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Italian Prime Minister Botches His Attempt To Read Borges

On a visit to Argentina, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi decided he would honor that country's great poet Jorge Luis Borges.

So during his talk at the University of Buenos Aires, The Guardian reports, Renzi recited the text of "A la Amistad," or "To Friendship" — a poem that some on the Internet identify as the work of the Argentine master.

There's just one problem. It's ... not. Not even close.

Borges, a master of both prose and poetry, was famous for his recurring references to mirrors, labyrinths, libraries and dreams. He wrote allusive, self-aware and deeply intellectual works, rich in imagery.

"To Friendship," on the other hand, is ... well ... treacly. Here's an excerpt:

"No puedo darte soluciones para todos los problemas de la vida,
ni tengo respuestas para tus dudas o temores,
pero puedo escucharte y compartirlo contigo.
No puedo cambiar tu pasado ni tu futuro.
Pero cuando me necesites estaré junto a ti."

Or, roughly:

"I can't give you solutions for all life's problems,
nor do I have answers for your doubts or fears,
but I can listen to you, and share it with you.
I can't change your past or your future,
But when you need me, I'll be there."

We should note that this is not the first such gaffe. Last year, the U.S. Postal Service made a similar slip-up with a Maya Angelou quote.

But the Renzi mistake has particular sting for Italians, the Guardian notes, because Renzi "was once seen as the man who would restore Italy's reputation as a centre of high culture, undoing the damage of the Silvio Berlusconi era."

If it's any comfort for the prime minister, the real Borges would no doubt have had a wryly philosophical response to the slip-up; confusion was another recurring theme of his, and he famously wrote about the ambiguous relationship between him and his literary reputation.

Speaking of which, Renzi might have a sudden urge to bone up on his Borges. If he's fond of poems written in the second person, maybe he should check out "To The One Who is Reading Me" — in Tony Barnstone's translation, via Poetry, it reads in part:

"... A marble slab is saved
for you, one you won't read, already graved
with city, epitaph, dates of the dead.
And other men are also dreams of time,
not hardened bronze, purified gold. They're dust
like you; the universe is Proteus.
Shadow, you'll travel to what waits ahead,
the fatal shadow waiting at the rim.
Know this: in some way you're already dead."

So, you know. A lot like "La Amistad."

Or perhaps Renzi should instead flip to "The Borges," which he'll find in the Selected Poems edited by Alexander Coleman.

It opens, "I know little or nothing of the Borges ..."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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