Sunday afternoon

Sunday afternoon we had the horses harnessed, the carriage drawn up, and drove to the downtown to inspect the illustrious flood of Budapest

so that we could boast of our big water (klein aber mein) to Wang Wei

even if it is not as big as three years ago, which still has not fallen on the painting of Miklós Szüts in the conference room of the Europe Publisher

and to put the proofs of the new translation in the mailbox of the publisher

and to give a ride to little Vidra who, since in the last year we carried her to the veterinarian almost every day for a month, is extremely fond of riding the car

and to check the hummus bar we found some weeks ago as we were looking for a good vegetarian restaurant for our Indian friend visiting us.

István Széchenyi, “the greatest Hungarian” is watching the flood together with us. “Erected to the memory of the great reformer, the first Minister of Transport, by the Hungarian State Railways, 1988”. On the best place, at the Danube, where he surely cannot see what has been done since then to the Hungarian state railways.

The hummus bar is at the beginning of Alkotmány street, near to the corner of Bajcsy, where in the Irish pub some ten years ago an American sergeant from Bosnia wanted to buy my old-fashioned rabbit-fur hat. He did not believe that just one block from there he still could get more like this. Now he could not find the shop any more.

But the old-fashioned houses are still there.

The Pension Fund of Hungarian Journalists (1880), the first building of Zsigmond Quittner who later built the Gresham Palace *, the great Art Nouveau Gesamtkunstwerk of the turn of the century.

Next to it, over the late-night xerox shop, there is the hummus bar.

Recurrent guests enthusiastically write:

I was in Budapest for 5 days, and I probably ate here 10 times. It was incredible. It’s run by a hilarious Israeli guy who brings the best of Israeli cuisine to Budapest: fantastic hummus, falafel, sabir, shakshuka, mint tea, etc. So, so unbelievably cheap and so fantastically delicious.

They also have a page with a nice “show me how you eat hummus and I tell who you are” psychological test, and they deliver to house, too. But it is different to sit out there on a Sunday afternoon.

Vidra is a great success among the guests and the waitresses, she is given food and water, stories are told about their own dogs. Even the shop owner comes out to caress her, although he seems to have some fear, but he cannot disgrace himself in face of the waitresses. Next time we will take Burkus with us, he will be even greater success with his eighty kilos!

And food is just majestic. Shakshuka, Yemeni bean soup, baklava. Light and sophisticatedly spiced. Menta tea for free. Two Shengs has been breaking our hearts for years with his legends on his Israeli falafel shops. Finally we’ve got one, too. How delighted he will be the next time he comes to visit us.

To Wang Wei and Two Shengs, with love.

How I became the Spanish translator of Eco

“The last time the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote about Río Wang”, I would begin so, with eyes modestly lowered watching for the effect.

But the problem is that the FAZ has not written about Río Wang. At least not with the name and URL.

Thus I begin by saying that in the FAZ literary supplement I came across the review on Umberto Eco’s new German book by Andreas Platthaus entitled “Wissen stinkt nicht” – “Knowledge does not stink.” I began to read it with excitement, as the review started with the title of a book – and dedicated half of the article to it – which caused me several hours of research two years ago when I was translating Eco’s The history of ugliness. It was La polychrésie de la race allemande, “The exaggerated need of defecation of the German race”. In fact, Eco quoted this title with polychesie which means nothing. At that time I came to the result that he had not seen the book, and he erroneously quoted its title from a catalog. The review of the FAZ now reported that the Spanish translator of Eco had encountered this problem, too, and he also went into the matter. I got extremely curious of his results.

Dieser Titel wiederum trieb den spanischen Übersetzer Ecos zu einer aufwendigen Internetrecherche an, weil er seinen Lesern im Gegensatz zu Eco eine Übersetzung des französischen Titels bieten wollte, diesen aber unverständlich fand. Schließlich bekam er Auskunft von einem russischen Kollegen über die richtige Schreibweise, und tatsächlich stieß er sogar noch auf einen weiteren Antiquariatskatalog, in dem die bislang einzige bekannte ausführliche Wiedergabe des Bérillon-Aufsatzes zu finden war: „La polychrésie de la race allemande. Das übertriebene Darmleerungsbedürfnis der deutschen Rasse. Superlienteria germanica. – Extrait des Bulletins et Mémoires de la Société de Médecine de Paris, séance du 25 juin 1915. P., Maloine & fils, 1915. 24 × 16 cm, 20 p. Broché.“ Seitdem, so beklagt der spanische Übersetzer, sei dieser Eintrag aber wieder aus dem Netz verschwunden. Die Geschichte der Suche nach dem in mehrfacher Hinsicht verderbten Titel hätte Umberto Eco gefallen – und mutmaßlich kennt er ihr Ergebnis auch, denn in der gerade erschienenen Übersetzung seiner 2006 auf Italienisch publizierten Textsammlung „La memoria vegetale e altri scritti di bibliofilia“, die im Original noch von „La polychesie“ sprach, steht nun korrekt „La polychrésie“.

