Blagoy Tsenkulov, April 13, 2004;

An interesting experiment, Guillermo. I'll need some time to enter the "small people" story (stories), though what first come in mind is usually the most relevant. You could help the viewer if put down the names of characters in each photo. You could greatly help the viewer making a "landscape" collage of all the photos. The different stories (threads of the plot) are developing in time till the "End" comes when we see the whole (frozen) picture. Maybe, the best way for such a presentation (technically not possible on PN) is to arrange photos in stacks, like in a solitaire, each stack telling a different story. Then you could go back and forth in time looking at a particular story or following the novel plot (all stories). Once it was the W. Faulkner's dream - a novel where each paragraph is printed in different color. :-) You said you want to "convey meaning" and let the viewer make his own history of your characters. So you gave us the final pattern of cards and we have to go back and make the initial stacks. Are you telling us if "seeing is understanding", then "understanding is seeing", too? I am reading a novel, and then I close my eyes to let the pictures come. I am looking at your photos, and then I close my eyes to let the stories come. I said "interesting" in the beginning, now I am saying also "provocative" experiment, inviting us to approach the never answered question "How we see things?" from another direction. Regards. Blago


Guillermo Labarca, April 19, 2004;

Thank you for your comments and your interest.  Usually your comments are interesting and clever, this one is challenging as well. You made a proposal that would be tremendously attractive to do, but I don't know if I am up to the task, not only for technical reasons, it is not easy to do it at all, al least with my command of computers. But as I said it would be a challenge an opportunity to learn more on the technical side. But it is a difficult task, as well, on the artistic side; it would mean a lot of thinking and decision-making. Anyhow I am preparing a CD and perhaps I can take your suggestions. I have had other critics and comments from people not in PS that I am considering, like doing it more esthetically oriented, using more photographic tricks (details, close ups, etc.) in order to make it more suggestive and less explicit. I will ponder all of it.

I did not know about Faulkner's dream, it is a good analogy. I don't know if you have read Cortazar. He wrote a novel that you could read in different ways, in the normal way starting from page 1 or in a different order, or you could arrange chapters as you please, there are enough chapters to write several books. I think that in English is called "Hopscotch"; in Spanish is "Rayuela". About understanding and seeing, yes I think that the more you understand the better you see. Very clever of you to have seen and understand that. That is the reason why I like so much your critics and comments, very often they made me see better. For me it is not as it is for you, you said that the first that comes to your mind is the most interesting, for me the most interesting opinions and ideas come after watching some time and I usually don't like my first impressions after a while. Critics are for me very important in order to appreciate an image. I see some things only after thinking and discussing it. Kind of platonic don't you think? Not that I like Plato that much.


Blagoy Tsenkulov, April 20, 2004; 

Guillermo, your photo novel is really interesting to me. I made my first comments based on my first impressions. Next step is to make up a story and if you like it you could add/delete some photos. So you are getting in a circle - more photos, more threads in the story; more threads - more photos. It's like writing novel -more characters, new threads; more threads - new characters and so on. You put photography in front of the words. Many are doing the opposite - first reading, then shooting (movies) or drawing (comics). "Painting" images using words and taking images to write stories on them - seems natural and controversial at the same time. (I'll look for the Cortazar's works.) Regards. Blago


Blagoy Tsenkulov, April 23, 2004;

Alicia: Alicia is a widow. Her husband left her and their two daughters, Emilia and Helena, only debts, many photos (he liked photos and especially photos of himself), and the shame to be called "poor girls" for years. He was a cheerful man fond of parties and poker games, but deeply despising all kind of long mental, let alone physical, work.

Alicia and her husband were running a small family business making small series of specific clothing for different purposes. She was doing all the design and manufacturing while he was "responsible" for selling and dealing with customers. You guess what kind of dealing it was. The hardest time for Alicia came after his death when she faced the unpleasant truth: the business is totally down, a lot of credits and bills had to be paid, and almost nobody around to be of any help. Stubborn and sticky by nature she started the business again realizing one more truth - if you want to make your own fortune never let somebody else to control your money. Taking new credits to pay the old ones, hiring some girls to do the manual work, using the cuts and patterns of her older daughter, doing the accounting and marketing herself, constantly overworking, and denying herself and her daughters every kind of luxury, she managed to crawl up. But it took her long years of struggle. Nobody will call her a "poor girl" now and not a "girl" for sure - she's getting older. She is a well-respected business lady, her business is running better and better, only why is she sitting alone on the sofa sadly staring at one point? What is she thinking? Is she asking herself the inevitable questions and then trying to slip out of merciless answers?

