Friday, 24 June 2011

A Negative List

Thank you so much Debi (Hawai Bound Bandster) for nominating me for this blog award!

To show my appreciation in a new way I thought I would think about it and what it means… and with help from PhotoShop I played around with the colours – and I also thought that as I’ve written lists about myself before and don’t want to repeat myself, this time I’d give you a list of my neurotic hates.  I wondered if anyone shares any of them...

My Top Twenty Neurotic Hates

1.   Selfish parking

2.   No lock on the bathroom door when you’re away from home… I once stayed somewhere for a week where the bathroom was shared with the children’s room on the other side of it, and both bedrooms had their own access door to the bathroom. Neither of them closed properly, never mind locked.  It was impossible to stop children running in and out… I think I was constipated for the week.

3.   Having to get out of bed any earlier than 9 a.m.  I’m a total night owl.

4.   Dinner guests who arrive early, builders who say they’ll be with you from 8.30 a.m. and at 7.45 you hear them crashing outside your window bringing in their equipment.

5.   Male testosterone behind the wheel, and macho behaviour generally.

6.   Snobbery, intolerance.

7.   Pulling rank, metaphorically or otherwise.

8.   Cruelty to children and animals.

9.   People who ask “Sooo… how much weight have you last since I last saw you?” – I hate it whether or not I have in fact done so.

10.  Sporty people who make me feel guilty at least once a day for taking the lift/elevator, or not doing more exercise – they know who they are!

11.  People who don’t understand the term “13:00 to 14:00 = Lunch Hour”.  In my case that applies to every person who works in a hospital, whether clinician or admin.  I’ve never seen anything like it in my previous working life.

12.  The combination of two or more of the following colours where orange is one of them:  pink, red, yellow and grey.  And if you have red hair, ditto.

13.  The following bodily habits:  hawking and spitting, blowing your nose and then looking at it, productive burping for bandits, men who think nothing of scratching their b*******s and arses in public, people who publicly pick their noses and then … ugh, I can’t go on.

14.  The 3 F’s – finding farting funny.

15.  Having to clear up after my cat Rusty when he’s been scent-marking and having to suppress any instinct to bawl him out (comment added by John “…at which you’re not very good.”)

16.  Snow after the novelty has worn off.

17.  This one is anal – so sue me.  I hate people not even being interested in understanding the difference between “hung” and “hanged” (meat is hung, people are hanged); "uninterested" and "disinterested" (not interested versus not for personal benefit).

18.  Phrase 1:  Anyone heard using the following phrase will, when I’m dictator, find that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  When one says in virtuous tones to one’s children: “If I should ever get like that when I’m old (senile, annoying, incontinent, rude, etc, insert whichever adjective applies), I want you to shoot me or put me to sleep.”   Translation = “If I DO become like that, I want you to remember this conversation.  Be nice to me, it won’t be my fault.  I wish to hereby disassociate myself from my future self – and by the way, I won’t want you to shoot me, thank you very much, and of course I fully appreciate that you wouldn’t be planning to commit murder...)

19.  Phrase 2:  To start a sentence with “With respect…” or "with GREAT respect...", one of the most hypocritical, stupid, dishonest and cynical ways to say something and mean the exact opposite.  Told you I was anal.

20.  Two of John’s less endearing habits:  feeding titbits to the cats by placing them on the carpet because he can’t be bothered to get a plate, and then saying “it won’t do any harm”, later denying all knowledge of the strange little stains on the carpet around his armchair;  pouring unused paint down the drain on the drive outside because it’s plain silly to think it’ll harm the pipes.

(Deep breath Caroline, you got a bit carried away there.  Right. )

The only bit about blog awards I have an issue with is that we have to nominate too many others – it rises exponentially, and you find inevitably that everybody you know and like has long since been ‘done’.  I think it should just be one blogger, not 10, not least because it will mean more. 

I would love to nominate Tina at Losing It! because she’s an inspiring bandit who is BELOW target (for goodness sake) and yet still has issues she struggles with.  Go read her blog, you’ll enjoy it.  I'm hoping it might be possible to meet her when she comes to England in July.  Isn't blogland wonderful?


And to finish off...

From my Eavesdroppings blog. No. 44. Sleep Baby Sleep

Scene: Various couples dining together who met at antenatal class, and having all had their first babies recently, are enjoying a rare night out. The discussion centres around how to ensure that the young breast-fed babies sleep through the night as far as possible.

