The Professor gestured vaguely at my figure as if to reveal, much like a magician, the abundance of appendixes still attached to my body.


“I don’t deny a certain element of danger in my work”, he told me, “but surely the object itself is worth it.”
I didn’t respond or move; in fact only the slightest gesture, a minuscule, involuntary readjustment of my jaw, could have betrayed the impression that I was still listening.
“I deny the presence of an object to your work”, I responded dryly.
“Come now. Surely you’re not that upset by the loss of a limb? You have so many!”
The Professor gestured vaguely at my figure as if to reveal, much like a magician, the abundance of appendixes still attached to my body. I sat down heavily on a block of concrete.
“Besides”, the professor continued, “you know that my work is …”
The L3 train from Lesseps to Vallcarca roared past outside the room a mere five yards from our conversation. It drowned out the professor’s words and carelessly tossed a fresh breeze into the room. Damp air was sent toiling around like a confused genie. I watched a rat chase a cockroach across the floor while the sound of the train faded.

“…maintain realism? How do you sustain it, I mean, when the absurdity of what you mean to narrate breaks the form of its narrative, when what we see doesn’t defy reality but merely defies its form, how do we persist in our belief in realism and not become liars?”

I felt dizzy and laid down, resting my head on a bundle of faded newspaper specials about the crisis.
“Let us say, for the sake of argument or academia at least, that you start out with a desire to purely express the fate of a people in a time, something simple and noble, and you desire to do this in a language and from a perspective you consider theirs and yours, because you naturally consider yourself a part of this people. You turn to realism like a flower to the sun. Then sadness intervenes, loss, deprivation, disappointment and you find that in this perspective and language, someone has placed a threshold; let’s call it irony. It works like a lid or a valve to limit the containment of truth at which point the form starts to defy the content. This security valve, this irony, wasn’t put there out of cruelty to you but to allow the form itself to contain survival. To allow this people, and you, when faced with the absurdity and sadness of truth, to survive, irony limits the expression or perhaps the containment of truth. And yet, you cannot allow this limitation of your noble purpose, and in this instance you realise that only by losing your narrative to the absurd can you express the true.”
I was drifting into sleep.
“You’re talking about theory of art”, I yawned and closed my eyes, “no one cares.”
“I’m talking about life”, he objected but I was slipping. I didn’t care anyway as long as I was paid.

I woke to find the small room empty save for a whiteboard on which was drawn a diagram. At least that was his first impression but having looked at it for a while, I concluded that it couldn’t possibly be a diagram. Then I thought it was a sketch but after a while longer I concluded it had to be a poem.
The drawing was simple. A line darted upwards from the bottom thinning slightly as it gained speed and momentum. After a while the line angled sharply yet slightly to the left as if diverted from its course by some unforseen circumstance. After a short while longer, the line exploded into a hundred dotted curves that sprawled chaotically forward along different trajectories only to rejoin in the same spot where was written the only word of the poem: “Death”. In the area between where the line stopped and the dotted lines ended were drawn what appeared to be bushes and trees seen from above.

I turned from the whiteboard and lingered a while by the exit to the metro tunnel, which was in a fact merely a crude hole knocked through the tunnel wall. A train roared by and I caught vague shapes of faces profiled in fleeting, illuminated squares. Figures in train cars always seem distant to me as if they aren’t really there but are a glimpse of another time and space; a detached reality moving through my own only by chance. The people you’re looking at are already somewhere else. I climbed through the hole and out into the damp dark of the tunnels.

A metro tunnel is devoid of vision but rich on smell and sound. These invisible roads, that everyone travels but no one sees, emerge from the attempt to fold city space onto itself, to compress the vastness of the city into layers of neighborhoods and names much like floors in a skyscraper. You can travel from Vall d’Hebron to Drassanes the same way you would take a lift from the first to the fifth floor- travelling without moving and moving without seeing that you move. There’s simply reappearance in a new world as if by magic. To accomplish this feat, these urban worm holes, forgotten pockets of dark time and dark space have to be created and in this void, a different kind of life exists. One that is blindly fighting for scraps.

I traced the slow curve of the tunnel with my left hand until I felt the cold metal door and pushed it open. Working my way up a worn set of concrete stairs, I emerged from an abandoned emergency exit behind the Vallcarca metro station. The blindingly blue sky gave me the impression of a having a hangover even though I hadn’t been drinking. That’s what sleeping in a metro tunnel will do to you. I was about to lose myself in the city when a tourist stopped with an insisting smile.
“Excuse me, sir, but are you a local?”
Was I a local? I looked around the ruins of old Vallcarca and wondered if anyone was.
“I live here.”
“Really? That’s so cool! Can you tell me if this is the way to Parc Güell?”
I just nodded and pointed down the street. She looked like I had pointed into the maw of a killer whale and suggested she went that way.
“Go that way and take the escalators on your left when you see them. From there you just climb to the top.”
She still hesitated as if she didn’t feel like the conversation had reached a satisfactory climax. Perhaps I hadn’t been sufficiently upbeat in my assistance. For whatever reason, she refused to let the conversation end and kept lingering.
“Can you tell me about all this, then?”
She gestured vaguely at the ruins of the old Vallcarca neighborhood around us. I shrugged.
“When I first arrived in Barcelona, these houses were something like a little village”, I said. “These odd, low houses that you still see a few of were nestled below the Vallcarca Bridge here like a Mexican village out of an old spaghetti western. I guess it had been shielded within a time pocket of sorts because it looked nothing like anything else around here. Whatever the reason, they had somehow been separated and preserved from the real world like something in a terrarium. You know, something no one wants to touch and only fetishists really like looking at. The people here were like living ghosts or echoes walking around between the ruins as a type of challenge to modern life and society. I guess they were just waiting for the real world to send in their enforcers to shut it all down and as you can see, they didn’t have to wait long. Except not quite. Most buildings are gone a few persist against all reason and bureaucratic logic. I wonder of that is the definition of hope.”
“Anyway, there was a bar, sort of, that I particularly liked. A flat roofed building upon which was crafted a giant, plaster hand that grabbed the top of the building as if an enormous monster was about to pull itself out from behind it. As if the world was caught forever in that last second before the beast completely reveals itself. On the wall behind the bar there was another plaster creation; an ant climbing towards the roof top of the neighboring house, perhaps away from the hand. Escaping perhaps, I don’t know. I was never sure if the completeness of the symbolism was intentional.”
“Now the bar is gone and so is the claw. Only the ant remains, unsquashed, still running. Symbolic of the anticlimax, I suppose. Defeat without destruction. The overly pathetic symbolism of the poor, fierce fighter standing up to the daunting threat of the hand left impotent in the ant’s evident survival. The hand hasn’t crushed it, you see, there was no fight. It has merely taken what it wanted and left the ant devoid of fight and purpose. Alive and left fighting for scraps.”

By Jeppe Grünberger