Sunday, August 24, 2008

El Príncipe Feliz

I should have known better. Yesterday evening my options were:

1. Join the assorted 19- and 20-year olds for a so-called "Buenos Aires pub crawl", which promised - for less than twenty bucks - free drinks and appetizers at each of no fewer than four bars, followed by V.I.P. entry to a "hot club" in the city center.

2. A relaxing dinner alone, with an opportunity to catch up on some Spanish reading.

OK, I'm a wuss. My 51-year old liver and I chose option 2.

The root of the problem was my choice of reading material. Rather than eat to the accompaniment of the bloodless prose of Borges's "Ficciones" (which, I hasten to add, are just fine if you are in the right kind of mood), I opted instead to bring along a Spanish translation of collected stories of Oscar Wilde: "El Fantasma de Canterville y Otros Cuentos". I had bought the book earlier in the day, for its nice simple prose - a fine choice for non-native speakers like myself. So my dinner courses were punctuated by intermittent sections of "El Príncipe Feliz" (The Happy Prince).

Problem was, I'd forgotten the effect this particular story has on me. As a kid, I could never make it to the end without bawling my eyes out. And sure enough, the Spanish translation had lost none of the tale's emotional wallop. By the time my espresso was served, when the swallow dies and the prince's heart breaks in two, well - let's just say I had to go to the men's room to compose myself.*

The Happy Prince: reading it in public is a bit like watching "Brokeback Mountain" with the lights on - a recipe for embarrassment.

Damn you, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde! And I mean that in the best possible way.

* I'm all better now, I swear.


Tráeme las dos cosas más preciosas de la ciudad -- le dijo Dios a uno de sus ángeles.
Y el ángel le trajo el corazón de plomo y el ave muerte.
Has escogido bien -- dijo Dios -- porque en el jardín del Paraíso este pajarillo cantará eternamente y en mi ciudad de oro del Príncipe Feliz me glorificará.

Bring me the two most precious things in the city -- God said to one of his angels.
And the angel brought him the heart of lead and the dead swallow.
You have chosen well -- said God -- because this little bird will sing for eternity in the gardens of Paradise, and the Happy Prince will bring me glory in my City of Gold.

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