"Did I live all these years? Did I make it for my daughters? Do I know them at all? Am I happy?… Or, maybe, Teodoro, my neighbor, the writer, is right saying that the life of every man ends in ruins. Teodoro. His eyes are so sad. And why is Emilia so hostile to him? The good man Teodoro. Not to forget to invite him for the Friday evening poker. Ah, and this young man, the Helena's friend, Jorge, too. Though he's so boring with his theories."

Then Alicia is going absent-mindedly to the mirror to look at herself. (Why?) She's terrified at the beginning ("Is it me?") but after a while a soothing thought comes along with the name of Teodoro - "Jesus, my eyes are like Teodoro's eyes!"


Guillermo Labarca, April 23, 2004;

Blago, I see you liked Alicia, I like her very much too, I think as well that she has a strong, determined character. Your story is really moving, are you a writer? In a few lines you created a situation full of drama, in some way a trivial, common drama, but a very real one. I think that you could spare words because you didn’t need to describe people or settings, since there were photographs; nevertheless your text gives new meanings. I am glad that a set of photographs has inspired a story, and an interesting one, both, text and images, working together. As I said before I like Alicia, she is at the center of my own story as well: in real life and in fiction, but here is about fiction. My story: Originally my Alicia was not engaged working before her husband died. She was totally dependant on him. When he died she had to change her ways, given that he did not managed his business well. I think your version is better; it is more credible, if she has now the strength to work hard and get out of debts it is more plausible if she had already some training and were acquainted in some way with the business world. Emilia, in my version, is her daughter but not Helena. Emilia is indeed supporting her with her work but she lives surrounded by her fantasies. Her only contact with reality is Alicia and the work that she does for her. I think as well that Emilia is a designer but I thought that she works on the line of furniture. Helena is not Alicia’s daughter but an associate to Teodoro’s construction society. Teodoro is an architect, inclined to read, not to write. He was a renowned architect; a true artist but became a businessman as head of that building society. He has earned a lot of money but, now that he is old, has lost self-confidence, hence self-respect. He became acquainted with Alicia as she is in a closed line of business. He started to court her and he considered him, but when she realized how egoistic and self-centered he is she lost interest. Teodoro tried to create a link to Alicia by approaching her daughter Emilia, but she did not like him either. Helena went to Alicia’s house, with Teodoro once and became friend with Emilia. Jorge went with her and kept going as long as lasted his romance with Helena.

This is my story. To be honest yours, Blago, is more human, Alicia show better and deeper feelings. Thank you for your contribution. I have another one, out of PN, but in Spanish. And two other people have elaborated theirs but have not written; I asked them to write them.


Blagoy Tsenkulov, April 26, 2004;  

Guillermo It was raining yesterday here, so I've plenty of time looking at your photos and making up stories. Now I've several of them and I'll share some in the future, but I'm still not ready with "my true" story. I’m trying to make it up looking only at your photos and text. It's interesting how different our speculations are. Alicia is an important but a secondary character for me and (following your suggestions) I'm using her story mainly as an introduction. (Writing is one of my hobbies, Guillermo, otherwise I'm making my living out of computer services and consultancy.) Regards.


Blagoy Tsenkulov, April 26, 2004;

Emilia: Emilia was a shy and timid child. She liked to be alone arranging her dolls and toys or looking through her mother's fashion magazines, her father's photos, or some books with pictures. She used to give names and functions to her dolls organizing them in an imaginary world totally dominated by her own. Not that she was afraid of other people, she considered them boring and incompatible with the world she was living in. Emilia had no problems in school; she was a quick learner memorizing almost everything without taking notes or learning manuals. But she was staying aside her mates finding them too noisy. "I see no mental disorder." said the psychiatrist when finally Alicia (advised by Teodoro) brought her for an examination. "Some deficits in communication and social interaction are obvious, but I see no signs of intellectual impairment. The girl is unusually clever and skilful, though not very talkative."