Mother 1 (26): We’ve tried soothing music, lullabyes, giving him more at the midnight feed so he’ll sleep through the night… everything. Nothing works, and we’re both knackered…

Mother 2 (28), (note of smugness in voice): The secret with night feeds is not to switch any lights on, speak or move around much before or after breastfeeding – that way the baby doesn’t wake up altogether. Works for me.

Mother 3 (34 and wordlywise): We don’t seem to have any problems – I breastfeed her at midnight and she goes right through to 7.30.

(Gasps of envy)

Father 1 (27): At two months? Through till 7.30? Oh we're so envious (aren’t we darling?)

Mother 3: Well, it’s not without a little help…

Father 2 (28): Aaaah, now we’re getting somewhere – so what do you give her?

Mother 3: Not her, me. Two large brandies.


Photo Finish
from Lonicera's photo archive

Digital:  Yum-yum in Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado, 2009

Non-Digital:  Japonica

Non-Digital:  Kite Festival, Bristol

Bristol Opera Company production, early 1990s

Non-digital:  Bristol Church, Broadmead

Non-Digital:  One of the results from a "Let's kick the
tripod and see what happens" experiment...

Dodgem cars at a funfair on the Downs, Bristol, early 1990s

Non-Digital:  Marina


Saturday, 18 June 2011

Tales from Argentina - The Accursed (Part 3 of 3)

The Accursed - A three-part story of the life of Raúl Barón Biza, Argentine bon-viveur, writer and tormented soul.

Part 3:  Crisis Point

The new job took up all of Clotilde's time and Raúl found this very difficult to cope with.  Her perceived neglect angered him intensely and he felt forgotten – even though they were more or less separated already.  Their fighting intensified, and there were weeks when they hardly spoke, and the rumours of a possible affair between her and Frondizi made his behaviour even more volatile.

A year later he still would not tolerate coming second to affairs of state.  He had never thought to be eclipsed by his own wife; she was the one who was now in the limelight and who had triumphed in a world where he had failed.    In May 1959 Raúl Barón Biza was found in his hotel room having taken an overdose after asking for paper and pencil, on which he wrote a farewell letter to his wife, with instructions that it be taken to her immediately, and before locking himself in his bedroom and taking the pills.  Someone read the note first and took him to hospital, where Clotilde found him sleeping it off.

Raúl Barón Biza

She stayed in her post for three years.  He was keenly aware that she was now a success in politics and he was a has-been.  His supporters had abandoned him and having his support was seen as being passed a poisoned chalice.

To keep him busy, Clotilde managed to obtain for him the concession for an underground shopping precinct in central Buenos Aires, to which he devoted himself for a number of years.  Shopkeepers remember that he would spend a lot of time drinking whisky at the bar and observing everyone – you had to get on the right side of him or you wouldn’t get on.  One shop owner remembered another colleague falling in arrears with the rent and being threatened by Biza with having his electric power cut off, to which the man replied that he would shoot him. 

Some days later Biza summoned him to his office and said to him “I hear you want to kill me.  I congratulate you,  I like brave people”.  He continued “and since you’re so brave” - he handed him a gun - “why don’t you kill me now?”  The man went pale and left the room.  No one could ever have doubted his courage.

His savage attitude to women was probably partly due to his resentment against his wife, and he discussed it freely in his books.  He despised them, yet he could not resist them.  As far as he was concerned women were merchandise who gave themselves to men they did not love in order to ensure their economic future.  This was why, he said, he preferred prostitutes, who at least charged in advance for their services.

Sex was an adventure, a challenge to convention.  He slept with many different types of women, but his particular weakness was adolescents.  His obsession with young and beautiful bodies became more marked as he got older.  The ageing process and the decay and decomposition of matter distressed him – he preferred those who died young.

In 1960 Clotilde’s father Amadeo Sabattini died aged 67 and Clotilde decided to abandon her ministerial job and go back to La Falda to live accompanied by their youngest child, Cristina.  While she went back to teaching history, her husband remained in Buenos Aires with their two sons aged 24 and 18.

For a time the boys remained with their father in his luxurious apartment in downtown Buenos Aires, but the eldest soon moved out to live in the apartment opposite.  Jorge remained on with his father, in what was at best an uneasy relationship from the boy’s point of view.  He watched his father gradually turn into a depressive and violent nihilist.  Society – Raúl said – was rotten to the core.

