Las Sirenas

    
    Marie Anne Erize Tisseau and Marina Ginestà had a connection. Each now would’ve been tagged an insurgent. Or militant. No. Probably terrorist. Language has undergone so much massaging why call a spade a spade when it can be labeled an entrenching tool? Though the conflicts enveloping both and devouring one were dissimilar, they eventually shared the same depth in their respective causes.  

    Separated by eras, the Atlantic Ocean and clashes, similar impulses must’ve pushed them. Each believed she could be part of a beneficial movement. And each understood the prices victory required might’ve demanded their lives.

    Today that height of commitment solely belongs in the province of religious extremists. What cause will encourage modern men and women to sacrifice their lives if necessary for an idea?

    An idea, not duty. A!–more–>

    Do absolute good and evil (the intellectual versions, not spiritual) even exist today? Unquestioningly so in Ginestà’s time. Many years later when Tisseau strode among us, the old polarities were well on the way to becoming our present-day every shade of gray murk.    

    By coincidence, Tisseau and Ginestà each recently returned to awareness. A newspaper article conjured the long vanished Tisseau the next to last day of 2013. Column inches lent Ginestà an appreciation the first week of 2014. At 94, she recently reached the end of her life.

    Reportage by (Spain) El Pais’ Diego Manrique and Jacinto Antón drew these women from the fog. Or in Ginestà’s case revived her through light and shadow, while Tisseau may have been commemorated in song.

    Ginestà is clearly portrayed. Unless she alerts us from the beyond, Tisseau will stay a good twisty mystery. Mist veils her. She is elusive and maybe all that remains of her is allusive. Conjecture shrouds the tasks which led to her vanishing. Did she also serve as muse for an admirer who became even more ardent as his reticence increased across the decades?

    If Tisseau’s presence tricked one of those heartfelt love requiems from him, he’s not confessing. Neither are those behind her disappearance.

    Tisseau was an Argentine model, Ginestà politically acute and French. Both combated the leading repressive regimes of their times and places. The first woman joined intrigues opposed to her nation’s militarist regime; the second defended Spain against the reactionary Falange.

    The women’s respective causes failed. The rebel victory over the duly elected Republican government not only retarded Spain’s progress by decades, but also emboldened the Axis powers intending world plunder. That much talked about line had been trampled. Could there have been a starker example of put up or shut up than The Spanish Civil War? If the high-minded democracies couldn’t and wouldn’t aid one of their own, weren’t black shirts convinced they too could pick off other weak and disjointed republics?

    Munich didn’t green light the Second World War. Letting Spain become a live-fire laboratory for total war did.

    After withdrawing from Spain, Ginestà bracketed Mexican exile between escaping and returning to France. Postwar she eventually settled in Paris. Indeed, mamie had worn combat boots.

    Again, who can say, or who will ever confess, how Tisseau expired? Since 1976 her physical presence has been completely expunged. The 24-year-old was that figure who walks into the jungle and leaves no tracks behind. But rather than being digested by savannah, the Argentine urban jungle consumed her.

    Thanks to the world’s myriad ideological or religious discords, Westerners are familiar with the shadowy villains slinking among us looking to foment this cause or indoctrinate that creed by whatever method of imposition necessary. Their blood-drizzled objectives make no distinction between bystanders and the particular pillars they insist need razing. To ideologues, there are no innocents. People living as unobtrusively as possible merely bolster their contention. If you aren’t with them …

    Marie Tisseau became an Argentine dissatisfied with her nation’s narrow direction. Now she’s nearly a caricature of a limousine revolutionary. She was that bourgeois baby who agitated for bread and justice, but whose upbringing had delivered her material goods and comfort aplenty. Her concept of “without” was just that. Theory. Elevated roundtable chatter made romantic through the chaotic energy of youth, cigarette smoke, though ultimately condescendingly delivered regarding “the people.”  

