The Hacienda La Cantera

Juan Émar

For information concerning the hacienda La Cantera contact real estate agent E. Buin; 10th floor, Bank of the Pacific, any time, any day. He is almost always there, except, in the summer when he takes a fifteen day vacation.

But all this pertains to my other book, Miltin 34, if memory serves me correct.

I, for my part, cannot supply major details, except to say that:

The property measures 849 square blocks, 208 of which contain rich soil and are irrigated naturally, 33 of which are irrigated artificially, 191 of which are small hills suitable for farming, and 417 of which can be used as seasonal pastures. There are many residential houses, administrative offices, bodegas, two silos, 9 apartments, 9 furnaces of galvanized iron, and 16 of black iron, a large milk processing plant, a vegetable garden, fruit trees, and poplar and eucalyptus plantations. Total cost: $350,000.

In addition to this, the La Cantera has cows, horses, sheep, pigs, and domestic fowl. For more details, contact E. Buin.

La Cantera has all that I have mentioned.

I, on arriving at the property (April 1st, 1935, 6:20 p.m.), noticed something else: a sign of disturbance.

The disturbance was between the leaves of the trees and dominated all of the inhabitants of the house and farm.

I felt the immediate need to remedy this disturbance. It came from the onset of a psychic putrefaction. The best remedy was to repeat the most basic actions which define our lives.

Three of us were present when the sun began to fall: {the wise and scholarly} Desiderio Longotoma, {the distinguished violinst} Julián Ocoa, and me.

The three of us wore black frock coats buttoned to our necks, black top hats and gloves. We stood side by side, our elbows touching.

And we took off, steadily forward, but slowly separating at angles of 30 degrees.

There was something 125 meters in front of each of us:

In front of Longtoma: a tower of bricks;

In front of Ocoa: a step ladder;

In front of me: a pear tree.

We marched military style to our destinations: Longtoma to the tower, Ocoa to the ladder, and I to the pear tree.

Stop! One whole minute. And we started to climb at the same time.

From atop we watched the sun disappear. When it disappeared, Longotoma took off his top hat, held it above his head, and shouted:

—1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, — 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

He put his hat back on, and jumped.

Then Ocoa made the same gesture, and said:

—Do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si, do — si, la, sol, fa, mi, re, do.

He put his hat back on, and jumped.

Then I, in the same style, said:

—A, B, C, D, E, F, G — G, F, E, D, C, B, A.

I put my hat back on, and jumped.

We walked backwards the 125 meters to where we had started, closing in at 30 degree angles until we stood elbow to elbow with our backs to the hidden sun.

The day turned darker. But a few dusty specs of sunlight remained: green on the leaves, ocher on the ground, red in the flowers. An old man stooped over and swept the specs up with his broom. He threw them into his wheelbarrow and walked off with what remained of the sun. As he turned past some huts, night fell.

A metallic night filled the sky.

A faith blazed in our minds now that a basic order had been restored and now that our disturbance had disappeared.


Metallic night.

A grapevine runs along the adobe walls behind the houses.

I am wearing white pants, a dark blue vest, and no hat.

I stop beside the grapevine, certain that he is there, no more than twenty steps in front of me.

I take a half turn and walk the other way. He takes a half turn and walks the other way.

I stop. He stops. I take a half turn, he takes a half turn. I walk forward, he walks forward. We approach each other until there are twenty steps between us. I stop, he stops.

Desiderio Longotoma has gone to his room and is reading: Plutarch’s Parallel Lives.

Julián Ocoa, beneath an evergreen tree, has picked up his violin and is playing Debussy’s Petite Suite.

I stare into the night and feel the following sensation: vertiginous fear.

I hear the notes of the violin. The voice of Longotoma reports:

“The family of Cato derived its first luster from his great-grandfather Cato…”

I know that if I close the distance between us even one centimeter more, the atmosphere of our two disconnected worlds would mix and we would both end up sad and spiritless.

Ocoa plays his violin.


“…But afterwards, having proved his faithfulness and utility to Bruno, he died with him in the battle of Phillipos…”

And if my half turn is not matched by his corresponding half turn, then he will follow me. And if I escape, he will pursue me. I will get tired, and he will catch me.

I take a half turn and walk the other way.

He takes a half turn and walks the other way.

Metallic night.


I will always remember the exact time on my watch at that moment: 10 o’clock sharp.

Never in my life has this knowledge served any purpose, and, at that precise moment, all that occurred to me on seeing the time was that throughout my country all the clocks read 10, and in the neighboring country all the clocks read 11. In contrast, nowhere did the clocks read 9, except, perhaps, in the deserted waters of the ocean, if a wayward ship happened to be passing through.

Which was not very likely.