This title led also the Spanish translator of Eco to an exhaustive internet search, because he, in contrast to Eco, wanted to offer to his readers a translation of the French title which was incomprehensible to him. Finally he got information from a Russian colleague about the correct spelling, and then he even found another antique catalog including the hitherto only known detailed description of the title of Bérillon’s essay: “La polychrésie de la race allemande. Das übertriebene Darmleerungsbedürfnis der deutschen Rasse. Superlienteria germanica. – Extrait des Bulletins et Mémoires de la Société de Médecine de Paris, séance du 25 juin 1915. P., Maloine & fils, 1915. 24 × 16 cm, 20 p. Broché.” Since then, the Spanish translator complains, even this entry has disappeared from the net. The story of the search for the in many ways corrupt title would have delighted Umberto Eco – and presumably he even knows its result, as the recently published translation of his Italian anthology La memoria vegetale e altri scritti di bibliofilia of 2006 has now the correct “La polychrésie” instead of the original “La polychesie”.

To my greatest surprise I had to realize that this Spanish translator was – me. Platthaus must have been misled by the Spanish title of the blog – Poemas del río Wang – that led him to consider me a Spaniard. So far, so good. However, all the rest of his information is mistaken, too. The “Russian colleague” I found by chance did not know the correct spelling either, he only coined a genial false etymology in support of the wrong one. The catalog entry with the correct polychrésie was suggested to me first by a French linguistic quiz, and then a search for the words “Berillon+race allemande”. All this was written down in my post schwarz auf weiss, citations and live links included.

Platthaus gives the subtitle Lohnende Internetrecherchen” – “Internet research pays off” to the short summary of my research. However, his article illustrates the fact that superficiality, transmission of half-understood information and hints to his sources without name and reference also pay off. Unwissen stinkt nicht?


BrueghelUmberto Eco in his new book on lists – Vertigine della lista, to be published in November 2009 – dedicates a special place to Rabelais whose Gargantua and Pantagruel, published from 1532 in five books created the genre of absurd lists:

However, the author who seems to have produced his never ending lists only to kick the bottom of all the well ordered systems of the Sorbonne’s scholars was Rabelais. Obviously nothing can explain why he had to enumerate so many and so unprecedented ways of cleaning one’s own bottom, so many adjectives of the membrum virile, so many ways of massacring the enemy, so many and so useless books of the Saint Victor Abbey, so many races of snakes or so many kinds of games Gargantua was able to play (and God knows how he found time to play them all).

Accordingly, Eco has selected for his anthology several texts from Gargantua and Pantagruel, thus imposing a painful task on the translator, at least on the Hungarian translator.

In fact, Rabelais’ work has no complete Hungarian translation. Although the great juggler of Hungarian language György Faludy started to translate it and he even finished the first three books before slipping away from Hungary after the failed revolution of 1956, but the manuscripts remained here and got lost. In the 80’s some miracle brought to light the manuscripts of the second and third book narrating the adventures of the giant prince Pantagruel, and they were published at the University of Szeged in 1989, but it seems that that of the first book, recounting the very wonderful life of his father, king Gargantua, has been lost for ever. Brueghel, GyermekjátékokThe texts borrowed by Eco from this first book have to be translated again for the Hungarian version of the Vertigine della lista, while the translator must bear in mind the high standard set by Faludy in his Pantagruel.

There is for example the list mentioned last by Eco: the games known by Gargantua, two hundred and fifteen in number. There are more than one possibilities how to translate them. A philologist would probably give an exact translation of each name, adding in footnotes all the information he managed to collect about them. This “all”, however, is not too much. Just some years ago Yves Rifaux, researcher of the Musée de l’Art de l’Enfance in Annecy thought that most of them had been invented by Rabelais, until he managed to identify 190 of the 215 games. On the other hand, a verbatim translation of the French names (see their list in the above quoted article, with the modern French spelling in brackets) would resonate so few with the Hungarian reader that the list would completely lose the magic which this abundance of games produces for the French reader.

Rifaux was greatly supported in the identification of the games by the painting Children at play (1560) of Pieter Bruegel which represents more than two hundred children playing some eighty contemporary games. The games represented have been recently analyzed by Edward Snow, and the description of twenty of them can be also read on the site of the Avedon Museum and Archive of Games. The Hungarian avantgarde Colibri Theatre has recently created a ballett version of the painting, of which two videos have ben published.

id. Pieter Bruegel, Gyermekjátékok (1560)
The Italian translation quoted by Eco – Mario Bonfantini, Einaudi, 2005 – adopts a more eclectic approach. It takes over a number of names in an Italian form similar to the French ones even if there exists no Italian game of that name, and it replaces most of the rest with the names of existing Italian ones. This list is so beautiful, especially because of the many archaic and long names, and besides it is so hard to find elsewhere, that I quote it in full length. You will enjoy at least its melody.

