Postmodern Feminism in Spanish Literature: A Translation of Soler-Espiauba’s Mujer con paisaje de lluvia into English as “Woman With Flooded Landscape.”
This thesis translates Soler-Espiauba’s award-winning novel, Mujer con paisaje de lluvia into the English language, as Woman With Flooded Landscape, a short Spanish novel that confronts an age-old battle for liberation in the setting of a postmodern world. Although this feminist narrative seeks to displace traditional values and roles, there is nothing strictly contemporary about this all too familiar dynamic between two people of the opposite sex. The author, Dolores Soler-Espiauba, masterfully crafts an account of intrigue and suspense, creating shape and depth through the use of intertextuality and defamiliarization. The novel expresses a woman’s struggle for final autonomy and emancipation from a destructive erotic relationship while seeking to find possible new solutions in the context of a postmodern world. In addition to the translation, the thesis includes a literary analysis, as well as an essay that describes my translation experience.
This thesis represents a true milestone in my life and my study of Spanish. It is a culminating experience that signifies years of study and devotion. It combines my knowledge and linguistic skills of the Spanish language with many historical, cultural, and literary aspects of the Spanish-speaking world to create the translation Woman With Flooded Landscape and its analysis. It has been a remarkable and life changing journey and it is with deep gratitude that I would like to express my thanks to all who have supported me along the way. First and foremost, I wish to express my sincerest thanks to Dr. Silvia Rolle-Rissetto whose belief in my abilities helped me to have the courage to enter the program and has helped me to have the confidence to produce my best work while in it. The kind of inspiration and empowerment that she regularly offers her students is something I will take with me and that I hope that I can pass on to others. I also wish to express my appreciation for her guidance and instruction both in the classroom and in directing my thesis. They have been invaluable to me! I wish to thank Dr. Verónica Añover for being a part of my thesis committee, for the time and energy she has spent to be my second reader, and for generously utilizing her expertise in translation to offer suggestions regarding my work. I wish to express my heartfelt thanks to Dr. Francisco Martín, whose love for learning and for the Spanish language is contagious. His classes have offered me context and historical background of the Spanish language that have been of great worth to my understanding of Spanish. His knowledge has been a tremendous resource to me in my studies. I wish to thank Dr. Michael Hughes for providing me with several semesters of teaching opportunity at CSUSM while completing my Masters. Not only did I receive valuable on-the-
job teaching experience and a deeper understanding of the Spanish language, but also I was able to stay out of financial debt while in graduate school. This is huge! I wish to thank Dr. Michelle Ramos-Pellicia, Dr. Darci Strother, and the entire faculty in the Modern Language Studies Department. They have provided me with a stimulating academic environment and their willing assistance whenever I have needed it. Many thanks to all of my wonderful colleagues for all the good times: América, an enthusiastic study partner and dear friend, Beatriz, Carolina, Gisella, Janeth, Karla, Kelly, Kevin, María, Patricia, Sarah, Selene, Rafaela, Rosalinda, and the rest. To my amazing family, my loving husband, Jim, my beautiful daughter, Jaclyn Aviva, my incredibly gifted son, Joseph, and my sweet mom: thank you for encouraging and supporting me all along the way, cooking the late night dinners, giving me the space to study, and in general picking up the slack, always with words of assurance and faith; I love you guys! Finally, I acknowledge and thank God, who has given me “life, breath, and everything else,” including talents and the opportunity to use them, and “who is not far from each one of us.”
To all who are seeking to make sense of this rapidly changing postmodern world in which we are living:
May you have clarity to help illuminate the way…
Table of Contents Postmodern Feminism in Spanish Literature: A Translation of Soler-Espiauba’s Mujer con paisaje de lluvia into English as “Woman With Flooded Landscape.” ............ 1 Abstract .............................................................................................................................................. 2 Acknowledgments ........................................................................................................................... 3 Table of Contents ............................................................................................................................. 6 Introduction ...................................................................................................................................... 7 Woman With Flooded Landscape: Perspectives on Translation ....................................... 16 Woman With Flooded Landscape ............................................................................................... 22 Appendix I ........................................................................................................................................ 51 About the Author ........................................................................................................................... 56 Works Cited ..................................................................................................................................... 57 Bibliography.................................................................................................................................... 58
Woman With Flooded Landscape written by Dolores Soler-Espiauba is a short Spanish novel that expresses a woman’s struggle for final autonomy and emancipation from a destructive erotic relationship. Although this postmodern feminist narrative seeks to displace traditional values and roles, there is nothing strictly contemporary about this all too familiar dynamic between two people of the opposite sex. The author, Dolores Soler-Espiauba, masterfully crafts an account of intrigue and suspense, creating shape and depth through the use of intertextuality and defamiliarization. The novel confronts an age-old battle for liberation while seeking to find possible new solutions in the setting of a postmodern world. How have we arrived at a postmodern world and how might one define its pervasive culture? Modernists of the previous era were first and foremost preoccupied with “the ‘problem’ of being human in a world in which the conventions of language, truth, morality, and religion were eroded or eroding.” (Blackwell 21) The modern world, which had shown so much promise a century or two before, proved to be disappointing. Modern reason, with its consolidation of powers, innovations, and modes of living had not led the world to the utopia it had dreamed of, but rather created problems of unexpected magnitude, such as toxic industrial pollution, devastating World Wars, and horrific genocide as seen in the Holocaust. The ensuing reaction to this disappointment in the capitalistic Western world has been the casting off of the ideals of modernity, the abandonment of moral conduct, and the consequent disappearance of meaning and depth. While the modern world may have questioned and sought liberation from traditional dogmas, the postmodern world has rejected them entirely and has set its sights on dismantling them all together. Postmodern thought embraces ambiguity, superficiality, and Nietzche’s notion
that ‘God is dead’. There is an aversion to absolutes, universals and general truths. (Blackwell 147) Along with this repudiation of historically accepted beliefs and practices, society is experiencing a loss of meaning that is deeply felt, a permeating absence of center, and in this immense void a profound sense of ontological uncertainty has set in; “Neither the world nor the self any longer possesses unity, coherence, meaning. They are radically “decentered.” (Seldon 178) These postmodern characteristics of skepticism, loss of faith in previously accepted religious beliefs, rejection of inherited norms and morality, and its subsequent feeling of ultimate meaninglessness and nihilism leave a world that exists only as a representation. (Blackwell 147, 152-3) “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.”(C. S. Lewis 723) Reality is gone and we are left only with appearance. This superficial experience achieves “its final ‘utopian’ form in the instantaneous abundance and banality of a ‘cultureless’ society.” (Seldon 180) Aesthetic production has been integrated into commodity production. (Shapiro 290) There is an emphasis on anarchy, chaos, fragmentation, and destruction. (Rolle) Even our sexuality, that which expresses what is most personal, intimate, and sensitive to us in our interpersonal relationships, is paraded as merchandise. If everything can be turned into a cheap commodity in a society that defies authority and underscores devastation, then it makes sense that traditional norms of sexual modesty and even the concept of ‘the sanctity of marriage’ in previous decades, once remodeled by feminist sexual liberation beginning in the 60’s, is now discarded and replaced with sex as a consumer good, a license without limits, and overt representations of sexual objectification that crosses all cultural genres. Indeed, in Postmodernity, human dignity itself is supplanted by various expressions of dehumanization. Perhaps even stronger than its postmodern counterpart, the subject matter of Woman With Flooded Landscape is decidedly feminist. Feminism may be defined as a combination of social
movements whose common doctrine is the betterment of the situation of women in society and which accepts women’s rights as the means of achieving emancipation. (Rolle-Rissetto, “Postmodernismo”) It was initially concerned with women’s suffrage, but has developed into a movement that battles all areas of inequality between men and women, such as in the areas of education, social status, and sexuality. All feminist theories have in common an interest in exposing patriarchal forms of power as the cause of the unequal and subordinate status of women in Western societies. (Blackwell 96) “Women have been made inferiors and the oppression has been compounded by men’s belief that woman is inferior by nature.” (Seldon 210) According to Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics, women have continued to be coerced by a system of sex role stereotyping to which they are subjected at the earliest age. Woman With Flooded Landscape reveals literary techniques that are bursting with postmodern symbolism. It was written in 1988, and its context is the eve of the twentieth century right before the dawn of the new millennium. The novel’s setting is the city of Brussels in Belgium, considered to be the capital of the European Union, a center of European crossroads, and a main hub of postmodern western civilization. The French language excerpts interwoven into the original Spanish text, accompanied by Italian interjections, (and now with an English translation) help to capture this novel’s truly international feel. The author’s use of the present indicative verb tense as the means of communicating the narrative makes the reader feel as if he or she is walking alongside the protagonist herself right up to the present moment. The timing of the novel, the setting, its multilingual syntax, and the choice of verb tense all point out to the reader that this is an experience that could happen to any woman, in any city, in any culture despite all of our so-called progress in today’s highly advanced civilization.
