. .

Amoité

by Claudia de Bella

Argentine future persists in tracing itself
onto the present in such a way that
anticipation exercises are absolutely meritless
.

Julio Cortázar

Let’s take a look at the future.

Only twenty years have passed, starting from today. Sometime in the year 2013, a line of people is waiting for their turn to get their pre-employment interview at one of the sophisticated personnel-searching agencies. Despite this being in the near future, it is a time that is much more complex than we can imagine, and the agencies are carrying out a task that has finally become more closely related to the slave market than to the performance of a service. Newspapers barely show any news; agencies buy up every available advertising space, as well as every slot for journalism , in their bid to offer their new ultra-technological personnel-selection methods. That the lack of employment is higher than twenty years before doesn’t stop them, since their main source of income is the subsidies companies grant them in order to interview a thousand applicants for one single position. Their structure remains firm and continues to grow; whether they secure a job for anyone or not is just a mere detail.

But let’s step into the scene. As we have said: year 2013, agency, people waiting, Argentine city.

At the desk that is not a desk anymore, but just a slim support for a fallaciously simplified computer terminal, with a horizontal extension to one side for CDs, sheets of paper, and several other items (twenty years haven’t been enough to banish ashtrays and coffee-cups), we can see the interviewer, who doesn’t really interview but rather restricts himself to asking routine questions, the answers to which he then enters into the data bank. The machine is supposed to suggest the section where the applicant must be transferred to, according to whatever personnel searches are occurring. It’s understood, of course, that if no personnel searches are going on, as it too frequently happens, the application will be moved to some section with a confusing name, such as “DATA STOCK”1 or the like (twenty years haven’t been enough, either, to ban the idiotic habit of using a foreign language to suggest mystery or importance), where the unemployed will be buried forever in some memory device, behind the impressive façade of a carpeted office filled with beautiful secretaries.

At this very moment, the interviewer is questioning a modish young woman: shaved head, orange robe, tiny cymbals hanging from her right forefinger and thumb (it’s summer and the Hare Krishna style is in fashion — even though it was laughed at some years ago — thanks to the recycling activity some representatives of the haute couture insist on calling creation in order to conceal the fact that they have run out of ideas). The interviewer is almost another office machine, speaking in a monotonous voice – a kind of prehistoric cyborg.

“Name.”

“Romina Vanessa Castilla.”

“Age.”

“Twenty-six.”

“Education.”

“Computer programming.”

“Profession.”

“Computer programmer.”

“Speciality.”

“Well, I’ve specialized in accounting programs, but up to now… up to now I’ve only worked as an operator.”

“Speciality: operator,” the interviewer says as he enters the information.

The young woman can’t hide her grudging, frustrated look, while the machine displays a list (an extremely short list) of available positions.

“Our searches indicate three openings, but women are not welcome in one of them.” Our automaton gives the young woman a look of contempt, as if he had perpetrated the requirement himself. Then he goes on, remembering his obligation to remain neutral. “As for the second, you must be willing to settle down in the under-populated area.”

The young woman shakes her head energetically. Needing a job is one thing, but burying oneself alive in a miserable slum — like those that have been burgeoning everywhere since the country was admitted into the First World — is something completely different. Leaving the charming discomforts of the megalopolis behind is absolutely out of the question.

“The last one,” continues the interviewer, “is a three-month replacement.”

“All right… I could try that.”

“Fine. Your application number is 428.”

The automaton proceeds to describe in full detail the necessary arrangements for an interview at the illustrious company, as he has done with the previous 427 applicants, only one of whom, with favourable winds and the help of the Almighty, will get to enjoy the privilege of being part of the renowned company’s staff during those scanty three months.

Once the explanation is over, he calls the next applicant to his desk.

“Name.”

“Maximiliano Rodrigo Carnatti.”

“Age.”

“Thirty-four.”

“Education.”

“Er… After I finished elementary school I took a course on computer operation.”

“Profession.”

“Well, I don’t know… I used to work at a workshop, taking care of the spare-parts list in the compu… ”

“Operator,” the automaton interrupts him, entering the data.

We won’t report his conversation with this man or with the other twelve that follow. Let’s just say they are people who’ve had confidence in the future, who’ve studied what had to be studied, who’ve been eager to play an active role in the twenty-first century, and who are now finding out in that very same century, and in the worst possible way, that having learnt how to operate a computer is not enough. They number in the thousands, and are no more essential for this country’s future than the typists of yesteryear. There are too many of them, anyone can do their job, they are the lowest layers of the labour pyramid.

“Next,” the autoviewer continues in his monotone.

“That’s me,” says a man whose age is difficult to guess. His unmistakable aboriginal features, his unwrinkled dark skin and black hair, may belong to a man in his thirties.

“Name,” says the interviewmaton.

“Otazú Amoité, that’s my name.” The man answers as if that was an ordinary name, and not at all strange to anyone else.

The prehistoric cyborg can’t help glancing at him. What do we have here?

“Say what?” he asks, his voice classifying the applicant as a suspect of subversion.

“O-ta-zú A-moi-té,” the man explains.

“Are you a foreigner?” The inquisitor looks at him with suspicion, his forehead creasing as he squints a little.

Otazú smiles at him. He could be feeling sorry for the interviewer or he may just be too naive.

“No, sir. I’m from here. I’m a Guaraní; that’s why I have this name. Amoité, my last name, means ‚beyond what can be seen‘ and Otazú means… ”

“Guaraní? The Indians?” The protocyborg’s compulsory neutrality goes to hell. His life spent as a cosmopolitan citizen grants him the right to show his disdain.

“Well, yes. But we’d rather call ourselves aborigines.”

