Sunday, August 6, 2017

the last book I ever read (An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by César Aira, excerpt four)

from An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by César Aira:

They spent a delightful month in and around Mendoza and its environs. The locals bent over backwards to welcome the distinguished visitor, who, invariably accompanied by Krause, made the obligatory excursions to the ranges (which were no doubt more interesting for travelers who had come from the other direction), toured the neighboring estates and generally began to soak up the spirit of Argentina, so similar to Chile in that town near the border, and yet, even there, so different. Mendoza was, in effect, the starting point for the long eastward voyage across the pampas to the fabled Buenos Aires, and that gave it a special, unique character. Another notable feature was that all the buildings in the town and the surrounding country looked new; and so they were, since earthquakes ensured that all man-made structures were replaced approximately every five years. Rebuilding stimulated the local economy. Comfortably riding the seismic activity, the ranches supplied the Chilean markets, exploiting the early maturation of the cattle, speeded by the dangers emanating from the underworld. Rugendas would have liked to depict an earthquake, but he was told that it was not a propitious time according to the planetary clock. Nevertheless, throughout his stay in the region, he kept secretly hoping he might witness a quake, though he was too tactful to say so. In this respect, and in others, his desires were frustrated. Prosaic Mendoza held promises that, for one reason or another, were not fulfilled and which, in the end, prompted their departure.

His other cherished dream was to witness an Indian raid. In that area, they were veritable human typhoons, but, by their nature, refractory to calendars and oracles. It was impossible to predict them: there might be one in an hour’s time or none until next year (and it was only January). Rugendas would have paid to paint one. Every morning of that month, he woke up secretly hoping the great day had come. As in the case of the earthquake, it would have been in poor taste to mention this desire. Dissimulation made him hypersensitive to detail. He was not so sure that there was no forewarning. He questioned his hosts at length, supposedly for professional reasons, about the premonitory signs of seismic activity. It seemed they appeared only hours or minutes before the quake: dogs spat, chickens pecked at their own eggs, ants swarmed, plants flowered, etc. But there was no time to do anything. The painter was convinced that an Indian raid would be anticipated by equally abrupt and gratuitous changes in the cultural domain. But he did not have the opportunity to confirm this intuition.

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