"I feel honored to be able to give a hand to poets"

Source: Pagina 12

The actor's phrase is only one of the coincidences between the writer and poet. Beyond football, they both talk here of their other passions - the structure of poetry and the significance of phrases like "I don't study to know more but to ignore less."

"De todos los equipos del mundo, San Lorenzo es ….
© Daniel Dabove.
The cuervo that is smoking and waiting for his buddy to arrive, a guy from the Boedo neighborhood that he feels like he's known all his life, wears a San Lorenzo shirt like it's tattooed on his skin. The afternoon moves on, distracted and capricious on Paraná Street; people walk by dragging a thick web of desires and annoyances that dog each step. This cuervo that exhales cigarette smoke, tracing a blue and red circle that starts from his feet, is Viggo Mortensen, the seductive Aragorn of the Lord of the Rings, David Cronenberg's fetish actor, fanatic supporter of the Cyclone, who could not win the Oscar for his interpretation in Eastern Promises, and display the San Lorenzo flag on the stage of the Kodak Theatre, as he had planned. The defeat at the hands of the suspiciously "quemero" [Translator's note: fan of Huracan, a rival of San Lorenzo] Daniel Day Lewis did not phase Viggo, who was pleased to showcase the cloth of the club whose fanatic fan he became during his childhood in Argentina on the then pregnant Cate Blanchett at the event after the presentation of the award. Although the core of Viggo is acting, he expresses himself in multiple directions: he writes poetry, takes photos, composes music. Ever since the publishing house Perceval Press was founded in 2002, it's been a small independent U.S. publisher specializing in art criticism, photography and poetry. Fortunately, fate and a cultural agitator with a superhero name, Kevin Power, got the wheel of fate headed toward a handful of Argentine poets called "The 90's Generation" who have just been published in the Anthology of New Argentine Poetry with the selection and prologue by Gustavo López. The book, with a beautiful hardcover binding illustrated with one of Mortensen's own photos, includes poems of Fabián Casas, Washington Cucurto, Martín Gambarotta, Juan Desiderio, Fernanda Laguna, Sergio Raimondi, Martín Prieto, María Medrano, Daniel García Helder, Laura Wittner, Santiago Llach, Gabriela Bejerman, Roberta Iannamico, Francisco Garamona and Damián Ríos among others of the twenty-two authors included.

When Casas arrives, the Cuervos come together in a hug in the conviction that distance is an imaginary barrier that they manage to overcome as they compose and edit coded memories about San Lorenzo. "I knew him because I saw him in a movie; he was in the Lord of the Rings," jokes the author of The Salmon and the Spleen of Boedo. Viggo's loud laughter produces an intermittent vibration of grace and charm; his Buenos Aires accent sometimes seems as if the hands of his internal language clock stopped in his childhood in this country, at the end of the 60's. From his magic bag, the actor pulls T-shirts with different motifs that were designed by him especially for the centenary of El Ciclón, which he gives to Casas. At the beginning of last month, the actor was in the country to finalize the details of the anthology's presentation. "Gustavo López called me and said, "Come here because I'm with Viggo" the poet remembers. Like two wise guys from the Boedo barrio, they talked about San Lorenzo all night. The actor spun out old anecdotes. He told how after a match, he had been corraled by rival fans, who on having recognized him, started throwing all kinds of projectiles. Casas, an expert at wise cracks, said to him, "You turned into the lord of the bricks!"

Even the early spring wind seems to stop to listen to the tales told by the Viggo-Casas duo for Pagina 12 near one of the offices of the Spanish Cultural Center. "That night he went walking with me to my house along the 9 de Julio Avenue. Do you remember the guy who was walking with his girlfriend and said, "I can't believe it, it's Aragorn!"?

"Yes, but he was an Independiente fan," Viggo said, laughing and giving the guy a thumbs down.

"I liked both of the films Viggo made with Cronenberg," Casas said. "They look like a diptych, a portrait of two personalities like identical twins. I asked him to tell me what it was like to do the naked scene in the Turkish bath (in Eastern Promises) where they were beating him up. He told me that they filmed it in two days, but he asked me: 'Did you see the crow I had tattooed?'" Viggo shows the little smile of someone who has an ace up his sleeve. "There is a Russian myth about the crow and it was good for the film if I had it tattooed. There is an old Russian poem, which is like a song, that says: 'I'm not ready, let the raven wait.' Or, 'I am not ready to die,'" clarified the actor, renamed "Guido Mortensen" by Bambino Veira.

What are the first images linked to San Lorenzo that you remember?

V. M.: Casas always went to the stadium, but as a child I had the picture cards and the radio because in the eight years I lived here, I did not go to the games. My first memory is of Loco Doval, Bambino Veira, the "carasucias,"; they were tough and played well, in '65 and '66. And later in '68 the legendary "matadores." I did not go to the stadium until 2003, when we played against River and we lost 2 to 1. I left Argentina when I was eleven, in '69, and there was no cable TV, no Internet, nothing. I was in the northern United States with my picture cards, my little t-shirt, my flag, and nothing else. I came back in 1995; twenty five years had passed, and I was clueless. Just when I came back, San Lorenzo was champion.

F. C.: I have an almost indelible recollection of lying on a bare mattress, looking at the final between River and San Lorenzo in '72, which we won with a goal by Lele Figueroa. My dad was in the stadium and I was on this mattress.... It's my first memory of paying attention to a match and being nervous. Then my dad came home, hoarse, and the house was in a party mood. The first time I was in the Gasómetro was like the first time my dad took me to the sea. I used to see the games in black and white, and when I went to the stadium, the colors appeared, the blue sky and this jersey, which is the most beautiful in the world, without a doubt, the green lawn... it had the same impact on me as my first sight of the sea.

