Family Humor

I’m proofing Kin, which has been slow going I’ll post separately about that and am finding myself laughing at many things that before I didn’t notice or don’t remember noticing as funny. Jergović’s humor is almost always rather dark, and I recall someone noting how frequently he found himself laughing while reading another of his books. At that point, I wondered if I was translating the same author or, a more scary thought for a translator, if I had missed something in my reading. But reading it all together has reassured me.

Below is an example, which uses the rather normal expression spavati kao zaklan, and then goes to town with it. Normally, the expression would just be rendered as “sleep like a log” or something similar in English, but here there’s quite a bit more. The scene unfolds as a Turkish caravan with a couple of Venetians and a Parisien are passing through Zagreb in the mid-nineteenth century on their way to Ottoman Sarajevo.

Ganimed slept like a slaughtered man, in a deep, rich feather bed prepared just for him. The rest, including Botta and Sarchione, slept on ordinary army straw, but for him, as a special guest, the feather bed had been prepared that was kept, cleaned, and aired out in case one day, God willing, some Viennese prince or Pest count might stop at Blind Marica’s. As it had been decades since any prince had been to Zagreb, let alone to their inn, they made use of the occasion to offer the feather bed to a guest worthy of such attention. And Ganimed appeared to be just such a personage: handsome and slender, with a lofty bearing like some Russian princeling. The truth was that the old woman and her young valet, with a mustache like that of the most refined postman, had not accorded this honor because of Ganimed but more for themselves and the story that they would tell for a long time thereafter, and which they would continue to live off until an actual prince might come, about the youth who was so handsome one could not look away.

He really did sleep “like a slaughtered man.” The valet, who had learned this strange local expression, told him he would sleep precisely so in their bed of goose down. Botta translated his words calmly. Ganimed was shocked, but this served as the inspiration for his self-portrait, surely the best known of Ganimed Troyanovsky’s drawings that have been preserved and about which we should say several words here, for later there will not be time.

The painting Self-Portrait with a Slit Throat was kept in the permanent exhibit of the Art Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina until the war. For financial reasons, or as a consequence of the lack of public interest in art, the permanent exhibit was never shown in its entirety again after the war, and the gallery closed for good in 2012. Self-Portrait with a Slit Throat was kept all this time in a gallery storeroom and only displayed on two occasions to the public over the last twenty years. The first time was immediately after the war, in 1996, at the exhibit The Free-hand Sketch – Drawn and Painted Works of Well-Known Architects, which was held in Paris’s Museum of Architecture, and the second was when it was included in a small 2005 display of Ganimed Troyanovsky’s works in the foyer of the Vienna Opera House on the occasion of the building’s construction.

Self-Portrait with a Slit Throat is one of Ganimed’s most elaborate paintings, with a multitude of details amid the five colors of the brush strokes and a slight watercolor overlay. The setting…

There follows a wonderful ekphrasis of this delicate painting…

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