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Jorge Luis Borges - The Maker (El Hacedor)

He had never dwelled on memory’s delights. Impressions slid over him, vivid but ephemeral. A potter’s vermilion; the heavens laden with stars that were also gods; the moon, from which a lion had fallen; the slick feel of marble beneath slow sensitive fingertips; the taste of wild boar meat, eagerly torn by his white teeth; a Phoenician word; the black shadow a lance casts on yellow sand; the nearness of the sea or of a woman; a heavy wine, its roughness cut by honey–these could fill his soul completely. He knew what terror was, but he also knew anger and rage, and once he had been the first to scale an enemy wall. Eager, curious, casual, with no other law than fulfillment and the immediate indifference that ensues, he walked the varied earth and saw, on one seashore or another, the cities of men and their palaces. In crowded marketplaces or at the foot of a mountain whose uncertain peak might be inhabited by satyrs, he had listened to complicated tales which he accepted, as he accepted reality, without asking whether they were true or false.

Gradually now the beautiful universe was slipping away from him. A stubborn mist erased the outline of his hand, the night was no longer peopled by stars, the earth beneath his feet was unsure. Everything was growing distant and blurred. When he knew he was going blind he cried out; stoic modesty had not yet been invented and Hector could flee with impunity. I will not see again, he felt, either the sky filled with mythical dread, or this face that the years will transform. Over this desperation of his flesh passed days and nights. But one morning he awoke; he looked, no longer alarmed, at the dim things that surrounded him; and inexplicably he sensed, as one recognizes a tune or a voice, that now it was over and he had faced it, with fear but also with joy, hope, and curiosity. Then he descended into his memory, which seemed to him endless, and up from that vertigo he succeeded in bringing forth a forgotten recollection that shone like a coin under the rain, perhaps because he had never looked at it, unless in a dream.

The recollection was like this. Another boy had insulted him and he had run to his father and told him about it. His father let him talk as if he were not listening or did not understand; and he took down from the wall a bronze dagger, beautiful and charged with power, which the boy had secretly coveted. Now he had it in his hands and the surprise of possession obliterated the affront he had suffered. But his father’s voice was saying, “Let someone know you are a man,” and there was a command in his voice. The night blotted out the paths; clutching the dagger, in which he felt the foreboding of a magic power, he descended the rough hillside that surrounded the house and ran to the seashore, dreaming he was Ajax and Perseus and peopling the salty darkness with battles and wounds. The exact taste of that moment was what he was seeking now; the rest did not matter: the insults of the duel, the rude combat, the return home with the bloody blade.

Another memory, in which there was also a night and an imminence of adventure, sprang out of that one. A woman, the first the gods set aside for him, had waited for him in the shadow of a hypogeum, and he had searched for her through the corridors that were like stone nets, along slopes that sank into the shadow. Why did those memories come back to him, and why did they come without bitterness, as a mere foreshadowing of the present?

In grave amazement he understood. In this night too, in this night of his mortal eyes into this he was now descending, love and danger were again waiting. Ares and Aphrodite, for already he divined (already it encircled him) a murmur of glory and hexameters, a murmur of men defending a temple the gods will not save, and of black vessels searching the sea for a beloved isle, the murmur of the Odysseys and Iliads it was his destiny to sing and leave echoing concavely in the memory of man. These things we know, but not those that he felt when he descended into the last shade of all.

 

(From Dreamtigers, by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Mildred Boyer)

Cuarteta

Murieron otros, pero ello aconteció en el pasado, 
que es la estación (nadie lo ignora) más propicia a la muerte. 
¿Es posible que yo, súbdito de Yaqub Almansur, 
muera como tuvieron que morir las rosas y Aristóteles?

 

Del Diván de Almotásam el Magrebí

(siglo XII)

O mapa (ou a fotografia) e o território.

10328x7760 - A 10K Timelapse Demo from SCIENTIFANTASTIC on Vimeo.

"10328x7760 - A 10K Timelapse Demo" is a video I put together showcasing the extreme resolution of the PhaseOne IQ180 camera of which it was shot. This footage comes from some shots I did while shooting 4K and 8K timelapses in Rio De Janeiro for a major electronics manufacturer. Each shot is comprised of hundreds individual still images, each weighing in at a whopping 80 megapixels. Each individual raw frame measures 10328x7760 pixels.

