It isn’t easy being a hydra according to Julio Cortazar in his collection of linked stories A Certain Lucas. In the opening story Lucas describes his many interests and quirks and passions as hydra heads collected over the decades of his life each further obscuring the real, original Lucas. His attempt to cut them off to get back to the original Lucas is doomed to amusing failure.
“For example, you take a cut on the head that collects records, and you take another on the one that invariably lays his pipe down on the left-hand side of the desk and the glass with the felt markers on the right and a little to the rear. Now it’s time to consider the results.
Hmm, something’s been gained, two heads fewer, but the remaining ones in a bit of a crisis as they agitatedly think and think as they face the mournful fact. Or: For a while at least there is a halt in the obsessiveness of that urgent need to complete the series of Gesualdo, prince of Venosa (Lucas is missing the two records in the series, it seems that they’re out of print and won’t be reissued, and that lessens the value to him of the other records. Let the head that thinks and wants and gnaws like that die from a clean cut.) Furthermore, it’s distressingly novel to reach for the pipe and find that it;s not in it’s place. Let’s take advantage of this will for disorder and here and now slice off the head that likes being closed in, having the easy chair for reading beside the lamp, the Scotch at six thirty with two cubes and not much soda, the books and magazines piled up in order of priority.”
Always a favorite author of mine this story in one of his last collections written later in his life identified with me immediately. Myself surfing the back side of life’s bell curve, this book and the light but deep and bemusedly resigned voice of Lucas became my bible. As I struggled through hardships Lucas reminded me that all life, even the tragedies, are always a little funny. It also taught me to embrace my hydra heads. Like Lucas I am a man of habit and routine and like Lucas I have an eclectic and passionate load of interests that weigh on me like burdens, at times suffocating my ability to do real and serious research at work without being sidetracked by say an instant and mysterious urge to search for all literary references to Cervantes’s Moor, Cide Hamete Benengeli. Or to book travel for a business trip with out trying to complete my mp3 collection of the Swingle Singers and in the process discovering the 18th Century Corporation’s 1968 album Bacharach Baroque .
The stories are all deceptively slight on the surface. A sort of absurdest lite with Lucas wandering through them like Jacques Tati’s Argentinian Uncle. Life always just an annoyance keeping him from getting from point a to point b. A simple trip to get some matches is likely to end with him in his pajamas alone on the side of the road at the edge of town. Interspersed are smaller pieces of classic Cortazar “new fiction” some little more than a paragraph. Each crafted with a light touch written with practiced ease. All linger long after the book is closed. A gem of a volume.
A Certain Lucas inspired me to like Lucas try and ease some of these burdens and exorcise them by sharing on this blog. I chose to call this endeavor sadburro because no matter how many packs I manage to remove another always replaces it. The minute I unload the sack containing my tendancy to only buy a bottle of single malt I haven’t tried before it is replaces by another sack containing the immediate need to learn more about Armagnacs (By the way Chateau Du Tariquet 8 Year Armagnac will not steer you wrong, a perfect balance of fruit and wood).
And so with with apologies to Mr Cortazar and a little nod to Apuleius I begin by trying to lighten my load by sharing a few of my hydra heads.