Recently, though, I seem to be spending my life in airports and hotels, and any sense of adventure has rapidly given way to profound tedium. I spent a large part of my youth traveling the world as a hippie, and what money did I have then? The landscape changes, the people change, our needs change, but the train keeps moving. Life is the train, not the station. Did you find out what it was? And I can guarantee that it was far harsher than yours.
How can I play it?
You committed just one cowardly deed, while I acted unfairly many times. But that discovery freed me. To Jerusalem? Wherever you are committed to going. Find out what you have left unfinished, and complete the task. God will guide you, because everything you ever experienced or will experience is in the here and now. The world is being created and destroyed in this very moment. Whoever you met will reappear, whoever you lost will return. Understand what is going on inside you and you will understand what is going on inside everyone else. I came with a sword. Where should I go? After fifty-nine years of living with myself, I can predict at least some of my reactions.
When I first met J. I accepted everything without question; I walked fearlessly ahead and never once regretted it. But time passed, we got to know each other, and with familiarity came habit. Even though, out of duty, I had to obey his words — which I would have done gladly in September of , ten years after I met him — I no longer did so with the same conviction. I am wrong. It was my choice to follow this magical Tradition, so why question it now.
I need peace. There was a time when that was enough, but these last two years, nothing seems to satisfy me. Is it just a passing anxiety? The rain is falling ever harder, and all I can hear is the sound of the water. Fear and trembling. When a sense of dissatisfaction persists, that means it was placed there by God for one reason only: you need to change everything and move forward. Whenever I refused to follow my fate, something very hard to bear would happen in my life.
And that is my great fear at the moment, that some tragedy will occur. Tragedy always brings about radical change in our lives, a change that is associated with the same principle: loss. In theory, every loss is for our own good; in practice, though, that is when we question the existence of God and ask ourselves: What did I do to deserve this? Lord, preserve me from tragedy and I will follow Your desires. The moment I think this, there is a great crack of thunder and the sky is lit up by a flash of lightning.
Again, fear and trembling. A sign. Here I am, trying to persuade myself that I always give the best of myself, and nature is telling me exactly the opposite: anyone truly committed to life never stops walking. A yellow shape approaches. I surrender myself to the rain. Bless and you will be blessed. My great problem is this: despite such moments, I continue to doubt. The yellow shape is there before me.
I abandon universal metaphysics, in which thunder claps are the voices of the gods, and return to the reality of a provincial town and a supper of good wine, roast lamb, and the cheerful conversation of friends, who will tell us about their recent adventures on their Harley-Davidson. I go back home to change my clothes and give my wife a brief summary of my conversation with J.
Stop being so difficult. The man seems neither pleasant nor unpleasant, merely absent. I was speaking about just that with a friend this afternoon. I know who each of the people around this table was, is, and will be. A case of synchronicity. When something on the astral plane is placed on the earthly plane, it loses a lot of its force.
She thinks that the Moroccan clairvoyant and I are on a collision course. The man barely looks at me; he still has the absent air of someone who has unwittingly entered another dimension and now has a duty to communicate what he is experiencing. He wants to tell me something but chooses, instead, to turn to my wife. Chinese Bamboo Sitting on this train, traveling from Paris to London, on my way to the Book Fair, is a blessing to me. Whenever I visit England, I remember , when I left my job with a Brazilian recording company, determined, from then on, to make my living as a writer.
I rented a flat on Bassett Road, made various friends, studied vampirology, discovered the city on foot, fell in love, saw every film being shown, and, before a year had passed, I was back in Rio, incapable of writing a single line. This time I will be staying in London for only three days. There will be a signing session, meals in Indian and Lebanese restaurants, and conversations in the hotel lobby about books, bookshops, and authors.
I have no plans to return to my house in Saint Martin until the end of the year. From London I will get a flight back to Rio, where I can again hear my mother tongue spoken in the streets, drink acai juice every night, and gaze tirelessly out my window at the most beautiful view in the world: Copacabana Beach. Shortly before we arrive, a young man enters the carriage carrying a bunch of roses and starts looking around him. How odd, I think. Nevertheless, when the train pulls into the station, I decide to follow the other volunteers. The young man points to a girl on the platform.
