I met Vega in a bar one afternoon. It was the first time I had seen him in nearly 20 years. We were friends in high school, or we knew each other any way, but he had left the coutnry as soon as he graduated and I hadn’t seen or heard from him since. It appeared, however, that though I had barely remembered his name, I was the closest thing he had to a friend in his native country.
I had stayed in the city. I am a journalist, but shortly before Vega’s return I had decided that I wanted to write fiction. Vega, meanwhile, had spent the last eighteen years in voluntary exile in Canada: he made a comfortable living as an art history professor at a prestigious university, and he had a Canadian passport, his prize possession. He had come back to attend his mother’s funeral–it was the only thing that could have brought him back. During the nightmarish two weeks in his native country, he passed the hot afternoons hiding from his brother, whom he hated, and his brother’s family, whom he abhorred, in a small bar on the fringes of the city. The country made him nervous, anxious, he had to talk to someone about it, and I was at hand, so he talked to me.
Excerpt (my translation)
I love coming here at the end of the afternoon, sitting here in the patio, drinking a couple of whiskies in peace, listening to the music that I ask the bartender to turn on for me, Vega told me, not sitting at the bar, there inside, it’s very hot at the bar, it’s very hot inside, it’s better here, in the patio, with a drink and the jazz that the bartender plays. This is the only place in this country where I feel okay, the only decent place, all the other bars are vile and abominable, full of men who drink to the point of obliteration, I can’t understand it, Moya, I can’t understand how these people drink this disgusting bear so eagerly, Vega told me, it’s a filthy beer, a beer for animals that only gives you diarrhea, that is what people drink here, and the worst thing is that they are proud of drinking it, they are capable of killing you if you tell them that what they are drinking is filth, dirty water, and not beer at all, no other country in the world would consider this beer, Moya, you know it as well as I do, it’s a disgusting liquid, and it can only be drunk with such passion out of ignorance, Vega told me, they are so ignorant that they drink this filth with pride, and not with just any pride, but with national pride, with the pride that they are drinking the best beer in the world, because this is the first and foremost characteristic of ignorant societies, they consider that their shit is the best in the world, they are capable of killing you if you deny that their shit, their poisonous nauseating beer, is the best beer in the world….
I haven’t been back for eighteen years, and during those eighteen years I didn’t miss any of this, not for a moment, because I left precisely to flee from this country, it always seemed to me the most cruel and inhumane joke that, with all the countries there are in the planet, it was my lot to be born here, I could never accept that of the hundreds of countries there are in the world, I was fated to be born in the worst of them all, in the most stupid, in the most criminal, I could never accept it, Moya, that’s why I went to Montreal, and long before the war, I didn’t leave this country as an exile, or to seek better economic conditions, I left because I could never accept my macabre fate of having been born in this country, Vega told me.
I don’t understand how it could have occurred to you to stay here, in this country, it is truly absurd if what you’re interested in is writing literature. It shows that in fact you have no interest in writing literature, no one interested in writing literature could choose a country as degenerate as this one, a country where no one reads literature, a country in which the few people who are able to read would never read a literary book, they even shut down the language departments in the universities, that gives you some idea, Moya, here no is is interested in literature, that’s why they shut down the departments, because there are no students of literature, all the young people want to study business administration, that’s what interests them, not literature, everyone wants to study business administration in this country, in reality in a few a years there will be no one but business administrators, you live in a country that will soon be populated entirely by business administrators, that is the truth, Vega told me, the horrible truth.