From 1958 to 1961 when I was at the Roman Catholic boarding school St. Edward’s High School I did not belong. My classmates were either Latinos or the Texan whities. Because I had white skin the Latinos excluded me from their group. For the whities, because my home was in Nueva Rosita, Coahuila, Mexico and I spoke Spanish, I was not one of them.
In 1953 when my mother, grandmother and I moved to Mexico
City I had to quickly get rid of my Argentine accent in the American School
where my mother taught. My classmates could not understand my Spanish. I wanted to blend in.
Once Rosemary, our two daughters and I moved to Vancouver in 1975, I briefly felt I belonged when I rented cars at Tilden on Alberni Street. I had a job at an office. Once I started shooting for Vancouver Magazine as a freelancer, even though I became the virtual staff photographer I did not belong. The magazine’s premises were not my office.
And so it has been most of my life of feeling that I am an outsider, looking in.
With my Rosemary gone from my life, when she died on December 9, 2020, the company of my two cats, Niño and Niña are my two almost human entities I share my solitude with. It would seem that we belong to each other.
It was a couple of weeks ago that I finally saw the light that I do belong. How is this?
In September 2019 Rosemary and I went to Buenos Aires to attend the wedding of one of my nieces. I took Rosemary to la Boca which is and old part of Buenos Aires that was originally populated by Genovese Italians. It is very Argentine and many tangos have been written about it. I told Rosemary that during my stint in the Argentine Navy in the mid-60s I worked at a bar/restaurant, Paquebot Priano as a waiter to supplement my One Dollar monthly pay. If anything having worked there makes me a unique and almost (dare I say this?) thorough Argentine.
|Amirante Guillermo Brown|
We got on a bus to return to our hotel. On the way I spotted a large yellow house. I told Rosemary we had to get off the bus to visit that house. The Casa Amarilla is not the original house where Almirante Guillermo Brown (born in Ireland and founded the Argentine Navy) lived his last days. It is a replica. We entered the house and found a sailor at a desk. I asked him if there was an officer on the premises. He told me he would fetch the lieutenant. A man appeared and I greeted him as “Señor Teniente.” He instantly corrected me, “Soy Capitán de Navío (a four stripe captain)." Rosemary wrote his name down in a book I have not been able to find so this man’s name will be unknown in this blog.
The captain and I sat down to talk and we did this for one hour. Meanwhile Rosemary went out to the large Casa Amarilla garden to inspect the plants.
The captain and I discussed and shared our impressions of a book we had both read. This is El Combate Perpetuo by the eminent Argentine writer Marcos Aguinis. It is a novelized biography of Guillermo (William) Brown.
|It is preferable to sink your ship than to surrender the flag |
I felt comfortable talking to the captain as I was no longer an Argentine Navy conscript who would have never been allowed to sit down in the presence of an officer.
Rosemary came back in and took an unsharp photograph of the captain and me with her phone for posterity.
It is in these last two weeks where I have had this wonderful feeling. No, I never shot a rifle in a war. I was just a translator and aide to a US Naval captain. I had a desk job. But (yes!) I now have come to understand and feel that I am part of an over 200 year-old tradition of the Argentine Navy (ARA – Armada República Argentina). I can see that I can share William Brown’s glorious reputation with my fellow members of the navy.
In a not too well known incident where Almirante Brown was combating in a battle on the Paraná River against the not yet famous Giuseppe Garibaldi, the soon-to-be Italian patriot who would unify Italy, was soundly defeated and he burned his ships so Brown could not commandeer them. Brown’s officers then suggested they pursue Garibaldi and kill him. Brown said, “Let him go, he is a brave man.”
Now at age 80 I feel I belong.