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Translation_ MALETAS PERDIDAS Powered By Docstoc
					                                   Maletas Perdidas
                                      Lost Baggage

                                       by Jordi Puntí
                               translated from the Spanish,
                           (itself translated from the Catalán),
                                       by James Sligh
                                        (pages 11-22)

                                      PART ONE:


We have the same memory.
        It’s very early. The sun has just risen. The three: father, mother, and son — we’re
yawning, sleepy. Mama has made tea, or coffee, and we drink it just because. We’re at
the table, or in the kitchen, so quiet & still that we look like statues. Our eyes close.
After a moment we hear a truck stop in front of the house and the horn sounds once.
Even though we’re already up, the engine rumbling is so loud that it scares us awake.
The windowpanes tremble for a moment. The neighbors are awoken. We go out into
the street to say goodbye to our father, who gets into the truck, puts his arm out the
window and gives us a smile while we wave. You can tell it pains him to leave. Or no.
He’s only been home for two days, three at the most. From the truck, the other two
men call out and wave goodbye to us too. Mama has a bathrobe on. Maybe she lets out
a tear, maybe not. We, the sons, are in socks & pajamas, our feet freezing. We go inside
and crawl back into bed, still warm under the covers, but we can’t get back to sleep.
Our heads go round and round. We’re three years old, four, five, six, and this scene has
played out a few times before. We don’t know it yet, but this is the last time that we’ll
see our father.
        We have the same memory.
The scene we just described happened some twenty years ago at the latest, and we
could start this story in three different points on the map. No, four. The moving truck
could have been outlined in the morning snow blanketing the Quai de la Marne, to the
north of Paris, pulled up in front of the houses lining the Rue de Crimée, just in front
of a canal that in the dawn light looked like something out of a novel by Simenon. Or
it could be that the motor of the Pegaso broke the damp silence of Martello Street,
across the street from London Fields on the East End, and rumbled off beneath
elevated train tracks looking for a main street that would take it outside the City, where
the highways are wider and driving on the left isn’t as tricky for a truck driver from the
Continent. Or we could find ourselves in the east of Frankfurt, at the feet of one of the
apartment blocks on Jacobystrasse constructed after the war. Here, the truck trundles
off almost indecisively until it reaches the autobahn, as though made apprehensive
crossing a landscape of factories and forests to join the line of trucks just like it that
flow through Germany’s arterial roads.
        Paris, London, Frankfurt. Three places at a remove from each other, accidental,
without any connection other than our father driving a truck that transported
furniture from one point in Europe to the other. There was another city, a fourth.
Barcelona: the point of origin & of return. In this case, the scene is repeated without
the truck or the two other tired men inside. One of us, Cristófol, with the mother &
the father, in a poorly lit kitchen in an apartment on the Calle de Tigre. But the
goodbyes take place with the same stillness that you’d expect, almost to the point of
being rehearsed, with the same vague worry that hung over the previous goodbyes, in
other houses, with other families. That look that wants to appear calm but reveals
sadness, and that we share: hours later, the next day, a week later, brushing our teeth,
we look at ourselves in the mirror and see it in our own eyes: a sadness that we
become resigned to. So that now we feel as though we were there, all of us, for all of
it, and now, years later, our childhood heartbreak is multiplied by four. We also like to
think of the mothers, the four mothers, as though they were one & the same. Without
repeating the pain of it, without multiplying it. Nobody saves up bad memories or
savors them. Us — the four sons — included.
       What? You don’t understand? It’s all backwards?
       Ah, here’s the thing: This has to be told right. We’re brothers — half brothers,
really —, sons of the same father and of four very different mothers. It’s only been a
year since we met. We didn’t even know that the others existed, scattered as we are to
the four winds. Papa wanted us to be named Christof, Christophe, Christopher, and
Cristófol (Cristóbal, until the dictator Franco died & you could name your sons in
Catalán). Say it like that, in a list, and the four names sound like a Latin declension
(irregular, of course). Christof, German nominative, was born in October of 1965 and is
the impossible heir of European entymology. Christopher, Saxon genitive, arrived two
years later and his birth soon amplified & pluralized a life in London. The accusative
Christophe waited a little less — 19 months — and in February 1969 became the direct
object of a single mother, French. Cristófol was the last to appear: a circumstantial
case, totally defined by the place, the time & space, an ablative in a language that does
not decline.