The use of defamiliarization and intertextuality are powerful strategies that the author uses to help provide substance to the text itself. Defamiliarization is a literary device utilized throughout the story to give the reader pungent insight into Cristina’s thoughts and emotions through otherwise mundane activities. “Carefully pulling back her hair so that it wouldn’t get dirty, she washes off the seaweed mask with warm water and feels her skin’s smoothness on her fingertips.” (Soler-Espiauba) By slowing down and detailing the description of a routine face wash, the author provides us the opportunity to see afresh a normal daily ritual and to become more intimately acquainted with the main character’s thoughts, moods, and feelings. In addition to defamiliarization, the use of the literary device of intertextuality throughout the book accentuates the themes the author wants to highlight, namely the circumstances Cristina finds herself in. The protagonist Emma, in Madame Bovary, relates sentiments and experiences that are parallel to Cristina’s, and in this way the author articulates more clearly Cristina’s point of view. This type of “postmodern citation is a strategy of repetition and appropriation; texts cite each other not with the intent of invoking an authority or showing indebtedness but with the desire to create new expressive connections, new opportunities for enunciation and articulation, new models of cultural production and social action.” (Blackwell 146) Both defamiliarization and intertextuality are techniques that not only hold the reader’s interest, but also add layers of insight to his or her understanding of the complexities of the relationship between Cristina and Luca. The protagonist Cristina is the quintessential postmodern feminist woman. She has emerged from a post-Franco Spain, a country that under the dictator had been isolated from the rest of Europe in almost every respect just a little over a decade before. She has overcome the many obstacles of discrimination that a strongly patriarchal and religious society would have
presented to a woman wanting to break out of the common female mold of housewife and mother, and she has climbed the career ladder of professionalism. Cristina is cosmopolitan, living abroad as a businesswoman in the central metropolitan hub of Europe, with all the skills necessary to be successful in such an environment. She is employed in a demanding job at an international firm, working long hours to negotiate contracts with other European partners. She is capable and independent, content to live alone and financially capable of nourishing a comfortable lifestyle for herself. Despite her success, her outlook is ontological, questioning the very meaning of existence. “The dance of the windshield wiper forms part of her wandering through streets and plazas, roads to work, roads to home, roads to nowhere.” (Soler-Espiauba 8) Cristina is a woman who is dependent on no one, but rather has succeeded to achieve gender equality in every area of her life as she faces alone the uncertainty of the final decades of the twentieth century. In every respect, Cristina considers herself an equal competitor to any man, including in the area of sexuality. She has rejected the conventional idea of matrimony and has not limited herself to one partner. If a man is free to pursue a variety of unhindered sexual relationships, so is she. She freely pursues whatever sexual encounter attracts her. One of her most significant relationships has even been with an Italian man younger than herself named Luca. The fact that Luca has married Flavia since their previous involvement with one another does not prevent Cristina from taking the chance to rekindle their affair. During the course of the evening, she chides herself for having momentary qualms about entering into sex with a married man: Christina closes her eyes and sees, somewhere out there, a very young Flavia, putting a son to bed … Cristina scolds herself: The only deficiency was that you were softening
over Falvia just now. Are you getting old or what? His wife is his problem, not yours. (Soler-Espiauba 24)
Cristina fully embraces the freedom from sexual regulation that postmodern feminist society offers her. Luca symbolizes an overbearing patriarchal society that seeks to maintain its advantageous position. He is a successful international businessman, working in a lucrative business selling Italian culture as a commodity and living the high life. He is concerned with prestige and image, and spares no expense for what he wants. He is given to self-indulgence, whether it is food, alcohol, or sex, with an insatiable desire for more. His moods drive him to gratify his lusts. Whatever expectations of marital faithfulness and legal vows made to his newly acquired wife and son are tossed aside while conducting business in a foreign city. To Luca, sex is a human product of trade or commerce, a good or service that can be bought or sold. In this case, Cristina is the commodity. “With typical masculine infidelity, Luca forgets all about his steamed mussels and in ecstasy he devours his Cantonese style prawns. His satisfied look settles afterwards on Cristina, his eyes descending along her neckline.”(Soler-Espiauba 17) He sees it, wants it, and seizes it. Meanwhile, he unabashedly makes stereotyped references to female driving. At the same time that Luca is fulfilling the role of male chauvinist, he is also demonstrating the disdain for traditionalism, like his disdain for the vows he has made. He sees no conflict of interest in inviting Cristina to the couple’s newly built home. Luca’s one and only concern is to promote his own selfish interest. Just as Cristina symbolizes a typical postmodern feminist, Luca represents the smug irrational belief in male sexism and superiority.
Flavia typifies naïve long standing customs that are now tiresome and worn out. She is a sort of trophy wife, a young and beautiful woman at Luca’s side whose physical attractiveness is a positive addition to his aging but still handsome appearance. He is hoping that her youthfulness and enthusiasm can counteract the effects of his middle-aged loss of vitality. This is why he is willing to endorse the substantial costs of her culturally refined lifestyle. Ultimately, however the arrangement fosters a continuance of male dominance and female oppression, since she remains financially and emotionally dependent on him. Her physical charm and her ardent commitment to him do not quench his sexual thirst and he is willing to deceive and betray her in order to fulfill it. While she stays at home as an unsuspecting and devoted wife nurturing their children, he is abroad looking for ways to satisfy his fantasies. Even Madame Bovary refers to her as “poor Flavia”. (Soler-Espiauba 19) Her pathetic situation will no doubt worsen as she begins to display the “slow sagging of the jaw line” when she too passes her prime. (SolerEspiauba 1) Flavia is the epitome of the gullible female who has followed society’s now outdated customs, playing an apparently subservient role as Luca’s wife and as the mother of Luca’s son. The implication is that in the end she will be disillusioned, her dreams of personal fulfillment shattered. Luca and Cristina’s relationship reveals the tension that often has existed throughout the ages between two people of the opposite sex. Both hope that they will find in the other a way to satisfy a deeper need for connection. Cristina hopes to find in Luca romance and appreciation. She seems acutely aware of her body’s aging process. She is conscious of the changes in her life that inevitably will occur, as she grows older, and it makes her feel vulnerable. Although she realizes that Luca has traded her for a younger woman, she does not resist his sexual advances. Perhaps she hopes to find in the experience with Luca the emotional intimacy that she longs for
and that is vacant in her life. Instead of a person capable of intimacy, she sees in Luca’s inner person a lost child grasping for security and comfort, and one who is willing to use Cristina’s body in an attempt to gain them. The encounter leaves her dehumanized. When she fully understands the truth of their relationship, she feels pain. “In anguish Cristina asks herself: ‘And what about my body, my body?’ ” (Soler-Espiauba 25) However, her response to the question is the point at which Cristina and Madame Bovary’s Emma part ways. Rather than sinking to complete hopelessness, Cristina appears to reconcile herself to the outcome, emancipated from previous illusions with respect to Luca. She remains an independent and selfsufficient woman, yet the reader is left with a sense of emptiness and isolation without the assurance that the protagonist will be able to form meaningful human bonds in the future. In her novel, Woman With Flooded Landscape, Dolores Soler-Espiauba powerfully weaves a combination of postmodern feminist images into an intensely intimate glimpse of a woman’s struggle for equality, connection, and love in the context of a romantic relationship. Despite society’s rejection of previous centuries’ customs and its drive to replace them with newly invented ones, or with none at all, there continues to exist an impassioned conflict between man and woman that has persisted since ancient times. Cristina is not reliant on anyone for aid or support, yet there is a sense of an underlying void in her life. She finds solidarity in a fictitious female character from a previous era, Emma of Madame Bovary. While she searches for meaning in her relationship with Luca, Cristina experiences instead the dehumanization that comes from being someone’s sex object. She also discovers that under the façade of selfimportance, Luca is seeking to satisfy his own longing for significance. Flooded by misery, Cristina ultimately separates herself from Luca, freeing herself from the last emotional tie that
binds her to him and thereby creates the possibility to either open herself up to finding ways to sustain valuable human relationships or simply to remain a woman with flooded landscape.
