A Writer's Reality [cont]
A year later, he visited Fidel Castro's Cuba for the first time. He was to visit there another five times, in the late 1960s, and to become friendly with the hero of the island, Fidel, until in 1971 he divorced himself from Castro.
Llosa says that this happened after he found out about the concentration camps that Castro had established for homosexuals. Quite a number of artists were incarcerated there and Llosa couldn't tolerate that. He wrote an angry letter to Fidel, made a last visit to Cuba, and never returned. His writings were outlawed in Cuba. Who knows, perhaps then, during his Havana days, the seeds of hostility were sowed in the relations between Llosa and the other great Latin American writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who remained loyal to Castro.
When Llosa is asked about the total severance of relations with Colombia's Marquez, his former friend, with whom he hasn't been speaking for years, his face clouds over. "That's a secret that we agreed never to reveal. Our biographers will have to expose it," he adds with finality, rejecting any additional question about the severance of relations between these two great literary giants. Morgana also says that she doesn't know the secret. It's easier for him to talk about Castro: He recalls the long talks he held with him, during which Castro did most of the talking and he listened, monologues that lasted for hours. Llosa thinks that after Castro is gone, his regime will fall down like a house of cards, and Cuba will become a democracy.
At the same time Llosa remarried, to Patricia, who became the mother of his three children; they have been married for 39 years. Every morning they walk together for about an hour, in Madrid, in Lima, in Paris or in London. Patricia also joins him on some of his trips, but she didn't come to Israel this time. "I write and Patricia does everything else," he said this week.
He is a handsome man, with an impressive silver mane of hair. In his youth he looked like a movie star, and even now he looks younger than his 69 years. He has an aristocratic bearing, his appearance is elegant and reserved. In Israel, he wore a lot of clothes in military colors, or maybe they were simply safari outfits. In Hebron I saw him wearing a khaki photographer's vest; in Jerusalem he wore olive.
He lacks any of the mannerisms of an international literary star, although his best-selling books have been translated into about 34 languages and he is considered one of the greatest writers in the world.
This week Llosa said that in Madrid alone there are 1,500 places where books are sold, the same as the number of booksellers in all of Brazil, which is almost like a continent. South America does not read many books. But he is also popular in the other European countries: His next trip is to Romania, where he will receive another literary award.
The Nobel Prize?
"Not me. I always say the wrong thing at the wrong time," he said with a smile, leaving the impression that it is not very important to him. Once his life was saved because of the Nobel that wasn't: It was during the war in Iraq, to which he also traveled on a journalistic mission together with his Morgana. When they were about to leave the inferno and were waiting for hours on the Jordanian border, Morgana recalls, the heat was intolerable, 50 degrees Centigrade, and her father was about to faint.
She was sure that he wouldn't withstand the heat and feared for his life. Suddenly a Jordanian officer appeared: "I heard that there's some Nobel Prize waiting in line," said the officer to the exhausted Llosa. The writer tried to explain to him that he was mistaken, that he had never won a Nobel, and in his estimate would not win one, but Morgana hastened to hush her father, "Quiet!" Mario and Morgana were ceremoniously ushered into a room with an electric fan. She is sure that her father's life was saved thanks to the Nobel that wasn't.
In 1990, he ran for the presidency of his country, as a candidate of Fredemo, the Democratic Front. Llosa, a liberal in economic matters and a social democrat on matters of policy and human rights, according to his definition, says that he despises all tyranny, from the right and from the left. The left in South America often saw him as a pro-American CIA agent. He was certain of his victory. All the surveys predicted it.
Two weeks before the elections, he was asked if he had heard about the "little Japanese guy." The little Japanese guy? Llosa says that he had no idea whom they were talking about. Two week later, the anonymous Japanese guy became the president of Peru, when he beat the famous writer in a second round of voting.
The "little Japanese guy" was, of course, Alberto Fujimori. Llosa received the votes of the right and the center; Fujimori swept up the votes of the poor and the left. After years of heading a corrupt regime, Fujimori was subsequently forced to flee Peru to Japan in late 2000, after being suspected of smuggling hundreds of millions of dollars to private bank accounts in Singapore and Japan.
The corruption in South America greatly disturbs Llosa. He doesn't see a solution at present. On the other hand, he is very disturbed by the growing nationalism in Europe, for instance, what is happening in one of his former cities of residence, Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, which he used to love.
