Living Memories at Londres 38

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Londres 38, a former torture centre, is in walking distance from my friend’s place, so we stroll through the neighborhood to get there. Before the official visit starts, we’re invited to explore the house on our own. It’s a beautiful building with light-flodded rooms with wodden floors and big windows, a dream for anyone with a taste for period property. But I have to imagine living there on my own, because the rooms are empty and don’t offer any anchors for the imagination. Or that’s what I think then, because when the visit starts, I will be told about the meanings of the holes in the plastering. The visit is conceptualized as a dialogic encounter, inviting the visitors to engage with the place in their own terms, rather than explaining and lecturing about historical events. This is why we are not considered visitors, but rather, participants in the construction of memory. I am not entirely sure that’s what we did there, because as a non-Chilean I am not too confident about my ability to help in this construction. But I do my best trying to relate what the guide tells us about the place with what I have heard and known about other episodes from the German past. Among these thoughts is the questions of what the neighbors knew, since the house is in the middle of a busy quarter, and the adjacent houses a stone’s throw away. It’s impossible to imagine that they haven’t heard or seen any of the extralegal proceedings. Then again, they wouldn’t be the first to ignore these kinds of activities, be it out of fear, ot because they believed that surely, the people abducted there must have done something to deserve this kind of treatment. Which is what brought me to wonder about what I would have done. Sure, I like to imagine myself as the kind of person who courageously intervenes, accuses and resists. But I have never been in a situation like that. How would I know?

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If you liked this post, here is another one about my visit to Villa Grimaldi.

Estadio Nacional

This time, creative writing pratice was a collaborative effort. I invented two characters, another participant a conflict. The task then was to bring both together. Sorry, again Spanish only.

Gloria va al Estadio todos los años. Cada once de septiembre, se compra una entrada para asistir al evento que haya ese día. Es su forma de hacer memoria desde que la tenían allí detenida con los otros cinco mil. Estaba embarazada entonces, pero eso no les importaba. No sabe que pasó con ese niño que iba a tener. Algunas veces hizo el esfuerzo de buscarlo, pero nunca salió nada. Dejó de buscarlo, aunque sigue creyendo que está vivo. Pero tendrá su vida sin saber nada de su madre, o creyendo que es la que le tocó. No hay que despertar a los demonios de los demás. Sus propios demonios, sin embargo, están despiertos, y por eso todos los años va al Estadio.

Ese año le toca un concierto de los Red Hot Chili Peppers. Hay mucha gente joven y tatuada alrededor de ella, que a Gloria no le incomoda para nada. Viene también para conocer, ya sea otro estilo de música, o de deporte, o de vida. Un joven con el pelo mojado se siente a su lado y ella, chismosa, le pregunta si se mojó el pelo por el calor. Aunque es alto y tiene una espalda bien ancha, parece muy tímido. Mira hacía abajo cuando le habla y le cuenta que es nadador profesional y que acaba de llegar de la práctica en la piscina olímpica que tienen en ese mismo campo.

En ese mismo instante empiezan a volar los aviones. Gloria los reconoce de inmediato, pues se parecen demasiado a los que habían atacado a la Moneda. Todo el mundo los mira confundido y la tensión en el Estadio es palpable. Empiezan a dar vueltas y piruetas, con humo blanco, rojo y azul que les sale de la cola:

Únanse al baile de los que sobran

Gloria sonríe porque reconoce la frase de una canción y de pronto, todos empiezan a cantar: Nadie nos va a echar de más. Nadie nos quiso ayudar de verdad. Los jóvenes tatuados se levantan de sus sillas y saltan las rejas, reuniéndose en el centro del Estadio. Allí empiezan a bailar, y Gloria lo pregunta al joven nadador si la quiere acompañar. El la mira por primera vez a los ojos, y en este momento Gloria siente un rayo en su corazón.

– ¿Miguel?

– ¡Mamá!

