Monday, 28 February 2011

Tales from Argentina – The Skunk

(Google image)
Anyone who has ever smelt skunk will never forget it, and anything that the creature’s defensive secretion has touched renders it forever useless. 
My mother describes vividly in her memoirs how as a child she was given a child's rebenque, a small riding whip which was made of creamy coloured rawhide and highly ornamented with woven twirls and knots of the same hide. 

(Google image)
It was her pride and joy, and she was longing to be old enough to ride a horse by herself and hang it from her wrist to make her look as though she meant business.  Her older brothers borrowed it one day when they was going riding with a group of people on the estancia where they lived.

When they returned she was aghast to learn that the purpose of the ride was to hunt skunks, and one of which had managed to have the last laugh by spraying the beautiful rebenque and her brothers' riding clothes.  It wasn’t merely a case of never being able to use the clothes or the rebenque again, or of throwing them away – the only way to eliminate the smell was to burn everything that been sprayed.  Mum was heartbroken, and hurt that her brothers neither acknowledged that they had helped themselves, or apologised for the result.  Thus she never forgot the incident.

Skunks are small mammals who hold their own in the wild thanks to their devastating ability to squirt a very disagreeably smelly liquid from their anal glands, sometimes achieving a distance of two metres.  If the glands are removed and they no longer have this defensive mechanism, they make interesting pets. 

One of my mother’s 3 brothers – her favourite - was John, a farmer in Argentina and Brazil throughout his life, and it was always thought he would have been in his element as a ranger in a wildlife preserve somewhere like South Africa; he had a genuine interest in animals of all types, and would approach them fearlessly when necessary.  He was my favourite too - a charismatic person, John-Wayne-cool when he strode along swinging his hips, handsome and wonderful in his sweat-stained cowboy hat and highly polished leather boots.  He had a highly developed sense of ethics and wherever he worked inspired a strong loyalty in the farm workforce.    

1937, Estancia 'Los Molles': 
My mother and her family - L to R: Mum aged 14 holding her camera
(she was a keen photographer), eldest brother Richard,
her parents - my grandparents - in the middle,
youngest brother Fred next to his mother, John at the back,
& sister Vera front right. Mum's little dog Judy at Vera's feet. 

In the 70s - John examining a new horse.

Being a larger than life person he was always well known wherever he lived.  He was walking beside a railway track one day as it was a short cut to where he wanted to go, and presently he heard a train coming.  He was careful to keep well out of its way, and after a bit realised that the train was slowing down with a squeal of breaks and was not going to pass him.  He looked round and saw the engine driver sticking his head out of the cabin of the locomotive, waving him down.  "Don Juan!" he shouted "Where did you get that wonderful cowboy hat?"  Laughing, John called back "I have a brother who lives in Texas, he brought it for me."  "Well" rejoined the engine driver "next time he comes to visit, will you ask him to bring me one too?"  John waved his assent, the engine driver picked up speed, blew the whistle a few times and disappeared into the distance.

1986, John and his wife

He was a fabulous raconteur and it must have been good for his ego to see my sister and me watching him goggle-eyed, hanging on his every word.  We visited him at least once a year in the summer holidays on the way to other relatives’ farms, where we would stay for a few days, and ‘going to Uncle John’s’ was a keenly anticipated stopover.

We also drove to Brazil one year to see him, and I saw him tackle large snakes which were curled up on the road – he would collect them and hand them in to the Instituto Butantan, the local biomedical research centre in the province of São Paulo, where they made the antivenom serum. 

What you did was get a forked stick and pinned down the snake’s head without harming it, then picked it up by the tail while somebody held a bag open.  Sounds simple, but I would even refuse to get out of the car.

He once told us that he was driving along a track and saw two large snakes on the road asleep.  He stopped, picked them both up by the tail with the intention of handing them over to the Instituto Butantan, but realising he had not brought a bag with him, put them in his large toolbox instead, which he kept on the floor of the passenger seat.  Later on he picked up a farm employee on his way home, and as they were proceeding along the man suddenly became aware that something was rising out of the toolbox.  Frozen with horror he watched the snake climbing up the door beside him when he finally reacted.  With a shriek he flung himself at Uncle John "Salve-me Sr João!" - Save me!  By the time Uncle John remembered about the snakes, the man was actually sitting on his lap, attempting to exit the vehicle through the driver's window.  The situation was eventually controlled, and no one was hurt.

