and all I wanted was to see the ocean in malaga. I had the pilgrim’s notion that you could see africa from its shores. qué huevón. I’d been in madrid for two days and I was scared. scared of the thousands of eyes appraising me from above like some rare breed. if there weren’t so much fucking ecuatorianito here I think it’d be different. I might even pass for a piece of folk art. but no. in madrid it starts to get cold, te cagas, and here I am in this shitty suit jacket like a cultured thief. better put, like a chinese-suit jacketed thief. because in ecuador everything they sell to you as “american” or italian or french is chinese. even what you get in the shoppings, the worst really: do not wash in washing machine. do not expose to direct sunlight. do not iron at high temperatures. how the hell do you pay $150 for a suit jacket if the mere act of donning it causes damage. to the jacket and to you. and so on.
in madrid you feel like a strange bird. scratch that: like a brown piece of shit on the royal palace sidewalk. and the cold isn’t the “achachay” of quito. no. here it stitches your skin together with an enormous “s” of mountain sickness. but the cold passes. the elegance of these huevones is so unbearable that you understand how moctezuma must have felt confronted by cortez’s lead. the worst is that it all sticks to you and in two hours you’re already saying macho and joder and que te den por el culo. saying, fuck you up the ass, like it was nothing. but in madrid you’re still the chinese-suit jacketed weirdo like a dead rat on a street in caracas. there in el callejón de la puñalada. what’s perhaps surprising is that an andean latino who ought to be cleaning tables is dressed this way: a sort of neo-baroque dandy. a unique specimen who sits down to eat 20 euro pork shoulder and potatoes. the fucking potatoes that they would never have eaten if they hadn’t raped my great-grandmother. everything I think is, of course, subnormal: sub-developed sub-terranean sub-urban. but the words escape my throat and I say them to a chilean immigrant who also gives me a look as though I had offended her.
the thing is it’s muy jodido to live in madrid. my entire scene is the following: hostel basement in san mateo number 20 in front of the museum of romanticism. high heels of spanish women who talk too fast and pass by too fast in their silken pantyhose. well-mannered children who say: que se ha machao, madre, mother, it’s stained! la puta que les parió, fuck the cunt who begat them. and once again I feel like the underdeveloped sudaka who thinks himself somewhat cultured but has no one to talk to about literature or film or music or about anything. that’s why it’s been such blessed relief that they put spanish porn on TV at midnight. my first time making love to a spanish woman. it’s a saying. because to quote fogwill, “the love was already made.” in ecuador it’s all youporn with swiss poles russians and rumanians. all that mass of blonds that must have come out of a flea market but so long as the end purpose is served, who really cares.
my uncle lives here. he’s a migrant. he rents out this cold basement and sublets it to a chilean and an ecuadorian who show up about twice per week. migration is an underworld. ecuadorians here are like a plague. they’re useful as well. they do what everyone knows how to do, what the spaniards don’t want to do, or what they do in accordance to their level of poverty. the ecuadorian here suffers from a vital schizophrenia: mind divided, living off of nostalgia. but they’ve also become used to the comfortable way of life offered by this strange so-called first world. when they return to ecuador they feel out of place. they speak differently. dress differently. they even regard their roots with contempt. this is a rematch. the racism they suffer here they bring back to take out upon their own, redoubled. the ecuadorian identity crisis transforms the immigrant into a cultural monster.
my uncle is a guy who works in hospitality. waits tables and washes dishes at a seafood restaurant. people stand in endless lines to get into the place. this means I’ve been able to eat odd things like razor clams and barnacles and brown crab. I’ve also tried callos a la madrileña, beef tripe stew; what we call guatita in ecuador. but the best by far is the wine. everyone knows that. for a euro you can buy a harsh, sour wine that would cost ten dollars in ecuador. everyone knows that.
