Category Archives: South America

Antipodes: Before War

What follows occurred during the earliest years of last decade’s American-led incursion into Iraq. If any need judging, it’s not those who fought but the chickenhawks who sent them into unnecessary combat.

Maybe it was coincidence but the Iraq War removed Argentina from the service academies no-go lists. Who knew one existed?

Common sense said future military officers weren’t going to tour potential adversary nations like Russia, China, or Iran. Unlike civilian institutions, service academies aren’t bereft of common sense. Trips to any suspect destination would’ve landed the cadet or midshipman in the crosshairs of so many intelligence agencies the cumulative headings atop those resulting files might’ve resembled bowls of alphabet soup.

But Argentina? I’m guessing because of the South American republic’s late 20th century history, its “Dirty War,” the Falklands, wise heads saw prudence in dissuading future officers from the first’s contamination and the second’s likely insulting Britain. The West invading Iraq didn’t restore Argentina’s vacation spot desirability. After the longest, just the passage of time cleansed the pampas.

Besides, in the early 21st century America had rabid-dog terrorism and rebellious former client states to put down. Why not reopen a forbidden part of the world to young regimented men and women in order to distract them momentarily from the inevitabilities ahead?

Almost as if by right and might, the several West Point cadets who easily established themselves in the Shamrock’s focal point would’ve stood out anywhere in that saloon. Situated as the young men were merely emphasized, no, confirmed, alpha dog status. I bet theirs wasn’t a conscious decision. Just one that had come naturally after nearly four years of being indoctrinated to lead.

Know what provides the best analogy? A nature program, one earlier generations saw on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom or iterations thereof current viewers can watch on PBS.

Regard the cadets as top of the line predators. Sated momentarily, exhausted from hunting and having fed, lazing under shade at the nearest watering hole. Patrons around them represented potential prey, thirsty yet hesitant to slake their thirsts because of the clear danger presented.

Male contemporaries inside the Buenos Aires bar gave the cadets wide berth. No point-to-point straight transverses through them but loops around these men. Same-age women looked upon the assembled desirously. However, the men exuded such presences, the women there hadn’t quite yet formulated how to approach them. They might be welcomed. Then again given the cadets’ apparent fatigue, they might’ve been greeted by irritation.

Because in the animal kingdom, isn’t it the male who initiates these contacts?

My speech revealed my nationality. I either chatted up some chick or shot the breeze with a guy. After I’d either gotten shot down or the confab ended, one of the cadets asked if I were an American. Once I confirmed my nascence, he asked whether I’d ever served.

No.

Rarely now at 60, but up until my late 40s I got asked that question a lot. It flattered me.

If my answer disappointed my questioner, his reaction was imperceptive.

My then-employer had always done a decent amount of work for the military and prisons, among other money-tossing clients. It helped that the boss was a retired army colonel. Doubtlessly a lot of trade entered our office after golf rounds and trading rounds of drinks while bullshitting and taking the measure of the men – and being measured by them – he was among
.
And yeah, then it was always men. No exceptions. Not sorry.

Let’s get this straight: certain echelons are occupied by hard, decisive guys. Not necessarily well-rounded and thoughtful, but surely driven and compelling. By their natures military and prison careers have plenty in common. Both demand attention to details, conforming to hierarchal structures, and demand minds which can become crucibles under life’s most intense pressures.

Lack of these traits could result in failure. That might lead to fatality or maiming. Even possessing these qualities, being successful, might still result in death or injury. So the tasks employing them aside, though often quite cordial and engaging, they maintained noticeable edges absent in salaried or hourly workers not involved in the arts of war or penning criminal elements.

Never having been a member of either brotherhood, it behooved one to quickly pick up signs and signals which if these didn’t ingratiate closed as much distance as possible. Fortunately I already had the physical presence. Thankfully having a father who served, being surrounded by men throughout my formative years who’d shared his experiences, prepared me by observation, proximity, and absorption.

Despite feminism and its belief more boys should adopt a lighter masculinity as they grow into men, there’s plenty good to be said about the best men having been boys whose templates included strong male figures. Weak men are not ideal models for growing boys. Boys need dominant males who possess character to pattern themselves after. Merely vain, boisterous, bluff, preening guys are certainly in ascendance today. However, beneath the veneer what is there? Who are they truly?

A lot of them can’t answer that.

What worked then and even today are basic postures. In the animal kingdom we humans inhabit perhaps using them may be the equivalent to dissuading a predator and making it choose prey less likely to defend itself or its territory.

Away from the watering hole in social situations, eye contact and conspicuously gauging the speaker start the leveling, if not outright disarming. Defer, certainly, when necessary, but never be obsequious.

