Sunday, February 12, 2012

Julio Ramón Ribeyro, Berlin, Digging through Junk

An entry dated 2 November 1977 from Julio Ramón Ribeyro's La tentación del fracaso: 

Sidnet Bechet in 1922
Digging through some old junk of mine just now, I come across a package of old records and among them one--a Sidney Bechet--I bought in Berlin exactly twenty years ago, that is, in November of 1957. And as I play it I see my poor pension on Reinikendolfern Strasse (I'm not sure if that's correctly spelled), the then "French quarter" of the former capital divided into zones by the occupation forces. And at the same time I remember--what was her name? Hélène? Barbara, Gisella? A name of that sort, the first girlfriend I had in that city, my first German lover. And everything about her. Her face, her body, her hair, her freckles. A story that could fit in twenty lines. One night I go to a neighborhood bar and put records on the jukebox while I drink a glass of alcohol that I think was called Escorial. Two girls are drinking something at a nearby table in the almost empty bar. When one of them gets up to choose a record, I approach--an unusual thing, because I've never made that kind of approach--and ask her if she wants something in particular and if she wants to dance. All this in a rather primitive German, but in any case better than that I know now. The girl chooses a record and accepts the dance. And taking her in my arms was all it took for me to realize that she was expecting nothing but that and much more, not because of me, but because it was her habit or for some other reason. We danced for a long time, I bought her an Escorial, and then I accompanied her to the bus stop. We made a date for the next day in the same bar. She came alone and after a few drinks we went to my pension. We went in covertly, because the landlord was a fat and lame and irate-looking old man. The next morning--we'd overslept--someone knocks on the door. It was the maid coming to clean the rooms. Hélène or Gisella barely had time to cover herself with a towel and hide behind the door, while I pulled the covers up over me. The maid started sweeping and tidying the room and suddenly saw the hidden intruder. I was lost, I told myself then, she's going to shout at her to get out, she's going to call the landlord, and finally he's going to kick me out of the pension. But I was wrong. I hadn't counted on the solidarity created between women in some instances. The maid put her finger to her lips to tell me to be quiet. She gestured to the girl to get dressed while she went out to look down the hall. After a little while she came back and signaled to her that she could go now, but quickly. And Gisella or Barbara went without being seen. From then on she came to my room several times, always around midnight, after we met at the neighborhood bar. She would leave at dawn, before the landlord woke up. But he must have suspected something or maybe the maid ended up giving us away, because one day when I got back to my pension the lame old fat man was waiting for me in my room, he'd put my suitcases in the middle of the floor, and in the midst of shouts, ordered me to leave the establishment. Which I immediately did, since I didn't have any other choice, and I moved to my friend Hernando Cortés's pension. Because of this incident I lost contact with my girlfriend. I didn't know where she lived; our next date was at the door to the pension, a pension where I was no longer staying, and I racked my brains thinking of a way to find her. At last a kind of light came to me: I remembered she'd told me she worked in a neighborhood record store. One evening I set out to go to all the Reinikendolfern record stores. And at last, after several awkward situations, I managed to find her. But a strange thing: she didn't recognize me or refused to; trying to dialogue with her was futile. Why? I'll never know. So that I wouldn't look bad in front of the owner, who was watching us, I bought a record, the Sidney Bechet record I'm listening to now. I moved again, to another Berlin neighborhood, and I didn't see her anymore.

1 comment:

  1. This is a well-written anecdote, and revealing of the vagaries of life. No doubt the translation captures the essence.