[Ed. Note: This is the first complete entry from the diary]
May 17, 1967
There are times when I wonder if I wouldn’t have been better off just going back to Buenos Aires and setting up a medical practice specializing in the treatment of rich old hypochondriacs instead of becoming the world’s most charismatic revolutionary.
Take today, for example. We finally – finally! – found one of these Bolivian hayseeds who speaks recognizable Spanish. After explaining the benefits of the dictatorship of the proletariat – plus threatening to shoot his wife and children, for good measure – I was pleased to see Jesús throw off the shackles of bourgeois superstition and embrace the revolution. He told us we were only a couple of miles from a proper town, so we could replenish our rapidly dwindling food supplies (And thank Lenin for that! One more downtrodden village filled with Indians and scrawny chickens and I would have gone mad). We couldn’t very well walk into the town wearing fatigues and berets, so I asked Jesús to obtain ponchos, sandals and some of those silly bowler hats that his people fancy. He collected what we needed, and even found a couple of burros to carry our provisions, so, Marchamos!
We approached the town warily, and when we arrived, tied our burros to a tree at the end of a dusty street. Jesús pointed us in the right direction, and stayed behind to watch the burros. We walked toward the small grocery store in the middle of the block, but before we got fifty yards, some of the yokels started smiling and pointing us out to one another. Pretty soon, a fair-sized crowd had gathered. Some of them were standing by a kiosk plastered with small posters, looking from the kiosk to us and back again.
“Come, compadres. Let’s see what’s so interesting about that kiosk.” We ambled over, as nonchalantly as possible, and when we got close enough to see what was going on, Felipe grabbed my elbow, almost crushing the joint.
“Don’t do that!”
“Look at that bill, comandante! It’s a wanted poster, and the three guys in the picture look just like us!”
I perused the bill, and smiled. “Felipe, you are an idiot. That’s not a wanted poster; it’s an advertisement for a performance by The Three Brothers, a trio of singers from
At that moment, the crowd started to split in order to permit the passage of a wizened little man who was obviously some local dignitary (he was wearing shoes, at any rate). What riveted my attention, however, was his escort: two policemen, one on either side, right hands resting on the holsters of their side arms. If this was going to be a confrontation, we were in bad shape; Julio had brought his pistol for purposes of intimidation, but he had left the clip back at camp because we were so short on ammunition.
I turned to my men and said, “Good news, compadres! It is quite possible that we are about to be accorded the greatest privilege ever granted by fate to a revolutionary: martyrdom for the cause!”
To my unutterable disgust, Felipe and Julio were clearly giving signs of aspiring to die peacefully in their beds at a ripe old age, surrounded by their weeping loved ones. Their eyes were darting this way and that, looking for a side street, an alley, or just a plain hole in the ground into which they might dive in order to save their miserable hides.
“Cowards!”, I sneered. “I will show you how a revolutionary dies.” But to my surprise, the little old man smiled broadly and gave me an abrazo. “Welcome, welcome! I am Alfredo de la Bamba, Mayor of Suciedad. It is an honor to have the Three Brothers performing in our humble town! But we weren’t expecting you until this evening.”
“Oh. Yes. Heh. Well, our car broke down some way out of town and we, er, walked in.”
He clucked sympathetically. “We’ll get your car sorted out presently. But first, won’t you join me for some refreshments?”
Fortunately, his honor lived nearby. He dismissed his escort (to the visible relief of Felipe and Julio) and ushered us into the official residence, an unprepossessing home that looked rather like a large brick pump house. He proceeded to ply us with numerous cups of particularly vile tea, an excruciatingly boring history of the town of
After a stultifyingly tedious half hour, I rose and told our host that we were eager to retire to the hotel and rest before the big concert tonight. Thanking him for the tea and for his diverting conversation, my men and I left the house and walked quickly in the direction of the general store.
“All right. Let’s make sure we’ve got the plan straight. We go in, I order some supplies, pay the clerk, and then we leave without further ceremony. We pack the stuff on the burros and skedaddle back to camp. Julio, don’t pull that pistol unless you absolutely have to.”
We entered the cool, dark little shop, and I approached the counter, behind which an enormously fat man sat on a stool, idly swatting flies.
“Good morning, sir. I would like to buy some food. We need beans, coffee, salt, tinned beef and a few other things. Perhaps . . .”
I was interrupted by a deranged, shrieking voice, calling out patriotic slogans: “This land is free, free at last . . .die before we would live as slaves!” Julio practically jumped out of his poncho, and – imbecile that he is – pulled out his pistol, swinging it around in a circle looking for the source of the voice.
“This land is free, free at last! *Squawk!* Pepito want a cracker!”
I groaned. It was an infernal parrot, sitting in a rusty cage atop a barrel, shouting out snatches of lyrics from the Bolivian national anthem. The proprietor, seeing Julio’s gun, shouted, “Marta! Thieves!” Seconds later, a squat, but powerfully built woman came from behind a curtain separating the shop from their living quarters. She was followed by two tall, well-muscled young men. The family, no doubt.
It was a Bolivian stand-off: Julio stood there with his gun, pointing it at the proprietor and his people; the proprietor – or rather, his wife and their two sons – inched menacingly in our direction. The parrot squawked again – “Sweet hymns of peace and unity! *Whistle!*” This proved to be too much for the jumpy Julio, who instinctively pulled the trigger. The small shop was filled with the sound of a deafening click!*. I rolled my eyes heavenward (or rather, in the direction of where superstitious religious people imagine heaven to be). I was about to offer an explanation, when Doña Marta and her sons each grabbed a broom and began beating us with petit capitalist savagery, cheered on by their still sedentary paterfamilias. We withdrew in what I am afraid I have to admit was considerable disorder, although I saw from the corner of my eye that Felipe at least managed to grab a box of something as we ran out of the shop. We hightailed it to our burros – Jesús, of course, had abandoned his post and in all likelihood was down at the police station informing on us. Felipe and Julio ran past the burros and just kept going. “Wait!”, I cried. “What about the burros?” Julio called out: “We’re not going to be slowed down dragging any burros along behind us!” I saw the wisdom of this view, and was soon pouring it on, myself, the screeching of that damned parrot still ringing in my ears: “ . . . keep the lofty name of our country in glorious splendor . . .*Rawk!* . . . Have a cookie, Pepito! *Whistle!* . . .”
We stumbled into our camp and fell to the ground gasping. After we had had a chance to catch our breath, I asked Felipe what was in the box he had grabbed on the way out of the store. He opened it, and swore. “Maldito sea! It’s parrot food! Well . . .” He picked up a handful and popped it in his mouth. “Polly want a revolution? Squawk!” He and Julio began laughing. Finally, I joined in the laughter, myself (not that I was actually amused by their joke; to the contrary, I was mortally offended by their jest at my expense, not to mention by their feckless lack of adherence to revolutionary discipline. But they had moved themselves a few places higher on the list of candidates for the next purge – and I found that to be very funny indeed).