Although I don't need to say so, the first clipping is real and the second imaginary.
It seems relevant to mention that the sculptor lives on Rue de Riquet, although in Paris you can't be too choosy when you're an Argentine sculptor, two very difficult ways of making a life for yourself in this city. As it were, we haven't gotten to know each other all that well in those fragments of time approaching twenty years. When he called me to talk about a book of reproductions of his most recent work and asked me to write an accompanying text, I told him what was always appropriate in such cases: that either he should show me his sculptures and then we'd see about that or, rather, we'd see about that later on.
That night I went to his apartment where we began with coffee and friendly jabs, both of us feeling what one cannot help feeling when one person shows another his work. Then came that almost always fearful moment in which the bonfires of the home would be lit; otherwise one would have to acknowledge, covering it up with words, that the firewood, emitting more smoke than heat, was still wet. Earlier on the phone, he had talked about his works, a series of small sculptures whose common theme was violence at all political and geographical parts which man could reach as wolf to man. We knew something about all this, two more Argentines rising on a wave of memories, the daily accumulation of horror from cables, letters and sudden silence. While we were talking, he went to clear off a table; then he sat me down in a convenient armchair and began bringing out his sculptures. They were all placed under flattering light, obviously planned out beforehand, and I was allowed to examine them slowly, in time turning them and examining them from all sides. Now we hardly exchanged a word; it was the sculptures who were speaking, and their speech continued to be ours, one after the other until we had a good dozen or so. They were small and filiform, loamy and plastered, born from wires or bottles patiently wrapped by fingers and palette knifes and growing, from empty cans and objects which only the sculptor's confidence allowed me to recognize, into bodies and heads, arms and hands. It was late at night; from the streets we could hear the faint noise of heavy trucks and ambulance sirens.
What I particularly liked about the sculptor's work was that there was no system. Nothing was too explicit; each piece contained something enigmatic, making it often necessary to keep gazing at each object, gazing and gazing as the minutes slipped by, in order to understand the manner in which violence was expressed. At the same time the sculptures seemed both ingenious and subtle. In any case, there was no alarmism or sentimental extortion. Even torture, the ultimate form of violence carried out in the horror of immobility and isolation, was not evident in the dubious minutia of so many posters, texts and films now returning to my equally dubious memory, equally too quick to retain certain images and reduce them to who knows what kind of obscure complacency.
I thought that if I were to write the text the sculptor had asked me to write, If I write what you're asking me to write, I said to him, it will be a text like these pieces; I would never allow myself that ease of expression so filthily abundant in this type of work.
"That's your business, Noemí," he said to me. "I know it's not easy. Our memories are so awash in blood that sometimes one feels guilty of putting up limits, of handling them so that they don't flood over us."
"You're preaching to the choir. Look at this clipping: I know the woman whose name is signed at the bottom, and I found out some things from reports of friends. Three years passed as if it were last night, just like it could happen at the same moment in Buenos Aires or Montevideo. Just before leaving to come over to your place, I opened the letter of a friend and found the clipping. Pour me another cup of coffee while I read this to you; in reality, I don't need to read it after what you've shown me here today. But who knows, I think I'd feel better if you read it as well."
What he read was this:
I, the undersigned, Laura Beatriz Bonaparte Bruschtein, residing at Atoyac, number 26, district 10, Colonia Cuauhtémoc, Mexico 5, Mexico City, would like to share the following testimony with the general public:
1. Aída Leonora Bruschtein Bonaparte, born May 21, 1951 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a literacy tutor by profession.
Fact: At ten o'clock in the morning on December 24, 1975, Aída Leonora Bruschtein Bonaparte was kidnapped by members of the Argentine National Army (Batallion 601) at her workplace, in Villa Miseria Monte Chingolo, near the Federal Capital.
On the day previous, this site had witnessed a battle which had resulted in more than a hundred casualties, including civilians. After being kidnapped, my daughter was taken to the military garrison of Battalion 601.
There she was brutally tortured, just like all the other women. Those who survived were shot that Christmas night. Among them was my daughter.
The burial of those killed in battle and the kidnapped citizens, as in the case of my daughter, was delayed by about five days. All the bodies, including hers, were carried by bulldozers from the battalion to the commissary of Lanús, from there to the cemetery of Avellaneda, where they were buried in a common grave.
I kept looking at the last sculpture left atop the table which prevented me from watching the sculptor as he read in silence. Only now did I hear the tick-tock of the clock hands coming from the hall; it was the only thing audible at this moment; outside, the streets were becoming more and more deserted; this light sound came to me like a metronome of the night, an attempt to keep alive the time contained within that needle by which we were both being measured. Time that had reached a room in Paris and a miserable neighborhood in Buenos Aires, that abolished calendars and left us face-to-face with this, confronted with what we could only call this, with all of our qualifications used up, the tired and filthy gestures of horror.
"Those who survived were shot that Christmas night," the sculptor read aloud. "Perhaps they also gave them bread and cider. Remember that in Auschwitz children were given candy before being forced into the gas chambers."
He must have picked up on something in my expression, because he made a gesture of apology, lowered his eyes and looked for another cigarette.