I’ll be here three days. even so I’ve managed to grasp some idea of this world. I’m far more interested in the lives of the characters known as immigrants. the spaniards are highly predictable. extremely conservative. they’re smart about exploiting the tourists though. but that’s another story. south americans in general are a richer phenomenon. their condition has turned them into something more complex. their own language has mutated in an extremely odd way. it’s laughable to listen to them saying tío, joder, macho, que te den por el culo alongside their own cultural idioms. the ecuadorian and the bolivian stand out in this jungle. they’re savage drinkers. the few resting places they have are dedicated to drinking beer: whichever’s strongest. they take refuge in their apartments with a steadfast conviction for self-destruction. fights are thus frequent. and jealously. the sexual explosion in their (our) countries is sinful. oh spain remove your sex from me.
I’m no immigrant. I don’t want to be an immigrant. I regard them with ire. but I find myself obliged to enjoy their delirium. there are those who want to return and those who don’t. the former retain a sense of self out of nostalgia. the latter have mutated. they have no idea what they are. or they do. they’re not going back. in that resignation lies their conversion into spaniards. the others will never manage to adapt. they work themselves to the bone to send back money and forever think of ecuador as the promised land. for them it’s a struggle, a lucha. work is a sacrifice. those who gave up live for the day and day-to-day. they want to bury their past. generally they’re the younger ones. they want to be included. they go out with spaniards. dress like them. eat like them. generally they regard ecuador with distain. they’ve grown.
my uncle’s friends run the gamut from one extreme to the other. there’s one, for example, who’s from one of those ecuadorian coastal towns where poverty and violence wound the days and take over the nights. he lives with a bolivian woman in a study, a single room that serves as bedroom, living room, dining room and kitchen, normally occupied by students, in the center of madrid. the woman is fat and indianized and wouldn’t stop talking about the tragedy of her job with a smelly old man that she had to put up with all day. one of those unbearably racist spaniards. she’s fed up, but a good person.
we have ceviche for dinner. every good costeño knows how to make a good ceviche, he says. how long have you lived here, I ask. I came fifteen years ago and haven’t been back to ecuador, he responds. they don’t like me there, ñaño. if I show up, they’ll kill me. some sons of bitches swore it to me. I put three bullets in a careverga who was screwing my woman. so I stay here. I don’t want problems. I’m rehabilitated, my bróder. why don’t you have a drink; do you like wine? and he takes out a bottle of marqués de cáceres nipped from the restaurant he works at.
that’s what my uncle’s friends are like. all with sad stories to hide. they’ve buried their past. those who go back, only go for a few months because they’re not used to it anymore. their country, our country, is precisely an imaginary line, a space filled with abandoned women and children, or in the case of the women, with abandoned men. be in spain and long for ecuador, be in ecuador and long for spain. that mental divide turns them into acculturated cabrones.
I already know that two or three nights aren’t enough to perceive a way of life, but this has been my first impression. my first contact with what would be called “my own kind.” like the last night before leaving for the mediterranean. we went to a disco in south madrid. it was sunday. I couldn’t believe it. in quito sundays make you want to kill yourself. nothing’s open. people flee. here it’s the day the immigrant goes out on the town, because a lot of them have mondays off, blessed day of the hangover, the resaca, the chuchaqui, the guayabo, the ratón, the cruda. sunday nights fill with the scent of sudaka cologne. the women go out heavily made-up in snug dresses they’ve bought on sale. or with out-of-style fake leather jackets. it’s like being in the 80’s. even the music they dance to is about 30 years out of date. it’s living off of nostalgia. so fucked up, but such great fun. they dance pressed against their dance partners, while the tables fill with pails of beers and bottles of rum.
salsa, perhaps, then cumbia, then bachata, and to top it off some reggaeton or vallenato. they’re eating it up. it’s like a quinceñera party. the men always have gelled-back hair and colored shoes and flowered shirts to attract attention. almost always a gold chain gleaming against their bare chests. it’s like kusturica’s underground but with south americans. young and old, all sharing in the same tastes. there’s consensus. here no one has issues unless you look at their girl. or their guy.
the thing is there are three of us sitting here with an insatiable desire to drink because it’s my last day in madrid. my uncle insists that I ask a girl out to dance and take her with me. no problems here, loco, he says, it’s all easy. they’re all crazy to fuck. I laugh with enthusiasm and tell him to wait, be patient, that I’m not that fired up just yet. and we toast to the joy of seeing one another after all these years. we’re friends now, we’ve moved over and beyond blood ties. to that, cheers. come whenever you want, ñaño. my house is humble and it is yours. thank you, brother, I’ll be back. and so on.