The interviewmaton decides to start questioning him. It may humour him to discover the absurd programs this Indian uses.

“Could you spell your name?” he asks.

Otazú spells it slowly, emphasising the “z” in his first name.

The inquiry continues:

“Age.”

“Twenty-eight.”

“Education.”

“Nothing formal.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s only that my parents never trusted official education. Besides, after the campaign against public school in ’98, you know, not many gratis schools were left, and we couldn’t afford the others, so… Well, what I know, I’ve learnt by myself. Reading, you know.”

“And what do you know?” The protocyborg’s angry manner indicates that he’s willing to put an end to this ridiculous interview as soon as possible.

“History, Guaraní language, Spanish, Agriculture, a little Astronomy, Geography, Philoso-”

“But you’ve never attended school.”

“No, not a school as the one you must have attended, but… All right, let’s say I don’t have an education, if you wish.”

“Of course.” The word NO appears on the corresponding line on the super-plus-max resolution screen. “Profession?”

“I’m a potter.”

“A what?”

“A potter. I make things out of clay. Pots. Plates. Jugs.”

“Which programs do you use?”

“What do you mean, programs?”

“It’s obvious. Do you create your own programs or just operate the terminal?”

“I don’t think you understand. I don’t use programs. I do it with my hands.”

The interviewmaton has reached his limit. “Listen to me, sir. This is a responsible agency. We’re not going to put up with your distasteful jokes. What have you come here for? Aren’t you ashamed of wasting our time?” The last sentence is accompanied by a wave, which includes the rest of the staff, and the line of applicants waiting behind Otazú and paying a great deal of attention to this conversation.

“You may find it strange, but I’ve come here to find a job.” Otazú doesn’t look upset.

“As a potter.”

“That’s right.”

“You can’t program or operate computers.”

“No, I can’t. I’ve read quite a lot about it, though.”

“If you don’t know anything about computers you can’t work,” says the interviewmaton. “If you don’t know computers you can’t work! If you don’t know computers, how can you work? If you don’t know computers you can’t-”

At this stage, the situation has reached a point where the efficient employee’s capacities are exceeded. Something in him has blocked up.

“-work. If you don’t know computers you can’t wo… ”

Otazú regards him sympathetically.

Fortunately, the agency manager, who is in her office and ready to take care of any disturbance or malfunction, immediately detects the sudden interruption of the standard procedure. We shouldn’t assume this is due to her extreme perception, but to the tell-tale device installed in the automaton’s chair, which turns on a light in the manager’s console every time the employee’s adrenaline level goes up. It’s basic to preserve the agency’s good image.

Glancing through the translucent office divider, the manager notices (by herself this time) the bored expression on the interviewed man’s face, and the oppressive stillness of the line of waiting people. She leaves her office and walks quickly but calmly towards the disturbance. With a quick look, she evaluates the anomaly.

“It’s all right, Ortega,” she says to the autoviewer. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of this gentleman.”

Ortega —that was his name— emerges from his seizure, immensely relieved. He stirs in his seat, clears his throat with a hysterical little cough and returns to the comfortable safety of his specific duties.

“Next,” we hear him request.

We’ll let him continue with his work. In no more than two or three years, he will surely get the promotion he deserves.

Otazú leaves the reception area and follows the formally dressed woman to an armchair in a smaller and more private room, next to her office.

The woman takes a seat opposite him, a terminal on one side and an electronic notebook on the other.

“Good morning. My name is Carolina Lusket. I manage this branch of BEST-JOB2. Please, tell me about your problem.”

Otazú explains: “To tell you the truth, I don’t have a problem at all, except that… er, I haven’t got a job. I’m a potter, as I was telling to that man outside, and-”

“A potter? Which programs do you use?”

“That’s the point. I don’t use programs. I don’t do it with a computer. I do it with my hands, the old-fashioned way.”

Mrs. Lusket has seen more of the world than Ortega has. She is a cultured person: she’s read six novels in her life, and has reviewed the contents of another hundred through the literary summary she receives once a month, together with her credit card report (an exclusive service for associates). She won’t look surprised; she’ll thoroughly analyze this oddity.

Which is how she learns that Otazú is aware of the policies applied by handicraft factories, that he knows museums are no longer interested in restoring objects. Yet, he is pleased by the uniqueness of the pieces he makes, and considers himself competent enough to give lectures in educational institutions or perhaps to be included in the staff of some anthropology college. But creation is what he likes best. At some point, he explains:

“My parents never thought I had to study computer science, really. They used to tell me that, in case I needed it, I could learn it any time. As far as they were concerned, the most important thing for me to do was to become familiar with my world, my ancestors, my history, to become an open-minded person who’d be able to succeed, no matter the situation. That’s why… ”

Whatever the Indian is talking about, Mrs. Lusket understands absolutely nothing.

Mrs. Lusket got a degree in Business Management because her father had told her it was an easy and profitable career. She wasn’t interested in it at all, and barely graduated. The only thing she has enjoyed since her teenage years is being a socialite, wearing the most pompous clothes and attending the most glamorous parties on a regular basis. She delights in making her acquaintances aware of the private school badges worn by her children on their uniforms. As for her profession, she has chosen to adopt a sexy-and-seemingly-intellectual attitude, which has given her excellent results when trying to persuade possible clients about the convenience of her company’s services. That’s why she has come to be a manager. Needless to say, her college degree has had nothing to do with her success, let alone the poor traffic flow verified along her interneuronal avenues.

Mrs. Lusket is a plastic woman.

