We dedicate this expedition and its chronicle
to all the world’s nutcases
and especially to the English gentleman
whose name we do not recall and who in the eighteenth
century walked backwards from
London to Edinburgh singing
How to narrate the trip and describe
the river along which - another river -
the trip exists, in such a way that it emphasizes,
in the text, the most hidden
and lasting face of the event, that where
the event, without beginning and without end,
challenges us, moving and unmoving?
- Osman Lins, Avalovara -
The solitude found again as soon as we enclosed ourselves in our red capsule was sweet and worrying at the same time. You know, gentle reader, that each time one truly avoids dying, the result is a true birth, even more precarious and painful when one emerges from the darkness with no other mother than oneself, with no other contraction than a will not always fully understood. For a long time the mind remembers the days when it couldn't manage to reach the body or the exterior, and the whole life, without that other view, seems much more fragile than the body that contains it. One surprises oneself advancing by trial and error in a world nevertheless filled with light, returning little by little again to people, as if they might break at the slightest contact, while one feels that the broken fragments within oneself haven't entirely found their places again.
Both of us fragile - for if those trips to the land of gloom tire the traveller, they exhaust even more the one who tries to accompany her and crashes again and again against insuperable barriers; not to mention that he has г neither the right nor the means to interrupt a permanent existence on the side of light, and the only abandon he is allowed, provided he can allow it to himself, is hope - that's how we left at last, at once sad and happy.
Increasingly alone as night grows nearer (we already know the waxing and waning rhythm of the Parkinglandian demography), we take advantage of the last light to walk around each new island and consolidate our compassionate conquest step by step. At some moment we arrive at the boundary, and this boundary is a high barbed-wire fence, like in concentration camps. Beyond it the forest continues, a field begins, a village is sketched against the horizon; the world carries on beyond, but we could not go towards it even if the rules of the game allowed us to. And we both feel now that for once the rules of the game have their sinister side as well, a bitter negativity. Parkingland is beautiful; it is ours, we are free within it, and we love it. But its boundary is the mirror of other boundaries that history has made horrible; it's like seeing the image of Treblinka, of Auschwitz. It does us good to return to our dragon, feel the undeserved but marvelous happiness of being on the good side of the wires, for now.
Despite the typewriters, books and siestas prolonged far beyond the hours necessary to recover from the fatigues of the road, those deck chairs offer a false and different vision of our life, guaranteeing us the anonymity essential to the journey, with the freeway in the distance like a grey river and the sun setting in green puddles around Father.
It would be very difficult to know, if we hadn't taken the precaution of making a list of the rest areas, with the corresponding date of each, how long we've been living like this. We're ever more aware that we're conquering a territory we could call Parkingland or Liberty or even Second Home, since we've certainly found here all the advantages of the latter, though the terrain may be mobile and the neighbours nonexistent or changeable. It's a land of great silence, a land of time that lengthens and nevertheless moves on unnoticed. And little by little, if it's true that writing is an erotic experience as we've both always known it, we'll also have to start opening the pages of this book. Leave off this trial and error, make up our minds. Writing is always accepting the risk of telling all, even - and especially - unknowingly. So just as once you've accepted the adventure of love it's not a question, while the other is pulling back the sheets as if discovering a wide, warm, white beach, of saying: "Oh, but I'm not taking my underwear off", in the same way, if we've decided to truly write this book, we have to tell all (not in the sense of never shutting up, but of giving everything its freedom while writing).
Quoting an Indian metaphysical thinker he doesn't name (does he exist, or is the "quote" nothing more than the perfect illustration of himself?), he [Cortazar - El Lobo] says: "When you look at two separate objects, and you begin to look at the gap between the two objects and you concentrate your attention in that gap, in that void between the two objects, then at one moment, you see reality."
I imagine that the two cities, especially when they're reduced for practical purposes to two points on a map, can represent the two objects, and the trajectory between them represents the emptiness between them. For a week and a half now, Paris and Marseille, without needing to look for more or less important circles on the route map, are only two abstract poles that allow us to describe the space between them, and perceive within it (and I return to Diana to thank her for also having spoken of synaesthesia, a word hadn't actually forgotten but had relegated to the silo of my mind where such useful words pile up), through a slow and patient meditation, a reality that would have been impossible for us to glimpse without this elimination f the departure and the arrival.
The more we advance, the greater liberty we seem to enjoy. And not at because we are getting close to Marseille. On the contrary, probably the of having gained distance from the departure point and at the same time completely lost sight of the end of the journey is what gives it this quality. Little by little we learn not just to look at the space the hypothetical Indian philosopher spoke of, but to be it with all that we are. And this space between objects, from the moment our gaze leaves them outside, from one to the other of the field of vision, is it not by definition limitless?
