The Gray Notebook

8 March. There is so much influenza about that they’ve had to shut the university. My brother and I have been at home in Palafrugell ever since. We are a couple of idle students. I only see my brother at mealtimes; he is a very keen football player—despite breaking an arm and a leg on the pitch. He leads his life. I do what I can. I don’t miss Barcelona, let alone the university. I like small-town life here with my friends.

At lunch when it is time for dessert, the table is suddenly blessed with a large dish of crème brûlée and a deliciously light, golden sponge cake sprinkled with powdered sugar. “You do realize you’re twenty-one today?” asks my mother.

And it would be absurd to quibble: I am twenty-one today. I glance around the table. My father is eating silently, as he always does. My mother seems less fretful than usual. As only saints’ days are celebrated in this country, the presence of the sponge cake and crème brûlée puts me on my guard. I wonder if they have really been preparing for my birthday or in fact wanted to remind me that the balance sheet from my early years is very thin, indeed quite blank. That would be natural enough, I imagine! How very disagreeable it must be to have children who are such hazy, unknown quantities. Nonetheless, I am frivolous enough to be unable to resist the challenge to my conscience that sweet pastry poses, and I find the sponge cake extremely tasty and the crème brûlée delicious. When I serve myself a second helping, the chill in the air grows. Twenty-one years old!

Families! Such curious, complicated things…

It starts to rain in the late afternoon—a dense, steady drizzle. There’s hardly any breeze. The sky is gray and overcast. I can hear the small raindrops partering on the trees and the soil in the garden. A dull, distant sound like the sea in winter. Icy cold March rain. Evening falls, the sky changes from gray to a pale and unreal gauzy white. A heavy silence, a silence you can cut with a knife, hangs over the town, weighing down its roofs. The sound of the rain becomes vaguely musical, a monotonous trill. My obsession for the day floats along with it: twenty-one years old!

Watching the endless rain makes me drowsy. I don’t know that to do next. Clearly, I should be studying and reviewing my textbooks so as to put the onerous burden of my law degree behind me. Out of the question! I can rarely resist the temptation to read the smallest scrap of paper I find in the street, but textbooks kill my curiosity.

I decide to start this diary. I’ll write whatever happens—simply to pass the time—come what may. My mother is clean and tidy. She is obsessed with keeping the house in regimented order. She loves to rip up paper, burn old junk, and sell anything  for which she can’t find an immediate practical or decorative use to the rag-and-bone man. It will be nigh on a miracle if her admirable domestic virtues spare these sheets of mine. If they don’t, it will hardly be the end of the world…


Josep Pla. The Gray Notebook

Translated by Peter Bush. New York Review Books, 2013, pp. 3-4



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