“Esse Est Percipi” is a short story on football and the perception of reality by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares (from the anthology Perfect Pitch: Dirt. edited by Marcela Mora Y Araujo & Simon Kuper)
A football fan is amazed to find that the games he listens to on the radio are a figment of someone’s imagination.
As an old roamer of the neighbourhood of Nunez and thereabouts, I could not help noticing that the monumental River Plate Stadium no longer stood in its customary place.
In consternation, I spoke about this to my friend Dr Gervasio Montenegro, the full-fledged member of the Argentine Academy of Letters, and in him I found the motor that put me on the track. At the time, his pen was compiling a sort of Historical Survey of Argentine Journalism, a truly noteworthy work at which his secretary was quite busy, and the routine research had accidentally led Montenegro to sniff out the crux of the matter. Shortly before nodding off, he sent me to a mutual friend, Tulio Savastano, president of the Abasto Juniors Soccer Club, to whose headquarters, situated in the Adamant Building on Corrientes Avenue near Pasteur Street, I hied.
This high-ranking executive still managed to keep fit and active despite the regimen of double dieting prescribed by his physician and neighbour, Dr Narbondo. A bit inflated by the latest victory of his team over the Canary Island All-Stars, Savastano expatiated at length between one mate and another, and he confided to me substantial details with reference to the question on the carpet. In spite of the fact that I kept reminding Savastano that we had, in yesteryear, been boyhood chums from around Aguero and the corner of Humahuaco, the grandeur of his office awed me and, trying to break the ice, I congratulated him on the negotiation of the game’s final goal, which, notwithstanding Zarlenga and Parodi’s pressing attack, centre-half Renovales booted in thanks to the historic pass of Musante’s.
In acknowledgement of my support of the Abasto eleven, the great man gave his mate a posthumous slurp and said philosophically, like someone dreaming aloud, ‘And to think it was me who invented those names.’
‘Aliases?’ I asked, mournful. ‘Musante’s name isn’t Musante? Renovales isn’t Renovales? Limardo isn’t the real name of the idol aclaimed by the fans?’
Savastano’s answer made my limbs go limp. ‘What? You still believe in fans and idols?’ he said. ‘Where have you been living, don Domecq?’
At that moment, a uniformed office boy came in, looking like a fireman, and he whispered to Savastano that Ron Ferrabas wished a word with him.
‘Ron Ferrabas, the mellow-voiced sportscaster?’ I exclaimed. ‘The sparkplug of Profumo Soap’s after-dinner hour? Will these eyes of mine see him in person? Is it true that his name is Ferrabas?’
‘Let him wait,’ ordered Mr Sevastano.
‘Let him wait? Wouldn’t it be better if I sacrificed myself and left?’ I pleaded with heartfelt abnegation.
‘Don’t you dare,’ answered Sevastano. ‘Arturo, tell Ferrabas to come in.’
What an entrance Ferrabas made- so natural! I was going to offer him my armchair, but Arturo, the fireman, dissuaded me with one of those little glances that are like a mass of polar air.
The voice of the president began deliberating. ‘Ferrabas, I’ve spoken to De Filippo and Camargo. In the next match Abasto is beaten by two to one. It’s a tough game but bear in mind- don’t fall back on that pass from musante to Renovales. The fans know it by heart. I want imagination- imagination, understand? You may leave now.’
I screwed up my courage to venture a question. ‘Am I to deduce that the score has been prearranged?’
Savastano literally tumbled me to the dust. ‘There’s no score, no teams, no matches,’ he said. ‘The stadiums have long since been condemned and are falling to pieces. Nowadays everything is staged on the television and radio. The bogus excitement of the sportscaster- hasn’t it ever made you suspect that everything is humbug? The last time a soccer match was played in Buenos Aires was on 24 June 1937. From that exact moment, soccer, along with the whole gamut of sports, belongs to the genre of the drama, performed by a single man in a booth or by actors in jerseys before the TV cameras.’
‘Sir, who invented the thing?’ I made bold to ask.
‘Nobody knows. You may as well ask who first thought of the inauguration of schools or the showy visits of crowned heads. These things don’t exist outside the recording studios and newspaper offices. Rest assured, Domecq, mass publicity is the trademark of modern times.’
‘And what about the conquest of space?’ I groaned.
‘It’s not a local programme, it’s a Yankee-Soviet co-production. A praiseworthy advance, let’s not deny it, of the spectacle of science.’
‘Mr President, you’re scaring me,’ I mumbled, without regard to hierarchy. ‘Do you mean to tell me that out there in the world nothing is happening?’
‘Very little,’ he answered with his English phlegm. ‘What I don’t understand is your fear. Mankind is at home, sitting back with ease, attentive to the screen or the sportscaster, if not the yellow press. What more do you want, Domecq? It’s the great march of time, the rising tide of progress.’
‘And if the bubble bursts?’ I barely managed to utter.
‘It won’t,’ he said, reassuringly.
‘Just in case, I’ll be silent as the tomb,’ I promised. ‘I swear it by my personal loyalty- to the team, to you, to Limardo, to Renovales.’
‘Say whatever you like, nobody would believe you.’
The telephone rang. The president picked up the receiver and, finding his other hand free, he waved it, indicating the door.