Bowing and scraping usually produce contempt. What one desires is respect. One often receives what’s extended.

My interlocutor and his fellow fourth-year men were at the Shamrock to engage in their last bouts of “sanctioned irresponsibility” before graduating and receiving commissions as United States Army second lieutenants. This bunch idled like men enjoying respite from constant scrutiny.

They shed pensiveness slowly.

Of course continuous evaluation determined whether them worthy of entering the war profession. Is there any civilian career asking similar analysis? Unlikely.

A civilian, I only ever saw the United States Military Academy peripherally. Even on its grounds I never could’ve gotten more than a superficial sense of what the place might’ve been to inhabit.

Quarropas, my New York hometown, offered easy access to the USMA by ferry and auto. Growing up, my parents thought nothing of spending a day sailing along the Hudson, debarking there or at Bear Mountain. In high school, the academy hosted important track meets. In all instances, this having been America, where openness was once prized, visitors and participants had loose rein to roam the grounds.

I hope we were appreciative, not awed, nor overwhelmed, being amid still tangible American history, particularly that of our Revolutionary Era.

Then later once job requirements returned me to the Palisades, especially early after the attacks, watching insertions and extractions – the Black Hawk helicopters churning above the heads of that day’s guests – who among us prescient to suspect those stalwarts ultimately practiced these maneuvers for old, scared men preparing to sacrifice them for their own belated glory, military-industrial profits, and score settling rather than national security?

Talking to the cadets, I voiced the youth’s muzzy experiences at West Point. I excised from our conversations an adult’s skepticism that came decades later.

I didn’t opine and none of the cadets asked my opinion about our misguided entry into Iraq. The subject was surprisingly easy to evade. They didn’t raise it. I followed their lead. But to our military’s credit, one of them volunteered the academy was not a cocoon. New York Times subscriptions allowed the pertinent outside world entry. All knew the likelihood of where he’d be stationed next spring.

Before being defrocked as a journalist, the expected follow-up should have been my asking any and all their thoughts on his future. But without an ink-stained wretch card, I lacked any impulse to grill them. Besides, wasn’t this an occasion to decelerate, not be confronted?

Instead I did the right thing. I flagged a server. I fronted her enough pesos to buy several rounds of beer. Not Quilmes, through which imbibers arrive gradually at inebriation. But Warsteiner.

Hoof in the head suds.

Brewed under license in Argentina, I’d had more than several bottles of Warsteiner in das Vaterland. Like most German hops concoctions, it was a credit to Reinheitsgebot. If any diminishment in quality and taste existed, my Yankee palate flat-out missed it. Yet leave it to a German national I’d once met inside the Shamrock to quibble.

His ultimate judgment? While the ersatz Argy stuff sufficed, it remained inferior that brewed in Germany. Said Herr Säufer who sat before a table blackened by dark empty Warsteiner bottles.

And those were sizable Warsteiners, too. Longer and wider than tall boys, they filled mortar shell-shaped bottles. Enough of them doubtlessly delivered the same effect as mortar shells.

So Warsteiner for imminent warriors.

The cadets’ futures, fates, were inexorable – as all ours are. The futility of their anticipated errands, my inability to query them regarding that, both frustrated me. As the Iraqi folly lengthened, I occasionally wondered about members of that evening’s cohort. Had they beaten or averaged the percentages?

Antipodes: The Amethyst Twins

Annegreth and Lieslotte weren’t twins. An instant or two dedicated to closer inspection revealed this.

Yet thanks to same shaggy blonde manes, blue eyes, clear, sun-blessed complexions, and manners of smiling that made each tall though not lanky woman appear uncannily similar, clearer observations rescinded the quick judgment. Neither Uruguayan was truly indistinguishable from another. Yet that’s how most undiscerning strangers like MacDiarmid saw them. Continue reading Antipodes: The Amethyst Twins

Antipodes: The Shamrock

Looking back on the months of March in 2004, 2005, and 2009, didn’t I spend an almost inordinate amount of time in Buenos Aires inside the Shamrock? Why, yes I did.

Spent properly, those hours could’ve been devoted to visiting vineyards west towards the Andes or even venturing south into Patagonia. There, I might’ve investigated cities along the South Atlantic coast and waited to witness whales breaching the ocean’s surface.

But urban creature as I most surely am, and one who traveled alone then, louche comforts lured and guided me.

Perhaps “louche” a harsh judgment for the Shamrock. Let’s direct that upon its clientele. Continue reading Antipodes: The Shamrock

Antipodes: Dark Places

Dissolute excursions inside the Shamrock or the Shannon did not fill my every waking evening hour in Argentina and Uruguay. The principal cities offered plenty of cosmopolitan attractions, particularly Buenos Aires.