I set up my typewriter and realize I've forgotten something inside Fafner. On my way back, I feel trapped by the view of the other side, a landscape that the morning mists had hidden from us when we arrived. Trapped, and nevertheless I spin around and realize that it's the same everywhere. I take off from the rest area, more winged than a Chagall character; I am that distant mountain, I drink the blue of those trees that I can barely make out as distinctive entities, I slip down the quarry way over there, and always in the rest area and always still, the spin continues to the point of vertigo, that vertigo one gets in rare moments of life with 360 degree vision that annihilates and creates at the same time.
A brief musical phrase begins to make its way through the whirlwind, similar to the nightingale who tests out his scale as night is falling, before launching into his song wholeheartedly. Two, three notes, whose gravity seem to arise from the grandeur of the landscape. A beat, another, and it's that Schubert quartet which resembles no other, and forgetting what I'd come to look for, I climb inside Fafner where I know we have a recording of this very quartet, and on which I throw myself frequently with that kind of inevitable violence in moments I cannot define or even relate to each other, and so in less time than it takes me to say so, I'm sitting in the back seat, joined to the tape player by the headphone cord like an extraterrestrial creature.
The first notes begin, mournful and grave, as the world must once have begun, a music-pain like the landscape that surrounds me, of which I'm part, violin and cello; the grave notes interrupt like a wound and the unexpected sharp heals, and then comes the slow, so slow and marvelous fusion of everything, the harmony searching itself out, hoarding the surrounding mountains and even the tourists who've started arriving. In the middle of the rest area, the doors open, enclosed in silence; in an exterior silence the world is born and I see them, I see them all, not just el Lobo who hasn't stopped typing there beneath the trees, but also the couple who get out of a 4L right beside Fafner and who look, with an inquisitive smile on their lips, at the cassette player, the headphones, my face and my hands that, yes, direct it all, again, as they once directed the formation of the landscape, form the mist that rises faster and faster all around. I see them, I do. But not from my body, not with these eyes which have barely smiled at them. No, I see them from where I listen and which cannot be spoken, from the heart of the stringed instruments, from within the brain of a long dead musician and yet still there, floating and submerging way up above the mountain, with no wall or window or city or house around him, I touch the heart, birth and expansion of the music like the view: in each musician's finger guiding the arcs like so many other lovers, each foot maintaining the delicate balance of the instrument, each chin resting on its pillow without leaving a trace: with each note, those things that don't exist and that nevertheless, in moments like this, are all of creation and the finality of the world, I am there, as big as all these mountains, I am the deep quarries, I am the time the cassette lasts, at the same time the movement and stillness that is one, and not even the Germans who approach the car to see whether I'm recording something, nor the family that stops, shocked, to stare with incredulous eyes, can break that perfect circle. Only, perhaps, that little boy who came and sat on the running board and who, turning his back on me, began to sway bit by bit to the rhythm of the quartet, entered consciously, really sharing the experience, even if they're all part of it.
Rossignol, panoramic parking lot, do your birds sing now, for those who know how to hear, that beautiful Schubert theme that transformed a rest area into the beginning and end of the world?
[Schubert - String Quartet No.14 in D Minor, D.810 'Der Tod Und Das Madchen' - Andante Con Moto?]
And then we slept, Osita, and well into the morning you kept sleeping, and it was only me who was to see the end of the rest area night, the low sun that turned Father's crest into an orange cupola, that slipped in through the lateral curtains to get into bed with us, started to play with your hair, with your breasts, with your eyelashes that always look thicker, always look so much thicker when you're asleep.
I also played this last game before the oranges and coffee and fresh water, a game that comes from childhood and consists of covering up with the sheet, disappearing into those waters of thick air, then while on your back, bending your legs to make a tent, and inside the tent establishing a kingdom and playing in there, thinking that the world is only this, that outside the tent there is nothing, that the kingdom is just the kingdom and all's well in the kingdom and nothing else is necessary. You're sleeping with your back turned to me, giving me your back, as we say in Spanish, and here and now it's so much more than a mere turn of phrase, because your back is bathed in the aquarium light born of the sun filtering through the sheet turned translucent cupola, a sheet with fine green, yellow and red lines that dissolve into luminous dust, gold floating where your body inscribed its darkest gold, bronze and mercury, zones of blue shade, pools and valleys.
