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LEVANTUL

de Mircea Cărtărescu

THE LEVANT
by Mircea Cartarescu

"The most brilliant Romanian pieces of writing of the past century. Scratch that: EVER. Concocted in the
terrifyingly deep mines of genius harbored by Cartarescu's brain. Mind-blowingly erudite fun, engaging in its
vortex the whole history of Romanian literature--and of the Romanian history for that matter. I still remember
when I first read it (back in...oh...1992, probably, two or three years after its initial publication)--it was like
somebody lifted the top of my skull, like a detachable lid, and had exposed the inside of my brain to the most
potent, delectable literary drug that ever existed, and I had the chance to absorb directly into my nervous system.
I read the whole book in one sitting, and then reread it again several times. And my brain's been cracked open
ever since.
Unfortunately, it's a totally untranslatable book. And I don't mean that in the sense that nothing can be
completely and fully translated, that there will always be meanings in the original that will be inevitably lost in
translation, that hey, all you can do is just approximate at best, and try to get the readers to have a good idea of
the original.
No, this is bad. Levantul (The Levant) holds, I believe, the distinction of being the most untranslatable book I've
ever seen (or heard of). No matter how hard I, or anyone I know, will try, this book will remain impenetrable to a
foreign audience. And it's not even the fault of the translator, really.
It's just that the kind of literary pastiche and irony and literary colportage that Cartarescu does in this epic,
cannot be understood without 1) an intimate understanding of Romanian history and its literary beginnings; 2)
an intimate knowledge of all Romanian poets, past and present. Cartarescu recalls practically all the major
literary influences, all the "landmarks" in our short and troubled history, and plays with them, quotes them,
borrows them, twists them, copies and imitates them in a maddening dance, with such juicy linguistic skill that-well, see above re: mind being blown. It's a sort of Romanian Finnegan's Wake--only more readable. And it also
rhymes. Yeah. "
"To resume: the young Manoli, traveling on a fast boat in the Levantine archipelago to go meet with his sister
and 30 soldiers, is deeply distressed about the fate of his dear country, Wallachia, suffering until a cruel foreign
tyrant.The year is somewhere in the first half of the 19th century--anything up to 1848, really; the vocabulary
and mood reflect that:"
Cintul Intii

Book One

Floare-a lumilor, val verde cu lucori de petre rare,
Mari pe care vase d-aur port piper si scortisoare,
Ca si piepteni trecuti molcom printr-un par
imparfumat,
Strop de roua-n care ceriul e cu nouri mestecat,
O, Levant, in cari zefirul umfle-ai sei obraji de zeu,
Cu simtiri aprinse umpli neguros sufletul meu!
O, Levant, Levant ferice, cum nu simti a mea turbare,
Cum nu vede al tau ochiu cu vapai de chihlimbare
Noaptea turbure din peptu-mi, zbuciumul ce am in
sin,
De cind sunt destept pe lume, de cind stiu ca sunt
roman!
Cum n-am ochii mii, ca Argus, ca cu mii de
lacrimioare,
Sa jelesc ticalosita a poporului meu stare,
Preste care lupi si pardosi s-au facut stapini deplin
Zgiriind cu gheare lunge al Valahiei drag sin!" Astfel
cugeta un june pe-un caic ce zbura iute

“Flower of the worlds, green wave with shimmers of rare
precious stones,
Seas traversed by golden ships all fraught with pepper,
cinnamons,
Just like sparkling combs crossed gently through rich,
wavy, fragrant hair,
Bright dew drop in which the sky and clouds are blended
in the air,
O, Levant, in which the zephyr blows his godly cheeks
with zeal,
In my melancholy, bleak soul, burning passions you
instill!
Oh, Levant of joy and wonder, how do you not feel my
ire,
How does your eye fail to fathom, with its glowing
amber fire,
The tormented night inside me, the dark agony within,
Since I’ve come into this world, and since Romanian
I’ve been.