Maybe having grown up in Metropolitan New York made it easy or easier. But setting out to investigate rumored addresses never unnerved me. Most of those places were merry and bright; a precious few turned out being among the darkest recesses imaginable. Continue reading Antipodes: Dark Places

Antipodes

In March 2009, I stood in the terraces of La Bombonera, a k a “The Chocolate Box,” in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is the home field of the Boca Juniors, one of the country’s most idolized teams. In the nearly vacant stadium, on my 50th birthday I hoisted a retired Copa Libertadores trophy.

The Copa is one of the most prestigious soccer tournaments encompassing Latin America.

Looking at the span which that particular piece of hardware had been bestowed, it had been raised by Pele and Diego Maradona, each a deity in short pants for his respective nation, Brazil and Argentina. Immodest of me as it was, I lifted that thing and preened as if I’d somehow contributed on the pitch towards its acquisition.

I wasn’t the only one there that sunny afternoon fantasizing. Plenty of aficionados, dyed-in-the-wool soccer fans, were in attendance summoning the echoes of past contests be they championship caliber or regularly scheduled Boca tilts.

The indulgent Porteña accompanying me looked on with pity and benevolence. She could’ve mocked me or rolled her eyes at my undeserved and unearned basking. But she understood the importance of futbol. Despite being a norteamericano, I at least displayed an appreciable measure of reverence for pursuits purists often believe holds no less meaning than life and death.

That demonstration hopefully also compensated for much of my lousy Spanish. Continue reading Antipodes

Dalliances

Matthias believed himself quite fortunate to have been a widower whose children had all entered adulthood. Or else explaining the circumstances which had befallen him to adolescents or teens could’ve been quite mortifying.

He asked himself, ‘Was it an incident? Or a series of misfortunes? Or an exercise in youthful malice?’

At least the English professor could engage the question philosophically. Nora, the other participant exposed, lacked Matthias’ considerable fig leaf. Apart from the pun, fig leaves were exactly what Nora needed. Those and mind wipes, as well as interdicting the bastard who’d swiped the incriminating memory card.

Not solely to cover the naked state she’d shared with Matthias, but to establish distance between the realized gossipy recrimination their private conduct stirred and the preferred mature indifference it should’ve left in its wake. Well, not so private now, though owing to her marital state, certainly illicit.

A university colleague, Nora, had entered a brief passionate romance (romance because affair sounded tawdry) with him occasioned by her husband Fausto. Living up to his name, Fausto was a true macho. Their marriage made Matthias wonder about ardor’s caprice. Continue reading Dalliances

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.  

   

The Amoralists — Part Two

    Fabio could’ve taken lessons in deviousness from Celia. He should’ve. Maybe pointers from her might’ve prevented his now and forever pronounced limp. Probably not. Indifferent a student in youth as he had been, Fabio was not an old dog to be taught new tricks.

    Maybe ascribing Celia as devious is unnecessarily harsh. Driven. She was driven. At least that lends her a trait Americans can admire. Otherwise it would be too easy to call her manipulative.

    Celia grew up in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state. Once I asked her town’s name, and she told me, but I forgot it. Or misheard it. Likely the last. Sometimes having drank too much vitamin whiskey her accent thickened into incomprehensibility. And she couldn’t be understood either.

Continue reading The Amoralists — Part Two

What Is Beat?

    Finally watched the film version of On the Road recently. Anticipating disappointment, Walter Salles’ 2012 effort lived down to expectations.

    I imagine when the project was pitched and possible directors were suggested, Salles emerged a natural fit. After all, the Brazilian had done a tender job helming The Motorcycle Diaries, the sort of movie that makes most American audiences eyes glaze over yet rewards patient viewers. You know, solitary figures sitting in the dark interested in more than excessive explosions and stunted adults wallowing in juvenile humor.

Continue reading What Is Beat?

Sinister Sojourns


    Isn’t the best part about movie remakes comparing them against the original? Or given that today’s moviemakers take such license, the “source material.” Title and characters remain unchanged but the newer efforts detour and slalom moments after the premise has been established.

    Recently the 2010 remake of And Soon the Darkness lent me an opportunity to see how far storytelling has advanced. My interest in both films stems from a distinctly modern actress, Amber Heard. She’d been a bunny on NBC’s short-lived Playboy Club. Maybe that program would still be in production if Frank Ballinger from M Squad, and Crime Story‘s Mike Torello and Ray Luca (all characters from TV series also set in early 1960s Chicago) had run tabs there.

    Heard filled out her bunny costume and shook her tail nicer than I remembered happening inside the actual clubs themselves. Of course today I have much greater appreciation of such nuances. Continue reading Sinister Sojourns