Once as a young man in Argentina he had returned home for the weekend from the farm where he worked with a snake in his bag which he wanted to show his brothers.  Unfortunately at some point the snake escaped from the bag, which caused consternation and panic in the house.  His Italian grandmother, the Nonna, and his mother refused to come downstairs until the creature was caught, and all meals had to be handed to them on trays at the foot of the stairs - thus far they were prepared to venture, but no further.  The brothers teased the womenfolk about this incident for many years afterwards.
He had various unusual pets (at different times) – a racoon, a puma from cub whose inability to be toilet trained eventually meant he had to be kept outside, and in the end returned to the wild.  And then there was Stinko the skunk.

By the time I met Stinko he had had his glands removed and was an impish, cute little fellow who scuttled about everywhere snuffling to himself.  He loved company, though his foibles took some getting used to.  When Auntie Vera - Mum and John’s sister - came visiting from the United States where she lived, she would get up late and waft about the house in her long floaty nightie and négligée for a while before breakfast, and this proved to be too strong a temptation for Stinko, who would frolic in and out of these powder blue nylon ‘curtains’, and then with his powerful claws clutch hold of the hem and swing himself backwards and forwards while Aunt Vera yelped “Jeepers!” in shocked and indignant tones.

'Glam' Auntie Vera, taken in the late 60s. 
She didn't take kindly to skunks using her negligée
for a trapeze act...

When Mum and I went to stay, I woke up to the sound of Stinko chewing my shoes as he pushed them along the floor, and henceforward I had to learn to put my shoes on the foot of my bed so they were out of reach.  He had no scruples about chewing the shoes when my feet were in them either…

In February 1973 we had a family wedding in Buenos Aires, when our home was used for the evening reception, and the family duly travelled down from their farms.  Uncle John arrived with Stinko in tow, as he couldn’t leave him behind on his own.  During the days he stayed with us Stinko was allocated a small storage room next to the garage, with whatever we could manage to make him comfortable.  Mum’s eldest brother Richard had flown south from Guatemala with his family to be there, and his 11 year old son Robin took an instant liking to Stinko.  It was mutual, and the little skunk was kept busy with Robin’s games. 

Uncle Richard's family:  Robin, his mother and sister. 
This would have been taken a year or so before the Stinko incident.

On the night of the wedding, the reception was in full swing and young Robin found himself alone among adults.  There was no one his age, so he sought out his playmate.  Stinko had clearly been wondering what all the noise and music was about, and no doubt there were interesting food smells.  So when Robin let himself into the little storage room, it wasn’t long before they both emerged and trotted towards the dining room where the food had been laid out on a large table. 

“Come on Stinko!” he cried – “Let’s see what’s for dinner”. 

The bride told us later that she first heard of it when one of her friends ran screaming into the room where she was talking to relatives to tell her that there was a skunk next to the wedding cake.  On the table.

The guests had not been told of Stinko’s existence, so they didn’t know that the skunk was a pet with no stink glands.  They were in their best glamorous evening attire, and they knew full well what skunks were capable of.  It was a disaster in a crowded room. 

John meanwhile was talking to someone in the garden when he heard the most extraordinary shrieking come from the dining-room, and a wave of hysterical women came surging through the doors holding their long skirts up high.  The ones who got out first had seen Stinko get into his defensive (albeit fruitless) pose…

…and clearly thought they had escaped the horrifying social catastrophe of a skunk spraying everybody’s best glad rags which would inevitably need to be burned; he had the unenviable job of pacifying them, catching the by now panicked Stinko and returning him to the store room, while Robin looked on, unrepentant, laughing with delight.

It took the family all the next day to see the funny side.


Photo Finish -
from Lonicera's digital & non-digital archives


London, as seen from the London Eye


Farm in Norfolk

Garden, Anne Hathaway's Cottage


Exmoor, near Robber's Bridge (non-digital)

Exmoor, view from Selworthy Church (non-digital)

Exmoor, winter (non-digital)


Saturday, 26 February 2011

"Obese choose surgery over healthy living" - my rant

This article appeared in one of Britain's national dailies today - The Independent - and I decided I would write to them because we are the ones affected by Weight Loss Surgery, and we're not being heard.  I have no idea whether they will print my letter or not (I'll certainly shout about it if they do!), but I wanted to share it with other bandits and blogger friends.

