Against Hopelessness

Source: Perceval Press

This is a conversation that took place between 5 and 9 February.

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Viggo:

Hello Cuervo Fabián,

San Lorenzo is finding a rhythm. They played very well against Estudiantes, and it looks like Pizzi has the team ready to have a good tournament. Let´s see if this fall they give us reason to celebrate. The prospects look good. I hope that Stracqualursi can recover for the first match against San Martín de San Juan. It´s midnight in Copenhagen. I´ve just arrived on the last flight of the afternoon, and I´m staying in the hotel that´s next to the airport. I will stay a couple of days to research some things about the character I´m preparing for the film Lisandro is going to shoot with the script you wrote. I just had the good luck to shake hands with the coach of the Danish National Soccer Team, Morten Olsen, and I wished him luck in the match on Wednesday. Denmark is playing a friendly match against Macedonia, and the team is sleeping in this hotel because they leave on an early morning flight. Argentina is playing against Paraguay in an Arab country; I can´t remember which one. The Danish managing team are drinking beer and wine in the bar where I´m chowing down before going to bed. Here, like everywhere in the North of Europe, people have dinner early, so the bar at the hotel was the only option to get a sandwich at this hour. I guess the players will all be in their beds, but when I saw the red sweatsuits of the managing team, especially Olsen´s gray-haired head, I thought I had to send them a round of drinks for good luck - theirs and San Lorenzo's. You never know...

Morten Olsen, Denmark´s coach since 2000
Morten Olsen, Denmark´s coach since 2000.
© Unknown.
 
With the mustache I'm cultivating in preparation for Lisandro's movie, nobody has recognized me (better that way), but my blue sweatshirt with the CASLA emblem did catch the eye of one of Olsen's assistants. "San Lorenzo de Almagro," I said, before he could ask me if the emblem was Barcelona's (or something even worse). "Sydamerika?" he asked me. "Ja, Argentina. Boedo," I told him. "Skål og tak" ("Good health and thank you,") he said. "Det var så lidt - held og lykke på onsdag" ("You're welcome - good luck on Wednesday,") I replied. I don't know who the guy was, and he didn't know what kind of Cuervo was in front of him, but at least he heard that San Lorenzo is from Boedo. We'll see if he remembers...

59feb132.jpg
© Unknown.
 
Morten Olsen was a very good player. UEFA champion with Anderlecht [tr. note: Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht, a Belgian soccer club], named the best Danish player of the year twice in his long career, and was the first to play 100 matches for the Danish national team. With a bit of luck he could have won the 1984 European Championship with his team, and he was, with his teammates, a sensation in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico - that unforgettable tournament that deified Diego Maradona. They called the Danish team then the "Danish Dynamite", and many believed it was the heir to the Netherlands' "Clockwork Orange," that great team of Johan Cruyff's that we've spoken of so many times. With Morten Olsen and other leaders like Allan Simonsen, Michael Laudrup, Jesper Olsen and Preben Elkjær, Denmark played with skill and joy, very similar to Cruyff's team in their passing and technical skill - but they were a much faster team than Holland's national team in the 70's. Denmark was by far the standout national team of the Mexico World Cup - and I say that with all the respect in the universe for Bilardo's great championship team [tr. note: Carlos Bilardo coached the Argentinian national football team that won the 1986 World Cup in Mexico].

The champions
The champions.
© Unknown.
 
It was always a treat to see the Danes play in that era. As Rob Smyth and Lars Eriksen said in the piece in the Guardian newspaper in 2009 (I've put the link below), in 1986, Denmark - like Hungary in 1954, Holland in 1974 and Brazil in 1982 - demonstrated the most beautiful soccer of the tournament despite not winning the cup. The 1986 Danes, led by the German Sepp Piontek, were not as arrogant as the 1974 Dutch, but played brilliantly and knew how to have fun both inside and outside the stadium. It could be that part of the team was too interested in the parties and the brew to end up as champions, but it would have been really lovely to see them in the final against Argentina instead of Germany. Technically, I think that would have been a happier and more creative final to see.

"Danish Dynamite", 1986, with their captain, Morte....
© Unknown.
 