Emilia was really very skilful, especially in dressmaking. She started with garments for her dolls (later on making even the dolls) and clothing for herself, but after the death of her father Alicia gradually loaded her with all the design work she needed for the business. The outcome was amazing. Emilia's projects were fresh, attractive, and of big demand. Alicia was happy for a while, and not only for the business. Maybe, Emilia's work could be that bridge to the real world her daughter needed so much. Alicia would be surprised to know that Emilia was fighting to get rid of her delusions and fantasies, too. She gripped instinctively to Alicia attracted by her strength, not the business, but later on she realized she had to do the opposite - to run away from her and from this home. To run away, and not to sit for hours on this old-fashioned sofa haunted by fears and fantasies. Things got worst when Emilia's younger sister started to bring her lover home. Glances, kisses, and sounds coming out of Helena's room were almost unbearable to Emilia. She was paying a little attention to Jorge, but the next-room real sex life was too much for her worried mind. Emilia was deeply envying of her sister for being so free and for having someone to make love with. Never in her life her repetitive desire to run away from home was so strong. Almost crying she kept asking the terrified Helena: "Set me free, please, set me free!"

Lacking the normal interaction with other people, Emilia was trying to compensate for it by populating her imaginary world with characters fabricated by her own. She used to cut out people images from father's photographs or mother's magazines and to assign them to different relations, professions, and fortunes. There were also dolls made by her own, dolls of mother and father, Helena and Jorge, Teodoro, the lady cleaning Teodoro's flat, and dolls of other neighbors and school-mates playing some roles in her fantasies. There was also a very special doll, that of Robert, her would-be fiancé. Robert was supposed to come someday and take her out of hallucinations and that "prison" she was living in. In fact, there had been two more dolls of Robert, but the first one, looking like Michel Owen, was decapitated and the second one, looking like Leonardo Di Caprio, was hanged. In both cases the Emilia's verdict was "lack of fidelity".  

"Doesn't he look like Jeremy Irons?", Emilia asked Teodoro, showing him her last Robert. "Yes, indeed!", he answered vacantly, heavily staring at the doll. And when Emilia said "Because my mother thinks it's taking after you" he already knew it was he. She used to tell him stories about Robert, that handsome young man supposed to come and take care of her, thus not missing the possibility to underline how old and incompatible with her dreams he was. But Teodoro knew her hostility was her last weapon in that eternal game he knew so well and she had no real idea of. Staring at the Robert/Jeremy/Teodoro doll he knew she was pressing him to make up his mind. Some well-read critic could explain it's a typical Freud's substitution - not wanting to confess to her Emilia was gradually replacing Robert by Teodoro. It couldn't be otherwise, Teodoro was the first real man trying to enter Emilia's world. It could be Jorge, of course, but he was the second to join the company. It was the last chance for Teodoro, living alone for years, and the only real chance for Emilia till now.

If I were the playwright I'd make an intermission here. As Teodoro say to himself "Let me consider it." mechanically lighting up another cigarette.


Charo Diez, April 26, 2004;

Clap, clap, clap... interesting reading I had this evening... Blagoy and Guillermo: having read your long posts, there is no doubt that Alicia, Emilia and Teodoro are the main characters of this unwritten play... "ménage a trois?"... I don’t know what to think about Jorge and Helena... still thinking...


Blagoy Tsenkulov, April 27, 2004;

Charo Charo, how nice you are entering the discussion. If it was only a dialogue between Guillermo and me, we could swap e-mails. :-) Helena and Jorge are supporting characters in my story and, maybe, in Guillermo's plot, but they could be the main characters in a story narrated by somebody else, especially if you shuffle the photos and the top photo turns out to be one of Helena or/and Jorge. That's why I was talking above of the solitaire (patience) arrangement giving more entry points to the viewer.

Since it's a theatre play (not a movie) the dialogue is of prime importance. The play needs Helena and Jorge as real people doing the real talking (even meaningless), thus adding more value to the main characters. And that's because, exactly in this play, the main characters happen to be not very talkative - Alicia engaged in her business thoughts, Emilia living in an imaginary world, and Teodoro facing the biggest dilemma in his life.

