The Expert's CD
Mr.Alexandru Mandy, the forgotten poet, in his old age
"You see", the Expert said, inserting his CD into the computer,
on this one is quite intriguing. It's been included in this
'All-time Greatest Romanian Hits' and you'd think this is honor
But I'm telling you, this is one of the finest pieces of love
written. Neruda would have wished he'd been the author. You
never know how these things come your way. It's always in God's
Why even start to speculate on who started the fire
Knowing he's nowhere to be found and vengeance never saves
Just poets never ask where their sudden sparkle comes from
"You know", the Expert continued, "in this case, the composer
just sitting on a pretty crowded beach when he saw a young man,
his hair in absolute disorder, fire-red cheeks, big, round eyes,
running around, bumping into everyone and asking just this one
question: "Excuse me, haven't you seen a girl?" No name, no
features, no photo, nothing...
In one 'stupid' question how much emptiness, pain and sorrow!
Lost love's only redemption is to be turned to brilliant verse.
But of all the broken hearts, how many will find a poet?
"Just listen carefully to the last part of the song", the Expert
whispered. "That's the part where Pablo Neruda would become
could even paraphrase it into a sijo; only the author said so
much more and
so much better":
Tear, Sea and Spring, Sugar and Salt; Truth, Lie and Hope, Dirt
Limit, Boundlessness, Joy and Grief; Life and Death, Time,
This plethora of names at once for one and the same lover.
As the last notes of the tune had vanished from the room, the
his guests decided to stay on for a while. To all of them it
felt like a
moment of silence on a stadium; and all of them somehow sensed
reason was, though no one seemed to be able to put his finger on
to Johanna Klemm-Silva
The translator asks
for permission to insert his own CD. He is a quiet
man, his deep, green eyes conveying a sense of mild sadness. All
actually know about him is that he has a disability of some
sort, that he
lives alone and that he traveled the world over on
assignments. Not very much else, really…
“I burned this myself” he says, almost shyly, "after my trip to
I’ll only play three tracks, which bring back
Suddenly, we’re on fire with anticipation. The memories of this
job it is to bridge gaps, reverse Babel, convey (somebody
meanings, whom his clients tend to regard as a mere translating
always intent on his voice, never on his person…What memories
does he have
of the world he helps unite?
“This one is from the Northeast, from the Sertão: vast
plains, where everybody and everything thirsts for rain. People
there, but the thirst never leaves them. It merely shifts its
There was a man, Gonzaga, who put this thirst into notes. He
died, but the
thirst remained. And now, there’s this girl who adopted his
songs and his
the Sertão’s scorching summer
calling the whole world.
“Further north, of course, is the Amazonian rain forest. People
in search for bounty and beauty; in search for life. Chico
huge Brazilian singer from the late Sixties, tried to capture
who will be faster?
hunter, game and singer race
against the rain season.
“And this is a love song from the deep south: Brazil’s most
region; or rather, I should say, the one whose songs are most
ignored. The steamboat takes away the author’s love, but he duly
blame on the hybris of his own selfishness. In some songs you
pain-or joy-without understanding the lyrics. These are the
songs. And this is one of them”:
is swollen with tears and tunes:
The translator says nothing more. In his green eyes there is
like a strange light. It comes from
Brazil perhaps: a
Brazil in which he
sees far more than samba, soccer and slums. And most likely also
somewhere deep within...
“A man is an indirect animal/his all too tender soul/is
--Nichita Stanescu, Romanian poet, 1933-1983
About ten minutes after he started to listen to those oldies on
Internet he realized that the worst had happened. No, the worst
remembering her whispers to him in his language and her
of it which brought both a smile to his face and the odd sweet
tear to his
eyes. It was these memories he wanted to drown in the music of
adolescence, along with the memories of himself speaking her
alien to him just years before, but which had since become the
his heart chimed in.
Yes, he was a traitor, he thought. But he did not betray his own
nor hers. He betrayed the language of those song, which used to
language of his soul before everything happened.
And now he wanted this third language, and these tunes which had
his counsellors and his medicine in times perhaps harder than
present, wash it all away. The sound of her voice, of his voice
their mingled whispers. He wanted this third language, neutral
other two, and those songs, neutral in the war which was raging
him, to carry him to no man’s land, over the border of grief…
But those memories he wanted to somehow disable were not the
worst came from beyond the velvet of the music and the
reassuring feel of
finally listening to something SHE couldn’t understand, and
just his. It came from the sense hidden in the lyrics, a sense
him now, inadvertently, and then spread in all his system, like
from way back then
sweet sounds become arrows.
they used to soothe, but now they bleed
And then he was at
the loneliest. No allies. No neutral Red Cross
personnel to carry him on a stretcher to the house of a relative
he’d finally be able to go home…which home?
So if he couldn’t deal with the sounds, how could he be expected
the haunting image of her; her distinctively Far Eastern looks,
of a lady-in-waiting to the Empress of
Japan. This, although her people
was just as European as his or even—as her parents so often
European. How did she come to have such looks? This was yet
which the Early Middle Ages buried with them in the dust of that
Europe where tribes of all origins met, tried to wipe
off, failed, mingled and then drifted apart again.
Oh, had her name but matched her looks! Then she couldn’t have
her name was a passport to that non-geographical “West” or
everybody in their corner of the world seemed to crave. She
have perceived him as a liability. Their love would have
settled down like maturing wine. But, as things turned out, her
as Western as his eyes. He WAS a liability. To her, at least.
ever have won? No, because he lost…
to shut out pain
you avoid eyes like hers.
what if they hide the very light
But the songs still
poured out of his computer speakers.
Instinctively, almost against his will, he found himself dancing
clapping to a sailors’ song, born on a sea he always wanted to
in, but never did. And suddenly, the tears still on his cheeks,
was singing in a dialect of the “third language” (he still had
learn that one properly, he thought, as the meaning of some
still eluded him) he had one of those “eureka” moments which, as
Conventional Wisdom has it, are quite seldom in a guy’s life. He
his name, his language and his roots were just as innocent as
songs, rather supposed to prevent heart’s wounds from festering,
making things worse. He turned the speakers a bit louder:
songs old and new
and let them loose again
to turn your wounds into a spring