Right now, the heat in Buenos Aires is hellish. In the midst of writing
a viscid book that might become a horror film, it seems difficult to
think about The Holy Girl. In cases like this, it is
best to refer to car accidents.
In the north of Argentina, between the cities of Salta and Jujuy, there
is a very beautiful scenic mountain road surrounded by deep cliffs,
barely visible amidst the yunga vegetation; that is, the high
altitude jungle. The road runs about 1600 meters above sea level. I
was four or five years old, it was 1970 or 1971, and we were returning
from La Ciénaga dam—where you can eat delicious fried silverside—to
the city of Salta in a Peugeot 504. In the car were my uncle, a friend
of his, both their girlfriends and Debora, my eldest sister, who was
wearing delicately embroidered white shorts. I fell asleep, cradled
by the sinuous road. I woke up, I guess, because of some screaming which
I don’t remember, and I saw leaves and stones raining down. A
slow and silent rain. We were falling, rolling down; surely someone
inside the car was screaming, surely we were banging against each other,
for if not, my broken femur would have been unexplainable. The only
thing I remember is the slow stone and leaf curtain that rolled over
the car’s windshield and windows. When we were taken out of the
car, my sister’s white shorts were drenched in blood and someone
was saying, "Don’t be scared, it’s not yours."
The blood belonged to my uncle’s friend who had lost three fingers.
Fortunately, my sister was fine.
The days following the accident I could not sleep. Nor could I eat.
I was scared all the time. Then someone, I believe my grandfather, suggested
that a folk healer be called. There are many things which, in the north
of Argentina, curanderas can cure without needing to spend
money on medicine. Her name was Doña Anselma. So that I wouldn’t
get scared (I was five years old and this lady was an old woman with
white hair down to her waist) my mother told me that she was Little
Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. The perplexity that such a visit
caused me suspended, I guess, my fear. The curandera drew crosses
over my body several times and then, according to my mother’s
narrative, I fell asleep for two days. When I woke up, I ate. And thus
my happy life moved on.
Years later I found out that my mother did not run the full course
of the curandera’s treatment. In popular forms of medicine,
the soul leaves the body after some violent event has shaken it. Once
the patient has recovered, in order to retrieve the soul it is necessary
to return to the place of the accident and, while dragging clothes belonging
to the victim through the soil, to scream the person’s name, so
that in this way the soul can be reunited with its clothing. The next
time the accident victim wears those clothes, the soul is recovered.
My mother, a free thinker, considered that this part of the recommendation
from the curandera was not necessary, for she could see that
I was already quite well. Mothers’ wisdom.
When I think about cinema, in some way or other, I return to this part
of the interrupted treatment. To drag oneself through one’s native
land, trying to recover a unity lost because of a machine that smashes
against stones and leaves.
Narrated, the accident should speak about monstrosities, about tumors
as a concept for the writing of characters, of the importance of X rays
in actors’ curricula vitae, of the aspirations of an organic morale
contrary to today’s moral anatomy. It should speak of fever as
a form of penance, as a plea. Of prayer and conversation as narrative
structures. Of drifting. Side-effects, I guess, of falling off a cliff.