        Why did our father give us this name? Why did he take pains to name us like
this, with such stubborn insistence that our mothers finally relented, convinced?
Could it be that he didn’t want us to be unique, alone in the world? Whatever the
case, none of us have any more siblings. Once we spoke of this with Petroli, who
together with Bundó were his partners in the moves — moves and secrets — and he
told us no, when Papa spoke of us he never confused us; he knew exactly which was
which. We told ourselves that maybe it had something to do with a superstition —
Saint Cristóbal is the patron of drivers of all motorized devices, and we four sons were
like little offerings left in each country, candles lit to protect the truck’s journeys.
Petroli, who knew him well, assures us that this couldn’t be true — Papa didn’t believe
in any world besides this one — and notes an even more fantastical possibility, equally
credible: perhaps he only wanted to have a winning poker hand. Four aces, Petroli
says, one of each suit. And Papa?, we asked. He was the joker in the deck.
         “Life is very short, and there’s no time . . . ” — Christopher breaks in to sing.
        We let him because the phrase is pertinent & because it’s a Beatles song. We
four brothers coincide in our taste for the music, but we’re not going to play now at
choosing which of us is George, Paul, Ringo or John. We’ll keep these sorts of
exercises to ourselves, and the singing too. This is the first & last time we let in an
intervention by one brother alone that hasn’t been approved beforehand by the other
three. We’re not in a karaoke bar, and there have to be some rules so that we can be
understood. If we four brothers all start talking on top of each other this will start to
sound like a pot full of crickets. Anyways, Chris is right: Life is short, la vida es muy
corta, there’s no time.
        What else? If up until now we’ve lived without knowing about the existence of
the other three brothers, can it be said that our father — or better put, his absence —
has made us all into the same person? No, of course not, but the temptation to make
things up out of this buried common influence is important. We all play different
parts. Christof is dedicated to the world of theatre — an actor, an impostor, this
business of ‘to be or not to be,’ which makes us think of the pretendings & fakery of
our own father. Christophe is a professor of Quantum Physics at the University of
Paris, where he observes the world, puts reality into doubt and studies parallel
universes (where our father would never abandon us). Christopher works at Camden
Town and makes a living buying & selling used vinyl: the way he goes about obtaining
the jewels & other relics any collector searches for, often using methods that aren’t
legal, strictly speaking, is a kind of inheritance of our own father’s roguery (keep
reading, please). Cristófol is a translator from French, novels especially, and when
making versions of texts from one language to another is almost an homage to Papa’s
linguistic efforts.
        What else, what else? Do we look alike, the four of us? Yes, we look alike. You
could say that we all come from the same genetic map and that our mothers —
Sigrun, Mireille, Sarah, Rita — are the evolution that makes us distinct, the barbaric
grammar that removes us from Latin. Somewhere in central Europe, at the
intersection that marks where their fates have coincided — in the exact center of a
rotunda, if we want to be disgustingly symbolic — we should erect a monument to
what they had to put up with. They still haven’t met. It’s been some number of weeks
since they’ve known about each other, known that we have half brothers and that they
have stepsons. The borders, of course, are still in the same place they’ve always been.
In an ironic tone she shares with the other three, Sarah says that we four are like
diplomats appointed to negotiate an armistice. Maybe later we’ll decide on a place &
meet for a weekend in some neutral hotel. In Andorra, say, or Switzerland. But this will
have to be later.
        What else, what more? Do they look alike, our mothers? I don’t think so. Diría
que no. Je crois pas. Ich glaube nicht. Do they all fit a model of common beauty, are they
different pieces of some perfectionist’s jigsaw puzzle, our father’s? No and no again,
but we have to admit that when we talk about planning to meet the four of them react
with the same lack of enthusiasm. Mireille makes a face and says that it sounds like a
meeting of Abandonné Anonyme. Sigrun mock-demands that the summit be
subsidized by the European Union. Rita compares us to a fan club in decline — “Elvis
lives! Elvis lives!” Sarah has an idea: if we have to meet each other, why don’t we stage
a version of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII and play his wives? What, there’s only four?
Don’t worry, she says, if we root around long enough we’re sure to turn up two more!