Each shot was very minimally processed and included curves, input sharpening, saturation adjustments. The h264 compression really kills alot of the fine detail. No noise reduction was done on any of the shots. I tried to keep the shots as close to raw as possible so you may see some dust spots, noise, and manual exposure changes I made while shooting. For a final video edit these adjustments would be smoothed out and fixed. Normally I run shots where I manually change exposure during the shot through LRTimelapse, but unfortunately the program can't seem to handle such huge raw files. I also had to loop some shots in order to have enough runtime to do some zooms, so you may see a jump in the footage here and there.

Each shot sequence starts off with the full resolution footage scaled down to fit within a 1920x1080 resolution (14% scale). The next shot in each shot sequence is the full resolution shot scaled to 50%, so basically zooming in quite a bit. From there we go into the full resolution shot scaled to 100%, which is an extreme zoom/crop. As you can see, the quality and detail holds up extremely well, it’s pretty amazing.

I wanted to show a couple things with this demo video. First, the extreme resolution of this camera (and medium format in general). Second, the amazing amount of flexibility this resolution allows for in post production. You can literally get about 8-10 solid 1920x1080 shots out of a single shot. You can also get about 5-6 solid 4K shots out of a single shot.

If you enjoyed this demo videos please feel free to pass it around and share it. If you enjoy my work, or want to see some of my other work (including the full Rio video) you find me on all the social media outlets below.

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Music: Licensed from themusicbed.com
Artist: Tony Anderson
Song: Hold On

All footage is Copyright Joe Capra - Scientifantastic 2015, and may not be used without permission.

Special thanks to my local Rio producer/assistant/badass Jose Olimpio ( http://www.joseolimpio.com )

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Jorge Luis Borges - La Biblioteca de Babel

El universo (que otros llaman la Biblioteca) se compone de un número indefinido, y tal vez infinito, de galerías hexagonales, con vastos pozos de ventilación en el medio, cercados por barandas bajísimas. Desde cualquier hexágono se ven los pisos inferiores y superiores: interminablemente. La distribución de las galerías es invariable. Veinte anaqueles, a cinco largos anaqueles por lado, cubren todos los lados menos dos; su altura, que es la de los pisos, excede apenas la de un bibliotecario normal. Una de las caras libres da a un angosto zaguán, que desemboca en otra galería, idéntica a la primera y a todas. A izquierda y a derecha del zaguán hay dos gabinetes minúsculos. Uno permite dormir de pie; otro, satisfacer las necesidades finales. Por ahí pasa la escalera espiral, que se abisma y se eleva hacia lo remoto. En el zaguán hay un espejo, que fielmente duplica las apariencias. Los hombres suelen inferir de ese espejo que la Biblioteca no es infinita (si lo fuera realmente ¿a qué esa duplicación ilusoria?); yo prefiero soñar que las superficies bruñidas figuran y prometen el infinito... La luz procede de unas frutas esféricas que llevan el nombre de lámparas. Hay dos en cada hexágono: transversales. La luz que emiten es insuficiente, incesante.

Como todos los hombres de la Biblioteca, he viajado en mi juventud; he peregrinado en busca de un libro, acaso del catálogo de catálogos; ahora que mis ojos casi no pueden descifrar lo que escribo, me preparo a morir a unas pocas leguas del hexágono en que nací. Muerto, no faltarán manos piadosas que me tiren por la baranda; mi sepultura será el aire insondable; mi cuerpo se hundirá largamente y se corromperá y disolverá en el viento engendrado por la caída, que es infinita. Yo afirmo que la Biblioteca es interminable. Los idealistas arguyen que las salas hexagonales son una forma necesaria del espacio absoluto o, por lo menos, de nuestra intuición del espacio. Razonan que es inconcebible una sala triangular o pentagonal. (Los místicos pretenden que el éxtasis les revela una cámara circular con un gran libro circular de lomo continuo, que da toda la vuelta de las paredes; pero su testimonio es sospechoso; sus palabras, oscuras. Ese libro cíclico es Dios.) Básteme, por ahora, repetir el dictamen clásico: la Biblioteca es una esfera cuyo centro cabal es cualquier hexágono, cuya circunferencia es inaccesible.

A cada uno de los muros de cada hexágono corresponden cinco anaqueles; cada anaquel encierra treinta y dos libros de formato uniforme; cada libro es de cuatrocientas diez páginas; cada página, de cuarenta renglones; cada renglón, de unas ochenta letras de color negro. También hay letras en el dorso de cada libro; esas letras no indican o prefiguran lo que dirán las páginas. Sé que esa inconexión, alguna vez, pareció misteriosa. Antes de resumir la solución (cuyo descubrimiento, a pesar de sus trágicas proyecciones, es quizá el hecho capital de la historia) quiero rememorar algunos axiomas.