Woman With Flooded Landscape: Perspectives on Translation It often has been said that to translate literature is to translate the untranslatable. How do you replicate a work of art, creating it into another art form while maintaining its original beauty and essence? Losses in linguistic or cultural translation are unavoidable, yet the importance of the art and craft of translation cannot be overemphasized since its soundness is what makes communication and understanding between cultures possible. In truth, reliable translation is at the very heart of cultural exchange. There exists then a tension in the undertaking of literary translation between the impossible task of recreating the original work into a new linguistic representation, and the essential task of faithfully expressing the original work into the target language. Any discussion of translation then is really the discussion of communication and language itself. The old and well-known Italian phrase traduttore traditore, a play on words that literally means “translator, traitor”, emphasizes the untranslatability of a given literary text. (Handbook 27) Perhaps the expression stems from ancient Rome’s tendency to exploit foreign texts to enhance their own literature and to appropriate source texts without any true concern for their linguistic or stylistic idiosyncrasies. This inclination to conquer ideas without regard for striving for exact meaning may be seen as a betrayal to the original work, hence the word ‘traitor’. Although well regarded, Cicero translated concepts rather than giving a word for word rendition. During the Renaissance period, a translation would often surpass the original text and would distort its inherent meanings if necessary in order to revitalize the target language. There was a sense that other languages were inferior forms of articulation to one’s own. However, beginning in the 1700’s there was a shift in outlook. Translation began to yield to the original text, viewing
languages as equals. Nineteenth century translator Friedrich Schleiermacher highlights in his essay the importance of moving the reader toward the writer and leaving the original text untouched, rather than moving the writer and the original text toward the reader. It is during the modern era when translation as an art and craft began to develop as we know it today. One of the greatest obstacles to overcome in literary translation is the natural boundaries that exist between languages. Often there is not a word in one language that is defined by an equal and exact meaning in another language. “Not every word in one language has an exact equivalent in another. Thus, not all concepts that are expressed through the words of one language are exactly the same as the ones that are expressed through the words of another…this causes unavoidable imperfection in all translations.” (Shopenhauer 32) This untranslatability becomes more apparent when we consider that not just words, but elaborate grammatical structures of sentences that form complex ideas in the original text must be reconstructed into the language of the reader to communicate the very same complexities. Puns, irony, plays on words, and allusions that are woven into writing are examples of a just a few of the difficulties a translator may encounter. Just as no two snowflakes are alike, no two translations are alike. Ideally, a reader is brought closer to the foreign literary text through the existence of multiple translations since each translation is a metaphor of the original source. Despite the challenges of translation, it is nevertheless a critical agent for communication and the conveyance of culture. Nineteenth century translator Wilhelm von Humboldt in his introduction to his translation of Agamemnon asserts the following:
(Translation) is one of the most necessary tasks of any literature, partly because it directs those who do not know another language to forms of art and human experience
that would otherwise have remained totally unknown, but above all because it increases the expressivity and depth of meaning of one’s own language.”
It is overwhelming to consider the influence great works of literature have had on every culture as a result of translation. We understand something of the ancient world due to our ability to read a translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh. El Ingenioso Hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, also known as Don Quijote, is considered the first modern novel. Its worldwide popularity has helped to shape today’s understanding of what a novel is due to its numerous translations and retranslations. The tremendous impact and significance of the Bible in shaping world history, culture and literature is tangibly seen in its translations into two thousand eight hundred and eighty three separate languages, not including the multiple translations in many of the languages. The above are just a handful of the countless examples of the importance of literary translation as a means of communication and a link to human culture, both past and present. If we think about literary translation as a representation of another’s work, it becomes clear that fidelity is a quality of utmost relevance. Fidelity can mean accuracy, loyalty or faithfulness to the true character of the original work. Wilhelm von Humboldt explains that the first requirement should always be fidelity. This does not mean however that the text should be or can be translated literally word for word, but rather there is emphasis on fidelity to the text as a whole since “fidelity cannot be found in literalness, but rather in adequate equivalencies.” (Schulte & Biguenent 3)
Without fidelity, there would be the temptation to embellish a text
when confronted with the difficulty of trying to reveal the beauty and tone of the original text into another form of communication.
Often there will be an element of the foreign when translating literature. Part of being true to the character of the original work is being careful to maintain the foreign element in the target language, rather than removing the foreign to make the text more domestic to the reader. Since translating literature is transmitting culture, it is the responsibility of the translator to be faithful in preserving the foreign aspect of the original text. As a translator of Soler-Espiauba’s Mujer con paisaje de lluvia, I have encountered both the impossible task of transforming this work of literary art into translated Spanish literature and the essential task of faithfully conveying its message to readers of the English language. With each revision I have attempted to come closer and closer to delivering the most accurate portrayal of Soler-Espiauba’s novel in the most natural English possible while remaining true to the Spanish text. To be sure, there are the natural losses in cultural and linguistic translation. For example, the American reader may not realize that the design on Cristina’s watch is the same as the symbols of the European flag, which is made up of a circle of twelve gold stars on a blue background. Nor might she or he comprehend why our Spanish protagonist would wear such a watch. In the cafeteria Cristina and María Jesús eat spaghetti and curdled cheese with honey. The reader of the English text may not recall the last time eating curdled cheese with honey or be able to recognize it even if it were served to him or her. (I suppose this culinary word picture has helped to keep the flavor of the foreign in the true sense of the word!) The reader may also not understand the traditional or religious Hispanic cultural inference in the name María Jesús. I wrestled with how to interpret the expression al señor le ha dado por lo proletario because a literal translation of “it has been given to the master on behalf of the working class” makes no sense to the English reader. I finally settled on “he is going blue collar on her” (Curran 12), but I still feel there is something in the original phrase that is now lost. In several instances I have
had to rework my awkwardly-formed English sentences and paragraphs that I translated too literally the first time around until they finally read smoothly and naturally, letting go of the literalness in order to guard the often detailed message of the text. The use of technology has proven invaluable to me in the process of this translation. Online monolingual, bilingual dictionaries, and thesauri such as wordreference.com, freely available and readily accessible, have been my constant computer companions. To understand a less familiar concept or word I might have viewed it as an image to see its definition in picture-form and this has become a very useful strategy. When at an impasse, I have google-searched phrases in song lyrics, articles and blogs to help me understand certain expressions in various contexts in order to finally arrive at a suitable definition in English. In all my hours of pouring over the text and resources to find the right wording, I have come to appreciate more fully the translators in centuries past that labored long hours without the benefit of modern technology and whose translations have contributed so much to today’s world. Since literature shapes culture, literary translation brings one culture into another and the culture is enriched because of the translation. A translator is a steward of a message and the ideal in translation is to minimize linguistic and cultural loss of meaning, and to avoid interfering with the message of the original text, including the peculiar foreign beauty within it. The transfer of the foreign from other languages into our own allows us to explore and formulate emotions and concepts that we may not experience otherwise. The more masterfully skilled the translator is in both languages, the more fittingly he or she can transfer nuances from one language to the next. Twentieth century translator José Ortega y Gasset discussing the misery and splendor of translation explains, “translation is not the work, but a path toward the work”. In conveying this, my best and most faithful attempt of the translation of Mujer con paisaje de
lluvia, I hope I have cleared enough of the trail for the reader to visualize the depth and allurement of Soler-Espiauba’s award-winning literary work.
Woman With Flooded Landscape
The encounter in front of the mirror this evening has been harder than ever. She has decided to face the situation in a responsible manner and without pretense. Seven years have passed. Seven years is a long time. A long time for her. For the time that she has left, that is. Which is not much. Although: Is there really such a thing as time? Or, is there only this slow sagging of the jaw line, this wrinkle extending from the mouth, this increasingly lifeless expression? If he had only given her extra time in order to get ready. Psychologically, of course. She would have been able to confront this moment more calmly, with more optimism. But telephone, ringing mercilessly from the very moment she unlocked the door coming in from work, has startled her. She no more put down the bags of bread and fruit, leaving the set of keys on the small table and slamming the door behind her with such force that the empty house shook: “Hello” The voice came to her, unreal and distant, unbroken, painful: “It’s me…are you free tonight?” *
All during the long work day, amidst the accumulation of files and the thousands of frantic phone calls that bombarded her, along with her boss’ ill-humor and agitation, she had promised herself: Tonight, a restorative diet. A relaxing bubble bath. A light meal in sweats in front of the news channel, and then three marvelous hours dedicated to finishing Madame Bovary. Tomorrow, a new woman. Emma had also entrapped her in her web. Perhaps she had fallen for it in retrospect because of their solidarity as females, or simply because she thought they were in the same boat: You see, not everyone has abandoned you, not everyone has taken advantage of you…As for me, from this pathetic dwindling of the twentieth century, I am going to dedicate three hours of my time to you tonight. Let’s live them like sisters, Emma. Because many things and many people have disappointed me as well, a century later. And finally, the two of us will find ourselves, face to face, terribly alone this evening, before you unavoidably turn to the blue jar on the third shelf, the one that contains the white powder, before Monsieur Bovary, le pauvre con qui n’a rien compris1, finds you forever dead. So then, I will be able to go to bed one more night, alone, after having double-checked that the alarm clock is set for six forty-five and that it won’t let me know in the morning. But Luca, in Brussels again. She needs to absorb this. Get used to the idea. Eight o’clock at the bar inside the Hilton.
