Five days after Jorge Luis Borges was born he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. It was said that the Scandinavians had a tradition of honoring those born brilliant, thus Jorge was immediately whisked from his mother’s bedside in Palermo, Argentina to a transatlantic freight headed to Stockholm. Jorge’s mother was allowed, naturally, to accompany him on the journey, although the committee members made it very clear that no one, other than security, could be on the same transport. They explained that it would be just too dangerous. When Petra objected that her husband and daughter should be allowed to join them, she was contested by the chairman of the Nobel organization, Erik Ekström.
We wish to inform you that the current list of diseases identified by the Swedish government on a preceding freight included: cholera, dysentery, influenza, and yellow fever. Please advise. -E.E.
The rest of the family moved to Geneva after the ceremony. Jorge’s father, Jorge Guilhermo, had a degenerative eye condition, and he needed to live near the Swiss ophthalmologist, Dr. Hans Landholt. Dr. Landholt’s recent paper on Bietti’s Crystalline Dystrophy had rocketed him into Guilhermo’s speeding orbit of medical literature. His wife, Petra, read the articles to him, and when she reached Dr. Landholt’s final paragraph on the degenerative prognosis, Guilhermo shrieked, “Mi hijo, my dio!” because if it weren’t for Jorges, they never would have been in Europe in the first place.
Norah and Jorges, el caudillo y el tortuga, their parents called them, played among the mazes and corridors in the old city while their father went in weekly for his treatments. Temporarily halted by a monument or a courtyard-cum-cul-du-sac, the brother and sister played their winding, sometimes re-winding, street games like monkeys in a tree–stopping only to recalibrate distance, speed or approach. They would be wet with perspiration when they returned to their father on the steps of Hôpitaux universitaires de Genève. He said nothing to them for the oil-soaked cloth that greased his eyelids spoke the necessity of obedience into their slowing hearts. By this time of day the street lamps glowed like orbuculum, and they all felt the urgency of their twenty-four kilometre journey home. The brother and sister guided their father to the brown-leather, front seat of the green Turicum. As they found their positions, Guilhermo started the car and placed his large shoes squarely on each pedal. Jorges leaned over to adjust the gears, while Norah, standing over her father, reached to hold the wheel with both hands. It was an uneventful drive, despite the rugged terrain and the gaping stares of other drivers, though Guilhermo often sat in the car for minutes after they’d parked at the house, blotting his slick brow and wiping the spittle from the corners of his mouth.
By evening the children were eating puchero and laughing as they watched a goosander swim with her chicks on her back across a small pond. The house was in Geneva proper, but shared commonalities with the Swiss countryside. Their land swept to the north from the edge of the pebbled driveway where the children played, and from their supper spot they could view not only the pond, but also the rush of larch and pine that ran down the glacial valleys to the meadows of Alpine Asters.
. . . . . . . . (to be continued)