El primero: la Biblioteca existe ab aeterno. De esa verdad cuyo colorario inmediato es la eternidad futura del mundo, ninguna mente razonable puede dudar. El hombre, el imperfecto bibliotecario, puede ser obra del azar o de los demiurgos malévolos; el universo, con su elegante dotación de anaqueles, de tomos enigmáticos, de infatigables escaleras para el viajero y de letrinas para el bibliotecario sentado, sólo puede ser obra de un dios. Para percibir la distancia que hay entre lo divino y lo humano, basta comparar estos rudos símbolos trémulos que mi falible mano garabatea en la tapa de un libro, con las letras orgánicas del interior: puntuales, delicadas, negrísimas, inimitablemente simétricas.

El segundo: el número de símbolos ortográficos es veinticinco. Esa comprobación permitió, hace trescientos años, formular una teoría general de la Biblioteca y resolver satisfactoriamente el problema que ninguna conjetura había descifrado: la naturaleza informe y caótica de casi todos los libros. Uno, que mi padre vio en un hexágono del circuito quince noventa y cuatro, constaba de las letras MCV perversamente repetidas desde el renglón primero hasta el último. Otro (muy consultado en esta zona) es un mero laberinto de letras, pero la página penúltima dice «Oh tiempo tus pirámides». Ya se sabe: por una línea razonable o una recta noticia hay leguas de insensatas cacofonías, de fárragos verbales y de incoherencias. (Yo sé de una región cerril cuyos bibliotecarios repudian la supersticiosa y vana costumbre de buscar sentido en los libros y la equiparan a la de buscarlo en los sueños o en las líneas caóticas de la mano... Admiten que los inventores de la escritura imitaron los veinticinco símbolos naturales, pero sostienen que esa aplicación es casual y que los libros nada significan en sí. Ese dictamen, ya veremos no es del todo falaz.)

Durante mucho tiempo se creyó que esos libros impenetrables correspondían a lenguas pretéritas o remotas. Es verdad que los hombres más antiguos, los primeros bibliotecarios, usaban un lenguaje asaz diferente del que hablamos ahora; es verdad que unas millas a la derecha la lengua es dialectal y que noventa pisos más arriba, es incomprensible. Todo eso, lo repito, es verdad, pero cuatrocientas diez páginas de inalterables MCV no pueden corresponder a ningún idioma, por dialectal o rudimentario que sea. Algunos insinuaron que cada letra podía influir en la subsiguiente y que el valor de MCV en la tercera línea de la página 71 no era el que puede tener la misma serie en otra posición de otra página, pero esa vaga tesis no prosperó. Otros pensaron en criptografías; universalmente esa conjetura ha sido aceptada, aunque no en el sentido en que la formularon sus inventores.

Hace quinientos años, el jefe de un hexágono superior dio con un libro tan confuso como los otros, pero que tenía casi dos hojas de líneas homogéneas. Mostró su hallazgo a un descifrador ambulante, que le dijo que estaban redactadas en portugués; otros le dijeron que en yiddish. Antes de un siglo pudo establecerse el idioma: un dialecto samoyedo-lituano del guaraní, con inflexiones de árabe clásico. También se descifró el contenido: nociones de análisis combinatorio, ilustradas por ejemplos de variaciones con repetición ilimitada. Esos ejemplos permitieron que un bibliotecario de genio descubriera la ley fundamental de la Biblioteca. Este pensador observó que todos los libros, por diversos que sean, constan de elementos iguales: el espacio, el punto, la coma, las veintidós letras del alfabeto. También alegó un hecho que todos los viajeros han confirmado: No hay en la vasta Biblioteca, dos libros idénticos. De esas premisas incontrovertibles dedujo que la Biblioteca es total y que sus anaqueles registran todas las posibles combinaciones de los veintitantos símbolos ortográficos (número, aunque vastísimo, no infinito) o sea todo lo que es dable expresar: en todos los idiomas. Todo: la historia minuciosa del porvenir, las autobiografías de los arcángeles, el catálogo fiel de la Biblioteca, miles y miles de catálogos falsos, la demostración de la falacia de esos catálogos, la demostración de la falacia del catálogo verdadero, el evangelio gnóstico de Basilides, el comentario de ese evangelio, el comentario del comentario de ese evangelio, la relación verídica de tu muerte, la versión de cada libro a todas las lenguas, las interpolaciones de cada libro en todos los libros, el tratado que Beda pudo escribir (y no escribió) sobre la mitología de los sajones, los libros perdidos de Tácito.

