17 June 2012

Terra Nostra

the beginning of Terra Nostra by Carlos Fuentes

Flesh, Spheres, Gray Eyes
Beside the Seine

Incredible the first animal that dreamed of another animal.  Monstrous the first vertebrate that succeeded in standing on two feet and thus spread terror among the beasts still normally and happily crawling close to the ground through the slime of creation.  Astounding the first telephone call, the first boiling water, the first song, the first loincloth.
        About four o'clock in the morning one fourteenth of July, Pollo Phoibee, asleep in his high garret room, door and windows flung wide, dreamed these things, and prepared to answer them himself.  But then he was visited in his dream by the somber, faceless figure of a monk who spoke for Pollo, continuing in words what had been an imagistic dream: "But reason -- neither slow nor indolent -- tells us that merely with repetition the extraordinary becomes ordinary, and only  briefly abandoned, what had once passed for a common and ordinary occurrence becomes a portent: crawling, sending carrier pigeons, eating raw deer meat, abandoning one's dead on the summits of temples so that vultures as they feed might perform their cleansing functions and fulfill the natural cycle."
        Only thirty-three and a half days earlier the fact that the waters of the Seine were boiling could have been considered a calamitous miracle; now, a month later, no one even turned to look at the phenomenon.  The proprietors of the black barges, surprised at first by the sudden ebullition, slammed against the walls of the channel, had abandoned their struggle against the inevitable.  These men of the river pulled on their stocking caps, extinguished their black tobaccos, and climbed like lizards onto the quays; the skeletons of the barges had piled up beneath the ironic gaze of Henri de Navarre and there they remained, splendid ruins of charcoal, iron, and splintered wood.
        But the gargoyles of Notre-Dame, knowing events only in the abstract, embraced with black stone eyes a much vaster panorama, and twelve million Parisians understood finally why these demons of yesteryear stick out their tongues at the city in such ferociously mocking grimaces.  It was as if the motive for which they were originally sculptured was now revealed in scandalous actuality.  It was clear the patient gargoyles had waited eight centuries to open their eyes and blast twaa! twaa! with their cleft tongues.  At dawn they had seen that overnight the distant cupolas, the entire façade of Sacré-Coeur appeared to be painted black.  And that closer at hand, far below, the doll-sized Louvre had become transparent.
        After a superficial investigation, the authorities, farr off the scent, reached the conclusion that the painted façade was actually marble and the transparent Louvre had been turned to crystal.  Inside the Basilica the paintings, too, were transformed; as the building had changed color, its paintings had changed race.  And who was going to cross himself before the lustrous ebony of a Congolese Virgin, and who would expect pardon from the thick lips of a Negroid Christ?  On the other hand, the paintings and sculptures in the Museum had taken on an opacity that many decided to attribute to the contrast with the crystalline walls and floors and ceiling.  No one seemed in the least uncomfortable because the Victory of Samothrace hovered in mid-air without any visible means of support: those wings were finally justifying themselves.  But they were apprehensive when they observed, particularly considering the recently acquired density in contrast to the general lightness that the mask of Pharaoh was superimposed -- in a newly liberated perspective -- upon the features of the Giaconda, and that lady's upon David's Napoleon.  Furthermore: when the traditional frames dissolved into transparency, the resulting freeing of purely conventional space allowed them to appreciate that the Mona Lisa, still sitting with arms crossed, was not alone.  And she was smiling.
        Thirty-three and one half days had passed during which, apparently, the Arc de Triomphe turned into sand and the Eiffel Tower was converted into a zoo.  We are confining ourselves to appearances . . .

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