then I see that one of the guys who’s with us, also ecuadorian, gets up and goes over to another table where there’s a girl alone and asks her to dance. he draws her against his body but clearly has no idea how to follow the rhythm. it’s Cantinflas-esque. she tries to pull away, pushes him a bit and he says something into her ear and she laughs. she’s brown-skinned, long-nosed, wearing a turquoise dress with some type of flower over her right clavicle. she has mid-forehead bangs that suit her quite badly. she’s terribly unattractive but her ass is terrific. the guy looks at us and winks. we laugh.
suddenly a man approaches our friend and shoves him to the ground. our friend picks himself up and the squabble begins. we stand up from the table to get a look at what’s happening and kicks and punches start flying every which way. I take shelter to one side to observe the action. I see my uncle in the middle of the dance floor defending himself with a beer bottle. I come up behind him, grab his shoulders to calm him down. the bouncers arrive and throw us out of the disco, shoving us roughly through the door. just like that. the night ends in the middle of madrid with a bottle of whiskey and laughter. it would seem that all is normal.
the nights’ immense din has fed my fleeting pleasure. I also drank a large quantity of its beer to gather courage. terrible, by the way: water with alcohol and a pinch of gluten. I recall that the worst swill in Havana—by way of example—was three thousand times better than this insalubrious ferment that I’m now drinking in malaga because I can’t sleep. it’s the jet lag said a german whose looks could get him whoever he wanted, the hijo de puta. while we’re on the subject.
and now in malaga matters have deteriorated. so many other well-dressed miserable drunks. of course I’m in the tourist sector all-paid for in a shitty dorm and I can’t complain. this is my way of complaining. I came for a scholarship and I’ve begun writing a tale of resentment, of complexes, of a mediocre ambition for literary self-improvement that is somewhat lacking in comas—their brief silences. the good thing is that here they don’t catch on to what I’m doing. they’ll probably never figure it out. what would they know, these zombies taking pleasure in those beautiful faces of theirs. the women from malaga are so gorgeous that it’d seem they don’t need to have bowel movements like normal folks do. that’s to say, like mestizos do. and if they do you have to ask yourself how they’d clean that gorgeous ass.
the malagueñas have faces like god’s mercy. they stare dissolutely to the front, encase their venom in dark miniskirts. their hair falls like a mass of varnished cherubs. blond by force, some, between the menace of their dark eyes. redheads by force, others, between the menace of their olive skin. by night they can be seen cornered by robust men in the doorways of old romantic purlieus. the discos become awash in the bottled-up scent of their sexuality. the malagueñas embellish themselves with sand from a sea in which they never bathe. touching them inspires fear, of sullying the blouse revealing their pale sternum. where do the women of malaga go to hide should they trip on the tip of their slender stilettos? and when they speak, ah, when they speak, it’s like a vampire who might suck your blood, devour your arousal-swollen artery. they chop their words short in order to maintain their restraint. the malagueñas copulate with themselves and have seething orgasms upon the carpet of the chasm. they hate and love one another like queen bees. but never, hear me—never—will they betray the sick passion that devours them when they stand in front of a mirror.
all I wanted was to see africa from the coast of malaga and here I am piss drunk and downcast. the desire to suffer is immense but the realization of my smallness makes me laugh instead. I live on duque de la victoria street number 9 floor four in front of a hospital. sometimes in the morning I watch women in the adjacent window nursing their newborns white like michael jackson I think and laugh to myself. here the women don’t look at me like a rare breed but rather like an exotic animal. something has changed. maybe one time they saw a movie about the conquest and think that I’m one of those actors that played the inca cacique. and they like me. I parade around with my long scarf. I stare at their creamy tits and envision a porn scene so decadent that henry miller would get horny but from shame. I don’t talk to them of course. I barely flirt and with a generous decency that I’ve developed from I don’t know where or out of what. he’s probably some actor or primitivist artist or folkloric music dancer they must think. that’s my illusion. because as I’ve already said a gaze can also be sidelong or construct an impression. what I am is vergüenza ajena, cringe-worthy.