She is also an art collector. Not because she appreciates art, but because any manager earning her salary should exhibit at least one or two valuable paintings on the living-room wall, or some avant-garde sculpture in their weekend house, or maybe a clock from the early 20th century hanging in their kitchen. She has contacts in the antique business, and many of them are famous members of the Brotherhood operating in San Telmo, the same group that caused the disappearance of Perón’s hands and Menem’s shirts some years ago (the diversity of unusual objects people may collect is surprising). This Brotherhood also controls the gloomy black market, where antiques snatched from helpless old people by their own relatives (who are eager to provide themselves with some money, given the fact that getting a job is quite impossible) are traded. If these same old people are too resistant to part with their little treasures, the Brotherhood is said to supply the desperate relatives with all the elements they need to part with the old people.

As she hears Otazú’s words without listening (now he’s saying something about Guaraní dignity, talking nonsense), Mrs. Lusket thinks a good way of getting rid of the Indian might be to send him directly to the most important homosexual organization in the country. Even if he can’t convince them of buying his junk, at least his wild manly looks will surely appeal to them. As soon as he gets the favours of a powerful Brother, life will turn into a bed of roses for him. (The lady’s constant quest for excellence is the reason why she can’t dismiss the Indian right away. What if people start to gossip about the incompetent manager at BEST-JOB Downtown Branch? She won’t risk that.)

“…as you can imagine, if we let ourselves forget our traditions,” Otazú is saying, “there wouldn’t be much left to…”

“Look, Mr. Amoté,” Mrs. Plastic finally says.

“Amo-i-té,” Otazú corrects her.

“Sure, Amoité. I don’t think this agency will be able to get a job for you at the moment, but your application will be entered in ‚Info Dump‘3 to be kept there until the right opportunity turns up.”

Otazú nods. There’s a trace of sarcasm in his eyes.

“Anyway,” the manager goes on, “I’d personally like to give you a couple of addresses. I know these people well; perhaps they can give you a hand.”

“All right,” Otazú answers, without much enthusiasm.

The lady presses the appropriate keys and the electronic notebook spits out three cards with names and addresses printed on them, which she immediately hands over to Otazú, while she remembers she needs to attend an informational meeting at the AAIU (Argentine-American Industrial Union) in half an hour, a cocktail party at the Personnel Selection League headquarters at 7 p.m., and after that a working dinner with her colleagues from the other branch offices in a luxury hotel downtown. She’s terribly concerned with the grey-blue suitcase. Will it match the grey shoes she is planning to wear tonight?

Otazú is already standing and shaking her hand, when she suddenly puts her crucial problems aside and says, “Oh, Mr. Amoité. A piece of advice: you’d better take a course on computer science as soon as you can, otherwise you’ll never get a well-paid job.”

Instead of thanking her for this, Otazú stares at her for a long time, with the kind of look you would give a chimpanzee trying to withdraw its hand from a trap without dropping the bananas. Then he turns round and leaves the office without a word, walking swiftly into the elevator which will carry him away from BEST-JOB Downtown Branch, thank God.

Damn rude Indian, Plastigirl thinks before going to the shops and buying herself a grey suitcase that will surely match the shoes.

* * *

Let’s take a look at the past.

Which is every antiquarian’s object of lust and anxiety.

There are two kinds of antiques: genuine and manufactured. Nobody ignores, given the existence of certain acids, that anyone can make a bronze lamp look much older than it really is. Ten minutes in acid, five years older. Two hours, maybe a century. It’s a sort of reversed face-lifting, and most of the customers can never tell the difference. This procedure might be considered a deceit, but some people claim that, since most of the purchasers are stubbornly ignorant assholes, it’s only fair that they get what they deserve. Would you feed pigs flowers?

In the San Telmo district (Buenos Aires City, Argentina, South America, First World, Planet Earth, lower left), there are not only a lot of antique-shops but also many workshops devoted to the restoration, and mainly manufacturing, of beautiful, plain or hideous objects of confirmed, dubious or non-existent old age. Most of the shops and workshops are run by male homosexuals. Nobody knows whether this is a matter of tradition or artistic sensitivity. Such are the members of the Brotherhood.

Otazú is standing in a street of San Telmo, ringing the bell of a rejuvenated eighteenth-century house. He’s got Mrs. Lusket’s cards in his hand.

It’s four in the afternoon and the neighbourhood swarms with activity. We can see many foreign tourists carrying parcels of all sizes: if you browse along these narrow streets you can find practically anything, from a dress of the 1900s to a tiny, rusted key that might have once opened a small trunk belonging to some unknown Spanish traveller from the colonial times (or the drawers in a fibre desk that used to belong to the shopkeeper’s brother-in-law. How can you be sure?)

But let’s go back to our hero, because the hinges of the imposing wooden door are creaking, then a man’s face appears from behind the door to say:

“Good afternoon.”

“Good afternoon,” Otazú replies.

The man is looking at him with no particular expression. He is used to dealing with freaks, people who would sacrifice their lives for a battered, mildew-covered chest, a French rappee box, or a letter written by Mirtha Legrand4.

“May I help you?” he asks, uninterested.

Otazú hands him one of Mrs. Lusket’s electro-generated cards.

“The manager at BEST-JOB, I think her name is Mrs. Lusket, has sent me to see this person.”

The doorman looks at the cardboard parallelogram.

“Who?”

“Mrs. Lusket. I guess she’s a client of yours.”

The man’s black eyes glance thoughtfully towards the ceiling. He’s trying to remember something. Ten seconds later:

“Yes, of course.” Is there a sneering inflection in his voice? Could it be that the above-mentioned client was the purchaser of an exclusive antique, manufactured from an ugly department store ornament? “Come in.”

Otazú enters the residence. The man locks the door behind the new arrival, which means that either a lot of money is kept in the house, or some of the antiques traded here are indeed extremely valuable.

