June 20, 2013
Argentina, through an English lens
A centuries-old love/hate relationship between two countries
LONDON — Travelling in England over the past fortnight, I suddenly thought of a perfect title for another book that I will never write. The Best of Enemies would tell the story of the love/hate relationship between two countries, Argentina and England.
I specify England and not Great Britain or the United Kingdom because the Irish, the Scots and the Welsh have places apart from the English in the history of Anglo-Argentine relations. The Irish came to Argentina (and did very well) to escape penury under English rule, the ever independent Scots came as pioneers and the Welsh came to establish their own nation in Patagonia to be as far away as possible from assimilation into and domination by English-language culture. It is the English, not the Irish or the Scots or the Welsh who are popular villains in the eyes of many Argentines.
The reason may be that the English, whom, of course, were not all English, were seen as part of the Argentine establishment because they held managerial positions on the railways or in other British-owned companies. Yet, as a book with a title that is far better than mine reveals, the hated English always had their Argentine admirers. Historian Ema Cibotti’s 2006 book Queridos enemigos: De Beresford a Maradona, la verdadera historia de las relaciones entre ingleses y argentinos published by Aguilar in 2006 tells the real story of a troubled relationship. The blurb of her book, which I will purchase as soon as I get to Buenos Aires in few months, is on her blog at http://emacibotti.wordpress.com/
“We learned as children that England — as we usually call the United Kingdom — is our enemy and has been so from 1806 to today. But if that were true would patriots such as Mariano Moreno or Manuel Belgrano have formed alliances with them? Would San Martín have accepted the help of the British community established in these lands or taken into consideration the conduct of the English minister George Canning? When Rosas decided to exile himself in Great Britain had he forgotten that only a few years earlier he himself had taken up arms against the ‘pirate’ fleet of the English and the French?”
There is an excellent interview with her on the Argentine Independent website: http://www.ar-gentinaindependent.com/the-arts/literature-culture/queridos-enemigos-the-true-history-of-anglo-argentine-relations/
Also published on her blog is Jorge Luis Borges’ magnificent poem about the Malvinas/Falklands conflict, Juan López y John Ward. (Please forgive my translation):
Their destiny was to meet in a strange time. /
The planet had been parcelled into different countries, each one provided with loyalties, loving memories of a past without doubt heroic, with rights, offences, with a peculiar mythology with founding fathers in bronze, with anniversaries, with demagogues and with symbols. This division, dear
to the mapmakers, fostered
the wars. /
López had been born in the city next to the motionless sea; Ward in the outskirts of the city where Father Brown walked. /
The other professed his love for Conrad, who had been revealed to him in a classroom on Viamonte Street. /
They could have been friends, but they only saw each other face to face in some islands made unnecessarily famous, and each one of the two was Cain and each one, Abel. /
They buried them together. Snow and decomposition know them. /
The event to which I refer occurred in a time that we cannot understand.
One of the joys that more than compensates for the agony sometimes involved in writing a column are the contributions of readers. I am indebted to the indefatigable “Sapo,” an anonymous Argentinophile who later revealed himself to me, for bringing to my attention a story, told by the BBC, which parallels the tragedy of Juan López and John Ward. The difference between the narratives of two men meeting through the Malvinas/Falklands war is that Neil Wilkinson and Mariano Velasco met in life, not in death.
Neil Wilkinson was a 22-year-old gunner aboard HMS Intrepid who shot down an Argentine jet fighter and was haunted ever afterwards by the thought that he had killed a man. Thanks to our age of electronic communication, Neil learned that the pilot of the plane he downed, Flight Lieutenant Mariano Velasco, ejected from his plane and had survived. The BBC arranged for Wilkinson to travel to Argentina where he was invited to the home of now retired Commodore Mariano Velasco, who welcomed him as a friend.
You can see the two men as they meet face to face in this YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com-/watch?v=rb0OHA8m_ak&feature=-youtube_gdata_player
Mariano Velasco has an epic story to tell of his survival, told in an interview in Spanish in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JdyKq0Yvsk.
I was haunted during my visit to my native England by thoughts of the Islands and the war that Borges, I think rightly, described as “absurd.” Its absurdity is one of the reasons it was such a tragedy. Yet the camaraderie that has united men who fought each other reminds me of the lines in Borges’ poem, “They could have been friends.”
Here in London I read about Buenos Aires-born Marianela Núñez, the prima ballerina of The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, who spoke about her life and her love for London. And London has fallen for her. Remarks I heard: “She’s a cup cake — I just love her accent.” In this video you can see her rehearse with Sir Kenneth Macmillan, and, even, join, by video, a celebration of her birthday. http://www.youtube.com/-watch?v=94R2Rm1KW6w.
Argentinophiles and Anglophiles, Unite. You have nothing to lose but the absurd idea that two nations so closely tied by history are enemies. Like Juan and John we could all be friends.