2. Anglès [Fragment of AblanathanalbA]
I doze off thinking that, for all his dryness, Tomeu is right and maybe I should tell him so loud and clear, but I immediately start daydreaming and forget it. I love letting it all waft around my brain. Especially the sweetest moments. I know that I’ve been very lucky being able to get the series of portraits into the Sunday paper. No one has ever written about this before and I doubt that, after this, the other papers are going to make a huge effort to imitate us. Of course the little bit or lot of prestige I might have managed to amass in these years of occasional reports and articles in all kinds of magazines has helped but I suspect that without the special complicity of the editor-in-chief it would never have gone ahead. No way.
In fact, I didn't intuit that the project would prosper until I told him what I'd thought about calling the section: "Great Men of the Word". A bit weird, I must admit, but forceful. It was a matter of pronouncing Great Men of the Word and perceiving the slight tremor in his nervous system. And lo and behold! The tiny frisson you feel when you cross the threshold of the firing zone in the computer game. I know this slight judder so well that I immediately realised that the editor-in-chief was one of us and that the Great Men of the Word series would go ahead.
Verbivorous beings know that the world is full of solemn people who are totally insensitive to the friendly magic of wordplay. Beings that are incapable of appreciating the magnificence of the kind of linguistic finding that jolts you to your very soul. That gets you into a state of morbid agitation that is very close to amorous frenzy. People who will never be able to understand that an anagram, a calembour or a palindrome can shake you up inside like one of those poems you look at and your whole life changes. Until the next crossroads appears, of course.
This is my only strength. I want a whole heap of readers to find a crossroads every Sunday, a whole heap of lives to change, modestly but unexpectedly. I want the insensitive to be shaken up by the phenomenon, and the solemn by wont to discover what it means to make everybody laugh. I want to scatter the virus of word-madness that has had me secretly in its thrall since twenty years ago, when my father left us, emptying shelves and cupboards, drawers, bookshelves and corners, like a man possessed, making a pile of everything he said was his on the landing, right before my mother’s popping eyes, and then slamming the door so hard that we've never got over it. And off he went.
Meu and I had just turned thirteen and we had to fend for ourselves. It was hard enough for Mum to close her eyes at night and the only thing that Dad had left us was words. A heap of words that circulated through all the rooms in the house, that hung like motionless fairground balloons from our false ceilings. Words abandoned up there, slightly trembly, ready for us to pick and break open like ripe melons. Words and more words, gobbledygook and set phrases that sometimes seemed to enclose vital secrets and that, on other occasions, sounded more like the sing-song of a con-man, the pure prattling of a clown.
I'm sure that now, three months after my column started to come out in print each Sunday, with great success among readers and critics alike, there are still people who are hostile to my liberated words. Discrete detractors who will ask me whether I'll be able to find enough extravagant characters to feed such a profligate weekly agenda or, much worse, if I anticipate putting an early end to the series.
My answer will be invariable.
"For the time being, I've limited myself to writing about personalities who are quite well documented by enigma lovers", I'll shoot back, "like our colourful Joan Pich i Pon, daddy of all spoonerisms, or the outlandish Latin teacher of Pope John XXIII, don Anacleto Bendazzi. But I'm also thinking about recovering a few illustrious unknowns who deserve to be up there in the pantheon with the classics."
Maybe I'm jumping ahead of myself and, in the end, I'll just be repeating the blunder of the ambitious title but, here, huddled in Mum's brand-new four-by-four that Tomeu's driving, I can see the long faces that the insensitive ones will assume in response to the friendly magic when, for example, I speak to them of the eighteenth-century German poet called Gottlob Burmann. Burmann had such a colossal phobia about the letter R that not only did he write a hundred lipogrammatical poems without once using it, but he even managed to suppress this vibrant phoneme from his daily conversation for a period of seventeen years. Almost two decades without being able to pronounce his own surname!
It's clear, although hard to say why, that R has always had its detractors, notable among them those revolutionary young Parisians known as the incroyables who, at the time of the Directory, found it a very bad thing to make the tongue vibrate in pronouncing it. If any of these r-phobes said mède, for example, nobody could know if it was an excrementitious expression or whether it referred to one of the inhabitants of ancient Persia!
But Burmann's case is still more notorious. When I start writing his profile I won't be able to refrain from imagining him caught up in some kind of misunderstanding over names, repeating, flustered and irascible, "Boo-man, Gottlob Boo-man", his face burning and veins standing out on his neck. What a great man of the word! I imagine that a good photographer could get a lot of visual juice out of the tremendous situation I am thinking about attributing to him in my portrait, but the r-phobic German died two centuries ago so maybe we'll have to illustrate his piece with an image that would certainly enrage the poet: the ringed R that the twentieth century associates with registered trademarks.
Every time I get excited about the story of one of these great-men-of-the-word, I end up thinking about my dad. I wonder if Burmann had a wife. Did he sort out the conflicts in his life with the same determination he had shown with the letter R?
Tomeu's voice puts an end to my daydreaming.
"Here we are, brother", he says, the four-by-four now stopped.
"Rrrrrrrrrrr!" I reply as I pull myself up a little in order to open the door.
"Are you cold?"
"I just dozed off a bit."
I kiss my mother and get out of the Cherokee. They've left me on the corner of my street.
"I'll read you on Sunday", says my mother, as adorable as ever.
(From AblanatanalbA (AblanathanalbA), 1999, p. 16-19)
Translated from the Catalan by Julie Wark ©