One by one, the passengers hand her their red roses. Finally, he declares his love for her, everyone applauds, and the young woman turns scarlet with embarrassment. Then the couple kiss and go off, their arms around each other. If my spiritual progress seems to have met an insurmountable barrier, perhaps I just need to be patient. I have seen and felt things that very few of the people around me will have seen and felt. Before setting out to London, I visited the little chapel in Barbazan-Debat. There I asked Our Lady to guide me with her love and to help me identify the signs that will lead me back to myself.
I know that I am in all the people surrounding me, and that they are in me. Together we write the Book of Life, our every encounter determined by fate and our hands joined in the belief that we can make a difference in this world. Everyone contributes a word, a sentence, an image, but in the end it all makes sense: the happiness of one becomes the joy of all.
We will always ask ourselves the same questions. We will always need to be humble enough to accept that our hearts know why we are here. They say that in the second before our death, each of us understands the real reason for our existence, and out of that moment, Heaven or Hell is born. Hell is when we look back during that fraction of a second and know that we wasted an opportunity to dignify the miracle of life. I lived my life and did what I had to do. We are all redeemed and free to follow the path that has no beginning and will have no end.
I skim an article about Chinese bamboo. Apparently, once the seed has been sown, you see nothing for about five years, apart from a tiny shoot. All the growth takes place underground, where a complex root system reaching upward and outward is being established. Then, at the end of the fifth year, the bamboo suddenly shoots up to a height of twenty-five meters. What a tedious subject! I decide to go downstairs and watch the comings and goings in the lobby. I have a cup of coffee while I wait. Monica, my agent and my best friend, joins me at my table.
We talk about things of no importance. We started working together when she was only twenty. She was a fan of my work and convinced that a Brazilian writer could be successfully translated and published outside of Brazil. When this brought no results at all, I went to the small town in Catalonia where she was living, bought her a coffee, and advised her to give the whole thing up and think about her own life and future. Monica still would not give up. I left that cafe in the firm belief that she was throwing her life away but that I would never be able to make her change her mind because she was too stubborn.
Six months later, the situation had changed completely, and six months after that, she had earned enough money to buy an apartment. She believed in the impossible and, for that reason, won a battle that everyone, including myself, considered to be lost. That is what marks out the warrior: the knowledge that willpower and courage are not the same thing. Courage can attract fear and adulation, but willpower requires patience and commitment.
Men and women with immense willpower are generally solitary types and give off a kind of coolness. Many people mistakenly think that Monica is rather a cold person, when nothing could be further from the truth. In her heart there burns a secret fire, as intense as it was when we met in that Catalonian cafe. A lot of people involved in the Book Fair are staying in the same hotel. We talk about this and that, then Monica turns the conversation to the subject of my books. Eventually, one of the publishers looks at me and asks the standard question.
All I ask is a party after the afternoon signing session. Chinese bamboo! They turn to Monica for more details. And at that precise moment, my Spanish publisher arrives. The conversation at the table breaks off, introductions are made, and the usual question is asked. We can arrange a book signing in Santiago de Compostela and another in the Basque Country, followed by a party to which some of my readers could be invited. The lobby is starting to fill up. These fairs are for publishing professionals, you know, not writers. Finally, my Russian publishers — a man and a woman — come over, and we say hello.
Monica gives a sigh of relief. Now she can drag me off to the restaurant. Do you know anything about Chinese bamboo? It apparently spends five years as a little shoot, using that time to develop its root system. And then, from one moment to the next, it puts on a spurt and grows up to twenty -five meters high.
Nothing happened for years. Have you forgotten who you are? The Russian publisher opens the door for Monica. But the fact is, I have been going mad. I was beginning to believe that nothing I had learned had put down any roots. My self-imposed exile, which, on the one hand, had helped me discover important truths about myself, had another serious side effect: the vice of solitude. My universe had become limited to a few friends locally, to answering letters and e-mails, and to the illusion that the rest of my time was mine alone.
I was, in short, leading a life without any of the inevitable problems that arise from living with other people, from human contact. A life without challenges? But where is the pleasure in looking for God outside of people? I know many who have done just that. I once had a serious and at the same time comical talk with a Buddhist nun who had spent twenty years alone in a cave in Nepal.