Jorge later became a highly respected journalist in his own right, and remained consistently silent about his past family life, until 1998 when he published his only book “El Desierto y su Semilla” (“The Desert and its Seed”) in which he explained with great dignity and pain what it had been like to be Raúl Barón Biza’s son, and in particular the experiences during the four years when he lived with his father, 1960-1964.  He admired his father’s courage and audacity, and the way he had thrown himself into the various adventures in his life.  On the other hand he rejected his extreme views and tried not to identify with him.  He noticed that Raúl’s writing was increasingly riddled with violence.

Jorge Barón Biza, writer and journalist,
Raúl's second son

Raúl was disgusted by the ageing process, and his own specifically, and by the time he reached 63 he clearly despised the sex act as well.  All was betrayal, disillusion, disappointment.  “To find the ideal woman is easy for a man, what is difficult is to keep her in this state of perfection.  It is an impossible situation because this quality of perfection is not up to the man, or the woman’s spirit, or her will ...."  It all depended, he thought, on her sex urge. (Todo Estaba Sucio – All was Dirty)

By August 1964 Jorge could no longer tolerate living with his father, and moved in with his brother close by.  Raúl was now truly alone with his anger and his memories.  On 9th August 1964 he wrote a letter to his wife, who was living in La Falda, Córdoba – herewith part of it:

"With every day that passes we continue to tear strips off of each other.  It’s unbelievable to realise that two people who have loved each other as we have, can come to hate each other so much.

Yesterday you all scored another victory.  I say “you all” because I know you were influenced by your family.  You would not have separated me from my children of your own free will, to deny me at my age all I had left. (...)"

He then reminds her that he went to see her at the house in La Falda in order to sell it as agreed, and to visit his daughter Cristina, whom he had not seen in 8 months.  He was not able - or allowed - to see either of them.  He continues –

"Upon my return to Buenos Aires the following day another surprise awaited me.  On remarking to Jorge, with whom I lived for years in such harmony and whom I guided and took care of, that you must have been crazed by hate to forbid me from seeing María Cristina, he replied violently that he was sick of hearing that he had a mad mother and a drunk father, and slammed the door of the apartment behind him.  I reacted by requesting his keys back from him and sending all his belongings over to his brother’s apartment.  Your visit to Buenos Aires while I was away has transformed him.  I can’t imagine what you could have said or done to him (...).

Carlos has taken his side and said things about me to him which are irreparable.  You have won the penultimate battle.  How satisfied your family be feeling! (...)"

He details the various financial arrangements he has made to take care of the children, with the exception of certain shares which he wished to retain for himself because he intended to keep on working, and the documents to their apartment in Montevideo, Uruguay.  The eldest son Carlos had possession of the shares, and the apartment had been put in the boys’ names years before for tax reasons.

"Yesterday, Saturday, Carlos was supposed to have kept his promise to return his shares.  Dr Martínez Sosa received him at his home for this purpose.  To his surprise, even more so to mine, he told him that he would need to consult his brother first.  What does this sick and bitter boy of 22 know about what should or shouldn’t be done?

The meeting we had planned for tomorrow cannot now take place.  The fight will resume with no quarter and no mercy being given, but before it does I want to appeal to you to remind you of who will carry the blame for what will happen.  The boys know that they have my fortune in their power and are surrounded by youngsters and crazy young girls.  They don’t know how much they will regret this action.  We must save them.

You must travel down to Buenos Aires, make one last effort to avoid the unfortunate conclusion to this dispute which is now continuing with the added crime of robbery by my son.

Perhaps it was for you a speedier solution than divorce, but the children are not responsible for what happened between us; we must avoid their feeling shame for carrying our names, the shame of having sullied and destroyed them – if indeed they don’t already feel it.  We must not continue to feed the fire, thirty years during which we have been stained by shame, dirt, public scandal and mud.  Enough!

We still have good friends who are willing to save us.  Let us not waste the opportunity .  We must speak with them, face to face, forgetting in those moments the hatred we feel.  Perhaps hatred is a form of loving.  In a few hours we could overcome problems which could destroy us.  We could forget them and in time convince ourselves that they never existed, that it was only a nightmare.

This will be my last direct communication with you in case you have still not understood that we must sort out our own problems with the help of our friends of many years standing who are decent and disinterested and in whom we can trust, instead of third parties who bear us ill will.  Come (to Buenos Aires), with them we will resolve our present and future, and separately we will forget the past.

