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In this hilarious, erotic, and political tragicomedy, two dashing young aristocrats embark on a journey to witness the comeback of their idol -- the sublime Italian actress Eleonora Duse. Duse's encounters with...
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In this hilarious, erotic, and political tragicomedy, two dashing young aristocrats embark on a journey to witness the comeback of their idol -- the sublime Italian actress Eleonora Duse. Duse's encounters with the men reveal a new side to the myth they imagined -- a wearied, reclusive woman, haunted by the fragility of love, and beset by an inordinate intimacy with death. With iconoclastic elegance, Orlando Rodríguez reveals the mystery of a world long forgotten, of two cosmopolitan centers outside Europe and America, where the ruling class had as much fun as anyone else, and, like everyone else, suffered the consequences.
Wen has two idols, and a scrapbook dedicated to each one of them. He lives in pursuit of any photographs of his two favorite characters published in magazines and newspapers. And if in the waiting room of a doctor's office, or in the house of a friend, he finds a snapshot worthy of his collection, he rips it outwithout hesitation -- sometimes surreptitiously, sometimes shamelessly -- and puts it away in his jacket pocket, feeling not an ounce of guilt.
One of his idols is Luis Vicentini, the Chilean lightweight boxer who is poised to claim the crown from world champion Manny Leonard. Wen lives to extol the greatness of Vicentini's body, his smile, the way an upstart ringlet of black hair falls on his brow, of those mouthwatering biceps, and of those hairy and solid legs with perfectly round knees. I have always thought it peculiar that Wen would choose a lightweight as the object of his devotion. Had it been me, I would have been more inclined to choose a pugilist of greater heft, for I am an enthusiast of the flesh, but in any case ... Wen follows the news of the Chilean's bouts closely, looking up the results in the sports pages of El Tiempo and throwing small parties to celebrate each victory, as he did when Vicentini knocked out Jimmy Carroll in Madison Square Garden.
As soon as he read the article that detailed the victory, he phoned Esmeralda Gallego, and together they decided to put together a kermesse that would take place in my apartment. Esmeralda thought that only twelve guests should attend the feast, one for each round of the fight, and Wen found the idea superb. In no time at all, they drew up a guest list and urgently sent off to the printer invitations that included Wen's favorite picture of Vicentini, one where he is shirtless, in his boxing shorts, staring at the camera and threatening his unseen rival with clenched fists.
The party was a great success, and in spite of a constant chilly drizzle, none of the guests failed to attend. All of us were dressed in black tie, as the invitation dictated. Esmeralda Gallego sported a gauzy white dress (more than substantially low cut), fishnet stockings, a striking blue turban, and to match this, a turquoise ring, the stone the size of a quail egg. The effect was tantalizing; but if you wanted to be bitchy, you could have well said that she looked like a badlywrapped tamale.
The scrapbook dedicated to the Chilean stud presided overthe festivities. Itwas placed on a cedar console next to a vase of lilies, open to a page with a picture of Vicentini at the instant that the referee raised his arm in victory. Wen swears that this image makes him hyperventilate every time he sees it, for few things in this world are as enticing to him as the armpit hairs of his favorite boxer.
Esmeralda saw to it that Toña, la negra from Chocó who was my nursemaid, my Chocoana, received specific directions relating to the victuals, and, very much in keeping with Toña's style, she surprised us with an eclectic menu consisting of empanadas, picadillo wraps, pork soup with neck bones, House of Lords whiskey, and Pommery champagne. We all praised her bizarre combination and gorged like pigs.
During the first hour we gossiped about the theft of the monstrance at the church in Paipa; about General Pedro Nel Ospina's government and the inadequacy of his cabinet; about the magnificent and relatively cheap Packard with six cylinders and room for seven passengers, which was for sale at the shop in La Granja; about the precious silver tea set that Alvarito Certaín won in a charity raffle; about how, in Barranquilla, the latest craze was "ice cream dances," a cheap imitation of the tea dances of the grand hotels in the capital; about who was the greatest soprano in Colombia -- Doña Matilde de Camacho or Señorita María Olarte Ordóñez; about the miracle French cream Chesebrough; about how underappreciated the new "queen" at the universitywas; and about how handsome -- drop-dead handsome -- Frank Appleby, the golf instructor at the country club, was and aboutwhether or not certain rumors about his return to his native England were true. But the main topic of discussion was, of course, Vicentini.
Wen raised his glass, and, in a voice almost drowned with emotion, dedicated the first toast of the evening to the resounding and continued success of the boxer. He announced that the Tower of Iron had fallen defeated at the feet of the eminent gladiator, and went on with other such gushy exclamations, predicting that in the upcoming year of 1924, Luisito would become king of the lightweights. We all raised our drinks -- some of us because we were trulytouched, others out of mere courtesy -- and we clinked glasses to the great success of the sportsman who was thousands of miles away from us, unaware of the fuss being made over his victory by eleven gentlemen and an eccentric painter. I doubted if poor Luisito had the slightest inkling of the existence of this city founded on a high plateau by a conquistador, who fancied himself an intellectual, in the name of Carlos V, of this place mobbed with politicians and priests, which even today, four centuries later, does not yet have a decent roadway to connect it to the rest of the country -- of the tiny, chilly, gray Santa Fe de Bogotá. No, I suppose Luisito had no idea.
The party almost ended in disaster.
Near midnight, after almost five or six bottles of the bubbly Pommery had been uncorked, the House of Lords flowed abundantly, bottoms-up, and there was not a crumb left of the wraps or empanadas, Wen stood up, grabbed the scrapbook, and asked for silence, so that he could show the gathered guests his collection of memories of Vicentini. Immediately all conversations came to an end and he began his discourse.The Last Masquerade
Posted June 3, 2005