E la nave va: On Borges and the Unrepentant Videla

Jorge Luis Borges (1900-1986).

A friend of mine just emailed me about the passing of Rafael Videla, the military dictator who ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1981, after leading a coup against then president and Peron’s widow, Isabel. His was one of the most vicious military regimes in Latin American history, responsible for the killing and/or disappearance of tens of thousands of his countrymen. He certainly will not be missed by most of us but I hope we never forget him either, nor what he did — I hope that by keeping him in our collective memory we may never have to face another monster like him in the future.

My friend also emailed me a link to a fragment of the book Disposición final,[1. Reato, Ceferino. Disposición final. La confesión de Videla sobre los desaparecidos. Bs As: Editorial Sudamericana, 2012] by Argentine journalist Ceferino Reato, in which the author transcribes Videla’s account of his meeting with Borges and Sábato in 1976, just a few months after the coup.

The official rationale for this meeting was to request Videla the liberation of fellow writer Haroldo Conti, who was arrested the previous May and never seen again — till today. Videla recalls his encounter with the writers, their flattering and gratuitousness, and how neither Borges nor Sábato never mentioned Conti or any other missing writer. Particularly interesting is this fragment narrated by Reato:

Los diarios de la época contaron que la comida duró casi dos horas, y que a la derecha de Videla se sentó Castellani, a la izquierda Sábato y enfrente Borges. Ratti y Villarreal completaron la mesa. Un mozo les sirvió budín de verduras con salsa blanca, ravioles y ensalada de frutas con crema o dulce de leche. Y vino tinto Bianchi 1887 y San Felipe blanco.

The newspapers of the time informed that the lunch lasted nearly two hours, and Castellani sat to the right of Videla, Sabato to the left and Borges in front. Ratti and Villarreal completed the table. A waiter served them vegetables pudding with white sauce, ravioli and fruit salad with cream or dulce de leche. And red Bianchi wine 1887 some white San Felipe.

Almuerzo de Borges y Sábato con Videla (octubre 1976).

Doesn’t the seating arrangement tell you something about the real symbolism of this meeting? The priest[2. Leonardo Castellani (1899-1981) was an Argentine Jesuit priest, poet, and essayist.] sat to the right, the liberal to the left and… well, Borges… up front. And please don’t forget the wine! Just a hint, remember that the original meaning of the word Eucharist (in Spanish eucaristía) is: thanksgiving.

By the way, back in the time I wrote a post about another one of Borges’ “almuerzos,” this time with Chile’s own monster, Augusto Pinochet.