The Sunday TimesPlus

9th February 1997



Evita: that fabulous myth

Eva and JuanThe first lady: Eva Peron with her husband, General Juan Peron

With all its flash and verve and hype, the movie Evita aims right past Eva Peron, the woman, and draws a bead on Eva Peron, the myth. Which is just as well. The myth is a fabulous target, the story of a modern-day saint who had the grace to die young. The woman, on the other hand, would be hard to portray with any real sympathy.

As played by Madonna, and as enshrined in legend, Evita was a beautiful young girl who made her way from the dusty Argentine provinces to the metropolis of Buenos Aires, where she worked as a radio actress, carving out a modest career until she caught the eye of the handsome and powerful army officer Juan Peron.

Together they rose to hold a nation in their hands. She hated the rich, who had scorned her, and loved the poor, from whose ranks she had come. She enveloped the poor with her love, giving them hope, giving them power. When she died, it rained for two weeks - even the Argentine heavens mourned her untimely passing.

Is that the truth? The writer V.S. Naipaul went to Argentina to find out, and in his 1974 essay The 'Return of Eva Peron' he expressed his frustration at the trouble he was having separating fact from fiction. Then, in exasperation - or perhaps, finally understanding the place - he wrote: "So the truth begins to disappear: it is not relevant to the legend."

The real Eva Peron, according to a newly published biography by Alicia Dujovne Ortiz, began as something of a sex symbol but quickly left that phase behind. She probably didn't have to sleep with the tango singer Agustin Magaldi to get him to take her to Buenos Aires, and there probably wasn't quite so much traffic in and out of her bedroom as the new movie would have us believe.

Juan Peron was the hormone actuator of the glamorous presidential couple, the macho heartthrob, the one who caused ladies in the vast Peronist crowds to flash their undergarments and scream at the top of their lungs that they wanted to bear his children. Eva was beautiful but unattainable, isolated by her great power and her even-greater ambition.

She seemed motivated by a genuine desire to help the poor, most accounts agree - if necessary, to help them one by one. She would even bring street urchins into the presidential palace to bathe them and treat their scabies and give them a meal. But she was also a fascist.

There is the nagging question of the alleged Nazi millions. Some Peron haters believe high-ranking Nazis managed to spirit millions in gold, currency and other loot into Argentina after the war, and that the Perons came to control this vast fortune.

Eva Peron was vain, she was capricious, she was horribly insecure.

Her death was slow, ugly, agonising. She was wasted to skin and bones, weighing barely 80 pounds and badly burned from the radiation treatments doctors gave her to try to halt the spread of her uterine cancer. It took the genius ministrations of her embalmer, a mysterious Spaniard named Dr. Ara, to restore her to beauty so she could lie in state. She had been born Eva Maria Ibarguren, illegitimate daughter of a minor provincial big man named Juan Duarte. But she later had her birth certificate changed to make it read "Maria Eva Duarte" - legitimate and with the Maria coming first, as was the custom among upper-class families. To the rich and powerful of Argentina, she was "Maria Eva Duarte de Peron". Only the poor were allowed to call her Evita. It is a shame, in a way, that the movie ends with her death. Only then does the myth of Eva Peron get really interesting.

After she lay in state, Dr. Ara went back at the corpse with his formulas and his waxes and his elixirs, producing what is generally agreed to be a masterpiece of the embalmer's art.

Then, three years later, Peron was overthrown. For the next 16 years, Eva's body was "lost" - the country's military rulers were afraid to destroy it, and afraid to bury it, lest the tomb become the focal point of a Peronist revival. So it was shuttled around, at one point residing in a heavy and anonymous- looking piece of furniture in an army major's office.

In 1971, as a peace gesture, the military "found" the body and returned it to Peron, who was living in Madrid with his new wife, Isabel, and a mystical aide-decamp named Jose Lopez Rega, who later would come close to ruining the country.

Peron did not bring the body home when he returned to take power again in 1973. When he died the following year, Isabel succeeded him - with the disastrous Lopez Rega at her right hand - and ordered the corpse flown home.

Juan and Eva Peron were not buried together. He was buried in his family's crypt, and his final rest was undisturbed until 1987, when vandals broke in and cut off his hands. The hands are still missing. The anti-Peronists who believe in the Nazi millions theorise that the desecrators wanted his fingerprints to gain access to those supposed Swiss accounts.

