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The Fried Eggs of Jorge Luis Borges

Stories of personal encounters with great Argentinean writer.

January 9, 2016

Stories of personal encounters with great Argentinean writer.

During a recent trip to Argentina I was talking with an old friend, a successful psychiatrist, about Jorge Luis Borges, the famous Argentine writer, who passed away in 1986. She told me about the only time she had met him.

“I had gone to a lecture by Borges at a cultural center in Buenos Aires. I was a 14-year old student planning to study literature at the university and become a writer and Borges was a hero to me.”

“I was enraptured by Borges strong personality. However, there was a large discrepancy between his physical appearance and the quality of his speech.”

“I saw him as an old man who looked very tired – a sensation increased by the poor lighting in the place – but the magic of his words transported me to another world, the world of the imagination.”

“After the lecture I decided that I wouldn’t study literature, since I would never be able to write like him. On my way out, there were several books on sale. I bought one called Psychosomatic Medicine, by Eric Wittkower and Hector Warnes.”

“After reading that book I decided to become a psychiatrist, a decision I never regretted. I can truly say that although I saw Borges only that one time, he dramatically changed my life.”

A jokester

In reading Borges, one may think he was a very serious person. He was actually a man who loved jokes and always had unexpected responses to everyday events.

Mario Rojman, a friend I met in Buenos Aires, told me that Borges visited Peru when he was an attaché at the Argentine Embassy. Because he loves poetry, both he and Borges would recite some of the writer’s poems aloud, each one a line at a time.

They were having a lot of fun, said Rojman. It had been announced that the King and Queen of Spain had decided to visit Peru. When Rojman told Borges the news he replied, with a mischievous smile, “I hope they won’t bother us…”

His sense of irony never left him. . In the book “The Other Borges” by Mario Paoletti, María Esther Vazquez (his secretary and then his partner) recounts that on one occasion, he was with a group of ladies and as he walked to the bathroom Borges jokingly said, “I am going to shake Monsignor’s hand.” When Borges returned from the bathroom one of the ladies reproached him, “Georgie, you don’t shake hands with a Monsignor. When you meet him you have to kiss his ring”.

My meeting

I myself had the honor of meeting Borges personally. In 1970, I was doing biomedical research in Buenos Aires, on a fellowship from Tucumán, my hometown in the northernpart of the country.

For my wife and I, living in Buenos Aires was a far cry from the provincial kind of life we had been leading in Tucumán. We didn’t have much money or personal contacts, which made our daily life difficult and dull.

Life was also stressful due to the demands of working in a world-class research institute where the director, Dr. Luis F. Leloir, had received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1970.

To make ends meet my wife was working in jobs far below her professional capacity as a university graduate. At the time, she was also taking language and literature courses at the Instituto de Lenguas Vivas in Buenos Aires.

One of her professors was an American named Donald A. Yates. Yates is professor emeritus of Spanish American literature at Michigan State University (East Lansing). He is the translator of both novels and short stories by many Spanish American authors, including Labyrinths: Selected Writings of Jorge Luis Borges.

One day, Yates invited both of us to join him and Borges for dinner at an upscale restaurant in Buenos Aires. For us, it was a wonderful change from our daily life. And Borges didn’t disappoint.

He was practically the only person who spoke the whole evening, always full of charm and knowledge. Learning that my wife was of Basque descent from both sides of her family, he talked a lot about Basque history.

Borges had come to dinner alone and was virtually blind. He ordered a pair of fried eggs, which were brought to him in a deep dish with a spoon. He kept trying to catch the eggs with the spoon which only pushed them to the side of the dish.

Although we felt bad about this, Borges didn´t seem to mind at all, and kept talking as if nothing unusual were happening.

For a blind person used to living on past memories, perhaps the life of the imagination was for him more important than real life. And yet his life and work had a singular impact on the life of many.

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Borges was a man who loved jokes and always had unexpected responses to everyday events.

Borges was practically the only one who spoke the whole evening, always full of charm and knowledge.

For a blind person used to living on memories, imagination was more important for Borges than real life.