“This way,” he tells Otazú, who can now study the man in detail. He’s wearing a neat grey suit, a white collared shirt, unbuttoned and without a tie, his black hair short. He’s thin and small, and has a painted Marilyn-style mole on his right cheek, while his manners are extremely polite. “Sorry, but Mr. Augusto is busy at the moment. Please wait for him. Do take a seat. Would you please tell me whom I should announce?

“Otazú Amoité. Mr. Augusto doesn’t know me. It’s about a job.”

The doorman writes down the information on the back of the card. He gives Otazú another look, a not-so-uninterested look this time, and then walks away along a narrow corridor. Otazú hears the sound of a door opening and closing.

Almost immediately, some soft music starts playing. It’s a rag from the turn of the 20th century, a piano performance that perfectly suits the decoration of the small sitting room to which Otazú has been led. On the red-and-white striped walls are old photographs of jazz bands; the furniture is also from the same period, as well as the hat collection featured on glass shelves. In one corner of the room, there’s a magnificent gramophone, which is not one of those modern things with a built-in holofax. It’s a real one, and appears to be in good working condition. Otazú takes his time to examine the hats, the beautifully engraved gramophone horn, and an original photograph that seems to be of Scott Joplin himself, all of which is enough to justify Marilyn’s locking of the door.

The door-opener reappears, with no card in his hands, in the middle of the third rag, which Otazú remembers as the “Maple Leaf Rag”, the first musical piece in history to sell one million copies.

“Sir,” he says, “this way, please.”

Otazú follows his guide along the corridor. On both sides, the walls are lined with photographs and framed music scores, an extensive collection from the Dixieland days.

Marilyn stops at the second door, knocks, then opens it without waiting for an answer.

“Come in,” he says to Otazú.

The waiting room was only a precursor to Mr. Augusto’s ample office. The red-and-white striped wallpaper is the same, but here the antique exhibition is even more impressive. For example, the piano on the right is a genuine 1904 Sears Roebuck, the posters behind the desk are from the 1893 World Fair in Chicago, and the car on the platform in the middle of the room is a Ford T, though Otazú has no way of verifying whether it’s an imitation or not. Sitting in the driver’s seat of the car, dressed in the garments of his time, is a plastic dummy with the face of Roque Sáenz Peña5.

Mr. Augusto is seated at his desk, reading something. He is about sixty, quite chubby, and his hair is almost completely white. His clothes don’t match the decorations: he’s wearing a purple tie-dye tunic in the 1960s hippie fashion, and has a coloured wool bandanna with Incan designs on his head. His beard reaches down to his chest.

“Come in, Mr. Amoité,” he says softly.

Otazú walks up to the chair by the desk. “Nice collection,” he says.

“Oh… yes,” Mr. Augusto smiles with satisfaction. “Please, sit down. Do you like it?”

It’s easy to realize Mr. Augusto can’t conceal his pride. In any case, why should he exhibit such objects if not to be complimented?

“It’s fabulous,” Otazú answers sincerely.

Mr. Augusto picks up the card. “So you’ve been sent here by Mrs. Lusket.”

Otazú nods.

“Are you a friend of hers?” The hippie antiquarian appraises his visitor, as he mentally runs through the list of spurious antiques for sale. Otazú notices he has a slight touch of green mascara in his eyelashes.

“No, no. I went to the agency for a job and she told me to come here.”

“A job? Why should you go to an agency to find a job?”

“I’ve just arrived from my native province, and since I don’t know anybody here…”

“You don’t have to. You wouldn’t get anything even if you were Sáenz Peña’s great-grandson,” Mr. Augusto says, pointing at the dummy. “There are more operators than computers.”

At hearing this, Otazú realises for the first time that he hasn’t seen any of the precious machines since coming into the house – an oddity which would shock anybody living in our ex-underdeveloped country of the future.

“It looks like there are none of them here,” he comments.

“It’s because I don’t trust electricity,” the hippiquarian snaps back.

“Excuse me?” Otazú asks him with interest.

Mr. Augusto dwells upon the subject: “One day, fourteen or fifteen years ago, this terrible idea of what would happen if we were left without electricity came to me. No light, no television, no computers, no music. It was mainly the absence of music which troubled me most.” He opens a desk drawer and produces a cigarette. As soon as he lights it up with a match, a smell that’s not of tobacco fills the air. Otazú watches him attentively. “I used to be a rock fan, as you might have imagined. First The Beatles, and then hard rock, symphonic rock, punk rock, heavy rock, thrash metal, funky metal, sympho rap, digital folk-”

“I’m fond of chamamé6.”

“Good for you. Because, you see, that day when the terrible idea came to me, I had a dream. I was at a Riff7 concert, jumping around and singing along, when suddenly a little monster appeared next to Pappo8. In the dream, we all thought it was some kind of special visual effect prepared for the show, but a moment later the little monster began to unplug everything until the musicians couldn’t be heard at all. It was a hideous demon, and its face looked somewhat like my mother’s.” Mr. Augusto smiles. “To tell you the truth, it looked exactly like my mother’s… the poor woman always thought rock & roll had been created by Satan.” He takes a puff. “Anyway, forget the psychoanalysis. When I woke up from that dream, my mind was enlightened. I understood that the only thing that entertained and aesthetically pleased me depended on an invisible fluid that could be cut off at any moment, so-”

“Excuse me, Augusto,” Marilyn interrupts. He had been standing next to the Ford T, but now he’s walking towards the desk and saying: “I must go see if Pedro has called.”

“Sure. Go, and don’t forget to ask him if old man Santillán has decided whether to sell that chest of drawers to us.”

The doorman approaches the hippiquarian, kisses his lips softly, then leaves the office, closing the door behind him.

