“The chronicle is the form of real story where prose weighs more: where writing weighs more.” Martín Caparrós (Argentinian writer)
“Haiti. La Isla de la Fantasia (Haiti. The island of fantasy)” and “Lima. Perfume del Fin (Lima. Perfume of the end)”, published in 1991 and 1992 respectively, are two of the chronicles written by Caparros in which the Latin American city is presented as a postmodern pandemonium.
The chronicles of Caparrós on the two Latin American capitals are framed in a desire to account for two moments of crisis that attracted these societies, but avoiding the focus on major events and the chronological and casual account of the coverage of international events; Thus, the narrative is always under the weight of a writing that presents the facts from multiple perspectives in fragmentary and non-linear sequences. The texts are composed of independent narrative blocks with an autonomous structure (beginning, conflict, closing), which include multiplicity of scenes, characters, voices and descriptions, and which are linked by a transversal axis that gives the unit the reading path , the political context of those countries.
In Haiti, Jean Aristide, “a priest of the poor, persecuted, without means” has been elected president; The forces of the dictator Duvalier (son) tried a coup before assuming, but the people went out and stopped him. The threat, however, remains.
In Peru, the terrorist group that controls a third of the country, Sendero Luminoso (Bright Path), advances silently over the capital in the framework of a war that few recognize as such and that, it is said, is about to initiate “the final offensive” against the capital.
Caparrós travels when the tension is felt in the cities of Pourt-au-Prince and Lima. Their stories, however, do not explicitly state this purpose, but rather present an attentive investigation of those societies for the reader to understand the whys of those historical moments. To do so, he doubts the official stories and investigates personally from observation and interview, instruments that allow him to put each one of the persons, spaces and practices that embody of these spaces in the foreground.
… in the streets of Pourt-au-Prince, there is a sustained cacophony of shouting, music, speakers and an impossible heat. In those streets, which were once paved and now are black and smelly mud, there are men who wash their heads with the sewage that crosses them… women who spend their entire days on their knees before ten guavas or a bunch of peanuts. There are men who carry large timbers like four men on their shoulders, men who watch what more men do, men who look at those men who look, men who do not even care, women who carry on their heads water buckets or ruthless bales , in impossible balance, and many boys who run splashing from mud to trash. In that corner a gray and big pig like thunder eats garbage on a mountain of garbage and a pale ram on the tip of a rope waits for someone to buy it to take it to the sacrifice (Caparros).
Pourt-au-Prince is a city devastated by the force of nature and men, that’s why everything is similar and the narrator cannot reconstruct a path through it, but only enumerate observations; in those streets there is no center or clear destination to reach.
Caparrós chooses to eliminate from his chronicle the churches and mansions that are part of the entire colonial city and records the extreme points of the urban countenance: on the one hand, the endless succession “of wooden houses or cartons of painted colors, (where) families they are piled up in six square meters without light or water or high hopes ”; on the other, the “immense, white, neoclassical” government palace; points of urban geography that begin to suggest the structural problem of Haiti and its social antagonism.
The same thing he wrote in the description of Lima, in that the profuse improvised settlements of the periphery contrast with the neighborhoods of the rich, “made of wide, tree-lined streets, large French-style houses or false Californian or false colonial”.
The public space is fragmented and its urban topography expresses the struggles of various groups; This is how it becomes the scene of political discontent: in Lima, “many miners with helmets and cholas with babies” take the street to the shout of slogans for salary increases, preservation of work and reduction of prices of goods: “Almost Every day there is a demonstration, they tell me, but this is one of the big ones”. In Haiti, “groups of women wearing hats and bible in the armpit, men with shirts and Aristide” gather to protest the bad life and ask for the resignation of the minister of commerce.
Caparros’ stories do not tell the specific fact, but rather rebuild a society and establish a state of affairs without resorting to the mimetic paradigm of realism. There is no complete social to represent, but a reconstruction of the social from the fragmentary. Thus, the superposition of observations, descriptions, testimonies, versions, anecdotes and statistical data, builds a dense image in the individual, group and collective flat quality account for the social heterogeneity and complexity of those moments. The scenario on which these lives lie, more than those events, are the cities, spaces where marginalization and violence are habitual practices and that, depending on this, are resignified, transformed and remapped in new territories.
The General Hospital is a set of old green-painted buildings where inmates are piled up in a multitude of beds and a multitude of screams. It is like an old war image of Crimea, Russia, 1855. The heat is suffocating, and the smells; in the halls, sick people on the floor expect someone to take over. A girl cries screaming saying “I want to go.” (Martin Caparros)