1 “the poor moron who did not understand anything”
She checks the time on her European watch, twelve gold stars, twelve, over a blue background: Six o’ seven. She calculates giddily what needs to take place: impossible to leave the house without washing her hair ahead of time. Goodbye, bubble bath. At the most, an invigorating shower. The living room mirror ruthlessly reflects back the dark circles under her eyes as a result of a manic Monday workday, already part of a daily marathon that starts the moment the alarm goes off at six forty-five. Advice from the Editorial Council and a meeting with the Americans, stressing all morning long to get the contract signed. At lunchtime, María Jesús’ unexpected arrival in the office, with the drama of her complicated divorce. Taking her to the cafeteria, eating lunch together with her bleeding heart, bestowing words of encouragement between the spaghetti and curdled cheese with honey. In the morning, a meeting with the boss, who was in a foul mood, and a pointless conversation with the Parisians who are immune to any type of persuasion. We had to practically push them out of the office and by then the whole floor was already vacant. And, while stuck in a traffic jam on the way home, a solemn promise of a quiet and relaxed evening with the phone unplugged. But lo and behold! Luca is back in Brussels. Luca, the last love of her life, it has already been seven years. With her hair still dripping, she grabs the super revitalizing seaweed facial mask and settles in front of the mirror, dryer in hand. The sight is not exactly what she needs to boost her morale, since the mask’s greenish consistency adds a definite hint of liver disease that is a long way from inspiring optimism. She mercilessly inspects the woman in the bathrobe who is looking back at her and not with any more mercy. Her hair, as it dries, begins to look soft and shiny, at least that is something. The robe’s neckline, partially opened, reveals the beginning of her breasts that are still holding their own.
She trembles. Luca’s hands knew how to caress; they used to smell of American tobacco. Luca’s hands knew how to caress and make her moan seven years ago. She doesn’t need to close her eyes to see Luca’s fingers descending down her neck once again and resting on her dark nipples. What about Luca’s hands now?
… Rodolphe aperçut en cet amour d’autres jouissances à exploiter. Il jugea toute pudeur incommode. Il la traita sans façon. Il en fit quelque chose de souple et de corrompu…2
The purring and the heat of the hairdryer are producing a vague sleepiness within her that does not completely prevent her from keeping track of the time. A quarter to seven. Her hair is shining now, triumphantly, and she takes off her robe to apply an after shower Italian skin oil. Like a gladiator before a fight, she smiles. A fight? What fight? Luca is involved now in other battles, in other bodies, another body. Other aromas, another aroma. What Luca wants is to repeat his Brussels of seven years ago, and why not, with the woman of seven years ago, and with the nostalgia of those seven years. She remembers the succinct card announcing the wedding: “As you can see, I have ended up like everyone else, caught like a fly. A wife, and soon, a son, since we are expecting. Have I done the right thing? All I know is that I was needing to
2 For English translation of original Madame Bovary text, see Appendix I, citation ‘A’.
settle down. Flavia is young and beautiful. One of these days you will meet her. I want to know your opinion, it’s important…
…Un souci meilleur vint le distraire, à savoir la grossesse de sa femme. À mesure que le terme en approchait, il la chérissait davantage. C’était un autre lien de la chair s’établissant et comme le sentiment continu d’une union plus complexe… 3
Such brazenness didn’t even hurt her. She took it as an insignificant sort of revenge, since it was she who broke off the relationship. Did she really want to break up with him, or did she want to give Luca the opportunity to tell her he still needed her? But the truth is, he never told her he did. What followed were an address and a phone number in Milan that she never really dialed. She sent them flowers, thousands of Belgian franks worth of flowers, and a card with a clever phrase, with no trace of bitterness, the kind of phrase she sometimes knew how to invent. Carefully pulling back her hair so that it wouldn’t get dirty, she washes off the seaweed mask with warm water and feels her skin’s smoothness on her fingertips. She follows the mask with a moisturizing crème, with a light facial massage in order to promote circulation. The loud whistle of the macchinetta in the kitchen is grating to her ears. She completely had forgotten her urgent need for a cup of coffee that will help her battle fatigue. Bitter and piping hot, the way she likes it, she takes it in small sips, trying to remember Luca’s eyes. Trying desperately to remember the color of Luca’s eyes.
3 For English translation of original Madame Bovary text, see Appendix I, citation ‘B’.
Two years of staring into those eyes day after day, and she has completely and totally forgotten their color and shape, their gleam, their expression. With the coffee cup in her hand, she recalls his straight nose, his wavy hair, his beard that gave him a disheveled look but that demanded such meticulous care; his large stature, his unforgettable hands, the long thighs of his tall, northern Italian frame–a refined and cultured polenta-eating Italian. Neither has she forgotten his genitals. Luca’s hard and cruel genitals. But his eyes…an unexplainable nausea invaded her stomach from having to face a man that doesn’t see, one who is blind. Luca’s eyes, that never knew how to truly see her, have left her forever. She rinses out the cup under the faucet and before going to the closet, she puts on a CD and turns on a few lamps. The silence and darkness of the house is calming her nerves. Instinctively, she chooses a CD that Luca gave her as a gift, that they purchased together in Florence during Holy Week the year that they first met each other, when they would spend entire evenings and almost entire days devouring one another, with a passion that left her completely exhausted. Had it left Luca exhausted also? The magic of Rampal’s ancient flute in Cimarrosa’s symphony continues calming her nerves and she walks steadily toward the closet full of useless rags, full of blouses that are out of fashion, pants that she will never wear again, dresses still smelling of other scents, of other summers, of other men. So many useless items when you really want to make yourself beautiful.
She chooses, unenthusiastically, a golden chestnut colored blouse made of natural silk, a tone that goes with her tones, and a tight black skirt that will show Luca her legs. “You have the most beautiful legs on the entire European continent.” Luca used to say this to her. And he would wrap his arms around them, covering her knees with kisses. It is going on seven twenty. That leaves her ten minutes to put on her make-up and the finishing touches on her hair. Take her handbag, not forget the keys, and her identification. You never know at night. Oh yes, and cigarettes. A touch of perfume, also Italian. She smiles: Where would we be without the Italians? She grabs her leather jacket on the way out. She looks at herself in the entry way’s mirror, anxious all over again. Just as she is leaving, she glances with regret at the Madame Bovary de poche4 that is waiting patiently on top of the table. “I will tolerate anything except a phrase that sounds like ‘you’re maintaining yourself well.’ ”. Twenty minutes to eight. Fortunately, the Brussels’ traffic eases up about now. The same constant annoying drizzle is falling, as it usually does day after day. The dance of the windshield wiper forms part of her wandering through streets and plazas, roads to work, roads to home, roads to nowhere. The Hilton. “Personal and intimate.” The multinational corporation is paying for it, of course. Why didn’t I suggest that he come to the house for dinner?
4 “paperback edition”
A sudden image of her refrigerator comes to mind, barren like on most Mondays, with it’s pathetic remains of a frozen chicken, it’s three yoghurts and two tomatoes, and a cardboardlike piece of manchego cheese from the neighbors down the hall. “Jamais le fromage dans le frigo5…” Martine, her French friend, would say over and over again insistently. “Tant pis6, disregard what she says”. Once again, the manchego back into the fridge. Like cardboard, of course. Impossible to have a relaxed and intimate dinner at home, in these conditions. Disgraceful. Embarrassing. Besides, she would like to get acquainted with the interior of the Hilton. “An affair at the Hilton…” Why not the Hilton? After circling the parking lot three times, she spots a Renault that is getting ready to leave and rushes to the vacant parking spot, while at the same time keeping her eye on her watch. Twelve minutes past eight. Don’t worry about it, she says to herself…when I was young, they told me that you had to make the men wait. Before, of course. Before making love…they are not going to wait afterwards. The immense glass door gives way to the dazzling entrance: the reception area, the quiet corners for intimate conversations on leather sofas, well-dressed yuppies, blonde women, people from Japan, an African man…English being spoken. “Le bar s’il vous plaît7…” 5 “No cheese in the fridge.” 6 “Too bad”
“Au fond, à droite.8” Dim lighting and soft jazz that fuses together with the clinking of ice cubes, discreet laughter. She pauses in the doorway, suddenly paralyzed by anxiety which the soft light helps to ease. Trying to adapt her eyes to the softer light, she is now in his embrace, enveloped in his laughter, which she had forgotten, in his beard, which she had forgotten, in his arms around her shoulders, which she had forgotten. And now she suddenly remembers, how stupid I am, his eyes were grey.