now they’ve put roberto goyeneche on a local radio station. my joy is boundless. I feel more latin american than ever. because I’d never written so much before and I go back to drinking this disgusting beer and I step out on the balcony to contemplate the cathedral dome and the sea of enviable drunkenness below in which I can’t partake because I’m not of this world. I carry a bolaño novel as heavy as a bible. in my mind I carry the long night of the 16th century that I feel as though I’d lived. in my bag I have a pair of sandals to walk through malaga’s sands like a crab and gaze at the coast of africa. it’s hard to know if this semi-zombie will become someone. if someone will be able to read this other contemplating himself with wonder and disgust. accepting myself would be like returning to a kind of normalcy that doesn’t exist. accepting yourself is finding the unsought prize that mutes the penetrating voice of your consciousness. accepting yourself is allowing the face of the other to be what you desire and knowing you’ll never be what you want. because what you want is gone as soon as you want it.
I have so many quotes swirling around in my head that just now someone told me that it’s hard to believe that an ecuadorian has read so much. I laugh angrily because in my country there’s a load of idiots who’ve read far more than I and think themselves the literary crème de la crème. I met a writer once. I’d read a few not-too-bad stories of his in my university years. but I hadn’t seen him in person. and that would have been for the best. one of those types who thinks that they’re the nabokov of ecuadorian literature. one of those fat grey-jacketed types. one of those guys who calls up journalists to “grant” them an interview. one of those types who has a fawning boot-licking sect of mediocre writers trailing behind him. sometimes it’s better not to meet the person behind the book cover. almost always better. in summary, we were in caracas, at a writer’s conference organized by the venezuelan state. on one of those nights, I’d gone to have a drink in the hotel bar. I sat at one of the tables to contemplate the deformed landscape of intellectuals. a bit of everything: spiders, moles, leaches, dinosaurs…
one of the sorts who paid homage to the gordo loco recognized me and asked me to come sit with them, since the writer was alone—as though that was a terribly lamentable condition—and I made the idiot mistake of following him. in effect, we sat down around a table, as anyone does, except for a hideous reality: the second-rate nabokov was seated right in front of me.
and you qué, he said.
qué de qué, I replied.
what do you do, what’s your profession, why are you here?
nada. I drink, I said.
ah, another chumadito who thinks he’s a writer.
I remained silent, although not without the desire to spit in the drink that they were just starting to serve him. the waiter went around the table pouring tender streams of rum over the oh-so-cold ice in the glasses.
don’t go thinking this is free, he said to me. no one mooches drinks here.
then in a criminal impulse I grabbed the glass, tossed its ice-and-rum contents over his bust-like face, and left. one of his vassals, the one who knew me, insulted me, but his voice collided with the image of my erectile right middle finger, triumphant, like a penis.
important is that the avocado seller in the market laughs like my abuela. important is the joy of the dockworker who sighs when he thinks about the body of the colombian prostitute who he got to fuck once.
I don’t know if I could dance pegadito with a woman here because when they’re all done up they don’t let anything near them that might get a hair out of place. the beer, for the moment, swirls in the murky well of oblivion. everything I’ve left, everything that has withered into the sludge of memory is now a desert or perhaps better a cold and taciturn snow-capped volcano. I want to bury the image of myself but it comes now and shows me to myself from a shattered mirror and I see myself there, face cut, with the deformed mouth of one who can’t speak his own name. such are things.
they’ve always called me willy, since I was a kid. I hate coming from a spanish-speaking country and being “little willy.” it’s like being chinese and calling yourself eduardo. it doesn’t make sense, but sometimes it happens. that’s why people change names, or have to bear the weight of it their whole lives. willy, go do the shopping. willy, look at your sister. willy, clean your nose. willy, take out the dog. willy, don’t get drunk. willy, look me in the eyes, don’t hurt me. willy, vete de aquí, get out of here, I don’t ever want to see you again.