covered with old heavy golden rings. In their mothers’ arms. for the tyrants laugh and roar Guarded by the fierce Albanians in their turbans laced with gore They still rob the peasants and they cruelly rape their young. the knife! And quickly.Zante loop. Your dear sister with her thirty palikars await to fight. and I'm not sure the irony comes through. prin lucire de turcoaza. and heaps of deep aquamarine. In soft glows of cinnabar. înca junele le smulge Din a mumelor lor braţe. şi perfum.De la Corfu pin-la Zante peste apele hirsute Ce spargeau in valurele soarele ce sta sa caza Prin vapai de foc si miniu. Greaca are drăgănele. Incă mai jupoi ţeranii. Manoli's sister. your visage appears all translucent to my eyes. Young man. like Argus. this makes up for the bulk of today's installment. as exemplified by Zenaida. inca ţara o mai mulge! Tu de duci la Zante. la felinari Te aşteaptă a ta soră cu treizeci de palicari A ta soră! Zenaida! Cine-o vede se uimeşte Cine buzele de rujă. unde în barcaz. wisdom and insight— . soft. your sister! Zenaida! He who sees her is amazed— Who her rouge lips or her bright eyes glimpses. to the sailboat by whose light. but not only). will perhaps grip The quick knife. a ta faţă îmi apare străvezie. musulmana ca de prune The Greek woman has gold trinkets. it’s rage. Scratching with their long and sharp claws at Wallachia’s dear breast!” Thus a young man ruminated on the deck of a fast sloop. Over which the wolves and leopards made themselves a ruling nest. Gemetul ce scoţi e oare de amor sau de mînie. Of course. Especially the switch from a very serious. How do I not have a thousand eyes. Breaking into sparkly waves the sunset’s multicolor sheen. none of those charms can be topped by those of the Romanian women. romantic one : Tînărule. Mîna cu inele grele şi cu petre răsucite Pe jungher sau pe şold fraged va voi să se invite? Ah. and they will suck this country dry! You—you leave for Zante. who cry. The deep moan you heave. will be dazed. As she waits for her Leander in the palace by the sea. or will it want to touch a tender. Which over the foamy waters closed the Corfu . perfumes. sorrowful registry to a lewd. căci tiranii înca rîde Conjurati de arvaniţii cu a lor turbane hîde. or is it amour in disguise? Your hand. …to recap: the story takes a digressive turn to discuss the charms of the women of different ethnicities (mostly from the Levant. …so funny. I can mourn the declination of my land for years. cine ochii i-i zăreşte I se pare cum că Hero vie s-au împeliţat Să-l aştepte iar pe Leandros lîng-al mărilor palat. Oh. pe junghiu! Si degrabă. curvy hip? Ah. şi-nţelepciune Ce primit-a de la graţii. so with tears Thousands. And believe that he can once again sweet Hero see.

