I was a young teacher very much impressed by his stories which I had been teaching. Twenty years later on a return visit to Buenos Aires, where I grew up, I met him again.
Robert Louis Stevenson
It was a sultry morning in Buenos Aires as I walked up the hill from Retiro station across Plaza San Martin to meet Jorge Luis Borges, one of the master writers of the century, in his downtown apartment on the fourth floor of an antiquated building. Questions ricocheted back and forth in my mind about him, his controversial public image gleaned from magazines, T. Outside, through the iron-barred glass doors, the street shimmered in light and heat. A taxi stopped.
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In a swirl of colour and South American chic a young woman stepped out, paused a moment, then disappeared into a shop. Her self-assured swagger and yellow hair, stylishly pulled back, suddenly struck a resemblance to another, the notorious and spectacular Eva Peron dazzling the multitudes 25 years ago.
Even in the s and s, this long gone madonna of the poor, like the gaucho, the tango and the Pampas, sill stirred the North American popular fancy for the Latin spirit in such show biz productions as Evita. He had marked the turn of the century by his birth and bridged over the span of other periods and places in his stories as well as through his ancestry. Being a rather frail and near-sighted child, Borges spent much of his time among books. He grew up with such masters as Stevenson, Poe, Mark Twain, Kipling, Henry James, Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Cervantes, and so many more from whose pages he fondly quotes long passages, Eventually, he inherited the vast library of his father.
Robert Louis Stevenson
He was then 80 years old, physically frail, but a giant of the mind so much so that his eyes, blind since the s, seemed to focus and gleam intensely blue when he talked, particularly about books. I was using a small tape recorder which had an annoying ongoing cliquety sound like an old train on rusty wheels. I told Borges I was not a journalist but a teacher and a person interested in his work and life.
What is important for you; about your historical situation, living here. Why do you live in Buenos Aires? I would love to live in Europe, America. I love London, Venice. Out of respect. I love the English language too much. Cuando vine aqui encontre que la gente habla de usted como escritor y hombre como si fueses dos cosas, o dos personajes separados.
Do you think like this as well?
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Como lo explica entonces? Bueno, I was not long to discover Coleridge, De Quincey, Milton, that my life was to be a literary one. That reading and writing were all important to me.
Later I discovered travelling. I spent 5 wonderful weeks in Japan. I was invited by the Japanese Foundation. We travelled to many cities, many temples, gardens.
I talked with Buddhist monks and nuns. That was a year ago. Then I went to Egypt also. There are two countries I like to know. When you are in Japan, you feel China. Yes, true. I think it was Spencer who wrote man versus the state.
I think of the state as an evil, perhaps a necessary evil. I hate nationalism. This country is full of nationalists.
I hope things are better in Canada. Somewhat better, but there, too, the monster of nationalism has raised its ugly head.
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When I was in Canada. People talked to me about Pratt. Is he a good poet? I teach poetry and I want to ask you about Blake. His poem about the tiger and your own. The tiger… the labyrinth… the mirror… the dagger …do you consciously work these archetypes? No, I do my best not to meddle with what I write. B- Yes, of course.
I think English is a far finer language than Spanish. One can do many things in English that are not allowed by Spanish. Or, for example, dream away your life. Shake somebody off. Fall down and pick yourself up. Live up to some things, have to live down. Those things are possible in Germanic languages. Is there anything, you think, that can be done in Spanish and not English, particularly in poetry?
Spanish, French have been carefully worked over. Spanish… nothing much can be done with it. My grand mother, she was Norse country. She came from North Cumberland. She was Church of England. Her forefathers were Methodist preachers.
And my mother was a good Catholic. And my father was an Agnostic, or a free thinker. He had no use for a personal god. It stands for being a nationalist, for hating Jews [pained exclamation]… For being, well, a conservative. Catholicism in this country has hardly a religious background to it.
You think of it more as politics.