Interviews

Julio Cortazar, The Art of Fiction No. 83

Interviewed by Jason Weiss

When Julio Cortázar died of cancer in February 1984 at the age of sixty-nine, the Madrid newspaper El Pais hailed him as one of Latin America’s greatest writers and over two days carried eleven full pages of tributes, reminiscences, and farewells.

Though Cortázar had lived in Paris since 1951, he visited his native Argentina regularly until he was officially exiled in the early 1970s by the Argentine junta, who had taken exception to several of his short stories. With the victory, last fall, of the democratically elected Alfonsín government, Cortázar was able to make one last visit to his home country. Alfonsín’s cultural minister chose to give him no official welcome, afraid that his political views were too far to the left, but the writer was nonetheless greeted as a returning hero. One night in Buenos Aires, coming out of a cinema after seeing the new film based on Osvaldo Soriano’s novel, No habra ni mas pena ni olvido, Cortázar and his friends ran into a student demonstration coming towards them, which instantly broke file on glimpsing the writer and crowded around him. The bookstores on the boulevards still being open, the students hurriedly bought up copies of Cortázar’s books so that he could sign them. A kiosk salesman, apologizing that he had no more of Cortázar’s books, held out a Carlos Fuentes novel for him to sign.

Cortázar was born in Brussels in 1914. When his family returned to Argentina after the war, he grew up in Banfield, not far from Buenos Aires. He took a degree as a schoolteacher and went to work in a town in the province of Buenos Aires until the early 1940s, writing for himself on the side. One of his first published stories, “House Taken Over,” which came to him in a dream, appeared in 1946 in a magazine edited by Jorge Luis Borges. It wasn’t until after Cortázar moved to Paris in 1951, however, that he began publishing in earnest. In Paris, he worked as a translator and interpreter for UNESCO and other organizations. Writers he translated included Poe, Defoe, and Marguerite Yourcenar. In 1963, his second novel Hopscotch—about an Argentine’s existential and metaphysical searches through the nightlife of Paris and Buenos Aires—really established Cortázar’s name.

Though he is known above all as a modern master of the short story, Cortázar’s four novels have demonstrated a ready innovation of form while, at the same time, exploring basic questions about man in society. These include The Winners (1960), 62: A Model Kit (1968), based in part on his experience as an interpreter, and A Manual for Manuel (1973), about the kidnapping of a Latin American diplomat. But it was Cortázar’s stories that most directly claimed his fascination with the fantastic. His most well-known story was the basis of Antonioni’s film by the same name, Blow-Up. Five collections of his stories have appeared in English to date, the most recent being We Love Glenda So Much. Just before he died, a travel journal was published, Los autonautas de la cosmopista, on which he collaborated with his wife, Carol Dunlop, during a voyage from Paris to Marseilles in a camping van. Published simultaneously in Spanish and French, Cortázar signed all author’s rights and royalties over to the Sandinista government in Nicaragua; the book has since become a best-seller. Two posthumous collections of his political articles on Nicaragua and on Argentina have also been published.

Throughout his expatriate years in Paris, Cortázar had lived in various neighborhoods. In the last decade, royalties from his books enabled him to buy his own apartment. The apartment, atop a building in a district of wholesalers and chinaware shops, might have been the setting for one of his stories: spacious, though crowded with books, its walls lined with paintings by friends.

Cortázar was a tall man, 6'4", though thinner than his photographs revealed. The last months before this interview had been particularly difficult for him, since his last wife, Carol, thirty years his junior, had recently died of cancer. In addition, his extensive travels, especially to Latin America, had obviously exhausted him. He had been home barely a week and was finally relaxing in his favorite chair, smoking a pipe as we talked.

 

INTERVIEWER

In some of the stories in your most recent book, Deshoras, the fantastic seems to encroach on the real world more than ever. Have you yourself felt as if the fantastic and the commonplace are becoming one?

JULIO CORTÁZAR

Yes, in these recent stories I have the feeling that there is less distance between what we call the fantastic and what we call the real. In my older stories, the distance was greater because the fantastic really was fantastic, and sometimes it touched on the supernatural. Of course, the fantastic takes on metamorphoses; it changes. The notion of the fantastic we had in the epoch of the gothic novels in England, for example, has absolutely nothing to do with our concept of it today. Now we laugh when we read Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto—the ghosts dressed in white, the skeletons that walk around making noises with their chains. These days, my notion of the fantastic is closer to what we call reality. Perhaps because reality approaches the fantastic more and more.

