As this section opens, the unnamed narrator is leaving the hotel in Rio de Janeiro where he has spent the night. He is anxiously embarking on some sort of necessary journey. But he is travelling without luggage and, it would seem, without a clearly defined purpose, or destination.
Atlantic Hotel is translated from the Portuguese by Adam Morris.
— Joseph Schreiber
I went down the hotel steps half stooped, my legs and back were killing me. When I got to the door I put one of my hands against the wall to hold myself up, and with the other I pressed against the pain in my lower back. Maybe I should go back to my room? I wondered. Maybe I should stay, give up? Maybe I should marry the flapper from reception? Maybe I’ll be content with the company of a woman?
I’m old, I thought. Old at barely forty. Traipsing around would be madness. Legs, weak. Irregular heartbeat, I know. And my rheumatoid posture…
There, stopped in the hotel doorway, I felt vertigo. Foggy vision, out of breath…
But I needed to get going. I stepped down from the stoop and leaned against the wall of the building. Lots of people were passing along Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, just like every morning, some brushed against me, touched me inadvertently, coughed.
I felt on the verge of fainting but avoided the idea of asking for help. Resorting to another person’s assistance would be the same as staying, and I needed to go.
Then I thought about getting a taxi. So I went looking for one. I walked by moving one leg at a time, steadying myself on other people like a drunk. Until my feet stepped into the dark puddle in the gutter. I hailed a cab and it stopped.
I told the cabbie I was going to the bus station. I got in the back, curled up, lying down on the seat. The driver asked if I was sick. With what remained of my voice I said I was only tired. Bus station, I repeated. The cabbie kept talking, but I couldn’t follow.
At one point I understood he was talking about the cold. I said: Oh, the cold, as cold as the Russian steppes. He told me: The Russian steppes are cold as death. This I heard quite clearly.
I returned to my senses. The traffic. The cabbie commenting on the smog in the Rebouças tunnel. I leveraged my hands against the seat back and managed to bring myself upright. The car was emerging from the tunnel.
I was almost better, just a tremble in my hands.
“How come you’re so tired?” the cabbie asked.
“I was partying all night,” I replied.
He laughed. I showed him my hand and said, “Look how I’m trembling, it’s alcohol tremors.”
“You’re an alcoholic?” he asked.
“Yeah, but I’m going to a treatment center in Minas,” I replied.
He shook his head, gave a little snort of assent, and said, “I have a brother-in-law who drinks. He was in rehab three times.”
Suddenly, the cabbie said we’d arrived at the bus station.
“You all right?” he asked.
“Great,” I replied, almost startled.
I watched the commotion at the bus station and saw the hour of my departure had arrived, the way someone going under for surgery witnesses the anesthesiologist’s first procedure.
I took a wad of money from my pocket, opened my hand, and gave it to the cabbie. He asked if I wanted change. I inquired if he knew where to find the ticket counters for the buses to Minas. He smiled, gave me a look, and said he had no idea.
“I’m sorry.” I said it full of a sudden shame.
“Sorry for what, man?” he asked.
“Sorry for being who I am,” I replied, closing the car door softly.
I got on the escalator going up. The one coming down was jammed with people. Between the up and down escalators there was a long concrete staircase. People in a hurry were going up and down, skipping steps.
On the escalators everyone seemed totally immersed in what they were doing. Noticing this relaxed me. I too would manage: travel, take the bus, arrive somewhere else.
There were long lines at the ticket windows. A lot of people were milling around. Many others sat on benches. A man and a woman kissed shamelessly at a lunch counter. A man left the pharmacy looking at his watch.
I sat on a bench, way at the end. The rest of the bench was full. I stretched out one of my legs a bit, without letting my heel come off the floor. My leg looked a bit pitiful. Maybe it was the crumpled up unwashed sock, the fleck of mud on my shoe. A pitiful state I’d done everything I could to disguise. I brought the leg back over beside the other.
Now I was looking at nothing except the dirty floor on the upper deck of the bus station. Gazing at that dirty floor, I had nothing else to think about. Maybe a vague yearning for a child’s intimacy with the floor.
It struck me that my journey might bring me back to that intimacy. A voice inside me said, between excitement and apprehension, Who knows, maybe I’ll end up sleeping on the ground.
I took out the ball cap I always carried in the pocket of my blazer. I put it on my head in the position I liked, a little to the right side. I no longer needed a mirror to be sure the cap was placed in exactly that position.
The cap obeyed, loyal. My hands had memorized the way to execute their task. As always, when the task was completed, I gave a little tap on the cap’s brim to see if it was really on right.
I ran my hands down my body as though searching for something and felt a bulk in the blazer’s other pocket. It was a thick piece of paper folded several times—a map of Brazil I’d bought two days earlier.
I looked around, making sure there was room to open the map all the way. I put my legs over the armrest of the bench. Now, with nobody on either side, I could extend my arms.
As I opened the map I remembered what I’d said to the cabbie. That I’d be going to alcohol rehab in the Minas countryside.
On the map, the Minas countryside looked like a swarm of little towns. My gaze descended a little, crossing into São Paulo State and stopping on Paraná.
I was thirsty. I thought about getting a mineral water. I folded the map, discreetly tucked it under my butt. Then I got up and walked away.
I didn’t even make it five steps. A woman seated on the bench facing mine called out, “Hey, sir, sir, I think you forgot something there.”
I looked back, toward the spot where I’d been sitting, saw the paper folded on the bench seat, turned to the woman, and shook my head, saying, “It’s not mine.”
— João Gilberto Noll, Translated from Portuguese by Adam Morris
Excerpt courtesy of Two Lines Press; translation copyright 2017 Adam Morris
João Gilberto Noll (1946–2017) is the author of nearly twenty books. His work appeared in Brazil’s leading periodicals, and he was a guest of the Rockefeller Foundation, King’s College London, and the University of California at Berkeley, as well as a Guggenheim Fellow. A five-time recipient of the Prêmio Jabuti, and the recipient of more than ten awards in all, he died in Porto Alegre, Brazil, at the age of 70.
Adam Morris has a PhD in Latin American Literature from Stanford University and is the recipient of the 2012 Susan Sontag Foundation Prize in literary translation. He is the translator of João Gilberto Noll’s Atlantic Hotel (Two Lines Press, 2017) and Quiet Creature on the Corner (Two Lines Press, 2016), and Hilda Hilst’s With My Dog-Eyes (Melville House Books, 2014). His writing and translations have been published widely, including in BOMB magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and many others. He lives in San Francisco.