If I don’t receive a reply from you within the week and you don’t write to our sons to advise them, I will understand that you wish to continue the fight, and my final forgiveness will go to you because you know not what you do, because you are merely an unwitting instrument of your family’s hatred towards me.

In which case may God have mercy on us all."

To the letter he attached a typed sheet detailing the split of his assets amongst his children, though it looked more like a final will and testament.


How could she refuse?  And so the trap was set.

The meeting was arranged for Sunday 16th August 1964.  He purchased what he would need for the meeting and sat alone in his study, drinking and waiting for Sunday to arrive.

She arrived at the apartment on the 8th floor on time at 11.30 a.m., accompanied by a solicitor who was an old friend of her father’s.  Her son Jorge had insisted that she did not go alone.  “He’s become dangerous” he warned her.

Raúl also had his own solicitor with him, a cousin and a personal friend.  They all joined forces to make the meeting as calm as possible between the couple, but their efforts were in vain and after some initial conflict they resolved to all go to lunch and meet back at the apartment at 5.30 p.m.

When they did so Raúl was calmer, Clotilde was relieved and hopeful that they would be able to conclude the separation paperwork.  As the meeting was coming to a close he served them all a drink.  Clotilde’s was poured from a silver jug, and he handed her the glass without speaking.   She stretched out an arm to receive it and he suddenly tossed it in her face. 

But it wasn’t a drink.  It was vitriol – sulphuric acid.  She instinctively used her hands to brush it off, and spread the damage there, and to her chest, as he watched the acid open her skin and burn the flesh underneath.  He had in fact aimed at her eyes – perhaps he had intended to blind her, thus ensuring that he was the last person she would ever see.  But she had managed to close them in time, damaging her eyelids terribly.  Furious that she no longer loved him he wanted to annihilate her, and the best way to do it was to leave her without a face.

He was partly successful.  She was rushed to hospital, her jacket left on the floor where she had pulled it off as she felt the acid burning through it, her blouse discarded on the washing machine where she had torn it off in agony.  As her body burned with the effects of the acid, she pulled her clothes off on the way to the car which took her to the hospital.

The armchair after the acid attack

When the police arrived some time later to examine the apartment they found the lifeless body of Raúl Barón Biza in the bedroom, lying on his back on the bed, on blood-soaked sheets.  There was a bullet wound in his temple and he was still holding the gun.

However there was also further evidence – signs of vomit and faecal matter on the carpet of the bedroom and on the sheets and soles of his feet.  On a small table nearby were little bottles of medication, and after sending all this evidence away for analysis, it was later possible to reconstruct the last few minutes of his life.  One of the little bottles contained strychnine, purchased a few days earlier.  He had clearly planned to end his life by swallowing the poison, but his body had quickly started to expel the strychnine and, unable to stand the pain, he lurched across the room to get the gun from a drawer, probably unaware that the poison had also made his bowels open.  Staggering back to the bed he used one bullet.  Thus there was no sign of the poison actually in his body at the time he shot himself, and no signs of it were found in subsequent forensic tests.  It is thought that he might have survived the poison if he hadn’t had a gun.

His remains rest under an olive tree next to the memorial to Myriam Stefford on his former farm in Córdoba.

For the next few years Clotilde lived in Milan where a burns specialist tried to reconstruct her face and see if at the very least she could have her eyelids restored.  There was some measure of success obtained and by the time she returned skin did cover her whole face and hands so that bones and muscles were not exposed.

When she returned to Argentina she settled – strangely – in her husband’s old apartment, the place where he had injured her.  Surprisingly she got involved in politics again, and on a few occasions she even made speeches at political gatherings, where the crowds greeted her with a mixture of admiration tinged with alarm.  Very sadly for her she could no longer visit educational establishments for children, where her interests really lay, because the patchwork that was now her face disturbed the children too much.

She gradually became more withdrawn, confining herself to running a farm and visiting friends as she struggled with depression and memories.  One afternoon fourteen years later in October 1978 she was looking at an album of old photographs and found some taken of her some weeks before Raúl had flung the acid at her.  

“What can I do about all this?” she asked her son Jorge, who had become her most faithful companion after the tragedy.  He didn’t know what to reply to her.

On the following day she threw herself off the balcony of the 8th floor. 