I asked her what she had achieved. I cannot and could not spend the rest of my life in search of spiritual orgasms or contemplating the oak tree in my garden, waiting for wisdom to descend. I apologize to the Russian publishers and say that I need to finish a conversation with Monica in Portuguese. I start by telling her a story. He asks a passing priest to help him out. The priest blesses him and walks on. Hours later, a doctor comes by. The man asks for help, but the doctor merely studies his injuries from afar, writes him a prescription, and tells him to buy the medicine from the nearest pharmacy.
Finally, a complete stranger appears. Again, he asks for help, and the stranger jumps into the hole. Not just you or J. In the restaurant, we speak about all kinds of things; we celebrate a few successes and try to refine certain details. I have to stop myself from interfering, because Monica is in charge of everything to do with publishing. At one point, though, the same question is asked. I break in. We could stop at various places along the way for signings. That way, we would be showing our respect for all those readers who could never make it to Moscow. He had just been talking about the increasing difficulties of distribution in a country so vast that it has seven different time zones.
That is what I wanted. If I believe I will win, then victory will believe in me. No life is complete without a touch of madness, or, to use J. I return her call at once. The seconds between each ring seem like an eternity. Finally, she picks up the phone. I ask if I can phone Veronique now, but she says no. Of course I do! He made a prediction about me as well. I was in a strange state of euphoria when I started saying yes to all those publishers. I ask Monica again if I have arranged a visit to Turkey. I can sleep easy.
My joy in life has returned, but I lie awake all night, wondering if that sense of joy will stay with me when I return home. Am I doing what I need to do to make the Chinese bamboo grow? All that remains now is Russia. And then what will I do? Continue making commitments in order to keep moving, or stop and see what the results have been?
O Aleph (Portuguese Edition)
I know only that a life without cause is a life without effect. The talk is about to begin, and — thank heavens — the room is packed. In the short meeting we held beforehand, one of them showed me a text that would take just two minutes to deliver and the other a veritable thesis on my work that would take at least half an hour. I imagine how hard he must have worked on that essay, but the coordinator is right. The purpose of my visit to Tunis is to meet my readers. There is a brief discussion, after which the author of the essay says that he no longer wishes to take part, and he leaves.
The talk begins. The introductions and acknowledgments take only five minutes; the rest of the time is free for open dialogue. A young woman asks about the signs I speak of in my books. What form do they take? I explain that signs are an extremely personal language that we develop throughout our lives, by trial and error, until we begin to understand that God is guiding us. Someone else asks if a sign had brought me all the way to Tunisia. Without going into any detail, I say that it had. The conversation continues, time passes quickly, and I need to wrap things up. For the last question, I choose, at random, out of the six hundred people there, a middle- aged man with a bushy mustache.
The following words were written by one of the other people onstage with me. In the room, the Universe seemed suddenly to have stopped moving. So many things happened; I saw your tears and the tears of your dear wife, when that anonymous reader pronounced the name of that distant chapel You could no longer speak.
Your smiling face grew serious. Your eyes filled with shy tears that trembled on your lashes, as if wishing to apologize for appearing there uninvited. I looked for my wife and daughter in the audience, because I always look to them whenever I feel myself to be on the brink of something unknown.
They were there, but they were sitting as silently as everyone else, their eyes fixed on you, trying to support you with their gaze, as if a gaze could ever support anyone. Then I looked to Christina for help, trying to understand what was going on, how to bring to an end that seemingly interminable silence. And I saw that she was silently crying, too, as if you were both notes from the same symphony and as if your tears were touching, even though you were sitting far apart. For several long seconds, nothing existed, there was no room, no audience, nothing.
You and your wife had set off for a place where we could not follow; all that remained was the joy of living, expressed in silence and emotion. Words are tears that have been written down. Tears are words that need to be shed. Without them, joy loses all its brilliance and sadness has no end. Thank you, then, for your tears. I suspect there was no need, though. She would probably have understood anyway. We are discussing the great Carthaginian warrior Hannibal. Since Carthage and Rome were separated by only a few hundred kilometers of sea, the Romans were expecting a sea battle. Instead, Hannibal took his vast army and crossed the desert and the Strait of Gibraltar, marched through Spain and France, climbed the Alps with soldiers and elephants, and attacked the Romans from the north, scoring one of the most resounding military victories ever recorded.
