Another Magazine’s, November 27, 2008

English, Short stories

 

This text published at Global Short Story Project in Another Magazine‘s Document and in a pullout section of Moleskine 2010.

Eight writers, four continents, two hemispheres, one moment in time: for this issue of Document, loosely based a

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round the theme of travel, we invited some of the most interesting writers at work today, positioned all over the world, to write about what they could see from their desks, at exactly the same time: 12 noon GMT, November 27. A snapshot, a feeling of renewed optimism, a sense of something coming together just for an instant, a group of disparate people working together; welcome to a shared point of view…

Milton Hatoum

between São Paulo and Manaus, Brazil

Latitude: 23˚31’, south. Longitude: 46˚ 31’, west.

10am, November 27, 2008

30 metres up, in an apartment on São Paulo’s west side, I see a grey or blue sky over the greatest metropolis of South America. Thousands of road vehicles travel the river Pinheiros’s embankments every hour, but at this moment, midday, there is an unending queue of stationary cars and lorries. Beside the river, on the University of São Paulo’s vast campus, I see the clock tower, and further on, the beautiful, miniature building of the Architecture and Urban Development Faculty, where I studied and trained during the 1970s.

Every time I look towards the campus, I remember that I was an architect, before spending 20 years working with written language, diving into the hiding places of my memory, to invent situations, conflicts, dramas and tragedies spread across fiction’s game of time. Each novel is the invention of a hidden past, each fictional work repeats Jorge Luis Borges’s famous phrase: forgetting is one way of remembering. I look down and in my neighbourhood I see a riot of people leaving their offices and heading for restaurants, bistros, bars and patisseries;

I listen to the hubbub of car horns, brakes, motorbikes snaking along the wide avenue, and when I look in the other direction, between the river and the apartment, my gaze falls on a square on the top of a hill, one of the many squares of a tree-lined neighbourhood, full of townhouses with large gardens, splendid townhouses that are up for sale, since it is expensive to maintain them or safer to live in a block.

Now the wind scatters the clouds, the summer sun lights up the hills which form a line, limiting the sprawl of the metropolis. But not even the sun can breathe life into the river Pinheiros: a dirty and pestilential waterway, on whose riverbed lies all kinds of detritus. A dead river, or at least one in its death-throes, in a metropolis of 15 or 18 million inhabitants, because greater São Paulo is many cities in a tentacled megalopolis.

Through the other window, I can only see a high wall of recently constructed buildings. These buildings draw nearer to where I write these words; some, closest to the window on the eastern facade, threaten to imprison the sunlight and throw a cold shadow on my desk. The towers reach higher and higher, a hundred metres from the ground, and one day they will take the place of the townhouses, the squares, the clouds, the sky which no longer protects us. When this happens, when all the windows of this office are blocked off, I will still imagine distant tales in time and space. Even now, while my gaze ranges over the dead river, the campus, the hills and the concrete wall, my memory journeys to the north of Brazil, to the capital of Amazonas, until it loses itself on the banks of the river Negro, the river of my childhood. This is the place of fiction, of paradise lost forever. But it is also the place the housebound traveller seeks out, since the most fruitful, the truest journey is the journey of the memory.

Translated by Rory Campbell

Milton Hatoum is the author of novels including Ashes of the Amazon, The Brothers and Tale of a Certain Orient. He is Professor of Literature at the Federal University of Amazonas.

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