Translation Tuesday: “The Physiology of Memory” by Ricardo Lísias

The most torturing memories aren’t necessarily images, frozen, but films of about three minutes each.

In this haunting short story by Ricardo Lísias, the narrator contends with multiple stubborn memories, around which his narrative revolves. From an injured taxi driver in Buenos Aires, to overwhelming loneliness in Krakow, these memories are strung together to create a potent, overwhelming mixture.


I have determined why I am so upset by writers of clear sentences: they don’t struggle with memory. Their transparency denounces a simplistic intelligence. If someone cries because they are not able to render trauma into words then that person is a deep person.

I identified the root of my issue with clear-writing writers when I was in Poland. It is a very stark memory. I felt, standing more or less five hundred metres away from a small bus terminal in Krakow, the most intense loneliness I have ever experienced.

A year later, when I decided to dig up the loneliest moment in my life, I realized that it is not a bad feeling. It doesn’t hurt me or make me suffer.

I am sitting alone on a bench. There is no one around me and no sound to be heard. Far away, I can make out two ladies sitting on a bench just like mine. Looks like a painting.

Loneliness is physical. It brings out moderate shortness of breath and a soft tingling of the legs. The stomach gets heavy and sight goes blurry. Very intense loneliness is not possible to describe.

I remember my own image in Krakow, in 2005. It is not a bad memory. The most torturing memories aren’t necessarily images, frozen, but films of about three minutes each. I carry them in my mind, right now there’s almost ten of them. From time to time they come back and hurt me tremendously.


My most troubling memory lasts three minutes. It happens in Buenos Aires, more specifically at the Ezeiza International Airport, where Perón prompted a massacre upon his return from exile in 1973. The taxi driver told me he remembered that day: he was home, watching TV. All of a sudden, they shut the broadcast down.

My memory begins when he said let me carry this for you and extends to the moment I see his body laid out cold by the curb of the parking lot of the Ezeiza International Airport, right next to my backpack. He is bald and chubby. My backpack is heavy because I bought a ton of books.

I had boarded the taxi at Plaza San Martín and as we drove past the Casa Rosada I asked him if it was true that there was a secret tunnel connecting the government headquarters to another location. Where does the tunnel end?

He looked at me, surprised, and gave me a strange explanation. I didn’t really understand it. He then said that, if I had enough time and for the same fare as the trip to the airport, he would take me to some of the places in Buenos Aires that became historical landmarks because of Evita.

I accepted and at the end of the drive, a little before he offered to carry my bag for me, and already at the airport where Perón prompted a massacre in 1973, he told me that Museo Evita is worth a trip. Museo Evita is worth a trip.

He then said that he’d carry my backpack. From that moment onwards, I remember everything. From time to time that memory comes back to me and I suffer. He parks the car, talks some more about the most extraordinary First Lady the world has ever seen, and exits the car. The car door on his side of the car shuts before I get the chance to open the one on my side. He walks to the back of the car, with some effort takes the luggage out from the trunk and while closing it he slams it hard on his own head. When I find him passed out by my backpack, I notice some blood right above his forehead.


This is not a memory of the static kind. Those hurt me less. I don’t mind remembering the loneliest moment in my life: I was sitting on a bench in Krakow, all by myself and unable to understand a single word of Polish. Five hundred metres away, two ladies sat on a bench just like mine. It’s a painting.

At Ezeiza, the taxi driver is unconscious right by my backpack. It had tumbled as he fell so his body is aligned between my luggage and the car. The trunk is still open. Some people gathered around, but at that moment everyone is motionless. We all agree to the fact that the taxi driver did indeed slam the door of the trunk on his head.

Just that. Just that and not a shooting or a terrorist attack (it was December 2003). I stand by the pavement about a metre and a half away from him. I can see the bloodstain clearly, immovable and dark, slightly above his forehead. There are some taxis parked nearby, none coming too close. This is a very sunny day and I remember, now I remember, that the sweat is pressing my shirt against the skin on my back. The taxi driver is wearing a blue shirt tucked into his jeans, tightened with a worn khaki belt. He has a bit of a belly. My backpack is green with some burgundy details. I didn’t close the zipper on one of the side pockets. The asphalt looks new and the pavement is well cared for. There are no shops on this side of the airport. I think I’m near the bus stop. There is nothing in my hands, which becomes a problem because I can’t remember where I’ve put the smaller backpack I carry everywhere. On the drive to Ezeiza, I’m certain it was on my lap.

And then someone heads towards the taxi driver, his body aligned between the car and my backpack.


I returned to Buenos Aires in February 2004. Before leaving the airport, I revisited the place where the taxi driver collapsed. As I made my way there, I struggled. I was having trouble breathing, my hands were itching and my eyes—this always happens whenever I’m experiencing something difficult—projected this strange tension right above my eyebrows.

I had to stop and take some deep breaths. Once I got there, I was able to identify the exact spot where the taxi driver keeled over. He died. He didn’t die but to me he had. I sat on my backpack, which stood on the exact same spot his body had been, and I felt compelled to cry. But I didn’t cry. I do not like crying.

A few minutes later a taxi driver got annoyed at me as he was looking to park there on that spot. He honked and I left.

