Travel Tale - No. 1 -
Vol. 1 - Argentina, Land of the Tango
nearly ten years in the land of the tango
listening to milongas and tangos sung by
Carlos Gardel. Everywhere you went in
Buenos Aires, the Paris of South America, you
could hear his voice on old records blasting
through the open air stylish restaurants in
the faded colonial buildings, even though he had been
dead for many years.
Argentine Republic, the eighth largest country
in the world, boasts of lead, zinc, tin,
copper, iron, ore, manganese, petroleum,
uranium, and of course, the pampas. Since
the cattle roam free on the flat lands grazing
on acres of fresh pampas grass they
produce the finest beef in the world.
They also export some of the best red
wine which we used to buy by the demijohn.
its revolution of 1810, the Argentinos rid
themselves of Spanish rule and interference.
European immigration, foreign investments and
trade marked the new liberalism, but regional
disparities soon arose as the conservative
landowners, supported by the gauchos and rural
working class advocated autonomy, while the
Unitarists of Buenos Aires, the city dwellers,
upheld B.A. as central authority. The
Unitarists prevailed ushering in prosperity
and a new constitution in 1853. But
soon economic failure, weak civilian rule, and
resentment against the foreign landed
elite, especially British connections, led to
a military coup in 1943, propelling a colonel
Peron and his ex-actress wife Eva, into La
Casa Rosada in 1946.
WWII, in 1947, President Juan Domingo Peron,
established in the presidential palace
and with the help of his charismatic and
ambitious wife Evita, opened the doors to
immigrants from war-ravaged Europe. He was
determined to develop his economic program,
stressing self-determination and nationalized
the British railroads. They never ran on
time again. He invited immigrants
with good trades and education to help improve
his country by opening the doors to
battle weary people of Poland, England,
France, Scotland, and even the Nazis.
His economy was getting stronger and with the
help of Nazi gold, which he later deposited in
Swiss banks, Argentina was the land of plenty.
There was no scarcity of food, fun, and
fandangos. It was in this international
milieu that I learned the damn difficult
business of living.
loved to dance the Spanish Jota in colorful
gypsy costumes with castanets, thumping feet
and clapping hands, even if the nuns didn't
approve. They told my mother that
"ballet" would be more appropriate
for a "young lady" who should be
improving her lace needlepoint.
"Terremoto" (Earthquake) they called
me, as I had become a full fledged tomboy of
youthful energy. I feared nothing in
those days in South America, where I spent the
happiest days of my childhood, but when I had
to dodge bullets from one revolution after
another, I was shipped off to Scotland to
finish my studies. My parents were getting
tired of listening to Evita wail over the
radio about the reason she had married her
Peron, "la razon de mi vida."
She alone, but with the help of the unions,
established the Peronista movement imprisoning
any society lady who disagreed with her
politics, throwing the rich Spanish doyennes
in cells with prostitutes. Unable to be
part of that ideology, we learned to keep our
mouth shut. Nobody was allowed to openly criticize
the Peronistas for they were in power and knew
how to use it. Our English street
name, 'Giles' was changed to Avenida Juan
Domingo Peron, and we could see the
handwriting on the wall. Eva Duarte de
Peron closed down all the houses of ill-repute
as they reminded her of her "meager
beginnings" as the British whispered
in The Buenos Aires Herald.
was no television in those days, so I
entertained myself listening to Tarzan and
Cinderella on the radio played in Spanish
while I developed my English imagination.
Summers were siesta afternoons with a split
work day; everyone went home at 12:00 for
lunch, stayed out of the hot sun and went back
to work at 4:00 PM till 8:00PM; and
dinner was not until 10:00 PM. Then, the
Argentines came to life and did not go home to
bed until one or two in the morning,
preferring instead to walk around the city
listening to Carlos Gardel. It was in
this vibrant cosmopolitan environment that I
learned to ride horses, bareback, gaucho
style, on an hacienda south of B. A., owned by
a wealthy French count.
Mother was tutoring his son, Alejandro, during
the summer months at their cattle ranch, while
I was supposed to converse with him in the queen's
tongue so he could practice another language
besides the three he already knew. I
remember Alex being a very shy and studious boy
and I think perhaps his mother, the contessa,
wanted me to keep him company. It wasn't
long before I brought out the little
devil in him. He loved horses and one
day he suggested I ride "Noir
Belle," but I seem to recall that
it was he who took me for the ride of my
life, as the ex-race horse champion put out to
stud, took off like lightning. I clung
to its mane in sheer desperation fearing
decapitation from the branches in the trees,
and together we were one as it raced Alex's
horse till the sweat poured off it in buckets.