A moment later all of the anthills in the area exploded. And the walls which for centuries had kept the ants imprisoned, flew through the air like birds flying through glass.

I was struck with fear, which, as is common when such explosions occur, produced a new and terrifying disorder which brought about the destruction of the entire hacienda La Cantera.

I ran.

There was no danger whatsoever. Because there stood Desiderio Longotoma and the cynic of Valdepinos.

Julián Ocoa had died.

Several friars carried his body. Against his chest, the violin; against his legs, the bow.

The procession marched solemnly.

A cross in the front swung like the mast of a wayward ship in the middle of a deserted ocean at 9 in the evening.

All the rats of La Cantera ran in the opposite direction, parallel to the procession; the ants had lost their anthills.

There was no danger whatsoever.


I saw Desiderio Longotoma and the cynic of Valdepinos.

Julián Ocoa was dead.


These two men were in a large shed. The light there was ocher, the color of sand in a circus ring. The table was ebony, the chairs were white, the little ball was blue, and these two men were ochre, an ochre like the fading light of an oil lamp Therefore, when I pulled a strawberry out of my bag, it created a beautiful harmony of colors.

Desiderio Longotoma, apart from being wise and scholarly, is short, fat, and has a mustache. The cynic of Valdepinos, apart from being a cynic, is tall, thin, and closely shaved.

They were sitting at the table, facing each other. Their balance formed a perfect rhythm: when the one leaned forward and touched the table with his forehead, the other straightened up and fixed his eyes on the roof (ceiling). This balance, with an absolute, perfect rhythm. These two men, and the space they occupied, emitted a perfect harmony, a harmony capable of resisting all the explosions of the world.

As I observed them, the rhythm and harmony strengthened: with each movement, Valdepinos said:


and Longotoma said:

—Melancólico un quinqué.

Tan, tan

tan, tan…

Absolute rhythm. Perfect harmony.


—Melancólico un quinqué.

So much harmony and so much rhythm rattled my nerves; as my nerves rattled, the blue ball began to roll.

It rolled on the floor, coming closer and closer to my feet.

I quietly left.

Despite their effect on my nerves, it was reassuring to know that the two men stayed put, finding order in the ochre light when they could have fallen into disorder.


As soon as I stepped through the threshold:

—The widow! I said to myself, for the pointy old woman threw herself at me like a projectile.

—Ay hijito!—she said—, I was such a close friend of your parents…

And she sent me back to when I was seven years old.

—Ay hijito!—she repeated—, gripping my shirt collar—you used to call me Aunt Chacha…

My god! I was only two years old.

—And if only you knew why I always remember that day, the year that….

Crazy old witch! Crazy old witch who has returned to take me back to my mother’s womb.

—Hijito, when I was a little girl, as young as your niece, I played with your mother, who was also a little girl.

Gloomy old lady, daughter of the Inferno! Return to the world of the dead and cackle like the sinister crows…

—I remember everything, señora, absolutely everything, Aunt Chacha…Please, please, let me give you five pesos.


I continued walking through the night, passing blackberry bushes and malodorous herbs, walking further and further from the shed and the widow until I ran into two veterans leaning against the last standing apple tree.

Since the war of ’79, they always met at the apple tree to talk.

They spoke of a coming war with a neighboring country and they expressed confidence that we would triumph, as they had triumphed. I stood behind a cherry tree and listened.

They then spoke of new wars and new conquests, which, by my calculations, would not take place until I was a veteran of the apple tree. With a soldierly gesture, and with the volume of a bugle, one veteran indicated to the other that a young man was in the area:

—There is no doubt, compañero, that when the grandchildren of that youngster over there…

And when the grandchildren of that youngster…

But, but what about me? Is it because I am standing behind a cherry tree that my existence flashes like lightning?


I continued walking through blackberries and malodorous herbs.

When I stepped on a stone, I felt blood beneath the skin of my feet. I remained, all the same, at the mercy of whatever evil had been let loose on the hacienda. Worse than exposing the nerves, the brains, or the heart is to expose the blood to that roaming evil which does not care for the unity of nerves, brain, heart, and blood.

. That is the first danger.

Second danger:

With the blood exposed, I could be captured, as well, by any person I came across. If anyone so much as rubbed up against me, blood would flow out of my skin in thin sheets.

Nothing disturbed me, except for a quiet airplane which, more than disturbing me, disturbed the crickets in the fields.

Naked, I walked to the main patio, naked not only to the eye but to all of creation.

By now nothing remained of the metallic night. Now, it was a carbonic night, a carbonic night in the midst of which a tube sprung forth from the patio. Its walls were made of air. Its walls kept out the carbonic night.

Drips filled the inside of the tube until it gave off a leaden light. Because of this light, I could see them inside, talking in small groups.