Cuando se proclamó que la Biblioteca abarcaba todos los libros, la primera impresión fue de extravagante felicidad. Todos los hombres se sintieron señores de un tesoro intacto y secreto. No había problema personal o mundial cuya elocuente solución no existiera en algún hexágono. El universo estaba justificado, el universo bruscamente usurpó las dimensiones ilimitadas de la esperanza. En aquel tiempo se habló mucho de las Vindicaciones: libros de apología y de profecía, que para siempre vindicaban los actos de cada hombre del universo y guardaban arcanos prodigiosos para su porvenir. Miles de codiciosos abandonaron el dulce hexágono natal y se lanzaron escaleras arriba, urgidos por el vano propósito de encontrar su Vindicación. Esos peregrinos disputaban en los corredores estrechos, proferían oscuras maldiciones, se estrangulaban en las escaleras divinas, arrojaban los libros engañosos al fondo de los túneles, morían despeñados por los hombres de regiones remotas. Otros se enloquecieron... Las Vindicaciones existen (yo he visto dos que se refieren a personas del porvenir, a personas acaso no imaginarias) pero los buscadores no recordaban que la posibilidad de que un hombre encuentre la suya, o alguna pérfida variación de la suya, es computable en cero.

También se esperó entonces la aclaración de los misterios básicos de la humanidad: el origen de la Biblioteca y del tiempo. Es verosímil que esos graves misterios puedan explicarse en palabras: si no basta el lenguaje de los filósofos, la multiforme Biblioteca habrá producido el idioma inaudito que se requiere y los vocabularios y gramáticas de ese idioma. Hace ya cuatro siglos que los hombres fatigan los hexágonos... Hay buscadores oficiales, inquisidores. Yo los he visto en el desempeño de su función: llegan siempre rendidos; hablan de una escalera sin peldaños que casi los mató; hablan de galerías y de escaleras con el bibliotecario; alguna vez, toman el libro más cercano y lo hojean, en busca de palabras infames. Visiblemente, nadie espera descubrir nada.

A la desaforada esperanza, sucedió, como es natural, una depresión excesiva. La certidumbre de que algún anaquel en algún hexágono encerraba libros preciosos y de que esos libros preciosos eran inaccesibles, pareció casi intolerable. Una secta blasfema sugirió que cesaran las buscas y que todos los hombres barajaran letras y símbolos, hasta construir, mediante un improbable don del azar, esos libros canónicos. Las autoridades se vieron obligadas a promulgar órdenes severas. La secta desapareció, pero en mi niñez he visto hombres viejos que largamente se ocultaban en las letrinas, con unos discos de metal en un cubilete prohibido, y débilmente remedaban el divino desorden.

Otros, inversamente, creyeron que lo primordial era eliminar las obras inútiles. Invadían los hexágonos, exhibían credenciales no siempre falsas, hojeaban con fastidio un volumen y condenaban anaqueles enteros: a su furor higiénico, ascético, se debe la insensata perdición de millones de libros. Su nombre es execrado, pero quienes deploran los «tesoros» que su frenesí destruyó, negligen dos hechos notorios. Uno: la Biblioteca es tan enorme que toda reducción de origen humano resulta infinitesimal. Otro: cada ejemplar es único, irreemplazable, pero (como la Biblioteca es total) hay siempre varios centenares de miles de facsímiles imperfectos: de obras que no difieren sino por una letra o por una coma. Contra la opinión general, me atrevo a suponer que las consecuencias de las depredaciones cometidas por los Purificadores, han sido exageradas por el horror que esos fanáticos provocaron. Los urgía el delirio de conquistar los libros del Hexágono Carmesí: libros de formato menor que los naturales; omnipotentes, ilustrados y mágicos.

