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Aug 1, 2013


First published in 1936, and considered one of the most innovative and significant novels written in Catalan, Waltz tells the tale of an idle, introspective, and somewhat oblivious young "man without qualities" as he stumbles through a milieu of civic upheaval and bourgeois tragedy as he waltzes from one prospective bride to another, never willing to compromise his ideals, and so never quite becoming an adult. With one foot in the romanticism of Goethe or Kleist, and another in the wildly differing takes on the modern novel provided by Aldous Huxley, James Joyce, and Marcel Proust, respectively, Waltz is an occasionally absurd comedy of indecision and indolence structured in imitation of the dance from which it takes its title.
Aug 1, 2013

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Waltz - Francesc Trabal




WHY ARE YOU tearing up the cards?

With this, Silda’s husband began to shred with even greater rage the pile of greeting cards he had separated from the stack of letters lying on the table. This strange surge of energy was his way of expressing disdain for people who chose to convey their good wishes by means of postcards or calling cards. You either do it in person or if you can’t, at least you write a note, he grumbled, emphasizing each word as he spoke. Then he proceeded to address his wife with fine, eloquent phrases in support of this opinion, for he delighted in sketching brilliant associations, verbal embellishments, in an attempt to confuse her, such as: What would you say if I called Eulàlia before leaving for the office and told her to come kiss you because you knew I was leaving?

Silda’s wry smile—which was characteristic of her and a quirk familiar to all her friends—remained unaltered, but her pupils fluttered exaggeratedly, giving the impression not that her head was spinning, but rather that her eyes could not rest calmly when confronted by the spectacle of her husband’s penchant for showing off—that was it exactly, what people referred to as showing off. Núria was right to laugh in his face every time she stayed for lunch; it was strange that till now Agustí had never appeared annoyed, had never glowered at her or made a rude comment. But then Núria could take these liberties—all the liberties she wanted—some people just have this gift: Nothing really matters, it’s all the same to them. But perhaps, in the end, she went a bit too far, though Silda also laughed at her husband’s tendency to show off; and though the two women were reasonably close friends, kindred spirits to a degree, Núria could occasionally have held her tongue, for the sake of propriety, if only to avoid that inner blush, that tug at one’s intestines that such a situation, no matter how brief, inevitably provokes. Was Agustí now going to try to persuade her that he hadn’t read the cards? As soon as he saw her entering, he had pretended he was separating the letters from the calling cards and postcards and had then immediately proceeded to tear them up. Well, she didn’t believe he hadn’t read the cards. And he knew that she didn’t believe it, but he had to go through the motions, just because, because he needed to act in a consistent manner. Primarily so he could face her at the dinner table where Father Rodés would approve of his gesture and support him in front of the children (and Agustí would look at her out of the corner of her eye, she was sure of it!). Couldn’t her husband see that Ricard was growing up, no longer sucked his thumb? Agustí might still be able to impress Víctor and the girl, but Ricard! She was certain that when Agustí mentioned that he had torn up the cards because he detested greetings of that sort, Ricard would act distracted for a moment so he could glance in her direction. He’d have that expression of delight on his face—he did it so well when he wanted to—but he would be scrutinizing the effect his father’s words had on her. She was sure of it! She didn’t share her husband’s idea that one should bring up children like that, instilling character and personality in such foolish ways. There, she had uttered the word: Foolish. Plain and simple foolishness. He could call it what he wished, but that was the word Roseta had used—the elderly maid who’d worked for her parents for many years when she was little. Roseta was so amusing when she got worked up. How she loved to let off steam. And how many times had her mother been forced to put her in her place. When Roseta got really provoked, she would forget there was a hierarchy in the household and that Grandfather was easily agitated. I bet he won’t throw those scraps away, of course not! And then Silda couldn’t help but laugh as she contemplated her husband forming little mounds of shredded paper on one side of the table. He was actually fonder of those scraps than the whole stack of letters of which he was seemingly so proud! They were his trophy. He would have framed them if he had dared.

You want me to burn them?

Silda laughed. A loud laugh, as though hoping to provoke a clever response in her husband. But he couldn’t rise to the occasion. Maybe he couldn’t find the right words, maybe he whispered them so low that only he heard them; and then with a quick gesture he brushed the scraps of paper off the table, scattering them on the floor, and walked away, crumpling the other greeting cards in his tight fist, only to be confronted later with the problem of having to iron them out again.

