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News from Burgundia by Emilio Martinez



Prologue
Testing, One, Two, Three...

"Burgundia?" I asked Plumanegra Acutangulo when I finally found him, leaving a Shinto temple in Kyoto a number of years ago. He chose to answer me with a series of clumsy hops and strange movements of his hands which I want to think were part of a ritual. In some way, that writing he made in the air with his body illuminated certain etymological and hermeneutic keys for me which would later be confirmed via www.yahoo.com: the ancient denomination of French Burgundy; the name of an English village (Londonburgh, I believe); a group of anonymous sagas written in an hermetic language, etc., etc., etc. There were, maybe, fifteen items. Heterogeneous, unforgettable, cosmic.

I never saw him again, but I knew then as I know now that each of the syllables of his name would remain in human memory for generations. I also knew that his annotations, annals or polygraphic chronicles (which we gather in this indescribable volume) would be disseminated rapidly throughout the world, as happened with Cartas Nautas by Vespucci... These, then, are the unique and authentic transcriptions of the original documents that Plumanegra dictated -- swinging in his hammock, at the mercy of the influence of wine and cannabis -- to his faithful muezzin Martinez Emilio (whom he called my Boswell, my Max Brod, my Hamete Benegeli).

Having made these opening qualifications, it only remains for me to say, as one who extends his arms in a gesture of friendship: welcome, pilgrim -- you are already in Burgundia, Burgundia is already beginning to inhabit you.

Evohe, Evohe...

-- Juan Gonzalez

******

from Chapter 1: News from Burgundia

Of the agricultural arts and the depth of the world

With oxen yoked to their plows, the peasants of Burgundia are absorbed one and all in the work of opening furrows under the midday sun. They push the heavy apparatus, tracing an impeccable circle, then come back around to repeat the circumference once more, and then a third time and a fourth. And so on, ad infinitum.

The trench deepens and each peasant gradually descends as he spins with the obstinacy of a planet in its circular orbit. In the evening after a number of hours have elapsed since the farmers’ disappearance, a long line of women files out from the town carrying provisions. These they throw over the precipitous edges of the trenches.

Whoever looks into that terrible depth cannot remain unmoved by a feeling of vertigo.


Of the night and its sounds

Night falls on Burgundia.

While the sky comes alive with eyes and the last voices in the street die out, only a faint rumor persists, barely audible. In the center of the world, like obsessed termites, the peasants continue plowing.


Of morphological curiosities

The typical Burgundian is a rather squat individual, with thick purple lips and an extensive prehensile tail.

He has retractable nails which are of great use to him when it is time to slice sausages into little wheels or to open bottles.

It is difficult to pinpoint the number of his legs: in the morning he is accustomed to going on all fours, on two legs at midday and on three in the evening.

His smooth, bright beige hide reacts violently when exposed to litmus paper: amid an atrocious bubbling the specimen dissolves into a dense liquid.

Burgundians also possess the strange ability to recognize one another at first sight*.

* Monterroso and Levrero -- my notable predecessors -- had already noted this detail.


Of its non-Euclidean geography

In their cryptic language of latitudes and longitudes, cartographers speak of a mysterious point where the tropics, like parallel lines somewhere in infinite space, meet: Burgundia is there (south of the Gulf of Mlejnas and somewhat north of the province of Bikanir).

Certain navigators of a less orthodox opinion describe these lands as a “mobile island” formed by layers of sediment which have accumulated on the back of an enormous aquatic animal. Thus its uncertain, erratic location.

******

from Chapter 2: The Fauna of Burgundia

Of extinct animals

The zoological park of Burgundia is one of the most varied and exotic on the globe. In it can be found examples of species already extinct, like the master linotypist, or the family doctor, the cyclist who pedals a grindstone, or the silent movie pianist.


Of talking birds

The brown owl of Burgundia is famous for its fondness for aphorisms.

I visited it some time ago on a clear evening in October, there in the forests which encircle the city.

It was seated at the foot of an ombú tree, sipping maté tea with infinite slowness. Nailing me in its cold gaze, it declared: God is the most implausible of the fantastic animals.

Then it was silent for a long time while its feathered fingers toyed with a frayed whip.

It only spoke again two or three hours later to say: "Would you like some tea, Plumanegra?"

******

from Chapter 3: Another Version of Burgundia

Of Burgundian dress

The Burgundian's normal attire consists of three essential pieces: sepia-colored overalls spattered with sordid urine stains and various residues; a loincloth which shows a glimpse of abundant, albino pubic hair; and the essential seamless diving suit (which fetishistic Burgundian couples consider to be an arousing erotic object).


Of Yusuf and his fate

"Yusuf!”

"Yusuf!”

Shouting has disturbed the luminous Burgundian day. The streets have filled up with an extraordinary amount of activity; the people throng to the entrance of town with palm fronds and strangely jubilant expressions on their faces. I keep my distance, but I cannot turn my attention away from the magnetic question raised by that show of expectation.

“Yusuf, or al-Yusif, candidate for Messiah,” they explain to me, “he will make his triumphant entry into town any moment now.” The deferred arrival is exploited by clever merchants; a motley market provides images carved in bone, stickers, t-shirts and photos autographed by Al-Yusif himself to the curious & the faithful.