I cannot say what's more difficult in the Guillermo's experiment - revealing the internal life of his characters in photos or in a theatre play. This or that way, it's a real challenge. More easily, imo, is to make their portraits in words and to narrate a story or shoot a movie. What makes things complicated is that you have to read the characters from photographs and not to describe people you know. It's like a game: you go to see a theatre play and take a stack of photos, then you give these photos to some friends asking them to reconstruct the play. Guess how many stories you could collect.:-) Regards. Blago


Guillermo Labarca, April 27, 2004;

Charo's comments on Alicia I copy here Charo's comments, very useful indeed, they are mainly on technical issues and on Alicia. I am taking them very seriously, I think that her proposals could improve the whole thing. I think that Charo's technical comments are not so technical, or not about cropping or angles but they imply a story, they are interesting precisely for this implications and because they are a attempt to accommodate characters, situations and images. It is another approach to Blago's original comments about starting with a stack of photos and from them develop a story.

Charo's proposal and in another by a friend from Amsterdam starts by suggesting the same photos but taken from a different angle, or cropped in a different way or showing just a detail, in other words they are sticking to a text or to the features of a character and changing the images. Another dilemma....I am enjoying this.

On "Alicia is a widow. Her husband left her only debts and a feeling of weariness. After his death she worked hard to pay up debts building a small fortune that allows her to watch towards the future with confidence":. Describes a Alicia como una mujer trabajadora que se acaba de hacer así misma tras la muerte de su marido. Para una primera imagen de ella hubiera incluido todo el sofá (¿gran angular?): es la primera foto de la secuencia y me gusta la idea de ver el título desde el principio. El sofá al lado de una ventana, y ella sentada en ese extremo, mirando no a la cámara, sino fuera hacia esa ventana (o rayos de luz en su defecto), pero mirando con seguridad, conocedora de su situación. Al sentarla en un extremo del sofá, también nos haces ver que está sola, es una viuda.

On "She seeks reassurances that the world is solid". Esta me gusta, pasas de la anterior en la que estás presentándonos a Alicia, a un primer plano, con esa mirada fuera de imagen. Lo único que me molesta es que el borde del sofá “rivaliza” con su rostro, están al mismo nivel, pero poca cosa.

On "She has learned that any emotional design is precarious". Esta si que es difícil, y entiendo que por ello te quisieras meter dentro de Alicia, pero personalmente, es la foto más floja de toda la presentación. Y sinceramente, no sé que sugerirte…

On "At the party Alicia played poker recklessly loosing all the bets she made". At the end of the party she thought that she had had a good time. Céntrame a Alicia por favor, es lo único que pido en esta imagen, ya que su sonrisa es genial: hace sonreir al espectador. Otra idea: ¿qué tal presentar a Alicia, sentada en el extremo del sofá, (sigue viuda ¿no?), con los pies descalzos, las piernas sobre el sofá apoyada sobre su mano y con esa sonrisa hacia la cámara (no cambies la sonrisa)?

On "Her strength comes not from her might nor from her capabilities but from her consistency": para reforzar lo que estás diciendo, ¿qué tal un ángulo más bajo y de lado, que haga a Alicia “más fuerte”?, y con una mirada serena, la de una mujer que por fin está a gusto consigo misma y con la gente de su alrededor. Y en este caso, si que la centro en la imagen: ya no está sola, se tiene a sí misma. Incluso la pondría de pie.


Guillermo Labarca, April 28, 2004;

So many ideas!!! Your contributions have opened thousand paths. I am working on some of them. I am anxious because of lack of time. I need so much of it to go on. I will go on working on this presentation and will tell you soon my lucubrations. This has become more a literary thing than a photographic one....All is well what ends well...


Jonathan w., May 21, 2004;


Before I go back to individual images, as you asked, I'll offer some musings on sequences. First point (I'm sure you've figured all this out yourself, and it would be interesting to hear your perspective on these issues) is that you can't have a sequence composed entirely of climaxes, just as you can't have a story composed entirely of crises, resolutions or cliffhanger endings. You need a rhythm, which of necessity means you need a number of quieter images. You also need images that are analogous to narrative exposition - i.e. whose purpose is purely to get you from A to B, to prepare for a later 'payoff' or provide you with information that you will need to interpret a later image. Certain pictorial motifs need to be included, whether or not they are striking considered on their own terms (e.g. in 'I Am A Pilgrim', there really has to be a shot from an airplane window, despite the fact that this is a cliché device; for Venice, I have to have a couple of shots or recognizable landmarks for orientation), but because you need to get past them to reach more interesting places. Also, beyond a certain point, you can't edit any more. I imagine that posing all these characters in a studio required an immense effort of co-ordination of resources, one that cannot easily be repeated (and any attempt to do so would raise continuity problems). So it's all very well saying 'This image is weaker', when there's a finite pool to work from. Similarly, I don't do that many round the world trips, so I'm not going to be adding to 'Pilgrim' any time soon (or ever).