I’ve never desired you more, never has the light trembled so on your skin. You were Lilith, you were Cypris, from the rest area night you were reborn to the sun like the murmurs growing outside, the motors starting up one after another, the noise of the freeway growing with the influx each rest area sends running down it after sleep. I look at you so much, knowing you're going to wake up lost and startled like always, that you won't understand anything, not even the secret tent or my way of looking at you, and that we'll both start the day as usual, smiling at each other and "orange juice!" and looking at each other and "coffee, coffee, gallons of coffee!"
A grapefruit-coloured moon, heavy like velvet, illuminates the inside of Fafher. Bit by bit our bodies emerge from the invisibility that follows the moment we turn out the lamp. I wait, knowing that from the darkness where I can only just make you out from the heat that rises towards me with a scent of moon, of cinnamon, of musk and chocolate, you'll be reborn again, bit by bit, to the night, to our night that has been luminous since the beginning of the voyage, with an ever-changing light through the curtains on the windows and the mosquito nets on the expandable roof. Your shoulder, first, catches a luminosity that it timidly returns, a twinkling that slowly irradiates the length of your neck, plays in your beard; your face stays dark. That lasts an eternity and we don't move, patient, serene. Bit by bit you brighten, as if your body had spent the day soaking up light that it now frees, prudently, as if not to damage the skin on its way through. It runs the length of your silver arm, reaches your hip, your waist, and from there stretches all the way down your legs. You don't move. Nor do I, but my gaze returns confidently to your face, that face that is now the colour of the golden moon. We are there again, whole, like two bright bodies barely born out of the dark, soon to offer hands, arms, legs, blend again those scents, all those limbs, all those cries.
I've rushed into the black abyss so often that I know how to walk in the dark. And cutting off a thousand times, ten thousand times in a row the hydra's head, without kidding myself that I'll stop it from still and always continuing its sinister growing. Years believing or not in a birth made to let death get some sun, others spent dying it with vehement colours: we recognize each other.
For the moment, great sea wolf, we're rowing upon calm, clear water, stirred only by visions of shores where horrors, tortures and wars rustle and lie in wait. But our waves form only a vast undulation that breathes to the rhythm of our madness. Light and the dark passion will push us towards the end, always towards the end and further. There where I hold you as if our skin would dissolve at the contact of the other's, make of us a single invisible being.
Your voice is clear, but when that veil of sadness comes, when the journey has barely begun and you again doubt its end, how can I be silent, and how can I speak? In its time that sadness, my love, in its still distant and double time. As great as the darkness may be, there is no blackness that will make me retreat.
You, and still you.
By swimming in the great black waters, one learns to float in the dark. Buoy in the darkest night. Humiliating old age, health-care nightmares already ruled out; and the rest is not for now and there is no more possible solitude. Have you not understood what a gift of life it was that you didn't die a year ago? Cut. Departure. And the unknown that spreads out ahead for many years yet, if you want to explore it with your child-eyes.
Sweet confusion when the ground trembles in the sun and you vibrate against, in, around my body.
We won't leave the autoroute in Marseille, my love, or anywhere else.
There's no turning back, only a spiral.
I presume a good explorer tends to wake up at dawn to make various scientific observations corresponding to the day as it begins. It must be for that reason that I too almost always wake up very early, but instead of getting up and consulting the various instruments Fafner is equipped with, I stay agreeably in the house and devote myself to the study of a subject that Vespucci, Cook and Captain Cousteau never even attempted, in other words: la Osita's manner of sleeping.
This manner of sleeping is perhaps that of all little bears, something which would be impossible for me to verify, for which reason I shall take care not to make imprudent generalizations. In Osita's case, her sleep goes through two principal stages, the first of which is not at all extraordinary: Osita finds the most comfortable, most agreeable position, covers up depending on the atmospheric temperature, and for most of the night sleeps very naturally, almost never face up and almost always face down, with lateral intervals that never last long but which give way to other positions with no effort whatsoever, after gentle movements that reveal the depth and pleasure of her sleep.
When dawn arrives, in other words the time when I tend to wake up entirely, for the preceding observations have actually been made without too much scientific rigor, I notice quite soon that Osita has entered the second stage of her slumber. It is here where one might well ask whether this manner of sleeping is all her own or if it extends to the entire species, since it seems quite unusual, even extraordinary behaviour, consisting of continuous attempts the sleeping Osita makes to turn herself into a parcel, a bundle or a package, which contains everything, thanks to a series of movements, gestures, tugs, pulls and tangles, that progressively wrap her up in the sheets until she turns into a big white, pink, or blue and yellow striped cocoon, depending on the situation, to the point where a quarter of an hour after the beginning of this daybreak metamorphosis, which I always contemplate in amazement, Osita disappears in a twisting confusion of sheets, which gradually disappear from my side of the bed, by the way, for no one could imagine the strength Osita employs in drawing them to her, until she manages to get entirely involved in them and finally keeps still after one last series of evolutions that complete the chrysalis and the evident happiness of its occupant.