a goffo, a chi fa l’uno fa l’altro, a primiera, alla sequenza, a vola, a domino, a piglia piglia, al tarocco, al trionfo, a cocchinverde, chi vince perde, alla Piccarda, al belinato, al cento, alla penitenza, alla sfilata, alla riffa, a disgrazia, a glic, alla furba, agli onori, a passadieci, alla morra, al trentuno, agli scacchi, a pari e sequenza, alla volpe, ai trecento, a campana, alla sfortunata, alla bianca, alla condannata, alla buona ventura, a carta voltata, a tre dadi, al malcontento, alle tavole, al lanzichenecco, a nic noc, a cucú, alla lurca, a chi ce l’ha lo dica, alla rana, a piglia, nada, gioca, fori, al birignao, all’accoppiata al trictrac, al nano, a tutte tavole, a dichiarare, a tavole voltate, a rinnegabío, al forzato, alla dama, alla babbuina, a primus, secundus, a piè di coltello, alla mosca, a franco il quadri, a pari o caffo, a testa o croce, a marmotta, agli aliossi, alla biglia, a ciabatta, al gufo, a caccialepre, alla tirintintana, a scappa scappa porcellino, alle gazze, al corno, a bue cacciato, a civetta, a pizzicato, a beccasú, all’asino vola, a toni-mini, a trotta trotta somarello, a dàgli arrí, a buricchetto, a son seduto, alla barba d’oribus, alla boschina, a tira spiedo, a botte in fiera, a compare dammi il sacco, a coglionmontone, a buttafuori, alle fiche di Marsiglia, alle chiavi, alle guardie, a scuoiaconiglio, a ramazza, a uncino-madama, a vender l’avena, al tizzone, alle risposte, a giudice vivo e giudice morto, al fabbroferraio, a scappa villano, ai sassolini, al gobbo in corte, a San Trovato, a pizzica orecchio, al pero, a pimpompetto, al trallalà, al circolo, alla troia, a pancia-a-pancia, alle vallette, a verghetta, a spannina, a ci sto anch’io, a spegnimoccolo, ai birilli, al volano, a piastrelle, a far centro, a prendi Roma, Brueghela toccamerda, al Siam, a boccia corta, alla greca, a rimbalzino, alla pentolaccia, a cosí mi piace, al mulinello, alle giuncate, a baston corto, alla prillavola, a mosca cieca, a picchetto, a gallina bianca, al lupo, al truccino, al castelletto, all’ínfilata, a fossette, alla ronfa, alla tromba, al monaco, a capinascondere, all’incantato, alla palla, alla spola, a sculaccioni, al manico di scopa, a San Tommaso ficcanaso, alle lumachine, a sei senza verde! a Quaresima, alla forcola, a saltacavallina, a tutti in fila, a peto in gola, a dammi la lancia Guglielmino, a brindello, ai tre covoni, alla betulla, a mosca pazza, a pesciolino mio diletto vieni, alle domande, a nove mani, a testa in giú, alla seggiolina, al cavallino, alla grulla, al gallo canta, a mosca cieca, a guardagli il muso, allo spione, al rospo, a pallamaglio, al pistone, al diabolo, alle regine, ai mestieri, a testa-a-testa o testa-a-piè, alla Pinotta, a mano morta, ai buffetti, a scuffia madama, a staccia buratta, al seminato, al ghiottone, al molinetto, a non si passa, alla giravolta, all’acculattata, al contadino, al gufo, a schioppetto matto, alla bestia morta, a monta monta la scaletta, al porcello morto, a cul per terra, a piccioncino, alla caccia al terzo, a scappellotto, a saltasiepe, a tagliar la strada, a scornabue, a maglia maglia batticulo, a è scappato l’uccellino, al passavanti, a far le fiche, alle pernacchie, a pestamostarda, allo zoppo, a chi ci casca, a salincerchio, a pigliatesta, alla gru, a taglia taglia, alla tecca, alle sberle, a buffettoni.

Encouraged by this approach, I have also adopted a similar way in the Hungarian translation. As the version of Faludy often actualizes the text for the sake of a better impression, often in an intentionally anachronistic way, I have also decided to substitute the two hundred and fifteen French games with the same number of existing Hungarian games, including some that Rabelais could have not known but are more familiar to the modern Hungarian reader. My sources were the most authentic: apart from my childhood memories, the practising mother Kinga, the practising children Eszter, Sára, Dodó and Ábel, and their practising teacher Ildikó who are completely up to date in this topic, and to whom I say thanks for their expert advice. You can see the list in the Hungarian version of this post. Here I include the English list from the 1894 translation by Sir Thomas Urquhart and Cromarty and Peter Anthony Motteux, which is also interesting to compare with the French and the Italian ones.