También sabemos de otra superstición de aquel tiempo: la del Hombre del Libro. En algún anaquel de algún hexágono (razonaron los hombres) debe existir un libro que sea la cifra y el compendio perfecto de todos los demás: algún bibliotecario lo ha recorrido y es análogo a un dios. En el lenguaje de esta zona persisten aún vestigios del culto de ese funcionario remoto. Muchos peregrinaron en busca de Él. Durante un siglo fatigaron en vano los más diversos rumbos. ¿Cómo localizar el venerado hexágono secreto que lo hospedaba? Alguien propuso un método regresivo: Para localizar el libro A, consultar previamente un libro B que indique el sitio de A; para localizar el libro B, consultar previamente un libro C, y así hasta lo infinito... En aventuras de ésas, he prodigado y consumido mis años. No me parece inverosímil que en algún anaquel del universo haya un libro total; ruego a los dioses ignorados que un hombre - ¡uno solo, aunque sea, hace miles de años! - lo haya examinado y leído. Si el honor y la sabiduría y la felicidad no son para mí, que sean para otros. Que el cielo exista, aunque mi lugar sea el infierno. Que yo sea ultrajado y aniquilado, pero que en un instante, en un ser, Tu enorme Biblioteca se justifique.

Afirman los impíos que el disparate es normal en la Biblioteca y que lo razonable (y aún la humilde y pura coherencia) es una casi milagrosa excepción. Hablan (lo sé) de «la Biblioteca febril, cuyos azarosos volúmenes corren el incesante albur de cambiarse en otros y que todo lo afirman, lo niegan y lo confunden como una divinidad que delira». Esas palabras que no sólo denuncian el desorden sino que lo ejemplifican también, notoriamente prueban su gusto pésimo y su desesperada ignorancia. En efecto, la Biblioteca incluye todas las estructuras verbales, todas las variaciones que permiten los veinticinco símbolos ortográficos, pero no un solo disparate absoluto. Inútil observar que el mejor volumen de los muchos hexágonos que administro se titula «Trueno peinado», y otro «El calambre de yeso» y otro «Axaxaxas mlo». Esas proposiciones, a primera vista incoherentes, sin duda son capaces de una justificación criptográfica o alegórica; esa justificación es verbal y, ex hypothesi, ya figura en la Biblioteca. No puedo combinar unos caracteres dhcmrlchtdj que la divina Biblioteca no haya previsto y que en alguna de sus lenguas secretas no encierren un terrible sentido. Nadie puede articular una sílaba que no esté llena de ternuras y de temores; que no sea en alguno de esos lenguajes el nombre poderoso de un dios. Hablar es incurrir en tautologías. Esta epístola inútil y palabrera ya existe en uno de los treinta volúmenes de los cinco anaqueles de uno de los incontables hexágonos, y también su refutación. (Un número n de lenguajes posibles usa el mismo vocabulario; en algunos, el símbolo biblioteca admite la correcta definición ubicuo y perdurable sistema de galerías hexagonales, pero biblioteca es pan o pirámide o cualquier otra cosa, y las siete palabras que la definen tienen otro valor. Tú, que me lees, ¿estás seguro de entender mi lenguaje?).

La escritura metódica me distrae de la presente condición de los hombres. La certidumbre de que todo está escrito nos anula o nos afantasma. Yo conozco distritos en que los jóvenes se prosternan ante los libros y besan con barbarie las páginas, pero no saben descifrar una sola letra. Las epidemias, las discordias heréticas, las peregrinaciones que inevitablemente degeneran en bandolerismo, han diezmado la población. Creo haber mencionado los suicidios, cada año más frecuentes. Quizá me engañen la vejez y el temor, pero sospecho que la especie humana - la única - está por extinguirse y que la Biblioteca perdurará: iluminada, solitaria, infinita, perfectamente inmóvil, armada de volúmenes preciosos, inútil, incorruptible, secreta.

Acabo de escribir infinita. No he interpolado ese adjetivo por una costumbre retórica; digo que no es ilógico pensar que el mundo es infinito. Quienes lo juzgan limitado, postulan que en lugares remotos los corredores y escaleras y hexágonos pueden inconcebiblemente cesar, lo cual es absurdo. Quienes la imaginan sin límites, olvidan que los tiene el número posible de libros. Yo me atrevo a insinuar esta solución del antiguo problema: La Biblioteca es ilimitada y periódica. Si un eterno viajero la atravesara en cualquier dirección, comprobaría al cabo de los siglos que los mismos volúmenes se repiten en el mismo desorden (que, repetido, sería un orden: el Orden). Mi soledad se alegra con esa elegante esperanza.

Jorge Luis Borges - Fragmentos de un Evangelio Apócrifo

3) Desdichado el pobre en espíritu, porque bajo la tierra será lo que ahora es en la tierra.

4) Desdichado el que llora, porque ya tiene el hábito miserable del llanto.

5) Dichosos los que saben que el sufrimiento no es una corona de gloria.