I let out every bad word I knew in three
languages while Alex laughed himself silly
learning Polish profanity.
don't know where Alejandro is these days,
probably living in Paris married to a French
contessa and raising polo ponies, but our
little secret still holds, we never spoke
English to one another as instructed by
my mother and expected by his strict mother.
We had a language all of our own, we liked to
speak Spanglish, mixing up words in a sentence
in both languages and developed: "geringoso,"
that only we could understand. Those
were fantastic days when his family grew huge
watermelons and we watched as the gauchos made
an asado, roasting an entire sheep while
preparing the chimichurri sauce, as the two of
us got drunk on red wine.
land of the tango should be on every
traveler's wish list. The city full
of fun that never sleeps invariably energizes
those who visit it with its vitality.
The great shopping for leather goods, the
magic of the Teatro Colon, one of the best
opera houses in the world, La Boca, where you
can eat and eat, fish, lamb, pork, and bottles
of red and white wines are brought to your
table ad infinitum, by the "portenos", whether
you ordered them or not.
Argentinean joie de vivre is legendary, even
in tough times. People walk around the city
whistling, singing and saying "piropos".
How I used to love the men make passes at me,
telling me I was "una nena preciosa."
Some guys had quite a line and would recite
poetry, but I would never acknowledge, laugh
or ridicule their attempts of playing Romeo
because it was all part of the game of being
alive in a country that was quixotic in
me Argentina will always be my first love for
that is where I discovered my first love.
His golden hair seemed out of place with that
of the rest of the circus performers. As
my Adonis swung from the trapeze like a golden
god of freedom, I decided that was what I
wanted to do. Run away with him at the
age of thirteen and become a circus performer
too. But my parents had other ideas and
I was sent to St. Hilda's Catholic High School
for girls. Damnation! How I hated
that ugly uniform with a tie that hid my
newly emerging shape.
grew up there with Polish intelligentsia, the
writers, ballet dancers, and displaced
aristocrats who managed to escape Hitler's
ambitions of demolishing the Polish race. We
all congregated at the Polish Club, "Dom
Polski" where I heard fascinating
stories about their lives, even if I did not
comprehend every word. I was too young
and sheltered to understand the horrors of war
and what they had all been through; and how
they were cooperating with the Jewish
community in a nearby town to give them
updated information of Adolf Ikeman sightings.
But my mind was filled with fantasies as I
had just discovered how interesting boys could
be, especially when they asked me to dance. I
learned to swim in the murky brown waters of
the River Plate at Tigre where we kept a small
fishing boat and where I would hear stories
about the illusive Graf Spee meeting its
spent many a happy time during vacations in
Cordoba; I can still see the orange-red
hot earth and the cool green mountains, and
taste the purple grapes the size of apples.
It was there that the locals taught me to
drink Nobleza Gaucha mate, a green tea in a
gourd with a silver and gold straw passed
around from person to person,
as an imitation of the
ritual their English counterparts imbibed in
at 4:00PM every afternoon when they brought
out their black tea and china cups.
How can I forget our
winter vacations in Bariloche on the Chilean
border, where Latin honeymooners go to be
alone and where now the Miami Ski Club takes
us skiing, to escape this Florida heat.
President Eisenhower kept a cottage to go
trout fishing in their wonderful lakes, and
Jackie Kennedy and the Duchess Sarah, liked to
fly down every now and then. So I am in
good company indeed, in saying, I am glad that
is where I spent my formative years learning
to be a free spirit. If you are looking
for a place to have a holiday I strongly
recommend B. A., even though there is that
ever-present: "Yankee Go Home,"
graffiti sprawled on walls. But stay out
of the region of convergence of
Argentina-Brazil and Paraguay borders because
of the extremist organizations, narcotics
trafficking, money laundering, and arms
smuggling. Also be alert to the hooligans in
the city who steal your wallet at knife
point in the taxis.
Everybody speaks some English in Buenos Aires,
which means "good airs," as they are
used to the Brits. I know, I grew up with
Daphne Smythe, a brit brat who would not let
me have pink as my favorite color because it
was hers only! So I chose blue and
compromised. Life's too short!! Live it
as the Argentinos do. They really know
how! I talk about some of this in my
next release: HUSBAND HUNTING, coming
out in about three weeks.