“What was I saying?” the talkative Mr. Augusto goes on. “Oh, yes. When I realized I was so highly dependant on electricity, I was terrified. I imagined the energy crisis finally took place and that my favourite music died in helpless agony, impossible to be performed anymore. The idea of running out of music was intolerable. So I painfully decided to leave rock behind and devote myself to some other musical style, one which didn’t need to be amplified. I’ve never been fond of folk, let alone tango, and classical music depresses me, except for Bach… so, obviously, I chose jazz, and here I am. When the dams finally fall apart I won’t worry at all. I’ll play my Dixieland records on the gramophone, or I’ll light some candles and play the piano. You can’t imagine how free you feel when you don’t depend on plugs.” He picks up a leather bound notebook. “Look at this. It’s a notebook. To write in. With a matching pen. It’s very useful when the electricity company decides to cut it off for two or three days to make us pay our overdue bills and no computer is likely to work. I got it when the José Hernández Museum was sold on auction.”

As we have noticed by now, Mr. Augusto is not only a hippie, an antiquarian, an ex-rock fan and a jazz supporter, but also symbolic of everything that’s old-fashioned, reactionary, contrary to the General Improvement of the Human Race, pessimistic and stubbornly primitive. To make matters worse, he’s a faggot.

“I like you,” Otazú tells him.

Our aboriginal hero is dangerously ignoring the hippiquarian’s evident tendencies and has uttered a comment which could be understood as a direct proposition, the outcome of which could make us fear for his masculine sexual identity or, to be more specific, for his anal virginity. Luckily, Mr. Augusto, a wise and experienced man, knows that Otazú isn’t meaning to say he really likes men. Since Mr. Augusto is not the kind of person who tries to persuade people to do what they don’t want to do (except when antiques are involved), and given the fact he’s also truly in love with Marilyn, he answers with a humble:

“I’m glad you understand.” After carefully putting out what’s left of his joint, he adds: “And now, what about you?”

We’ll skip Otazú’s explanation, as we already know about his reason for being there. His story provokes different reactions in Mr. Augusto, reactions we could define as surprise, concern, sympathy and condolence, in that order. The handicraft issue also reminds him of his own past as a hawker, when he used to trade copper bracelets handmade by himself. Otazú is forced to listen to long stories about that time, like the one when the antiquarian (in his past role as a full-time hippie) had to spend two days at the police station just because his hair was longer than ordinary people’s, or when he had to run away from the dogs and tear-gas bombs brought in by the city hall officials, who had come to punish him for not having a legal license to sell his merchandise on the streets.

This interesting conversation goes on for more than an hour, only to be interrupted by a couple of holofax calls, which Mr. Augusto answers curtly, using words such as “terminate”, “overdose” or “life insurance”, all of which cause Otazú to start feeling a little uneasy, no matter how favourable his disposition towards Mr. Augusto may be.

“All right, Amoité, my friend,” the hippiquarian finally tells him. “The fact is, antiques are my business. Handicraft does not fit in, even though it’s a praiseworthy activity. Ours is a time when everything is done by machines, so the only handmade things people are interested in are the old ones.

“Sure,” Otazú answers, not very convinced.

“If I were you, I’d buy a return ticket to my native province at once. I’m sure you’ll be able to sell your pots and plates back there, at least for everyday use. Didn’t you do exactly that before coming to the city? Since only paper dishes are sold in the provinces…”

“Well, no, not really. I used to do something else.”

“What, if you don’t mind my asking?

“Nothing steady. Occasional jobs.”

“Oh,” Mr. Augusto nods, “I see. Anyway, I’d really like to help you. What about a job as a day labourer? We sometimes have to bring in or deliver very heavy things, and need strong people like you. If you give me your address, I’ll call you when a job comes up.”

Otazú appreciates the hippiquarian’s kindness, but he can’t forget those mysterious holofax calls that made him nervous, or the green mascara in Mr. Augusto’s eyelashes, and concludes that giving his address to the man wouldn’t be the most intelligent decision.

“Thank you very much,” Otazú answers, “but I’d rather stick to what I do best.”

“All right.” Mr. Augusto stands up to reveal the denim shorts and leather sandals that complete his outfit. As he shakes hands with Otazú, he tells him, “Very pleased to meet you, and good luck.”

Next, the hippiquarian walks Otazú to the main door, where he again wishes him good fortune and success. Locking the door, he goes looking for Marilyn to comment on the exotic visitor, and also to hear about old man Santillán, who – I’m sorry to tell you – has already become another member of the deceased club, thanks to the lethal dose of poisoned mineral water his nephew had been stuffing him with these last two weeks in order to acquire and sell his chest of drawers and perhaps the bus-ticket collection his uncle had kept since childhood.

On the other side of the door, Otazú is looking at Plastigirl’s other two cards. Resolutely, he tears them to pieces, and drops them on top of the five-feet high garbage pile on the corner. He walks off, disappearing into the crowd.

* * *

Let’s take a look at the present.

Which has always been a fixed idea for the dwellers of this land. It seems that too many morning and evening newspapers, an excessive amount of information magazines, uncountable TV and radio talk-shows, hundreds of analysts, spokespersons and enlightened wise guys of all kinds who explain what nobody needs to have explained, and millions of ordinary men and women who give their so-called expert opinion on anything they feel like giving their opinion on (international politics, quantum mechanics or the safest way of transplanting a begonia) without having the minimum and essential knowledge required to elaborate on the subject’s most primitive theory, have existed since the beginning of time. In our future ex-underdeveloped country, this is called “keeping oneself informed”.

