After finishing last year the publication of his ‘Diarios’ (Ed. Pepitas de Calabaza) with the edition in a single volume with an unpublished epilogue of his literary project, Iñaki Uriarte (New York, 1946) lives these days of confinement without excessive anxiety at his home in Bilbao. “I have been training for this all my life,” jokes the writer, whose work has attracted the admiration of a select group of readers, the praise of distinguished colleagues, and who has been able to read the excellent reviews garnered after his recent translation into French.
– Has home confinement changed a lot in your daily life?
– No. I used to go out in the morning, late, around twelve-thirty, I would go for the newspaper, the bread, tobacco, something in the pharmacy, a purchase in the supermarket, things like that, and then I would have a coffee on a terrace, that this has changed. The rest of the day was practically spent at home. And a couple of times a week he ate or dined with a small group of friends. So this life is quite similar to the one before.
– Well, you joke that you have never worked, many people are imitating you these days …
– Well, with that that I have never worked I mean that I have never been on the payroll, nor have I had a fixed schedule, but I have done some things, such as writing encyclopedias, translating, writing some literary criticism … But well, i haven’t been a salaried. In fact, I have no pension.
– And being a risk group, do you live the pandemic with fear?
– I am not afraid, although I am in fourteen risk groups. My wife is more obsessed and protects me a lot. The last thing he said to me is that I have to wash my hands fifteen times a day, but I laugh. On the street I have the impression that people are more afraid of me than I am of them. These days I have remembered when I first went to that tough New York of the early eighties, I went down to the street with a little fear and immediately realized that the one they were afraid of was me, because I was the brunette. People moved away. And now the same thing is happening to me: I see someone with a mask that comes from far away and I’m not afraid, but I notice that he is. And a strange thing: if you go through the mountains walking alone and you meet someone on a path you say ‘hello’, or whatever, normally; Well now, you meet someone on a completely empty street and you don’t greet each other, or anything, not a word, you hardly even look at each other.
– He spent four months as a young man locked up in prison.
– Sure, and an entire one in a three by three meter isolation cell. It was for a strike against the Burgos trial. It was the best month in prison because I was sick of being with people all the time. I have a good memory of that month, I read ‘Zero and infinity’, by Koestler, and ‘Resurrection’, by Tolstoi, and I made myself a pipe with breadcrumbs to smoke the tobacco bits that were left in my pockets. Being alone doesn’t worry me much, other than that now I’m in a big house, with lots of light, my wife and the two cats, Tom and Woody.
– Precisely, of that prison experience there is an episode of which he is proud, although he does not remember.
– A friend who was with me in the cell told me about it. When they were released, the prisoners usually took their suitcase running, said goodbye and went out whistling, but we were three in the cell and each day we had to clean one, and the day they released me it was my turn. And, according to this friend, I, very serious, in Burt Lancaster plan, instead of running away, I took the mop and the bucket, and I started to clean the cell to leave it well to my colleagues and when I finished I left. I don’t remember that, but my friend Álvaro always tells it.
– He told me that he had been training his whole life for this.
– That is a bit of a ’boutade’, but there is some truth. I’ve been training my whole life for this. Due to my introverted or not very sociable character or something misanthropic or whatever, I have been looking for thinkers and books that fit with my way of being, starting with Epicurus, for example, whose motto was “hide your life”, although later I have done quite the opposite when publishing the newspaper! I liked those ancient philosophers who sought self-sufficiency and did not depend on others. Ovid said something like this: “He who lived unnoticed lived well.” And my favorite writer, Montaigne, also more or less hid from very young society, at 38 years old.
– Were you surprised by the reaction of society in these circumstances? For example, around the elderly and their screening or not when going to the ICUs.
– I don’t know how far that debate will go, which seems pretty Nazi to me. But I also don’t know very well what to do or what not to do in a particular case. If you have an ICU for two, who’s up?
– The first one to arrive?
– Yes, that seems the most logical, now, I am not saying that I did not give it to the other in any case … Man, if he is an imbecile, no, but if he is a relative, or an uncle that I like and I’m already very bad, very bad, because maybe I would leave the ICU for him. Now, what if you have to make lists, look at age or state of health coldly, classify everyone, etc.? That strikes me as terrifying.
“I do not go down the street in fear of catching it, although I am in fourteen risk groups”
“Once the ‘Diaries’ have been published, I am encouraged because what I write is again for me”
– And how obedient have we been?
– That didn’t surprise me. It has confirmed in my idea that society is very … meek, although this meek does not sound good. Prefer security to freedom, we tend to the former and stick to what they tell you to do if you think you will be safer. It did surprise me when they banned smoking in closed public spaces, from one day to the next, and nobody protested, nothing happened. Authority tends to be listened to.
– And that, do you find it positive or negative?
– I guess it’s a genetic determinism. Freedom excludes you from the group and leaves you a little more unprotected, although if I think about what freedom and non-freedom are, I don’t know very well either. It happens to me like Saint Augustine with Time: «If they don’t ask me what Time is, I know perfectly well what it is, but if they ask me what it is, I start to build a taco». That happens to me with a lot of words, especially abstract and capital letters. Freedom… You don’t have to think about it too much either because I’m not sure that someone is truly free.
– Do you detect a certain social contempt for culture?
– I’m afraid to say that I don’t know very well what Culture is, either, in the abstract and with a capital letter. For me everything is culture. Sure, then they tell you about the culture workers … but I don’t know what culture is.
– A bookstore, say?
– Sure, it seems to me a fundamental element of what they call culture … but well, yes, they help them. I just read that the City Lights bookstore, which Lawrence Ferlinghetti founded in San Francisco in 1953, had closed in March because of the coronavirus and asked people for help. In four days they gave them half a million dollars. So, of course, that bookstore is culture, but it is a culture that people adore and they pay it with great pleasure. Another thing is that you have to subsidize everything. Man, at this moment it would have to be done, because the famous culture is not only the four figures that appear out there, but also the entire network of workers that is below and that you have to help in some way.