… at flush, at primero, at the beast, at the rifle, at trump, at the prick and spare not, at the hundred, at the peeny, at the unfortunate woman, at the fib, at the pass ten, at one-and-thirty, at post and pair, or even and sequence, at three hundred, at the unlucky man, at the last couple in hell, at the hock, at the surly, at the lansquenet, at the cuckoo, at puff, or let him speak that hath it, at take nothing and throw out, at the marriage, at the frolic or jackdaw, at the opinion, at who doth the one, doth the other, at the sequences, at the ivory bundles, at the tarots, at losing load him, at he’s gulled and esto, at the torture, at the handruff, at the click, at honours, at pinch without laughing, at prickle me tickle me, at the unshoeing of the ass, at the cocksess, at hari hohi, at I set me down, at earl beardy, at the old mode, at draw the spit, at put out, Brueghelat gossip lend me your sack, at the ramcod ball, at thrust out the harlot, at Marseilles figs, at nicknamry, at stick and hole, at boke or him, or flaying the fox, at the branching it, at trill madam, or grapple my lady, at the cat selling, at blow the coal, at the re-wedding, at the quick and dead judge, at unoven the iron, at the false clown, at the flints, or at the nine stones, at to the crutch hulch back, at the Sanct is found, at hinch, pinch and laugh not, at the leek, at bumdockdousse, at the loose gig, at the hoop, at the sow, at belly to belly, at the dales or straths, at the twigs, at the quoits, at I’m for that, at I take you napping, at fair and softly passeth Lent, at the forked oak, at truss, at the wolf’s tail, at bum to buss, or nose in breech, at Geordie, give me my lance, at swaggy, waggy or shoggyshou, at stook and rook, shear and threave, at the birch, at the muss, at the dilly dilly darling, at ox moudy, at purpose in purpose, at nine less, at blind-man-buff, at the fallen bridges, at bridled nick, at the white at butts, at thwack swinge him, at apple, pear, plum, at mumgi, at the toad, at cricket, at the pounding stick, at jack and the box, at the queens, at the trades, at heads and points, at the vine-tree hug, at black be thy fall, at ho the distaff, at Joan Thomson, at the bolting cloth, at the oat’s seed, at love, at the chess, at Reynard the fox, at the squares, at the cows, at the lottery, at the chance or mumchance, at three dice or maniest bleaks, at the tables, at nivinivinack, at the lurch, at doublets or queen’s game, at the faily, at the French trictrac, at the long tables or ferkeering, at feldown, at tod’s body, at needs must, at the dames or draughts, at bob and mow, at primus secundus, at mark-knife, at the keys, at span-counter, at even or odd, at cross or pile, at ball and huckle-bones, at ivory balls, at the billiards, at bob and hit, at the owl, at the charming of the hare, at pull yet a little, at trudgepig, at the magatapies, at the horn, at the flowered or Shrovetide ox, at the madge-owlet, at tilt at weeky, at ninepins, at the cock quintin, at tip and hurl, at the flat bowls, at the veer and turn, at rogue and ruffian, at bumbatch touch, at the mysterious trough, at the short bowls, at the dapple-grey, at cock and crank it, at break-pot, at my desire, at twirly whirlytrill, at the rush bundles, at the short staff, at the whirling gig, at hide and seek, or are you all hid? at the picket, at the blank, at the pilferers, at the caveson, at prison bars, at have at the nuts, at cherry-pit, at rub and rice, at whiptop, at the casting top, at the hobgoblins, at the O wonderful, at the soily smutchy, at fast and loose, at scutchbreech, at the broom-besom, at St. Cosme, I come to adore thee, at the lusty brown boy, at greedy glutton, at the morris dance, at feeby, at the whole frisk and gambol, at battabum, or riding of the wild mare, at Hind the ploughman, at the good mawkin, at the dead beast, at climb the ladder, Billy, at the dying hog, at the salt doup, at the pretty pigeon, at barley break, at the bavine, at the bush leap, at crossing, at bo-peep, at the hardit arsepursy, at the harrower’s nest, at forward hey, at the fig, at gunshot crack, at mustard peel, at the gome, at the relapse, at jog breech, or prick him forward, at knockpate, at the Cornish c(h)ough, at the crane-dance, at slash and cut, at bobbing, or flirt on the nose, at the larks, at fillipping.
It is so great that still today we are able to collect so many games. For the site of Bruce van Patter illustrates in a striking way how few of Bruegel’s games are played today: move the mouse on the image, and watch not only the street, but also the windows; and then also click on the central figure in red coat.

A gyermek Krisztus vesszőparipán lovagol, Stuttgart, 16. sz. első fele, kézirat margójánThe child Christ riding a hobby horse (and in the meantime treading the aspis snake
under the foot, according to Psalm 91). Drawing on the margin of a MS,
first half of the 16th century. Stuttgart, Württembergische
Landesbibliothek, Cod. theol. quart. 136

Dawn bird

“Bismillah bird” composed of the letters of the Quranic verse Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim, “In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful. Calligraphy by Khaleelullah Chemnad.

Para significar la divinidad, un persa habla de un pájaro que de algún modo es todos los pájaros.

To signify the godhead, a Persian speaks of a bird that somehow is all birds.

Jorge Luis Borges, El Aleph, 1949

So distinguished is the place occupied by the bird in Persian art and poetry, like for example in the As strangers by the modern Sufi poet Hushang Ebtehaj, set to music by the Kamkars and illustrated by us with another Bismillah bird, or in the closing picture of the Budapest photo series by Omid H. Hassam, which immediately reminded me the cover of the beautiful album Saz-e khamush, “Silent lute” by Mohammad Reza Shajarian, the greatest singer of Persian classical music.