This maniacal craving for freshly reported news may have inspired the authorities of Buenos Aires City (Argentina, South America, First World, etc., etc.) to turn one-third of the obelisk (the city’s irreplaceable, distinctive primal monument) into a constant information source. Let’s put it like this: divide the giant stake into three imaginary parts. Take the middle part and wrap a super-plus resolution screen (they couldn’t afford a super-plus-max) around it. Then, run texts and images of your choice on the screen, and you’ll know the reason why there are so many people in the surrounding squares, looking up and feeling sharp pains in their cervical vertebrae, or so many men and women hastening around the foundational totem in order to read the running text more quickly and find out about whatever they care so much about as soon as possible (an annoying habit which has forced the authorities to build around the monument a one-way catwalk with railings in order to keep the rate of collisions down to a reasonable minimum).

What the authorities and their typical governmental inefficiency didn’t foresee is that the 360o convex screen turns out to be an embarrassing failure at replaying soccer goals. In this case, if the observers are not willing to miss any details, they can’t do anything but run in all directions, following the movements of the players on the screen. A group of neighbours have requested the Mayor to show soccer games in slow-motion, which would, to a certain extent, relieve the enterprising fans of this popular sport of their crazy racing around the vertical bulk, but the Mayor, with his usual arrogance, has claimed not to understand the reasons for such a complaint, considering that City Hall has, under his administration, made it possible for every citizen to enjoy a new version of interactive soccer, which is undoubtedly one of a kind and will soon be copied by the rest of the First World countries, as they did many times before with other Argentine inventions, a fact that should only instill pride and patriotic feelings in everyone’s hearts. In other words, he won’t do a thing about it.

The opening of this informative attraction promoted the installation of an appalling number of filthy fast-food stands, not only in the area itself, but also everywhere the screen can be seen from, which includes a considerable number of blocks along both Corrientes and 9 de Julio Avenues. Many of the stands have been illegally placed in the ruined, forgotten paddle-tennis courts which were built in the area many years ago to entertain office workers and shop assistants during their lunchtimes, as well as ordinary pedestrians (at present, the fashionable sport is virtual swimming because Argentina has won the World Championship).

At the moment, Otazú is standing at the entrance of what used to be the twin-court paddle-tennis club called Rainbow Paddle9, which has been turned into the open-air restaurant called Rainbow Choripán10 (it was impossible to find an English word for the famous pork sausage sandwich). It basically consists of a greasy booth and a dozen metal tables, some white and others rusted, with matching chairs around them. The discouraging spectacle is completed by the litter (sticky paper napkins, broken bottles, half-chewed pieces of bread and trampled sausages) that covers the floor, and which departing customers invariably end up kicking in the general direction of the sidewalk, causing it to get as littered as the inside of the restaurant.

Otazú looks around. The obelisk screen is showing a commercial: two successful-looking youngsters are praising a three-month computer science course that is a basic curricular requirement for a reasonable job. Now the screen shows a longshoreman, played by a blue-eyed, tanned-skinned, blond-haired strong man, with a perfect hairdo. With the help of his personal computer, he calculates the maximum weight he’ll be able to lift today according to his biorhythm curve. The two young winners appear again and give the address, holofax number, and hours of the South American Institute of Computer Studies Applied to Labour and Non-Labour Purposes (SAICSALNLP). With a smile on his face, Otazú recalls one of Murphy’s Laws, the one his father loved to repeat: Anyone can make a mistake, but if you want to confuse things properly you need a computer.

He turns his gaze to the sidewalk. After inspecting it for a moment, he uses his foot to sweep the garbage off a two-square-meter area on the ground and lays down a rather frayed-looking black blanket on the cleared spot. The pedestrians, indifferent but trained in obstacle avoidance, walk around the black rectangle, even though they don’t seem to actually notice it. Otazú begins arranging his equipment without being disturbed.

That’s right, Otazú has brought his equipment with him, the simple paraphernalia of his art: clay, resin, stones, a solar-powered heater, a metal plate, two wooden planks, a bottle of water.

He sits down in the lotus position and the ceremony begins. First, he turns the heater on (in fact, he should have made a fire, but he knows that’s not allowed in the city). He then puts the stones on the metal plate, and the metal plate on top of the heater. Next, he places one of the planks, the longest one, on the blanket directly in front of him. The other plank, the square one, he puts on top of his crossed legs, in the way of a working table. Taking enough clay in his hands, he begins to knead it.

Otazú uses the ancient spiralling technique. First, he makes long clay snakes, which he puts aside on the plank. When he finishes shaping the number he needs, he takes one and starts coiling it to form the base of the pot. Placing one coil atop the other, he creates a body for the pot, and finally a mouth. After that, he smoothes the outer surface with his hands and some diluted clay, and varnishes it with resin.

By this time, the stones placed on the heater are nearly getting warm enough. The artisan places the newly made pot on the long plank he’s placed on the blanket. In half an hour, he’ll turn it upside down on the warm stones to dry. In the meantime, he makes three more pots of various sizes.

And he won’t stop. The wet pots form a neat row on the plank. There are eight of them, drying in the heat of footsteps (it would be insane to expect some sunlight), while other three dry upside down on the heated stones, all of them alike, yet radically different, thanks to the subtle touches of originality Otazú knows how to give them.

An old lady wearing a ragged dress stops and watches him for a while, her eyes full of memories. After some hesitation, she drops a retirement bond worth a few cents on Otazú’s table, as if it were some kind of present or alms (since it’s been decided retirement pensions are too much of a strain on society, workers must buy, during their productive years, enough bonds to support themselves through old age), and then she walks away.

The tubular screen shows the temperature (21º), the time of day (14:45), the Argentine dollar exchange rate in the world market, the latest news (seven hold-ups in the last half hour, an old man whose last name was Santillán found dead and rotting in his own home, five winners of the ‚Truco and Generala‘11 scratch lottery, the bankruptcy of another bookshop, the fire in yet another miserable slum, the new face the Minister of Justice had doctors make for him), and then the temperature again – 21º.