“If there was an ICU for two, I’m not saying that I wouldn’t give it to the other … If he’s an asshole, no”
“When I’m alone I never get bored, I get bored when I’m with people, who are boring”
– For you, is there boredom?
– I have written contradictory things. I say that when I’m alone I never get bored, I get bored when I’m with people, I mean boring people, and there is some truth to that. And what bores me the most in the world, which is the time that passes between you start to say goodbye in a meeting of people until you leave a fucking time. A terrible quarter of an hour passes in which I am no longer there, but at the same time I am. It is the most boring thing in the world. I never have boredom in general, but once it has turned into a small anguish that I attribute to not being busy.
– You who lived through time and place, what did you think of the series’ The invisible line?
– It is the series with the most interest I have seen in a long time. I liked it, it seemed to me that I had a good invoice and I was more interested in many personal things. I was walking around studying in Deusto. I once saw Txabi Etxebarrieta, I did not know him, but I know very intelligent and non-nationalistic people of whom he was intimate. I perfectly remember Sarriko’s mani, Sarrico then, who appears in the film. I remember having gone with a box of eggs to the conference of a foreign economist who seemed to us to legitimize the Franco regime. I threw an egg and someone told me that Amedo was running after me … I was surprised that the character of Melitón Manzanas is very tempered because, from what I have read, that bird should not look so good. It is also interesting because many people do not know how that great disaster started. And that the mythical Etxebarrieta was, in addition to being a fanatic, a highly educated poet. There are very dangerous writers.
– Do you come out at eight to clap on the balcony?
– You are right. At first I was embarrassed, but my wife started dating and yes, now we do. Three minutes, because we talk to my brother, who lives next door. I don’t know if we applaud us more than anything else, but hey… The other day a car from the Ertzaintza passed by and we applauded him with delight. Here there is no joking, no singers, there are three minutes of applause and you take the air. What I have done is personally thank the newspaper kiosk, the pharmacists, the baker, the supermarket … and I hope to give them more times.
– What will be the first thing you do when the confinement is over?
– I would like to take a trip that I had planned: drive to Lake Como and Sils-Maria, where Nietzsche practically lived confined during the summers, like someone who goes to a sanctuary. I was very excited, but I don’t think I will. Taking that away, the coffee on the terrace, seeing a few friends again and I don’t know if we can go to Benidorm.
«I knew little of Berrio but was very fond of him»
“He was one of those people whom I didn’t know much, but whom I had great affection for. Sometimes that happens: you know others more, but since you don’t love them so much, their death doesn’t impress you the same ». This is how Iñaki Uriarte remembers the recently deceased Rafael Berrio. The San Sebastian musician confessed several times his devotion to Uriarte’s work, to the point that he paid tribute to it by borrowing the title ‘Diarios’ for one of his albums. The two came to meet one night in San Sebastián.
– After having accumulated a select group of admirers of his ‘Diarios’ in Spain, now they begin to arrive from France, where the book has been translated.
– The translation was a very curious story and I owe it to Frédéric Shiffter, an essayist whom I admire and who lives in Biarritz. I was reading his personal blog and one day I opened it and I found a photo of me, with my cat Borges in my arms and the translation of one of my texts. We exchanged emails, he insisted on publishing it.
– Well, it has been very successful in France. Even Frédéric Beigbeder praised him.
– Yes, the ‘Basque Montaigne’, he said. The scare was the entire page of ‘Le Figaro Magazine’. Very good reviews came out, but I have no idea if the book sold well or not.
– In any case, what have you felt about this critical success?
– Amazement, the same that I keep experiencing here.
– Why did you edit the three ‘Diaries’ in one volume last year, with an added epilogue?
– Because I wanted to have the three books together, I wanted to see my complete work a little chubby and not scattered in three volumes. I did a little bit of work on that and then, since I had another thirty or forty pages, I decided to call it an ‘epilogue’, put it all together and it was over. And the truth is that I have felt very relaxed.
– It seems that between literary ambition and tranquility, you have chosen the latter.
– Yes, I have no literary ambition.
– Not even when seeing the good reception that their ‘Diaries’ had?
– It happened the other way around, it’s a bit like a psychiatrist: it came as a responsibility. I thought that the next one I would get crazy or that they were reading over my shoulder what I was writing. It happened the other way around, but now, once my complete diaries plus the epilogue have been published, I am more encouraged because what I write is again for me. I go back to the beginning, I write for myself and for two or three friends.
– And will you publish it?
– I have no idea. Five years from now and if I have thirty pages, but for now I will continue writing what I feel like and without any idea of publishing more … Because I feel like it. Five years from now, between the coronavirus, diabetes or whatever, I’m not the same here anymore.
– Are you aware that diarists will come out of this confinement in blanket?
– Yes, what happens is that they are going to look a lot alike. In fact, my own book has been revived a little, there are people who are reading it and as always they treat me very well in the networks, that’s where it goes.
– How do you feel when you see that your ‘Diarios’ inspire another artistic work, as was the case with the Rafael Berrio album of the same name?
– I was really excited. I knew him very little. He played in Bilbao and I went to greet him, and then I was in San Sebastián to present the book. Then I went to dinner with those from La Tertulia Errante and I liked him very much. Of course, he also liked me and then there is a tendency that you like him. I’m not a very musician, but from then on I listened to his songs. ‘The joy of living’ I have heard millions of times because I like it so much. He was one of those people whom I did not know much, but whom I had great affection for. That happens sometimes: you know others more, but since you don’t love them so much, their death doesn’t impress you the same.