I´m sending you here an essay on that team (I don´t know if it can be found translated into Spanish,) "The Forgotten Story of Danish Dynamite, the Danish National Team of the mid-80s"

http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2009/oct/13/forgotten-story-denmark-1980s

And here´s a video from 1985 that shows some of the plays from the game that Denmark won 4-2 against the Soviet Union (who at that time had a very good team with one of the best goalkeepers in the world):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNrL_dWqQJk

And another from 1989 where Denmark won against Brazil 4-2, with Michael Laudrup at the peak of his career and Morten Olsen in his last match for the national team.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXLt9cjfjJQ

Fabián:

Hello, Viggo. Here in Buenos Aires, the afternoon is fading. I´ve just come from work and turned the laptop on and I have this email of yours. Morten Olsen´s face is more that of a cult film director than that of a soccer manager; he looks like Cronenberg or any of those who could win the Palm d´Or at Cannes. Did you watch the match with El Pincha [tr. note: nickname for Estudiantes de la Plata]. I was in the countryside with Guada, Anita and Rita and I couldn´t watch it. I have faith in Pizzi and the team; let´s hope we´ll have a good championship.

As I told you, I'm writing a long essay about Tolstoy, so I'm spending time reading his novels, diaries, diaries of his relatives, etc. It caught my attention that almost all of the well-off in Russia at that time kept a diary. I try to imagine the density of time at that moment, without today's global immediacy of information. The long journeys in carriages and the deadly illnesses that ended up undermining [the health of] very young people. I think it was Cavafy who said that he would like to die young, since heaven was going to be filled with ephebes [tr. note: A youth between 18 and 20 years of age in ancient Greece.] Or maybe it was Mishima. Anyway, two great writers.

Konstantin Cavafy
Konstantin Cavafy.
© Unknown.
 
I put the crow you sent me on one of the flower pots on the terrace. And your hand-written letter is on my book stand next to my desk where I write. There is something in the determination to send a letter written by hand that seems central to the day to day. I think it's a gesture that attempts to recover an experience, something that we lose in the virtual world, not only the computer world, but also in the virtual world around us, that presses on us, and forces us to choose things that deep down, if we'd think about it a little, we wouldn't give two cents for. When you read on the Internet that happens, too. You begin to read, you hurry to finish, skimming over the page and you're eager [to finish]. You don't let yourself be moved by the words. It's impossible, for example, to read Tolstoy this way. Because he's a writer of little details, of long and mysterious cadences. A writer who has to be read step by step, whether going up or coming down. I think Lisandro's films have some of that. He doesn't accept rules other than the ones he imposes. Now I'm hopping in the car and going home. I water the plants, make some food for my daughter, watch some series on the television. I think it was Philip Larkin, the extraordinary British poet, who said that he liked to wash dishes and watch television in the evenings, that was his extraordinary life. Today at noon, I sautéed vegetables in the wok. When you come, I'll cook some of that for you.

Let's carry on. Hugs.

Viggo:

Right, brother, I´ll bring the wine!

Well...in the end the drinks I sent to the Danish managing staff didn´t bring luck to the team. Denmark lost the friendly [match] in Macedonia 0-3. The Danes played a horrible match. After having been one of the best teams in Europe in the last 4 years, they ended 2012 rather badly. In the match against Macedonia, the defence went into total chaos, a disorganised, dull performance. Lately, Morten Olsen´s experiments with the team line-ups are not coming out well at all. Little could be done by the Danish goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel - son of Peter Schmeichel, the legendary goalkeeper for the national team and Manchester United. His teammates left him almost alone before constant and easy goal threats.

Kasper Schmeichel's row
Kasper Schmeichel's row.
© Unknown.
 
You mention the great poet Konstantin Cavafy. I´ve always liked the nostalgic but not very sentimental tone of his work. Last year, when we were shooting The Two Faces of January in Crete, I was reading a lot of Greek poetry and read again some poems by Cavafy. Maybe we can talk about Greek writers of the twentieth century on another occasion.
Cavafy was an Egyptian from Alexandria, but the son of Greeks, and he wrote in that language. I like his sensuous poetry very much, and also his more political poems, like Ithaca. This is a lovely translation of one of his short poems that I like most:

[tr.note: Viggo posted a Spanish version he liked. Rather than do our own English translation, we found one on the website of the official Cavafy archive.

http://www.cavafy.com/poems/content.asp?id=158&cat=4]

The Photograph

In this obscene photograph sold secretly
in the street (so the policeman won't see)
in this lewd photograph,
how could there be such a dream-like face?
How did you get in there?

