Checkerboard layout: read here city grid. Final Exam, the city, its streets. Hopscotch, another city, other streets, the metro, galleries and passages. A storyline walking, travelling. Time stops between metro stations. The tube. Itineraries. La Maga and Rocamadour. Coincidences. The Jardin des Plantes. The cemetery at Montparnasse. Cronopio.
Spanish Law of the Indies: conquerors had no idea of how to establish a city. How do you do it? DIY. This magical book will reveal everything to you, a grid, a square, the town hall, the fort and the cathedral. One hundred metres by one hundred. Corners and right angles. Kit. A Model Kit. Buenos Aires, Colonia, Montevideo, Santiago, Quito, Caracas, Bogotá, La Habana… ad infinitum.
When I was five or six my mother used to take me with her on the bus to another neighbourhood to buy shoes for herself. The problem was that I got travel sick easily and the whole journey was a nightmare. I just wanted to throw up. My mother managed to keep me distracted and would read to me the name of the streets and make me count the garden gnomes. Yes, those little terracotta gnomes painted in garish colours were poking out from the terraces and balconies we passed by. The trick worked. Sometimes. Sometimes not, and then she had to ask the driver to stop at the first corner or I would vomit all over the place …
Years later when I was in the final year of primary school we went to live in another neighbourhood, but I carried on going to the same school in my old quarter. That is, I had to take a bus every morning, a bus that crossed unknown boundaries, territories that slowly became part of myself. I was not dizzy anymore but I still followed unconsciously the ritual of reading one by one the names of the streets that we were crossing, the first names to enter my own private city map. Indelible.
It’s been 17 years since I slept in you but I dream of you. Your checkerboard plan. Your streets. In my dreams everything gets distorted, bigger, smaller. You are a mirage. You were. I recall something that might have existed, that was, that lived. Frozen in time. Inside me you never grew up, you never changed.
But other grids appeared in my life. The one I have now is just an adoptive one, a step-grid, a hostile foster-grid. You are not mine. You belong to others. I never dream of you. Your streets still seem alien to me. Even after all this time. I don’t love you. My heart belongs to another. You are not by election but by destiny. I’ll set myself up to dream of Avenida Corrientes on the corner with Paraná on a Saturday night. Is it possible? Which Saturday? The one in my memory.
Sometimes when I wake up I am able to say: I dreamt this. An avenue going down to the river, my own and personal street map.
We live near Rivadavia Park which has a second hand book fair on Sundays. I used to go there to sell old books and magazines I had read. One day my cousin gave me a pile of books she wanted to get rid of. I had a look at the covers and there was one that struck me: one with a map of Paris in black and white. I started to read it. I got hooked. At the beginning I didn’t understand the title. Why ‘62’? What ‘model’? A ‘kit’? What for? Answers came with time. Now it just seems strange that I started reading a book by its sequel and remained so connected visually to its storyline. I read without stopping. That’s a lie. Sometimes I made it last longer so it would never come to an end. ´Never’ does not exist. Never came one morning when I finished reading it and I felt sad and empty and almost at the same time I heard on TV that Julio Cortázar had just died in Paris.
Years and many Cortázars later, I am in Madrid rummaging among second-hand books of a stall in the Retiro Park when I bump into a book of his that I feel I have to buy. Another selection of short stories. Even when I have already read them all.
Leaving the park I start to read the inside cover, the biography: ‘Died in Paris, 12 February 1984’.
Today is the 12th of February 1997.