Genderella’s Stories [pt. 3]

So Genderella uses Facebook. Already her fault, right? One day, Genderella read an article and reposted it on Facebook, because she found it interesting and worthy to share. How dumb of her to think that on her own timeline she could post things just like that. Not long afterwards, the troll was there, making his first comment mansplaining everything the article said was dumb. So Genderella thought, “Hey, maybe I can point out what is actually good about the article.” She was so young and so naive. Comment after comment followed, in which the tone of the troll stayed equally arrogant, and dismissed all of her arguments by exaggerating his perceived reality. Until she finally exploded. So dumb, right? Why would you ever show your emotions in a social media discussion? Of course, the troll happily accepted this failure, and send another comment pointing out her emotional reaction was inappropriate. Genderella, now determined to not leave the discussion first, wrote another comeback, and finally, the troll exploded as well. Genderella wrote another comment, pointing out again what she thought was worthy of sharing of the article, and stating how the debate could have been enriched. Then, a white knight showed up. He took time and words to explain to the troll how he was wrong, and how he apparently had no interest in a real discussion, either. He also emphasized his own expert position in the debate. He mentioned the same aspects Genderella did, but in the words of a white knight, of course. And then, the unimaginable happened: the troll gave him a “Like” and stayed silent. Genderella was saved. Of course, a white knight had to end the debate. Who has ever heard of a fairy tale princess saving herself?

1. Reading: Memory, Subjectivities, and Representation

The Year in Readings started with a mission: more ethnographic monographs. The first book I finished, however, does not fit into this category. On the upside, at least it is remotely related to what I do in my research. Memory, Subjectivities, and Representation. Approaches to Oral History in Latin America, Portugal and Spain by Rina Benmayor, María Eugenia Cardenal de la Nuez and Pilar Domínguez Prats (eds.; Palgrave Macmillian 2016) is meant to be an introdcution to oral history work in Latin America, Spain and Portugal. I’ve been doing a more formal review for the Oral History Forum d’histoire orale from the Canadian Oral History Association, which you can find here, if you’d like to have a look.

For the purpose of continuing with my subjective review series, I am just going to mention a few key points. Overall, reading edited volumes is often a challenge, because personally, I am rarely interested in all the contributions. This one had the great advantage, that it were those articles I thought wouldn’t fit my interests, which were the most inspiring. Some of the topics are innovative, like the articles on Lisbon’s tattoo scene, or the performance piece on the Portuguese dictatorship, and I especially liked the articles focusing on female militants from the Southern Cone and on migrant sex workers in Spain. But I would have liked more of that. Most articles are concerned with worker’s history. A real downer was the fact that articles on Latin America were restricted to the Southern Cone and Mexico, giving a somewhat eurocentric idea of the continent, and completely leaving out any indigenous contributions. Given that it is particularly this area where Oral History flourishes in Latin America, I found that quite disappointing. Apart from this (serious!) flaw, the volume is a solid contribution, and might be of interest for people wanting to know more about current trends in the region.

How did I come across the book?

Actually, the journal approached me to ask whether I would review it. I found that flattering and agreed.

When and where did I read it?

In one of Bogota’s amazing public libraries around New Year’s.

Mermaid Memories

Yet another practice in fiction, this time in English. Enjoy!

I’m not exactly sure what it is about mermaid hair that fascinates me this much. It exudes an air of peace and tranquility in otherness, I think. Colors flow in ways that make it impossible to know which one exactly it is one is looking at, because it always already changes into something else. People with mermaid hair look strange, unnatural, as if from outer space, and yet known and familiar (it is still hair, like most of us have on different parts of our bodies). It is irritating to the same degree as it is serene.

Mermaid hair is exceptional, unruly, yet never dangerous. Somewhat like Berlin in the 90s. Or that’s what I’ve heard, because I myself was to young to remember. In 1993, I was only five years old, and even though my mom and I lived pretty close to the ctiy, I seldom went there alone. When we went together, she would take me to the Tierpark, the theater, and sometimes the movies, too. (Note the Tierpark is just like a Zoo, but it’s the one in the eastern part of town, and designed much more like a park. The one in Western Berlin is called Zoo.) I love the stories she tells me about that time. There’s this picture of me on a swing in the Tierpark. I am wearing a sky blue snow suit thick enough to protect me from the Berlin winter, but also making me look like a tiny version of the Michellin figure. My aunt is pushing me from behind, and I have this utterly satisfied smile on my face. A memory made of cotton candy.