Later investigations revealed that Raúl’s clothes from years before were found still hanging in the cupboard in Clotilde’s room, mixed with her own, and his portrait was still on the wall.

This was all too great a burden for those who were left; inevitably their lives had been defined by their parents’ marriage problems, their father’s death and now their mother’s.  The ensuing publicity and their inability to escape it must have been a constant torment.

Twelve years later in 1990 the youngest daughter Cristina, who had always striven to remain in the background, committed suicide by jumping off the balcony of a high rise building.  She was 38, and had been 12 years old when she lost her father and her mother’s life had changed forever.

Eleven years after that in August 2001 Jorge Barón Biza, their second son, journalist and writer, flung himself from his 12th floor apartment in the city of Córdoba.

Jorge Barón Biza, probably at the time of the
publication of his book in 1998.

In 1998 he had published his first novel, “The Desert and its Seed”, to great critical acclaim.  This is one of its passages:

"I have reflected on the difference between the outer apparent aspect of a tragedy and its inner view, and the violence appears in our lives as an unwarranted surprise, and just as exceptional.  The story highlights the blood-soaked moments of my parents’ lives, the high drama of a tragedy, leaving between the lines the days where there was love but no history, the warm letters of the early years and later the extended efforts to recover the former happy times.  There’s a film by Truffaut with the slogan “Neither with you nor without you”.  This must have been the spirit that possessed Raúl and Clotilde in the final moments of their marriage.  Separation is an unthinkable act.  Saying there is only love is the easy way out when there is only hate.  It is however on a personal level a complex tearing apart when love and hate are one and the same, and confuse the passionate element in our hearts.

I have fought with my family history to find a way to reconcile the facts to enable me to carry on living.  I tried for many years to keep total silence on the matter.  Then I tried to lay the ghosts by examining the old episodes with magnifying glass and scalpel.  Now I understand that there is nothing to reconcile or conceal, or to show.  That each love affair has its own footprint embedded beyond words and feelings… that these are merely contradictory when words are assigned to them, but which remain firm, powerful and inexplicable long after our death."


My own final thoughts

When four members out of a family of five commit suicide, it is understandable that the tabloid press should assume that there is a curse on the family and be strongly tempted to link it to the legend of the Virgin of Mercy and the stolen diadem.  But there is no mystery, no coincidence here.  For example, there is no history of Raúl’s siblings having had similar problems.

If Raúl Barón Biza had ever expected to be remembered for his writing, any such ambition was squandered by his brutal and calculating attack on his wife.  He condemned himself forever to be identified with his crime and its long term effect on his family, despite the efforts by dedicated websites to redeem him and his works.  They are also hindered by the fact that his books are not widely available.

It would be interesting to know whether Raúl had a history of mental illness, but I don’t seek an easy explanation for his behaviour.  That he loved his children is beyond doubt but this does not vindicate his actions.  As he himself had identified, his ego was always going to put limits on his love for his children.  Most certainly the curse visited upon that family originated not from some old legend, but from the inner demons of the man himself.

*  All pictures are from the internet or from a named source.
*   Candelaria de la Sota:  El Escritor Maldito Raúl Barón Biza, Vergara, 2006.  ISBN 978-950-15-2385-0
This is a carefully researched book which seeks only to give all the known facts about Raúl Barón Biza.  In using Candelaria de la Sota’s work to build the story and tell it in my own words it has become biased, and far from her impeccable journalistic standards.  I have looked extensively on the internet for other sources, but except for the websites mentioned above, and odd details found elsewhere, this is the only reliable and comprehensive source I have been able to find.  The quotes and letters used in these posts have been translated by me, and as far as I am aware, are the only part of her book which I have copied.  There is no intention whatsoever to pass any of this off as my own or to infringe on her copyright, as I merely wished to tell the story to English speaking readers.


Photo Finish -
from Lonicera's photo archives

Photo Stew

Digital:  John as the policeman who's lot is not a happy
one in Gilbert & Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance, 2008.

Non-digital:  Cheste, near Valencia


England vs All Blacks, Twickenham, early 1990s,
Rory Underwood in the background.
Photoshopped ...

Non-digital: Kite Festival, Bristol
(Thought - this image might have looked better
 if I had turned it upside down...?)