INTERVIEWER

Much more of your time in recent years has been spent in support of various liberation struggles in Latin America. Hasn’t that also helped bring the real and the fantastic closer for you, and made you more serious? 

CORTÁZAR

Well, I don’t like the idea of “serious,” because I don’t think I am serious, at least not in the sense where one speaks of a serious man or a serious woman. But in these last few years, my efforts concerning certain Latin American regimes—Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and now above all Nicaragua—have absorbed me to such a point that I have used the fantastic in certain stories to deal with this subject—in a way that’s very close to reality, in my opinion. So, I feel less free than before. That is, thirty years ago I was writing things that came into my head and I judged them only by aesthetic criteria. Now, though I continue to judge them by aesthetic criteria, first of all because I’m a writer—I’m now a writer who’s tormented, very preoccupied by the situation in Latin America; consequently that often slips into my writing, in a conscious or in an unconscious way. But despite the stories with very precise references to ideological and political questions, my stories, in essence, haven’t changed. They’re still stories of the fantastic.

The problem for an engagé writer, as they call them now, is to continue being a writer. If what he writes becomes simply literature with a political content, it can be very mediocre. That’s what has happened to a number of writers. So, the problem is one of balance. For me, what I do must always be literature, the highest I can do . . . to go beyond the possible. But, at the same time, to try to put in a mix of contemporary reality. And that’s a very difficult balance. In the story in Deshoras about the rats, “Satarsa”—which is an episode based on the struggle against the Argentine guerrillas—the temptation was to stick to the political level alone.

INTERVIEWER

What has been the response to such stories? Was there much difference in the response you got from literary people and that which you got from political ones?

CORTÁZAR

Of course. The bourgeois readers in Latin America who are indifferent to politics, or those who align themselves with the right wing, well, they don’t worry about the problems that worry me—the problems of exploitation, of oppression, and so on. Those people regret that my stories often take a political turn. Other readers, above all the young—who share my sentiments, my need to struggle, and who love literature—love these stories. The Cubans relish “Meeting.” “Apocalypse at Solentiname” is a story that Nicaraguans read and reread with great pleasure.

INTERVIEWER

What has determined your increased political involvement?

CORTÁZAR

The military in Latin America—they’re the ones who make me work harder. If they were removed, if there were a change, then I could rest a little and work on poems and stories that would be exclusively literary. But it’s they who give me work to do.

INTERVIEWER

You have said at various times that, for you, literature is like a game. In what ways? 

CORTÁZAR

For me, literature is a form of play. But I’ve always added that there are two forms of play: football, for example, which is basically a game, and then games that are very profound and serious. When children play, though they’re amusing themselves, they take it very seriously. It’s important. It’s just as serious for them now as love will be ten years from now. I remember when I was little and my parents used to say, “Okay, you’ve played enough, come take a bath now.” I found that completely idiotic, because, for me, the bath was a silly matter. It had no importance whatsoever, while playing with my friends was something serious. Literature is like that—it’s a game, but it’s a game one can put one’s life into. One can do everything for that game.

INTERVIEWER

When did you become interested in the fantastic? Were you very young?

CORTÁZAR

It began in my childhood. Most of my young classmates had no sense of the fantastic. They took things as they were . . . this is a plant, that is an armchair. But for me, things were not that well defined. My mother, who’s still alive and is a very imaginative woman, encouraged me. Instead of saying, “No, no, you should be serious,” she was pleased that I was imaginative; when I turned towards the world of the fantastic, she helped by giving me books to read. I read Edgar Allan Poe for the first time when I was only nine. I stole the book to read because my mother didn’t want me to read it; she thought I was too young and she was right. The book scared me and I was ill for three months, because I believed in it . . . dur comme fer as the French say. For me, the fantastic was perfectly natural; I had no doubts at all. That’s the way things were. When I gave those kinds of books to my friends, they’d say, “But no, we prefer to read cowboy stories.” Cowboys were especially popular at the time. I didn’t understand that. I preferred the world of the supernatural, of the fantastic.

INTERVIEWER

When you translated Poe’s complete works many years later, did you discover new things for yourself from so close a reading?

CORTÁZAR

Many, many things. I explored his language, which is criticized by both the English and the Americans because they find it too baroque. Since I’m neither English nor American, I see it with another perspective. I know there are aspects which have aged a lot, that are exaggerated, but that doesn’t mean anything compared to his genius. To write, in those times, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” or “Ligeia,” or “Berenice,” or “The Black Cat,” any of them, shows a true genius for the fantastic and for the supernatural. Yesterday, I visited a friend on the rue Edgar Allan Poe. There is a plaque on the street which reads, “Edgar Poe, English Writer.” He wasn’t English at all! We should have it changed—we’ll both protest! 

