Tuesday, December 10, 2013

With Argentina

  The servants were preparing 
  the dining-room for the eve- 
  ning's reception. The after-
  noon sun squeezed through the 
  velvet draperies and bounced 
  off a runway of white damask, 
  reflecting light over walls 
  of Cordoba leather and a 
  painting of amorous geese by 
  Picasso's father, Ruiz Blasco.

  And then, poof, Argentina
  had gone, as if the canvas
  had been not a forgery, but
  another character of fraud, 
  an unblinkable hypocrisy.

After the ceremony the older
generation relaxed in the win-
ter garden, attended by a maid 
in black and white, who served 
scones and pale tea. The conver-
sation turned to Indians. The Englishman of the family said:
All this business of Indian kil-
ling is being a bit overstretch-
ed. You see, these Indians were 
a pretty low sort of Indian. I 
mean, they weren't like the Az-
tecs or the Incas. No civiliza-
tion or anything. On the whole 
they were a pretty poor lot.

Bruce Chatwin brought a cura-
tor's gaze to narrative proven-
ance. If he were a novelist, we'd know the painting were ironic, the shock would be diffused. But would we have Argentina?

This would be a sacrifice, of hunger, inquiry, love and aspiration we are not consti-tuted to make, short of the subtlest torment. We recognise the decor of Star Chamber. Who doesn't know by heart the lines of this play in his own langu-age, his own voice? We don't want to give up Chatwin, belonging by art as he might not have done to a life, he's just described in so few words. We don't want to give him up because he wrote for people who were friends of ours, whom one can remember through him, for whom we have left the table to drive off in the night to be with, them, hundreds of miles away. The season of our ceremo-nies brings the tableau back. And Argentina?

Bruce Chatwin
In Patagonia
  67:  The Ceremony
op. cit.

Tennessee Williams
The Glass Menagerie
New Directions, 1966©

Kevin Flamme

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