When I was about 9 years old, I remember I wanted to dye my hair green. It has always been my favorite color, because it is not pink or blue, but something in between. Everybody back then said their favorite color was blue, boys and girls alike, and I just found that lame. First, because everybody said it, and at age 9 I didn’t want to be like everybody else. And second, because the color blue just doesn’t appeal to me. When I look at something blue, nothing happens. I just get bored. Green in turn always intrigues me, as if there was something more to understand about it, something that didn’t give itself away with the first glance. And I’m not talking forrest green, which has its own charm for sure, but more in an earthy way. I’m talking garish green, the woodruff soda variant. Which is also not exactly the green in mermaid hair, but it is precisely this “not exactly” that is so attractive to me, and which might be the reason I’m fancying mermaid hair right now.

Back then, I didn’t dye my hair green. My mom wouldn’t prohibit it, she never really did that with anything. She would rather tell me about how damaging this would be for my hair, and explain the long process of first having to go blond and then green, and about how terrible it would look once it grew out. Instead of prohibitions, she persuaded me with reasons. As a social worker in the city’s youth clubs, she gave seminars about drugs and addiction, and so from early on I knew exactly how Ecstasy pills looked like (from photographs), and about the dangers of more mundane drugs like cigarettes and alcohol. As with the green hair, she would never tell me not do do drugs, but instead explain to me how they worked and what dangers lay in consumption. She would always advise me to talk to her first before trying out something, but since I had the feeling I already knew everything about drugs thanks to her, I never did.

I was a 20-something when I smoked my first joint, at a party of a high school friend of mine and all her Greenpeace buddies. That was the Neukölln of the late 2000s already, but it would still take me another three years to finally feel something that could be called a fine frenzy. I had just moved into a flat with my best friend, not to far away from that Greenpeace party, and he had bought some dope in Görlitzer Park, which back then wasn’t that overcrowded with police. He was the one introducing me to laughing gas when we were teenagers, and would have done the same with magic mushrooms, had I wanted to. That lovely summer evening at the open window of our kitchen, I challenged him to smoke until I would finally feel something. About four joints later, our kitchen was painted in the loveliest version of mermaid hair colors I can imagine.

Looking at it now, the “not exactly” of mermaid hair is also the “not exactly” I feel comfortable in. The sense of something that is not one way or another, but always something in between. It’s nostalgia what is condensed in mermaid hair, and the longing for a time in which having a certain gender didn’t mean to subscribe to either pink or blue (and everything that goes along these lines). Mermaid hair moments are the ones in which I didn’t feel the need to explain anything to anyone, in which ambiguity was the state of being, and it was fine.

8. Reading: Como agua para chocolate

Laura Esquivel’s Como agua para chocolate (2012, Penguin Random House) was the first Spanish-language book I read in a fairly long time that wasn’t a pain to finish. Even though reading in Spanish is no big deal for me, I often have difficulties in finding my way into the books. Not so this time, because I almost devoured this novel in less then a week. Funny coincidence: I did so mostly at cafés or restaurants, which might have helped in the creation of atmosphere. Funny because the story is structured in twelve recipes, each belonging to a specific event in the life of Tita, the youngest of three sisters in a matriarchic household of rural Mexico during the revolution.

In Como agua…, Esquivel tells the love story between Tita and Pedro, who are not allowed to marry because Tita, as the youngest daughter, is obliged to stay with her mother as long as she lives. Pedro then marries her older sister to be close to her. The rest is family life at its best, lots of conflicts, lots of secrets, some miraculous deaths, and a considerable number of love stories on the side, including occasional pregnancies. I admit the final choice Tita makes didn’t convince me, especially because Pedro turns into a jealous nagger, and their first love-making isn’t exactly built on consent. Also, the ending is a little too much of magical realism for my taste. But let’s say that until chapter eleven, Como agua para chocolate is a fascinating and entertaining read.

How did I come across the book?

I was given a gift certificate for a book store for Christmas, and wanted to invert in female Colombian authors only. That plan didn’t work out for various reasons, so I ended up adding female authors from other Spanish-speaking countries, and ultimately, male Colombian authors, as well. (So be prepared for the next reviews!)

When and where did I read it?

As I said, mostly in cafés or restaurants in Bogota, but also before going to bed. It took me less then a week to finish.

Cada persona tiene que descubrir cuáles son sus detonadores para poder vivir, pues la combustión que se produce al encenderse uno de ellos es lo que nutre de energía el alma. (p. 102)

Tejido Social

2nd practice from my creative writing seminar, also in Spanish. If the end sounds familiar to you, it might be because of this vignette.