INTERVIEWER

In your writing, in addition to the fantastic, there is a real warmth and affection for your characters.

CORTÁZAR

When my characters are children and adolescents, I have a lot of tenderness for them. I think they are very alive in my novels and in my stories; I treat them with a lot of love. When I write a story where the character is an adolescent, I am the adolescent while I am writing it. With the adult characters, it’s something else.

INTERVIEWER

Are many of your characters based on people that you’ve known?

CORTÁZAR

I wouldn’t say many, but there are a few. Very often there are characters who are a mixture of two or three people. I have put together a female character, for example, from two women I have known. That gives the character in the story or the book a personality that’s more complex, more difficult.

INTERVIEWER

Do you mean that when you feel the need to thicken a character, you combine two together?

CORTÁZAR

Things don’t work like that. It’s the characters who direct me. That is, I see a character, he’s there, and I recognize someone I knew, or occasionally two who are a bit mixed together, but then that stops. Afterwards, the character acts on his own account. He says things . . . I never know what any of them are going to say when I’m writing dialogue. Really, it’s up to them. Me, I’m just typing out what they’re saying. Sometimes I burst out laughing, or I throw out a page and say, “There, there you’ve said silly things. Out!” And I put in another page and start over again with their dialogue.

INTERVIEWER

So it’s not the characters you’ve known that impel you to write?

CORTÁZAR

No, not at all. Often, I have an idea for a story, but there aren’t any characters yet. I’ll have a strange idea: something’s going to happen in a house in the country, I see . . . I’m very visual when I write, I see it all, I see everything. So, I see this house in the country and then, abruptly, I begin to situate the characters. At that point, one of the characters might be someone I knew. But it’s not for sure. In the end, most of my characters are invented. Now, of course, there’s myself. In Hopscotch, there are many autobiographical references in the character of Oliveira. It’s not me, but there’s a lot that derives from my early bohemian days in Paris. Yet readers who read Oliveira as Cortázar in Paris would be mistaken. No, no, I was very different. 

INTERVIEWER

Is this because you don’t wish your writing to be autobiographical?

CORTÁZAR

I don’t like autobiography. I will never write my memoirs. Autobiographies of others interest me, of course, but not my own. If I wrote my autobiography, I would have to be truthful and honest. I couldn’t tell an imaginary autobiography. And so, I would be doing a historian’s job, being a self-historian, and that bores me. Because I prefer to invent, to imagine. Of course, very often when I have ideas for a novel or a story, situations and moments of my life naturally place themselves in that context. In my story “Deshoras,” the idea of the boy being in love with his pal’s older sister is, in fact, based on an autobiographical situation. So there is a small part of it that’s autobiographical, but from there on, it’s the fantastic or the imaginary which dominates.

INTERVIEWER

How do you start with your stories? By any particular entry, an image?

CORTÁZAR

With me stories and novels can start anywhere. As for the writing itself, when I begin to write, the story has been turning around in me a long time, sometimes for weeks. But not in any way that’s clear; it’s a sort of general idea of the story. Perhaps that house where there’s a red plant in one corner, and I know there’s an old man who walks around in this house. That’s all I know. It happens like that. And then there are the dreams. During this gestation period my dreams are full of references and allusions to what is going to be in the story. Sometimes the whole story is in a dream. One of my first and most popular stories, “House Taken Over,” is a nightmare I had. I got up immediately and wrote it. But in general, what comes out of the dreams are fragments of references. That is, my subconscious is in the process of working through a story—when I am dreaming, it’s being written inside there. So when I say that I begin anywhere, it’s because I don’t know what, at that point, is to be the beginning or the end. When I start to write, that’s the beginning. I haven’t decided that the story has to start like that; it simply starts there and it continues, and very often I have no clear idea about the ending—I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s only gradually, as the story goes on, that things become clearer and abruptly I see the ending.

INTERVIEWER

So you are discovering the story while you are writing it? 

CORTÁZAR

That’s right. It’s like improvising in jazz. You don’t ask a jazz musician, “But what are you going to play?” He’ll laugh at you. He has a theme, a series of chords he has to respect, and then he takes up his trumpet or his saxophone and he begins. It’s not a question of idea. He performs through a series of different internal pulsations. Sometimes it comes out well, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s the same with me. I’m a bit embarrassed to sign my stories sometimes. The novels, no, because the novels I work on a lot; there’s a whole architecture. But my stories, it’s as if they were dictated to me by something that is in me, but it’s not me who’s responsible. Well, since it does appear they are mine even so, I guess I should accept them!