He overcame all the enemies in his path, and yet — for reasons we still do not understand — he stopped short of conquering Rome and failed to attack at the right moment. As a result of his indecision, Carthage was wiped from the map by the Roman legions. I ask him to avoid all the usual monuments and tourist sights and show us where the real life of the city goes on. He takes us to a beautiful building where, in , a man killed his own brother. I say that surely the son who had committed the murder would also be remembered. When a man is murdered, the person who sold him the weapon is also responsible before God.
The only way in which the father could correct what he perceived as his own mistake was to transform the tragedy into something useful to others.
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I take a gigantic leap into the dark and enter a tunnel that emerges into a damp dungeon. He fixes me with stern, admonitory eyes. I return just as quickly to the present. It all happened in a fraction of a second. But why that dip into the past? Why do the roots of the Chinese bamboo insist on poisoning the plant? That life was lived and the price paid. Samil is confused. Samil looks at me, surprised. I ask him to find out. He takes his cell phone and starts ringing various people. Christina and I go to a bar and order two strong black coffees.
Of course not, but deja vu is more than just that fleeting moment of surprise, instantly forgotten because we never bother with things that make no sense. Samil has vanished. The first time I met J. He never mentioned the subject again, and I forgot about it, too. But a few moments ago, I saw his father. And I understand now what he meant. I learned long ago that in order to heal my wounds, I must have the courage to face up to them. I also learned to forgive myself and correct my mistakes. He sits down with us, consults his notes, and respectfully turns the pages of the book, murmuring words in Arabic.
The third one, though, told me to consult some verses from the Koran. He translates the second verse, For they are alive, even though you cannot see them. People never leave; we are always here in our past and future lives. It appears in the Bible, too, you know. Above one of the gates in the ancient city wall is a lantern, and Samil explains its significance to us.
Samil wants to be a writer and is fighting to gain recognition in his own country, whereas I, a Brazilian author, am already known here. Then the hidden light in our souls will illuminate what we need to see. Only then does my wife manage to explain what she had felt during the afternoon. You may find solitude oppressive, too much to bear, but that feeling will gradually disappear as you come more into contact with other people.
And no two journeys along the same path are alike. If we continue to travel together, trying to make things fit our worldview, neither of us will benefit. His name was Christian Dhellemmes. Afterward, we exchanged a few e-mails but never met again face-to-face. He died on July 19, , in Tarbes, France. If a Cold Wind Blows When I arrive at the Moscow hotel with my publisher and my editor, a young woman is waiting outside for me. She comes over and grasps my hands in hers. I woke up earlier than usual and had to change planes in Paris because there was no direct flight.
I tried to sleep on the journey, but every time I managed to drop off, I would fall into the same unpleasant, repetitive dream.
Aleph (French Edition)
I hold out my hand to say good-bye and notice that hers is very cold. Even so, there could certainly have been no reference in it to her, given that I had met her only a few seconds ago. She takes out a piece of paper containing the article. A man called Ali is in need of money and asks his boss to help him. His boss sets him a challenge: if he can spend all night on the top of a mountain, he will receive a great reward; if he fails, he will have to work for free. The story continues: When he left the shop, Ali noticed that an icy wind was blowing.
He felt afraid and decided to ask his best friend, Aydi, if he thought he was mad to accept the wager. Look at the fire and think of our friendship, and that will keep you warm. Promise that if ever a cold wind blows through my life, you will light the fire of friendship for me. When I read your first book, I heard a voice saying that you once lit a sacred fire for me and that one day I would have to repay the favor.
I dreamed about that fire night after night, and even thought I would have to go to Brazil to find you. My publisher explains to her that someone is waiting for me, and I seize that as an excuse to say good-bye. However, something has left me feeling vaguely uneasy: in her eyes, I saw both love and death. I take off all my clothes, turn on the shower, and stand beneath the water — one of my favorite rituals. I position my head so that all I can hear is the sound of the water in my ears, which cuts me off from everything else, transporting me into a different world. Like a conductor aware of every instrument in the orchestra, I begin to distinguish every sound, each one of which becomes a word.
