Saturday, August 24, 2013

Cortázar: Of piantados and idos

Julio Cortázar's essay, "Del gesto que consiste en ponerse el dedo índice en la sien y moverlo como quien atornilla y destornilla," the title of which translates as something like "On the Gesture that Consists of Placing One's Index Finger to One's Forehead and Moving It Like Someone Screwing and Unscrewing," appears in the second volume of his collection La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos. Being a bit culture- and language-specific, the piece hasn't (as far as I can tell) been translated into English, and isn't included in the North Point Press volume (translated by Thomas Christensen) entitled Around the Day in Eighty Worlds, which gathers other pieces from La vuelta al día as well as from another Cortázar miscellany, Último Round.

The essay is dedicated to a consideration — in fact, a celebration — of a variety of eccentric characters, including such key figures in the Cortázar universe as the French postman Ferdinand Cheval, a folk architect who constructed a homemade edifice using the stones that he gathered on his daily rounds; Ceferino Piriz, the utopian whose bizarre schemes were incorporated into the pages of Hopscotch; and the pseudonymous poet El Santo, who versified Argentine history in an epic composed of hundreds or perhaps even thousands of unbearably pedestrian lines.

One section of the essay, entitled "Los piantados y los idos," discusses some of the terminology that Argentines employ to describe people who are what we would in English might call "eccentric," or "crazy," or just plain "nuts." What follows is a brief excerpt; rather than try to find English equivalents for some things, I have left them in the original. (This translation could no doubt be improved, so corrections are welcome.)
The word piantado is one of the cultural contributions of the Río de la Plata; readers north of the 32nd parallel will note that it derives from piantare, "to scram" in Italian, a usage illustrated by the sonorous tango where one can also hear the sound of broken chains: Pianté de la noria... ¡se fue mi mujer!*

Note that someone who goes [va] is ido [gone], a word that in proper Spanish means chiflado [crazy]; in giving more importance to and imposing the piantado in detriment to the ido, we Argentines reiterate one of our most cherished aspirations, which, as everyone knows, is to replace a Spanish word with an Italian one whenever possible and above all when it isn't. I, for example, was an ido when I was very small, but around the age of twelve someone referred to me as a piantado and my family adopted the neologism in accordance with the aforementioned sound principle. Naturally the interior of the country is less exposed to these terminological substitutions, and it is fair to say that if the capital can boast of a commendable percentage of piantados, our provinces on the other hand remain full of idos; the linguistic quarrel has no importance in the face of the hope that the total of idos and piantados may someday manage to overcome the influence of the cuerdos [sane people, squares], of whom we've had it up the you know where...

I always take piantados very seriously because they represent the heteroclite among the normal patterns, the earth of the salt, the humus of the future that is incorporated mysteriously into that crystalline substance composed of sodium chloride, usually of a white color and characteristic acrid taste, which is very useful for soups and stews but which has something about it of the sterile, the boring, the Valley of Death.
* "Hear the sound of broken chains" alludes to a line from the first stanza of the national anthem of Argentina: Oíd el ruido de rotas cadenas. The quotation from the tango "Victoria" ("Victory") means, roughly, "I have escaped my yoke... My woman has gone!"

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