IN HIS OWN LABYRINTH
photos: Gabriel Mortarotti
It is a monument to be seen from the sky, a work of art where the paths cross each other linking so many stories as the imagination likes to create. The Borgesian labyrinth, located in San Rafael – Mendoza – also has its own story. Its causes and consequences write a wonderful tale about what is possible.
________________________by Marina Correa
A glass of champagne is emptied out, by chance, over the dress of the writer Susana Bombal. An unexpected encounter with a man of a shy look, but extremely educated and ironic. The conversation flows and the admiration is disclosed during a long cocktail night that, after more than fifty years turns out to be the prelude of a wonderful story. A story where both of them and other characters brush each other in magic coincidences. A tribute would be paid to that man, named Jorge Luis Borges, with a labyrinth, his best metaphor for human perplexities. Today, those wonderful paths are placed in a land inherited by Susana from her grandfather Domingo Bombal, former governor of Mendoza. She named the ranch “Los Alamos” and it is located at 10 km from San Rafael, Mendoza. If you see the labyrinth from the sky, you will see a perfect figure that emulates a giant open book with the name of the brilliant writer on it.
Borges used symbols to represent, with refined imagination, the games of the reason and the mystery of the time. Mirrors, masks, moons, swords, tigers, and labyrinths were his favourite symbols. The admiration for his work did not vanish after his death, but it turned to be endless. One day, his oneiric fantasies were evidenced with the same perfection of his literary works. Five years before Borges´s death, Randoll Coate, an English diplomatic that met the author of “El Aleph” in 1957 thanks to his friend Susana Bombal, dreamed about Borges´s death and when he woke up he started to draw a labyrinth as a tribute.
Susana Bombal, another holder of a great and awarded literary talent, was the first one to learn about that dream and homage. By then, Borges and his mother had already enjoyed the afternoons in the ranch and the sun of Mendoza crossing the vineyards. On November 3rd, 1970 he wrote a poem for his friend Susana that begins as follows: “ … alta en la tarde, altiva y alabada, cruza el casto
jardín y está en la exacta luz del instante irreversible y puro, que nos da este jardín y la alta imagen silenciosa...”.
In the meanwhile...a witness began to echo the story: Camilito (Aldao) as called by Susana, his grand-aunt; he was delighted with the richness of the literary works that his aunt added to her house. They were both eager to live in that house, to wide open its doors to art, culture and endless memories creating a magic meeting, a magic that his family still maintains. Susana Bombal died on November 4th, 1990, four years after the death of Borges. During her funeral, Camilo told María Kodama (Borges´s widow) that the labyrinth existed and, from that moment, she dreamed about building it.
After many years, and in spite of being an important member of editorial staffs in Buenos Aires, Camilo (KMY) “tired of people’s blindness, decided to settle in Los Alamos, to get out of the world”, says his friend Mauricio Runno in the book “Unos Laberinto” (Some Labyrinths).
Fate kept leading Camilo to that place and one day his mortal remains would rest in that monument; as he himself said: “built to be seen from the sky, only visible to the eyes of an eagle or angel”. Someone as himself.
Camilo, supported by María Kodama and Carlos Thays (grandson of the designer of General San Martín Park) worked unflaggingly so that the labyrinth “project” could become real. But as Mauricio Runno says “he ran into failure and indifference” . The project blinded the high society of Buenos Aires making them unable to see the kindness of the Borgesean labyrinth.
Maybe under the same clear sky that Borges and Susana met for the first time during a night of the early 2003, Camilo and Mauricio, together with Andrés Ridois and Gabriel Mortarotti decided, in some kind of secret society, which was afterwards disclosed to the world, that the labyrinth would be built by themselves. One day, María Kodama was organizing her magazines when one of them fell from her hands and there she saw an article about the labyrinth in the Martín García Island. The author of such article brought her wonderful memories. How would Camilito be? The woman of white hair asked to herself, and after a few seconds the phone rang. It was late at night and Camilo was calling her. He told her that the labyrinth will be built in Los Alamos. Everything was getting into place and as the younger brother of KMY, Ignacio Aldao, says today: “the labyrinth was discovered, it was there, we only had to put the plants in the right place”.
The drawing seemed to gain life with every look. It was Randoll Coate, now an elderly man highly prestigious for designing some of the grates labyrinths in the world, who told Camilo´s friends (who had travelled to England just to tell him the news): “I try to make the labyrinth become a universal expression, all contained in only one figure, but everytime you look at it from its different angles, you will see something different”. Coate, who was thrilled by the imminent fulfilment of his work, decided to include an M and a K to the figure, María Kodama could not be absent, neither the walking stick which the master used to support his weak body, or the emblematic tiger, a great guard, maybe a symbol of our internal and external creatures.
Ever since we decided to prepare the place, I feel as everything flows more smoothly, there is more air and I feel inspired to walk around the place as I used to do when I was a child, Camilo Aldao felt that the excitement of cutting down the arid and infertile forest of the ranch and preparing the land where the labyrinth would be located gave rise to a renewed energy which many people noticed.
More and more illustrious and unknown persons joined the “Labyrinth Circle”: Carlos T hays, a landscape architect, Nicolás García Uriburu, a plastic artist, and Edgardo Pailos, a surveyor, were the first ones to imagine and celebrate the project and to collaborate in sowing the land with green paths.
The work of the four young “musketeers” was almost a craftwork. On August 31st, 2003, without much support from the government, but with an overwhelming strength and a combination of wills, they put the first of the hundred of stakes which would join the lines, until then imaginary, in the place where 7,159 buxus sempervires, a European bush which maintains its green colour throughout the year, would be planted in October of that same year.
Why not create an endless work of art with our illusion? Asked Susana Bombal back in 1953. Fifty years later, the work of art was ready to be admired. In almost 7,000 square meters of land (the labyrinth covers 90 x 60) now you could read clearly the word “Borges” and decipher the names “Jorge” and “Luis”, the time clocks, the walking stick and the tiger. As Randoll Coate says, you just have to look for the angles; the figure appears as an open book and a page is reflected in the mirror beside.
Camilo Aldao died on January, 10th, 2004. The story changed of direction, just as the paths of the labyrinth which he dreamed of so many times. It was not possible to know Camilo without getting trapped by his magical personality, by that generosity that made him a person full of gifts, a man who deserved to rest close to his accomplished dream: the labyrinth.
Now, his brother Ignacio decided “to pick up the legacy”. Ignacio and Camilo´s friends will promote the next stages of that great work of art which included different tasks and activities in order to be open to the public. In June, 2004, the labyrinth reached Prague. The cultural and touristic promotion that the labyrinth gave to San Rafael, Mendoza and to Argentina started in the context of the exhibition Borges- Kafka.
The Borgesean labyrinth emulates the mysteries of our lives, confronts us with our fears, questions us about the significance of the past, present and future. Maybe the key to enjoy this “monument with height”, as Camilo liked to consider it, is in its own definition...implies voluntarily uplifting our spirit “at least a few meters for the expectation of beauty”. The invitation has already been made. The story will continue.
Video : In 2004 this mini documentary was aired in Prague, in the Borges-Kafka exposition.