Silda called to Eulàlia through the window that gave onto the garden, and when the maid appeared in the gallery where Silda was doing her nails, she told her to gather up the offensive strips of paper and deposit them carefully in the dining room, on the little shelf of the sideboard. She asked Eulàlia if she had phoned the carpenter to come and repair the swing under the acacia. Nothing in the world could have enticed her to sit there for more than five minutes, not Silda. She had been terrified of swings all her life, and the last thing she needed was a complicated double swing like the one her husband had chosen, all because Casanelles had had one set up for Penèlope. What a name! Just the sort that would suit Agustí Casanelles. Suddenly she remembered the anecdote about Senyor Flors’s son, that time he was walking along Gran Via and a new shop was opening and they were painting its name on a sign, La Pinacoteca, as if it were actually an art gallery . . . There’s a fine line between foolishness and charm! Which evoked memories of Calvet, the fellow who played golf. All those ladies who were dying to accompany him, and here she had been so afraid of him. How mortifying! Absolutely mortifying! She detested jokes. They made her furious. And that’s what Calvet was: a machine for cranking out jokes. For each one that found its target in her, eight days of having to endure his silliness. Sometimes he lost all notion of what was proper. Isn’t that Elvira? Elvira! Elvira! Silda waved and jumped up, without knowing if she’d been heard. Where in the world would she be going at this time of day? She never leaves the house before noon. What miracle has occurred at the Ribes household to make her go out at ten in the morning? . . . and here I am probably looking like a country bumpkin. Elvira! I’m sure she saw me. And she’s carrying a . . . what’s that under her arm? Well, if I . . . it looks like she’s carrying an umbrella. With this sun? An umbrella?

Afraid it’s going to rain? Did you read the weather report?

It never fails! I told them yesterday when I got back from hunting: I need another bath towel, I absentmindedly wiped my shoes on it, and there you are, neither the old towel nor any other. And if I mention it now, Silda will repeat the whole scene, enjoying herself even more than yesterday, repeating all that about not understanding why shoes should be cleaned with a bath towel. And on top of that, they took the dirty one and didn’t give me a fresh one. How am I going to get out of here? And if I call or ring the bell, there’s the risk that I’ll frighten her, she’ll think there’s been some emergency and she’ll come running. So, Agustí Assens, his skin covered with goose bumps, began to slap his body in an attempt to dry it, until finally he decided to call the maid, who was kind enough to hear him and come to his aid. A robe, he mumbled through the door. A robe or towel, whatever you find, but make it snappy. One day they would push him too far, he would buy a padlock and put a chain to the terrycloth robes, and he alone would have the key. Same story as with the toilet paper. It was his misfortune (and no doubt his alone, he’d lost count of how many times it had occurred) that he had been forced to ring the bell and call out in that contrite voice: Toilet paper, please! He could envision the front page of Le Rire with a caricature of someone in that situation, with only the words Toilet paper! underneath. He was almost laughing at the thought when a knock at the door interrupted him. Thank you. And he hastened to find succor in the dry softness of the towel, at the same time calling again to Lluïsa to bring him the scissors for his moustache. Did the carpenter come? He was worried about the swing. And today he couldn’t even have his breakfast there, because people would be stopping by to congratulate him. He would have been especially pleased to receive Casanelles in the swing, for the man believed he had a right to certain exclusive privileges. And Casanelles would have discovered that not only did Agustí Assens have a swing just like his, but he also had a little table with a mechanism that allowed you to adjust its height to suit you. Ah, and Sally! If Miss Sally were to come! Nothing could be finer. If Silda learned that the previous night he’d been playing billiards with her and not with Claveria as he usually did . . . And what’s wrong with that? Of course the billiard game was just a mirage . . . But the story would probably end here, and Miss Sally would disappear when the summer was over. Maybe she’d go back to Sidney, maybe she’d marry that silly fellow Jack; she always made fun of him, but who knows, maybe she was actually hoping to hook him. When Sally’s name came to mind, Assens felt the very structure of his innermost ideas quivering. What a curious thing! What sort of interest, curiosity, or disquiet could this Australian lady possibly evoke in him? Yes, she was pretty, a blonde—well, that silvery blonde was fake, but blonde nevertheless—and, yes, there was this interesting sentimental quality about her. But what else? Had he met her in a music hall or a dance parlor, he would never have noticed her; but now that she was spending time among the summer community and everyone was showering her with special attention, did he really need to display a particular predilection for her? He was more and more convinced that Miss Sally’s hold over him was derived from her name. Ever since he’d seen that movie in Technicolor, with her name for the title. Who was the heroine? Sally Eilers? No, it wasn’t her; besides, Sally Eilers looked consumptive. Who could it have been? Ruby . . . Ruby . . . I have it! Marilyn Miller, that tall, thin blonde with the splendid chest. Wonder what happened to that girl? Never saw her in another film. But more than the film, more than the girl, it was the name Sally that pleased him. Yes, it was clearly the attraction of the name. Sally. Now if she’d been called Pepita (or even Silda, why not?), it would probably never have occurred to me to notice her. He had the perfect example in his friend Romà, the one who married the dancer from Pigalle only because she was called Ady. Same story, same case. What an idiot. Now they call her Romana. But even so, my wife will be absolutely furious. It’s not enough for her to hate my poor, little moustache, but today she’ll probably call it Hitlerish. Me, I find myself charming. But, I’m sure she’d yank it out if she could. I can hear her now, filled with disgust: ‘Look how cute it is. And just where did you buy it, darling?’ Ah! I’ll hide my feelings, and if I explode, it will be inwardly, less suffering that way . . .