Eva Peron was buried, at last, in a tomb in the Recoleta Cemetery, a citadel of stylish and monied death amid Buenos Aire's toniest districts. The tomb, by no means the grandest in the cemetery, is a shrine, an object of pilgrimage, a place where men and women - increasingly, old men and old women - come to lay flowers and pray.

There are always fresh flowers, as if something there refuses to die.

Gulf News

How to hook a man

Let's go fishing!

Shoba De is India's queen of controversy. The biggest selling Indian writer at present, Shoba De will visit Colombo this week to launch her new book'Surviving Men.' Here are some revealing excerpts:

ShobhaShobha It isn't hard to survive in a man's world if you know what makes them tick. Learn these secrets every material girl should know about winning men and finding love, sex and diamonds.

Hey - every woman knows the answer to this one.... and it does not lie at the core of a rotten, half- bitten apple or wherever else they tell you to look for warm bait. Men are a lot like fish - dangle a line, and you've got em.... Men will go for anything - anything at all - if they think of it as a good deal".

-A smart girl learns to do her sums quickly. It doesn't take much to figure out what exactly a man means by a "good deal''. Most times it's code for "good sex", even if he doesn't know that himself. A lot of women are not ready to hook him this way. (Using sex as a bait comes later to her.) So what does she do? Anything that grabs his admiring attention, but trick number one is not to let him know there is a hook. Hooks make men suspicious and wary.... Catch him off-guard - and then vanish altogether. This is known as the old disappearing act. It always works. Men being slightly thick in these areas, rarely recognise it for the ruse it is. The total duration of your disappearance has to be carefully timed and even more carefully monitored. No contact. No calls. When you know (how do you know? -A woman always knows) he's in "that" state - distracted, dazed, dopey - surprise him. Call him at work. Send a card. Offer to buy him a drink. He may just fall dead. Wait for a few seconds to find out whether he's still breathing. Repeat the offer. He'll bite. He has to. The fool is hooked.

-A friend of mine (a fairly new acquaintance) relies on the femme fatale route. Here's her modus operandi: No man can resist a seduction, she insists. Given her amazing package, she speaks from a position of strength. Being a single, bright female with impressive degrees in obscure subjects, she goes for the man's brains before attacking his you-know-what's. "Once you've effed with his mind, he's yours," she gloats.... Does Miss Femme Fatale go easy on the eye-lash fluttering routine? Heck no - she believes in the "whatever it takes" approach. Most women do.

-One of her less sophisticated counterparts puts it more bluntly when asked what it takes to get a guy "Khaana, peena or dena," she replies promptly. That is the way it has always been, so why should anything have changed now? Feed the guy's stomach, feed his ego too. Quench his thirst... (Mineral water won't do it... poetry might. Good poetry). And sex and food. Unbeatable. Look at the number of bestsellers cashing in on the combo. Films too. Remember Like Water for Chocolate? Men rarely close their mouths - so long as something is going in, they're happy.

-Ditto for eyes. Women dress the way they do because they know about visual hunger too. Men are born voyeurs which is why lingerie ads turn them on far more than they do a woman. Left to themselves, women might go braless and pantyless. Or not pay such close attention to detailing (lace, ribbons, satin bows, underwiring) if it weren't for those popping eyeballs. Sexy underwear for women has been specifically designed to tease men. Girls who wear burgundy-coloured little things or wispy white nothings are the ones who know the game...

Young girls don't have to worry too much about strategy. Youth is a good enough hook on its own. Great skin helps. So does a good bod. But there is no substitute for firm female flesh under 20. Men know that.

Phew! Isn't there an easier route? Don't bother with scintillating conversation - unless it makes the man scintillate. He really isn't all that interested in the Laxman Shresta exhibit. Nor does he want to know whether you know who Shilpa Shetty is currently having it off with. Try telling him how wonderful he is and he'll be all ears (and all yours). Lie through your teeth about everything - including his receding hairline ("It makes you look so... so... intellectual. No, distinguished. That's the word. Distinguished"). A man loves nothing more than a worshipful woman at his feet - preferably one with boobs big enough to hide his boots....

Wanton behaviour has its virtues and its followers. Some men get it off on brazenness. They love women who talk dirty, come on strong and stay up all night on a rickety machchan waiting for the shikar to begin. But these guys are in a minority. Most chaps are taken in by the coy ghungatwalli act. Know why? They delude themselves that they are the only ones who've ever lifted the veil and mesmerised the woman into submission. Conquest requires conflict. An easy lay is just that - easy.

