"Las orquídeas negras de Mariana Callejas (o el centro cultural de la DINA)"
by Pedro Lemebel
If this nightmarish two-page chronicle sounds like something straight out of a Roberto Bolaño novel, maybe that's because it helped inspire one. At the height of the Pinochet dictatorship in the mid-1970s, a black-clad diva named Mariana Callejas presided over a swanky literary salon at her home in Santiago de Chile's exclusive Lo Curro neighborhood. Callejas, well-known for her anti-Marxist views and apparently no stranger to the "aleteo buitre" ["vulturous flapping of wings"] of the secret police's unmarked cars in their comings and goings through this quiet, residential part of the capital, still managed to draw a crowd composed of the country's "jet set artístico" ["artistic jet set"]--an artistic elite that Lemebel (1952-2015, above) icily describes as "la desinvuelta clase cultural de esos años que no creía en historias de cadáveres y desaparecidos" ["the self-assured cultural class of those years which didn't believe in stories of cadavers and the disappeared"]. As time went on, though, this head in the sand posture became more difficult to maintain even for those most enamored of the free alcohol and the avant-garde aesthetic debates that flowed in abundance at Callejas' soirées. Lemebel, who says he learned of the story as a 20-something and discussed his 1994 newspaper account of it with Bolaño shortly before the latter penned Nocturno de Chile [Chile by Night], explains that "todo el mundo veía y prefería no mirar, no saber, no escuchar" ["everybody saw and preferred not to look at, not to know anything about, not to hear"] any of the horrors beginning to be revealed by the international press even as Callejas' explanation of the accounts as "pura literatura tremendista" ["pure sensationalist literature"] meant to discredit the government rang hollow amid the telltale signs of something seriously wrong at her own house; it would later be revealed that the dying roses in the garden--supposedly caused by Callejas' husband's experiments with a gas to exterminate rats--and the intermittent surges in power at her parties that would make lights flicker and music be interrupted were due to state-sponsored torture sessions down in the basement where stray screams would occasionally punctuate the literary criticism and the "silencio necrófilo" ["necrophiliac silence"] that otherwise reigned supreme up above.
"Las orquídeas negras de Mariana Callejas (o el centro cultural de la DINA)" ["Mariana Callejas' Black Orchids (or the DINA's Cultural Center)"] first appeared in the Chilean newspaper La Nación in 1994. It also appears as part of a book full of other Lemebel writings on pp. 112-114 of the collection Poco hombre. Crónicas escogidas (Santiago: Ediciones Universidad Diego Portales, 2013).