Translation work by Molly de Dios Fisher, inspired in Mexico!

 

CIGARETTE SMOKE

Esteban Gutiérrez Quezada

Para Ariel

 

The engineer was broad, more so than I remembered, both in terms of height and size, like a solemn sacred statue dressed in a suit and tie. His hooked nose opened the way among the multitudes. Four men, shorter than him and also dressed in suits, protected him from the chaos. The escort appeared at his side, instead of the group of colleagues that were usually seen to gather around him. René appeared from behind me. He came close to my ear because the noise of the crowd gathered in in front of the rectory. “He came! I thought that he was going to bail out last minute”. “It looks like he is going to head the march,” I said, “best move over, you stink of cigarettes”.

 

** ** **

 

Eduardo never liked the smell of tobacco, nor the harsh rotting smell of the smoke, he didn´t like it when he was sixty-three years old nor when he had just turned sixteen in August ’68, and yet he died of lung cancer. “At least he survived to die from that”, joked René. Well, half joking, because everything that René said had some kind of moral behind it, a nostalgia for when he was the same age as we are now. Before the smoke took away his youth and many other youths. “Memory is the only reason that we have old people, so that we don´t die so quickly. It’s so good that you are all here to ask me questions, that way I will live a little longer. But not in this body which I inhabit that is nearly rotten with flies, but in those times when I had limitless energy. Or at least that day, when they hadn’t yet wrenched away the energy and innocence of our youth”.

He sighed a bit and carried on smoking, he never stopped smoking, even though it was what had killed Eduardo. He says that he is more resilient, that he is going to live to one-hundred and beyond, and if he can he will power on until 2068. That all those memories will keep him alive.

“That day we were happy. We were excited, ecstatic. An indescribable sensation. It´s more, I don´t remember ever having seen Eduardo so optimistic, never before and never again. He held a true admiration for Barros since long before that march and the talks and all that. Before being the rector, Barros was Eduardo´s professor. Eduardo was very straight. He was sincerely moved that day, when Barros began his speech –we need to demonstrate to the people of Mexico that we are a responsible community, that we deserve autonomy- and he nearly tried to hit me because I was smoking, and he said to me “cut it out, man! You don´t even stop to listen to the engineer talk about our university and the liberation movement, -we will strengthen, not only the autonomy and freedom in our faculties, but we will also form a fundamental role in the fight for freedom in Mexico-.”

“I have never trusted in any rector, nor any figure of authority in the university. But Eduardo had a hope for Barros that was contagious. And so, there we were. We were going to follow the rector to the march.” He said to us.

 

** ** **

 

-He never arrived late, but he never arrived early. No, I´m serious, he always arrived just at the time that he was meant to arrive. The clock had just struck seven and he came into the classroom, and we were only five or six people because no one arrived on time, only him. I am serious, René. And I liked to arrive before him, because it was amazing to see him come through the door with that heavy but irreproachable elegance. Make fun of me all you like, mate.

“When I was younger I had very bad maths teachers and so had never like maths, but he made it understandable and interesting. And that was back in the day when it was rare that they would understand you even a little bit, to treat you humanely… well he did. Do you remember that time when we read that novel by Rómulo Gallegos and we didn’t like it, but professor Duarte made us see everything that we had missed? I ended up liking it. Well that was what the engineer was like, but with numbers.

 

**         **         **

 

What is happening? What can we do? Where does our ignorance lie? We cannot carry on like this: we are the immediate solution; we have that natural instinct to fight back

“Eduardo was by our security rope[1], as always. He said that he liked to be there, only when there could he truly fulfil his responsibility.”

“Our protest will go as far as the crossing between Av. Insurgentes and Félix Cuevas. That is where we are heading; our raw punches sound with determination on the pavement, and in our throats. The soles of our feet vibrate indignantly. It even faintly reaches the mouth of my stomach.

The beautiful placards marched high above our heads. It looked as though they were doing it of their own accord.

The street sign reads STOP, but we keep going. Break! We are interrupting the circulation. Now it is our turn to circulate, so as to show that we can, and that we have the disposition to.

We want to live in a regime… “What does it say? Don’t bunch yourselves up over there, spread yourselves out.” not a repressive one. With only that, it would be enough.

“26th July 1968. Martyrs”

Helicopters as well, two or three.

It´s Che Guevara! We cannot be without our leader. He flies even higher than the helicopters.

“Politics are not the Olympics: they are a whole other ball game”.

 

 

** ** **

 

All at once I felt a sudden wave of chaos. I thought that it was the police pushing against the crowd and I tried to head towards where the sound was coming from. I think I kicked off someone´s shoe. They probably never got it back.