Men are constantly hungry - ravenously so. If they can get a quick nibble somewhere, they'll go for it. But even they don't confuse a spicy kabab with the main course - marinated raan. Women often confuse a quickie with a commitment. That's not how it works. Hooking a man is easy enough. keeping him hooked, a life long game.

Marriage counsellors often stress the role played by the marital bed. It is this one single piece of furniture that determines the quality of the relationship, they say. Believe that at your own peril. Women who have used the beddie-bed as a hook have often been left there - alone and in tears. Men flee never to return if they smell the scent of another man in the bedclothes. Which is why courtesans remain courtesans - it is the coquettes who win big by teasing but not delivering.

-Leave it to a woman to figure out the best method, be it sex, music, perfume, kinky games, Sardarji jokes, disco fever, Bacardi-on-the- rocks... Demeaning? Naturally. But women, even illiterate ones, know that they outnumber men in the genetic pool. (There is only one way to fight this natural disadvantage - and that is by confusing the enemy.)

Women with the biggest success in the hooking department are those who are talented and shrewd enough to make a man believe he is the centre of their existence. If they can also convince him that they are indispensable to his life - great. These are the ones who stay on top. Cleopatras without the asp. Apsaras worthy of being immortalised on frescoes. Learn from them all ye who wish to see domestic heaven.

Men in love

Love hits men like a sharp slap in the face. The good news or the bad (depending on how you look at it) is that men in love are far more emotional, vulnerable and sincere than women in an identical state. How so? Men become defenceless and goofy when it comes to matters of the heart. They lose their rationality completely - even the toughest of them - and turn to mush. Some conceal their condition more successfully.... but press the right buttons and bingo - it will all come pouring out.

Men in love are awfully sweet. Like eager puppies dying to be petted. Adorable, actually. Especially when love hits them in their late 40s and 50s. That's when they behave like absolute chumps and don't seem to care whether the world knows it. They float around looking and behaving like lost Dalmations.

People are cruel. They shouldn't mock a man in love. They should sympathise. He cuts a pretty sorry figure while he goes on and on about his incomparable love when all he's doing is chasing a piece of tail. Men tend to confuse love with sex. They operate on a far more instinctual level than women, in this area. What they mistake for love isn't even lust, it is an uncontrollable urge to get into that particular woman's pants. Confront a man with this and he'll deny it vehemently. He will pretend to be deeply insulted "I'm not that kind of a person. I'll have you know", he will say or "Speak for yourself," he might add. But it's true. People who monitor such a dumb condition say it has something to do with chemicals and smells. Who knows? In any case, how do you tell a moony-eyed fellow it isn't love but a chemical reaction he's experiencing? Men-in-love are tiresome in the extreme since they assume every body they meet is as fascinated by their woman as they themselves are.... The truth is that nobody cares about them or their love. Men, being basically dumb, don't understand indifference or even recognise it. They sicken friends and family with gooey, mushy stories that are generally so pedestrian they don't even ring true. Also, it rarely occurs to them that they might be cruising down a one-way street to nowhere, love being the biggest bum trip in the world.

Funny how people always assume men marry for sex and women for money. They're right of course. Love rarely figures in these matters. Right there too. Men overrate love. Women place it in the right context. It comes below home and security, marble flooring, dog walkers, life insurance policies, two vacations annually, a no-dandruff clause and separate bathrooms.

Women are incapable of celebrating love with the same kind of innocence as men. They analyze it too much. Read a lot into what is a very simple, basic emotion. And finally, kill the feeling by adding a generous dollop of suffering to it. If love comes their way easily they reject it for being superficial.

Men don't. They are naive enough to accept love at face value... till reality hits them. Often they go through life believing in their version of love. Lucky them. They're happier for it.... Men are simpletons when they fall in love. Women are quick to capitalise on this. Just as well. Good marriages aren't about love. They are about deals.

Men are slower to recognise the absence of love or maybe women are smarter at pretending it exists well after its disappearance... ln order to sustain that feeling, they're prepared to go to great and absurd lengths.... The mushiest poetry is written by men. The mushiest songs sung by them. Suckers. Thank god for that... Even the most ruthless of men crumble when love hits them (Hitler comes to mind).

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