6) No basta ser el último para ser alguna vez el primero

7) Felíz el que no insiste en tener razón, porque nadie la tiene o todos la tienen.

8) Felíz el que perdona a los otros y el que se perdona a sí mismo.

9) Bienaventurados los mansos, porque no condescienden a la discordia.

10) Bienaventurados los que no tienen hambre de justicia, porque saben que nuestra suerte, adversa o piadosa, es obra del azar, que es inescrutable.

11) Bienaventurados los misericordiosos, porque su dicha está en el ejercicio de la misericordia y no en la esperanza de un premio.

12) Bienaventurados los de limpio corazón, porque ven a Dios.

13) Bienaventurados los que padecen persecución por causa de la justicia, porque les importa más la justicia que su destino humano.

14) Nadie es la sal de la tierra, nadie en algún momento de su vida, no lo es.

15) Que la luz de una lámpara se encienda, aunque ningún hombre la vea. Dios la verá.

16) No hay mandamiento que no pueda ser infrigido, y también los que digo y los que los profetas dijeron.

17) El que matare por la causa de la justicia, o por la causa que él cree justa, no tiene culpa.

18) Los actos de los hombres no merecen ni el fuego ni los cielos.

19) No odies a tu enemigo, porque si lo haces, eres de algún modo su esclavo. Tu odio nunca será mejor que tu paz.

20) Si te ofendiere tu mano derecha, perdonalá; eres tu cuerpo y eres tu alma y es arduo, o imposible, fijar la frontera que los divide...

24) No exageres el culto de la verdad; no hay hombre que el cabo de un día, no haya mentido con razón muchas veces.

25) No jures, porque todo juramento es un énfasis.

26) Resiste al mal pero sin asombro y sin ira. A quien te hiriere en la mejilla derecha, puedes volverle la otra, siempre que no te mueva el temor.

27) Yo no hablo de venganzas ni de perdones; El olvido es la única venganza y el único perdón.

28) Hacer el bien a tu enemigo puede ser obra de justicia y no es arduo; Amarlo, tarea de angeles y no de hombres.

29) Hacer el bien a tu enemigo es el mejor modo de complacer tu vanidad.

30) No acumules oro en la tierra, porque el oro es padre del ocio, y éste, de la tristeza y el tedio.

31) Piensa que los otros son justos o lo serán, y si no es así, no es tuyo el error.

32) Dios es más generoso que los hombres y los medirá con otra medida.

33) Dá lo santo a los perros, echa tus perlas a los puercos; Lo que importa es dar.

34) Busca por el agrado de buscar, no por el de encontrar...

39) La puerta es la que elige, no el hombre.

40) No juzgues al árbol por sus frutos ni al hombre por sus obras; pueden ser peores o mejores.

41) Nada se edifica sobre la piedra, todo soobre la arena, pero nuestro deber es edificar como si fuera piedra la arena.

47) Felíz el pobre sin amargura o el rico sin soberbia.

48) Felices los valientes, los que aceptan con ánimo parejo la derrota o las palmas.

49) Felices los que guardan en la memoria palabras de Virgilio o de Cristo, porque éstas darán luz a sus días.

50) Felices los amados y los amantes y los que pueden prescindir del amor.

51) Felices los felices.

Jorge Luis Borges - The Gospel According To Mark

Translated by Norman Thomas di Giovanni in collaboration with the author

 

These events took place at La Colorada ranch, in the southern part of the township of Junin, during the last days of March 1928. The protagonist was a medical student named Baltasar Espinosa. We may describe him, for now, as one of the common run of young men from Buenos Aires, with nothing more noteworthy about him than an almost unlimited kindness and a capacity for public speaking that had earned him several prizes at the English school in Ramos Mejia. He did not like arguing, and preferred having his listener rather than him­self in the right. Although he was fascinated by the probabilities of chance in any game he played, he was a bad player because it gave him no pleasure to win. His wide intelligence was undirected; at the age of thirty-three, he still had not quali­fied for graduation in the subject to which he was most drawn. His father, who was a freethinker (like all the gentlemen of his day), had introduced him to the lessons of Herbert Spencer, but his mother, before leaving on a trip for Montevideo, once asked him to say the Lord's Prayer and make the sign of the cross every night. Through the years, he had never gone back on that promise.