On that same day, I visited Museo Evita. It’s in Calle Lafinur, I think in Palermo Viejo. I’m not sure about Palermo Viejo but I’m pretty sure it’s in Calle Lafinur. Calle Lafinur. Calle Lafinur.

The Museo is not great and whoever has visited some of the places in Buenos Aires that became historical landmarks because of the most extraordinary First Lady the world has ever seen won’t learn much from it. But I found one of the images extremely beautiful, though, of Evita with Perón, right in the first room. Although it wasn’t allowed I managed to take a photo.

Once I uploaded the photograph onto my laptop, back at the hotel in central Buenos Aires, I noticed the ring Perón had gifted Evita with had disappeared. On the next day I went back to Calle Lafinur and, in fact, the ring had been taken from the image in the Museo as well.


I left the Museo feeling confused. As I walked down Calle Lafinur, I tripped on the curb, twice. I couldn’t stop staring at the hands of Argentinian women. In February 2004 I saw some very ugly fingers.

Some wore rings. Most didn’t. Very few carried more than one on the same hand. I wouldn’t look at the same woman’s hands twice as I walked down Calle Lafinur. I think I repeated the process, less frequently though, in adjoining streets. By Avenida Callao I ended up falling flat on the floor.

I didn’t pass out. I got up very quickly and kept on looking at the hands of Argentinian women. Some wore rings, but very few carried more than one on the same hand. I don’t recall having seen anyone wearing three rings on only one hand. Neither in Calle Lafinur nor in any of the adjoining streets.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find Evita’s ring. In February 2004, in the streets of central Buenos Aires, the ring was not to be found in any Argentinian woman’s hand. I looked at all of them across the perimeter of Lafinur all the way up to Puerto Madero. From the perimeter of Lafinur all the way up to one of the tackiest places in the Argentinian capital.

I did not find the ring Perón gave to the most extraordinary First Lady the world has ever seen. On the streets, Argentinian women move their hands slowly. I noticed they would wear one ring, that is right, but very few would wear two on the same hand.

And none of them, not a single one of them, was wearing the ring Perón had gifted Evita with, the most extraordinary First Lady the world has ever seen. Feeling frustrated, I went back to the hotel and booked an earlier return flight to Brazil, flying out the next day. It was February 2004 and I was no longer obsessed with Argentina.


I decided to take an earlier flight back to Brazil. Very few times have I been so frustrated. Something changed in me in February 2004 and not having been able to recover Evita’s lost ring left me feeling deeply tormented.

Before I headed to the boarding gate, I returned to the place the taxi driver had died. I hadn’t cried in about ten years, and I didn’t there, it happened someplace else. There was a lot of movement and the film reel of him falling unspooled before me, so I decided to enter the airport.

My flight wouldn’t be departing in a while. I saw this beautiful Japan Airlines airplane parked in a distant gate. There were people boarding it. I picked one of the chairs closest to the glass window and I sat there admiring Japan Airlines’s logo, JAL. My anxiety grew silently, gradually (it never comes all of a sudden) and, for the first time in ten years, in February 2004, I started to cry. This happened at the Ezeiza International Airport, staring at a Japan Airlines airplane. It wasn’t discreet either, something I could hide. I cried heavily, cried because my taxi driver, my sophisticated tourist guide, had died and I couldn’t let it go, and I knew I’d never forget it, and I cried that way because my friend André had just killed himself and I cried uncontrollably, in that way that I dislike the most, uncontrollably, because André died without getting to know the books of Roberto Bolaño, it’s not fair, and I also knew that I would never forget this: when the police found the hanging body of my friend André, there was a satchel with By Night in Chile inside it, he had just bought By Night in Chile, returned to wherever it was he was living and hung himself without opening the book, he placed the bag on the table and hung himself right afterwards, and I cried that way because André would never again get to go to one of my book launches, I cried heavily, staring at the Japan Airlines airplane, because people say I’m cerebral and I cried that way, as I never had before, because my former university lecturers would become what they have become and I cried because I couldn’t find Evita’s ring; it was gone, my hell in Campinas was gone but André hung himself without getting to know the works of Roberto Bolaño and I cried, I cried so much because I was going back to Brazil and Brazil isn’t radical, Brazil nullifies radicalism just so it can keep being Brazil, and I couldn’t stop crying because of all this, because I didn’t think it was fair André hanging himself or Evita’s ring disappearing just like that or people saying I’m cerebral or my taxi driver dying, I didn’t think it was fair and then in February 2004 I could only cry, only cry.


Ricardo Lísias was born in São Paulo, and holds a Ph.D. in Brazilian literature from São Paulo University. His writings include two story collections, five novels, and an ebook series. His most recent work is Diário da Catástrofe Brasileira (Diary of the Brazilian Catastrophe), an ongoing online project set to chronicle the election and presidency of Jair Bolsonaro. In 2011, he was included in Granta magazine’s selection of the Best of Young Brazilian Novelists.

Francisco Vilhena translates from the Portuguese and is the assistant editor at Granta. His work has appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation, clinic, Brooklyn Rail, Wasafiri and elsewhere. A selection of poems by Adelaide Ivánova, co-translated with Rachel Long, is to be published with the Poetry Translation Centre in May 2019.


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