ESSAY: I can’t get used to it: On Becoming a Catalan Writer by Simona Škrabec

I can’t get used to it: On Becoming a Catalan Writer
Gowend 8
by Simona Škrabec

Whenever I enter a karstic valley I feel at home, confident, my guard is down. A dolina is a stream that disappears into the limestone ground ­– it is the green wall of the forest, an island, a closed universe. Not long ago I came across this same green filtering the light in the valleys of the Arieja. The woman who sold the tickets to visit the subterranean river had a moustache clearly visible on her upper lip, wore her blouse too low and, despite the cold, skipped around showing legs white as milk. Full of energy, like the Slovenian peasants, and equally as indifferent to her surroundings, she seemed interested only in counting the sold tickets and herding the visitors, like a flock, to the entrance of the cave.

The image of the bearded lady is strangely disagreeable, evoking a travelling circus where one pays to see the flame-thrower or contortionist. One of the few poets who have been translated from Slovenian to Catalan is Srečko Kosovel. In his poem ‘Circ Kludsky’ (Kludsky Circus) he describes the fragility of a girl in the middle of the arena, in front of the stares that swallow her, as if she is being chewed by lions. This girl is Poetry, because all of us who write are a bit like contortionists, jugglers, tightrope walkers – and, why not, bearded ladies.

For me it would be easy to accept the role of a curiosity and feed into the exoticism of someone who writes in Catalan although originally from one of those ineffable countries in eastern Europe. I am what I write, I can’t separate myself from it. But when you cannot hide yourself in any community, the exposure becomes painful. No one, in fact, shares your life trajectory. You are alone. And at the same time, you are as whole as if you had never left home. It is not possible to cut a person into pieces and separate the areas of their experience with a scalpel. If I share something with my adopted country it is the capacity to doubt, to analyze my own identity. This is why I have wanted to inscribe myself, with my own words, in a shared present.

Note: This article was first published in Catalan Writing, April 2010.

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