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« Texto en una libreta (part 2) | Main | Packed Dirt, Churchgoing, A Dying Cat, A Traded Car »

Texto en una libreta (part 1)

The first part to a work ("Text from a notebook") by this Argentine man of letters.  You can read the original as part of this collection.

Checks on the passengers increased – this is the moment to mention it – while we were talking about indetermination and analytic residue.  Jorge García Bouza had made several allusions to the Montreal subway before referring specifically to the Anglo line in Buenos Aires.  He didn't tell me, but I suspect this had something to do with the technical studies conducted by the firm – if it had been, in fact, the firm who had carried out these checks.  With some special procedures, which my ignorance will simply qualify as such, García Bouza insisted on their effective simplicity: an exact count had been taken of the passengers who made daily use of the subway during the course of a certain week.  As he was interested in knowing the percentage of affluence both at the line's different stations, as well as for the trips from one end to another and those trips between intermediary stations, checks were performed with maximum severity at all the entries and exits from Primera Junta to the Plaza de Mayo.  At that time – I am talking about the 1940s – the Anglo line was not yet connected to the new underground networks, which of course facilitated these checks.

On the Monday of the chosen week a basic number was obtained; it was approximately the same on Tuesday; on Wednesday, in addition to a similar total, the unexpected occurred: 113,987 persons entered the metro as opposed to the number of people who had returned to the surface, which came to 113,983.  Common sense imputed this to four errors in calculation, and those responsible for the operation resurveyed the checkpoints looking for possible negligence.  Even the chief inspector Montesano (I speak now with information that García Bouza did not know and which I obtained later) arrived to reinforce the personnel assigned to the checks.  Exceeding normal scruples, he had them sweep the metro from one end to the other; construction workers and train crew alike were obliged to show their identification cards upon leaving.  From all this I came to see that chief inspector Montesano vaguely suspected the onset of what now is certain to both of us.  I add unnecessarily that no one hit on the supposed error I just proposed (and at once eliminated) regarding four unfindable passengers.

Everything went well on Thursday: one hundred seven thousand three hundred twenty-eight residents of Buenos Aires obediently reappeared after their episodic immersion in the subway.  On Friday (now, on the heels of the preceding operations, the checks could be considered perfect) the number of those who came out again exceeded by one those checked at the entrances.  On Saturday the same figures were obtained, and the firm considered its task finished.  The anomalous results were not revealed to the public, and apart from chief inspector Montesano and the technicians in charge of the totalizator machines at the Once station, I think very few people paid any attention to what happened.  I also believe that these few people (excluding again the chief inspector) reasoned that it should all be forgotten, with the simple assumption that it was owing to an error on the part of either the machines or their operators.     

This took place in 1946 or at the beginning of 1947.  In the months that followed I happened to travel quite a bit on the Anglo line.  From time to time, because the commute was a long one, I would recall that talk with García Bouza, and was ironically surprised looking at the people in the seats around me or clinging to the bars like slabs of meat to their hooks.  Twice at the José María Moreno station it seemed unreasonable to me that certain people (a man, later two old women) were not just passengers like everyone else.  One Thursday night in the Medrano station, after having attended a boxing match and witnessed Jacinto Llanes win on points, I had the impression that the girl nearly asleep on the second bench on the platform was not there to wait for the ascending train.  In reality she got into the same car as I did, but only to get off at Río de Janeiro and remain on the platform as if she were dubious about something, as if she were very tired or annoyed.

All this I say now when there is nothing more for me to know; very much like when, after a robbery, people agree that some ill-mannered boys simply rounded the block.  Nevertheless, from the beginning, something of these apparent fantasies which weave themselves into distraction was going further than that and lingering like the very sediment of suspicion.  For that reason, the night that García Bouza mentioned as a curious detail the results of the checks, the two things were instantaneously associated and I felt that something was coagulating into oddness, strangeness, almost into fear.  Perhaps of those on the outside, I was the first to know.

After this ensues a confused period in which a growing desire to verify these suspicions is mixed with a dinner at El Pescadito which brought me nearer to Montesano and his memories, and progressive and cautious descent into the subway was understood as something else, as a slow and different breathing, a pulse which in some almost unthinkable way did not throb through the city, which was not merely one means of transportation in the city.  But before actually going down (I am not referring to the trivial feat of flowing into the subway with everyone else), he spent a while in reflection and analysis.  In the course of three months in which I preferred to take streetcar 86 so as to avoid verifications or deceptive chance happenings, a theory by Luis M. Baudizzone worthy of attention kept me on the surface.  As García Bouza's report mentioned, almost in jest, he believed it was possible to explain the phenomenon by virtue of expected atomic erosion in large masses.  No one had ever counted the people exiting the River Plate station one traditional Sunday; no one had ever compared this figure with the box office receipts.  A herd of five thousand buffaloes running through a narrow pass, does it contain the same number of entering and exiting units?  The friction of all those persons on Florida street subtly corrodes coat sleeves and the backs of gloves.  This friction, this chafing of 113,987 travelers in crammed trains which shake and rub them at every curve and every halt, this may have as a result (owing to the annulment of the individual and the action of erosion on the crowd's being) the annulment of four units at the end of twenty hours.  As for the second anomaly, I mean the Friday in which there was an extra passenger, Baudizzone managed merely to concur with Montesano and impute it to an error in calculation.  At the end of these rather literary conjectures, I again felt very alone.  I didn't even have my own conjectures; instead I merely had a slow cramp in my stomach every time I approached a subway entrance.  For that reason I followed on my own a spiral path that brought me nearer little by little; for that reason I spent so much time in the streetcar before I felt myself capable of returning to the Anglo line, of actually going down and not only taking the metro. 


Here it must be said that from them I have not received the slightest help, quite the contrary, in fact.  Waiting for or seeking their help would have been senseless.  They are here and do not even know that their written history begins in this very paragraph.  For my part I would not have wanted to denounce them and, in any case, I shall not mention the few names that became known to me during the weeks in which I entered their world.  If I have indeed done all this so as to write this report, I am of the belief that my reasons were good, and that I wanted to help those Buenos Aires natives persistently afflicted with transportation problems.  Now not even this counts any more; now I am afraid; now I have no will to go down there again.  And yet it is unfair to have to travel slowly and uncomfortably by streetcar when one is but two steps away from the metro which everyone rides because they are not afraid.  I am sufficiently honest to acknowledge that if they have been expelled – without any scandal, of course, without anyone finding out too much – I will feel much calmer.  Neither because my life seemed threatened while I was down there, nor because I felt safe, which I didn't at any single moment, as I advanced in my investigation of many nights (here everything transpires at night; nothing is more false or theatrical than the gushes of sun interrupting the fanlights between two stations or rolling to the middle of the station access stairs).  It is quite possible that I may have stopped so as to give myself away, and that they know why I spend so many hours in the subway, just like I can distinguish them immediately among the crushing throng of the stations.  They are pale; they proceed with manifest efficiency; they are so pale and so sad, almost all of them are so sad. 

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