They say you should never meet your heroes. How about chasing ghosts? I arrived in the city of Corrientes, in northern Argentina, with the sole purpose of thinking about writer Graham Greene. I wasn’t looking for the hotels and restaurants he visited 50 years ago, and I assumed the brothels he frequented were long since shuttered. I was more interested in a mood, a feeling, an explanation of his motives and clues as to how he turned brief sojourns into deep, intricate stories.
Despite living in Argentina all through the 1990s until 2001, and visiting every year since, I’d never been to Corrientes. It’s one of those cities tourism shuns: not small enough to be quaint, nor big enough to be bold; steamy, workaday and throbbing with traffic. Greene, who first espied it from a passing boat in 1968, told the French journalist Marie-Francoise Allain: “There was nothing to see, just a little harbour and a few houses, and yet a sort of surreptitious charm was already at work.”
He went back in 1970 and spent eight days there. Sleepy it wasn’t. Greene met a Colombian priest who had become a rebel leader. He learned of the kidnap of a Paraguayan consul by the Argentinian Liberation Front. Greene and his guide stumbled on the scene of a murder. A local man drove himself and his family into the river. At the time, guerrillas were plotting against the authoritarian regime of General Juan Carlos Ongania. There was plenty of material for a novel.
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