Sunday, February 27, 2005

Finished Compañero on Friday, over over-fried tahu goreng and green tea. The afterword is long and rambling, and basically attributes Che's enduring myth to the extraordinary confluence between his life and the pervasive mix of outrage and idealism of the sixties. Just as that era failed politically and is now significant only for historians and for cultural symbols, so has Che become a icon for t-shirts, posters and other paraphernalia.

I saw a typical example on the train yesterday. A girl was wearing an olive-green t-shirt with Alberto Korda's famous photo on the front. On the back was printed a short biography of Che with a few typos and an odd turn of phrase or two ("revolutionary bird"?).

The forms may be similar but in the years between Feltrinelli's first poster and that girl's t-shirt much has changed. The symbol is no longer connected with the source. My brother has a t-shirt that has a superimposed gas mask that obscures the Korda photo. I saw a t-shirt in Bangkok that pasted Che's likeness on a DJ while Mao's flabby face graced a table. Perhaps this is history's fate for failed causes: that icons that once inspired loyalty, passion and fear in people no longer do so.

There's nothing to be sympathetic or sorry for. If these symbols do have meaning for people today it is only through tenuous links to a vague rebelliousness that isn't rooted in any real phenomena -- perfect for selling things. And someday, even those will pass.

It is said that just before the departure, Che and Fidel held their last private conversation while sitting on a log in the ravine of San Andrés. An official from the Interior Ministry who attended the training program but was excluded from the mission at the last minute overheard part of their conversation, and deduced the rest from their body language. Castro did the talking, while Che was sullen and withdrawn; Castro was vehement, Guevara quiet. At last Fidel ran through all the problems, both inherent and circumstantial, in the Bolivian expedition. He emphasized the lack of communications, Monje's hesitations, the organizational weaknesses of Inti and Coco Peredo. He intended to dissuade Guevara, or at least induce him to postpone his trip. Both finally stood up, gave each other several slaps on the back: less than blows, more a hug. Fidel's gestures revealed his desperation at Guevara's stubbornness. They sat down again for a long while, in silence. After a while, Fidel got up and left.

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