Officially, I learned of the murder of my daughter on January 8, 1976, in the eighth court of the city of La Plata. I was later referred to the commissary of Lanús where, after three hours of interrogation, I was told where the grave was located. The only thing I was offered to see of my daughter were her hands severed from her body and placed in a jar that bore the number 24. What remained of her body could not be handed over because it was a military secret. The following day I went to the cemetery in Avellaneda looking for tombstone 28. The commissary had informed me that there I would find, "what remained of her, because what we were given could not be properly termed bodies." The grave was an area of earth recently displaced, five meters square, more or less at the back of the cemetery. I know its location. It was awful to realize how more than a hundred people were murdered and buried, among them my daughter.
2. In light of this dreadful situation and the indescribable cruelty of January 1976, I, residing at Lavalle street 730, fifth floor, new district, in the Federal Capital, charge the Argentine Army with murder. I am pursuing my case in the same La Plata tribunal, in the eighth civil court.
"You see, all of this does us no good," said the sculptor, barring the air with an outstretched arm. "No good at all, Noemí. I spend months putting together all this shit, you write books, this woman denounces atrocities, we go to conventions and round table discussions to protest, and we almost come to believe that things are changing. And then it takes two minutes to read the truth yet again, so that ..."
"Shush, I'm also thinking about a few things right now," I said with the fervor of someone who had to say exactly that. "If one just accepted these things, it would be the equivalent of sending them a telegram of support. Moreover, you know full well that tomorrow you're going to get up and spend time assembling another sculpture. And you'll also know that Ill be in front of my typewriter and you'll think that we're many although we're actually few, and that the disparity in forces is not and never will be a reason to keep quiet. End of sermon. Did you finish reading? Well then, I have to go."
He gestured negatively, pointing to the coffee pot.
Consequent to this legal recourse, the following facts occurred:
3. In March 1976, Adrián Saidón, a twenty-four-year-old Argentine, employee, and my daughter's fiancé, was murdered in the streets of the city of Buenos Aires by the police, who notified his father.
His body was not handed over to his father, Dr. Abraham Saidón, because it was a military secret.
4. Santiago Bruschtein, an Argentine, born December 25, 1918, father of my murdered daughter previously mentioned in this document, a biochemical doctor by profession in the laboratories of the city of Morón.
Fact: On June 11, 1976, at twelve noon, a group of military officers dressed in mufti arrived at his apartment on Lavalle street, fifth floor, apartment nine. My husband, attended by a nurse, was in his bed in an almost terminal state owing to a heart attack he had incurred, and with a prognosis of three months to live. The soldiers asked him about me and our children, and added: How dare a son-of-a-bitch Jew charge the Argentine Army with murder. Then they forced him to get up and, beating him, forced him into a car without letting him take his medication with him.
Eyewitnesses have confirmed that for detainment purposes, the Army and the police employ about twenty cars. We never heard from him again. Through unofficial sources we learned that he died suddenly at the beginning of the torture.
"And I'm here, thousands of miles away, discussing with my editor what type of paper should be used for the pictures of the sculptures, the format and the cover."
"Bah, sweetheart, these days I've been writing a story talking about nothing less than the psy-cho-lo-gi-cal problems of a girl going through puberty. Don't start torturing yourself; I think we have enough of the real thing."
"I know, Noemí, I know, dammit. But it's always the same, we always have to recognize that all this happened in another space and time. We were never there nor will we ever be there, perhaps ..."
(I recalled something I had read as a girl, perhaps by Augustin Thierry, a story in which someone, God knows what he was called now, had been trying to convert Clovis and his nation to Christianity. When he was describing to Clovis the flagellation and crucifixion of Jesus, the king leapt out of his throne brandishing his spear and shouting: "Ah! If only I had been there with my Franks!" – the marvel of impossible desire, the same impotent mania of the sculptor lost in his reading.)
5. Patricia Villa, Argentine, born in Buenos Aires in 1952, journalist working for the agency Inter Press Service and the sister of my daughter-in-law.
Fact: She, like her fiancé Eduardo Suárez, a journalist as well, was arrested in September 1976. They were transported as prisoners to the general coordination office of the Federal Police of Buenos Aires. A week after her daughter's abduction, her mother, who had taken the pertinent legal actions, was informed that they had regrettably made a mistake. Their bodies have not been returned to their families.
6. Irene Mónica Bruschtein Bonaparte de Ginzberg, twenty-two years of age, a visual artist by profession, married to Mario Ginzberg, master builder, twenty-four years old.
Fact: On the day of March 11, 1977, at six in the morning, forces comprising members of the Army and police force arrived at their apartment. They abducted the parents and left their two children, Victoria, two years and six months old, and Hugo Roberto, one year and six months old, abandoning them at the door of the building. We immediately took recourse to habeas corpus, I in the consulate in Mexico and Mario's father, my in-law, in the Federal Capital.
I have pleaded for my daughter Irene and for Mario, denouncing this horrific sequence of events to the United Nations, the OAS, Amnesty International, the European Parliament, the Red Cross, etc.
Nevertheless, I still have yet to receive any information on their place of incarceration. I maintain the firm hope that they are still alive.
As a mother prevented from returning to Argentina owing to the persecution of my family as I have described, and by virtue of the fact that my legal recourses have been annulled, I call upon those institutions and persons who are engaged in defending human rights, so that the process may be initiated for the return of my daughter Irene and her husband Mario and so that their life and freedom may be safeguarded. Signed, Laura Beatriz Bonaparte Bruschtein (From El País, October 1978, reprinted in "Denuncia," December 1978).