Retiro - The Train StationTuesday, April 10, 2018
All my life I have been attracted to and savoured being in a train station.
It all began because the English built a train system in Argentine in the 19th century.
The first trains I remember were electric. The coaches must have been made in England, mostly of wood with elaborate wrought-iron luggage racks. Both the lead car and end car looked much the same except that on one side they had a compartment for the engineer/driver.
These trains stopped at train stations that looked that they could have been anywhere in England. They had huge wooden framed clocks and the ticket stations had little windows that were also wrought iron.
The conductors (still the case in the trains in New York, so we found out in January in our visit to the city) all had a personal stamper on their click machine which they used to punch your ticket when on the train.
For me those trains meant two things. Either they took me one station up from where we lived, Coghlan Station, to Belgrano R where my school was or much more exciting to the end of the line station of Retiro which was downtown. Going there was always with my father who would take me to see a movie on Calle Lavalle. When we would arrive at Retiro (very much like a main station in big English cities) we would take escalators down to the subte and we would get off at Lavalle.
In Retiro which is cavernous now but much more so then when I was a little boy there was a large glass case framed by wood that contained a locomotive that was about five feet long. If you put a coin the wheels would turn and there was a red glow on the tracks under the fire box.
Retiro has been recently restored to its past glory but there are two items that have not been restored or retained. There was a huge wooden wall with gold lettering that had all the information on trains leaving and returning. The odd-numbered times of 20:13 meant that these trains usually arrived on precise time even though Mussolini was not in charge but Perón was.
The other item was a café/restaurant that in the morning serve café con leche and tostadas. Tostadas are an Argentine version of toast. The loaf itself might be the size of a large ham. So the toast pretty well covered the plate.
When I arrived early at Retiro in the mid 60s on my way to my “job” as a conscript sailor at the office of the Seniour US Naval Advisor not far from the Secretaría de Marina I would linger there with buttered tostadas and the café. The restored restaurants now would not have tostadas in their menu.
And I would linger. I had befriended the Retiro Station schedule man and he would sign me a certificate with the information that my train had arrived 30 minutes late. I would present the certificate to Cabo Moraña who I am sure knew about my trick.
But there was one event that happened, as the train was about to arrive at Retiro that I will never forget. I was standing in my uniform with my sailor hat (very much like a WWII German submariner’s hat) under my arm. A man in civies came up to me and told me to put my hat on. I refused. He produced an ID that stated that he was a general in the SIDE (Servicio de Información del Estado). He demanded my name and my Military ID Number (I still remember it 588737). When I arrived at the office Cabo Moraña had a grim face, he asked me,”Que hiciste ché?” There was an arrest order for a week.