Non-digital:  Busker, opposite the Bath Pump Rooms

Non-digital:  Canal near Bath

Non-digital:  Bonfire Night in Downend, a Bristol suburb


Thursday, 16 June 2011

Tales from Argentina - The Accursed (Part 2 of 3)

The Accursed - A three-part story of the life of Raúl Barón Biza, Argentine bon-viveur, writer and tormented soul.

Part 2:  Turbulent years


Myriam soon tired of having to confine her flying hours to shuttling back and forth between Buenos Aires and Alta Gracia as a co-pilot, and she devised an adventure challenge.  She decided to do a cross country run comprising 14 provinces, and set off in August 1931 with her instructor Luis Fuchs.  However she was at the controls, where she was explicitly not legally qualified to be.  The Chingolo only had a 6 hour range, so they were obliged to stop several times as they crossed the country.  On one of the takeoffs she went into a fence, which destroyed the propeller and the front carriage.

A Chingolo

She was told that it would be impossible to repair the aircraft locally, and she and Fuchs were obliged to continue their journey by car.  She was very upset that she had written off her beloved Chingolo and that she would not therefore be able to continue her journey across 14 provinces. 

Raúl as usual saved the day by stepping in with his money and his contacts.  He persuaded a  friend whom he knew owned a Chingolo to hire it out to him, and the friend duly arrived piloting it himself.

Myriam with her flying instructor Luis Fuchs

They set off again, but several hours later the plane crashed, killing both Myriam and Fuchs who were burned to death in the ensuing fire. 

The newspapers as expected were full of conspiracy theories.  They said the plane had crashed because of the failure of a particular screw which had never been known to fail, and that Biza had recently discovered that on one of their previous flights Myriam and Fuchs had stayed overnight at a hotel where only one room had been booked – and various other rumours.  They therefore speculated that in a fit of jealousy he had had the second plane tampered with. 

This all remained unsubstantiated, and it was beyond doubt that the widower was inconsolable, and spared no expense to bring their bodies back to Buenos Aires in a specially chartered train.  She was buried with much pomp and circumstance at the Recoleta cemetery there on the day of their first wedding anniversary.  She was 26 years old.

He had a massive monument built in her memory, positioned by the main road at the limit of the Myriam Stefford farm near Alta Gracia, and had her remains removed from La Recoleta and interred in the tomb within the monument. 

The mausoleum from close up...

At 83 metres in height it is the largest private mausoleum in Argentina.  Inside it has a 237-step spiral staircase which goes to the top of the monument, and a 30-step staircase descending to the tomb.  A thin cross has been carved into the concrete which when hit by the sun at a certain angle reflects sharply as a cross on Myriam Stefford’s tomb. It looks from afar as if it were the wing of a plane, and opinion seems to be divided on whether it is in fact a stylised wing, or whether it is a symbol which by means of this interior reflection of the sun, signifies eternity.  There is a warning to tomb robbers – “Accursed is he who profanes this tomb” and a theatrical quote worthy of  either ancient Rome or Hollywood – “Traveller, pay homage with your silence to the woman who audaciously attempted to reach the eagles.” 

...and from further away

Incorporating 170 tonnes of iron in its concrete frame, it took a year and one hundred Polish workmen to build it, and had armed guards around the clock to keep an eye on the workmen.  This is because he buried all her jewellery with her in a sealed container, including the famous Southern Cross diamond.  It is said that the tomb is booby trapped and the jewels could only be reached by blowing it up, but in actual fact it is not known whether he was outwitted and if the valuables are still there or not. 

For 40 years it was guarded night and day by a man with a heavy limp who lived by the door of the monument, and whom Biza chose from many candidates, as – curiously - he wanted the incumbent to resemble the Hunchback of Notre Dame.  After the guard died it fell into disrepair and it is clear that it has been breached, because it is full of graffiti inside and out, and malodorous.  It is not known whether or not the jewels are still there.

The monument had its opening ceremony, attended by all the important local dignitaries of the day, and one of them was a politician who was later governor of the province of Córdoba, Amadeo Sabattini, and who was to become closely linked to Raúl Barón Biza.

Amadeo Sabattini

Raúl didn’t know what to do with himself in his grief, and travelled to Europe for a year as a distraction.  He returned on the anniversary of her death because a commemoration ceremony had been planned.  It was then that a friend persuaded him to stay and get involved in politics, and here started a new phase of his life when he threw himself into militant politics and wrote controversial books which revealed his budding nihilism.