The pots are still perfectly arranged on the plank and the stones, the finished ones on the blanket, worthy, humble, ignored and expectant. Just like Otazú.

All right. We won’t be so naive as to believe that Otazú is ignored forever. It can’t happen at all, because he is an unusual element sitting on the sidewalk for no apparent reason, which sooner or later has to be noticed, not because people might really grow interested in whatever he’s doing, but because he is the only one doing it in this entire street, this whole neighbourhood and this whole city. The human eye, unlike the human ear, is known to be especially attracted to newness, to any stimulus that differs from the usual perceptions. And to confirm it, we only have to acknowledge the presence of this fellow who has stopped at the verge of the blanket, and who seems to be wondering whether he should speak to the artisan, or knock all of his pots over at once (however attracted the human eye might feel towards newness, there are certain human eyes that just get terribly angry at the sight of something new). As he is one of those bullies who think of themselves as the owners of the streets, one of those guys who push their fellow pedestrians out of the way without consideration, who don’t have the slightest courtesy when driving, who make all sorts of dirty comments and sick proposals at the sight of a beautiful woman passing by, who never say ‚please‘ or ‚thank you‘, he chooses to take an intermediate action. Slyly he hits one of the finished pots with his shoe until it tips over and breaks into pieces (the brute, like all specimens of his kind, is also a coward, and that’s why he carries out his destructive operation so cunningly that nobody notices he has done it on purpose). Then he addresses Otazú.

“What the hell are those?”

Otazú, who hasn’t even looked up at the sound of the breaking pot, now gazes calmly at the anthropoid. The guy is wearing all the ultramodern, state-of-the-art gadgetry any so-called First World Citizen would carry along wherever he goes. Besides four or five unidentifiable things — the purpose of which only the most updated people could guess at — the ruffian has his televirtual, audioradar, compuplate, memocard, diagnoband, electronotebook and, of course, the essential mobiholofax. Some of these devices are hanging from his belt, while others are attached to his bulletproof jacket (an indispensable garment for anyone trying to walk around the city with so many covetable electronic articles on him). The audioradar is perched on his head and he’s holding the mobiholofax in his right hand. Various antennas stick out from different parts of his body, like the microsatellital (the latest fashion) he has fastened to his left forearm. Otazú needs no more than a few seconds to come up with a suitable answer:

“They are handformed containers, made of high-quality, wholly silicoaluminous argillaceus and detrital minerals containing hydrated iron oxides that give them their characteristic colour.”

What?” the modernoid bully asks, his eyes widening.

“I’m telling you, they are handformed containers, made of high-quality, wholly silicoaluminous argillaceus and detrital minerals containing hydrated iron ox-”

“Silico what?”

“Silicoaluminous.” Otazú starts kneading another piece of clay.

“Silicon?” the man asks.

“Yes, something like that,” Otazú replies without looking at him.

The brute may not understand a thing, but he always keeps himself informed (see above), and therefore he has a vague idea that anything containing silicon is bound to be, by definition, an extremely advanced something that performs multiple and wonderful functions.

“And what can you use them for?” he inquires.

“Well,” Otazú answers, leaving his work to artfully stare at the man. “What would you use a handformed silicoaluminous container for?”

“Oh,” the modernbrute exhales in complicity. “I see… Of course.”

This is when we realize that, although the anthropoid has not even the slightest notion of what the handformed silicoaluminous containers can be used for, he is getting so interested in them – thanks to Otazú’s skilful negotiations – that he’s starting to feel sorry for having broken one of the artefacts, which he’s now frankly willing to purchase (this specific type of human specimen might die at the thought of not possessing every gadget available on the market).

He crouches and asks, as he looks at the row of pots in fascination, “And how much are they?”

Otazú glances at the obelisk screen. It’s showing a compilation of images from the wedding ceremony of a singer and a polo-player, both of whom entered the church riding on Creole horses, after which they left for the wedding reception on a very elegant palanquin, carried by the groom’s father’s most faithful employees in Egyptian costumes (the lucky ones who have a steady job would never turn up their noses at any of their employer’s orders). According to the report, there were a hundred and seventy casserole sets among the presents received by the newly-wed couple.

“A hundred and seventy Argentine dollars,” Otazú says.

The modernbrute, now standing again, can’t believe his ears. The price is a bargain, considering how much he had to pay for the audioradar (one of the cheapest articles in the electronic market).

Without delay, he asks, “Do you accept memocards?”

“I’m sorry,” Otazú replies. “Cash only.”

The anthropomorph doesn’t look worried. His salary as the counsellor to the consultant to the advisor to the Congress Commission for the Quarterly Increase of the Congresspersons’ Salaries allows him an immediate availability of the money. To be more precise, that is only a quarter of what he’s got in his pocket, or better say was, because he has just given the requested amount to Otazú, and Otazú has just handed him one of the handformed silicoaluminous containers (a.k.a. clay pots) to his customer. The modernbrute admires the pot ecstatically, as he pushes his way through the crowd, back on his way to wherever he was going in the first place.