Shajarian, Saz-e khamush, Silent lute, album cover
On this album Shajarian is accompanied by Kayhan Kalhor on kamanche, and by Hossein Alizadeh on tar, the typical 8-shaped Iranian lute. Both are the most excellent Iranian masters of their instruments, and their music has been included more than one time in our blog. Tombak, the Iranian drum is played by Homayun, son of Shajarian.

The same four artists recite in the video below the poem Morgh-e sahâr, “Dawn bird” by the greatest 20th-century Persian poet Malek o-Sho’arâ Bahâr. The performance was registered at the famous Bam concert of 2003, organized by Shajarian in the aid of the survivors of the Bam earthquake which had produced 30,000 casualties. The audience cries in ecstasy just like we cried together with the whole audience when in 2007 the master sung this song in Isfahan.

Several versions of this song can be found on the net and on Persian albums: by the same group three years later, where the artists can be observed better, by the duo of Shajarian and the Azeri kamanche player Habil Aliov, transposed in an authentic Azeri style, or in the solo of the talented young tar player Sahba Motalebi. It is worth to read their comments as well, because they reveal a little bit what this song means for Iranians.

Since the 1960’s this poem has become one of the most popular Persian songs with the melody of Morteza Neydavud and in the performance of Shajarian. Perhaps also because 20th-century Iranian history was not in short of dawn-waitings, as it is attested by the earlier quoted Comets and nights.

Morgh-e sahâr nâle sar kon
dagh-e ma-râ tâzeh tar kon
z âh-e sharar bâr in ghafash-râ
bar shekan o zir o zebar kon.
Bolbol-e par baste-ze konj-e ghafash dar â
naghme-ye âzâdi-ye no'e bashar sar â
v’az nafasi
arse-ye in khâk-e tude-râ.
Zolm-e zâlem yor-e sayyâd
âshiyânem dâde bar bâd.
Ey Khodâ ey falak ey tabi'at
shâm-e târik mâ-râ sahar kon.
مرغ سحر ناله سر کن
داغ مرا تازه تر کن
ز آه شرر بار ، این قفس را
بر شکن و زیر زبر کن
بلبل پر بسته ز کنج قفس درا
نغمه آزادی نوع بشر سرا
وزنفسی عرصه این خاک توده را
پر شرر کن
ظلم ظالم ، جور صیّاد
آشیانم ، داده بر باد
ای خدا ، ای فلک ، ای طبیعت
شام تاریک ما را سحر کن

Dawn bird, sing with sorrow,
remind me of my fresh pain,
with your burning breath
break and open this cage.
Captive nightingale, fly out of your cage,
start to sing the song of freedom,
and with one breath
set to fire the sluggish earth.
The cruelty of tyrants, the injustice of hunters
has broken my nest put to winds.
Oh God, oh world, oh nature
turn our dark night into dawn.

Nightingale – as we would like to expose it in a later post – is a topos of Persian poetry for the human soul, or more precisely for the human soul longing for God. (It is not just a coincidence that Eastern Sephardic poetry also took it over in this meaning, just like the topos of the bird representing God.) And in Persian thought the longing for God is very closely connected with the longing for the liberation from the limitations of this world, for absolute freedom. Where a Hungarian, with the famous verse of Petőfi, says “Liberty, love”, a Persian says “Liberty, God” in a thousand sophisticated ways. This is why they can sing – and they indeed do sing – this song as a psalm, a hymn and a movement song in one.

A supporter of Mir Hussein Mousavi on the eve of the Iranian elections of 2009, with a bird on his leafletA leaflet advertising the name of presidential candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi
on the eve of the Iranian elections of June 12, 2009.

Azeri socks

We bought them in the late autumn of 2007 in the bazaar of Tabriz, Western Iran. They had been made for an engagement present. The jewels come from the nomadic tribes around Mashad to the east. The carpet – which is in fact a camel bag opened – was woven by Bakhtiari nomads in the mountains above Isfahan to the south. I usually read by leaning against it in the evenings.

In the last week there were elections in Iran. Many call in doubt the authenticity of the official results. There are manifestations all around the country. As I’m writing this, a crowd of several thousand people gathered in Tehran. According to recent news, the militiamen have been authorized to use live ammunition. Yesterday in Isfahan a young boy was already shot dead.

The inhabitants of Tehran for the last days have been praying by thousands “Allahu akbar” – “God is the greatest” – on the rooftops, just like they did during the revolution of 1979. We have also been intensively praying for them. We ask you to pray for Iran.

Listening to the bells

Late nineteenth century, a quarter to twelve, Rome. It’s hot.

A bar in the Trastevere, in front of Santa Maria. A late February Sunday, a quarter to ten in the morning. In the bar there is only a Roman family with two little children, having a breakfast. Orange juice, smell of coffee. Two pictures on the entrance wall, not particularly drawing attention.