Espinosa was not lacking in spirit; one day, with more indifference than anger, he had exchanged two or three punches with a group of fellow-students who were trying to force him to take part in a university demonstration. Owing to an acquiescent nature, he was full of opinions, or habits of mind, that were questionable: Argentina mattered less to him than a fear that in other parts of the world people might think of us as Indians; he worshiped France but despised the French; he thought little of Americans but approved the fact that there were tall buildings, like theirs, in Buenos Aires; he believed the gauchos of the plains to be better riders than those of hill or mountain country. When his cousin Daniel invited him to spend the summer months out at La Colorada, he said yes at once -- not because he was really fond of the country, but more out of his natural complacency and also because it was easier to say yes than to dream up reasons for saying no.

The ranch's main house was big and slightly run down; the quarters of the foreman, whose name was Gutre, were close by. The Gutres were three: the father, an unusually uncouth son, and a daughter of uncertain paternity. They were tall, strong, and bony, and had hair that was on the reddish side and faces that showed traces of Indian blood. They were barely articulate. The foreman's wife had died years before.

There in the country, Espinosa began learning things he never knew, or even suspected -- for example, that you do not gallop a horse when approaching settlements, and that you never go out riding except for some special purpose. In time, he was to come to tell the birds apart by their calls.

After a few days, Daniel had to leave for Buenos Aires to close a deal on some cattle. At most, this bit of business might take him a week. Espinosa, who was already somewhat weary of hearing about his cousin's incessant luck with women and his tireless interest in the minute details of men's fashion, preferred staying on at the ranch with his textbooks. But the heat was unbearable, and even the night brought no relief. One morning at daybreak, thunder woke him. Outside, the wind was rocking the Australian pines. Listening to the first heavy drops of rain, Espinosa thanked God. All at once, cold air rolled in. That after­noon, the Salado overflowed its banks.

The next day, looking out over the flooded fields from the gallery of the main house, Baltasar Espinosa thought that the stock metaphor comparing the pampa to the sea was not altogether false -- at least, not that morning -- though W. H. Hudson had remarked that the sea seems wider because we view it from a ship's deck and not from a horse or from eye level.

The rain did not let up. The Gutres, helped or hindered by Espinosa, the town dweller, rescued a good part of the livestock, but many animals were drowned. There were four roads leading to La Colorada; all of them were under water. On the third day, when a leak threatened the foreman's house, Espinosa gave the Gutres a room near the toolshed, at the back of the main house. This drew them all closer; they ate together in the big dining room. Conversation turned out to be difficult. The Gutres, who knew so much about country things, were hard put to it to explain them. One night, Espinosa asked them if people still remembered the Indian raids from back when the frontier command was located there in Junin. They told him yes, but they would have given the same answer to a question about the beheading of Charles I. Espinosa recalled his father's saying that almost every case of longevity that was cited in the country was really a case of bad memory or of a dim notion of dates. Gauchos are apt to be ignorant of the year of their birth or of the name of the man who begot them.

In the whole house, there was apparently no other reading matter than a set of the Farm Journal, a handbook of veterinary medicine, a deluxe edition of the Uruguayan epic Tabare, a history of shorthorn cattle in Argentina, a number of erotic or detective stories, and a recent novel called Don Segundo Sombra. Espinosa, trying in some way to bridge the inevitable after-dinner gap, read a cou­ple of chapters of this novel to the Gutres, none of whom could read or write. Unfortunately, the foreman had been a cattle drover, and the doings of the hero, another cattle drover, failed to whet his interest. He said that the work was light, that drovers always traveled with a packhorse that carried everything they need­ed, and that, had he not been a drover, he would never have seen such far-flung places as the Laguna de Gomez, the town of Bragado, and the spread of the Ntinez family in Chacabuco. There was a guitar in the kitchen; the ranch hands, before the time of the events I am describing, used to sit around in a circle. Someone would tune the instrument without ever getting around to playing it. This was known as a guitarfest.

Espinosa, who had grown a beard, began dallying in front of the mirror to study his new face, and he smiled to think how, back in Buenos Aires, he would bore his friends by telling them the story of the Salado flood. Strangely enough, he missed places he never frequented and never would: a corner of Cabrera Street on which there was a mailbox; one of the cement lions of a gateway on Jujuy Street, a few blocks from the Plaza del Once; an old barroom with a tiled floor, whose exact whereabouts he was unsure of. As for his brothers and his father, they would already have learned from Daniel that he was isolated etymologically, the word was perfect -- by the floodwaters.