Todos los jueves a las tres de la tarde me voy con mi suegra a la casa de una vecina. Allá en la amplia sala de un edificio de estrato cinco bogotano, nos encontramos con otra vecina más para tejer. Acabo de comenzar mi primer saco, en una lana suavecita y gris que habíamos conseguido a un precio absurdamente barato durante de un paseo a Nobsa. Yo nunca me imaginé que en algún momento iba a terminar aquí.

1977

Todo comenzó con mi primera mochila. Yo había visto tejer a mis familiares en la ranchería desde que tengo recuerdos, pero como es la tradición, mi mamá apenas me enseñó a tejer cuando comenzó el encierro. Durante estos doce meses que no salí de mi cuarto, aprendí a leer los patrones de las mochilas, y a reproducirlos yo misma. El encierro fue muy solitario, y me dio mucha rabia algunas veces. El tiempo parece no pasar en el encierro, y por eso es tan difícil acordarse de algo. Pero si me acuerdo de esa primera mochila, la que me tomó más de un mes terminar. Era roja, con tiras cafés y amarillas.

También me acuerdo de Manuel. Era el hijo de un tío de mi mamá, y durante el encierro me visitó y me habló algunas noches. Como no pude ni hablar ni ver a nadie, su compañía al otro lado de la pared me consolaba. Durante estas noches, él me contó de lo que había visto durante el día. De las visitas a Riohacha, y de la pobreza en la que vivíamos nosotros en cambio; de la prima que se murió dando luz porque no llegó el médico hasta la ranchería; de que muchas veces no había agua porque las grandes multinacionales se la aseguraban para los monocultivos, y la nueva esclavitud que se vivía como jornalero en las bananeras. Y de la guerrilla, que iba a cambiar todo eso. Aprendí mucho sobre el mundo durante estas charlas nocturnas con Manuel.

El día en que salí del encierro debería haber sido un día de fiesta, en el que me presentaban como señorita a la comunidad. Pero como no había ni qué comer, la fiesta no se dio. Me dio rabia y tristeza a la vez, y decidí que ya era hora de luchar por un futuro mejor. En la misma noche, metí una ropa a la mochila y me fui con Manuel para evitar que me casaran con algún extraño que pudiera pagarme. Y así llegué al monte. En vez de agujas, aprendí a usar el fusil, pero la costura también me sirvió para curar a algunos compañeros heridos en combate.

1997

Un día de julio, Manuel se fue para Mapiripán a reclutar gente entre los campesinos. No lo quería dejar ir solo, pero tenía que quedarme en el campamento porque en cada momento iba a dar luz. Manuelito nació unos días después, sin conocer a su papá, porque finalmente, Manuel no volvió. El Señor da y el Señor quita. Sólo mucho después nos enteramos de lo que había pasado en el pueblo-

Cuando vi por primera vez la cara de mi hijo, empecé a dudar de si todo esto de verdad valdría la pena. ¿Qué clase de vida le iba a ofrecer a mi hijo allí en el monte? Pero tras la muerte de Manuel, habría sido una madre soltera de no ser por los compañeros. Además, ¿quién le podría entregar un mundo así a su hijo, con tanta desigualdad, con tanta injusticia?

2017

Me encontré con Manuelito en la zona de concentración de Policarpa, para dejar las armas. ¡Esta grande! Y se parece mucho a su papá.

Estamos todavía construyendo las casas, y no hay baños que funcionen. Pero después de tanto tiempo en el monte, uno ya sabe como sobrevivir. En los ratos libres, Manuelito y yo hablamos mucho de su papá y de cómo eran mis primeros años en la guerrilla. Mientras tanto me dedico a tejer otra vez mochilas. Cuando todo esto se termine, queremos irnos a Bogotá a buscar a su abuela. Dizque vive en Suba.

Por las mañanas también siempre viene alguna gente de la prensa para saber como va todo por aquí. Incluso un día me entrevistaron. Tengo el recorte del artículo doblado en mi diario. Dice:

Pese al retraso, Maritza González, de 54 años y guerrillera desde los 14, está esperanzada. Estoy dejando el fusil por la aguja, dijo esta indígena Wayúu.