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My first meeting with Cortázar was with Bestiario. That was the moment the first seed was planted, when I was only 18 years old, and my second date was with Rayuela. There is no possible world in which this series of events would not inevitably derive in the birth of an incorrigible Cortazarian, an adventurous and amusing cronopio. This magic succession of events took place in less than a year, and completely changed the way I see Literature.
Bestiario is a zany world in itself, and if one shakes the book considerably, one may open it to find mancuspias prowling around the Seine, or maybe in Suipacha street, or white, black and grey rabbits happily jumping around Budapest, or who knows what type of delirium. These characters, as joyful as they may seem at a first glimpse, take dark roles under Julio’s shameless gaze: it is a simple tiger, you do not have to make such a scandal, they are just boys and girls holding flowers, who lurk, like everything in the book; lurking, underneath, but beating hard. Beasts lurk and narrators retreat. These are the two most important driving forces in the stories, handled by Cortázar with the precision of a neurosurgeon.
Now I ramble about the characters sardonically and with ease, but I must admit they occupied several sleepless consecutive nights: to digest the stories that make up this literary elixir is not a simple task. I imagined mancuspias so many times that, to overcome the fear they generated on me, I used them as an education tool: after I read the story, I asked my 10-year-old students to draw them. Hordes of multifaceted mancuspias were born on that beautiful moment. Some of them looked similar to the ones that chased me, but others generated fatherly affection on me. I hope that none of the children had weed in bed that night: if it was the case, I want to make clear to the families and to the little boys that that was not my intention, that it was just a Cortazarian impulse.
That tiny seed germinated and then the first leafs appeared, and then the first flowers —black carnations, gladiolus, red roses, callas and daisies—. Leafs and flowers multiplied and gave rise to others, more mature and more colourful: All Fires the Fire, Un Tal Lucas, Historias de Cronopios y de Famas, 62: A Model Kit, The Winners, Las Armas Secretas, Alguien Que Anda Por Ahí, Los Reyes, Fantomas Contra los Vampiros Internacionales, Silvalandia. With a very inflated chest, I confess that I have not read Cortázar’s complete bibliography: I enjoy that relegated pleasure as he who ages a wine to uncork it in his wedding night or, even better, in his bachelor party.
Successive rereadings of Bestiario’s stories, instead of presenting new answers to me as would be expected, have revealed new questions and new interpretations of the stories that I thought I had chewed enough. Who was on the other side of the bridge on the verge of dying of hypothermia? What did the bonbons actually had? Why did the rabbits could not stop sprouting from the fauces of the translator? Mario must have found Celina, but the lawyer does not want to reveal it. Who was the first to be eaten by the tiger? Would have I got off the bus too? Would have I left the house? Mancuspias must have an eerie howl. How full of life, and of languages from here and there, and of the essence of the human being upon discovering a face in a burned toast are Bestiario’s stories!
Bestiario‘s reading seemed completely revealing to me and then essential, and that is why I always resort to it if I have to solve some urgent daily affair, like mowing the lawn or shooting a free kick. Cortázar has written, some may argue, better stories than the ones in Bestiario: “Las Armas Secretas” is a perfect long story, period. “The Pursuer” has it all, “Continuity of Parks” is, in itself, a lecture on how to write a short story. However, Bestiario is the best and the most organic collection of short stories that Cortázar has ever written. Or anyone for that matter. That is the reason why I chose it as a gift in five occasions, for five special people that deserved the pleasure of the most beautiful Literature.
Proudly (too) I have to recognise that Julio represented a breaking point in my life: I would have never read an entire novel with such voraciousness if not for him and his Rayuela, I would have never written a short story if not for his Bestiario, as I probably would not have gone to Asia for five months if it was not for his Historias de Cronopios y de Famas. He sparked a boundless curiosity in me, and then, not happy enough with his feat, he increased it a hundredfold squared and then tripled it, to be sure that the work was complete. Let me thank you, dear Julio, for all the smiling afternoons and nights, for all the terror dawns, for all the worlds you helped me travel to. I hope that from the pantheon you can notice that I diligently water, day after day, the seed that you planted with Bestiario.
PS: Dear Reader: if you had not understood anything at all from the above, it is because you missed something very important. Please, run to your closest book shop and buy a copy of Bestiario. After reading it, reread this article. Many thanks and sorry for the inconveniences (or joy) that I may have caused.
This essay was originally published in La Plata’s literary magazine Gambito de papel No. 7.
This post is also available in: Español