The sentence is:

Como si se pudiera elegir en el amor. Cómo si no fuera un rayo que te parte los huesos y te deja estaqueado en la mitad del patio.

The first sentence is easy to read. It should translate into something like this:

As it one could choose in love.

But the second one has me thoroughly confused. My attempt is:

How if not outside a ray/line that breaks your bones and leaves you stuck in the middle of the patio.

Obviously, that makes zero sense! Is there anything idiomatic at play here, since I know every single word and yet can't translate the sentence?

  • 1
    Perhaps here rayo means lightning?
    – mdewey
    Jun 4 '16 at 16:07
  • 1
    rayo can be beam, bolt, line, ray, pain, misfortunate occurrence, a strong/efficient thing... it's quite polysemantic Jun 4 '16 at 16:22
  • 1
    The second "cómo" should be "como", meaning "as". "Lightning" refers back to "love" in the first sentence, and the overall meaning is that love metaphorically breaks your bones. Also, note "patio" (Sp) doesn't mean exactly the same thing as "patio" (En). In a house, a "patio" is generally an enclosed area, such as this one, and in a school it's the playground (such as this one)
    – Yay
    Jun 4 '16 at 18:28
  • 1
    Also, "fuera" is the past subjunctive form of the verb "ser", not the adverb "fuera" meaning outside. "Como si no fuera..." means "As if it weren't..."
    – Yay
    Jun 4 '16 at 18:33
  • 1
    Well, Julio Cortázar has a really idiosyncratic use of language, or at least that's how it sounds to non-Argentinian ears. Coincidentally, I've read Rayuela and a big chunk of the book is set in a patio, so that may be it.
    – Yay
    Jun 4 '16 at 19:52

This is a nice example of how a misplaced accent mark can radically change the meaning of a sentence. The same sentence with proper punctuation would be:

Como si se pudiera elegir en el amor. Como si no fuera un rayo que te parte los huesos y te deja estaqueado en la mitad del patio.

Which translates to:

As if one could choose in love. As if it weren't a lightning that breaks your bones and leaves you spiked in the middle of the patio.

"It" refers back to "love". "Lightning" is used metaphorically to symbolize the suddenness and violence with which love strikes. "Fuera" is the past subjunctive form of the verb "ser", not the adverb "fuera". "Estaquear" is a verb derived from "estaca" (spike), another metaphor to express (probably) the feeling of frozennes or lightheadedness such shock usually involves, as if one were literally spiked into the ground. It could also refer to being staken in the heart, as you would do to kill a vampire. It's hard to tell, being the whole sentence a metaphor for love and its aftermath. EDIT: I stand corrected. Apparently, estaquear is in Argentina and Uruguay a form of torture consisting in tying someone's limbs to four stakes. The metaphor here would be that love tortures you and then leaves you to lick your wounds, I guess.

Why the author used "patio" depends on context. Certainly, being left spiked in the middle of a patio isn't any recognisable idiom. The book this quote comes from ("Rayuela") has different settings (París, Buenos Aires, etc.) and goes back and forth from memories to the present, from descriptions to reflections and ramblings through the author's stream of consciousness. A big chunk of the book takes place in an inner patio1 in Buenos Aires where he spends some time with a friend and his friend's wife, and which their windows face. From what I recall, he falls in love in Paris, not in a patio; but when he writes this he is presumably sitting in his room watching the patio from his window, so it makes sense that this patio came to his mind.

The book abounds with philosophical ideas, double entendres and porteñisms (see resve for revés in the following sentence), so it's hard to tell what Cortázar exactly means by pretty much every single word he uses!

1: "Patio" is actually misleading here. What the author is talking about is an architectonic configuration consisting on several edifices belonging to the same building with their inner faces forming an interior space, such as this, this, this, or this.

  • Couldn't have asked for a clearer explanation. Thank you tons for your efforts and patience!
    – TheLearner
    Jun 5 '16 at 0:07

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