And now we’ll think about this event for a while. It’s obvious that a slightly intelligent, average cultured person (believe it or not, some of them can still be found in our future country) would never have fallen for Otazu’s trick. We should bare in mind that our surprising aboriginal hero would probably have prepared an alternative presentation for his products for slightly intelligent, average cultured customers, but the fact remains that such people would never have bothered to ask what the pots were (they would have known), or considered buying them (given the feeble socio-economic condition of the country, only a few chosen ones would have allowed themselves to spend the money so unnecessarily). All of this would certainly have turned the aborigine’s industrious efforts into a complete failure. But Otazú and our story (which otherwise would have had a very depressing ending) have been lucky, for the absurd logic prevailing in every aspect of our First World nation has defeated reason and common sense once again, as follows:

The modernoid bully tells his friends (who are as modernoid as himself) about the new device he has increased his multimedia stock with, and in the subsequent days his friends, no matter how unable to understand what the handformed containers might be used for (after all, they are also unable to understand what many of their own electronic gadgets might be used for), start in the direction of Otazu’s stand, and buy more of his pots than we could have possibly imagined, paying the scrupulous price of one hundred and seventy Argentine dollars for each of them. At the same time, the regular clients of Rainbow Choripán, who have already acknowledged Otazú’s presence (our hero has had the good idea of placing his stand in the same area every day), curiously watch the negotiations being carried out on the edge of the black blanket. Some of them (the ones who have enough money and are also modernity fans) buy pots too. Word of the artefacts thus spreads, and attracts more customers.

Fads are like that. Nobody knows exactly when they start or who encourages them. Sometimes someone tries to sell an efficient, cheap and attractive product, and society refuses to buy it. But on other occasions, a badly-made, stupidly-complicated, and hideous product may become the next season, the next year, or the next decade’s craze. Let’s agree that Otazú’s pots have the intrinsic value of every simple folkloric and historical object, and that we are happy that they’ve been such a big success, in spite of those oafs who buy them (who, of course, will never be able to appreciate their virtues, or even imagine the existence of those virtues). Undoubtedly, as it always happens with fads, there are also people who reject Otazú’s pots. But that’s no problem, since the abundant number of gadgetry maniacs living in the city is more than enough for the business to prosper.

And it prospers, all right. Six months later, we find Otazú, not in the street, on his ragged blanket, but in a downtown office he has been able to buy with his profits. He doesn’t mass-produce the handformed silicoaluminous containers anymore; now they are custom-made (so their price has been increased to a thousand Argentine dollars each) for the most important personalities in government, the sports world and showbusiness. Many people are trying to develop a program that can reproduce the subtle touches of imperfection in Otazú’s pots, in order to manufacture them on a massive scale, but nobody has yet been able to do so.

A year later, we find Otazú has moved into one of the most important office buildings in the city, occupying three whole storeys. He has a great many employees working for him now, and a computer on each desk taking care of the company’s routine affairs. On the wall behind Otazú’s desk is a holopicture of his father, a proud old man majestically presiding over the office. Below the holo there’s a plaque with the following words (if you can read Guaraní), ‚In the land of operators, the artisan will reign.‘

Not one of the two hundred and fifty key-pressers working for Otazú would dare to contradict that.

* * *

Let’s take a look at truth.

Which doesn’t have a past, a present, or a future, but simply depends on the one who knows it and wants to keep it a secret, or on the one who doesn’t know it and wants to find it.

The truth embedded in this story is the following:

Otazú, as you probably have realized by now, is not only an artisan belonging to an almost extinct ethnic group, but also a widely educated, deeply intelligent man. If the First World country in which he lives is destructive to eighty percent of its population, it’s more so for the few aboriginal people who have survived into the 21st century, vacillating between centuries of humiliation, hunger and neglect on one hand, and thousands of years of tradition, customs and lifestyles on the other. Unfortunately, the only weapons to fight the system with continue to be those weapons the system itself creates, and which can easily be turned against it, if you are talented enough. You might think this involves some betrayal of your ethical principles, but this way of fighting is the only one that has so far successfully introduced real changes in society.

Otazú used to talk to his people about that, but he wouldn´t convice anybody. They wanted him to show them some kind of evidence. And that’s what he did. Possibly, the Guaraníes will soon give the inhabitants of our future nation some more surprises. What will happen next? That’s a truth which will remain unrevealed for the moment.

As for the relative well-being our country of the present seems to be enjoying, as compared to all of the above, let´s take a look around. We’ll probably get to the conclusion that, if Argentine future persists in tracing itself onto the present, altering the present seems to be a quite urgent task. Or something like that.

Perhaps, who knows, we can do things in such a way that, in a few years, the anticipation exercise you have just read will prove to be completely misleading and definitely meritless, which is surely the biggest tragedy a science-fiction writer can face, but anyway… When the moment comes (if it comes), is there any chance that you’ll grant this author the benefits of your mercy?

Let’s take a look at vanity…

1 Originally in English.

2 Originally in English.

3 Originally in English.

4 Famous Argentine actress who starred in many films, mainly during the ’40s and ’50s, and now is a talk-show hostess on TV.

5 President of Argentina between 1910 and 1914. He inspired the Electoral Law still in force and introduced several institutional changes, improvements of invaluable relevance for the country..

6 Argentine folkloric dance.

7 Argentine heavy rock band which was in the business

for more than 15 years.

8Argentine heavy rock and blues guitarist, leader of Riff.

9 Originally in English.

10 “Choripán” is a slang word for a pork sausage sandwich, as

popular in Argentina as a hot-dog in the USA.

11“Truco” is a popular card game; “Generala” is played with dice.

First published in AXXÓN #48, Buenos Aires 1993

Copyright © 1993 by Claudia De Bella

Claudia de Bella is an English teacher and translator and lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She started writing SF&F when she was 17 and has has published her stories in Argentinian, Brazilian, Spanish and Italian magazines and anthologies. „Amoité“ won the 1993 Más“Allá Award for the best story of that year, and she has also been awarded for her translation work (she contributed several translations to our magazine). At present she is writing a SF novel inspired in the guaraní culture and continues translating stories for AXXÓN and other publications.

© . .

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