McOndo Revealed

Excerpt from Edmundo Paz Soldán’s Sueños digitales (Digital Dreams) (La Paz: Alfaguara, 2000), a novel about a graphic artist tempted to digitally alter compromising political photographs.

Sebastián enjoyed walking back home. It wasn’t long, barely twenty minutes, enough to open a parenthesis between the din of unlikely news — reality tried so hard to outdo itself that it was very difficult to take it seriously — and the world with Nikki in the flat in which they had lived since the wedding. A new city bloomed before his eyes, amid the hubbub of money-changers peddling dollars and street vendors with their wagons full of pirated Calvin Klein jeans from Paraguay and Gameboys without boxes and juicy peaches from Carcaje. The sidewalks were relatively clean, and the mayor, as part of his "To Welcome the New Millennium" project, had kept his promise to rejuvenate the urban landscape (they had planted weeping willows and jacarandas in the avenue flower stands, and in the plazas installed fountains that launched streams of water on which rainbows and hummingbirds rested). Billboards materialized, announcing the construction of a fifteen-story building in lots that only yesterday housed colonial churches and ancestral homes. Video clubs and cybercafes abounded, and restaurants and flower shops exchanged their Spanish names for something in English or Portuguese. Half a block from the "Books, Still" bookstore, a woman still sold photocopied editions of The House of the Spirits. A peeling wall displayed an enormous black-and-white photo of president Montenegro with the mayor — hugging, smiling, gushing — and next to it an ad for Coca-Cola and another with Daniela Pestova sporting her Wonderbra breasts. Montenegro was tiny but did not seem so there….

While gazing upon the buildings that sprung forth in the city like hyperbolic mushrooms, the supermarkets, and the plentiful Nautica and Benetton shopping malls, Sebastián wondered about the shadowy regions they concealed, and the invisible infrastructure sustaining them. What dirty money — or not so dirty — hid itself there, what furtive dealings, what cruelties and anxieties, what artful stabs in the back? Perhaps because he worked at retouching surfaces and knew how simple it was to obscure — through muddling harmony or hypnotic sheen — the puddles that flooded his steps, the termites that cracked wood, he admired those powerful individuals who would not let themselves be seen, the innocuous neighbors of whom one knew nothing but who, nonetheless, ruled empires. The secret owners of secrets. He would’ve liked to be one of them. He didn’t long for the easy fame of street recognition, too exposed to the fifteen seconds of weariness that blinding visibility extends. He wanted to slip through the halls of the newspaper at three in the morning and reinvent at will the front-page photographs, those on the international section and the sports page, too, create a new reality for the readers of Tiempos Posmo. He wished to do that and much more. He wanted to control the city and for no one, not even his wife, to know of it. Dreams of grandeur which, he suspected, in one way or another, any common man should have.

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