Marco, te recordamos.
Eras el viejo amigo,
la plaza, los rumores
de la fuente, el pacífico
sonido de las horas,
el lento, el pensativo
Marco de mirar triste,
tierno y casi perdido,
gruñidor y orgulloso,
a veces, pero digno.
Las noches de verano
eran bellas contigo.
Escuchabas la música
o dormías tranquilo.
Marco, estás con nosotros,
sigues aquí, estas vivo.

Con las campanas de Santa María,
los que no te olvidamos y quisimos
te llamaremos y veremos siempre
en el aire y la luz trasteverinos.
Marco, we’ll remember you.
You were our old friend,
the square itself, the gurgle
of the fountain, the peaceful
sound of the hours,
the slow, the thoughtful
Marco of the sad
and tender and almost lost look,
the grumbling and proud
sometimes, but always decent.
Summer nights
were beautiful with you.
You were listening to music
or tranquilly sleeping.
Marco, you’re with us
still here, alive.

With the bells of the Santa Maria
we, who love you and do not forget you
will always call you and will always see you
in the air and light of the Trastevere.

The image of that morning in Rome and the poem to Marco, also included by Alberti in his Roma, peligro para caminantes (1968) came to my mind as I was reading Ahmatova, translated into Spanish precisely by Alberti and María Teresa León:

Но я предупреждаю вас,
Что живу в последний раз.
Ни ласточкой, ни кленом,
Ни тростником и ни звездой,
Ни родниковою водой,
Ни колокольным звоном -
Не стану я людей смущать
И сны чужие навещать
Неутоленным стоном.
But I warn you
that I live for the last time.
Neither as a swallow, nor as an acer,
neither as a reed nor as a star,
the gurgling water of a fountain
or the sound of the bells –
I will not perturb people
nor confuse others’ dreams
with my unsatisfied moaning.

And each time when I hear the bells around my house, and the sound of the quarters of the town house’s clock, I think that the bells are the last survivors of something that barely exists, or rather the echos of an Atlantis which is all over long ago. And I think that on the day – which will come – when the bells will not ring any more, I will have few interest in staying alive.

Oír campanas

Un día de fines del siglo diecinueve, a las doce menos cuarto, en Roma. Hace calor.

En Santa María in Trastevere, al otro lado de la iglesia, hay un bar. Es un domingo del pasado febrero, a las diez menos cuarto, y en el bar solo hay una familia romana con dos niños pequeños que han bajado a desayunar. Zumo de naranja, olor a café. En la pared de la entrada cuelgan dos cuadros que no llaman la atención.

Marco, te recordamos.
Eras el viejo amigo,
la plaza, los rumores
de la fuente, el pacífico
sonido de las horas,
el lento, el pensativo
Marco de mirar triste,
tierno y casi perdido,
gruñidor y orgulloso,
a veces, pero digno.
Las noches de verano
eran bellas contigo.
Escuchabas la música
o dormías tranquilo.
Marco, estás con nosotros,
sigues aquí, estas vivo.

Con las campanas de Santa María,
los que no te olvidamos y quisimos
te llamaremos y veremos siempre
en el aire y la luz trasteverinos.

La imagen de aquella mañana en Roma y el poema al perro Marco que Alberti incluyó en su Roma, peligro para caminantes me han venido a la memoria al leer hoy estos versos de Ana Ajmátova, una poeta que Alberti y María Teresa León tradujeron.

Но я предупреждаю вас,
Что живу в последний раз.
Ни ласточкой, ни кленом,
Ни тростником и ни звездой,
Ни родниковою водой,
Ни колокольным звоном -
Не стану я людей смущать
И сны чужие навещать
Неутоленным стоном.
Pero yo os advierto que vivo
por última vez.
Ni como golondrina, ni como acero,
ni como junco, ni como estrella,
ni como agua que brota,
ni como sonido de campanas
turbaré a la gente,
y no visitaré los sueños de los otros
con un gemido insatisfecho.

Y cada vez que oigo sonar las campanas de las iglesias alrededor de mi casa, y dar los cuartos a la campana del reloj del ayuntamiento, pienso que en sí mismas las campanas son una pervivencia de algo que apenas existe, el eco de un mundo que se acaba o que ya acabó hace tiempo. Pienso también que el día (que llegará) en que no suenen las campanas, a mí me interesará muy poco seguir vivo.

Iran goes to polls

As I am writing this, the streets of Tehran are in full swing until eight in the morning, the beginning of the elections. Crowds of people are surging along the longest street of the world, the 30 kms long Vali Asr Avenue from the rich northern quarters to the bazaar in the south, mostly young people – 70% of Iran’s population is under 30 –, traffic has stopped, music is resounding, the asphalt is covered by election posters and leaflets that already have not been distributed: “Where has the price of the oil gone?” “Bye-bye, Ahmadinejad!” It is still uncertain what the presidential elections of tomorrow will bring, the two main candidates, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mir Hossein Mousavi being both at 50% within statistical failure rate. The people of Tehran, to be on the safe side, feasts in advance, for at the much bigger feasts of tomorrow evening half of the people will have no more reason to do so.

