My voyage to Zurich started in another language.
I was reading a book in Spanish, in Mexico City, a book I no longer remember as it was eclipsed by facts I found among its words. In the flow of sentences and ideas, there was a name where all of my concentration clustered: Fleur Jaeggy. A flower with a bizarre surname. I immediately knew I needed to find out more about this writer, who, as I understood from the book that had become anonymous to me now, admired Robert Walser. Overtaken by the sudden connections and the agitation of possibly finding something familiar in a distant land, someone I could meet on the territory of ideas, which belongs to no one and has no name, I found Los Hermosos Años del Castigo, a Spanish translation of I Beati Anni del Castigo, published by Tusquets Editores, one of the last pieces available in the country, only in Porrúa bookshop in the city center. I also found out that Fleur wrote in Italian.
My decisions are often based on passion, intuition, and anxiety, but, as they often mix, I can no longer recognize which is which. I can’t say exactly what motivated me to study Italian. I was finishing my first semester at the time.
There are certain moments, certain situations, certain sentences we remember for a lifetime, or until our memory transforms them according to its own desire; sometimes it is a mystery of the mind—why those and not others? And sometimes it is the unconscious coming to the surface.
“Guardo dentro di me. Guardo fuori di me. E non c’è nulla. Per mesi non c’è nulla. A volte per anni.”
A scholarship brought me to the Università degli studi di Milano to study Italian. At the time I was still far away from Italian, and I kept distance even from Via S. Giovanni sul Muro. I was only passing over the language, I didn’t arrive yet, and I didn’t want to chase it.
A friend of mine suggested an impromptu weekend trip to Switzerland. The next day I was in Zurich, bewildered by the city’s strict and clear definition. I remember an amazing exhibition of “Our Heads are Round so our Thoughts Can Change Direction” being held in Kunsthalle in Zurich at the time, a retrospective of Picabia’s work.
But I left the city untouched. We didn’t talk to one other. We were two strangers speaking different languages.
I wonder whether it is by our effort, or whether it is an accident, or rather a coincidence that we either cross one another’s path or walk by, untouched, misunderstood. We don’t understand things, but understanding is only an illusion and desire for satisfaction.
“No es necesario entender. Pruebe a leerlo con los ojos cerrados.”
Few weeks later I was in Tirana where I met a poet I was translating into Spanish and Slovak. She and her friend took me to Petrela. On the ruins of the castle, the friend, a translator as well, started describing to me a residency for translators in Switzerland, and she instructed me to make sure I catch the last bus, otherwise I would have to walk through forest at night. Switzerland was never on my map, I felt it too distant from everything, almost like an island, I didn’t see any way it connected to my life. But what are these connections, these correlations anyway, and when exactly are these bridges created and destroyed? Aren’t they also remains of castles we discover and lose sight of?
The residence where you have to catch the last bus was Übersetzerhaus Looren in Wernetshausen, where I write these lines and construct bridges for Fleur Jaeggy, so her words can pass into another language, like immigrants. I didn’t know where Wernetshausen was, I only started to explore its location after my residency was confirmed. It turned out to be close to Zurich.
So I was in Zurich again. I had a meeting and had to hurry to a place I had to find without a map. While rushing through the unknown streets of the city, growing distant from the parts that force their presence on you, I started to take pleasure in coldness, clarity, and strictness.
“Una cierta glacialidad también revela sentimientos.”
The day after I had a meeting with a Swiss friend whom I met in Antigua, Guatemala, approximately five years ago, and who happens to live in Zurich. I never thought we would meet again. We were talking about life and metaphors when the wind started to announce the storm. “Is that a metaphor too?” he asked. Soon after the rain started to pour. Finally the picturesque image of Zurich was destroyed before my eyes; it grew full of flying particles, blinding me. I was cold, there was no more wine. Things were to be emptied and filled. I started to adore what I casted off one year ago.
Who is guilty of what?
Later that day I walked in between the raindrops and evening city lights. It only took a storm to change direction of my thoughts.
Fleur wasn’t there anymore.
“A Zurigo non ho più nessuno. Vivevo in una delle più belle case della città. L’hanno distrutta per fare posto a un cavalcavia. Ho come l’impressione che non esista più niente.”
*Citations are of Fleur Jaeggy.
Lucia Duero is a Slovak writer and literary translator residing in Mexico City. Her work has been published in numerous magazines in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Latin America, and the United States. Her poetic novel, El Problema Principal is forthcoming in Spain (Ediciones Amargord).
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