…elle distinguait dans ses yeux des petits rayons d’or, s’irradiant tout autour de ses pupilles noires, et même elle sentait le parfum de sa pommade qui lustrait sa chevelure. Alors une mollesse la saisit (…) et elle entreferma les paupières pour la mieux respirer… 9
“Cristina, darling, you’re maintaining yourself well. You look divine.” It’s not possible. He said it. He actually has said it. She felt like a sardine, like a peach in heavy syrup, like a fetus in alcohol. She smiles at him: “What a surprise, Luca. Although I don’t believe it myself.
7 “The Bar, please…” 8 “At the end, to the right” 9 For English translation of original Madame Bovary text, see Appendix I, citation ‘C’.
She won’t say it to him, certainly she would never say it to him, but he is more attractive than ever, now that he is finally happy. Younger than ever. How many years younger was he, rather, is he, than her? Well dressed, suntanned…(in Milan?), the same smooth beard, a different haircut, a more relaxed look, more “mauvais garçon10”, a different aftershave. He directs her to an alcove in the back, seats her on the corner sofa, and orders two drinks without asking her preference. “I know what you will like. I finished off two while I was waiting for you…” The drink is both rough and smooth at the same time, and it provides her with immediate ease that she needs when Luca begins to talk about Flavia. …Very young for him but a delightful companion and full of imagination…she is finishing a fine arts program at the prestigious Bellas Artes…Sandro is already walking and is beginning to babble little phrases. Everyone says he is the spitting image of me–smiling like he is apologizing for himself–. His work, exhausting, but going extremely well…new branch offices, new responsibilities. He will have to frequent the Benelux the next several months –you know how anything Italian sells here– (he squeezes her hand)…you don’t know what it feels like for me…Seven years without coming back here, I don’t know what I have been thinking. Of course, I have had to go to California every three months…Flavia accompanies me sometimes, she adores the US and speaks English wonderfully…Sandro will go to a private American school, he is already registered, you cannot imagine the lines…and then, there is the house, we have built it ourselves and it’s phenomenal, you are going to have to come visit…(he squeezes her hand again.) “Do you know that seeing you so beautiful is waking up my appetite?”
10 “bad boy”
He laughs, he laughs with all of his Milanese canine teeth, sumptuous and insatiable, a satisfied predator from the north… “Hungry for you” he adds, becoming suddenly serious, “and for a cioppino of steamed mussels as only the Belgians know how to prepare them: almost four and a half pounds of mussels! For seven years I have been dreaming of them…mmm!! And with an entire platter of golden, crispy French fries…” It is difficult to imagine such a menu among the smooth and exotic velvet sofas of the Hilton… “We could dine here…” “For God’s sake, Cristina, I am in international hotels up to my…well, you already know up to where. What I would like to do is find myself in the Brussels that I know, in the old neighborhoods, in the local fisherman’s diner, in the muggy empty alleyways that we ran around so often, remember? Drinking beer, beer by the liter and eating mussels. How about a restaurant on Place Ste Catherine?” An overwhelming lethargy takes control of her while she thinks of her perfect parking spot in the Hilton’s lot. Who is going to find a spot downtown at this hour? She had dreamed, starry-eyed, of a distinguished maître d’ presenting her with a menu full of various kinds of smoked salmon and sparkling French wines. But no. He is going blue collar on her. Le bain de foule, quoi.11 Perhaps they could take a taxi… “You probably have your car below, don’t you? Are you still driving like a lunatic? I used to really enjoy driving in the car with you…”
11 “To mingle with the commoners, really?”
Rule out the taxi. Like a well-trained performer on stage, she picks up her jacket and handbag, and hurriedly finishes the appéritif maison12. Luca takes her gently by the arm, awakening so many dormant feelings with a simple gesture, so many moments stored in the back of her memory. Outside, the rain is falling in a dense sheet. “My poor hair” she thinks to herself, “made presentable at the cost of such sacrifice.” Naturally, neither of the two are carrying umbrellas. They make their way toward the car, nonsensically jumping between the puddles. With splattered stockings and hair dripping down her forehead, she manages to smile while she starts the car. “Plaza Ste. Catherine?” “Andiamo!13” His optimism is almost contagious. She lights a cigarette and puts it seductively between her lips. She recognizes his scent as the same brand that he has always used. “Do you know that I am trying to quit these?” “Go on, Cristina, I can’t imagine you without a stogie between your lips surrounded by ashtrays full of cigarette butts. “No sir, I am becoming more reasonable…even green, if I tell you that I vote environmentally conscious… His smile is also like it used to be. A little more cynical perhaps. The traffic downtown is entangled from the dense rain; the tunnels’ entrances and exits are bottlenecked. Why are these people not in their homes relaxing and eating dinner? She feels his stare fixed on her profile and it makes her fell self-conscious. 12 “hors d’oeuvres of house” 13 “Let’s go!”
“I still like your profile, Cristina. I have always liked women with large noses…” She thinks it would be in bad taste to speak about an appendage of la chère14 Flavia. Cristina has rested her hand on the gearshift, and he sets his large hand over hers, without ceasing to stare at her.
…Le fiacre sortit des grilles, et bientôt, arrivé sur la cours, trotta doucement, au milieu des grands ormes. Le cocher s’essuya le front, mit son chapeau de cuir entre ses jambes et poussa la voiture en dehors des contre-allées, au bord de l’eau, près du gazon. Elle alla le long de la rivière, sur le chemin de halage pavé de cailloux secs, et, longtemps, du côté d’Oyssel, au delà des îles. Mais tout à coup, elle s’élança d’un bond à travers Quatremares, Sotteville, la GrandeChaussée, la rue d’Elbeuf, et fit sa troisième halte devant le jardin des plantes. — Marchez donc ! s’écria la voix plus furieusement. Et aussitôt, reprenant sa course, elle passa par Saint-Sever, par le quai des Curandiers, par le quai aux Meules, encore une fois par le pont, par la place du Champ-de-Mars et derrière les jardins de l’hôpital, où des vieillards en veste noire se promènent au soleil, le long d’une terrasse toute verdie par des lierres. Elle remonta le boulevard Bouvreuil, parcourut le boulevard Cauchoise, puis tout le Mont-Riboudet jusqu’à la côte de Deville. Elle revint ; et alors, sans parti pris ni direction, au hasard, elle vagabonda. On la vit à Saint-Pol, à Lescure, au mont Gargan, à la Rouge-Mare, et place du Gaillard-bois ; rue Maladrerie, rue Dinanderie, devant Saint-Romain, Saint-Vivien, Saint-Maclou, Saint-
Nicaise, – devant la Douane, – à la basse Vieille-Tour, aux Trois-Pipes et au Cimetière Monumental. De temps à autre, le cocher sur son siège jetait aux cabarets des regards désespérés. Il ne comprenait pas quelle fureur de la locomotion poussait ces individus à ne vouloir point s’arrêter. Il essayait quelquefois, et aussitôt il entendait derrière lui partir des exclamations de colère. Alors il cinglait de plus belle ses deux rosses tout en sueur, mais sans prendre garde aux cahots, accrochant par-ci par-là, ne s’en souciant, démoralisé, et presque pleurant de soif, de fatigue et de tristesse. Et sur le port, au milieu des camions et des barriques, et dans les rues, au coin des bornes, les bourgeois ouvraient de grands yeux ébahis devant cette chose si extraordinaire en province, une voiture à stores tendus, et qui apparaissait ainsi continuellement, plus close qu’un tombeau et ballottée comme un navire. Une fois, au milieu du jour, en pleine campagne, au moment où le soleil dardait le plus fort contre les vieilles lanternes argentées, une main nue passa sous les petits rideaux de toile jaune et jeta des déchirures de papier, qui se dispersèrent au vent et s’abattirent plus loin, comme des papillons blancs, sur un champ de trèfles rouges tout en fleur. Puis, vers six heures, la voiture s’arrêta dans une ruelle du quartier Beauvoisine, et une femme en descendit qui marchait le voile baissé, sans détourner la tête…15
They approach the Vieux Marché aux Grains, attempting to park in the Plaza Ste. Catherine. Impossible to find even a corner spot vacant, they leave the Plaza as the rain intensifies.