Who knows what a degrading, vulgar life you lead;
how horrible the surroundings must have been
when you posed to have this picture taken;
what a cheap soul you must have.
But in spite of this, and even more, you remain for me
the dream-like face, the figure
shaped for and dedicated to the Greek kind of sensual pleasure--
that's how you remain for me
and how my poetry speaks about you.


by C.P. Cavafy, translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard
from Collected Poems, Princeton University Press, 1992

I´ve just been watching some of the play by Argentina´s National Team in the friendly [match] they won against Sweden. How well they do it now, how well the Argentinian players get along! A lot of harmony - keep it up. And this in spite of the important thrashing that the Swedes recently gave to the same British [team] that yesterday won against Brazil. In other words, there´s not a clear favourite for the next World Cup, apart from Spain which thoroughly defeated Uruguay´s National Team yesterday. Brazil 2014 is going to be a party.

Rooney and Luiz
Rooney and Luiz.
© Unknown.
 
Speaking of poets, I don´t know if you are familiar with the Dane Ludvig Holberg, a humanist writer who reminds us a little of Voltaire, Jonathan Swift, Quevedo, Cervantes, Rousseau and Molière among other beacons of irony and free-thinking . I don´t know how much of Holberg has been translated into Spanish. The work of this 17th century playwright and essayist was known to the "Captain Dinesen" character that you invented for Lisandro´s flick. Yesterday in Denmark, I not only found 19th Century clothes for "Dinesen," but I was also able to get a couple of old editions of Holberg´s essays. I will bring them to Argentina for the shoot. Even if we don´t use them in the film, I think it´s good that our character has them in his suitcase.

Ludvig Holberg
Ludvig Holberg.
© Unknown.
 
Well, we couldn't be further from CASLA's current news...but until the new tournament starts this weekend, we're not going to know how the team is working, so I suppose there's no harm in diverging a little more than usual off the beaten path, a bit far from soccer and the Ciclón.

Fabián:

Cuervo, I'm not familiar with Holberg. Bring the book so we can translate it while the movie is filming. That would be great. As I told you in another email shared with Lisan, I've been studying Russian esoterica; it's for the Tolstoy essay (I also studied the Napoleonic wars for the same reason) and because I like learning everything in the world so much. I think that many of these unknown teachings (dance, music, gymnastics) that worked people's energy centers, were the richest and had, in their time, many western adepts: Frank Lloyd Wright (the Yankee architect), Peter Brook and many others. What I find negative at times is how little inclination [they had] to laugh at themselves. As Schopenhauer said, I'm interested in philosophies in which the gnashing of teeth is heard in the background, but also, I would add, [the sound of] healing laughter, the possibility of always thinking against oneself, the constant working against the self-importance that makes us such slaves.

Peter Brook
Peter Brook.
© Unknown.
 
Those philosophies, known as The Fourth Way, also postulate that the majority of people are asleep (when sleeping) and very much asleep on vigil - that is to say, when they are awake. Impossible not to concur with this when one examines one's own life unceremoniously. 80 per cent of it is a cliché and we are repeating mechanised things; we are mechanical men. I think that something you have to try, whatever you do in everyday life, is to find the gravitational core, that is to say, the true place where masks fall off and you find the memory of yourself and are in constant service to the other. Here I transcribe something that Gurdjieff says about the actor:
"A man who has a unique and permanent I and who knows what is required in every aspect, can perform. To be a true actor, one has to be a true man." Here it´s obvious that acting has to do with living, but if we also consider it as a dramatic "performance," it seems very beautiful to me. Tell me what you think. Hugs, Viggo.

Viggo:

I had read what Gurdjieff said - or rather a woman friend read it to me in New York, many years ago when I was starting my career as an actor. As you say, what that quote expresses is beautiful, but like any profound thought about the individual, it can be misinterpreted or manipulated by unrestrained egos. It makes me think about something Holberg said:"If a person learns theology before learning how to be humane, he´ll never become humane." Do you like Osip Mandelstam's poetry? His life and work seem of great value, extraordinary to me. When I was about 25, I read the poems of Mandelstam and other "Acmeists" like Lev Gumilov and Anna Akhmatova, and then I immersed myself in them again in 2006 while I was shooting Eastern Promises with Cronenberg. The one I enjoyed the most was Mandelstam.

Osip Mandelstam
Osip Mandelstam.
© Unknown.
 