Exploring the house, still hemmed in by the watery waste, Espinosa came across an English Bible. Among the blank pages at the end, the Guthries -- such was their original name -- had left a handwritten record of their lineage. They were natives of Inverness; had reached the New World, no doubt as common laborers, in the early part of the nineteenth century; and had intermarried with Indians. The chronicle broke off sometime during the 1870s, when they no longer knew how to write. After a few generations, they had forgotten English; their Spanish, at the time Espinosa knew them, gave them trouble. They lacked any religious faith, but there survived in their blood, like faint tracks, the rigid fanaticism of the Calvinist and the superstitions of the pampa Indian. Espinosa later told them of his find, but they barely took notice.

Leafing through the volume, his fingers opened it at the beginning of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. As an exercise in translation, and maybe to find out whether the Gutres understood any of it, Espinosa decided to begin reading them that text after their evening meal. It surprised him that they listened atten­tively, absorbed. Maybe the gold letters on the cover lent the book authority. It's still there in their blood, Espinosa thought. It also occurred to him that the gen­erations of men, throughout recorded time, have always told and retold two sto­ries -- that of a lost ship which searches the Mediterranean seas for a dearly loved island, and that of a god who is crucified on Golgotha. Remembering his lessons in elocution from his schooldays in Ramos Mejia, Espinosa got to his feet when he came to the parables.

The Gutres took to bolting their barbecued meat and their sardines so as not to delay the Gospel. A pet lamb that the girl adorned with a small blue ribbon had injured itself on a strand of barbed wire. To stop the bleeding, the three had wanted to apply a cobweb to the wound, but Espinosa treated the animal with some pills. The gratitude that this treatment awakened in them took him aback. (Not trusting the Gutres at first, he'd hidden away in one of his books the 240 pesos he had brought with him.) Now, the owner of the place away, Espinosa took over and gave timid orders, which were immediately obeyed. The Gutres, as if lost without him, liked following him from room to room and along the gallery that ran around the house. While he read to them, he noticed that they were secretly stealing the crumbs he had dropped on the table. One evening, he caught them unawares, talking about him respectfully, in very few words.

Having finished the Gospel according to Saint Mark, he wanted to read another of the three Gospels that remained, but the father asked him to repeat the one he had just read, so that they could understand it better. Espinosa felt that they were like children, to whom repetition is more pleasing than variations or novelty. That night -- this is not to be wondered at -- he dreamed of the Flood; the hammer blows of the building of the Ark woke him up, and he thought that perhaps they were thunder. In fact, the rain, which had let up, started again. The cold was bitter. The Gutres had told him that the storm had damaged the roof of the toolshed, and that they would show it to him when the beams were fixed. No longer a stranger now, he was treated by them with special attention, almost to the point of spoiling him. None of them liked coffee, but for him there was always a small cup into which they heaped sugar.

The new storm had broken out on a Tuesday. Thursday night, Espinosa was awakened by a soft knock at his door, which, just in case, he always kept locked. He got out of bed and opened it; there was the girl. In the dark he could hardly make her out, but by her footsteps he could tell she was barefoot, and moments later, in bed, that she must have come all the way from the other end of the house naked. She did not embrace him or speak a single word; she lay beside him, trembling. It was the first time she had known a man. When she left, she did not kiss him; Espinosa realized that he didn't even know her name. For some reason that he did not want to pry into, he made up his mind that upon returning to Buenos Aires he would tell no one about what had taken place.

The next day began like the previous ones, except that the father spoke to Espinosa and asked him if Christ had let Himself be killed so as to save all other men on earth. Espinosa, who was a freethinker but who felt committed to what he had read to the Gutres, answered, "Yes, to save everyone from Hell."

Gutre then asked, "What's Hell?"

"A place under the ground where souls burn and burn."

"And the Roman soldiers who hammered in the nails -- were they saved, too?"

"Yes," said Espinosa, whose theology was rather dim.

All along, he was afraid that the foreman might ask him about what had gone on the night before with his daughter. After lunch, they asked him to read the last chapters over again.

Espinosa slept a long nap that afternoon. It was a light sleep, disturbed by persistent hammering and by vague premonitions. Toward evening, he got up and went out onto the gallery. He said, as if thinking aloud, "The waters have dropped. It won't be long now."

"It won't be long now," Gutre repeated, like an echo.

The three had been following him. Bowing their knees to the stone pave­ment, they asked his blessing. Then they mocked at him, spat on him, and shoved him toward the back part of the house. The girl wept. Espinosa understood what awaited him on the other side of the door. When they opened it, he saw a patch of sky. A bird sang out. A goldfinch, he thought. The shed was with­out a roof; they had pulled down the beams to make the cross.

 

1970