ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 05

Brief Cartography of Places of Absolutely No Interest

Author | Autor: Marcilio França Castro

Translated by Alison Entrekin

On Our Debt to Dogs

It’s not a question of friendship – nothing to do with their so-called alliance with
humankind. Perhaps it’s just another of nature’s whims. The fact is that, if it
weren’t for the obstinacy of these animals, if it weren’t for the foolish habit that
they have brought through the centuries and for which they are famous, of, tails
wagging, rooting around and sniffing, for no apparent reason, floors and corners,
streets, pavements, gates, alleys, vacant lots and pieces of wood, cracks, gratings
and flagstones, light posts and drains, rubble and puddles, and, with the same
heedlessness with which they lick a stranger’s shoe or doze in the shade, the fatal
sides of highways; if it weren’t for the tenacious spirit of these creatures, who sniff
the ground that people spit on, as is expected of their species, slowly building in
their feeble memories saturated with smells and shapes a map of the lowest surfaces;
if it weren’t for dogs’ memory, the world – with no one else to divine it at
ground-level – would simply crumble.

The Future of Ghosts

One of the consequences that builders never imagined when they imposed
false facades and Styrofoam walls on the world was the destruction of the
natural habitat of ghosts. As some people have already begun to notice, though
without remorse or nostalgia (because the process really does seem irreversible),
the porosity of buildings is lethal to the species. Without the firmness of clay or
cement, without the irresistible sobriety of a cellar or a pantry, they cannot practice
their ancestral art of transposing obstacles, and are condemned to fade away.
On the other hand, the recent fad for building inside-out, leaving tubes and pipes
on display, has left the private lives of these creatures awkwardly exposed. Frightened,
they now vie for room among the wooden beams and doors that survive
demolitions. It may be that in a hundred years’ time no one even remembers the
slight fear, the eroticism, the provocative and dubious breeze that stirred with the
movement of this planet’s ancient guests, today so vulnerable.

Hic sunt dracones

We know that when mapping unknown territories and seas, medieval cartographers
used to adorn them with the figures of mermaids, griffins and
dragons. The inscription hic sunt dracones, which warns of unexplored, wild frontiers,
appears in drawings of the old world and exemplifies the inventive fear of the
men of this era.
According to 16th century reports, Gerardus Mercator, the Flemish calligrapher,
born Gerhard Kremer, who was to become the father of modern cartography, spent
most of his adolescence tormented by nightmares of such monsters. It is said
that this, alongside other more reasonable hypotheses, was the real reason behind
his invention of the famous projection named after him, which did away with the
appeal to symbolism and fantasy characteristic of Christian-inspired maps.
In a manuscript discovered in Dresden circa 1935, and hardly mentioned
by specialists, the cartographer Ortelius, Mercator’s contemporary and cordial
adversary, author of the first modern atlas, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, records
an obscure aspect of his friend’s life that was even overlooked by his first and
most painstaking biographer, Walter Ghim, who had been Mercator’s neighbour
for many years. Ortelius says that, towards the end of Mercator’s life, when his
technique was taught in schools all over the world and his peers hailed him as the
greatest of masters, he started complaining of a terrible nightmare, even more
disturbing than the one that had plagued him in his youth. In his dreams, the old
cartographer, carrying a T-square and drawing board, would find himself crossing
an absurd desert, a colourless expanse where no form of life was possible, which
bordered, in turn, on another desert.
At the end of the manuscript, which contains a bureaucratic note about how
Mercator helped him produce his atlas, Ortelius laments his friend’s suffering and,
referring to the nightmares that dogged him to his deathbed, asks without irony:
“Might this be the fabulous creatures’ revenge for having been excluded from the
imagination of men?”

The Bear

When there was no longer anywhere to run (and my voice, after the effort,
sounded weak and plaintive), when in the house not a single anyway had
survived, and nothing around me could be of interest or make sense, I shut myself
in the bedroom and locked the door. From here, I stare out the window waiting for
the moment, like that white bear I saw in a photograph many years ago, floating
on a chunk of ice in the middle of the Arctic Sea.

The Awning

Seen from here, the awning is a rectangle of black cement, grimy from all the
soot churned out by buses. The electrical wires, though tangled, don’t block
my view. Nor do the pigeons fly very close; they just swoop down diagonally to
land on the pavement. Hooked into the concrete, a shop sign dangles streetward;
at night I hear it banging in the wind. Things are thrown one by one from upstairs
windows and fall on the awning. Sweet wrappers, chewing gum, shards of glass.
Tin cans, batteries, plastic bags, coins. Styrofoam peanuts, foam. A naked doll with
blonde hair, missing an arm. A scrap of fabric, an old newspaper. Cigarette butts,
fruit leftovers. Every day I lean against the windowsill and appreciate the awning at
length. I wonder if I am alone, if someone else in another window is also watching
the transformation. It rains, the sun comes out. The doll fades, the cans rust. The
batteries undergo the natural process of oxidation. The bag sticks to the can, the
plastic decomposes slowly. The fabric gradually frays until it is threadbare. At any
moment, however, something new and full of life may appear on the awning, like a
red sock, for example.

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