You only need to know water a little to realise it’s tired of being a liquid. The proof is that as soon as it has the chance, it turns into ice or vapour. But not even that satisfies it: vapour gets lost in absurd meanderings, and ice is clumsy and rough, forming wherever it can and generally useful only for pepping up penguins and gin and tonics. That’s the reason water delicately chooses snow, which encourages it in its most secret desire, that of defining the shapes of everything—houses, meadows, mountains, trees—that isn’t water.
I think we should help water in this constant but ephemeral battle. To do so we need to select a snow-laden tree, a black skeleton on whose countless branches it falls to create a white, perfect replica. This is no easy task, but if, anticipating a snowfall, we saw through the trunk so that the tree remains upright without knowing it is dead, like the Chinese mandarin memorably decapitated by an expert executioner, we would only need to wait for the snow to copy every detail of the tree, and then whip it to one side without disturbing anything, in a slight but perfect displacement.
I don’t believe that gravity would collapse this pure white house of cards. Everything would happen as if the vulgar and routine were held in suspense; for an indefinite length of time, the snow-tree would realise water’s most cherished dream. Perhaps a bird will be the one to destroy it, or the early morning sun will prod it towards oblivion with a warm finger. These are experiments we ought to try to make water happy, so that it will once again fill our jugs and glasses with the breathless joy it now retains only for children and sparrows.
Translated by Nick Caistor and the RFH All-Stars
"Water's Wanderings" ("Peripecias del agua"), Unomásuno, México, April 11, 1981
LALT thanks the Estate of Julio Cortázar for kindly authorizing the publication of this text.
Permission of publication granted by Agencia Literaria Carmen Balcells S.A., June 25, 2020.
Julio Cortázar (1910-1984) was born in Belgium, and when the First World War ended, he moved with his family to Buenos Aires. A great admirer of Jorge Luis Borges, Cortázar very early identified with the Surrealist movement. He studied literature and education, and worked as a teacher in several cities in Argentina, while he published literary criticism, articles, and short stories. In the 40s he settled in Paris, where he worked for UNESCO as a translator. In 1963, he published Rayuela, a novel which caused an upheaval in the cultural landscape and established him as one of the most innovative and original writers of his time. A master of the short story and poetic prose, his "miscellanies," in which he mixes fiction, chronicle, poetry and essays, are also important. In 1984, the Fundación Konex awarded him the Premio Konex de Honor posthumously for his contribution to the history of Argentine literature. (Biography: Agencia Literaria Carmen Balcells)
Nick Caistor has translated more than fifty books of fiction from Latin America and Spain including work by authors such as Andrés Neuman and Eduardo Mendoza. He is a three-times winner of the Valle-Inclán Prize for translation from Spanish.
In our sixteenth issue, we celebrate Mapuche poet Elicura Chihuailaf, who in 2020 became the first indigenous writer to receive Chile's National Prize for Literature. We also feature dossiers dedicated to the work of Andrés Neuman, Latin American literary criticism, and the Latin American essay, plus a bilingual selection of texts from Dispatches from the Republic of Letters: 50 Years of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature commemorating Gabriel García Márquez, the first Latin American author to win the prestigious Neustadt Prize.