Navigating a sea of sensations that fails before any attempt to line them up chronologically, the name of an idol crosses the minds of both of them. "For me, Bergessio is God, after what he did against River that night in May (last year, when San Lorenzo tied two to two and eliminated River from the Libertadores Cup), I cried without stopping; I even lost my ID", admits Casas. "I saw it in a bar in Los Angeles and I was with my son and my brother. It was a River bar, but I didn't care. I shouted out the goals and started dancing. It was incredible, a great feat," the actor recognizes. "A producer that was showing me some scripts asked me, 'What would you most like to do in your life?' Well, since I have a Danish passport, play against Argentina and make three goals against Riquelme. 'Who is Riquelme?' he asked me."

This lovely lunatic is a mestizo with the combination of a North American mother, a Danish father and a childhood in Chaco, Buenos Aires and Córdoba, the places where he went with his family in Argentina. His father, who grew up in rural areas, farmed wherever he could find a little work. When he was six or seven years old, Viggo began to write the first "short little stories" in order to deal with those difficult moments in which Chaco's geography presented itself as an extreme threat.

How would you summarize your relationship with your writing, the languages in which you write, and editing?

V. M.: The things that happened to me when I was a child left a deep impression on me. Lately I write more in Spanish, but also in English. Sometimes I write something in Danish. The books we publish are very well designed; they are by emerging artists or little known ones, and since we are not a big company, we lose money. Every now and then, I publish one of my own photography books and I include a poem or two because I know very well that these books sell because I am a movie actor. It helps me recover the money, but it also helps people remember about Perceval, check our webpage, and see what we publish. Now I am involved in a book in Spanish and I am also doing the translations into English so that it will be bilingual. I am taking my time. I don't know if it will come out in summer or winter, but it is called Songs of Winter. It's always winter somewhere (laughter). Since I'm used to it, I write faster in English; in Spanish I am slower because I left knowing the slang of the late 60's and when I returned in '95, I found other words in use. Speaking so much English or Danish, sometimes I write in a strange way; there are things that are very personal, very much mine, and others that seem to me unique until later I realize that here they are said every day. I like to whittle at the poems, work them until they are as short as possible, but at the same time have a lot in them.

F. C.: One day I went to leave flowers on my mother's grave and that day, when I returned, super emotional, I wrote a poem 500 pages long. But later it was very much reduced. Poems result from a surge of emotion, but afterwards you have to rework them rationally. There is a poem in Salmon, Henry V Harangues His Soldiers, that began from a harangue by Bambino Veira. But it is written in code and only San Lorenzo diehards like Viggo noticed it. I search for a different voice when I write and I try to delete my own voice.

The palette of Viggo's reading is versatile. He reads everything he can; he lets himself follow the instinct of the reader-traveler who allows himself to be surprised by what he encounters along the way. He has been nourished by John Ashbery, Artaud, Julio Cortázar, Octavio Paz, Billy Collins, Charles Bukowski, Mario Benedetti, Raymond Carver, Alfonsina Storni and Borges. "To read and publish this anthology is a form of education for me, because I don't know, " emphasizes Viggo. "I like to read continually and I learn not only from Fabián, but from all the other poets. I feel very honored to be able to publish this book, to give a hand to poets. I designed the book so that it would have a great look. The cover is one of my photos, Boedo 2, that I took in 2003, in a period when I was taking a lot of photos at night."

On entering the Perceval Press website (www.percevalpress.com) you read a phrase from Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz, "I don't study to know more but to ignore less," a motto that Viggo embraces with devotion as artist and publisher. He has already published more than thirty books in these seven years, among others a work about new Cuban art, two by artist Henry Eric; Strange Familiar, from the Icelander Georg Gudni, and a couple of novels by Mike Davis. "An artist has to make things in his way, without a fixed course. I have no idea what the next book will be, but each book has to be designed according to the taste of the writer or artist. We don't release a book until the artist or editor are satisfied. At Perceval we try to find a good approach," explains Viggo.

Even though he is not very concerned with publishing, Casas says that he gets along very well with his publishers. "Now my publisher is a Cuervo; it's a kid's dream! José Luis Mangieri, my usual editor, who was like a father to me, was a Huracán fan. I have the feeling that I am talking to a kid from Boedo. And that is weird."

V. M.: I felt very comfortable with you. I know I can't be objective about San Lorenzo, but of all the teams in the world, not only in Argentina, it is the one with the most artistic and literary flare.

F. C.: From the Hegelian, rational point of view, being a soccer fan makes no sense. My wife, when she sees me cry, or when I don't want to talk to anyone, thinks I am an idiot. She says, "You've studied philosophy, published books, essays, how can you act like this?"

V. M.: You need to tell her that we may be a bunch of idiots, but San Lorenzo fans are the ones who are the least afraid of death. And that makes us immortal.

F. C.: Now I am writing a poem called Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Crow, based on a poem by Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. It's about the way I see my dad. My old man is a baboon, 80 years old, who is always doing things. I realize that my club is associated with my childhood, which is the time when you fuel up. In childhood, you load up on fuel; I think you never load up again. The type of person you become when the fat is in the fire comes from the quality of the fuel of your childhood.

Viggo looks for the flag in his magic bag and doesn't find it. "I left it in the hotel," the actor complains. The buddies continue to exchange picture cards of matches, players, penalties, and missed goals, while the photographer takes pictures of them with the San Lorenzo jerseys. Casas asks Viggo to recite the poem Chaco, which he wrote in 1995. The actor rolls his eyes as if saying goodbye: "I shit in the jungle/like the monkeys/with their perfect yellow teeth/having no fear/of any tiger."
Last edited: 21 August 2009 13:38:48