A good day
From Juomarin päiväkirjat (’A drunkard’s journals’, edited by Pekka Tarkka, Otava, 1999). Introduction by Claes Andersson
Iceland, Summer 1968
I don’t know how to describe what I see, the lava’s colors; the afternoon green of the grass, and I can’t tell if that white is buildings or snow. The mountains are fortresses of the gods, and if people’s construction projects irritate them too much, they let the ground shake, volcanos erupt and tum everything upside down, assign new sites to houses and different routes for cars. The gods’ noses itch when their breath is caught in pipelines and channeled into radiators and greenhouses. Sheep tear the grass but horses browse in a civilized manner. Jónas does not believe in the gods, but he is afraid of them, the gods are not pleased with the Americans, who do not know anything about the gods or history yet come here and start interfering with the land as if it were theirs.
The roads so poor it is hard to write on the bus. But there is no point in building better ones because the gods don’t like the smell of road tar, and the gods have nostrils all over their bodies. Gradually, over millennia, these nostrils are worn away, and when there are only two of them left, the gods have changed into animals and human beings, and then when there are no nostrils left at all, there is only gravel and sand and stones. Every spring, the sheep meadows have to be leveled again. I tried to pick up the boulder Snorri carried around the cattle fence three times, I could not even budge it. This is Snorri’s landscape and his descendants still live here. When the mountains grow old, they resemble a woman who lies on her back not thinking about anything.
Back in the room the vodka bottle, half full, waits impatiently. This is how it was emptied: At approximately 2304hrs, we don’t have a watch, I pour myself a drink, 3/4 vodka, 1/4 tap water. I check that everything in the room is the way it was as when we left, the blue string bag full of books hangs on the door handle. I have disproved the claim that an alcoholic cannot drink in moderation, or else the claim that I am an alcoholic. The sky is clear and it is bright outside, but the light is not the same as daylight, these summer nights it is light enough to walk about but not to read very well. Tomorrow we’ll go say goodbye to Thorsteinn and Gudrun and Kjartan. In the port, the same ships as when we left, well we haven’t been gone all that long. When you return, you feel as if you had been away for many days, and when you’ve been back for a while it feels as if you hadn’t gone away at all. Read the paper on the bus, de Gaulle has announced either that he’ll resign or won’t resign, in any case, he has announced something very important. Now I make myself another drink, vodka and tap water fifty-fifty, it has been approximately ten minutes, we do not have a watch. Tomorrow I won’t drink at all, I probably will but no more than today, unless someone buys me a drink, after all, that will be our last evening in this small metropolis of the North. Tomorrow, Helsinki’s Song Ensemble performs at the university presenting a variety of compositions. Jónas has five children, a member of the Diet is paid 15,000, the Butcher at the sausage factory gets 20,000, no Butcher was to be seen in town as we walked back from the bus station. The narrative bounced to Jónas because Jónas had said he found Sibelius boring, he said that Sibelius in his old age was an equal drag on Finland’s music as Laxness now was on Iceland’s literature. There is nothing more horrifying than a sprightly geezer. It’s the same in the party: they worked, in difficult circumstances, unpaid, they did good work, and now they demand an impossible recompense: the right to decide what should be done. When The Geezers’ Council is allowed to decide, you’ll soon find they no longer have anything to decide except for their own concerns. Autumn is the season for founding new parties. Jónas would like to organize the fishermen, this is hard since the fishermen are either at sea or back in port and drunk, at which time it would be unreasonable to go and explain to them the importance of organizing. But the fishermen are smart, no one has managed to manipulate them, they detest empty phrases but if one tells them what it is one is really thinking they will listen and consider things according to their own understanding and experience. They have not been contaminated by propaganda. It is possible to talk to them. I made a third drink, 4/5 vodka and 1/5 tap water, now the bottle is empty, it is, I would guess, since we don’t have a watch, 0010hrs, and when I’ve drained the glass I’ll go to sleep next to my wife, it was a good day, I felt happy as soon as I woke up in the morning. In the bus I wrote first, then pondered this book and books in general, how the length of a line of poetry is determined by the width of the paper and the length of a novel determined by a kind of sum of the author’s, the publisher’s and the reader’s powers of endurance. Today is the last day of May. Tomorrow it is summer. In Helsinki, we’ll unpack things from our bags, pack them with other things, and off we go again. I light a Camel, take a look to see how much is left in the glass and decide that this is my penultimate Camel. The penultimate night on this island the Atlantic holds like a flower on a palm. The gods left caves in the lava for outlaws to hide in for years when the gods had appointed their own authority to keep the gate. Go ahead, Jónas, paint that church. What color will you paint it? When I think about it I can’t come up with anything better than paint it in a way that won’t annoy the gods. You know the gods and their color sense better than I do. It was a pretty church. Small, the way the gods like them built by intruders, small churches. But as for the colors, you are right, they are particular about those. Now it is empty, we still don’t have a watch, 0045hrs the estimated time.
