Argentine NostalgiaThursday, November 19, 2009
My mother kept several notebooks where she wrote love poems to the man in Manila she never married. Sometime in 1937, in a moment of impulsive fury she cast an opal ring he had given her into Manila Bay and she, her mother, sister and brother moved to Buenos Aires. My mother never let me forget that Dr. Andía, the man she never married had remained in that important corner of her heart and that my father had been a second choice. I never told her I felt like a rejected offspring of that second choice. She told me that love was action and doing and not false warmth. She rarely hugged me but she sacrificed most of her life to make enough money to send me to the best schools where I mostly squandered it by being a mediocre student who managed to cruise with not much effort. Rosemary and I had one of the more complete notebooks of poems beautifully bound in leather. The bulk of the poems is dedicated to Dr. Ramón Andía. But there is one poem that is not.
I thought I’d never miss: -
The wide expanse of pasture of the pampas,
The lead gray skies & stratus clouds
The whistling, whining, violent “pamperos”,
The wet moist cold,
The hot damp heat,
The monotonous landscape
Bare of trees & bushes & human beings
Populated by lazy, cattle.
But I do,
The balmy breezes of early spring,
The mauve of jacarandá trees in early fall,
The crisp, white frost of midwinter,
The golden yellow of the aroma in late spring
The pungent, acrid odor of the figs in midsummer.
I thought I’d never miss:
The untidy almacén at my corner
Overflowing with cellophane bags of capeletti & ravioli
And mounds of sacks of new potatoes,
Reeking of onions & “tipo Roquefort cheese”,
Of smoked ham & bacon hanging from hooks
The heated discussion of the Italian neighbours,
The chattering, singing & crying of their children,
The clatter of their plates & knives - they ate
In the patio & almost lived there,
Their plaintive singing of their summer land
And the merry quartets from Barbero & Rigoletto.
The austere grays & browns & blacks
That Porteños think proper to wear,
Their sober silence and quiet in public vehicles
The busy little sidewalk cafes under striped awnings,
The interminable wait for tram 35,
The long and never ending route it took,
But I do,
The exquisite taste and stark simplicity
That Porteños think proper for wear,
Their polite “permiso” as they sidled by you on colectivos
The gracious old-fashioned cadence of the
“Cuando” danced in a café.
The beautiful church on Juramento and Cabildo
I always watched out for, out of the window of Tram 35
The expectation of getting to Mother’s flat,
At the end of the line,
And the warmth I’d get there!
Filomena de Irureta Goyena de Hayward
Nueva Rosita, Coahuila, Mexico
Dec 5, 1956.
The poem is not entirely truthful in relation to sober and polite Porteños. My mother had a beautiful body and the best legs I had ever seen until I met my wife Rosemary. But in Buenos Aires she always wore a girdle. She explained to me that the Argentine men who sidled by her as she rode the colectivo (small Buenos Aires buses) had the habit of pinching her bottom with regularity. This became impossible when she wore her pinching barrier. The pampero is a wonderful wind that comes from the pampas that smells of wet earth when it is about to rain in Buenos Aires. And almacén is usually a corner grocery store which in my mother's time (and mine) was run by Italians who spoke little Spanish. The man who owned the almacén half a block from our house was called Don Pascual. Above is a jacarandá blooming in Plaza de Mayo. The building behind is the Buenos Aires cathedral. Below middle is the only slide (I took it in 1965) that I could find of a colectivo. The building behind is the seat of the president of Argentina's power, la Casa Rosada. To the left of the colectivo and above the tall entrance to the Pink House is the balcony from which Perón and his wife Evita addressed los descamisados or the shirtless ones.
Below, right is a picture of La Redonda (The Round One) the church my mother would anticipate as she rode the Number 35 tram to her mother's flat. In one of those rare but appropriately symmetrical moments in my life I went to Mass there in 2004 with Rebecca and my godmother and first cousin Inesita O'Reilly Kuker. The Number 35 tram was long gone but there were plenty of colectivos that my mother could have ridden and looked out of the window.
More Argentine nostalgia
And even more nostalgia