Friday, November 27, 2020

Farewell, Jan Morris...and That Soccer Guy

In the early 1990s, I finished my original guidebook to Argentina for a publisher whose name I will decline to mention here. Shortly thereafter, the same publisher offered me a contract to update their existing guidebook to Chile, which I accepted, and my career as a guidebook writer seemed like destiny.

While those two assignments might sound comparable or almost identical, there were significant differences. The same author—whose name I will also decline to mention here--had done the previous editions of both books. In the case of Argentina, though, the author held copyright and, therefore, I had to start the book from scratch. Given that the book was awful—so bad that the publisher decided to do a new version shortly after the initial publication—on one level that was no big deal.


Of course, that meant more work for me (and my wife), who also wrote part of the new title. We had to avoid plagiarizing the previous author’s work but, given its shortcomings, that was never an issue. The downside was that the publisher would claim the copyright to our new book, as it was then eliminating author-friendly royalty contracts.


In the case of Chile, the publisher already owned the copyright, so plagiarism would not be an issue—or would it? That came to mind last week when I heard that Jan Morris, famed for her journalism, travel writing and personal life, died Friday at the age of 94. I had once unknowingly plagiarized her.

When Jan Morris visited Puerto Montt, in the early 1960s, it looked different than it does today.

In 1961, Morris had described the southern city of Puerto Montt as filled with “structures in the Alpine manner, all high-pitched roofs and quaint balconies.” Thirty years later, the author of the Chile guidebook wrote that “many houses are of northern-European design, faced with unpainted shingles, high-pitched roofs and quaint, ornate balconies,” without attribution.


Updating the book, I was unaware of the flagrant plagiarism until several years later, when I expanded the quotation with appropriate credit to Morris herself. Legally, the publisher would probably have been responsible but, when I was fortunate enough to meet her at the annual Book Passage Travel Writers Conference in 1999, Jan simply laughed it off. That’s a great way to remember her.


It Goes to 11, or Is It 60?

In other necrology news, soccer icon Diego Maradona has died at the age of 60. Never able to appreciate soccer’s absence of hand-eye coordination, I'm not a fan of the sport, but there’s still no underestimating the impact this addictive personality had on his native country—which was always willing to rationalize his personal shortcomings.

Maradona shares a mural with tango icon Aníbal Troilo.

Argentine President Alberto Fernández declared three days of mourning, with Maradona’s body lying in state in the Casa Rosada presidential palace, but that turned into a truncated free-for-all as many fans tried to force their way in to view the corpse; earlier, morgue employees at the autopsy site apparently took selfies of that event.


In a country where embalming is unusual—the most famous case is that of Eva Perón, whose post-mortem odyssey is a true epicMaradona apparently requested to have himself put on public display in perpetuity, but the family appears to have overruled that. “El Diego” may never enjoy Evita’s privileged position at the elite Cementerio de la Recoleta, but his tomb in suburban Buenos Aires Province seems likely to  become a pilgrimage site in its own right.


Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano may have summed up his legacy best: “Maradona was condemned to believe himself Maradona and obliged to be the star of every party, the baby at every baptism, and corpse at every wake. Success is even more devastating than cocaine. No analysis of urine or blood can reveal that drug.”

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