I try not to think about Finland, it is raining outside, we sit in the Mokka Espresso, we have just enough money, we have calculated it with the accuracy of a second: the plane takes off at 1520hrs – Copenhagen – Stockholm – Helsinki; at home unpaid bills and unfinished work. I am nervous. No vodka bottle in the closet today. Haven’t spent a day in three years without a drink.
Now we must change cafes. I would like to write outside but it’s raining. Hard to write while walking, and the cops don’t like it. Everything’s going to hell. I read old newspapers in the reading room and I saw that everything’s going to hell. Wherever you look, everything’s going to hell. First it rains, then it’s sunny, everything’s going to hell. No matter what kind of government, everything’s going to hell anyway. The guy who was not served a beer because he was drunk grabbed a bottle off the counter and threw it down on the floor, that’s what one must do, get blind drunk and make a scene, because everything’s going to hell and it can’t be helped. The landlord hobbles past and nods, he is doing well, charges usurious rent, makes money, has every reason to be content. I don’t. The monkeys applaud when you call them monkeys. They might do better on a regional history excursion, they are quite useless anyway. The avantgardists perfect their one-liners in anticipation of the Jyväskylä Summer and the Lahti Writers’ Conference and more minor events. Summer, in today’s Finland, is a time for intellectual exchange and planning. In the fall, the panelists return bulging with new ideas, fall is the season for intellectual threshing. In the winter the harvest is brought in. Mr Cabinet Member, we have called attention to the following systemic defects. A list of the defects to which attention has been called. Everything is going to hell. Cars are going to hell. Ships are going to hell. This book is going to hell. The food is inedible. The beer just piss. The wife is nagging. As soon as the street has dried, it starts raining again. And she can’t go outside when it rains, her hair and eyeglasses get wet.
It had been hailing, when we went outside, a cold wind was blowing and people hurried, away from somewhere, for in this town there are no places one wants to get to in a hurry. Except for the bars, whose windows are covered so people in the street can’t see inside (the poor would become jealous. For Iceland is a classless society). ‘Well, shall we go?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Don’t just stand there like an idiot. What’s the matter with you?’ ‘Shut up.’ ‘Why can’t you ever say what it is you want.’ ‘Because I can’t. That’s the problem. That's the very foundation of my life, I never know what it is I want.’ ‘But that’s so hopeless.’ ‘Hopeless, for sure. That’s what it’s about.’ ‘Do you want to go eat or not? I for one don’t feel like freezing out here in the rain all day. ' 'Go back to the room and take a nap. ' 'That's what I'll do. All you want to do is to give me a hard time. ' 'It·s refreshing to walk in the rain. ' 'Eat shit.' 'You expect me to write about nothing but sunshine? You don't know what the rain feels like if you stay inside.' ‘Oh stop it. ' They walked, the woman two meters ahead of him, her hands hanging down stiffly by her sides, he slowly on purpose, back to the hotel, in the stairway drunks leaned against the walls and each other, in a stench of cheap booze. they followed her with their eyes, grinned when they say the man's funny hat, their room was on the third floor, one had to put one's shoulder to the door against the wind blowing in through the open window, papers flew off the table onto the floor, the room had been serviced, the man tossed his overcoat onto the bed, picked a newspaper off the floor and said: 'I'm going to the reading room to check out this article. ' 'All the better chairs have been taken. ' 'I'll go there anyway. I don't mind sitting on a less comfortable chair.’ 'On that bony ass. ' 'It's the only ass I have, so don't make fun of it. ' 'You don't care for me one bit. ' 'Although there won't be anything sensible in this one either. ' 'You promised. last night. ' 'Just come and get me then. if we'll go eat. ' The woman stayed in the room to read a book. It was The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky. The man sat in the reading room for a while and looked out at the rain, then turned his attention to the newspaper article. He was angry, but not at her, he just felt that everything was going to hell. Perhaps it was his craving for a drink that made him irritable. He read the article, an analysisof the student riots. He leafed through his notebook and found that he had often been self-contradictory and confused. This made him feel even more irritable. He went back to the room and asked the woman for a pill. Then they went to the coffee bar and had some coffee.
Translated by Anselm Hollo
No comments for this entry yet