Now it is too separated for his taste, that is why he prefers Madrid, which has become more open and cosmopolitan. He doesn't think that that we will soon see civil wars and the division of countries between whites and Indians in South America. Llosa believes in multicultural societies and in an improvement in the economic situation, but he says that leaders such as the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez are causing national conflicts. He believes more in the path of Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, but is afraid that corruption will bring him down, too.
He barely wrote down a word during most of our conversations here. "What the memory does not preserve, is not important," he says. "Memory does the most correct selection for us." "After Gaza," is what he will call the series of articles for El Paiz.
Llosa likes and admires his friend Daniel Barenboim, and doesn't understand how the American woman from the incident in the hotel called him an anti-Semite, too.
In his youth he smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, but when a doctor friend took him to the oncology department in the hospital in a small and remote town in the state of Washington, where Llosa taught at a university with an excellent Latin American studies department, he stopped smoking in horror. Once he entered a restaurant and one of the diners exhaled a cloud of white smoke at him, and he felt then that he still hadn't been cured of smoking. But he never lit another cigarette.
Our separation fence shocked him. The picture of besieged Qalqilyah caused him great anguish. Last Friday he went with the man from the Committee Against House Demolitions, Meir Margalit, to a demonstration of Anarchists Against the Wall, in Bil'in. He was upset by the violence demonstrated by soldiers against the demonstrators. When Morgana wanted to photograph a soldier hitting a demonstrator, the soldier quickly embraced the demonstrator, in the spirit of Gush Katif. That won't be shown on prime time.
Llosa's visit to the Haifa area was also a different type of visit: It was like traveling in a time tunnel, back to the days of 1948. Ilan Pappe took him first to the ruins of Balad al-Sheikh, today's Nesher. They visited the grave of Iz Al-din al-Qassam, and Llosa saw the neglect and the dirt. He asked to see the city buried in Haifa beneath the modern city, and for hours on end, Pappe showed him the ruins of the Palestinian homes and the highway that passes through the Muslim cemetery. The historian told the writer about the expulsion of 75,000 residents of the city in 1948: "I was impressed by his heart, not only by his acute mind, his sharp eye, the eye of a writer who also sees below the surface," says Pappe. Llosa didn't miss a single Arab house, and asked many questions about them.
In the German Colony, he was impressed by the freer spirit among the young Arabs, relative to those living in Jerusalem, which seemed to him a depressing city. In the end, the dined at the Al-Diar Restaurant, restaurant of the homeland. I met him for the first time in Hebron. Llosa visited the torn city, where the homes of the Jewish settlement were built on "human blood," accompanied by Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of the organization Shovrim Shtika (Breaking the Silence). These were the type of people who hosted the writer.
We met by chance on deserted Shuhada Street. A video camera documented the visit in Hebron. Here is Llosa walking along the deserted streets, from which tens of thousands of Palestinians were expelled under threat by the settlers/soldiers. He walks in silence, lingering next to the derisive inscriptions "Death to the Arabs," "Kahane was right," and "Revenge," casting silent glances at the locked shops, whose gates were welded by the settlers.
Wearing a wide-brimmed felt hat, he sat for a long time in the shade of the tree, not far from the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and listened to Shaul's explanations. Shaul, who is religiously observant, told him about his military service, about the harassment of the Arabs during the course of it, about the hand grenades that he threw at innocent people, and about the major and minor harassments. Shaul described his friend the soldier who murdered a Palestinian youth by firing a rubber bullet from short range at his jaw, but was not punished for doing so.
Llosa asked: How do your parents react to your activity? And how do your friends react? Have they ever called you a traitor? Does the brutal attitude of the soldiers stem from rational policy, dictated from above, which is designed for political purposes, or is it a result of the occupation? Do the orders to soldiers include orders to break the spirit of the residents? How many Palestinians lived here before? Did Jews live in Hebron in the past?
Occasionally, Llosa wrote down facts in his notebook. Curious, he listened patiently to the detailed explanations. He visited the home of Hashem Al-Gaza in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood. Al-Gaza is one of the last residents who hasn't deserted the place, and has seen the persecution of ghetto life there. Llosa wrote the names in his notebook: Baruch Marzel, Tel Rumeida, Ramat Yishai. He saw in Hebron what most Israelis have never seen. He saw in Israel what most of us have not seen and don't want to see. Soon there will be a book, or at least a series of articles.