15 For English translation of original Madame Bovary text, see Appendix I, citation ‘D’.
Do you remember the “le Pêcheur Breton”? The best oysters I have eaten in my life…Go back again, maybe there is an open spot… The Plaza, generally busy at this time, has a sinister look today. Maybe it’s the rain, maybe it’s the disillusionment. She gently puts it into first gear and slowly moves forward, keeping her eyes both on the right and left sides in the narrow parking lot. Rue de la Vierge Noire…nothing. Rue de l’Evêque…nothing. Rue de Laeken…a snugly fit two horsepower vehicle pulls out of its spot with difficulty, and with six or seven maneuvers, she manages to literally squeeze the Fiat into the tiny space. “Bravo! My memory has not failed me, you’re still an expert driver, Cristina…” Rain once again. If she remembers correctly, el Pêcheur Breton was on the left, on a corner…or was it on the right? He brushes his arm across both her shoulders and they run clumsily, like two wet ducks. The absence of lighting in the front exterior of the building makes her suspicious. A small sign states: “Fermé le dimanche soir et le lundi16” “Merda…merda, merda17. Well, let’s not get discouraged. Let’s see… ‘La Marée Basse’…do you remember the ‘Marée Basse’? The best lobster in the European Union. Does that suit you?” It suits her. Icy droplets dripping down the neck of her leather jacket slide down her shivering skin. Her pitiful shoes are splashing in the water on the uneven pavement. She can kiss this pair good bye. There is not a soul in the plaza. She suddenly thinks of Madame Bovary waiting for her patiently on the table in the entry hall. A great weariness invades her from her heat to her feet… 16 “Closed on Sunday evening and Monday.” 17 “crap…crap, crap.”
“Let’s think about this again…’La Marée Basse’, wasn’t it at the top of la rue Melsens?” They turn the next two corners. All the water from heaven falls rushing toward the gutter after first having run off her shoulders… He squeezes her arm tenderly: “No need to be disheartened. It’s there. Do you see it? But…it looks pretty closed up…” It is very closed up – “Notre jour de fermeture: le lundi.18” “The gods are against us, Cristina, but we will overcome them. We will have our steamed mussels. We deserve them. She insinuates a weak smile that fortunately he doesn’t see in the existing darkness. “We will go back to the plaza. There are a ton of restaurants; one of them will be open. They try: “Les moules de Zeelande”, closed. “Le Knokke”, closed. “Marijke, Marijke”, closed. Her stomach begins to seriously ache. The combination of alcohol and coffee are having their effects. But they make out a light in the distance. Feeling like Hansel and Gretel, they move towards it now taking large steps, guided by survival instinct. “La Porte de jade, restaurant chinois.” If there is something in life she hates, it’s Chinese cuisine. She doesn’t trust their chutneys, she detests their sweet and sour mixtures, and the inability to understand the waiters makes her uneasy.
18 “Closed on Mondays”
He pushes her into the dining area while the steamy vapor begins to loosen her clothes away from her skin. Someone gets up lazily from the only occupied table in the back, where the owner’s family is killing time. Obviously they were already getting ready to close. In the unkempt restroom, she goes to the bathroom and attempts to dry her hair with a dubious-looking towel. Upon leaving the restroom, she peers out of the corner of her eye in the mirror and sees a complete make up disaster, realizing with a certain amount of surprise that it doesn’t matter to her. Meanwhile he has ordered a bottle of red wine and hands her the menu. The only thing she likes about Chinese food is the names of the dishes, and so she chooses an amusing one. They seat themselves across from one another and Madame Bovary settles down between them both. Her raised arm is trembling. She remembers that even back then he used to drink too much. Does this mean that he is in fact not happy now either? She downs the glass in a single gulp and feels better. In spite of that, it’s cold in the deserted restaurant lounge. They must have had to shut off the heat in order to save money. Dragging his feet, the old waiter places under their noses shark fins or a swallow’s nest, she doesn’t recognize it exactly. Du rechauffé19, of course, given the record time. Since not having said du surgelé20, anything is possible. With typical masculine infidelity, Luca forgets all about his steamed mussels and in ecstasy he devours his Cantonese style prawns. His satisfied look settles afterwards on Cristina, his eyes descending along her neckline. “And now tell me…there must be some man in your life, isn’t there?” She hesitates a few seconds. 19 “reheated” 20 “previously frozen”
“Well, there are some, yes.” “And it hasn’t occurred to you to get married?” “How repulsive.” He laughs out loud. The Chinese look at them. “Always such a nonconformist…but stability is a sound investment, you know. You have thought about what you will do alone later, when…” He also hesitates. “…when one is old, even older still, that is to say, haven’t you? She tries to appear shocked, but isn’t successful. Cristina proceeds: Well it remains to be seen what will happen in the future. Doesn’t the Gospel, or the Bible, or whatever, say something about the little birds and the lilies of the field, do you remember? Well, now perhaps God will remember me and will lend me a hand. Or maybe I will have died before…in my family we usually don’t last that long. “You have changed.” “You haven’t?” “Yes, I’m sure that I have, too. But I see you as being more calloused, more inflexible…I think that you lack contact with children, or with someone younger than you.” “What I was lacking, Luca: a gigolo or a posterity, how can you give me this unsolicited advice?” Madame Bovary makes discrete gestures to her to not labor the point. “Tell me about Flavia”, she resigns. His face lights up. “Flavia…”
He takes out his wallet with the unavoidable photographs. How people will go all over the world carrying their family in their wallets. It seems indecent to her: the twins’ first communion; they are precious, how do you tell them apart? His parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary; the years have treated them well, don’t you think? The wife in the hospital with an embroidered nightgown, breastfeeding the baby. She has never looked more beautiful… Flavia playing tennis, Flavia on the side of the pool, Flavia smiling among the geraniums… “Poor Flavia…,” murmurs Madame Bovary. “Flavia has given me back the youthfulness that was slipping away from me, the enthusiasm, the spontaneous laughter, the desire to do something new, an energy that I was beginning to lose… While she wonders about what other things he was also beginning to lose, she feels suddenly cruel, she needs to avenge herself for the cold, for the wet feet, for the tasteless conversation, for the disillusionment… “I know more than one man your age, and ones older than you, that have had to go through the same process in order to feel good about themselves: they fall in love with a younger woman, they allow themselves to get entangled and suddenly, bam! They feel fifteen or twenty years younger: nothing in my pockets, nothing up my sleeves, ni vu ni connu21, a new man, begin the begin, chouette, n’est pas22? An incredulous look, offended, but he doesn’t know what to say–it’s a slap in the face that he deserves. He refills his wine glass and takes a sip, uncomfortable. “And you…” 21 “don’t see, didn’t happen” 22 “great, right?”
“As always, you know: Today, Pedro, tomorrow, Juan. And many days alone, the majority of them. But without deceiving myself, knowing what I am and how old I am. I don’t know what is waiting for me either…but it doesn’t worry me too much (Madame Bovary’s smile creates in her a slight uneasiness) well,” –she reconsiders–“the truth is that I don’t want to think much about it.” She takes a drink from her wine glass and asks Luca for a cigarette. “I do thousands of things that I like and see only the people that I like. At this stage I can allow myself the luxury of selection. I won’t marry anyone now, in any sense of the word. The old waiter brings the inevitable lichi nuts, just taken out of the can, and which taste like tin, and two diluted cups of coffee. “The bill, please.” She allows him to pay, she will play the game until the end: Monsieur invite, monsieur paye23. …Why alter the universal order of things. The Chinese man bows excessively with his hand placed on the door’s automatic closing mechanism that he will activate immediately after their exit. It is about to strike eleven, poor Place Ste Catherine, with your medieval tower so beautiful, your church and your overgrown trees…she was remembering a Saturday evening one summer, cheerful and dazzling as the plaza was. If only they could see me now. A lonely lamppost condenses all of the world’s misery in its single beam of light and not even the rain puddles serve to reflect the stars in the night sky…Where would the Fiat be in this deserted place? They end up finding it. Once inside, under shelter, another cigarette. This time she lights each one of hers, without gestures of false seduction. “You don’t care to accompany me?”