I kept getting closer to the voices, between all of the pushes and shoves because everyone was trying to reach the place where the sound was coming from. And basic physical laws tell us that two bodies cannot occupy the same space at a given time, but that day the march was more important than the laws of physics.

The sound of shouting grew as the force of the blows became harder. All at once I could understand what they were saying.

-Zócalo! Zócalo!-

Stuck to our security rope, trying hard to contain the waves of rebels, was Eduardo, his face turned red with an angry expression like I had never seen in him before. The veins of his neck and face protruded, and at one point it seemed- although amongst the chaos everything was so confusing- that saliva dripped from his mouth. That thin thread of drool that reveals our inner demons.

I think they hit him, because for a moment he covered his face, but then he too began to throw punches. I tried to run over as back up, but it was a stupid idea, because they began to punch me too. They split my lip. But thankfully, very soon a group from the engineering faculty came and re-enforced the human barrier, and the aggressors eased off. I think it rained. I felt damp on my lip, but I don´t know whether it was blood or rainwater. They taste the same.

 

** ** **

 

And what would have happened if the march had gone to el Zócalo, Réne? And he gazed blankly at a bare wall, where there was nothing to see. His eyes glazed over with the memories, his voice turned to a sigh. Well for one thing, we would not have celebrated afterwards. That was a grand march. When we returned to Ciudad Universitaria, Barros said to him: we have demonstrated to the world that our institutions play it straight and are heading towards a just future… Each to their own, but Eduardo got it right with that man. Anyway, as I was saying, if we had changed the route, the repression would probably have been worse. Perhaps we wouldn´t even have had to wait until Tlatelolco…

And Eduardo would not have learnt to smoke. Go on, have a cigarette. To the victory. And I remember seeing in his face an expression of joy generated by a distant hope which he tried to hide, the idea that things really could be different. It was the only time he would ever smoke. And that was how he came to die… But it was worth it.

 

EL HUMO DEL CIGARRO

 

Esteban Gutiérrez Quezada

Para Ariel

 

El ingeniero era amplio, más de lo que yo recordaba, a lo largo y a lo ancho, como un solemne monolito sagrado con saco y corbata. Su nariz aguileña abría paso entre la multitud. Lo protegían del revuelo cuatro hombres más bajos, también vestidos de traje. A su lado parecían una mera escolta contratada en vez de funcionarios administrativos.

René apareció a mi espalda. Se me acercó al oído porque el ruido de los compañeros reunidos en la explanada era muy fuerte. «Sí vino, yo pensé que a la mera hora se iba a rajar». «Parece que sí va a encabezar la marcha», le dije, «mejor vete para allá, apestas a cigarro».

 

  • ••

A Eduardo nunca le gustó el olor del tabaco ni la podredumbre alífera del humo, ni cuando llegó a los sesenta y tres años ni cuando cumplió dieciséis en agosto del 68, y sin embargo se murió de cáncer de pulmón. «Qué bueno que vivió para morirse de eso», nos decía en broma René. Medio en broma, porque todo lo que decía René siempre tenía un dejo de enseñanza, de nostalgia por la época en que tuvo nuestra edad. Antes de que el humo se llevara su juventud y muchas juventudes. «La memoria es la única razón que tenemos los ancianos para no morirnos tan rápido. Qué bueno que están ustedes aquí para preguntarme, así vivo un poquito más. Pero no en este cuerpo casi mosqueado y rancio que ven aquí, sino en aquellos años de energía sin tullir. Al menos ese día, todavía no nos habían arrancado el ánimo y las ganas de ser jóvenes».

Suspiraba un poco y seguía fumando, nunca dejaba de fumar, ni aunque fuera por el escarmiento de lo que le pasó a Eduardo. Dice que él es más resistente, que va a llegar hasta los cien y todavía más, que si puede se avienta hasta el 2068. Que de tantos recuerdos, seguirá viviendo.

«Ese día fuimos felices. Estábamos emocionados, exaltados. Una sensación indescriptible. Es más, no recuerdo haber visto nunca tan optimista a Eduardo, nunca antes y mucho menos después. Él sí profesaba una sincera admiración por Barros desde mucho antes de la marcha y los discursos y todo eso. Antes de ser nuestro rector, fue su maestro. Era muy franco, el muchacho Eduardo. Se conmovió sinceramente ese día, cuando Barros empezó su discurso —necesitamos demostrar al pueblo de México que somos una comunidad responsable, que merecemos la autonomía— y casi me quería golpear porque yo estaba fumando, y me decía ¡Ya, cabrón!, ni porque está hablando el ingeniero sobre nuestra universidad y las causas libertarias, —afianzaremos no sólo la autonomía y las libertades de nuestras casas de estudio superiores, sino que contribuiremos fundamentalmente a las causas libertarias de México—.»