Fiul cînelui ce ţara o mînca şi-o bea la masa Şi curvarul mahalalei ce din răutăţi nu iasă. Pîn’la imineii d’aur şi cu vîrfuri răsucite. And will have her lover stab you in the heart. Işi făcu sălaş ca furii. Gifts from Graces. For she’d sip his kiss for hours on the satin bed sheet hollow Till he’s left utterly breathless. She will melt under caresses. Că i-ar soarbe sărutarea peste perne de şiraz De-ar rămîne fără suflu. In her ecstasy. But none sweeter than the girl who’s born under Romanian skies. her bosom hidden under rows of charms. as a nun seeking the truth. you poor cuckold! And the Serbian. dar frumos ca viaţa e. nebun ar fi acela ce pe ea ar tîrgui. Many tiny stars are burning up above in the tall air. The Egyptian’s dark and fragrant like a night of sinful love. sînurile nesătule Şi sprîncenele-mbinate. and all want her in their arms. her eyes are green. după ea cu toţi suspin. effendi narator. moan and coo just like a dove. O chirghiză face-n piaţă mahmudele zece mii.. E trufaşă dar e dulce şi-are ciucuri la botfor. A Kyrgyz woman’s worth ten thousand gold piastres in the market. parcă-i arcul lui Amor. ca o noapte de iubire. El e ghimpele ce-n sînul Zenaidei. till his cheeks are pale and sallow. or of her hungry heaving breasts. Multe flori sînt. the' Arab woman is so dear to the sight And her eyes are plums you barely see through the veil’s screen. . paşi mărunţi şi cletinaţi Inima-i se duce-n taină dup-al ţării beizade. pleoapele-i sînt înnegrite Cu kohl scump de Kios. but the Italian is a devil at her most. For the girl that’s Macedonian. Arde şi se-ncolăceşte ca o viţă pe arac Pe un boi de june mîndru. Vai.Are ochii ce prin deasa feregea abia-i prevezi. In a hermitage she’ll hide then. ce lîngă cîrmă Valul verde. pleoape ca ghiocii zuvelcaţi. orizonul cu privirea el le scîrmă. Many women of the world have dark and pretty almond eyes. Why. Dar. Who’ll betray you and will only have her eyes set on your gold. Se topeşte in desmierduri. Faţa-i este alabastru. Gene grele şi-ncurcate. a fool would be the one to bargain for that charming packet. Pletele prea lunge-i curge ca o apă volutoasă Pîn’la la gleznele ivite sub şalvarii de mătasă. dar puţine rod in lume o să poarte Multe mărgaritarele sus pe ceriu ard departe. Is fair and shy just like a deer. nu am coarde l-a mea arfă îndestule Să îi cînt zulufii negri. And her interlocking eyebrows like Cupid’s bow between her tresses She is proud but sweet as honey and her shoes are hemmed with tassels. Calimachi. gungureşte în delire. When it sings of her black curls. Burn and coil around a handsome youth like vines on posts. făr’ bujorii din obraz! Machedoana. Neagră este egipţianca. Să ne înturnăm la junul Manoil. my harp’s chords may fail the test. Frînca are dinţi de boabe de sidef şi ochii verzi. The French woman’s teeth are made of pearls. Multe sînt femei cu ochii neguratici şi codaţi Dar nici una nu-i mai dulce ca rumânca din Carpaţi. talianca e un drac Ce te-nşeala şi te vinde şi se uită numa-n punge Şi ibovnicul îşi pune la răscruci de te împunge. rotunzior. Cam grăbişi cu diegesis şi te luă gura-nainte Să purcedem dar din locul ce-l lăsarăm fără minte. Nimărui ea nu-i dă floarea junii sale feciorii Şi se face maică blînda într-un schit de pe pustii. suflet putred. But to no one does she yield the flower of her virgin youth. This world has so many flowers. but so few will sweet fruit bear. Sîrba cea cu salbe multe peste peptul ca de crin E sfioasă ca şi ciuta.

Who the green wave. you should rest. Son of the infernal bastard who this country drinks and eats. Comments and translation by Cristina Hanganu-Bresch – http://fantasypieces. scopes under his eager brow. Costly black kohl—so her eyelids are like furtive cowrie shells.typepad.com/translation/mircea_cartaresculevantul/index. Methinks that your diegesis is a little rushed and scurried. Cheeks are sculpted alabaster.html . Let’s proceed from the same place we left before you hurried. the horizon. but fairer than the Alexander Macedon. the heir to throne. Let’s go back to our young Manoli. He’s the thorn who’n Zenaida’s round and cozy breast Nested like a thief. Rotten soul. at the prow. Secretly her heart belongs to Calimach. eyelids darkened with Kios. Eyelashes are long and heavy. Effendi story-teller. Down to her embroidered golden shoes with curled-up toes. her steps small and hippropelled. And the neighborhood’s philanderer who will terrorize the streets.Her too long and shiny tresses flow like a voluptuous stream Down and round her tiny ankles which in silky shalwars gleam.

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