domingo, 9 de julio de 2017

Las orquídeas negras de Mariana Callejas (o el centro cultural de la DINA)

"Las orquídeas negras de Mariana Callejas (o el centro cultural de la DINA)"
by Pedro Lemebel
Chile, 1994

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).

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