INTERVIEWER

Are there certain aspects of writing a story that always pose a problem for you?

CORTÁZAR

In general, no, because as I was explaining, the story is already made somewhere inside me. So, it has its dimension, its structure; if it’s going to be a very short story or a fairly long story, all that is as if decided in advance. But in recent years I’ve started to sense some problems. I reflect more in front of the page. I write more slowly. And I write in a way that’s more spare. Certain critics have reproached me for that, they’ve told me that little by little I’m losing that suppleness in my stories. I seem to be saying what I want to with a greater economy of means. I don’t know if it’s for better or for worse—in any case, it’s my way of writing now.

INTERVIEWER

You were saying that with the novels there is a whole architecture. Does that mean that you work very differently?

CORTÁZAR

The first thing I wrote in Hopscotch was a chapter that is now in the middle. It’s the chapter where the characters put out a plank to cross from one window of an apartment house to another. I wrote that without knowing why I was writing it. I saw the characters, I saw the situation—it was in Buenos Aires. It was very hot, I remember, and I was next to the window with my typewriter. I saw this situation of a guy who’s trying to make his wife go across the plank—because he won’t go himself—to get some silly thing, some nails. I wrote all that, which was long, some forty pages, and when I’d finished I said to myself, “All right, but what have I done? Because that’s not a story. What is it?” Then I understood that I was launched on a novel, but that I couldn’t continue from that point. I had to stop there and go back and write the whole section in Paris which comes before, which is the whole background of Oliveira, and when I finally arrived at this chapter about walking the plank, then I went on from there. 

INTERVIEWER

Do you revise much when you write?

CORTÁZAR

Very little. That comes from the fact that the thing has already been at work inside me. When I see the rough drafts of certain of my writer friends, where everything is revised, everything’s changed, moved around, and there are arrows all over the place . . . no no no. My manuscripts are very clean.

INTERVIEWER

José Lezama Lima in Paradiso has Cemí saying that “the baroque . . . is what has real interest in Spain and Hispanic America.” Why do you think that is so?

CORTÁZAR

I cannot reply as an expert. True, the baroque is greatly important in Latin America, both in the arts and in the literature as well. The baroque can offer a great richness; it lets the imagination soar in all its many spiraling directions, as in a baroque church with its decorative angels and all that, or in baroque music. But I distrust the baroque. The baroque writers, very often, let themselves go too easily in their writing. They write in five pages what one could very well write in one. I too must have fallen into the baroque because I am Latin American, but I have always had a mistrust of it. I don’t like turgid, voluminous sentences, full of adjectives and descriptions, purring and purring into the reader’s ear. I know it’s very charming, of course. It’s very beautiful but it’s not me. I’m more on the side of Jorge Luis Borges. He has always been an enemy of the baroque; he tightened his writing, as if with pliers. Well, I write in a very different way than Borges, but the great lesson he taught me is one of economy. He taught me when I began to read him, being very young, that one had to try to say what one wanted to with economy, but with a beautiful economy. It’s the difference, perhaps, between a plant, which would be considered baroque, with its multiplication of leaves, often very beautiful, and a precious stone, a crystal—that for me is more beautiful still.

INTERVIEWER

What are your writing habits? Have certain things changed?

CORTÁZAR

The one thing that hasn’t changed, and never will, is the total anarchy and the disorder. I have absolutely no method. When I feel like writing a story I let everything drop; I write the story. And sometimes when I write a story, in the month or two that follows I will write two or three more. In general, the stories come in series. Writing one leaves me in a receptive state, and then I “catch” another. You see the sort of image I use, but it’s like that; the story drops inside of me. But then a year can go by where I write nothing . . . nothing. Of course, these last few years I have spent a good deal of my time at the typewriter writing political articles. The texts I’ve written about Nicaragua, everything I’ve written about Argentina, have nothing to do with literature—they’re militant things.

INTERVIEWER

You’ve often said that it was the Cuban revolution that awakened you to questions of Latin America and its problems.

CORTÁZAR

And I say it again.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have preferred places for writing? 