In spite of the fact that in recent years Iran has risen to the rang of a regional power – thanks to the generous efforts of America which with enormous financial and human sacrifices has eliminated its two main rivals Iraq and Afghanistan, and through the support of Northern Iraqi Kurds brought the country on a common platform with its third man rival, Turkey – Western press has dedicated surprisingly few attention to the Iranian presidential elections. Some popular articles have been published here and there in every couple of weeks, on the unsatisfaction of the “Iranian people” – that is, people interviewed in the downtown of Tehran where the reporter got done with the obligatory fifteen lines report – on the assumption that all candidates are all the same, for all of them support the Iranian atom (the contrary would be a political suicide), that the Guardian Council has carefully filtered the candidates and thus only those politically absolutely reliable could enter the ring, and that the Council also sets very narrow limits to the power of the elected president. Therefore, Western journalists assert, the elections have no real stake. It seems as if none of them heard about Communism and as if they did not know how much difference can there be between an Andropov and a Chernenko, a Gierek and a Jaruzelski, a Grósz and a Pozsgay.

The complete broadcasting of the harsh TV debate of last Wednesday between Ahmadinejad and Moussavi (1.5 hour)

Whoever has experienced in his or her life how much political importance a somewhat bolder art exhibition, some centimeters longer hair or shorter skirt can have, will know how much it means which position the candidates occupy within the limited official playfield. Ahmadinejad, who is boasting with his plebeian origins – he is son of a blacksmith – and making a show of his plebeian manners by disregarding every protocol, since having appeared from nowhere six years ago has consciously made division and polarization the basis of his policy: internationally, between Iran and America, and within the country between Islam and its enemies. “There are no conservatives and reformers” writes his advisor Fatemeh Rajabi in the pro-government daily Ansar, “only the way of God and the way of Satan”. Moussavi, a recognized painter and architect, founder of the Tehran Academy of Art, who has won himself a lasting popularity as the highly responsible prime minister of the country between 1981 and 1989, in the terrible period of the war with Iraq, formulates his opinion more subtly. In the detailed interview given to the Spiegel he qualifies himself as a “conservative reformer” or rather a “centrist”, emphasizing the easing of tensions, the unity of the country, negotiations with America and the suspension of the catastrophic populist economic policy of the Ahmadinejad government (official inflation is 25%, but much higher in the reality). All this enters into the president’s officially permitted scope for action.

Election officials at a polling station inside a synagogue of Tehran at the parliamentary elections of 2008.

A special mention has to be made about ethnic question which in Iran – where hardly more than 50% of the population is ethnic Persian – is an especially delicate problem. In contrast to the centralizing policy of the Islamic republic, Moussavi, who himself is of Azeri origin, promises opening. It is worth to put on each other the map of Iran’s ethnic distribution (from today’s edition of Courrier International) and that of the late April election polls from the daily Jomhoriyat, where the majority of the green pro-Moussavi provinces are densely populated, developed and urbanized ethnic regions, while that of the red pro-Ahmadinejad provinces are rarely populated, semi-desert rural lands.

The subtle signs of change also include that, for the first time since 1979, the wife of a politician appears before the public. Mrs. Moussavi, Sahra Rahnavard – president of the women’s university Al-Zahra, and between 1997 and 2005 advisor of the reformer president Khatami – travels all over the country with her husband, and stands together with him on the stage – what is more, hand in hand, an unheard-of thing in Iran. This equality is an unsaid campaign promise which attracts large masses of female electors to Moussavi, as it is attested by this video of CNN below.

Another subtle sign of change is the use of internet. In Iran, where internet is extremely widespread, the government tries to keep it under control by any means. Ahmadinejad has set up a special internet commando, allegedly against “internet criminality”, whose target number one are bloggers. (The fourth most widespread language of blogs worldwide is Persian.) A special program is broadcasted on the national channel Gerdab to backbite bloggers and to present them as immoral and pro-Western. Moussavi, on the contrary, has his own site, web news, electorial YouTube page and twitter, as well as thousands of supporting pages and forums.

Nobody knows what tomorrow may bring (which is in any case only the first round). However, one thing is already sure: that these past months have brought an unsuspected and since 1979 unprecedented political fever to Iran.

Chuk and Mac

Andrei Kuznecov: Chukch rapper

A propos of the Polish reception of medieval bicycle we had a talk with Julia – over the Equator, from our early summer to their late autumn – about which people are regarded as the etalon of stupidity in the jokes of various people. For the Americans reputedly the Poles are that. For the Spanish, the Gallegos, that is the inhabitants of the traditionally rather poor Galicia at the Atlantic coast. For the Argentinians also the Gallegos, but they comprehend in this name all the inhabitants of the Spanish peninsula. A search for “chiste gallego” will result in thousands of hits on the net.

– Hey, Manolo – the Gallego says – pass me some shampoo.
– Why, there is a completely new one in the bathroom.
– Yes, but it says “for dry hair,” and I have already made mine wet.

