Julio Cortázar was a writer. He wrote novels, short stories, translations and letters. Lots and lots of letters. He never wanted to write an autobiography, but he left so many letters behind, that we don’t actually need an autobiography. He also made clear that he did not like “literary letters”. Back in 1942 he said something like:
“I hate literary letters, carefully prepared, copied and copied again; I sit in front of the machine and let the vast river of my thoughts and affections flow.”
If anyone reads Spanish and is interested, there’s a book with the letters he wrote to the Jonquières family: Cartas a los Jonquières. I suppose I don’t really have to tell you who edited it and who wrote the prologue, but in case you doubt: Aurora Bernárdez and Carles Álvarez Garriga, as always.
So, back to the route. Quick note: remember that not all the texts have an official translation (or I haven’t found it yet), so I’ll be translating most of it.
Pont du Carrousel
Maybe I am sad, but I am learning to deposit that melancholy in every beautiful thing that surrounds me. I wish I could show you, for example, the Pont du Carrousel at sunset.From a letter to María Rocchi de Jonquières, 1952.
The day we were went to see the bridges it rained a lot. Ana Pau was the only one from us who actually had an umbrella, and we were basically starving, so we didn’t spend a lot of time on the bridges. The scene was: Ana Pau and Cristian would wait for me on the main avenue under a roof and I would run to the bridges to take a picture. My camera isn’t waterproof, so I didn’t have a lot of time to take the pictures.
I didn’t get to see the beauty of a sunset on the Pont du Carrousel, but I did get to run back and forth under the rain, trying not to drown my camera. Of course the pictures aren’t that great, but I’m not a photographer, and I was on a rush.
Pont des Arts
This second bridge appears on the first line of the first chapter of Cortázar’s famous novel Hopscotch. The speaker wonders whether he will find his lover on the bridge, leaning on the handrail, waiting.
If you look “Pont des Arts” up in Google, you will find lots and lots love locks hanging from both sides of the bridge, symbolizing the eternal love between the couples who put them there. Now, we all know that love locks are heavy and bad for the bridges, so when I went to the Pont des Arts, I found the sides covered and full of graffiti. I guess street artist can’t help themselves whenever they see an empty surface. Anyway, the bridge was beautiful.
The irony behind this bridge is in the name: Pont Neuf means New Bridge, and this is the oldest standing bridge in Paris. They started building it back in 1578, but they had to postpone it due to the French Religion Wars. They re-started building it in 1599 and finished in 1607.
I knew the Pont Neuf thanks to this photograph:
We would have loved to sit on the bench and look to the skies like proper intellectuals, but the rain made it impossible, and we thought walking around Paris completely drenched would be slightly uncomfortable. Thankfully, by the time we made it to the Pont Neuf, I had already bought an umbrella, so taking the picture was easier.
In an interview back in 1969, Julio said:
“It is mentioned in an old text from Breton, from the old surrealism, where Paris is viewed as a woman, and the Place would be its sex. […] Because Paris is absolutely feminine, not in the coarse sense of the metaphor, but in the subtlety one. […] There is something magical about it, as if it had been transformed by a wizard. And, of this woman, the Place Dauphine is the sex. Voilà.”
The leaves of the trees had just started growing again, but there was indeed something magical about the Place after the rain.