Finally, off in the distance, a cloud of dust becomes visible. Some while later, a figure can be discerned advancing enveloped in the cloud: a man on a burro.

He is followed by a dozen hooded figures and some retired prostitutes.

"Yusuf! Yusuf! Hosanna! Yusuf!” shouts the frenzied multitude as they wave palm fronds and the vendors hawk their wares. Yusuf has made his entrance into the capital Burgundia with apparent success; but his destiny will be very different (or so predict the animal entrails consulted by the hermit soothsayers). This magical evening is to be filled with the healing of hypochondriacs and tricks of prestidigitation, optical illusions and obscure parables. In the East, he would be a skinny, tall yogi, a fakir. In Burgundia he is Yusuf.


Of Yusuf, once again

When the Burgundian messiah ate supper for the last time with his disciples, he asked that they bring him a bowl.

Then he went on to remove the fingers from his hands, one by one. He made it a dozen with the big toes of his feet and, tendering the bowl to his faithful, he said: “Take this and eat, for this is my body.”


Of Burgundian structures and their capricious geometry

Burgundian architecture is something very peculiar, so much so that it is nearly impossible to describe to someone who has never seen it. Suffice to say, for example, that the stairways of this city only allow one to go up, but never to descend.

I suspect that its geometry is not the same as ours, maybe because the properties of space there are also different. When someone moves away from a house it appears to grow larger, in such a way that one is never too far from home. On the other hand, as we approach, that house contracts, diminishes itself to the point that when we arrive at the entrance we don’t fit through the doorway. Maybe this is why the people live in the open air and sleep in the streets.


Of geographical obscurity

Over the centuries this mysterious country has insisted on hiding itself from travelers. And so it is that neither the vikings nor Marco Polo, Columbus nor Sebastian Elcano were ever there.

Navigational maps ignore it completely and travel agents scratch their heads when anyone asks for Burgundia. For better information, let us say that it is somewhat to the north of its southern neighbors (although not too much); that its western coasts end at the Sea of Ur; that the horses which graze on its plains are white like the snow and only run toward the East. The reader can exhaust any number of atlases and encyclopedias, all for naught. He will find none of this.


Of the multitude of languages and the misunderstandings caused by them

Three hundred fifty-six thousand is the number of languages spoken here.* When a new Burgundian is born he begins to develop his own language; then, for example, he will designate doves with the term debe-guebe, or he will use the word ursprache to refer to tidal waves. Simultaneously, one of his compatriots will pronounce bertroludes and simorgulias to allude to the same phenomena. The natural corollary of all of this is generalized chaos. So, in political arenas a pacifistic orator will exhort his followers to non-violence and they will go out to set fire to half of the city, dancing on top of cars and stoning their enemies. Two people enter a shop to buy watches. One of them asks for a Santa Barbara and the other a microchip, please. The clerk assisting them gives to the first a straw hat and to the second a rattlesnake. Three hundred fifty-six thousand is the number of the inhabitants of Burgundia.

* This confussio linguarum may be due to the Burgundian affinity for the construction of very tall towers.


Of the Burgundian diet

Those who dwell here are completely vegetarian. Their only nourishment is the rosacea Burgundifera, a rare flower, very difficult to locate. So unusual is it to find an example of this species, and so risky is its collection due to its mortally poisonous thorns that every expedition sent in search of it has failed and on some occasions no one has even returned. This is the cause of the total extinction of the Burgundian race, decimated by hunger and its sequels.


Of extinction and its results

Today if a traveler finds the walled white city he will be able to traverse its labyrinthine melancholy alleys, now silent and solitary. He will be able to ascend the magnificent pyramids via their spiral staircases and to contemplate the landscape from that height, a landscape which is composed of millions of flowers, rosaceas Burgundiferas, born in the organic residue of the corpses.


(translated by Josh Hockensmith)


Emilio Martinez (Minas-Uruguay, 1971) is a writer and journalist. Since 1996 he has resided in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, where he has been a culture critic and journalist. He is the author of two books of stories, Noticias de Burgundia, and Cuentos para emborrachar la perdiz, as well as a volume of poetry, Antiguos jardines. He has received the Premio Municipal of Montevideo for poetry and the Premio Municipal of Santa Cruz for Literature for both short story and for poetry. He has collaborated on the literary pages of the papers La Prensa, La Razon, El Deber, and El Nuevo Dia, and he writes scripts for television. Editorial Nuevo Milenio, publisher of Noticias de Burgundia, is currently preparing the sequel, Macabria y otros cuentos, for publication later this year.

Josh Hockensmith is a poet, translator and book artist with a B.A. in English from the University of Richmond. He has translated poems by Francisco de Quevedo, Luis Cernuda, and Jose Gorostiza, among others. Noticias de Burgundia is his first book-length translation. He was the editor of South by Southeast: An International Journal of Haiku and the Haiku Arts from 1998-2000 and is currently a contributing editor. He designs and produces hand-bound artist's books. Since 2000 he has been a bookbinder for the library at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he also studies Spanish.


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translation copyright by translator 2002 all rights reserved