The Acmeists opposed the mysticism of the "Symbolist" poets, authors who had a more romantic style. Their intention was to anchor themselves in the reality of words, of the body, in the beautiful mixture of reason and music without irrelevant embellishments. Almost all of these Russian and Ukrainian poets suffered brutally under Soviet totalitarianism, that long night brought about by the distortion of Marxism by Stalin and other opportunistic sociopaths who sprang out of the initially hopeful Bolshevic Revolution. Two days ago I finished reading the memoirs of Nadezhda Mandelstam (Hope Abandoned), [tr.note: Spanish title translates as Against Hopelessness], a personal, literary portrait of the 20 years that she shared with Osip Mandelstam. That book is a very valuable document from the crucial period between the Revolution and the Second World War, from the beginning of a savage epoch, an Orwellian nightmare. It portrays the life and death of poets and poems, of writers and readers, with the greatest dignity and poetic sensibility. It's one of those books that absorbs you, transports you completely. So much suffering, so much joy! So much appreciation for memory, the value of the words - brave people with the capacity to laugh at their country's bad luck, and at themselves, in the worst moments imaginable. Osip, Nadezhda, Anna and almost all of their friends stoically suffered so many privations and so much terror that I feel ashamed about the times that I've complained about the relatively very few misfortunes that I've had in my life. Those Russian poets were front row witnesses to the horrors and the unique experience of living in an inconceivably unsafe and cruel world. An interesting thing: "Nadezhda" means "hope" in Russian. That's why I like so much the deep thinking that Mrs. Mandelstam's book title can inspire.

Nadezhda Mandelstam
Nadezhda Mandelstam.
© Unknown.
 
In Russia, for centuries, poetry always was (and I think continues being) serious work and a constant life and death reference point for the great majority of the population. If you think about the almost unconscious cultural importance that the music, lyrics and existential stance of certain tangos have for the Argentinians - or the identity that symbolic struggle and hope provide in soccer - you'd have to multiply that 100 times to get an idea of what poetry has meant in the day to day [life] of the Russians. It's part of their collective memory - which isn't to say that they carry it "in the blood," because that concept has always seemed absurdly inaccurate to me. "In the blood" - what is that? In the past, I might have believed that my actions and feelings were inherited from the impulses of my ancestors - warriors, pirates, peasants, adventurers, painters, survivors in terrible circumstances - anything that would have seemed interesting to emulate in the accounts that have tried to make up an exclusive fabric of biological links I'd have with the Mortensens, Rasmussens, Gambles, Atkinsons, Chapmans, Codys or any other angel or devil of our family that has left a mark on his time. But now I believe that all of us are unprecedented individuals, potentially dangerous animals, creatures of brain and bone who can tame themselves or be tamed, who can learn to get along with others - or not. As Osip Mandelstam said, speaking of life and poetry (for him they were almost synonymous, it seems): "To love the existence of a thing more than the thing itself, and existence itself more than one's self - that is the supreme commandment of acmeism. For us, the conscious sense of the word, the logos, is a form as magnificent as music is for the symbolists. I agree 100% with that. As all Cuervos know, San Lorenzo is a feeling that can't be explained. For me, CASLA is what the Mediterranean culture - above all the Greco-Roman - was for Mandelstam: source, base, key, goal, the past and the future.

Fabián:

That's it, Viggo, those Russians, they are a wonder - Mandelstam, Akhmatova and even the most reactionary ones like Vladimir Nabokov. (I'm writing the names from memory and I'm sure they are all incorrect.) Tomorrow night CASLA plays the first match of the season and I'm excited as I've seldom been to see the kick-off; I suppose it's because it's been a while since I've seen soccer and because I think, as we've been saying here, that Pizzi is going to assemble a team with personality and an offensive line, as is the San Lorenzo tradition. Here in Buenos Aires, we're having devastating heat and it seems like it's going to continue like that until Monday, when it's just going to rain. I'm going to take Anita to the Boedo parade, so she can see the mythical Boedo Comets, the street musicians from my neighborhood. Many years ago, there were lavish, happy carnivals, very intense, something that was lost during the years of the dictatorship, but that is slowly returning in all its splendor. A year ago today, Luis Alberto Spinetta left human form; let us pray for him.

One more thing, I realized that a letter written by hand is a living thing. Have you seen the new Cuervo women's jacket? I like it a lot.

Viggo:

Yes! It hearkens back to the best of San Lorenzo's past, to the most combative teams. Simple, straightforward - for a champion! Five Stars!

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© Unknown.
I hope you have a lovely time in Boedo. Give a kiss to the cuervita on behalf of Uncle Guido.
Last edited: 12 March 2013 21:21:51
© Viggo Mortensen and Fabián Casas.