The Village

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An oil painting of the silhouette of a girl rolling a hoop up a street between two buildings. An ominous shadow of a man, perhaps carrying a spear enters the scene from above.
Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978), Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, 1914, oil on canvas, 69 x 85 cm, private collection

My village sits on a circular platform. The gate of every house faces toward the square and stands perpendicular to ten streets, all cul-de-sacs. In the center of the square, one hundred meters high, rises an ancient tower without any opening. At the top flies a black flag woven with stars cut from silver paper. No one has gone beyond the square, and no one knows what lies beyond the walls that close off the streets. Needless to say, the legends that represent life outside as more frightening increase from century to century. Night and day the sky of my town, like the gonfalons of the Via Crucis, holds sun, moon, and stars motionless and palely luminous. When we young people awake, we ride bicycles and wake the neighborhood with loud trumpet blares. The girls bring chairs to the gates of their homes and sit there. They watch tenderly as we ride our races round and round the square, and they cover their chests with medals so their friends might win. We all wear jerseys embroidered with the names of our loves in colored thread. When the races are finished, we prop our bicycles against the tower and go sit at their sides. We hold hands and spend hours on end like this. Mothers open their balconies and lay out their damasks.

As the hour of rest draws near, a trapdoor opens in a corner of the square, and in the midst of a cloud of incense appears Father Felix. He carries a stack of books under his arm and runs his other hand through his long beard. One day he says: “God always gives himself whole to us. Never does he give one arm or one cheek or one leg. Nor does he ever give one arm to another arm, or one cheek to another cheek, or one leg to another leg.” Another day he says: “Our village is an act of God’s love, and all things are the offspring of love.” At that moment, we look at length into each other’s eyes, and we again grasp amorous hands.

Fra Felix, amidst another cloud of incense, reenters the hatch, laden with bicycles. The sky, with the sun, moon, and stars, moves gently like scenery.

Translation from the Catalan
By Lawrence Venuti

J. V. Foix (1893–1987) was a Catalan poet and essayist; this photo was taken in Cadaqués, Girona, in 1969. At the start of the twentieth century, he was instrumental in introducing the European avant-garde movements into Catalonia. “The Village” is an extract from his collection of prose poems, Daybook 1918.

To learn more about Lawrence Venuti, read an interview with him from this same issue.

Editorial note: Copyright © to the Catalan text by the Heirs of J. V. Foix. Translation copyright © 2017 by Lawrence Venuti.

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