Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1994-2007).
It’s strange how a bunch of names often march out late in December. They seem to await the close of the calendar to leave, quietly it seems, perhaps overshadowed by the year-end’s big events. Great names: they can’t all be famous or highly regarded, but many are well-known to some of each of us within our limited environment. It happens in families, communities and colleges, with relations, friends, teachers and leaders.
This is not so much about family or people with whom I have had close encounters, nor is it a collection of obituaries (see the international round-up in last Saturday’s Times, pages 11 & 12). This is a reference to some personally interesting names whom I have met, spent a few hours or more with and then moved on. A personal notebook, if you will.
The death of Héctor Marcos Timerman, born in December, 1953, deceased on December 30, 2018, son of Rische Mindlin (d. 1992) and Jacobo Timerman (d. 1999) is a case in point, and quite representative of this crazy line of business called journalism. With Héctor we were once colleagues, even friends at one time. His father visited us at home in London and Buenos Aires. Héctor kindly asked me to contribute to his magazine, Debate, launched in the early years of this century. Earlier still it was clear that Héctor had inherited his father’s ability to deal with all sides in peculiar political and contrasting personalities. It was clear that Héctor T. was on this path, following his father, in journalism and in politics.
Before the 1999 elections, he loomed as a keen supporter of Elisa ‘Lilita’ Carrió, the former beauty queen, later active Radical party activist, then political firebrand, who held her ‘cabinet’ meetings in her room, the bed surrounded by supporters of her early revelations and accusations. At some time in those days Héctor contacted the Buenos Aires Herald and a s k e d i f w e would give his d a u g h t e r a short vacation internship, which she did. She was good. She, Jordana, moved back to the United States and became a contributor to The Nation. This repeated the Herald’s line in assisting the careers of many young people.
One day Héctor announced that he was flying south to meet the Kirchners. Next we (his weekly lunch colleagues… a group his father had been part of) knew he was seeing the president in Government House and, when Cristina Fernández de Kirchner became president, he was made consul in New York and later ambassador in Washington.
Many prefer to remember his notorious blunders in the last of his jobs, as head of the Foreign Ministry. It was his own wild idea to break open a security box on a US plane, but that incident faded when the late radio man and columnist, José ‘Pepe’ Eliaschev, reported a leak about a peace agreement with Iran over the AMIA bombing in July 1994. The reason was money and oil. And it was outrageous. I was later proud of telling Héctor so. But by then he was ill, very, and there is not much one can say to people who are dealing with terminal illness.
Of course, there are many names to think of and the curiosity they arouse makes more come to mind. But here it has to be a short personal list of intellectuals whom I liked, and sometimes admired, and they could be easily missed in the tumult apparent in the year-ends and starts. Well, of course author Osvaldo (Jorge) Bayer (b. 1927) could not be bypassed and James Grainger did a good job last weekend looking back briefly on the greats. And so charango player and folklore composer Jaime Torres, who died on Christmas Eve, was included in the Times’ roundup.
I can’t put aside a distant conversation with Bayer in which he outlined his anarchist beginnings. After school he got a job in the Argentine merchant navy. There was a family link with that line of work and he knew he would like it.
He was sent to work on the river fleet and almost immediately objected to the conditions of crew members and of all personnel on the small freighters. It was not long before Bayer had encouraged staff to hear his arguments for strong protest. It was in the early days of what was known as the Flota Fluvial, the river ships in service during the first government of general Juan Perón. The strike buzz went around the river ports and Bayer was picked up by Coast Guard personnel. He was taken to hear a lecture on his personal ingratitude. The scolding ended as his sailor’s ticket was torn to shreds before his eyes. He was told he would never work again in the merchant navy. He decided to go into journalism and writing instead.
My thoughts are now with poet Irene Gruss (b. 1950), who died on Christmas Day. She was an outstanding poet and it was my pleasure and honour, I should say, to translate some of her work into English for my anthology of Argentine poetry. She was born and died in Buenos Aires and had started writing poetry in a workshop in 1970. She smoked like a burning chimney while working and eventually had to make an effort to respect opposition. She published about eight collections, several anthologies and was on frequent call to take part on panels or as a judge in many juries, one of the last was with poets Jorge Aulicino and Santiago Sylvester.
And finally, in this very personal selection, there was Héctor ‘Toto’ Schmucler, one of Latin America’s leading literary intellectuals, who died aged 87 on December 19. Born in Entre Ríos and longtime resident in Buenos Aires, first as a lecturer in literature and communications at the national university, he was also a publisher of literary magazines that marked writing and criticism in the 1960s and early seventies. After exile during the last dictatorship, he returned to the university of Córdoba. He would pass on in that city.