The usual analogy is to narrative, but this isn't really a narrative, and nor are any but the most banal of photo sequences. It's a shuffled pack of cards - a hand whose combination determines its value, as in Poker: four worthless cards can become a winning hand when you add the critical fifth one - and the pattern is as much synchronic as diachronic (hope the technical terms are not confusing). It can progress dialectically.

For my own work, I have been looking in particular at Walker Evans' American Photographs, Frank's The Americans, and a less well known book inspired by the latter, Rene Burri's The Germans, which is actually closest to what I want to do in Venice. Burri invokes history, generational change, restoration / conservation, the past as something that can be performed and re-interpreted in the present, etc. Your sequence is quite different because more explicitly dramatic - staged and performed - and therefore quite self-contained, existing in its own world. There's an ambiguity about whether the characters are all actors or not (perhaps only because I have seen other portraits of Teodoro with the same name). The ambiguity is unsettling, possibly fruitful. Paradoxically, it might be good to try and emphasize this, make sure the viewer / reader can't comfortably assign the text to the category or fact or fiction. I am not sure what your points of reference could or should be, though the oblique commentary sometimes reminds me of the way Manuel Alvarez Bravo used titles (but maybe I'm just being lazy in going for a Latin American reference). More later ...


Blagoy Tsenkulov, June 14, 2004;

Rabbit, Run.  

The game Teodoro started with Emilia more than a year ago is close to the end. All his life he was playing with ladies he liked, never having in mind some particular goals in the beginning and (to be fair) never being afraid to face the consequences at the end. Always polite and witty, full of stories and jokes, he was never in a hurry, preferring a long siege to a direct attack. "Time is on my side." he used to say flattering himself. An easy and egocentric position giving him a cutting edge advantage in the love game and forcing the other side to take the final decision. Because time is never on woman's side.(Though, looking from the other end, the opposite is also true. :-))

This time, however, Teodoro was trapped. Just now (how late!) he realized the time is no more on his side and, what's worst, there is almost no time left. His mind was nearly paralyzed trying to escape from the merciless now-or-never decision. Efforts to formulate something meaningful in words were in vain. Only some banal phrases appeared, like "Something has to be done.", "That's the end.", "I'm only a die, but not the hand throwing it.","Rabbit, Run", and so on. And images. A lot of Emilia's images rotating in an endless slide show: Emilia sitting on the floor and cutting out something from a magazine; or sitting barefooted on the sofa in her typical out-of-space pose, one leg on the sofa supporting her chin and the other leg resting on the floor; or having a nap not bothered by his presence; or crossly looking at him and saying "You're so old!"; or making and playing with her dolls; or...?

Suddenly he began to see himself from the outside. What was strange he was not surprised by it. His second "me" was deeply despising Teodoro. And from now on he was going to live with "it" till the rest of his life. "It" saw Teodoro moving like a lunatic around the house and collecting some personal belongings, then writing a note to his housekeeper ("Dear, Carla, I'm leaving for Buenos Aires...Be careful. Teodoro), and finally calling a taxi. Poor Teodoro! Unable to solve the biggest problem of his life he's running away. What most of us are doing in the rare moments of realizing the truth. The simple, cruel, and disillusioned truth. Run, rabbit, run. (This is a reference to other story of mine, to be found in )


Blagoy Tsenkulov, June 14, 2004;

A Footnote

Maybe, the general public (me including) won't be satisfied by this turn. It's too realistic and I'm not going to like a play describing my own ordinary life. I need something more, say, a love story with an unexpected end. A handful of illusions to make me dream while eating popcorns. A happy-end? Teodoro and Emilia are leaving for Buenos Aires together. Once he was happy there. His first books reached the biggest success exactly there, in Buenos Aires. Now he wants to write the "book of his life" living here with his young wife. And, of course, he'd quit smoking and start jogging. Are you fond of Latino serials? I'm not. O.K., then what about Shakespeare's passions, corpses and blood all over the stage? Naive? What a pity! We are not naive any more. But then what do we (I ) want? I don't know, yet. This turn was suggested by Guillermo (see his next presentation). :-)


