Saturday, 16 January 2010

Memories of the past, dreams for the future. Part 7

On laxatives and hairbrushes…
The following morning I was late down for breakfast, and my two companions had already finished theirs and were catching up with the papers over a final lukewarm cup of coffee.  I sat down amid the used crockery and noticed that there was one medialuna left on a plate – the daily ration was one of these delicious typical Argentine croissants, butter, jam and a cup of coffee, and clearly one of the men had passed on the pastry.  I picked at it idly as I waited for my breakfast to arrive, and presently in trotted the old crone with the coffee, which she slapped on the table with the remark “you’ve already got your medialuna”, disappearing before I could get my brain into gear and ask her as to the whereabouts of the collection box for needy hotel owners.
Before the presentation at the Centro Cultural in Jacobacci that evening I had a brief shopping list of items essential to my immediate wellbeing – a hairbrush and a bottle of shampoo to replace those I had unwittingly donated to the last hotel I had stayed at in Viedma, and a little something to help with the effects of too much succulent beef and not enough vegetables. 
The chemist quizzed me thoroughly on my symptoms while I tried to forget about the queue of curious people behind me, and first suggested some clear pills filled with cod-liver oil.  They were only slightly smaller than gobstoppers, and one glance told me they would not be band friendly.  This necessitated more explanations, and when I finally settled on a mild laxative in liquid form, there were nods of approval from the assembled customers.  As I left the shop, I was startled to hear the chemist call after me “Good luck with the presentation tonight!”  I don't think I'll mind returning to obscurity.

The assistant at the perfumería, the shop that sold the toiletries, was at a loss to explain why his generous array of shampoos in different shapes, sizes, coloured labels and assorted exotic flora contained within, didn’t include one for greasy hair. Ramón had remarked previously that this was also typical of most perfumerías where he lived on the eastern seaboard of Patagonia.  Was it possible that the wind whipping through Patagonian hair all day long deprived it of its natural oils, causing a biological reaction on a national scale?  I got a wonderful Gallic shrug by way of reply (why, may one ask, should an exaggerated shrug be the prerogative of the French, when it is an essential weapon in the emotive arsenal of any Latin?) 
I chose my hairbrush with care, and it was only back in my room much later that I realised what I had thought was rather eccentric packaging, was in fact a tough plastic security device such as used in Britain by certain clothes shops to discourage pilfering.  The assistant had either not recognised it as such or forgotten to remove it, and despite my subsequent strenuous efforts, I was forced to brush my hair with a spanking new hairbrush several times its normal weight, and using only the last quarter of its length, until my return to Bristol two weeks’ later, when a pair of pliers were put to good use.
The presentation was a moderate success, though the laptop screen suddenly went black while the projector behind me continued to work, and thereafter I had to take my cue from the slide’s faint reflection on the black screen.  However, I was confident with my script and by now it would have taken a lot more to put me off.  I was even able to dismiss mentally the television camera trained on me from the back of the room. 
There was one question afterwards – what was the attitude of the British owners of the sheep farm towards the native population back in the days of the book – the twenties?  I had to reply honestly that the attitudes of the time were typical of a colonial power – they treated their staff well but were no different to other Europeans towards their colonies scattered across the world at that time – they considered themselves superior and it showed.  If I had thought of it at the time I would have added that the Spaniards were much the same when they colonised and then conquered Latin America (don’t you always think of the good things to say when it’s too late?)

We were treated once again to a wonderful dinner and a photocall at the home of author Don Elías Chucair, Jacobacino born and bred, a spry octogenarian, prolific writer and raconteur of local lore, considered a ‘national treasure’ throughout the province, and as El Rey de Jacobacci at home.  This was the best photo, taken by Carlos Espinosa – it can be seen larger in my post of 24th November (or double click on it of course.)
In this part of the world you usually have to turn your hand to more than one activity to make a living, and Don Elías is also a very canny businessman.  He has owned and run many successful stores in his time and at the moment oversees his very popular home appliance store, which he proudly showed us round.  I couldn’t help but admire the versatility of a person his age who could move smoothly from poetry to washing machines and give superb value on both.  At evening events he could also outlast everyone present – while we were dropping on our feet at midnight, keen to return to the hotel, his face would droop with disappointment because he wanted to take us out for another nightcap. 
He drove a very old saloon car, and as a passenger on several occasions I was grateful that as he made his way around the town, pedestrians recognised him and scattered with a friendly wave.  Not that his speed was a problem, in fact our progress was stately, for he prudently kept to first gear for most of the time.
His warm personality, twinkling sense of humour, gentle friendliness and old world courtesy were out of the ordinary, and I can truly say that I have never met anyone quite like him – I was very sad indeed to have to say goodbye.

Don Elías Chucair
Tuesday 10th November dawned sunny, windy and freezing.  The smaller hills seemed hell-bent on shifting from one side of the highway to the other with drifts of dust sweeping across our path as we made our way back east.



Tina said...

Not even constipation goes unnoticed when you are a celebrity ;). The had me laughing. Your writing is excellent! and I enjoyed the tale immensely. The book you sent me arrived while I was away and I will start reading it this weekend I hope!


THE DASH! said...

lol Love the constipation reference. I love this ongoing saga. Just brilliant. x

Zanna, travelling tart said...

Don Elias looks as you described - a very interesting gentleman. Another brilliant instalment - thank you Zxx

Simone said...

A great read as always Caroline....I did smile at the other customers nodding their approval at your purchase! I wonder what the old hotel owner made it when the news filtered back to her :) Such is the celebrity life.....


Lonicera said...

My luck being what it is, when I return to Jacobacci one day someone is bound to say "Oh, you're the lady who gave the presentation - and is your constipation better?"

Carlos Espinosa said...

Excelente descripción de don Elías, hasta con el detalle simpático de su costumbre (bien de pueblo chico y de un hombre de su edad) de utilizar sólo la primera marcha del auto...

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