Aleph-0 | M-PeX
The tiredness, anxiety, and feeling of disorientation that come from visiting so many different countries vanishes. With each day that passes, I can see that the long journey is having the desired effect. I had been allowing myself to be slowly poisoned by routine; showers were merely a matter of washing my skin clean, meals were for feeding my body, and the sole purpose of walks was to avoid heart problems in the future.
Now things are changing, imperceptibly, but they are changing. Meals are times when I can venerate the presence and the teachings of friends, walks are once again meditations on the present moment, and the sound of water in my ears silences my thoughts, calms me, and makes me relearn that it is these small daily gestures that bring us closer to God, as long as I am able to give each gesture the value it deserves.
When J. I was hoping for a solution or an answer to my doubts, something that would console me and help me feel at peace with my soul again. Those who set off in search of their kingdom know that they are going to find, instead, only challenges, long periods of waiting, unexpected changes, or, even worse, nothing.
If we seek something , that same thing is seeking us. Nevertheless, you have to be prepared for everything. Routine has nothing to do with repetition. To become really good at anything, you have to practice and repeat, practice and repeat, until the technique becomes intuitive. I was fascinated by the work of a blacksmith who lived nearby. I would sit for what seemed like an eternity, watching his hammer rise and fall on the red-hot steel, scattering sparks all around, like fireworks.
Sharing Souls I look at each of my readers. I hold out my hand and thank them for being there. My body might be traveling, but when my soul flies from city to city, I am never alone; I am all the many people I meet and who have understood my soul through my books. The argument, however, shows no sign of abating. Finally, I turn around and ask my publisher what the problem is.
She says she wants to be near you. I carry on signing books. Someone sits down close to me only to be removed by one of the uniformed security guards, and the argument starts again. Beside me is the girl whose eyes speak of love and death. A reader is waiting for this conversation to end so that I can sign his books. I realize that the girl is not going to leave. I came to light the sacred fire. The people in the queue are beginning to grow impatient.
The reader at the head of the queue says something in Russian to her, and judging from his tone of voice, I sense that it was nothing very pleasant. She does as asked, and goes to stand at a discreet distance from me. Seconds later, I have once again forgotten her existence and am concentrating on the task at hand. Everyone thanks me, and I thank them in return, and the four hours pass as if I were in paradise.
I leave each book-signing session with my batteries recharged and with more energy than ever. Afterward, I call for a round of applause for the organizers. The girl whose existence I had forgotten comes over to me. I was waiting for you yesterday outside your hotel. The readers, who had begun to drift away, return for this impromptu concert. Hilal plays with her eyes closed, as if she were in a trance.
Sometimes she pauses; sometimes she seems to be in a state of ecstasy; sometimes her whole being dances with the instrument; but mostly only her upper body and her hands move. Every note leaves in each of us a memory, but it is the melody as a whole that tells a story, the story of someone wanting to get closer to another person and who keeps on trying, despite repeated rejections.
While Hilal is playing, I remember the many occasions on which help has come from precisely those people whom I thought had nothing to add to my life. When she stops playing, there is no applause, nothing, only an almost palpable silence. May I come with you? Not everyone has the strength of mind that Monica showed in that bar in Catalonia, and if I were to persuade just one person to stop fighting for something they were convinced was worthwhile, I would end up persuading myself, and my whole life would be diminished.
It has been a very satisfying day. I phone the Brazilian ambassador and ask if he could include another guest at supper. Very kindly, he agrees, saying that my readers are my representatives. Despite the formal atmosphere, the ambassador manages to put everyone at ease. Hilal arrives wearing an outfit that I consider to be tasteless in the extreme, full of gaudy colors, in sharp contrast with the sober dress of the other guests.
Not knowing quite where to put this last-minute arrival, the organizers end up seating her in the place of honor, next to our host. I assume you know how musicians are selected? Suddenly, there seem to be fewer parallel conversations going on. Perhaps everyone is interested in that awkward young woman in the garish clothes.
As they grow older, some start practicing more than others. In the end, there is just a small group of outstanding students who practice for nearly forty hours a week. Scouts from big orchestras visit the music schools in search of new talent, who are then invited to turn professional. I started practicing a lot because I was sexually abused when I was ten.