        The caustic reactions of these four potential widows has to be a defense
mechanism. It’s been many years since the romances, but it’s still a sore point for all of
them, not something they want to talk about. From the outside, it’s tempting to
imagine four women coming together & picking apart the memory of that man who
left them without so much as a warning one day, leaving them alone and with a son to
raise. Picture it: Drinking, talking — little by little they share a list of reproaches, it
brings them together. It was all so long ago; it’s not worth venting spleen over. The
tempestuous love affair seems now more like an animal, stuffed & mounted. More than
therapy, the meeting becomes a kind of exorcism. They laugh over more drinks. Little
by little, of course, each of them starts to think that the other three didn’t understand
him like she did, and looking at them starts to take the shine off of her remembered
love. Hers was the good one, the authentic one. A change in tone, a joke that’s
suddenly no longer funny, and this temporary alliance out of shared pain evaporates.
They’d say he had just been pulling their leg, it had never been serious.
        Here’s the thing, though, and it complicates matters: We can’t say for sure these
days that our father is actually dead — only that he disappeared a little over a year ago.
      “Disappear” isn’t really the best verb, actually, and if we’ve made up our minds to
find him it’s in order to endow the word with some sense. To give it shape. You can
only disappear if you’ve already appeared somewhere, and this isn’t the case with our
father. It’s been more than twenty years since we’ve seen him, and all of our memories
put together only gives us a blurred portrait of him. It’s not that he was a shy or
reserved man, just that he was always about to leave. He wasn’t nervous either, or
restless, or mistrustful. Sigrun explained that she was in love with his absence as much
as with his presence. Mireille remembered that he looked like he was leaving even
before he’d arrived. The brevity of his visits added to this feeling, this of course. There
was a provisional air that grew over time. Rather than disappear overnight —
abracadabra!, like a magic trick or an alien abduction — we always thought that Papa
had disintegrated little by little. That still, even now, at this very moment, while we
think about him together for the first time, he’s still slowly disintegrating.
      You can even see this voluntary dissolution in the letters that he sent us. He wrote
them from various points in Europe, wherever the moves took him, and usually they
consist of stories from the trip. Sometimes they’re scribbled on postcards from the
side of the highway. On one side are statues of horses, or a castle, gardens, a church —
horrifying monuments from provinces that the four of us remember with a clarity that
scares us. They’re dated in France or Germany, and all of them are stamped with a
marble bust of Franco because they lay around the truck’s glove compartment for days
and days and he only remembered to put them in the mail when he got back to
Barcelona. Sometimes, along with the letters, he’d send photographs, alone or with the
other two men. The words that accompany these images ooze a tenderness &
homesickness that always made our mothers cry if they were feeling shitty that day, but
they were never longer than a single sheet written on both sides. Just when it looked
like it was getting started, the writing stopped abruptly. I’ll see you soon, besos,
etcetera, the signature and that was it. As though it scared him to give himself over too
       “The only thing missing was if he’d written them in invisible ink & the words had
disappeared a few days after reading them,” notes Christof.
      What else is there left to explain? Ah, of course — how we make ourselves
understood to each other. English has been our lingua franca since the day we met,
after Cristófol dedicated himself to searching for the rest of the brothers. We speak in
English because it’s the language in which we best understand each other, because we
need a convention, but actually our conversations create a more complicated
language, a kind of family Esperanto. Christof doesn’t have any problems — English is
closely related to German, and he’s been studying it since he was little. Christophe
speaks with that slightly conceited accent that the French have and a technical
vocabulary that he picked up in the scientific conferences & papers he participates in.
Cristófol learned it when he’d already grown up, going to private classes, because at
school & in the university he’d studied French. Sometimes, when he can’t think of a
word in English, he looks to French for help and Christophe feels comforted — you
can tell in his face. Chris & Christof laugh at this latin affinity, and ape it in dialogues
full of guttural noises, verses taken from La Marseilles and the names of French
football players.
       For his part, Chris speaks a little Spanish thanks to the initiative of his mother,
Sarah. In the middle of the 70s, when it seemed clear that Gabriel wasn’t coming
back, she put her son into a summer course so that he could learn the language.