CORTÁZAR

In fact, no. In the beginning, when I was younger and physically more resistant, here in Paris for example, I wrote a large part of Hopscotch in cafés. Because the noise didn’t bother me and, on the contrary, it was a very congenial place. I worked a lot there—I read or I wrote. But with age I’ve become more complicated. I write when I’m sure of having some silence. I can’t write if there’s music, that’s absolutely out. Music is one thing and writing is another. I need a certain calm; but, having said this, a hotel, an airplane sometimes, a friend’s house, or here at home are places where I can write.

INTERVIEWER

What about Paris? What gave you the courage to pick up and move off to Paris when you did, more than thirty years ago?

CORTÁZAR

Courage? No, it didn’t take much courage. I simply had to accept the idea that coming to Paris, and cutting the bridges with Argentina at that time meant being very poor and having problems making a living. But that didn’t worry me. I knew in one way or another I was going to manage. I came to Paris primarily because Paris, French culture on the whole, held a strong attraction for me. I had read French literature with a passion in Argentina, so I wanted to be here and get to know the streets and the places one finds in the books, in the novels. To go through the streets of Balzac or of Baudelaire . . . it was a very romantic voyage. I was, I am, very romantic. In fact, I have to be rather careful when I write, because very often I could let myself fall into . . . I wouldn’t say bad taste, perhaps not, but a bit in the direction of an exaggerated romanticism. In my private life, I don’t need to control myself. I really am very sentimental, very romantic. I’m a tender person; I have a lot of tenderness to give. What I give now to Nicaragua, it’s tenderness. It is also the political conviction that the Sandinistas are right in what they’re doing and that they’re leading an admirable struggle; but it’s not only the political impetus, it’s that there’s an enormous tenderness because it’s a people I love, as I love the Cubans, and I love the Argentines. Well, all that makes up part of my character. In my writing I have had to watch myself, above all when I was young. I wrote things then that were tearjerkers. That was really romanticism, the roman rose. My mother would read them and cry. 

INTERVIEWER

Nearly all your writing that people know dates from your arrival in Paris. But you were writing a lot before, weren’t you? A few things had already been published.

CORTÁZAR

I’ve been writing since the age of nine, right up through my whole adolescence and early youth. In my early youth I was already capable of writing stories and novels, which showed me that I was on the right path. But I wasn’t eager to publish. I was very severe with myself, and I continue to be. I remember that my peers, when they had written some poems or a small novel, searched for a publisher right away. I would tell myself, “No, you’re not publishing, you hang on to that.” I kept certain things, and others I threw out. When I did publish for the first time I was over thirty years old; it was just before my departure for France. That was my first book of stories, Bestiario, which came out in ’51, the same month that I took the boat to come here. Before that, I had published a little text called Los reyes, which is a dialogue. A friend who had a lot of money, who did small editions for himself and his friends, had done a private edition. And that’s all. No, there’s another thing—a sin of youth—a book of sonnets. I published it myself, but with a pseudonym. 

INTERVIEWER

You are the lyricist of a recent album of tangos, Trottoirs de Buenos Aires. What got you started writing tangos? 

CORTÁZAR

Well, I am a good Argentine and above all a porteño—that is, a resident of Buenos Aires, because it’s the port. The tango was our music, and I grew up in an atmosphere of tangos. We listened to them on the radio, because the radio started when I was little, and right away it was tango after tango. There were people in my family, my mother and an aunt, who played tangos on the piano and sang them. Through the radio, we began to listen to Carlos Gardel and the great singers of the time. The tango became like a part of my consciousness and it’s the music that sends me back to my youth again and to Buenos Aires. So, I’m quite caught up in the tango, all while being very critical, because I’m not one of those Argentines who believes that the tango is the wonder of wonders. I think that the tango on the whole, especially next to jazz, is a very poor music. It is poor but it is beautiful. It’s like those plants that are very simple, that one can’t compare to an orchid or a rosebush, but which have an extraordinary beauty in themselves. In recent years, friends of mine have played tangos here; the Cuarteto Cedrón are great friends, and a fine bandoneón player named Juan José Mosalini—so we’ve listened to tangos, talked about tangos. Then one day a poem came to me like that, which I thought perhaps could be set to music, I didn’t really know. And then, looking among unpublished poems (most of my poems are unpublished), I found some short poems which those fellows could set to music, and they did. Also, we’ve done the opposite as well. Cedrón gave me a musical theme to which I wrote the words. So I’ve done it both ways.

INTERVIEWER

In the biographical notes in your books, it says you are also an amateur trumpet player. Have you ever played with any groups?