And at us? It sounds strange, but it seems that Hungarians do not have a people for this purpose. We find our fools in the policemen, like Italians do. In my childhood there were some anecdotes about the people of “Rátót”, an imaginary village where everyone is dull, but these have disappeared by now. There are quite a number of popular jokes about the Székely, the archaic Hungarian inhabitants of the Transylvanian Carpathians, but in these a Svejkian slyness and resigned self-irony is always hidden behind the virtual stupidity.

But the country where there are plenty of nationalities for every type of joke is Russia. The rich men in the jokes have been traditionally Georgians – although their role has been recently taken over by the novye russkie, the nouveau riches of Russia –, the cunning ones are Jews, the even more cunning ones Armenians, those pedantic down to stupidity Estonians, while the simply dull ones, the protagonists of most Russian aniekdoty and the most welcome virtual guests of Russian dinner tables – the Chukch from Northern Siberia. God knows why.

This Chuckch receives a flat on the tenth floor of the skyscraper. “How is it?” they ask of him. “Well, my feet have pain of constantly going up and down the scales.” “Why, is there no lift?” “Yes, but the inscription says: for four persons, and it always takes an extremely long time to wait for three more people.”

Among the many stories, cartoons and animated films dedicated to the Chukch I like the most the series Chuk and Mac of the talented young graphic artist Andrei Kuznecov. The title is a deliberate pun on Gajdar’s famous pioneer novel Chuk and Gek from the 40s, and the series reveals how the Chukch copes with the challenges of the digital age. Of course the pictures parody rather the world of informatics than the Chukch themselves, and they do it with a characteristically mordant Russian irony. The series, launched in 2005, can be found in various points of the Russian web, but its most authentic source is probably the community site Ieroglif where the pictures are uploaded by the artist himself and where he also replies to the questions of his fans.

Custom Air

“More, more, elge! Tyungy MacBook Air berelcha!

The inscriptions in the images are quite embarrassing at first sight. They sound as if they had been written in the Paleosiberan language of the Chukch, although to some users they sound rather like Tatar. In any case it is not understandable to the readers. And probably this is the purpose. “Could we please get to know what the figures say?” someone has asked in a comment to the first images. “I think it is completely clear”, the master replies. “I always spread some few key words in them.” These few Russian key words, often in a distorted form, and the caption of the picture are to provide us the key to the story.


“Hehe! Chukch himself pylge webdesign!” The inscriptions of the verbally monumental “webpage” are: Site; Who I am; Where I am; Photos. The frequent Russian figure of Chuckh jokes, the geologist who is often “overshadowed” by the simple tools of the Chukch, is substituted here with a professional web designer.


However, the satisfaction of the Chukch is short-lived. The hacker has verbally broken the webpage. To the question “Who I am” he replied: “a dupe”.


The pseudo-Chukch mumbo jumbo of Kuznecov has already spread all over the Russian net and has become an integral part of Russian net jargon. And on the basis of their present use even the original inscriptions can be interpreted unambigously: “Vindy yokkhere! Chokcha kulge tyr Linukh!” “Windows is over! Cool Chukch uses Linux!” More pedant readers, however, have criticized the occurrence of the penguin in the Arctic zone, and they have pointed out that if the Chukch installs the program in the monitor itself then this is an iMac on which no Linux can be installed. But let this also put down to the account of Chukchness.

Internet provider

“Do magic! Do magic strong! Okhne internet elge syktym!” Someone has even noted: “how does such a completely meaningless word like internet come into such a clearly understandable phrase like okhne elge syktym?” Since then the idiom “elge syktym” has also become a standard phrase in Russian net jargon, meaning something like “it is ready at once”.

The African phrase is also a mumbo jumbo, of course. In the Chukch’s phrase one can distinguish the word “spam” and “syktym” that we already know from the previous picture.


Soundcard IIII-Pro

“Undoubtedly with the most realistic sound”, commentators write.

Virtual reality

“Has it eaten him?” several people ask in a shock. “No”, geeks answer. “He has just changed skin.”


As a cuckoo’s egg, the series also has some pictures illustrating the adaptation of the Chukch to the old world instead of the new. “And the factories! The factories are also yours!” The readers have raised objection that this picture, as a unique exception, has no Chukch word, but many have approved it by saying that a revolution can be done only in Russian.

And the statue is standing

The figures created by Kuznecov have been taken over by others as well. Here below we see one on the label of the Ukrainian fish conserve “Chukch fisherman”.

Also the animated cartoon of the series “Lullabies of the world” dedicated to the Chukch has adopted similar figures:

But Kuznecov himself has also made several popular animated films in recent years, among others on the Chukch. In this one, “The cheating crow”, the story is told in Russian, but you can perfectly understood it without the knowledge of the language.

Even more beautiful is this other film of him, put in an African setting, “How the snake was cheated”, in which not a single word is said. Watch out the music as well!

On other works of Kuznecov, his Cheburashka parodies, modern lubok’s and mosquito series I will write later.