I am in!

All hail the prospective student of the Viking and Medieval Norse Studies programme in the University of Iceland! 

Once upon a time—it was so long ago I still dyed my hair out of vanity and my heart indulged itself to dream big—my Middle Egyptian language teacher, who is likely to be around and read this, told us in class: ‘If you have a true, deep interest in how people belonging to a civilisation other than your own really thought and processed information, steer clear of plain ‘culture courses’ and learn the language they actually spoke. Go to the source. For this way you will be able to read the texts for yourself and form an opinion; therefore, few will be able to fool you.

I often think that, had I just had a hint of both the implications or the consequences that such a statement was bound to have in my life, I would never ever had entered the classroom that afternoon. I would rather have stayed inside the mythical Marmarita drinking the savoury tea I used to have before our lessons, and smoking shisha, and watching the tide roll away.

But no way. Not even close.

The years of studying the language, culture, and cosmovision of the Black Land came to an end and then I was suddenly facing the real problem of having put the cart before the horse: I had a wonderfully carved cart right in the middle of my garden, yes, but I lacked even the stamina to try to pull it aside so it wouldn’t cause further trouble to anyone, me included. Those were hard times. It was then when I truly made that sad Cavafis verse, the same one that had also haunted Terenci Moix back then—the one that went As one long prepared, and full of courage/ […] Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say it was a dream, […] don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these—mine and my own alone.

Then from the aforedescribed pandemonium of desolation and grief, a brave voice raised. It was that of a bold, honest human being who is also likely to recognise himself in these lines—should he read them, that is. A voice that dared to defy the borders that are usually implied in average classmates’ relationships and harshly scolded me. “Stop complaining and whining like a crybaby—you know it was bound to happen, didn’t you—and do something about it once and for all. Sit for the university entry examinations, pass them, apply for an official registration, get your darn degree, and THEN you will be able to take the next ship to Ithaca.”

Instead of trying to sneak into it like a stowaway, which was what I clearly had tried to do, I added in my head.

It takes bravery and a keen, deep sensitivity—not to mention guts—to take a step forward and utter such bold, bitter words. And I am both moved and deeply grateful for them to this very day. What I couldn’t know back then, and barley believe today, is that the darn ship was going to take so freezing a detour.

I can’t know where this new quest is about to take me. Nor I know how far I will be able to get, either. That, only the Norns know. However, as good ol’ Kavafis knew back then so well, that’s the joy of every quest, isn’t it?

As you set out for Ithaka

hope the voyage is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery.

Laistrygonians and Cyclops,

angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:

you’ll never find things like that on your way

as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,

as long as a rare excitement

stirs your spirit and your body.

Laistrygonians and Cyclops,

wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them

unless you bring them along inside your soul,

unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

 

Hope the voyage is a long one.

May there be many a summer morning when,

with what pleasure, what joy,

you come into harbors seen for the first time;

may you stop at Phoenician trading stations

to buy fine things,

mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

sensual perfume of every kind—

as many sensual perfumes as you can;

and may you visit many Egyptian cities

to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

 

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you are destined for.

But do not hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years,

so you are old by the time you reach the island,

wealthy with all you have gained on the way,

not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

 

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.

Without her you would not have set out.

She has nothing left to give you now.

 

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.

Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,

you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

C. P. Cavafy

Ithaca

¡Estoy dentro!

Señores, ¡saluden todos a la futura estudiante del Máster en Estudios Vikingos y Nórdicos Medievales de la Universidad de Islandia!

 

Una vez, hace tantos años que todavía iba a teñirme el pelo por simple coquetería y mi corazón se permitía el lujo de pergeñar grandes sueños, mi profesor de egipcio clásico (que por aquí anda) nos dijo en clase: “Si de verdad queréis conocer cómo piensan las gentes de una civilización distinta de la vuestra, dejaos de cursos de cultura y aprended su lengua. Leed los textos, id a la fuente. Así seréis capaces de sacar vuestras propias conclusiones y nadie os la podrá dar con queso”.

A menudo pienso que, de haber sabido las implicaciones y las consecuencias que esa frase iba a tener en mi vida, jamás habría entrado en clase aquella tarde. Me habría quedado en el mítico Marmarita saboreando un té con menta como solíamos, fumándome una shisha y viendo amablemente la vida pasar.

Pero no.

Los años de estudiar la lengua, la cultura y la cosmovisión de la Tierra Negra terminaron y, de pronto, me encontré cara a cara con el verdadero problema de empezar a construir una casa por el tejado: tenía la cúpula más bella del mundo pudriéndose en un jardín cuyas malas hierbas no me quedaban fuerzas para arrancar. Fueron tiempos duros. Por aquel entonces, hice mío aquel tristísimo poema de Kavafis que también cautivara, en su día, a Terenci Moix: “Como hombre cultivado desde tiempo atrás, como un valiente/ […] no digas que fue un sueño, no alimentes/ tan vanas esperanzas/y di tu adiós a esa Alejandría/que pierdes para siempre”.

De entre aquel pandemónium de desolación se alzó una voz, la de una persona valiente que si me lee se reconocerá, que se atrevió a desafiar las buenas maneras que marca la mera camaradería estudiantil y me abroncó como solo saben hacerlo las personas que intuyen un gran dolor con y en una sensibilidad afín a la suya. “Deja de lamentarte y lloriquear de una vez. Haz algo. Sácate el p**o acceso a la Universidad, estudia de forma que puedas certificar que lo has hecho y, de ahí, te subes al próximo barco a Ítaca”.

Lo que no podía saber yo entonces era que el barquito de marras iba a dar un rodeo considerable. Eso, y que mejor me llevo una rebequita para el camino, que me han dicho que por las noches refresca un poco.

Tampoco puedo saber hasta dónde me llevará esta aventura ni hasta dónde seré capaz de llegar: eso solo las Nornas lo saben. Pero… como bien sabía el bueno de Cavafis, eso es lo realmente grande de las aventuras, ¿no?

Cuando emprendas tu viaje a Ítaca

pide que el camino sea largo,

lleno de aventuras, lleno de experiencias.

No temas a los lestrigones ni a los cíclopes

ni al colérico Poseidón,

seres tales jamás hallarás en tu camino,

si tu pensar es elevado, si selecta

es la emoción que toca tu espíritu y tu cuerpo.

Ni a los lestrigones ni a los cíclopes

ni al salvaje Poseidón encontrarás,

si no los llevas dentro de tu alma,

si no los yergue tu alma ante ti.

Pide que el camino sea largo.

Que muchas sean las mañanas de verano

en que llegues -¡con qué placer y alegría!-

a puertos nunca vistos antes.

Detente en los emporios de Fenicia

y hazte con hermosas mercancías,

nácar y coral, ámbar y ébano

y toda suerte de perfumes sensuales,

cuantos más abundantes perfumes sensuales puedas.

Ve a muchas ciudades egipcias

a aprender, a aprender de sus sabios.

 

Ten siempre a Ítaca en tu mente.

Llegar allí es tu destino.

Mas no apresures nunca el viaje.

Mejor que dure muchos años

y atracar, viejo ya, en la isla,

enriquecido de cuanto ganaste en el camino

sin aguantar a que Ítaca te enriquezca.

Ítaca te brindó tan hermoso viaje.

Sin ella no habrías emprendido el camino.

Pero no tiene ya nada que darte.

Aunque la halles pobre, Ítaca no te ha engañado.

Así, sabio como te has vuelto, con tanta experiencia,

entenderás ya qué significan las Ítacas.

K. Kavafis

Ítaca

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