16. Sparseness, Manuel, Pozzetto massacre, too many massacres
They were silent, as the dead usually are when they appear in our dreams.
W.G. SEBALD, Die Ausgewanderten.
With age, and thanks to her, I have come to value sparseness as fundamental, I have come to search for it as I search for God, or food, or water. Spare views, spare phrases, spare prose, spare meals, and sparely populated places. Spare skies, spare thoughts, spare days, and spare ways to face life. I think this is the reason why I price the persona and the work of men like Edward Hopper, Antoine de Saint- Exupery, Jerome David Salinger, Joseph Mallord William Turner, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Albert Camus, Arvo Pärt, Winfried Georg Sebald, Hishida Shunsõ, Roberto Bolaño, Stanley Kubrick, Francisco José de Goya, Odilon Redon, Vincent van Gogh, Émile Gallé, Cormac McCarthy, and Rainer Maria Rilke. The works of Hieronymus Bosch, Nicolò Paganini, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Jose Saramago, and Antonio Vivaldi are also close to my mind and heart, even though they are not what one can call sparse. I liked to sit next to Father, hold his big hands, compare them with mine, feel the weight of his body against mine, hear his raspy voice, inhale his smell, caress his hair, his ear lobes, see his eyes, kiss his front, kiss the stubble on his cheeks. Father smiled to the camera in some of the pictures, in others he looked proudly at the three of us. In the afternoon we went out, played soccer in an improvised field, and smiled when we found a small turtle in the garden. We had some white wine, Father didn’t know then that his liver was silently killing him, and I cooked for him and my two brothers, spaghetti with tomato sauce, garlic, green sliced olives, black pepper, and shredded chicken. Father often smiled and at the same time was constantly invaded by a feeling of nostalgia and solitude anticipating my departure with every day that passed. Nicolas asked me to play some chess using a nicely crafted glass and porcelain chess set that father had bought, most likely as decoration for the one of the lavish apartments he used to live in during his better years. This made me think of a chess game I played when I was nine or ten against Manuel, a Sevilllan friend of father, in one of the gardens of the country house of Uncle Francisco, the politician of the family. Uncle Francisco had two sons, one that easily comes to memory because of his morbid obesity. I did see his wife, a minuscule brown-skinned creature of a woman, serving him a plate with half a dozen scrambled eggs, several slices of bread, and strips of bacon. In that same country house we passed some Christmas eves, not many, eating beef, potatoes, corn, and avocado salad and letting lose Chinese lanterns into the black sky. Spanish police had captured Manuel two years before our game between the towns of de San Vicente del Palacio and Rueda while he traveled from Madrid to Valladolid. He had two kilograms of paste of cocaine in the trunk of his pearl white Peugeot 505. Manuel was a big fish for the Spanish authorities but had no criminal record in his second home. The operative to capture Manuel involved eight police cars, four motorcycles, and a helicopter. When Father told me about it, many years later, I could not understand how he had recovered his freedom in such a short time. Manuel, a short and meager man, had spent his young years trying to become a professional ballet dancer. He soon realized that trafficking narcotics from The Country paid much more than dancing. His method was unique and certainly creative. Manuel had a group of men who camouflaged the paste inside the stomachs and within the walls of the transport cages of thoroughbred colts and fillies that he sent to Europe. He made profits selling the horses on the one hand, selling the drugs on the other. We often went with Manuel and Father to Pozzetto, an elegant Italian restaurant in an area of the city called Chapinero, were the high-end houses and apartments used to be decades back. Manuel and Father had opened and operated in the same area a French restaurant that also served as a Gentleman’s Night Club after midnight called Le Grand Vatel. When in Pozzetto, Father always ordered spaghetti with tomato sauce and ripened cheese, I ordered cannelloni stuffed with ricotta and beef. They drank red Chilean wine, I had orange juice or soda. It wasn’t hard to find the two-story building, white walls, elegantly furnished and decorated, in a city where most building are the color of red dust. Inside, the walls were painted in pastel tones, the light subdued, Roman statues here and there, a lavish white staircase with a wooden banister,chairs covered in soft velvet, as soft as the carpet of the second floor where we always sat.
The gentle waiters were always neatly dressed in black suits and crisp, white shirts, their soft, dignified voices told the specials by heart as if they were singing. Food was delicious. In December of the year when the premature Silvana was born, Campo Elías Delgado, a decorated Vietnam war veteran, two tours of duty in nineteen sixty nine and nineteen seventy one, and engineer fluent in English who could also read French, a long-faced, bronze-skinned man, abundant black hair, and carefully polished leather shoes, killed his mother inside the flat they shared, burnt her body, knocked on the doors of several neighbor’s apartments, shot at those who opened the door, went to Pozzetto, took a seat, dined and drink until he felt satisfied, produced a thirty two millimeters revolver and shot at the patrons and waiters of the restaurant. There were twenty-nine or thirty dead that the police officers, lacking adequate transport and ambulances, loaded on the beds of police pick-up truck. Campo Elías Delgado was one of them. The local, and much sensationalist newspaper headings read, Sicópata mata a 22 personas (psychopath kills twenty two) or La Sucursal del Infierno (The Subsidiary of Hell). Only one was professional and decent enough to simply write Masacre al Norte de Bogotá (Massacre north of Bogotá).
A massacre in the heart of the capital city was a novelty. Massacres of peasants, soldiers, police officers, guerrillas, and aboriginal people in faraway locations were, on the other hand, every day events. Just to name some, the year they took place, and the approximate number of victims, approximate since many disappeared in mass graves or were thrown, full or in pieces, into rivers, Tacueyó, 1985–86, one hundred and sixty four dead, La Mejor Esquina, 1988, twenty seven dead, La Rochela, 1989, twelve dead, El Nilo, 1991, twenty one dead, La Chinita, 1994, thirty five dead, Trujillo, between 1986 and 1994, at least two hundred and forty five dead, Las Delicias, 1996, twenty seven dead, Mapiripán, 1997, forty nine dead, El Salado, 2000, more than one hundred dead, Macayepo, 2000, fifteen dead, Rio Manso, 2001, thirty three dead, Chengue, 2001, twenty seven dead, Bojayá, 2002, more than one hundred dead. The list is still long. According to the newspaper El Espectador, In the region of Catatumbo alone, now inhabited by slightly over one hundred thousand people, between nineteen eighty three and twenty thirteen there were over sixty six massacres. Coverage of these was of course less or inexistent in a Country of psychopaths that was for many years the subsidiary of hell. There were articles, books, and films on Delgado and the massacre and still, no one agrees on what really happened that evening. No one can tell if a police officer shot Delgado or if he killed himself. No one can tell why many of the dead had nine millimeters caliber bullets in their bodies when Delgado only had a revolver and a knife with him. I won the game against Manuel that afternoon.