Courtesy of Ann Norris
Courtesy of Ann Norris
Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners, authors whose work has influenced the world and other voices that remain unheard have all been part of the Reading Club of Durango’s study of Latin America through its literature as the club celebrates its 130th year.
Until about 10 years ago, the club was a staple of this column for more than a century, but La Plata County is such a hopping place these days, I have to play catch-up every so often. Today’s column is so often.
At the beginning of February, members gathered at the home of Deb Barnes to hear a program about The Official Story, a book that became a movie, which focuses on the disappeared or “los desaparecidos” in Argentina. Those were the people, often dissidents or people associated with suspected dissidents, who were imprisoned, and killed by the junta that overthrew the government in 1976 and ruled until 1983.
As many as 30,000 people were disappeared in Argentina, often after they were detained and tortured for some time. A popular method was to drug them and put weights on them, then fly them out over the Atlantic and drop them out of the plane. With no bodies, there was no proof of murder.
The Official Story is about the wife of a prosperous Argentine businessman who discovers, to her horror, that her beloved adopted daughter was taken from a pregnant woman who became one of the disappeared. Members Dot Larson and Sandra Mapel gave members a perspective on the situation and showed scenes from the film. It was a powerful lesson about how the ripple effects from such inhumanity can affect everyone in a society.
I had to wonder what the founding members of the Reading Club, all proper Victorian ladies, would think of the multimedia programs members give these days, with movies, CDs and PowerPoint presentations.
Gisele Pansze, whose family is originally from Argentina, said her family has been affected two ways by the government in the country. First, the family business was nationalized. And while no one in her immediate family was disappeared, they, like much of the population at the time, lived in constant fear and tried to be invisible.
Another great book on the subject is Jacobo Timmerman’s Prisoner without a Name, Cell without a Number.
Unfortunately, this kind of activity is all too common in Latin America. More than 45,000 people were disappeared in Guatemala in the 1980s and early 1990s. And after Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s violent overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, thousands were imprisoned, tortured and killed, including some Americans. That came into the study at Thursday’s program by yours truly on Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
After a long, prodigiously productive career and controversial political stands – Neruda was a Communist – he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. Less than two years later, he was dead, with varying reported causes of prostate cancer and heart failure, just 12 days after the coup.
But there’s an interesting coda to the story. In 2011, an investigation began as to whether he might have been murdered in the clinic where he was taken for medical treatment. Evidence has come out that other people who might pose a threat the regime – and Neruda, with his passionate poetry, would certainly be on that list – were murdered by poisonous injection in that same clinic.
The manner of death, however, is less important than the tremendous legacy he left with his writing. From Veinte Poemas de Amor y Una Canción Desesperada, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Desperation, his first major work as a young man not yet 20, to his epic poem 12 years in the making, Canto General, or General Song, about the history of Latin America, his work is a powerful reflection of the 20th century.
Hostess Mary Jane Basye’s lovely Ticolote home had gorgeous views in every direction. In addition to serving a number of homemade toppings for bruschettas – she has been taking Italian lessons in preparation for a trip to Italy – she made some killer cream puffs filled with lemon curd. Yum.
Another program featured Beverly Darmour, the club’s only lifetime member, since she joined in 1964, talking about The Bridge of San Luís Rey. The book won the 1928 Pulitzer Award for author Thornton Wilder. Darmour also made an impassioned appeal for all of us to read other Pulitzer winners, many of them the best books of the 20th century. That meeting was held at the home of Carol Grenoble.
Karren Little did double duty for her program, also serving as hostess with Diane Skinner. (Killer phyllo pastries.) She analyzed the magical realism that is one of the hallmarks of Latin American literature, as seen in the works of Mexican author Laura Esquível.
Her most known work in the U.S. is Como Agua Para Chocolate, Like Water for Chocolate, but Little also looked at Swift as Desire and Malinche, Esquível’s most recent, which gives Cortez’ interpreter when he conquered Mexico a more fair hearing. She was long considered a great traitor by the native peoples, but Esquível makes the case that the Spanish were much less brutal because of her influence.
March’s programs featured Deb Barnes speaking on author Julia Alvarez, who wrote In the Time of Butterflies and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Alvarez, who was born in the U.S., spent much of her youth in the Dominican Republic until her family was forced to flee back to the States after her father was involved in a failed coup to overthrow military dictator Rafael Trujillo.
And Pansze got a chance to share her Argentinian heritage when she discussed its best known author, Jorge Luis Borges. She dressed in the garb of her homeland to talk about the author of Ficciones and El Aleph, who was multilingual and became the director of the National Library of Argentina. He grew progressively more blind in his later years, and some critics credit the blindness with his ability to create innovative literary symbols through his imagination. That program took place at the home of Mapel, who served a buffet complete with beautiful, and divine, basil-mousse tarts.
The last time I wrote about Reading Club, I shared some of the new words members had learned. It’s a tradition that goes back decades.
That got a tremendous response from readers, so here are a few more tidbits.
Jalousies are a kinds of blind made of slats, which are common in warm climates. The word comes from the French for jealousy, and refers to the ability to see without being seen and the women kept in seclusion in the Middle East.
Wolfram is an old word for tungsten, similar to quicksilver for mercury. And umami is a savoriness, one of the five basic tastes along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Umami was recognized in 1985 as the taste of glutamates and nucleotides. Sounds delicious doesn’t it?
No one can say they didn’t learn anything while reading Neighbors today!
Here’s wishing these folks happy birthday despite the fact that their birthdays take place around tax-filing day – Carter Koch, Bryan Bauer, Erika Good, Emma Hallin, Elaine Hartnett, Parker Perkerewicz, Jonathan Thompson, Donna Alsdurf, Suzanne Washburn, Rebecca Awe, Martina Pansze, Emil Nagy, Rachel Overington, Lew Patton, Allison Barker, Stella Best, David Smith, Cheryle Brandsma, Ian Gordon, Staci Latham, Randy Glenn, Gary Conrad, EricCopeland, Feather Smith, Tanya Mayberry, George Mayberry and last, but far from least, Joe T. Silva, who turns 91 on Monday.
This column officially marks my 12th anniversary of writing Neighbors. Thanks to the Herald for giving me the opportunity to chronicles the best of the community, and all of you for reading and trusting me with your stories. Here’s to a lucky 13!
Nothing says happy anniversary like cuddling for warmth when winter makes a surprise return in the middle of April for David and Janine Bulen, Paul and Pat Root, Ralph and Sara Campano, George and Melodie San Miguel and Michael and Linda Buehler.
For information on upcoming events and fundraisers, check Local Briefs.
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