Place of Refuge

Place of Refuge

26 August 2010

Dear Mr. Cortazar, It didn't happen near Paris . . . .

, no,
it happened in China.

Julio Cortazar wrote a story
that I have always admired,
and wondered if it could ever really be possible.
It was called "The Southern Thruway"
("Le Autopista del Sur")

Here is a brief summary of it:

The southern thruway

Summary:The Quiller
Julio Cortázar describes a huge traffic jam on the thruway between Fontainebleau and Paris. It’s a Sunday afternoon and, as the hours go by, the travellers get knowing each other. Two nuns in a 2HV, a young woman in a Dauphine, a pale man who drives a Caravelle, a countryside couple with their little daughter in a Peugeot 203, two irritating youngsters in a SIMCA, a Peugeot 404, a Taunus, etc. They’re totally stuck under the summer heat. Some get out to stretch their legs and, as they return, bring disturbing and almost always false news about the reasons for the traffic jam. Everybody talks about the facts. They hear of a collision between two cars (three casualties and an injuried boy), or of a collision between a Fiat 1500 and an Austin full of tourists, or of the fall of a bus with passengers from the Copenhagen’s plane. Everything is supposition. The latest piece of news is that a small plane had crashed, with a total of many casualties, onto the very thruway.
  As the night comes, the column makes its first important advance, of only 40 metres. Soon the water and the food begin to end and, although everybody helps one another, they must ration everything all out. Most sleep in the cars, and others on the field next to the thruway. In the morning, they advance very little, but no one loses their hopes that, in that afternoon, the route to Paris would be open. However, nothing happens and all remains still. Groups with a representative ahead are formed in order to coordinate the assistance to the weakest. Some fall ill, and the worst happens at the night when the cold starts. So that they can go away walking, someone deserts the place and leaves their car abandoned. An elderly woman passes away, and, in general, the story abounds with descriptions of how terrifying can be human behaviour in an impossible situation. When they finally begin to move, the characters return to their normal lives, and there’s even a romance that had started and cannot have a happy-ending.
The southern thruway Originally published in Shvoong:

Cortazar thought it would happen near Paris.
He was off by a few thousand km --

it happened in China.

Here's the NPR story about it:

Cortazar imagines people starting relationships,
getting entangled,
giving birth,
and then suddenly,
as traffic loosens up
the relationship dissolve
and people disappear from each others' lives
as quickly as they entered it,
in this most accidental way:

 Recent reports say 
the Chinese traffic jam has just disappeared,
just as in the Cortazar story.

No comments: