Translator: Adrian Nathan West | Author: Pere Gimferrer | Work: Fortuny | Original Language: Catalan | Genre: Fiction

Valentino és una vànova vana i un ventall de vainilla i un envà. Rodolfo Valentino, a l’ascensor de l’estudi, mira els ulls de maragda d’un noi irlandès. Les mans es toquen; només la punta dels dits. A les quatre de la matinada, Paris és nu; al Boulevard des Italiens, Valentino veu la cara de Valentino en un pasquí que el vent ungleja amb llum de porcellana. L’Opéra, en la peixera de la matinada, és una cabellera de cascada corrupta en or petrificat. Valentino camina pels carrers buits, sota una lluna de seda. La porta del carrer s’obre i es torna a tancar ràpidament; tot just tancada, Valentino i el noi francès es besen a l’escala. Els cossos, en l’albada, tenen lluor de tigres.

Valentino is a vain vauntmure, a vane of vanilla in veils. Rudolph Valentino, in the studio’s elevator, looks in an Irish boy’s emerald eyes. The hands touch; only the fingertips. At four in the morning, Paris is nude: on the Boulevard des Italiens, Valentino sees the face of Valentino on a poster that the wind frays to ribbons in the porcelain light. The Opéra, in the fishbowl of morning, is a cascading coiffure corrupted in petrified gold. Valentino walks through the empty streets beneath a moon of silk. The gate to the street opens and closes again quickly; as it does, Valentino and the French boy kiss on the stairway. The bodies, in the aube, have a tiger-like shimmer.

Fortuny, like many of its modernist counterparts, is only a novel faute de mieux: there is no plot, no intrigue, no “character development,” as the acolytes of workshops term it; rather than souls, what characters there are might best be described as phenomena of sound, color, light, and darkness. The names and toponyms scattered through the text are like the foundation of a tapestry atop which the verbal pattern is woven. In translation, then, the pattern is paramount, and the more usual questions of register and voice fall away.

The present passage, with its abundant alliteration, well illustrates the kind of games Gimferrer plays. A failure to replicate them would render translation of his work pointless. As on so many occasions, the translator into English must be grateful: its Saxon and Norman parentage offer a cornucopia of synonyms, and often foreign rhymes and alliteration can be reproduced without sacrificing meaning. Still, there are limits, particularly with Gimferrer, whose Catalan can hardly be called idiomatic, relying as it does on an apparently limitless knowledge of etymology that frequently sent me on hour-long goose chases to nail down what a given word might mean. For the five words beginning with V in the first sentence of this passage, these were my solutions: A vànova is a coverlet, and this I just couldn’t make happen; the veil that comes at the end of the sentence is nowhere in the original, but it does serve a function of covering, so I didn’t see it as totally unjustified. Vana is already vain, so no great stretch of the imagination there; a ventall is a fan, and a vane is at least moved by the wind; vainilla, again, mutatis mutandis, is the same word in English. Vauntmure, a beautiful, obsolete word that I found thanks to my reading of nearly all the V entries in my OED, is the outer wall of a fortress, and hence nearly works for envà (an old spelling of embà), which can mean, variously, a cornice, a wall, a wall-like structure made of bars, and so on. As the chapter deals subtly with Rudolph Valentino’s hidden sexuality, a vauntmure or fore-wall was a lovely little find; and besides, it begins with a V whereas envà merely contains one.

Adrian Nathan West is a writer and translator who lives between Spain and the United States with the cinema critic Beatriz Leal Riesco. His book-length translations include Josef Winkler’s When the Time Comes, Pere Gimferrer’s Alma Venus, and Antonio Altarriba’s The Art of Flying. His novel The Aesthetics of Degradation is forthcoming from Repeater Books, and his translation of Pere Gimferrer’s Fortuny will be released in 2015 by David R. Godine.

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