Leaning on my elbow on the mattress, which is all that's left, I tenderly watch Osita and wonder what deep need to return to the womb or something similar her determined labour every dawn responds to. I know very well (because at the beginning I didn't know and was frightened) that none of this rejects me, for all I have to do is brush the warm parcel at my side with a finger to get a soft growl of satisfaction to emerge from its depths.
The mystery is complete, as you can see, because Osita is content to feel me at her side and at the same time take refuge in a cloister I cannot enter without destroying its precious darkness, its intimate temperature, and something within her knows it and defends it from daybreak till she wakes. Once - not anymore - I tried to unwrap her as gently as possible from the cocoon, because I was afraid she'd suffocate in the tangled sheets and confused pillows, and I found out what it meant to separate her hands from the knots, bonds and other not so loose ends of the sheets between her fingers. So now I only watch her sleep in her ephemeral and undoubtedly atavistic hibernation, and wait until she wakes of her own accord, when she begins to extricate herself little by little, to get a hand out, a trickle of hair, a bit of her rump, or a foot, and then she looks at me as if nothing had happened, as if the sheets were not a huge whirl around her, the broken chrysalis from which peeks out my new day, my reason to live a new day.
How quickly the trip went by!
We knew it, of course: the end of great expeditions or heroic exploits or feats of prowess is commonly seen as the apotheosis, from the crowning with laurel of the ancients to the Olympic medal of our days and even the cheque that awaits the winner in four sets or fifty circuits of the track. But the end of our trip was - logically more than commonly - the opposite of an apotheosis, to such an extent that I'm only writing these final lines many months later, and I write them without any desire to write them but obliged not to abandon our patient and pale reader who has travelled with us all these pages.
Sadness: that's what there was. A sadness that began two days before the arrival, when at the Senas rest area we looked each other in the eye and for the first time fully accepted that the next day we would enter the final stage. How can I forget Osita saying: "Oh, Julio, how quickly the trip went by..."
How can I forget that at the moment we read the sign announcing the end of the autoroute we were so filled with anguish we could only combat with an obstinate silence, which accompanied us till we entered the clamour of Marseille, looked for an empty spot in the Vieux Port and put our feet on land that was now no longer Paris-to-Marseille land. A triumph clouded by tears we dried in a cafe, drinking the first Marseille pastis and thinking that this very afternoon we would drive up to Serre for a few days' rest at the Thiercellins' house, our generous port, always our land of refuge.
Postscript, December 1982
Reader, maybe you already know: Julio, el Lobo, is finishing up and putting this book in order alone, this book which was lived and written by la Osita and him the way a pianist plays a sonata, the hands united in a single quest for rhythm and melody.
As soon as the expedition was over, we returned to our activist life and left once more for Nicaragua where there was and is so much to do. Carol resumed her photography work there while I wrote articles to show on all possible horizons the truth and nobility of the struggle of those people who tirelessly continue their journey towards dignity and freedom. There too we found happiness, no longer alone in the rest areas of Paris-Marseille, but in daily contact with women, men and children who looked forward as did we. There Osita began to decline, victim of a malady we thought passing because the will to live in her was stronger than all the prognoses, and I shared her bravery as I'd always shared her light, her smile, her love of sun and sea, and her hope for a more beautiful future. We returned to Paris full of plans: finish the book together, donate the royalties to the Nicaraguan people, live, live even more intensely. There followed two months that our friends filled with affection, two months in which we surrounded la Osita with tenderness and in which she gave us each day that courage that we were gradually losing. I watched her embark on her solitary journey, where I could no longer accompany her, and then on the 2nd of November she slipped through my fingers like a trickle of water, without accepting that the demons would have the last word, she who had so defied and fought them in these pages.
I owe it to her, just as I owe her the best of my final years, to finish this story alone. I know very well, Osita, that you would have done the same if it had fallen to me to precede you in the departure, and your hand writes, along with mine, these final words in which the pain is not, never will be stronger than the life you taught me to live as perhaps we've managed to demonstrate in this adventure that comes to an end here but goes on and on in our dragon, goes on forever on our freeway.