Guillermo Labarca, June 16, 2004; I have been thinking about your postings, Blago. It is true that excessive realism can be uninteresting, besides I don’t like either what you call Latino serials, no I don’t see Teodoro jogging or quitting smoking, no I think that he needs some kind of a shock, a very rewarding one like winning the Nobel Prize (something absolutely unexpected) or a threatening one, like being left completely on his own or getting cancer or whatever. Emilia and Alicia scare him for the same reason, both are demanding a real compromise, which would mean changing so many things. Pretty common isn’t? They are threatening because he is fond or even in love with both of them, while he does not care for Helena in the same way. Traveling with Helena is really running from the other two women and from himself. But Helena, although does not know what exactly is going on, does not like Teodoro’s elusive behavior, getting at the end very angry.

I don’t think is time for blood yet. I would like to see first what is happening with Emilia, I have not seen her for a while, let me find what is she doing. By the way, you made a very interesting person from her, your comments opened possibilities I did not expected, thanks for that.  

And then there is Alicia, who is much more than her feelings to Teodoro, another person that deserve to be better known. So you see, there is a lot of work to do, I will do my research and I will post it hier. Stay tuned!


Blagoy Tsenkulov, June 17, 2004; Guillermo My last post was rhetoric, Guillermo. No statements, no answers, maybe, a little humor, though I'm not quite sure my English provides me with this tool. :-) In fact all possibilities are still valid and it all depends on how could they be (psycho)logically proved.(I've no plans for now to stay outside them.) The abrupt turn (Buenos Aires) you offered was a total surprise to me. First I thought it's the end of my story but later on I liked it. Why not? "We are dice and not the hands throwing it", as Teodoro would say. Helena and Teodoro in Buenos Aires - nice and unexpected. (But not for 2 weeks on a business trip and not now - it's already incompatible with my version of your story, as you'll see after a while.) We are weak and timid creatures. Very often we just cannot carry the burden of a crucial decision and run away. Because we know time will solve every problem, this or that way. ("Rabbit, Run" of John Updike is the best book I know based on this fascinating and deeply human philosophy.)

This turn opens a new thread. It could be a new story or both threads could merge in the future. Story in a story - the favorite Faulkner's trick. But I'm going to follow your guidelines and to cover as many of your photos as possible, so I'm looking both ways. It's time for me to "develop" the story till the second intermission. From that point on the Friday evening poker in Alicia's home just couldn't be omitted (the first thread) and the meeting of Teodoro and Helena in Buenos Aires is very interesting, too (the second thread).

I like all your 3 women very much, Guillermo. The new turn (presentation) enlarges your experiment, now Helena is going to play the leading role, and that's quite reasonable. But it's hi time for the Helena's story. I hope you'll like it. Needless to say all of it is fiction. Regards. Blago


Blagoy Tsenkulov, June 18, 2004;

Helena:   Helena was a cheerful and friendly child. She was not able to make even two steps just walking. Always running and jumping, talking or singing, smiling ("the smiling Helena" as Teodoro used to call her) and crying, and never alone. She was always in the middle of the kids' crowd, never tired or bored. And Alice, while mending Helena's new socks badly torn on the first day she put them on, was sadly thinking, "Taking after her father". She was afraid her daughter would grow up too independent and out of control and time proved she was right. Helena hated staying at home and was not interested in her older sister's games with dolls. "Not interested" was what Helena was saying. In fact, she was very interested in it and was envying Emilia of her total devotion to something unknown and mysterious. But she simply couldn't stand to be dressed and manipulated as one of those dolls. She was not able yet to realize it, but in this way she was keeping herself out of Emilia's dominance. Strange are sometimes relations between sisters. Both girls were deeply in love with each other (rarely showing it) and, at the same time, they were continuously "spying" on and envying of each other.