Maybe he’d never see his father again, but at least he’d inherit his language. The
teacher that he got was a university student named Rosi. She’d come to London to
have new experiences, and the first thing she found was that she didn’t have the
stomach for teaching. Her method for teaching Spanish consisted in making her
students listen to a tape of summer singles. For this reason, Chris knows how to say
perfectly & with a wonderful naturalness of expression phrases like, Es una lata
trabajar, or No me gusta que en los toros te pongas la minifalda or Achilipú, apú, apú,
although he has no idea what he’s saying.
       Another childhood experience we’ve discovered that we share is that of songs in
Catalán. During our first meeting in Barcelona we had dinner in a restaurant and we
tried to put together all of the information that we had about papa. After a little while,
in one of the tables nearby, some kids that were playing & singing made us relive those
tunes that papa taught us when we were little — songs like “Plou i fa sol,” “En Joan
petit com balla,” or “El gegant del Pi” . . . .
      “I remember a story that papa used to tell us before we went to sleep,” said
Christof. “The main character was a boy named Patiufet or something that, and he
ended up in the belly of an ox, “where there is no love or law,” donde no hay amo ni ley,
und scheint keine Sonne hinein. I almost died of fright. Now, sometimes, I tell it to my
friends’ kids in German, more than anything because I like how Patiufet rivals the
Brothers Grimm.”
      “I was obsessed with that song, Lou i fa sol, les bruixes es pentinen . . .” Chris said,
singing it. “In London it happens a lot — sun & rain at the same time. Often, when I’d
go to school or to the park to play with my friends, I’d look at the sky, frightened, and
in the middle of that insistent drizzle I was always able to make out a ray of sun. And I
thought then that I knew, in some ramshackle house in this city, right now, there were
witches combing their hair, readying to go out. When I explained it to my friends,
convinced that I was telling them a secret, they made fun of me, and I sang the song to
them to make them be quiet. But it didn’t help.”
      This linguistic hodgepodge that we go on perfecting day after day brings us even
closer to our father. It’s almost an inheritance — speaking all languages and none at
the same time. Our mothers explained to us that, over the years, the words he learned
in middle Europe got all muddled together in his memory, creating shortcuts & false
cognates, abbreviated conjugations & etymologies that only appeared to make sense.
He was of the opinion that you couldn’t have long silences in the middle of a
conversation just because you were translating mentally from one language to the
other, as though they were two glasses of water you emptied one into the other, and so
he’d grab the first option that came into his head.
      “My brain is a jam-packed storage closet,” he’d say, according to our mothers.
“The good part is that if I need something I always end up finding it.”
      Even if it was just the conviction with which he threw out these words, it must
have worked, and the result was an idiolect of the most practical kind. Sigrun
complains that with him a conversation always ended up funny even when she wanted
it to be serious. Rita remembers, to give an example, that that for him vino tinto would
end up as vino rojo because that was the color in French (vin rouge), Germany
(Rotwein), and Great Britain (red wine). Nevertheless, Mireille remembers him in a
brasserie on the Avenue Jean Jaurès ordering vin noir or even vin tinté de la maison —
for the Spanish tinto.
      Maybe it’s only because of his absence, but each time that we bring together our
memories of our father & superimpose them, we relive an experience that doesn’t
cease to amaze us. Since we’ve met each other, we’ve made sure that we get together
for one weekend out of every five, more or less. With each new meeting we fill some
empty space or solve some everyday intrigue of our father’s. Our mothers help us fill
in these lost years, and even though the details aren’t always agreeable, it often comes
out gratifying in the end: a feeling, almost, that we’re correcting our solitary pasts, that
this childhood without brothers that sometimes bore down on us with an strange,
adult forcefulness and made us feel unprotected can be stamped out from time time
time because now we know a part of the secret of our father. Nobody can take away our
uncertainty, our doubtfulness — this we’re sure of — but we want to believe that we
while we were growing up we kept each other company in a latent, unknown way, and
that our father’s life made sense because he liked to play with the secret and because
we are its essence.
      Given that our solitary brotherhoods perhaps seem too abstract, we’ll give a
practical example so that you can better understand. When we four Cristóbals planned
our first meeting, communicating with each other with a coldness and a distance that
makes us laugh now out of its sheer ridiculousness, we agreed that we’d bring the
photographs we’d kept of Papa. We thought maybe we’d choose one, the most recent
one or the one that showed him to the best advantage, and put up a newspaper ad in
some of the daily papers in our respective countries. We’d spread his image across the
middle of the continent and ask if anybody had seen him or recognized him or had
any idea where he could be, that they let us know. In the end, after a lot of arguing, we
gave up the idea because it seemed to us a contradiction in terms. If we’re agreed that
his disappearance has been gradual and voluntary and totally unexpected, nobody’s
going to recognize him. Nobody will have seen him yesterday or the day before or last
week. His absence would be a perfectly normal state of affairs for everyone.