The Senyora’s gone out. She says she’ll be right back. I think she went out with Senyora Elvira, you know, the one with the scales. Yes, I know who she is. Her husband too. All of it smells rotten to me. And I know who the Forcades fellow is—better than her husband. We’re cruel, every one of us. It’s as if we enjoy seeing others make a fool of themselves. I’ll raise hell when Mur gets up. Not even on my Saint’s Day can he make an effort to get up early. Why is it that artists are so lazy, always so behind on their sleep? Aren’t we in a new era now? Isn’t the modern era supposed to apply to everyone? Hasn’t the moment for cravats and long hair passed? Why can’t artists rise at a proper hour? They’re infuriating. They act like they own the world. All I need now is for Ricard to insist on declaiming poetry. A poet is even more of a simpleton than a painter. I’ve never in my life picked up a book of verse, and I doubt that I’ll ever regret it. If what Father Rodés told me is true, and Ricard is planning to dedicate a poem to me today, I’ll tear it up, right in front of him, even if Father Rodés does glare at me and admonish me later. I want to show by example that I’m not in the mood for this kind of idiocy; I want them to learn while they’re still young that they shouldn’t waste their time. Would I be where I am today if I had given myself up to babbling about the sun and clouds, about whether birds chirp or coo? That’s why I like Sally; how different her sentiments are! She calls a spade a spade. Women want us to accomplish things, not compose verses. That is true romanticism. That is something positive! Time to move beyond . . . Ah, here we have the Tarruell family. They annoy me, but they do know how to fulfill their obligations. And the Fàbregas, now that’s a fine mess. I’ll have to assume the appropriate look. Must I really go and greet them? Or shall I pretend I haven’t seen them?"

And Agustí Assens—with his hand on his head, a little cough, and a quick straightening of his jacket—set his chin forward as if sporting a goatee and headed down the side corridor, so that he could bestow a certain solemnity to his appearance on stage. The oil portraits hanging on the walls let out an enormous, long yawn and stretched their arms as though attempting to restore feeling to them. The curtains trembled as though experiencing the first breeze of morning. The stuffed boar’s head slowly opened his eyes. The chairs sat down from exhaustion and the divan lay prostrate in discouragement. Only the fur on the white bear remained motionless, absent, not a breath of life to it, as though it were made of papier-mâché, in that nonchalant attitude it had assumed when its stomach had been opened up and the bear had been planted there to camouflage the chipped tiles.

This isn’t a reproach, but when I heard the clock strike ten thirty, I said to myself, ‘What could have happened to Maria?’ And how are you? Mind you, I was only speaking in jest. Do sit down. You are all so kind. How are you, Tarruell? And you, Senyor Joan? What a pleasure to see you.

The crowd of people kept Agustí busy trying to engage them. He exaggerated his response to their complements, and everyone seemed self-conscious. Maria Fàbregas started it all: You’re right, it’s a weakness of mine—always faithful to tradition. I believe tradition is the basis of personality. Always punctual. You know my husband Joan and I both enjoy paying tribute to tradition. When we rise in the morning, at the dinner table, at work, and when it’s a question of congratulating our friends—those who deserve it—and I shouldn’t mention this last bit because you . . . just yesterday, for example, you broke up our bridge game.

