August 29, 2011 § Leave a comment
I promised the next post would be about mate, and it is, amongst other things. Yesterday, I managed for what must be the first time since arriving in Buenos Aires to have a completely relaxed day. I didn’t leave the house once, which sounds like it would be depressing and claustrophobic, but wasn’t because luckily my house looks like this:
I spent a large part of yesterday afternoon on the terrace (hence lack of claustrophobia), drinking mate with housemates and reading Rayuela by Julio Cortázar. The two things in order: mate is a sort of tea made from a herb of the same name (the cup you drink it from is also called a mate, which is confusing). You fill the cup with leaves and stems and insert a metal straw called a bombilla, so it looks a bit like this:
You pour water in from a thermos, refill when you’re done and pass it round. Thermos sales in Argentina must be colossal – people drink mate in groups in their houses, in parks, in the street – and, I’m told, in cars, passing it between driver and passengers. It seems the quintessential social ritual – and the preparation is complicated enough to require a fair bit of initiation. You have to tilt the leaves to a 45 degree angle, and the water, while hot, absolutely must not be boiling. My technique still requires some work.
Element number two of my non-claustrophobia was Rayuela (Hopscotch in English). It’s a bonkers novel, really, where you skip backwards and forwards between chapters, and between Paris and Buenos Aires, via musings on the nature of art, chance, leaves and just about everything else. But it’s also glorious, largely because Cortázar’s sentences are so wonderfully crafted, each one with the rhythmic precision of verse. (I’m getting a bit carried away). The novel is very much of its moment (the 6os) in its willful experimentation – but Cortázar manages better than just about anyone to use formal fireworks to convey a psychological or emotional effect.
One example, not from Rayuela but from another story which uses a 1st person plural narrator to tell the story of a failed romance:
Nunca habremos hablado de esto, la imaginación nos reúne hoy tan vagamente como entonces la realidad. Nunca buscaremos juntos la culpa o la responsibilidad o el acaso no inimaginable recomienzo.
Which in English is something like:
We will never have talked of this; imagination brings us together today as vaguely as reality did then. We will never look together for the blame or the responsibility or the perhaps not unimaginable new start.
I’m wittering on – Julio has this effect on me. One important I did take from yesterday, though, was that I am very glad to be writing my year abroad dissertation on Cortázar. Travelling companions don’t come much better.
P.S. A housemate just sent me this, which I can’t resist sharing. Tango and Cortázar. Genius.