It was quite different in school. Helena felt deeply humiliated in the classes of maths, physics, and others "bricks in the wall" involving abstract thinking, but there were also school plays and excursions, soccer and basketball games, the "Little angels" church chorus, and, the most important of all, a lot of girlfriends and boys she simply called "friends". How warm-hearted Helena was! Always smiling , ready to listen to dull and sometimes dirty jokes, helping her mates out to cheat the teacher in class, sharing with somebody (most often with Chaco) her breakfast sandwich, organizing the public when "our boys" were playing, and never missing a party. You know how important for a girl is to have a "best girlfriend". Helena's best girlfriend was a poor and shy Argentinean girl with the strange name of Chaco. Both girls were inseparable - Chaco was the Helena's shadow and Helena was her goddess. They were sharing all their secrets, they were attending dancing and aerobics lessons together, they were singing together in the church chorus, and later on, when the boys "came", they were providing each other with the alibi needed. But most often Helena and Chaco were talking, discussing by and large "the upcoming life", mainly love affairs, of course, who's right, who's wrong, what's true love, but also some special readings like "how to protect ourselves from unwanted pregnancy". These discussions, however, developed somehow their interest in literature classes. Now to write an essay on a given theme was a fun, and not a mental torture.

Helena was rather a "pretty girl", than a "first beauty". Not that kind of a girl to make you turn back your head after her or to shoot you down with a single glance, but it wouldn't be easy for you to forget her smile or her voice after being subject to her heart-on-the-face influence. Yet, don't lose your head, she's not easy. You were generously given a piece of her youth, but it's her turn to decide. She's the hand throwing the dice. And that's what you don't expect. So naive we men are!

To write a girl's story without telling about her first love is just not fair. Believe it or not, Helena was almost 18 then. "That" boy was heavily beaten black and blue by his mates after a soccer match. The team was disqualified because the boy confessed to the judge he played dishonestly. "To learn not to figure himself a hero", they said after getting tired of beating him. Then the sportsmen went away, throwing the bleeding boy into the hands of Helena and Chaco - the last public left. All the three in blood, girls drove him to a hospital. Some days later Helena visited "the hero" with a box of chocolates and a bunch of flowers. The boy was still in a terrible condition - almost not moving and hardly speaking. Maybe, it was the fate's finger, but there was nobody around, it was cozy and warm, and Helena started to kiss him tasting the salty blood on his wounded lips. Then she did her best to help him help her. This long and bloody night of triumph and happiness got carved in Helena's mind forever. And from that moment on these burning images were her heaven and her asylum. They were repeatedly appearing as random frames of a movie. I'd say "her" movie, because, I think, "something" or "someone" is continuously arranging the images depicted by our minds into personal movies, but everyone is supposed to see his complete movie only once in a life. A year later Helena's first lover disappeared somewhere in the USA in search for the big football money.

Teodoro was very surprised when "the smiling Helena", meeting him on the staircase (he was living on the lower, 2-nd floor), told him she and, of course, Chaco enrolled as students of literature. He'd be twice surprised if he knew both girls presented essays, based on his novels, to the examinations. But Teodoro would drop dead by surprise if he knew once Helena, "spying" as usual on her sister's belongings, found all Teodoro's books carefully arranged and obviously (many underlined paragraphs) carefully read. Then Helena and Chaco read secretly, one by one, every single piece of Teodoro's works. These were mainly love stories giving rich food for the girls' hungry minds. The fact Teodoro was a neighbor and she knew him personally was significant to Helena. She felt like she was a character of him and how charming it was that Teodoro was unaware of it.

Studying literature turned out to be hard and tedious work for both girls. Classics were difficult to read, let alone to understand. The girls were young and full of life, but if you spend all the night on a party, it'd be simply impossible for you to follow the elegant associations of M. Proust or the heavy philosophy of T. Man on the next day. And after that to write an essay on such a reading! Chaco was the first to quit returning to her parents in Buenos Aires. Helena broke down a year later, but saying to herself "Green is the tree of life" left with a smile. Alicia got terrified but Helena, smiling as usual, in two weeks found herself a secretary job in a well-known publishing house. It turned out to be a job after her heart. Her reception room was always full of people asking for something and she was serving all of them almost simultaneously - promptly, politely, and heartily. And though this job was far more difficult than the literature studies, Helena was happy.