Silda appeared at that precise moment, carrying miniscule flowerpots, each with what appeared to be wind-swept hair planted in the center. Those cacti were a veritable lifesaver for Agustí, who without them would have had to invent some elaborate tale to cover up the fabrication of yesterday’s game of billiards with Claveria (a close friend of Tarruell’s), for that was the excuse he had given his wife for not playing bridge with the Fàbregas. When Assens saw Silda enter, he’d been on the point of calling her Sally. But Maria had rushed to greet her and was exclaiming over the swarming plants, while her husband Joan was gingerly chiding Senyora Tarruell, telling her that Apa referred to the cacti as aborted plants, and he quite agreed, despite his wife’s disapproval, for now Maria too had taken to collecting them; Joan blushed when Senyora Tarruell retorted that she’d been collecting them for years and now had four hundred and seventeen different species. Silda, weren’t you out with Elvira? Agustí ventured, and received by way of reply a slight nod from his wife that seemed to indicate that he shouldn’t dwell on the point, which suddenly reminded him that the Ribes family hadn’t associated with the Fàbregas since the elections. This reminded him of his brother Antoni, whose arrival had been announced for that day, and he turned to Fàbregas: You’ll never guess who’s coming today: Antoni. Your brother? Yes, he’s coming with Helena and the boy. The Minister? Tarruell added, moving closer to his friends who had drifted away from the table where the ladies were handling the cacti. All at once Agustí was puffed up with pride. The fact that he had a brother who was Minister of Finance caused his belly to swell. He was actually more pleased to have a brother as minister than he would have been to hold office himself. In this way he benefited from the other’s prestige, but could avoid all the work and commitments. The one thing he despised was having an American sister-in-law. But only because he didn’t know English, even though Helena spoke Catalan (had even Catalanized her name). It made him furious that he couldn’t occasionally show off in English, especially in front of certain people; that would have allowed him to assume the same airs that others put on with him. But he had a real soft spot for their son, his nephew, who, though only two years older than Ricard, was already a man, or so it seemed, and you could talk to him not as an adolescent, but as an adult. If Agustí had dared, he would have attempted to discover the underlying cause of his fondness—almost admiration—for the boy, which derived from a truly exceptional fact: His nephew exuded congeniality in his encounters with women. Wherever he went, he inspired friendship and drew smiles from the ladies. And the strange thing about it was that he managed to do so without much of an effort. His mere presence produced an indescribable something, a sort of agreeable sense of well-being, optimism, and cheerfulness. Sometimes you could see him standing quietly, toying with a cigarette in his fingers, unoccupied and unconcerned; yet it never failed, the girls seemed to live for nothing more than the moment he might open his mouth. Agustí had never ventured to mention this to his brother or sister-in-law, but he had brought it up on multiple occasions with Silda, who invariably and jokingly agreed with him before adding: Pure envy. Envy! Well, what of it? Isn’t it enviable to be twenty years old, if you can bring it off with such style?

And is your nephew coming too? Maria asked her friend sweetly. Silda had also been explaining that her in-laws would be putting in an appearance. Yes, of course. They’ll be here for dinner, and my nephew is staying on for a few days. But look who’s here! The Duran family had just entered, with Father Romeu and the doctor . . . Agustí continued to swell up like some great batrachian unable to spit out the lit cigar hanging from its mouth. The stroll after Mass today has turned into a cocktail party, Senyor Assens, exclaimed Pach, fitting right into the homage being paid to Agustí. Different versions of the same conversation filled the room with disparate sounds, as Muntaner repeated the gist of it to Dr. Vancells in a low voice: "Assens certainly does enjoy this, every year! If it weren’t for his little event, he would have sold the house. The day he can no longer show off by acting the part of leader of this little residential community, he’ll leave. Just the other day, in fact, I was told something that, if true, might mean we’re now present at the last act of a tragedy. Guardiola told me (I don’t know if you know him, from the Banc de Crèdit . . . Precisely, that’s the one) that Assens had lost some 400,000 pesetas on the Pardell electric irons. And that, together with the loss he took last winter, means that his situation is, if not desperate, at least precarious. I don’t believe it. I’ve heard the same thing, but if that were the case, how can you explain that he’s just bought a Delage, with seven doors? A seven passenger! Well, seven seats, anyway. That doesn’t mean a thing; didn’t you know that the Maluquers bought one last month? But, even if it was just to show off, if he didn’t have plenty of money, he wouldn’t have been able to . . ."

. . . well, I just didn’t feel like it! "But it wasn’t nice to leave her alone like that. Now her mother will think it was your father’s doing. And if they choose to act like that, we just have to pretend we don’t know anything about it. Lola’s never insinuated anything, and if Roser told her she was going to Mass with us and she finds out we stood her up, what will she think? You should go look for her, you might still find her, go for

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