23 “The gentleman invites, the gentleman pays”
“Why would I leave you stranded on a night like this one?” “I’ll make it up to you with one last whiskey, since you like the Hilton so much.” A warning light flashes in her head while Madame Bovary, settled in the back seat, smiles… The drive back is quicker, the traffic is scarce, the streets empty and polished wet from the rain. There are vacant spots in the Hilton parking lot. The rain is beginning to ease. Upon getting out of the car, Luca puts his arms around her shoulders and whispers quietly to her: “It seems unbelievable to me to be with you, Cristina. All the good times we have had in this city…” She lifts her eyes towards him. Once again she feels that she likes the length of his beard, the line of his nose, the rediscovered grey of his eyes, a warm scent that becomes more noticeable whenever he moves. “It’s strange. I almost never would think about them, honestly. And now, suddenly, it is all coming back to me. I don’t know if it’s a good thing…” “It is a good thing, Cristina. The only thing that matters is to be well.” He brushes her damp hair with his lips as he directs her toward the elevator, after having grabbed the key. The moment she arrives on the tenth floor, Cristina realizes that Madame Bovary has remained downstairs.
… Léon, sur le trottoir, continuait à marcher. Elle le suivait jusqu’à l’hôtel ; il montait, il ouvrait la porte, il entrait… Quelle étreinte ! Puis les paroles, après les baisers, se précipitaient. On se racontait les chagrins de la semaine, les pressentiments, les inquiétudes pour les lettres ; mais à présent tout
s’oubliait, et ils se regardaient face à face, avec des rires de volupté et des appellations de tendresse. Le lit était un grand lit d’acajou en forme de nacelle. Les rideaux de levantine rouge, qui descendaient du plafond, se cintraient trop bas vers le chevet évasé ; – et rien au monde n’était beau comme sa tête brune et sa peau blanche se détachant sur cette couleur pourpre, quand, par un geste de pudeur, elle fermait ses deux bras nus, en se cachant la figure dans les mains…24
There is a beautiful view of Brussels from the large picture window and they begin to point out the monuments and bell towers one after another, while Luca takes her leather jacket off of her and uses the phone to order something to drink. “You can see the basilica, back there. We used to pass by it on Sunday evenings, on our way back from the North Sea…Once you ran a stoplight right in front of an armed police car.” “And the Atomium, do you see it? You remember the day that you took me there for dinner…it was when we were first getting to know each other.” “Yes, I think it was the first night we slept together.” A silence descends between them. There are two small lampshades that create a soft light. In essence, nothing in the Hilton is as extraordinary as she imagined it. Cristina continues looking out at the panoramic view of Brussels. “I like this city. It is cold and grey, but I like it. It is truly the crossroads of Europe, the heart of all this mix of cultures: northerners, southerners, Flemish, foreigners, people as blonde as beer, people as black as an African night, philanthropists, freeloaders, those born in other
24 For English translation of original Madame Bovary text, see Appendix I, citation ‘E’.
places, those that are going to die here: Don Rodrigo and Thyl Eulenspeigel, Isabel Clara Eugenia and Zenón de Ligre, Egmont and Jacques Brel, the Moroccan cobbler and the Portuguese housemaid and the Asturian fishwife, and you and I… The bellboy knocks and discretely leaves a tray with bottles and glasses on the small table. “…all of them, including you and I, in a vast lowland without the slightest degree of elevation, exposed to the prevailing four winds, throughout the centuries, from East to West or from North to South, on horseback, in stagecoach, in Ibertour buses or contraband trucks, in order to find ourselves with WHOM or with WHAT in this plat pays25, I mean, what it is that we are all looking for here and what it is that we end up finding. The ice cubes clink in the tall glasses and the liquid, which is freezing and burning at the same time, begins to comfort her. “You are what I found.” Cristina turns and tries to remember in his grey gaze the Luca of seven years ago, the Luca who was a little crazy and jovial and who didn’t need anyone to help him regain his youth, because he was already so youthful… “Oh, Luca…” She strokes his beard with her finger as if to draw a question mark. “Come.” He seats her on the leather sofa and slowly takes off her high heels, which are still wet, and brings her lips close to his own.
25 “flat land”
Cristina closes her eyes and sees, somewhere out there, a very young Flavia, putting a son to bed…
…L’enfant d’Emma dormait à terre, dans un berceau d’osier. Elle la prit avec la couverture qui l’enveloppait, et se mit à chanter doucement en se dandinant. Léon se promenait dans la chambre ; il lui semblait étrange de voir cette belle dame en robe de nankin, tout au milieu de cette misère. Madame Bovary devint rouge ; il se détourna, croyant que ses yeux peut-être avaient eu quelque impertinence. Puis elle recoucha la petite, qui venait de vomir sur sa collerette…26
Cristina scolds herself: The only deficiency was that you were softening over Flavia just now. Are you getting old or what. His wife is his problem, not yours. “He that has a love…” so the song goes… She smiles and Luca feels aroused by her smile. He wraps his arms around her waist and buries his head in Cristina’s neck. “…a love?” Cristina continues on thinking, “What connection is there between love and the man that is holding me in his arms?” She throws her head back rejecting the idea, and Luca takes advantage of the motion to savagely and impatiently unfasten her blouse. Then he looks for the zipper of her skirt while he whispers: “You won’t believe this, but I have desired this moment so many times…”
…Oh ! Rodolphe !… fit lentement la jeune femme en se penchant sur son épaule.
26 For English translation of original Madame Bovary text, see Appendix I, citation ‘F’.
Le drap de sa robe s’accrochait au velours de l’habit. Elle renversa son cou blanc, qui se gonflait d’un soupir ; et, défaillante, tout en pleurs, avec un long frémissement et se cachant la figure, elle s’abandonna… 27
Clearly she doesn’t fall for this, but she doesn’t find the strength to stop him, to make him comprehend why. The most disturbing thing is that underneath it all she doesn’t really desire to find the strength. It’s fine the way it is: the alcohol has produced in her a pleasant euphoria and along with it, an attractive man in a comfortable and luxurious bedroom that is saying to her: “You are so gorgeous. I want you so much.” This feels right to her, but she feels sorry that Madame Bovary has stayed downstairs, she would have liked to know what she thought of all this. It annoys her to think that what she is searching for in her is a certain complicity in the guilt (guilt?). What would Emma be able to beat herself up about? Luca crushes her below his weight and she feels the hardness of his penis that she had also forgotten. She is startled. It’s been months since she has made love. Does she really want this? Luca is babbling something in Italian that she doesn’t quite understand. All of the sudden she remembers that he would always speak to her in Italian during their lovemaking. Like Charles V, she thinks to herself. And he laughs. His laughter encourages her, it excites her, and she begins to undress also. Cristina is afraid, she is afraid to check and see, even though she is checking, that Luca’s abdomen is no longer the flat, muscular abdomen that she used to lick on those endless Sunday mornings before dawn, until his hoarse panting would cover up his words
27 For English translation of original Madame Bovary text, see Appendix I, citation ‘G’.
in Italian. Luca’s waistline, like his expression, reveals the excess use of alcohol. She smiles at the presence of the magnificent erection: “This is one way you haven’t changed…” With a sudden violence, he knocks her onto the bed. In anguish Cristina asks herself: “And what about my body, my body?” The vague arousal that was beginning to invade her disappears in the face of a dreadful clarity that prevents her from being able to be aware of the objects that surround her, about the color of the wallpaper, about the piece of ice that is slowly disappearing into the remaining whiskey in a glass. Her eyes take mental pictures of her surroundings, and her heart feels a remote tenderness for this agitated man, but her mind remains unchangeable. Luca explores her body, his hairy chest of a Tuscan peasant, his beard of a Roman charioteer, his hands of an Etruscan sculptor, his genitals of a gladiator… Cristina studies him from a distance, very closely. She would like to understand what he is saying. When is she going to make up her mind to learn Italian? But undoubtedly what she imagines him to say is much more beautiful than what he is actually saying. Luca’s eyes are not searching for her eyes: they are fastened on to her breasts, her belly, her thighs, her pelvis; they are greedily looking over the forgotten terrain of Cristina’s body, without realizing that just above, in her eyes, Cristina’s soul is peering out, an exceedingly sorrowful Cristina that is caressing his hair, whispering: “My child…”
While he is penetrating her and his body’s rhythm is accelerating, all of the time not looking in her eyes, she recognizes the same old panting of a wounded animal, of a conquered fighter, of a killer plunging in the dagger, of a child that has run too far and finds himself lost… Luca’s head collapses onto her breast and she gently moves it aside, feeling disgust from the contact with his forehead, which is covered in beads of sweat.