«Jamás le tuve confianza a ningún rector, a ninguna autoridad de la universidad. Pero Eduardo estaba tan esperanzado en Barros que te contagiaba. Ahí estábamos, pues. Íbamos a seguir la marcha del rector», nos decía.

 

 

  • ••

—Jamás llegaba tarde, pero tampoco llegaba temprano. No, en serio, llegaba justo a la hora que tenía que llegar. Apenas daban las siete y él entraba en el salón, y sólo habíamos cinco o seis personas porque nadie llegaba exactamente a la hora que tenía que llegar, sólo él. Te lo juro, René. Y a mí me gustaba llegar antes que él, porque era genial verlo atravesar la puerta con esa elegancia pesada pero irreprochable. Aunque me hagas burla, camarada.

«En mi infancia tuve muy malos maestros de matemáticas y nunca me había interesado el cálculo, pero él hacía que lo entendieras todo y que te interesara. Y ya vez que en nuestros tiempos es bien difícil que te comprendan un poquito, que te traten humanamente; pues él lo hacía. ¿Te acuerdas que leímos esa novelota de Rómulo Gallegos y no nos gustaba, pero el profesor Duarte nos hacía ver todo lo que no habíamos visto? A mí terminó por gustarme. Pues así el Inge, pero con los números.

 

  • ••

¿Qué está pasando? ¿Qué podemos hacer? ¿En qué somos ignorantes? No podemos serlo más: somos la contrapartida inmediata, la rebeldía vital.

            «Eduardo está en la cuerda de seguridad, como siempre. Decía que ahí le gustaba estar, que solamente así podía saciar su responsabilidad.

«Nuestra manifestación se extiende hasta la esquina de Insurgentes y Félix Cuevas. Allá vamos; nuestros golpes secos resuenan con terquedad. En el pavimento, pero también en nuestra garganta, en la palmas de nuestros pies que rugen agraviados. A mí me resuena un poco la boca del estómago.

Las pancartas, hermosas, marchan muy por encima de nuestras cabezas. Parece que lo hacen de manera autónoma.

La señal de la calle dice alto, pero nosotros no nos detenemos. Interrumpimos un momento la circulación, señores. Ahorita circulamos nosotros, nada más para demostrar que podemos y tenemos voluntad.

«Queremos vivir en un régimen…» ¿Qué dice? No la arruguen de ese lado, extiéndanla bien. «No de represión». Eso mero, con eso basta.

«26 de julio 1968. Mártires»

Helicópteros también, dos o tres.

¡Ah, y el Che! No puede faltar nuestro comandante. Él vuela más alto que los helicópteros.

«El juego político no es olímpico»

 

  • ••

De repente sentí el golpe tumultuoso. Pensé que era la policía que arremetía contra el contingente y traté de avanzar hacia donde se oía el disturbio. Creo que le saqué el zapato a alguien. Probablemente nunca lo recuperó.

Cada vez me acerqué más a las voces, por medio de empujones, claro, porque todos querían dirigirse al lugar. Y la física básica nos dice que dos cuerpos no pueden ocupar el mismo espacio, pero ese día la marcha era más importante que las reglas dictadas por la realidad.

El sonido de los gritos aumentaba a medida que aumentaba la fuerza de los golpes. De pronto pude entender lo que decían:

— ¡Zócalo! ¡Zócalo!

Aferrado a la cuerda de seguridad, esforzándose por contener la oleada de disidentes, estaba Eduardo, con la cara más roja y la expresión más enfurecida que le he visto. Le brincaban las venas del cuello y de la cara, y por un momento me pareció —aunque por la agitación era todo muy confuso— que le escurría la saliva por la boca. El hilo delgado de baba que da cuenta de nuestros demonios.

Creo que lo golpearon, porque por un momento se cubrió el rostro, pero después también empezó a soltar puñetazos. Traté de correr hacia él para auxiliarlo, y fue una pendejada, porque a mí también me tocaron porrazos. Me partieron el labio. Lo bueno fue que muy rápido llegó gente de ingeniería para reforzar el cordón, y los alborotadores se aplacaron. Creo que llovía. Del labio me escurría la humedad, pero no sé si era sangre o agua de lluvia. Ambas tienen el mismo sabor.

