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It was 30th May, deep autumn in Argentina. The streetlights had been turned on an hour earlier, just as I was entering the house/museum. Now inside, it was dark, silent, warm and cozy.
Magda Konopacka de Bruzzone brought two cups of tea upstairs, after locking the gate. For a while, we sat in silence.
“Now tell me about the world outside,” she whispered, after I took my first sip.
“People are freezing to death,” I said. “Argentinean people are dying.”
She looked at me and then her eyes moved somewhere behind, way beyond me.
She was the love of his life.
To me he was one of the greatest artists of 20th century Latin America. His name was Alberto Bruzzone. Magdalena was his last wife, his muse, his model, and his companion – his everything for the last 3 decades of his life. They met when he was in his late 50’s and she was still a very young woman. They never separated. He died in 1994, here, in Mar del Plata, at the age of 87. She turned their entire house into a stunning museum and cultural center: into “Casa Bruzzone”.
And now, as I was facing Magda, she was facing almost complete darkness behind the window. The year was 2002; the autumn of 2002; that horrible autumn when the Argentinean currency collapsed, when the entire economic system collapsed, when there seemed to be no hope left, anymore.
“Yesterday, in Buenos Aires, I walked through the night,” I began to speak, slowly. “I was working, as always, at the old Café Tortoni, on Avenida de Mayo. I finished at 11 o’clock in the evening, and strolled back to my hotel, located near the crossroad of Avenida Corrientes and Uruguay. There were families sleeping on cardboards, people wrapped in towels; families that had literally been thrown out of their apartments, recently, because they couldn’t afford to stay in their own homes, anymore.”
“Were there children, too? Were children living on the streets?”
“Yes” I said. “Adults and children, cats and dogs, and there were pieces of furniture and bundles all around…”
“My God,” said Magda. “My God, my God…”
I told her about Buenos Aires and about Ushuaia, the city at the extreme south of the country, the capital of Tierra del Fuego, near Antarctica.
“You went to Ushuaia?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I wanted to understand… to see… to write… about the geographical extreme of this country… But there, at Ushuaia, nobody was dying. The snow was two meters high, and the land frozen. If someone lost their home there, he or she would die, within just a few hours. People pulled together, remarkably. They stood by each other, in silent, enormous solidarity.”
“Why are you in Argentina?” asked Magda.
“I came to fight,” I said. “To fight this beastly system: market fundamentalism; capitalist madness.”
“You are a novelist, a writer, an artist,” she smiled. “Don’t you feel like writing about the warmth of human embrace, about the melancholy of life, about the tremendous beauty of this earth?”
“Yes,” I said. “I do; I really do… But…”
“But?” She smiled.
“These people… on the streets, in the refugee camps… in destroyed villages, all over the world… I’ve seen them…”
I was very young, but she never treated me in a patronizing way. She treated me like her son.
Then she said something that changed my life. But first she got up, and sat next to me on the sofa, and held my hand.
“My husband was perfectly capable of painting the most beautiful things this life has to offer… But once, he said, and it is perhaps the most powerful thing that he ever pronounced, because it was true: ‘I cannot paint flowers; I cannot paint motherhood, when they are killing my students on the street!’”
I never forgot these words and whenever I recall them, I feel a shiver all over my body, and I feel proud to be a fighter, a resistance fighter against global fascism. I feel stronger, I feel inspired, and I feel brave. As Bruzzone did, as his wife did, as others who stand tall, do.
Magda and I spoke for one more hour. We drank wine. I understood why she inspired Alberto Bruzzone, why she helped him to become one of the greatest artists of Argentina.
To her, he was still alive. 8 years after he passed away, she was living for him, and for their common struggle and art; that was obvious.
As we parted, she embraced me, and suddenly put a substantial file into my hands. It was wrapped in a simple plastic bag.
“My husband would have liked you to have this,” she said, quietly.
The weather was stormy and it was a turbulent flight. Onboard a tiny commuter airplane bound for Buenos Aires, I took out my treasure. It was Bruzzone’s first, and signed, calligraphy collection of drawings illustrating the life and death of Anne Frank, his absolute masterpiece. It was part of a powerful anti-fascist manifesto, created by Bruzzone right after WWII, and by several other great Argentine artists, thinkers and poets.
The death of a little Jewish girl became a symbol for all of them – a symbol of the savagery of Nazism. Their work was in a way a pledge to fight against it, in whichever form and wherever it would dare to return to this planet. And they kept their pledge: they fought against it, later, in their own country, Argentina, after fascism was implanted and sustained by the Empire.
On the front page, Magdalena Bruzzone wrote in Spanish:
Let this encounter be the beginning of real action towards freedom and peace trough the art.
30.5.2002 Mar del Plata
Magda Konapacka de Bruzzone
Why did I decide to write this essay? Why now?
It is because the world appears to be facing yet another calamity, another great onslaught of fascism, this time conducted by the increasingly mad and brutal leaders of the Empire.
I am writing this because I believe that art could be as effective a weapon as a machine gun, or even more so.
I am writing this because I believe, maybe naively, but profoundly, that if confronted with beauty and creative force, that naked cruelty will always lose.
I am also writing this to say that beauty and creative force have to be accompanied by knowledge, determination and courage. During the “War on Evil”, art has to be political, although it still has to remain true art!
And above all, I am writing this, because I strongly believe that a fighter can win only while he is deeply, madly in love; never only because he hates! Alberto Bruzzone and Magda Konapacka de Bruzzone, showed a great example to the world. Their love was immortalized by their art. And their art became nothing less than a fight for the survival of humanity.
Now Argentina is free, but in so many other parts of the world, little girls, Asian girls, Palestinian girls, African girls, Haitian girls, defenseless, gentle, stargazing young women, are suffering from a terrible fate, not unlike that which Anne Frank suffered in Europe, or others suffered in Argentina, Chile or Paraguay.
I saw them; I saw these girls, these women. I often wake up in the middle of the night, and I hear them screaming.
It is my duty, our duty to protect them, to fight for them.
It is our duty to defeat fascism.
Yes, I am longing for silence, for returning to my novels, for writing poetry, in both verse and prose.
But I cannot do it yet; I refuse to do it, when people are being slaughtered and tortured by the Empire, on all the continents, day and night. And so I am writing my novels through essays, and every time I do, my keyboard feels cold and solid, like the trigger of a machinegun. This is, I imagine, how the brush felt to Alberto Bruzzone.
Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. The result is his latest book: “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”. ‘Pluto’ published his discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western Terrorism. His critically acclaimed political novel Point of No Return is re-edited and available. Oceania is his book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and the market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. His feature documentary, “Rwanda Gambit” is about Rwandan history and the plunder of DR Congo. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.