We talked calmly, without danger.

Until I looked over to one side of the yard.

There stood two beautiful young women in rose-colored silk skirts, two silent, smiling, beautiful women who were looking right at me. And these two beautiful women had faces made of beeswax.

For a moment we stared at each other. And my blood transparently moistened my entire body.

The two women smiled with their wax faces. Their silk skirts whistled sweetly.

Their gloved hands held parasols that framed their smiles and the black needles of their gaze.

There were no more than ten meters between us.

In front of me, ten meters.

Behind me, all the meters of my past life.

In front of me, I repeat, only ten meters.

I couldn’t overcome the distance by walking towards the women. All men stop when they see that there are only ten meters in front of them.

The mayten trees swayed as a soft wind blew. The wind blew towards me the distance I refused to walk. The two parasols also trembled, the smiles on the wax faces grew larger; the gloved women, gracefully balancing their silk skirts, walked towards me in a silent minuet.

As the women approached, I cried to all the gods to grant me extra meters of life, to extend me out in other directions, to extend me out past the surrounding night. But my cries were not heard and my body became nothing more than threads of external blood, threads which circulated outside of my skin, outside of my volition, open to all of creation, open to the wind that sways the mayten trees, to the kiss of the beautiful women, to the touch of their firm lips on my open veins.

Beautiful, melodious women. Their four sharp eyes stared at my neck, at a spot beneath my ears, and they began to walk towards me. One on each side, the wax of their faces submerged into my scattering blood, and I felt, in that moment of acute sensation, their black, solid, painted lips on my neck, kissing me, kissing me, and I disappeared within them, and I was erased into an abyss, in suffocating anxiety, my neck completely buried in their lips, as they, intoxicated, let their two parasols slowly slip from their hands like two flowers under the weight of the blood of their silk petals.

Silence. Total stasis. Only the bells of their skirts chimed softly. I closed my eyes for a moment. When I reopened them, their two faces were next to mine, grazing against my blood and staring at me intensely. They stopped smiling. Serious, inscrutable, impenetrable, they were two motionless masks. I could no longer see my friends with whom I had been talking, I could no longer see the yard and the mayten trees, I could no longer see their rose-colored skirts, their parasols, and their little gloved hands, and I became nothing more than a pale vision to their wax faces. And as they grazed the blood on my face, they continued to come closer, closer, and closer, until, in absolute stasis, their faces disappeared, and, for one moment, my two eyes, dilated in fear, disappeared, and their four stony black eyes, hooked into mine, had also disappeared.

Beautiful women! It was my last moment.

I made a grotesque face and laughed.

My laugh crashed into their beautiful faces. And when they heard my laughter, their own laughter echoed slowly, as they sluggishly leaned backwards.

Thus once more I was able to see their adoring faces, and I could see the silk of their rose-colored skirts; and I could see their gnashing teeth; and I could see my friends talking, and I could see the yard, and the mayten trees, and I could see, atop the roofs, the last leaves of a dying avocado tree. And so as I saw everything, once more, I could now measure the magnitude of my danger, and as the two women continued to look at me, one of them, without my having suspected, had started to lower herself upon me; slowly, her parasol, like a wide-mouthed pitcher, began to cover me, and cut me off from all the possibilities of existence, and close me off so that I was isolated, with only my blood and with their two firm mouths, behind their little ears.

But they leaned back and laughed, and, as they separated themselves, and opened themselves up, I imagined that I was a fan that was opening; and in this way I could imagine the moment of my salvation.

I waved my arms, and escaped.

Beautiful women of soft wax and elegant silk.


I escaped, soaking up my blood with both hands, and trying to keep my skin from making contact with the air, until, at the edge of this night, I finally reached La Cantera.

I uncovered my skin.

Below, far below, with the dull sound of a rushing stream, I could hear night and day intertwined in a holy succession of the infinite.

Down below, night and day slid —light, dark; gold, red—, and, like serpentines of the Sun and of the Moon, they carried on their mission with all of humanity inside, with all its misery, happiness and its cadavers.

Return! Return! —this was my hope.

Behind the damned La Cantera, entangled in the emptiness of this shattered nomadic night, I jumped into the abyss

So long and farewell to all of it.

Now, falling, I managed to find a balance. I felt the whistle of a night which passed beneath me; then the clamor of a day which followed its destiny; and another night, and another day: the film, infinitely unraveling.

I fell.


The hacienda La Cantera.

For all pertinent information, contact E. Buin: 10th floor, Bank of the Pacific, any time, any day. You will almost always find him.

El Fundo De La Cantera

from Diez (1937), reprinted by Editorial Universitaria, Santiago, Chile, 1972.

Translated by Daniel Borzutzky