 

  • ••

¿Y qué hubiera pasado si la manifestación se hubiera ido al Zócalo, René? Y él mira perdido hacia una pared vacía, hacia donde no hay nada qué mirar. Sus ojos se enturbian por los recuerdos, su voz se convierte en un susurro. Pues, en primera, no hubiéramos celebrado después. Esa marcha fue grandiosa. Cuando regresamos a CU, Barros lo dijo: hemos demostrado al mundo que nuestras instituciones son participantes directas de un destino justiciero… Lo que sea de cada quien, pero Eduardo tenía razón con ese señor. Pero les decía, si nos hubiéramos desviado probablemente hubiera habido una represión muy fuerte. Tal vez ni siquiera hubiéramos tenido que esperar a lo de Tlatelolco…

Y Eduardo no hubiera aprendido a fumar. Anda, échate un cigarro. Por la victoria. Y recuerdo que en su expresión asomaba la alegría distante y disimulada generada por la esperanza, la idea de que las cosas en verdad pueden ser diferentes. Fue la única vez que probó un cigarrillo. Y de eso se vino a morir… Pero valió la pena.

 

[1]

Accommodation in Sao Paulo

Apartment to Rent in São Paulo
 
Large rooms,  fitted kitchen, with broadband, cable TV, washing machine in a beautiful spacious furnished apartment in a quiet leafy street in Higienópolis, one of the safest districts in São Paulo. Near a number of supermarkets,  3 minutes from a tube station, 15 minutes from Avenida Paulista and 20 minutes from University of São Paulo.
The landlord is an academic from University of São Paulo and gives preference to rent the apartment to students going to Brazil as a stage in their academic courses. His apartment is available for rent  from January onwards, during which period he himself will be visiting King’s.
 
 
Contact details: alipiofranca@ig.com.br
Phone number: 55 11 36630358
                             55 11 980883753

 

SPLAS Photo Competition Winner

David Chu Lencois

Congratulations to David Chu, 4th year student of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, who was a joint winner of this year’s Year Abroad Photo Competition (sharing the £200 prize with Cleo Pollard from French) for this beautiful picture of Lençois in north-eastern Brazil.

The photo competition is announced each year in May for students away on their years abroad that year — so 3rd years, get snapping!

Earthquake in Chile

Eleanor Osborne Santiago

The view of Santiago and its Smog from Cerro San Cristóbal – Eleanor Osborne

Eleanor Osborne writes about the earthquake and tsunami which hit Chile in September.

It was the Chilean writer and academic, Benjamín Subercaseaux who first coined the phrase ‘una loca geografía’, and it was this phrase, though admittedly laden with more expletives, which came to me suddenly as I clutched my second glass of pisco with trembling hands and surveyed the room for the tell-tale signs of an aftershock.

 

I had been downstairs in an English neighbour’s flat when the ground began to twitch beneath us, and we watched in puzzled silence as the light swayed back and forth. I looked at my three friends on the sofa.

 

“It’s an earthquake.” said someone, stating the obvious with glee. “Cool!”

 

I did not share their excitement.

 

Feeling the earth shudder under you is a most unpleasant feeling, not dissimilar to the sensation of going over a bump in the road when your stomach drops.

 

But perhaps the most disturbing thing of all was not the feeling of the earthquake but the sound: a low, rumbling, rushing sound like some strange gale heard at a distance, and unlike anything I had ever heard before.

 

The effects of 8.3 magnitude earthquake which registered 7.4 in Santiago last week, were relatively mild – all things considered. The European and North American headlines screamed devastation, but mere hours after the quake struck all was business as usual in the capital. The worst affected region, Coquimbo, continues to struggle with 262 homes destroyed and thousands more still without electricity or drinking water. However, with a total death toll of 13, the atmosphere is more one of national relief rather than one of mourning. The memories of the apocalyptic events of the 2010 quake are still fresh in people’s minds.

 

“What do you mean it’s your first earthquake?” asked the Chileans, incredulously, once I had returned to my own flat, a mess of nerves. And I explained, much to their delight that the most extreme natural phenomenon to be encountered back home was particularly thick fog. My rather incoherent explanation of ‘pea-souper’ was mostly lost on a bemused audience.

 

“You should have been there in 2010”, they said, repeatedly, with a unanimous look of morbid pride. “Now, that was a earthquake.” And they went back to their cooking and conversations as if nothing had happened.

 

I was still a mess of nerves when the first after-shock hit.

 

Flor was leaving to buy wine for the birthday supper we were holding that night and, to great hilarity from the Chilean crowd, I abandoned my weak pretence at calm and ran rather too quickly after her; her brother would spend the rest of the night sneaking up behind me, rocking my chair backwards and forwards, and shouting “Terremoto! Terremoto!”.

 

Historian Rolando Mellafe suggests that exposure to natural disasters has had a profound and formative effect on the Chilean national psyche. For a gringa such as myself, the earthquake and the near-constant after-shocks which continue to rattle windows and wake us up at night, as well as producing the unsettling sensation of suddenly being at sea, have certainly been an extreme insight into the reality of living in this long, thin country with its crazy geography.

 

At least we can now legitimately apply for Chilean identity.