being called willy in ecuador is a huge joke. they deform your name until it becomes obscene. willy the kid I liked. willy the kid hates gringo movies dubbed in spanish by spaniards, he prefers subtitles. willy the kid in malaga is a parrot in a cage. you could have been called john or peter or walter. but not willy, por dios. you’re pitiful. vergüenza ajena. and yet you have to learn to laugh at yourself because if not they’ll break you. that’s why willy had to study and be the best, like his father said. but who thinks to study literature in ecuador, in an imaginary country? willy the moron, that’s who.
so, willy, who is me, is sitting in his dorm room with the window open smoking like a fat and lonely whore. up above, across the street, the illuminated dome of the cathedral, which they call the manquita, can be seen. in ecuador dawn must have already broken and thousands of mestizo bugs will be filling the streets like rats in a great flood. because they seem to reproduce in litters. I would happily fly over quito in a helicopter tossing out condoms. there’s no right to be so irresponsible. legions and legions of idiots birthing workers, just breakfasted, silently dreaming about a new pair of shoes. such are things.
most of what one writes isn’t worth it: inconclusive novels, decapitated stories, lines like ugly children that die because there’s no one to nurse them. you write because you can’t stand to see your sick mother in bed, because you you’ve grown horns instead of wings, because what you have to say is yours and therefore legitimate and varied; you write because you resent your parents, your condition, yourself; you write out of desire, the most beautiful expression of absence; you write because you want to give importance to the diminuta flecha envenada, César Dávila Andrade’s “tiny poisoned dart”; you write because you’re the persona non grata of your own life; you write because you’re a bookworm freeloader who feels pain just like the bank teller staring at you through the glass, face imprinted with the misery of your bank account. you write because you’re human and you suffer. y punto. I said.
it is however an act of surrender, a wager in which you risk life itself in pursuit of “salvation.” juan josé millás put it well when he said: “being a writer, at least a certain type of writer, means living in panic, sensing shapes that move from one compartment to another, with wet socks.” but there’s no romantic pretension in it, the writer can literally be burnt by the flame of their own insubordinate language. and that which is set upon the page begins to rebel against its father or mother like an angry child. I said.
one would think that conrad couldn’t have written heart of darkness without the vision, during six months, of a congo devastated by the belgian king leopold II. and one also realizes that such “motivation” is only commendable in accordance with its result. the fact of malcolm lowry’s having rewritten the same novel multiple times would be distinct if it were not the case that under the volcano is a masterwork. the examples, of course, exceed the reality—in the nietzschean sense—from which is taken the assumption that the writer is a good reader. but who legitimizes the literary deed as valid, or not? do we assume that there’s a subterranean consensus that ennobles the work at a determined moment? the factors are perhaps multiple. and perhaps therein it’s possible to make out a purpose: literature is an arduous exercise of language in which the writer confronts the firing squad of their own annihilation. I said.
from that also that every work, conceived as such, paradoxically attends a funeral and a birth. or only the former. when the two events occur, literature has begun, which is born out of the displacement of its creator, even when its content shows itself to be autobiographical. for a great number of authors, literature is a way to explain their circumstance, but between them and the object, language mediates, upending any original intent. language is not a means of expression, it is a means of implosion. that produced is a linguistic shattering of the senses. I said.
the senses allow for assimilation of the work as such. the mere conjugation of alternating words doesn’t produce the feeling. even in the most surreal or inscrutable forms there is a framework of meaning that makes the text accessible. that’s why literature is always masked, an unfaithful portrait of itself. in and of itself, it is playing with the translation of an intimately known language, which some call originality. and that is likewise a purpose, a quest that the author seems destined never to complete. if they do complete it, they never write again. I said.
as such, said framework of meaning is articulated by the pulse of a trade learned through effort and reading. and with that, the hypertextual relation is superior to the literary deed: every text makes reference to another text, and ad infinitum. that’s why literature in general is a form of plagiary, perhaps the most lovely of its forms, the most aesthetic. but don’t be confused: said plagiary has been devoured by the machinations of bibliophagy, which on the other hand may cause indigestion. I said.
