knew was located in the territory of Almería and was called El Almendral. But the rare correspondence she received in Rome from her house—this I recalled precisely—bore on the envelope the postmark Gérgal, a name I have sought to no avail in ordinary atlases but found at last on a large map from the Geographic Society. It proved to be a small town, isolated in the midst of the sierra, a considerable distance from the sea.
But El Almendral, on the contrary, I could find on no map. Meanwhile that infinitesimal peripheral dot, ignored by geography, had of late become the only earthly station that indicated a direction to my disoriented body. It was a summons with no promise, no hope. I knew, beyond any doubt, that it came to me not from my reason, but from a nostalgia of the senses, and so not even the certitude of its existence was a necessary condition for me. My condition was truly that of a mongrel that, barely a puppy, is taken from its refuge, put in a sack, and dumped, to be rid of it, at the side of a country road. Who knows how he survives? For around him he finds only hostile tribes, who treat him as an intruder, rabid. Then, led by his sharp senses, he retraces the whole way, toward the starting point (perhaps toward a recognition?).
The temptation of the journey had possessed me of late with the very voice of my mother. It was not an abstract transcription of memory that brought me back her earliest little songs, formerly buried, but her real, bodily voice, with its tender savor of throat and saliva. I felt again on my palate the sensation of her skin, which smelled of fresh plum; and at night, in this Milanese cold, I sensed her still-girlish breath, like a skim of ingenuous warmth on my aged eyelids. I don’t know how scientists explain the existence, inside our corporal matter, of these other, hidden organs of feeling, without visible body, segregated from objects, and yet capable of hearing, seeing, and every natural sensation, and others as well. You would say they are equipped with antennae and sounding-lines. They operate in a field cut off from space, but of unlimited movement. And in that zone there takes place (at least as long as we live) the carnal resurrection of the dead.