…Ah! la belle nuit! dit Rodolphe. -- Nous en aurons d'autres! reprit Emma. Et, comme se parlant à elle-même: -- Oui, il fera bon voyager... Pourquoi ai-je le coeur triste, cependant? Est-ce l'appréhension de l'inconnu..., l'effet des habitudes quittées..., ou plutôt...? Non, c'est l'excès du bonheur! Que je suis faible, n'est-ce pas? Pardonne-moi!...28
Quarter to two. She has decided not to stay the night in the Hilton: “I have to get up early tomorrow and I need a file that I have at home”, she makes an excuse. But the real reason is the old and well-worn livre de poche29 that she just picked up next to her grandmother’s antique hurricane lamp on the small entryway table. “Me revoilà, quand–même.30” She slowly climbs the stairs. A relaxing, hot bath and white satin pajamas, the kind Luca used to like, she smiles. The sheets embrace her warmly, maternally.
28 For English translation of original Madame Bovary text, see Appendix I, citation ‘H’. 29 “paperback” 30 “I am still here”
She opens the book at the bookmark, a dog-ear. “A nous deux, maintenant…31”
…Elle en avait fini, songeait-elle, avec toutes les trahisons, les bassesses et les innombrables convoitises qui la torturaient. Elle ne haïssait personne, maintenant; une confusion de crépuscule s'abattait en sa pensée, et de tous les bruits de la terre Emma n'entendait plus que l'intermittente lamentation de ce pauvre coeur, douce et indistincte, comme le dernier écho d'une symphonie qui s'éloigne… 32
And she inevitably falls asleep.
Fuenterrabía (Spain) June 1988
31 “Now it’s you and I.” 32 For English translation of original Madame Bovary text, see Appendix I, citation ‘I’
The following extracts are English translations of the original Madame Bovary text and correspond with the excerpts in the work entitled, Woman With Flooded Landscape: (A.)…Rodolphe saw other delights to be got out of this love. He thought all modesty in the way. He treated her quite sans façon. He made of her something supple and corrupt. (Part II, chapter 12)
(B.)…A pleasanter trouble came to distract him, namely, the pregnancy of his wife. As the time of her confinement approached he cherished her the more. It was another bond of the flesh establishing itself, and, as it were, a continued sentiment of a more complex union. (Part II, chapter 3)
(C.)…She noticed in his eyes small golden lines radiating from black pupils; she even smelt the perfume of the pomade that made his hair glossy. Then a faintness came over her; she recalled the Viscount who had waltzed with her at Vaubyessard, and his beard exhaled like this air an odour of vanilla and citron, and mechanically she half-closed her eyes the better to breathe it in.§ (Part II, chapter 8)
(D.)…The coachman wiped his brow, put his leather hat between his knees, and drove his carriage beyond the side alley by the meadow to the margin of the waters.
Citation ‘A’ corresponds with the original Madame Bovary excerpt found on page 26 of Woman With Flooded Landscape. Citation ‘B’ corresponds with the original Madame Bovary excerpt found on page 27 of Woman With Flooded Landscape.
§ Citation ‘C’ corresponds with the original Madame Bovary excerpt found on page 31 of Woman With Flooded Landscape.
It went along by the river, along the towing-path paved with sharp pebbles, and for a long while in the direction of Oyssel, beyond the isles. But suddenly it turned with a dash across Quatremares, Sotteville, La Grande-Chaussee, the Rue d'Elbeuf, and made its third halt in front of the Jardin des Plantes. "Get on, will you?" cried the voice more furiously. And at once resuming its course, it passed by Saint-Sever, by the Quai'des Curandiers, the Quai aux Meules, once more over the bridge, by the Place du Champ de Mars, and behind the hospital gardens, where old men in black coats were walking in the sun along the terrace all green with ivy. It went up the Boulevard Bouvreuil, along the Boulevard Cauchoise, then the whole of Mont-Riboudet to the Deville hills. It came back; and then, without any fixed plan or direction, wandered about at hazard. The cab was seen at Saint-Pol, at Lescure, at Mont Gargan, at La Rougue-Marc and Place du Gaillardbois; in the Rue Maladrerie, Rue Dinanderie, before Saint-Romain, Saint-Vivien, SaintMaclou, Saint-Nicaise—in front of the Customs, at the "Vieille Tour," the "Trois Pipes," and the Monumental Cemetery. From time to time the coachman, on his box cast despairing eyes at the public-houses. He could not understand what furious desire for locomotion urged these individuals never to wish to stop. He tried to now and then, and at once exclamations of anger burst forth behind him. Then he lashed his perspiring jades afresh, but indifferent to their jolting, running up against things here and there, not caring if he did, demoralised, and almost weeping with thirst, fatigue, and depression. And on the harbour, in the midst of the drays and casks, and in the streets, at the corners, the good folk opened large wonder-stricken eyes at this sight, so extraordinary in the provinces, a
cab with blinds drawn, and which appeared thus constantly shut more closely than a tomb, and tossing about like a vessel. Once in the middle of the day, in the open country, just as the sun beat most fiercely against the old plated lanterns, a bared hand passed beneath the small blinds of yellow canvas, and threw out some scraps of paper that scattered in the wind, and farther off lighted like white butterflies on a field of red clover all in bloom. At about six o'clock the carriage stopped in a back street of the Beauvoisine Quarter, and a woman got out, who walked with her veil down, and without turning her head. ‡ (Part III, chapter 1)
(E.)…Leon walked along the pavement. She followed him to the hotel. He went up, opened the door, entered—What an embrace! Then, after the kisses, the words gushed forth. They told each other the sorrows of the week, the presentiments, the anxiety for the letters; but now everything was forgotten; they gazed into each other's faces with voluptuous laughs, and tender names. The bed was large, of mahogany, in the shape of a boat. The curtains were in red levantine, that hung from the ceiling and bulged out too much towards the bell-shaped bedside; and nothing in the world was so lovely as her brown head and white skin standing out against this purple colour, when, with a movement of shame, she crossed her bare arms, hiding her face in her hands.Æ
(Part III, chapter 5)
‡ Citation ‘D’ corresponds with the original Madame Bovary excerpt found on page 35-36 of Woman With Flooded Landscape. Æ Citation ‘E’ corresponds with the original Madame Bovary excerpt found on page 43-44 of Woman With Flooded Landscape.
(F.)…Emma's child was asleep in a wicker-cradle. She took it up in the wrapping that enveloped it and began singing softly as she rocked herself to and fro.
Leon walked up and down the room; it seemed strange to him to see this beautiful woman in her nankeen dress in the midst of all this poverty. Madam Bovary reddened; he turned away, thinking perhaps there had been an impertinent look in his eyes. Then she put back the little girl, who had just been sick over her collar. £ (Part II, chapter 3)
(G.)…"Oh, Rodolphe!" said the young woman slowly, leaning on his shoulder. The cloth of her habit caught against the velvet of his coat. She threw back her white neck, swelling with a sigh, and faltering, in tears, with a long shudder and hiding her face, she gave herself up to him— µ (Part II, chapter 9)
(H.)…"Ah! What a lovely night!" said Rodolphe. "We shall have others," replied Emma; and, as if speaking to herself: "Yet, it will be good to travel. And yet, why should my heart be so heavy? Is it dread of the unknown? The effect of habits left? Or rather—? No; it is the excess of happiness. How weak I am, am I not? Forgive me!" ¥ (Part II, chapter 12)
£ Citation ‘F’ corresponds with the original Madame Bovary excerpt found on page 46 of Woman With Flooded Landscape. µ Citation ‘G’ corresponds with the original Madame Bovary excerpt found on page 47 of Woman With Flooded Landscape. ¥ Citation ‘H’ corresponds with the original Madame Bovary excerpt found on page 49 of Woman With Flooded Landscape.
(I.)…So she had done, she thought, with all the treachery; and meanness, and numberless desires that had tortured her. She hated no one now; a twilight dimness was settling upon her thoughts, and, of all earthly noises, Emma heard none but the intermittent lamentations of this poor heart, sweet and indistinct like the echo of a symphony dying away. ∫ (Part III, chapter 8)
Citation ‘I’ corresponds with the original Madame Bovary excerpt found on page 50 of Woman With Flooded Landscape.
About the Author
Author Dolores Soler-Espiauba was born in 1935 in Cartagena, Spain. She holds degrees in both German philology and Hispanic philology from the prestigious Complutense University of Madrid. She worked in the field of education in Portugal, Poland and France before making her home in Brussels, Belgium in 1974, where she has been a professor of Spanish language and civilization, teaching translators and interpreters for the European Union. Soler-Espiauba has earned numerous literary awards for several of her novels and other fictional works, including the meritorious Felipe Trigo award in 1989 for Mujer con paisaje de lluvia, the text that has now been translated into English under the title Woman With Flooded Landscape.
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