Alfonsina the Restaurant Introduces Me to Alfonsina the Poetess!

The first evening our group of students and professors from Georgia State University shared a delicious dinner of empanadas, picadas (sampler/appetizer platters) and delicious Argentine wine in the historic restaurant Alfonsina. It is named after the superbly talented yet tragic poetess Alfonsina Storni.  It was at this restaurant that I first learned of her.

Despite my considerable familiarity with the literature and poetry of the Spanish language, it was the first time I had heard of Alfonsina. Hearing a brief description of who she was and how she died, my curiosity was spiked to learn more about her!

Alfonsina was one of Argentina’s and the world’s greatest poets of the 20th century.  She was also a pioneer in woman’s poetry, feminist poetry and is considered a founder of the Spanish genres of modernismo and posmodernismo.  She left us with a prolific body of poetry, but tragically left this world at the young age of 46 by committing suicide. On Tuesday, 25 October 1938, Alfonsina left her room and headed towards the sea at La Perla beach in Mar del Plata. Her biographers say she jumped into the sea from a breakwater, popular legend is that she slowly walked out to sea until she drowned. There was even a song composed about her Alfonsina y el Mar (Alfonsina and the Sea). Link to the song, it is said that she committed suicide because she thought she was very ugly.  I think you will agree with me that she was not ugly!  She was not a 10, nor a supermodel, but I think she was actually a pretty woman. Her story and her poetry have made an impact on me and I am enjoying continued reading of her poetry. There are a few documentaries of her life on YouTube in Spanish, (I haven’t found any in English yet).


The Reflection in the Mirror

 La Perla, also know as La Universidad (the University), was a clandestine detention center used during the Argentine military dictatorship of the last century (1976-1983).  While visiting, I naïvely queried as to what the facilities were used for both before and after its use as a detention center. I was disturbed to learn that the military had built the facility with the sole, specific purpose of detaining, interrogating (with the use of torture), people whom they considered to be dangerous and enemies of the state. It actually began functioning before the rise of the military dictatorship, in 1975 and continued in operation until 1979. It is located on the highway that unites the large city of Córdoba, Argentina’s second largest city, with the smaller city of Carlos Paz.  Through its gates passed over 3,000 detainees, with only approximately 250 survivors.  (After the dictatorship, it was used as a regular military training base.)

The vast majority of the victims were common workers, unionists and university students. The detainees were abducted from their homes, from the street and other locations. They were blindfolded, thrown into the trunk or rear floorboard of a car and driven to La Perla. Some were transferred from other detention centers. When brought to La Perla, their likelihood of coming out alive was very slim.  When initially brought in, they were processed and interrogated, interrogations that involved torture.  The average detainee was kept from a few days to two to three weeks.  The vast majority were forced to sit and/or sleep in a small cramped space as pictured in the photo below:

 The gentleman pictured is a son of one of the tortures, who denounced his own father for his crimes. His father forced him, as a teenager, to watch some of the horrible things that went on in La Perla. He says, that in his adolescent naïvete, he thought that they were doing good, that he was some type of secret agent. As he grew and matured, he realized his father had manipulated him.  In the picture, he sits in the position that the prisoners were forced to remain day and night, except when they were being questioned/tortured or for the rare bathroom break.

The most shocking and disturbing thing of our visit to La Perla, was actually after the trip. Before our debriefing and discussion about the visit, I was thinking about what I would discuss. I looked through my photos and discovered this one: 

I had not noticed before that my reflection was captured in the photo, that in the photo it appeared as if I were in the room that was used for torture!  This shock reminded me of how vulnerable we all are to an “all-powerful” state, be it right-wing or left-wing. When a state, a government, feels that it has such power that it can kidnap citizens, whether guilty or innocent and question them, torture them, kill them and/or disappear them without due process of law, we are ALL in danger! Today you may be favored by an “all-powerful” government, tomorrow things could change!