He was involved in a plan to bring about a change of government by means of a bomb, which was unsuccessful, he held meetings at his home in Alta Gracia for militant radicals which involved Amadeo Sabattini – all of which would cause his homes to be raided by police, and he would escape just in time and lie low in Montevideo (Uruguay) for a time, then return later. 

Amadeo Sabattini

He also got involved in hunger strikes, which on one notable occasion resulted in his having to be admitted to hospital under guard.  He managed to give the guard the slip and escaped, leaving a note saying he would be back the following day – and spent the night at an elegant hotel.  There were other times when he spent short spells in jail, but thanks to his money was able to make himself quite comfortable.  It was said that he also made the lives of other inmates more comfortable by buying them radios and other items.  He seemed to thrive on adrenalin.

During this time Biza wrote his most notorious book – El Derecho de Matar (The Right to Kill), which was banned and got him excommunicated.  It was his statement of rebellion against institutions, accepted mores and traditional views on practically everything.  The book was described as controversial and semi-pornographic, consisting of moralising tales where he demonstrated how he despised his own class, and asserted that he was God’s equal.  The first writer in Argentine literature to do so, he told of every sexual experience he had ever had, and as a voyeur of lesbianism, which was considered highly shocking in those days.  He wanted to explore sexual repression and how it had been the cause of society’s ills.  Women in the book all make him suffer and betray him or leave him. 

“…Woman is cursed, an eternal repository where depravity spins round her very centre.  She is a fertile spring whose streams sing of falsehood, lust and crime.” (Biza, El Derecho de Matar)

He helped his friend Amadeo Sabattini campaign for the governorship of the province of Córdoba, during which time he met Sabattini’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Clotilde (“Coty”) in 1935.  She was very attractive, with her turned up nose and gentle features.  He was 36 and though over twice her age, they were very attracted to each other, to her father’s dismay.  Sabattini knew Biza of old, and didn’t trust him as far as women were concerned.  Coty was also his favourite child.

An article written in 2010 about Amadeo Sabattini,
former Governor of the Province of Córdoba,
50 years after his death

His friend’s disapproval merely made it more of a challenge.  He became obsessed with the girl – as he often did with all that he perceived was forbidden to him.  When he tried to court her Sabattini sent her to a boarding school in Córdoba city.  Raúl was so angry at this that he withdrew from the campaign.

Clotilde Sabattini, about the time when he met her

A few months later Sabattini won the elections, but before he could take up his post as governor he had another drama to deal with.  His erstwhile friend Biza kidnapped Clotilde from her school, and they eloped to Uruguay, where they got married.  This represented not only a great betrayal by his daughter and a friend, but was also deeply embarrassing him to him politically.  A colleague of Sabattini’s had followed the couple and persuaded them to marry, but the relationship between Biza and Sabattini had soured, and was never the same thereafter.  

There were further bitter twists to the affair for the new governor.  Having contributed substantial funds to his campaign before he withdrew, Raúl Barón Biza now wrote an article for one of the provincial newspapers heavily criticising his former friend, and even threatening to have the mafia come after him.  Sabattini’s wife disagreed with her husband’s treatment of the affair and went to live in Rosario taking the other children with her, leaving her husband behind.

Nine months after their wedding Clotilde gave birth to Carlos, and after she had recovered she returned to school to finish her education.  Raúl provided a chauffeured car for the 60km round trip for the seventeen-year old to attend every day for 2 years, and she eventually graduated with top marks. 

She became a teacher at the school which Raúl had had built for the children of his employees.  It didn’t seem to bother her that she lived on the farm which was still called after her husband’s first wife, with the huge portrait of the aviatrix in a prominent position and the “MS” monogrammed tiles. 

Nor is there a record of her objecting to the change of use of the little chapel dedicated to the Virgin of Mercy, which had been built as a result of a drought years earlier which was at its worst while Raúl was travelling in Europe.  When speaking on the phone to staff, they asked him to promise to build a chapel if the weather changed, located over the cave dug years before because of what had happened to Father Carmelo and the stolen diadem.  On his return from Europe he was told that it had rained, so he kept his word, but when he asked the village priest to come and bless it, he learned that he would be charged an exorbitant amount for the privilege, and declined.  “If you want that sort of money” he told him “you can go out and earn it”.  The chapel was turned into a bar – ‘Hostería Don Pepe’  where locals could meet and discuss politics.