      In spite of having decided that we wouldn’t do anything, we kept going over the
photographs that we brought because we enjoyed it. We were in Barcelona and we laid
out all of the photographs on the table. Afterwards, we contemplated them as though
they were the illustrations to an unfinished life story. They were images from the 60s
and 70s, in black & white or in those colors, faded with time, that make the scene look
even more unreal. There were pictures he’d sent us himself, accompanying the letters,
and others that were taken during one of his visits. Putting them side by side, we saw
that the attitude was always the same — the way you smile for the camera (Cheeese,
patataaaa, hatschiiiii), as though with great effort; a repeated gesture, ruffling our hair,
when we were also in the picture, or hugging our mother with his hand on the same
spot at her waist . . .
       The feeling of seeing ourselves reproduced in the same pattern, equally still in
front of the camera, as though there were no particularly important differences
between one and the other, was discomfitting. The backgrounds changed slowly — us
to, of course — but it would happen that Papa would wear the same suede jacket and
the same shoes in all of the pictures taken in a certain season. While we commented
on these coincidences, we grew aware of a detail that at first glance infuriated us but
that afterwards was a kind of a comfort. Often, the pictures in which he was alone and
that we’d receive along with a letter had been taken during a visit to one of the other
four brothers. Papa captioned the picture avoiding anything that could make our
mothers suspicious. At best, he’d place it somewhere on the map where the truck had
been. “Bundó took the photo I’m sending to you outside of a little roadside shop in
the country in France last September while we stopped for lunch,” he wrote in a letter
addressed to Christopher & Sarah in the final part of 1970, and the roadside shop that
you could make out at his back was none other than the white front of the house of
Christophe and Mireille on the Quai de la Marne. “Stopping to refuel in Germany, just
outside of Munich,” he wrote in another sent to Christophe and Mireille, but Christof
could recognize in the background, behind papa, the gas station in his neighborhood
in Frankfurt. Moreover, the picture was from 1968, two years before, because all of us
have something from the same roll of film (and this coexistence in the inside of the
camera can also console & entertain us).
       With a history like this, the easiest solution would be to recognize that papa was a
compulsive liar — and we wouldn’t be wrong — but that seems to us too simplistic an
answer. At the moment we’re not interested in condemning him, just in finding out
where he is. Who he is. If some day we locate him, we’ll demand explanations. But for
now we prefer to venture without prejudice into the shadows of his life, because in the
end, if we’ve met it’s because of him —and his absence. Maybe this isn’t easy to
understand, but we’d rather substitute indignation for an enthusiasm, ours alone, even
if it’s naive. More often than not, the same photographs that perpetuated his deceits
now unite us even more closely with the past. We like to celebrate them as an
indication that, however many years before, papa had already forseen our reunion as
brothers. They’re another hope that grabs hold of us. We recognize that our deductive
method isn’t exactly scientific, but at least it lets us breathe life into these photographs
& return them to the present.
       It should also be said that we’re dedicating ourselves to this method because it
leaves us with a certainty: the day that we met in Barcelona for the first time and laid
all of the photographs of our father out on the table to reconstruct a credible story, we
understood that he’d never revealed anything of himself to us. Not even the faintest
glimmer. A few sentiments. After a bit these photographs, lined up, faded & aged,
makes us think of a series of images taken from a film. Like those posters they put up
at the entrance to a movie theatre to announce the coming attractions. You could study
them attentively for a long while, staring at the actors & actresses, unmoving,
imagining the scene that they were acting out when they were frozen all at once, but
since you don’t know anything about the plot it’s impossible to tell whether it was a
comedy, a drama, a mystery. If they were at the point of tears or laughter.
       That’s all — nothing more, nothing less. Gabriel, our father, our actor, was always
still in the photographs. The more you look at him, the more he mesmerizes you.

                                  Things that happen.

Our father is named — or was named — Gabriel Delacruz Expósito. We’ll start there.


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