It is no less true that the writer tends to deny, if not their writing, at least their motivation. it causes discomfort. the writer would rather go forward blind, know that the goal is más allá, just out of reach, but when this is named, it vanishes. the writer avoids the objective so as not to be broken. in the end, every writer is evasive. if it were direct it would be senseless. the writer arrives gropingly, blindly, as a drunk arrives home. but always knowing how to arrive. I said.
the ethical commitment with language or with discourse—over time—must also transcend the prose, mere accessory of literature. the fact of turning into a “writer” is also accessory; or perhaps the result, among other things, of the search. and yet, every writer believes that their scream or howl has some importance; yes, in some way appreciated, even in extreme cases like that of kafka. yes, the writer ennobles their ego, in irony, as language’s excess breaks it. forever paradoxical, literature is like a label that swathes a text in potential: a fixed object that drops its robes and places its wounds on display. multiple wounds that show us, in turn, the experience of the journey of a being, who, horrified by mortality, writes. I said. I was very very drunk.
This translation is an excerpt from the first part of Ecuadorian writer Santiago Vizcaíno’s debut novel Complejo (La Caída Press, 2017), a loosely autobiographical work drawn from the author’s time living and studying in Malaga, Spain. The story telling is somewhat non-linear and flows between the protagonist’s inner musings and tormented reflections on self, the writing process, and language, to a more traditional narrative of his observations and experiences while living abroad. The protagonist, Willy, is intentionally unlikable, but as the title suggests, he is multilayered enough, with a biting wit and a keen talent for observation, that the reader’s reaction is likewise mixed, their perception challenged. As the author himself put it:
“If you were to ask Willy who Santiago Vizcaíno is, assuredly he’d laugh. He’d respond that he’s a pot-bellied guy who doesn’t have the balls to leave behind poetry. Because Willy’s like that. He doesn’t have hair on his hands, sorry, tongue. I, Santiago Vizcaíno, would say that Willy, the character in this novel, is a bullying machine, a tender and brutal complex-ridden man obsessed with women. Willy uses Santiago and Santiago uses Willy and it’s as though they had sex between two men, the purest love, they say. At one point I confused Willy with myself but I erased that chapter. One is too boring and politically correct, domesticated by the utilitarian hypocrisy of adulthood, by the correctness of academia. Willy in contrast is a beautiful adolescent beast, a neo-baroque dandy…”
In the remainder of the novel, Willy meets and describes the other international residents in the University dorm, pursues various women, falls in love, and finds himself in a shocking and somewhat sickening predicament. Much has been made of Ecuador’s so-called “national inferiority complex,” and this work takes those issues and places them nakedly on display in the form of its central character.
In translating the novel, I was at times unsure how much to allow myself to use the resource of leaving certain words and phrases in the original Spanish; however, I felt that doing so lent a certain flavor and sense of place that would have otherwise been lost. I likewise hope that such inclusions will broaden and deepen the reader’s experience, and give them further insight into the language and culture of Ecuador.
Kimrey Anna Batts (1983) grew up in rural East Tennessee and went to the University of Michigan, where she studied Anthropology and Latin American Studies. She moved to Ecuador in 2006, and her lifelong love of literature and language gradually blossomed into a career as a professional translator. In 2011 she went to Barcelona to pursue a M.A. in Literary Translation at University Pompeu Fabra, before returning to Quito in 2013. Her literary translations have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Lunch Ticket, Bitter Oleander Review, Ezra, Cordite Poetry Review, Mantis, Asymptote and Exchanges, among others.
Santiago Vizcaíno (Quito, 1982) has a BA in Communications and Literature from the Catholic Pontifical University of Ecuador (PUCE). He was awarded a Fundación Carolina scholarship for study at the University of Malaga, where he completed an MA in Management of Literary Heritage. He is currently the Director of the PUCE Center for Publications. His works have received numerous recognitions, including the Ecuadorian Ministry of Culture’s National Literary Projects Prize and the Second Annual Pichincha Poetry Award. In translation, his poems and short stories have appeared in a number of journals including Bitter Oleander Review, Chattahoochee Review, Words Without Borders, Connotation Press, Eleven/Eleven, eXchanges, Lunch Ticket, The Brooklyn Rail and Ezra. His poetry collection Destruction in the Afternoon was published in translation by Dialogos Books in 2015. His first novel, Complejo, from which this fragment was taken, was released in 2017 (La Caída Press).