The Great Argentine Encyclopedia
About the book:
Carlos Scolari, renowned in the academic world for his texts on communication and the media, and author of books such as Hipermediaciones (Hyper-mediations, 2008), El fin de los medios (The End of the Media, with M. Carlón, 2009), Media Evolution (2019) and Cultura Snack (Snack Culture, 2020), explores a new side, and an astounding one, of the narrative field. The Great Argentine Encyclopedia is a hybrid text into which different voices make their way. It is an invitation to rewrite Argentine History. As mysterious and capturing as peronism itself, with this text Carlos Scolari ventures into fiction for the first time with a novel that captivates readers from the very beginning. The author navigates the maze of Argentine politics, a world filled with conspiracy, led by Francisco Muñoz, an intelligence agent from the department of state called “Coordinación de Informaciones del Estado.” Already on the first page the mystery is set, when the very Eva Duarte de Perón commissions Muñoz with a task as complex as impossible to reject: to investigate the secret plans of her husband, president Juan Domingo Perón. This will lead Muñoz to unveil an ambitious and maybe inexhaustible project: the writing of the Great Argentine Encyclopedia.
Ok, let’s start. Now that you’ve turned on the recorder, let me repeat it again: I want you to bring out everything I tell you, and with the exact same words. You need to transcribe them accurately, one by one. You can add your own words and complete the data, that is, you do your job, but my part has to come out complete and with the exact words I use. If you are OK with this condition, I’m ready when you are. Fine. Look, the whole thing started in the fifties, the fifteenth of December, nineteen hundred and fifty. On that day, my boss at the Coordinación offices, Ignacio Benjamín Roca, better known, in his absence, as El gordo Roca (Fatman Roca), summoned me to his desk. Beware of El gordo Roca, he might look like a cool guy at first but, mind you… with the kind of info he handled he could sink you at any given moment. He knew everything about everyone. El gordo Roca was a walking archive, very discreet at any time, but he could shoot down any flying bird with just a call to a newspaper or two. Is John Doe bothering the administration? El Mundo news would publish some pic of this John Doe with his lover on the entertainment section of the paper and ruin his marriage. Is John Doe still bothering? He would then appear on the police news this time, caught red-handed drinking champagne with some pibitas in a whore-house, or even worse, in some flea-pit gay cabaret in La Boca. And three weeks later, no one was talking about John Doe, he’d become a carcass, a corpse emptied by information vultures. That is who El gordo Roca was, a very dear and respected guy, especially for what I’ve just told you. On that morning –I remember as if it were today– sweat poured down Roca despite the fan in his office. You know what Buenos Aires can be like in December. Drops would form on his forehead and go down his neck ‘til forming two armpit pools. One day he learned he had been baptized “la Cuenca del Plata” (Rio de la Plata Basin) and he did not stop until he got his hands on the poor bastard who had called him that in the first place. My office was on the ground floor, at the back of the building, next to the drivers’ room and above the radio equipment in the basement. As soon as I came in, Roca had somebody call me. He was upset and not only by the heat. “Good morning, Francisco. Sit down and listen carefully to what I am going to tell you. I will not repeat it: this is an errand for the highest levels. No room for mistakes. Only you and I are aware of this story in this place. Am I being clear enough? When he wanted –that is, always– Roca could be crystal clear, he didn’t bullshit around. “You have to go to the Fundación. La Señora needs an agent for a job. You will be filled in when you get there. They expect you at half past eleven. Do not call for a driver. Take a taxi and get off a few blocks away. Anyway, I dunno why the hell I tell you this… you know how these things work.” La Señora. I started to sweat, too. You are a kid, you have no idea what that assignment meant. The Fundación had been created a year earlier by decree. At first, La Señora would have her work meetings at the ancient Unzué Palace, the presidential residence in Recoleta neighborhood, but later she had moved her office to Palacio de Correos. When I was summoned, her office was in the same building where El General's Secretariat of Labor and Social Security had been, El General’s Secretaría de Trabajo y Previsión, across Plaza de Mayo, next to the Cabildo, where the city hall is now. Less than an hour later, I was outside the entrance gate of the Fundación. After identifying myself at the reception and after some verification calls, a young man ushered me to La Señora's office. It wasn’t that difficult to get to her. As opposed to El General, who made you go through several security checks and metal detectors, La Señora was much less maniac. Her office was in a huge room, quite overloaded in style with wood paneling on the walls and its Louis XIV style furniture. ‘ever seen it? It’s the rococo style. She emerged from behind a never-ending desk and came over to greet me. She shook my hand and invited me to sit by her side, on one of the chairs, by a little round table. The details. At the Coordinación they would prepare us for that, for the details. A grey cotton alpaca two-piece suit. A jacket with two rows of velvet lined-buttons matching the collar. The shade of this grey, as well as the buttons’ and collar’s, was a bit darker than the suit but not black. Dress shoes on a moderate heel, black leather, and this time, almost for sure, leather treated in Italian tanneries, with no metal buckles or anything of the kind. White mulberry silk blouse with shell buttons. The tailor-made suit jacket had been altered to fit a body that would shrink more and more each day. White skin, almost transparent, and dark circles barely visible under a slight layer of make-up. La Señora shuffled in her seat trying to conceal some mild stabbing pain in the groin, but she could not help placing her right hand on her hip. The intelligent reports that circulated at the top floor of the Coordinación offices were not mistaken. One month later she would be operated on for an alleged appendicitis, but on those very reports her death sentence was drawn and underlined: endophytic carcinoma. Later on I’ll tell you how we covered up La Señora’s illness. It was one of the most daring intelligence operations ever undertaken in Argentina. If you want, I'll tell you later. A hell of a job, we did, a true capolavoro. Before the young man who had ushered me to the office walked away, La Señora asked him for a coffee with milk and two butter medialunas. She questioned me with a look. “Just a glass of water for me.” Once the door was closed, La Señora opened fire. “I haven’t been told your name.” I made an effort for her not to notice my rattling teeth. “Francisco Muñoz, señora. At your service. Yours’ and the country’s.”
Translated by Natalia Barry / Edited by Laura Estefanía