It falls to me to pick up the thread of the story. My father was an ardent nationalist. Most of the people here met for the first time over supper. Everyone seems suddenly very preoccupied with their plates, cutlery, and glasses, pretending to be concentrating on the food but longing to know the rest of her story. Hilal speaks as if what she is talking about is the most natural thing in the world.
He was married and had two daughters my age. Whenever I went to his house to play with them, he would sit me on his knee and tell me nice stories. While he was doing this, however, his hand would be wandering all over my body, and at first I took this as a sign of affection. As time passed, though, he began touching me between my legs and asking me to touch his penis, things like that. The worst thing was that I started to enjoy it, even though I knew it was wrong.
I started playing compulsively, desperately. When we leave, I ask where Hilal is staying and check with my industrialist friend to see if he would mind taking her home before dropping me off at my hotel. He agrees. Now, each morning, when your mind is still empty, devote a little time to the Divine. Inhale deeply and ask for all the blessings in the air to enter your body and fill every cell. Then exhale slowly, projecting happiness and peace around you. Repeat this ten times. Just do the exercise. Breathe in, inhaling whatever exists in the Heavens and on Earth.
Breathe out beauty and fecundity. Believe me, it will work. Outside, Moscow is parading past. I met her less than twenty-four hours ago — if you can call such a strange encounter a meeting. My friend laughs. I try to remain serious. I wake each morning wanting to die before the day is out, but I continue to live, suffering and fighting, fighting and suffering, clinging on to the certainty that it will all end one day.
This journey is my salvation. My wounds are open and bleeding, too. I understand exactly what this young woman is saying. If you believe in the words you write, allow the people around you to grow with you. We reach a leafy square. She tells him where to park, jumps out, and says good-bye. She kisses me briefly on the lips.
You can start your journey at any station in Europe, but the Russian section is 9, kilometers long, connecting hundreds of small and large cities, traversing seventy-six percent of the country and passing through seven different time zones. Until the end of the nineteenth century, few travelers ventured into Siberia, which holds the record for the lowest temperature ever in a permanently inhabited location: - 7 2.
The rivers that linked the region to the rest of the world used to be the main means of transport, but they were frozen for eight months of the year. During the civil war that erupted immediately after the Communist Revolution of , the railway became the focus of fighting.
Forces loyal to the deposed tsar — notably, the Czech Legion — used armored carriages, which acted as tanks on rails and were thus able to repel attacks by the Red Army with relative ease as long as they were kept supplied with munitions and provisions from the East. That was when the saboteurs were sent into action, blowing up bridges and cutting communications. The pro-imperial forces were driven to the outer reaches of the Russian continent, and many crossed over into Canada, from where they dispersed to other countries.
When I entered the station at Moscow, the price of a ticket from Europe to the Pacific Ocean in a compartment shared with three other people could cost anything between thirty and sixty euros. My first photo was of the departures board showing that our train was due to leave at ! My heart was beating fast, as if I were a child again, watching my toy train chugging around the room and letting my mind travel to distant places, as distant as the one in which I found myself now.
My conversation with J. What idiotic questions I had asked! What was the meaning of life? Why can I make no progress? Why is the spiritual world moving farther and farther away? How good it was to go back to being a child, feeling my blood flowing in my veins and my eyes shining, thrilling to the sight of the crowded platform, the smell of oil and food, the squeal of brakes as a train came into the station, the shrill sounds of luggage vans and whistles. To live is to experience things, not sit around pondering the meaning of life. Obviously, not everyone needs to cross Asia or follow the Road to Santiago.
I knew an abbot in Austria who rarely left his monastery in Melk, and yet he understood the world far better than many travelers I have met. I have a friend who experienced great spiritual revelations just from watching his children sleeping. When my wife starts work on a new painting, she enters a kind of trance and speaks to her guardian angel.
But I am a born pilgrim. In Yaroslavl station, making my way over to platform five, I realize that I will never reach my goal by staying in the same place all the time. I can speak to my soul only when the two of us are off exploring deserts or cities or mountains or roads. We are in the last carriage, which will be coupled and decoupled at various stations along the way. People come over to talk to me, but I move away. This moment of childish ecstasy must have lasted at most five minutes, but I took in every detail, every sound, every smell.