That's where she met Jorge. She saw him for the first time at the moment he was handing her a folder with his first works (short stories) to be reviewed and eventually published. She served him in a minute, but Jorge wasn't in a hurry to leave. He was so jumpy, as if on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Jorge started to explain his stories with a passion, using unknown for Helena, long, and complicated words. His trick was the intonation. He was paying it far more attention than to the essence of what he was saying. Helena was charmed, "Like singing", she thought and granted him with one of her special smiles - enough to keep Jorge awake all the night. Since their first meeting Jorge used to call Helena two times per day to ask what's going on with his "problem". And Helena, enjoying the melody of his voice, was repeatedly replying: "They are not reviewed yet, but you could call me tomorrow". Finally, they passed through some editors and the folder was in Helena's hands. On the first page there were three times "No!" in different inks and several short notes: Not literature. Some kind of journalism. Not interesting. Bad language. Very bad spelling, and so on. Next day Helena met Jorge to return him the folder and to try to comfort him. And she managed to do this in the best possible way. I wouldn't say "Poor Jorge!" here.

Jorge was making his living supplying some newspapers with political articles and pamphlets. Grown up in a poor family he was very touchy on political issues. Jorge was at his best when taking part in different labor-union meetings, protests, and socialist party gatherings. Then he used to describe those events in articles full of antagonisms like "sweaters and workers", "exploiting class and working class", "labor and capital" , "lefts and rights" etc. In the beginning, it was fun for Helena to visit these events with him. She liked being in a crowd, but was totally indifferent to all political discussions. Later on, when pressed to "take a position", she just left Jorge going to his meetings alone. But Helena was really in love with him. She liked his nervous and fast movements (Jorge was a great dancer), the music in his voice, his total helplessness in any practical problem, even the poses he was training against the mirror, though his exercises didn't help much when she invited him home for the first time - he looked so ridiculous sitting on their old sofa and reading "The Communist Party Manifest".

Naturally Jorge became a frequenter in Alicia's home. He joined the Friday evening poker games, never mind he was a poor player like Helena and Alicia. Jorge was exited being in the company of Teodoro, a real name in the literature world, and was trying his best to attract his attention on some "hot" political issue, but Teodoro was just making jokes with it. "Where are you ? On the left or on the right?, kept asking Jorge. "I'm above, boy", Teodoro was replying, meanwhile dragging all the chips at stake to himself. It was real fun these days in Alicia's home.

Until "that" Friday. I'm tempted to continue "...when everything in Alicia's home got wrong". :-) But it seemed that for Helena things got wrong earlier in the week. As if someone had erased the usual smile from her face and had turned off the light in her eyes. She looked lost in thought, indifferent, and a little afraid. The change was so obvious that people around just couldn't keep from asking ?was something the matter?". In fact, something really was the matter. That "something" was already growing inside her taking all her smiles and lights for itself.

Helena called Jorge to come earlier this evening, "I've to tell you something important.", she added. Even Jorge managed to catch the slight trembling of her voice. His immediate reaction, "Was something the matter?", brought back for a moment the smile on her face, "Yes, it was.", replied Helena almost cheerfully. And later on, after pouring him a drink, she continued "You're going to be a father.". As if she shot him dead. He dropped on the sofa next to her. His face shrank like that rag left from a balloon when you touch it with a lit cigarette. Then he jumped on his feet, pulled on one of his trained poses, and started a speech. All he said was banal, selfish, and untrue - that he felt "biologically cornered", that she made it by purpose to trap him, or "I don't need it right now", "we cannot afford it", and so on. "Poor Jorge, where did the music in your voice disappear?", thought Helena not listening to him anymore. When he finished she simply said "Get out! And never come back, please!" How I love and respect her for that "please", overfilling the standard phrase with meaning. The jumpy Jorge was already forgiven! And then he left, rather run away, hitting his knee on the table where his untouched drink was. The gentle sound of the stirring ice cubicles startled Emilia, foreboding what's going on in the next room. She came in and grasped of what happened just having a look around. She stepped to the weeping Helena and gently embraced her not saying a single word.

The same sound pulled Teodoro out of the nap he was having. "Are you all right, sir? You were talking in your sleep.", said the air-hostess handing him a drink. And then, to his amazement, Teodoro heard someone answering in his voice, "No, I'm not, young lady. Maybe, I'm dead. One more ice cube, please."

"I'm getting late.", Alicia thought, shutting down the computer. Time for one small, "on the rocks". It was already a habit of her, but only on Friday evenings and after checking the weekly results. She was satisfied. "This night I'll beat all of them down", she amused herself dropping a piece of ice into the drink and looking forward to the coming poker game.

Finally, let me use this heart-warming sound to announce the second intermission. I'm sorry for the long post. But its Friday evening (June 18, 2004) again. Time for a drink. Cheers!