    Fighter, militant, insurgent, “terrorist” even, Marina Ginestà is best seen as a recruiting pitch. More pointed than posters featuring Uncle Sam or Lord Kitchener, Ginestà’s pose atop a Barcelona roof in 1936 made an appeal stronger than ¡Sangre y Patria! The Catalan capital as her backdrop, the 17-year-old’s glance summoned without hectoring. Uncle Sam and Kitchener beseeched ambivalent patriots into serving. Ginestà’s easy on the eyes coaxing flatly stated “Boys, this is what you’re fighting for!”

   

Marina Ginestà, Barcelona, Spain, June 1936.

    One must wonder whether Ernest Hemingway ever glimpsed her portrait. With all occurring around him, had her image imprinted itself in Hemingway’s mind? Could Ginestà’s inviting steel have been the basis behind the fictional Maria in his For Whom the Bell Tolls?

    Here’s a backstory: the militiawoman’s come-hither defiance was a setup. Hers seems a contrivance Joseph Goebbels should’ve staged. Hans Gutman, a German pro-Republican photographer had his Edward Bernays’ moment. One he hoped advanced Republican sympathies. In Ginestà, Gutman found the requisite pretty girl. He and his subject climbed to the roof.

    Mediterranean sunlight emphasized Ginestà’s peasant loveliness. A mild breeze ruffled the short black crop atop her head. Barcelonan cityscape provided effective contrast. Yet the scene was incomplete. She lacked an accessory. Clever Gutman appropriated a nearby militiaman’s rifle and slung it over Ginestà’s shoulder. Perhaps the weapon enhanced her allure, and with it the Republican cause. Wouldn’t be the first time an armed woman has been regarded deferentially.
 
    Nothing so martially clear for Tisseau. She and her Montoneros, the leftist assemblage opposing the right-wing junta then ruling Argentina, engaged in asymmetrical shadow warfare. No great battles. No stirring proclamations. No sterling literature. No bombastic sloganeering or music. Given the conflict’s nature, also little valor. Nothing romantic about it at all.

    Unlike the Spanish insurrection, Argentina’s aptly named Dirty War lacked fixed lines and readily admirable leading personages. It was an ideological struggle that dissolved into state sanctioned torture and murder. In reflection, the Argentine government assumed the worst vestiges of what we widely recognize as an organized criminal structure. Due process for a lost number of political captives ran along that dictated by Alice’s Queen of Hearts: “Punishment first, then the trial!”

    Is anyone still alive who can attest what deeds Tisseau performed on behalf ogf the Montoneros? Was she a go-between? Active in a cadre? Or just a peripheral traveler whose prominent profile fit into Argentine domestic intelligence’s crosshairs?    

    Unlike Ginestà’s unwavering fealty to Spanish Republicanism, Tisseau drifted into the Montonero movement. Casually politicized at best, she’d led an idealized youthquake life. Lovely, languorous, and fearless, the cover girl gadded-about throughout early 1970’s Europe.

 


Marie Anne Erize Tisseau, unknown.

    Glamorous, say, an Uschi Obermaier who didn’t reach the next shore, Tisseau exemplified that era’s free-spirited vibe. On occasions – oh, the usual no cash ones – she dipped into larceny. But exquisite larceny! No grubby bank heists for her. More than a flighty personality behind a pretty face, the mannequin nurtured an interest in anthropology. A concentration the least-likeliest thief turned into lucre by smuggling art.

    Doubtlessly the sort of daring-do which further aroused an already besotted tunesmith. Verses, well known ones in specific circles, resound about a thoroughly captivating woman. Do these refer to Tisseau?

    Throughout decades the lyricist has preferred obscuring his muse’s identity. Doesn’t lovelorn cloaking attract our curiosity all the more? On the surface his reticence may appear selfish. Is his one of those manufactured mysteries meant to keep embers alive, the artist’s name in speculation? Or does the songwriter’s silence derive from an instance of a draw so powerful, a loss so raw, that revelation would wrench soul debilitating pain?

    There are some nuggets our human hearts never wish to yield.  

   

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