The time is here and now. Make the most of it. His name is Yao. He was born in China but went to Brazil as a refugee during the civil war in his country. He then studied in Japan and is now a retired language teacher from the University of Moscow. He must be about seventy.
He is tall and the only one in the group who is impeccably dressed in a suit and tie. I assumed she would be. I blow her a kiss, and she responds with a smile. I stand very still, intent on every detail around me like a navigator about to set sail in search of the Mare Ignotum. My translator respects my silence, but I realize that something is wrong, because my publisher seems preoccupied. He explains that the person representing me in Russia has not arrived. I remember the conversation with my friend the night before, but what does it matter? I notice Hilal say something to my editor.
I am getting to like the fact that she is here more and more; I like her determination, her poise. The two women are arguing now. Fat chance, I think to myself. That young woman will do exactly what she wants to. I amuse myself by observing the only things I can understand: intonation and body language. When I think the moment is right, I go over to them, still smiling. She can go to her own compartment later on. The doors open with a noise that echoes down the platform, and people start to move. Who are these people climbing into the carriages?
What does this journey mean to each passenger? A reunion with their loved ones, a family visit, a quest for wealth, a triumphant or shamefaced return home, a discovery, an adventure, a need to flee or to find. The train is filling up with all these possibilities. Hilal picks up her luggage — which consists of her backpack and a brightly colored bag — and prepares to climb into the carriage with us.
The publisher is smiling as if she were pleased with the way the argument had ended, but I know that she will seize the first opportunity to take her revenge. Our carriage comprises four compartments; bathrooms; a small lounge area, where I assume we will spend most of the time; and a kitchen. I go to my compartment, which consists of a double bed, a wardrobe, a table and a chair facing the window, and a door that opens onto one of the bathrooms. At the end is another door. I go over and open it and see that it leads into an empty room. It would seem that the two compartments share the same bathroom.
Ah, it was obviously intended for the representative who did not turn up. But what does that matter? The whistle sounds.
The train slowly starts to move. We watch the platform rapidly being left behind, the lights passing faster and faster, the tracks, the dim electric cables. When the tracks disappear into the black night, we sit around the table. We drink and talk about everything but the journey, because that is the present, not the past. We drink some more and begin to reveal what we all expect from the coming days.
We continue to drink, and an infectious joy fills the room. The translator tells me something of his life and passions: literature, traveling, and the martial arts. As it happens, I learned aikido when I was young, and he says that if we get bored at any point and run out of conversation, we can always do a little training in the tiny corridor beside the compartments. I know that both are trying to patch up their misunderstanding, but I know, too, that tomorrow is another day, and confinement together in a small space tends to exacerbate conflicts.
Another argument is sure to break out. Not for a while, though, I hope. The translator appears to have read my thoughts. He pours everyone more vodka and talks about how conflicts are resolved in aikido. What we aim to do is calm the spirit and get in touch with the source from which everything comes, removing any trace of malice or egotism.
The initial euphoria provoked by the vodka gives way to a collective weariness. At one point, I get up to go to the toilet, and when I return, the room is empty. Apart from Hilal, of course. Good night. I retire to my room, and my excitement becomes intense weariness. I place my computer on the table and my saints — who go everywhere with me — beside the bed, then I go to the bathroom to clean my teeth.
The glass of mineral water in my hand keeps lurching about with the movement of the train. After various attempts, I achieve my objective. I put on the T-shirt I wear in bed, smoke a cigarette, turn off the light, close my eyes, and imagine that the swaying is rather like being inside the womb and that I will spend a night blessed by the angels. A vain hope. Everyone else is there, too, including Hilal. I ask if they had a good night.
This is the worst possible carriage to be traveling in. His wife looks out the window and lights a cigarette to disguise her irritation. The tension in the carriage is rising. A train passes, traveling in the opposite direction, something that happened throughout the night with frightening regularity. And far from reminding me of the gentle rocking of a cradle, the swaying of the carriage felt much more like being inside a cocktail shaker. I feel physically ill and very guilty for having dragged all these other people along on my adventure.