CORTÁZAR

No. That’s a bit of a legend that was invented by my very dear friend Paul Blackburn, who died quite young unfortunately. He knew that I played the trumpet a little, mainly for myself at home. So he would always tell me, “But you should meet some musicians to play with.” I’d say, “No, as the Americans say, ‘I haven’t got what it takes.’” I didn’t have the talent; I was just playing for myself. I would put on a Jelly Roll Morton record, or Armstrong, or early Ellington—where the melody is easier to follow, especially the blues which has a given scheme. And I would have fun hearing them play and adding my trumpet. I played along with them . . . but it certainly wasn’t with them! I never dared approach jazz musicians; now my trumpet is lost somewhere in the other room there. Blackburn put that in one of the blurbs. And because there is a photo of me playing the trumpet, people thought I really could play well. As I never wanted to publish before being sure, it was the same with the trumpet—I never wanted to play before being sure. And that day has never arrived.

INTERVIEWER

Have you worked on any novels since A Manual for Manuel?

CORTÁZAR

Alas no, for reasons that are very clear. It’s due to political work. For me, a novel requires a concentration and a quantity of time, at least a year, to work tranquilly and not to abandon it. And now, I cannot. A week ago I didn’t know I would be leaving for Nicaragua in three days. When I return I won’t know what’s going to happen next. But this novel is already written. It’s there, it’s in my dreams. I dream all the time of this novel. I don’t know what happens in the novel, but I have an idea. As in the stories, I know it will be something fairly long, with some elements of the fantastic, but not too many. It will be in the genre of A Manual for Manuel, where the fantastic elements are mixed in; but it won’t be a political book. It will be a book of pure literature. I hope that life will give me a sort of desert island, even if the desert island is this room . . . and a year, I ask for a year. But when these bastards—the Hondurans, the Somocistas and Reagan—are in the act of destroying Nicaragua, I don’t have my island. I couldn’t begin to write, because I would be obsessed constantly by that problem. It demands top priority.

INTERVIEWER

And it can be difficult enough as it is balancing life and literature.

CORTÁZAR

Yes and no. It depends on the kind of priorities. If the priorities are, like those I just mentioned, touching on the moral responsibility of an individual, I would agree. But I know many people who are always complaining, “Oh, I’d like to write my novel, but I have to sell the house, and then there are the taxes, what am I going to do?” Reasons like, “I work in the office all day, how do you expect me to write?” Me, I worked all day at UNESCO and then I came home and wrote Hopscotch. When one wants to write, one writes. If one is condemned to write, one writes. 

INTERVIEWER

Do you work anymore as a translator or interpreter?

CORTÁZAR

No, that’s over. I lead a very simple life. I don’t need much money to buy the things I like: records, books, tobacco. So now I can live from my royalties. They’ve translated me into so many languages that I receive enough money to live on. I have to be a little careful; I can’t go out and buy myself a yacht, but since I have absolutely no intention of buying a yacht . . . 

INTERVIEWER

Have fame and success been pleasurable?

CORTÁZAR

Ah, listen, I’ll say something I shouldn’t say because no one will believe it, but success isn’t a pleasure for me. I’m glad to be able to live from what I write, so I have to put up with the popular and critical side of success. But I was happier as a man when I was unknown. Much happier. Now I can’t go to Latin America or to Spain without being recognized every ten yards, and the autographs, the embraces . . . It’s very moving, because they’re readers who are frequently quite young. I’m happy that they like what I do, but it’s terribly distressing for me on the level of privacy. I can’t go to a beach in Europe; in five minutes there’s a photographer. I have a physical appearance that I can’t disguise; if I were small I could shave and put on sunglasses, but with my height, my long arms and all that, they discover me from afar. On the other hand, there are very beautiful things: I was in Barcelona a month ago, walking around the Gothic Quarter one evening, and there was an American girl, very pretty, playing the guitar very well and singing. She was seated on the ground singing to earn her living. She sang a bit like Joan Baez, a very pure, clear voice. There was a group of young people from Barcelona listening. I stopped to listen to her, but I stayed in the shadows. At one point, one of these young men who was about twenty, very young, very handsome, approached me. He had a cake in his hand. He said, “Julio, take a piece.” So I took a piece and I ate it, and I told him, “Thanks a lot for coming up and giving that to me.” He said to me, “But, listen, I give you so little next to what you’ve given me.” I said, “Don’t say that, don’t say that,” and we embraced and he went away. Well, things like that, that’s the best recompense for my work as a writer. That a boy or a girl comes up to speak to you and to offer you a piece of cake, it’s wonderful. It’s worth the trouble of having written.