Letter to a Stranger


Arts & Culture

Fans of the surrealist painter Remedios Varo likely won’t be surprised that her writing is as wide reaching and imaginative as her work on canvas. She crafted uncanny fables and strange recipes intended to conjure dreams, but perhaps her most significant achievements on the page are her letters. Varo had a habit of writing to strangers, a practice immortalized in her friend Leonora Carrington’s novel The Hearing Trumpet, in which the character Carmella Velasquez “writes letters all over the world to people she has never met and signs them with all sorts of romantic names, never her own … These wonderful letters fly off, in a celestial way, by airmail, in Carmella’s delicate handwriting. No one ever replies.” Below, read Varo’s letter to a man whose address she picked at random from the phone book. 

Albert Edelfelt, Dam som skriver brev (Lady Writing a Letter), 1887.

Dear Stranger,

I haven’t a clue if you’re a single man or the head of a household, if you’re a shy introvert or a happy extrovert, but whatever the case, perhaps you’re bored and want to dive fearlessly into a group of strangers in hopes of hearing something that will interest or amuse you. What’s more, the fact that you feel curiosity and even some discomfort is already an incentive, and so I’m proposing that you come and spend New Year’s Eve at house No.—— on —— Street. 

I’ve picked your name almost at random from the phone book, I say almost because I looked for the page where those of your profession are to be found, I believe (perhaps mistakenly) that among them there’s a greater chance of finding someone with a generous spirit and sense of humor. I should make clear that I’m not the owner of the house and that she is completely unaware of this gesture, which she’d probably call harebrained. I’m merely invited to go there, as are a handful of other people, so in order to attend you should call xxx-xxxx ahead of time and ask for Señora Elena, firmly declare that you’ve met before, that you’re a friend of Edward’s, and that, feeling lonely and blue, you’d like to go to her house to ring in the New Year. I’ll be among the guests and you’ll have to guess which one of them is me. I believe this could be amusing. If you’re a young man under thirty, it’s probably better not to do anything. You’d probably get bored. While neither I nor the other guests are elderly, we’re not a bunch of crazy teenagers, either. Ah! Nor is this an escort service, instead, it’s a psycho-humorous experiment, nothing more. I’m almost certain you won’t go. One needs a lot of nerve to do it and very few people have that. You may also believe it’s a case of a prank played by some friend of yours, or that this letter is a clever advertisement to lead people off to a dubious place, et cetera, et cetera. Nothing of the kind: the house is an extremely respectable bourgeois residence; I, and everyone else, mild-mannered members of the bourgeoisie who nevertheless, as is happening to me at this very moment, may feel an irresistible impulse to make some adolescent-style mischief, in spite of my age and in spite of everything else.

I am going to copy this letter and send it to another stranger as well. Maybe one of you will show up. If both of you came, it would be something extraordinary and unheard of.

So until soon, maybe …

On second thought, I believe I’m crazier than a loon. Do not dream that the living room will be crossed by an aurora borealis or by your grandmother’s ectoplasm, nor will there be a shower of hams or anything in particular happening, and, just as I give you these assurances, I hope in turn that you’re not a gangster or a drunk. We’re nearly abstemious and halfway vegetarian.

—Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Carson


Remedios Varo (1908–63) was a Spanish-born painter who entered the surrealist circle in Paris before the German occupation forced her into exile to Mexico at the end of 1941. She would stay there until the end of her life. Her dream-infused, allegorical work combines the elements of classical training, alchemical mysticism, and fairy-tale science.

Margaret Carson’s translations include Sergio Chejfec’s My Two Worlds (Open Letter) and Baroni, a Journey (Almost Island). She teaches at Borough of Manhattan Community College/City University of New York.

Excerpted from Letters, Dreams & Other Writings, by Remedios Varo, translated by Margaret Carson, published by Wakefield Press.