Hilal and Yao the translator make several attempts to start a conversation, but no one at the table — the two publishers, the wife of one of the publishers, the writer whose idea this trip was — takes them up. We eat our breakfast in silence. Outside, the landscape repeats itself over and over — small towns, forests, small towns, forests. Perhaps we can change our minds and say that enough is enough. Hilal stands up, too. And the photo on my cell phone? Ah, of course, the permission she needs to be able to visit our carriage. Before I can say anything, Yao has written something in Russian for me to sign.
Everyone — including me — glares at him. I ask Hilal to go with me to the other end of the carriage. We open the first door and find ourselves in a small area with two exterior doors and a third leading to the next carriage. The noise there is unbearable because, as well as the racket made by the wheels on the rails, there is the grinding noise made by the metal plates linking the carriages. Hilal shows me the photo on her cell phone, possibly taken just after dawn.
I continue to acquiesce in the hope that the conversation will soon be over. Now go back to your own compartment. You only gave me permission to come here once a day. Green and without a trace of makeup. After more than twenty-four hours without sleep, we lose almost all of our defenses. The vestibule area, bare of any furniture, made of only glass and steel, is beginning to grow fuzzy. I can see myself, but, at the same time, I can see elephants in Africa waving their trunks, camels in the desert, people chatting in a bar in Buenos Aires, a dog crossing the street, the brush being wielded by a woman finishing a painting of a rose, snow melting on a mountain in Switzerland, monks singing exotic hymns, a pilgrim arriving at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, a shepherd with his sheep, soldiers who have just woken up and are preparing for war, the fish in the ocean, the cities and forests of the world — and everything is simultaneously very clear and very large, very small and very quiet.
I am in the Aleph, the point at which everything is in the same place at the same time. Those eyes are telling me about things that we do not even know exist but which are there, ready to be discovered and known only by souls, not by bodies. Sentences that are perfectly understood, even when left unspoken. Feelings that simultaneously exalt and suffocate. I am standing before doors that open for a fraction of a second and then close again but that give me a glimpse of what is hidden behind them — the treasures and traps, the roads never taken and the journeys never imagined.
Why are your eyes showing me all this? Our eyes have become the mirrors of our souls, mirrors not only of our souls, perhaps, but of all the souls of all the people on this planet who are at this moment walking, loving, being born and dying, suffering or dreaming. I see lies and truths, strange dances performed before what appears to be the image of a goddess, sailors battling the fierce sea, a couple sitting on a beach, gazing at the same sea, which looks calm and welcoming. Yes, she is there before me, kneeling on the ground and smiling, telling me that love can save everything, but I look at my clothes, at my hands, in one of which I am holding a quill pen Hilal closes her eyes.
I am once more on a train, traveling to Siberia and beyond to the Pacific Ocean. I feel even wearier than I did before, and although I understand exactly what has happened, I am incapable of explaining it. She embraces me. I embrace her and gently stroke her hair. I knew it the first time I saw your photograph. I talked to my friends about it, but they thought I was crazy, that thousands of people must say the same thing about thousands of other people every day.
I thought they must be right, but life She was there, along with other people. Cautiously, I ask her what she saw. But I do. I pick up her bags and lead her back into the lounge. If anyone says anything, tell them that I asked you to stay. I go to my compartment, collapse onto the bed fully clothed, and fall into a deep sleep.
Someone knocks at the door. I open the shutters. Lights begin to appear; the train is slowing; we really are arriving. I wash my face and quickly pack whatever I will need for two nights in Ekaterinburg. What I experienced earlier is gradually beginning to come back to me. When I leave the compartment, everyone is standing in the corridor, apart from Hilal, who is still sitting in the place where I left her. I find this remark to be in bad taste.
As I understand it, she is the right person to help you. Alternate Versions. Rate This. Director: Emma Cohen. Writer: Jorge Luis Borges. Photos Add Image Add an image Do you have any images for this title? Borges L10 Francisco Javier Beotegui Jorge Helena de Llanos Borges L14 Ana del Toro Borges Josefina Haro Borges L1 Fernando Incera Borges L2 Diana Luque Edit Details Country: Spain.
Language: Spanish English. Filming Locations: Santander, Cantabria, Spain. Color: Color.
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