Monday, July 14, 2008

"El Vago" (Cuento) de Pio Baroja - Traducción de Gerardo Munoz

(El Bohemio - Ramon Casas)

The Flâneur

(Translation of Pio Baroja's El Vago:
Alianza Editorial S.A 1990)


Leaning on the streetlamp towards the new Setting Sun, he looks as at people as they come and go.
He is a man neither tall or short, neither thin or fat, neither blonde or dark; he could easily have between thirty or fifty years of age; he is not well dressed, but all the same he is not in rags.
What is he doing? Is he looking at something? Does he wait for something? – No, he awaits nothing. From time to time he smirks; but not as a sarcastic nuance. His eyesight doesn’t seem oblique.
He does not seem to be a man from Montepin. He does not posses the qualities to be satanic: nor the impatient eyes, or the nose, or mouth.
Is he some kind of employee? No. Is he a salesman? No. Does he belong to some kind of factory? Negative…It is almost a full time job to live without having to work.
Let's see…he is a flâneur, a vagrant. Yes, he is a vagrant. I always see the journalists from the shops undignified by their strolling presence. They are attacked through the stupid newspaper articles of mass circulation.
This man, of whom I have much said about, probably is not a vagrant. He has profound eyesight, a laughing smile and some indolent gestures.
He looks like the man who awaits nothing from anyone.
He is a spectator of life; he is not an actor. He is an intellectual.
A newspaper salesman comes near the streetlamp, where the flâneur is, and reclines on him.
A streetlamp, nonetheless, can hold up to two backs. A flâneur leaning towards a streetlamp is motive enough for a deep reflection. The streetlamp: "modern science"; the rigidness, the unbearable lightness, the flâneur himself, the doubt, the indecision, the shadow.
Glorify those streetlamps, I say! Do not despise the flâneurs! Some will say: 'C'mon, to be a flâneur is kids' play!'; flagrant assertion. To be a flâneur is almost to be a philosopher; it is more than being One in the crowd.
You might say that flâneurs abound our cities…is there anything that we can do about? We also have dandys, clubmen, sportsmen, some of them quite elegant, and some others quite smart. We even have snobs, if you wish. All of them are shinny atoms of this imbecile atmosphere in which we live in; but none of them are truly flâneurs. Just look at them; as they go by fast, in a jiffy, as if life always was worth such a fast passed routine…and they always go thinking about some house, or some women, or a dog, or some friend, or in some other thing of those unimportant categories. In some other social class or strata, there are employees, pupils, beggars, and other filthy characters. However; none of these are perfect flâneurs because they let life fly by: they preoccupy themselves with silly things, and other miserly activities. They don’t let themselves be dragged by life's elixir, unlike the flâneur, who can not be accused of more than a little fragile vocation against work during his years of youth.
The flâneur could be accused of being trifle, but never of dross. But to be trifle is a transcendental matter; and the transcendental is quite worthless. To put it simply: to invent a toy requires as much genius as to invent a machine. I, for myself, thought me a great constructor once, so in collaboration with a friend, I made an electric toy train made of card wood. It even moved sometimes, as if it really was made of out some genius.
To model a cathedral sure is a great thing; but to mold a frog made out of paper is nothing to be ashamed of.
The flâneur of the streetlamp and I are in good relations, we even talk sometimes.
He protects me. He is the type of man who greets no one. He might have only a few friends; perhaps he has no friends: a signal of intelligence. The greatest number of friends one possesses shows he ratio of one's stupidity. I think that well could be an aphorism.
Is he intelligent? No one is superior than he is. If one talks him into politics…he smiles; if one mentions literature…he smiles; if one talks about anything…he smiles. Some other day someone said he was an imbecile.
This is what occurs in societies that have no constrains. One starts by scoffing at serious people, and ends up even scoffing at flâneurs.


* The Italics present in the text are originally from Baroja.

Gerardo Munoz
Julio 13-14, 2008

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