Clotilde Barón Biza

Fatherhood transformed him and he seemed to want to settle down.  He showered little Carlos with presents, and found that his feelings towards Clotilde were changing, for now she was a mother; his devotion to his wife was turning into an obsession.  They had two further children, Jorge in 1942 and María Cristina.  There was a contradiction in his life which he was always to find hard to reconcile – the love in him awakened by his children came into conflict regularly with the limits placed on his ego.

He was married to Clotilde for 25 years.  They had a highly volatile relationship countered by a strong mutual sexual attraction.  If he wanted a stay at home wife he was never going to get it - she was a highly intelligent young woman who turned into a mature educator and earned great respect in her field.  But at home it was another story.  They would fight, live apart for a few days and be drawn back together again.  Their friends say that she admired him, liked his elegance, his intelligence and even his cynicism, and though they fought, she tended to be submissive with him.  She had apparently already asked him for divorce seven months into their marriage, before Carlos was even born.

Clotilde Barón Biza

In 1940 Barón Biza set up business growing pine trees for the lumber industry, and put his administrator in charge of it, promising to cut him in on the deal.  When the business folded sooner than planned Biza refused to pay him.  The administrator was very angry and after fruitless insistence eventually cornered his employer and beat him up, then realised the gravity of what he had done and before escaping hid the keys of the other cars and cut the electric power to the house so that he would not be able to look for his gun to hunt him out and shoot him.  This incident led Biza to put the Myriam Stefford farm on the market.

Some years later after the war Clotilde was invited by the University of Milan to speak at a conference of educators, and the whole family went together.  While in Europe they made the decision to live there for a time, and settled in Switzerland for two years.  It was a good time for them and removed them all from the stresses of family and politics in Argentina.  From there he organised the construction of a new family home in a village in the Province of Córdoba by the name of La Falda, into which they moved in 1950.  Clotilde taught at the Military College nearby and he travelled to and from Buenos Aires dealing with business matters.

The arguments continued, and on a particular occasion Clotilde decided to go to her father’s home at a distance of 220 km to get away from him.  She didn’t take their two sons with her, and several days later someone arrived to collect the children and some documents.  Worried, Raúl took a 3-hour taxi ride to his in-laws’, and had his guns with him.  He demanded to see her but was told she would not see him.  Ignoring the family, he broke into her bedroom and locked the door behind him.  They argued, she asked for divorce again, and on the other side of the door her father and brother feared the worse and repeatedly demanded access, banging on the door as they did so. 

Suddenly and dramatically Raúl flung open the door and at the same time drew a gun and pointed it at his own temple, his eyes wide and bulging, as if determined to commit suicide.  While Clotilde had the sense to jump out of the window into the garden, her brother wrestled with Raúl to get his gun off him, and in the struggle four shots were fired, wounding both of them.  They remained on the floor of the bedroom.

The police arrived at this point and arrested all four of them, and later on all but Raúl Barón Biza were released.  He spent a year in jail as a result of the incident.  As far as the Sabattinis themselves were concerned, once they had recovered they made it clear to Clotilde that they regarded her husband as a dangerous man, and they wanted nothing further to do with him.  However this was made impossible by Clotilde herself, who could not break away from him however much they begged her to do so and in fact her inability to deal with the situation was to contribute to the catastrophic effect on her children in later years.  For now the couple reconciled, and she found herself pregnant again, with Cristina.  This was in 1952.

During the fifties they went into voluntary exile in Uruguay because of their opposition to the government of General Perón.  They returned in 1955 and became very active in politics once again.  When Arturo Frondizi became president in 1958, he appointed Clotilde as Minister for Education.  As the first female minister in the history of Argentina she headed the debate that education should be free and secular.  Biza was furious.

* All pictures are from the internet or from a named source.
* Candelaria de la Sota: El Escritor Maldito Raúl Barón Biza, Vergara, 2006. ISBN 978-950-15-2385-0 (For more details about this source see end of Part 3)

Next Post:  a final solution


Photo Finish
from Lonicera's photo archive

Bitta this, bitta that

Non-digital:  Spain, skirting the Mediterranean

Non-digital:  Fuerteventura

Non-digital:  Camera-shy self-portrait

Digital:  Gilbert & Sullivan's Patience, 2010

Digital:  Director & Musical Director,
Bristol Gilbert & Sullivan Operatic Society

Digital:  Maldives

Non-digital:  Bougainvillea

Non-digital:  Rugby panning shot - Northampton player

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