Dear Sirs,

The title of your article (Obese choose surgery over healthy living, 25/2/11) implies that we who are contemplating or have had weight loss surgery could, if we had set our minds to it, have become forever slim by changing to a healthier lifestyle and bingo, problem sorted. In fact it should be as natural as any other surgery, with no particular attention being called to it.

The decision to 'be healthy' may be possible for borderline obese people, or if they have not been obese for very long, but for those who are morbidly obese this is simply too late, because it’s too difficult: the enthusiasm and motivation required for such an undertaking is hard to sustain for longer than several months at most without outside help – enough for a moderately overweight person, but virtually impossible for someone who needs to keep going for a couple of years on willpower alone to shed their excess weight. Sadly it’s also unlikely that one will go from hating exercise to being willing to do regular and sustained exercise for the rest of one’s life.

Ask any smoker – those who have forever given up smoking cold turkey are few and far between. They are more likely to succeed with some form of outside help. Lucky for them that they have the relatively inexpensive nicotine patches, and that they don’t need to smoke to live.

We have been saying for years that there are many long-term benefits for the NHS to support weight loss surgery, but there is an even longer term benefit. I have for several years been part of an international blogging community that has had gastric band surgery, and all these issues are discussed at length, and often. The most valuable message that comes across is that this tendency towards obesity must stop with our generation.

As “bandits” we acknowledge that we got into the obesity mental cycle from a young age and relied on food for comfort and pleasure, we’re grateful gastric banding has become available to us and has helped us to lose weight (though it is not infallible by any means), and we are determined that our children and grandchildren should learn from birth not to see food as a reward or a substitute for love or comfort, and to enjoy physical exercise. It may be too late for us to truly learn these lessons and apply them for the rest of our own lives, but we can make it right for generations to come. This is how we need the NHS to help us.


Photo Finish:
From Lonicera's digital archives

A little Photoshopping...

Río Negro, Argentina.  The trees and the grass in the foreground were black, and the sky was almost bleached out.  I lightened one and darkened the other, and I'm pleased with the result.

In my anxiety not to miss a close-up of this guanaco female, most of the shots I took were all skewed.  The field is on a downhill anyway, but this picture shows the horizon corrected.  I also lightened up the creature's attractive face and beautiful eye(s).  She was nervous of me standing so close, though I was on the other side of the fence... she's not as sweet as she looks - guanacos need to be treated with respect.

This was a so-so picture taken in the rain in the Maldives, but I realised the other day that its beauty lay in a close-up of the lush shades of green and the light shining through them, so I cropped to zoom in on the bright colours.

Similar principle applied as to the picture above.  Being digital, even zooming in on a small section keeps it quite sharp.

And again - I love the lushness and the jungle feel to the roots snaking round the tree.  I've grown all the plants you see here with great difficulty as indoor plants here in Britain, so it was wonderful to see them running away with their growth in their natural habitat.

I love taking pictures through natural frames - this is taken at Chepstow, Wales, with a bend in the river Wye just visible.  Thanks to Photoshop I can now lighten the frame - which was black - and darken the view, which was too pale.  I really like the result, and I'm afraid you'll be subjected to more like this in the next few weeks!

A couple of pictures of London taken last July.  All I did here was crop because there was something distracting on the left.  In the old non-digital days, if this had been a slide I would have had to remove the slide from its mount and fiddle with tin foil for ages to achieve the same effect...

We were on a boat on the Thames here, about to sail under that bridge.  It was a little scary getting so close to that boat on the right (of which I managed to chop off the top of the mast, I've just noticed).


Thursday, 17 February 2011

Obscure or Nerdy? (Part 2 of 2)

7.  Old people are just us a few years hence.  Thanks to being brought up with my grandmothers either living with us or around, and therefore seeing endless parades of their friends dropping round for tea, I am very comfortable with people of any age, and particularly those of advanced age.  They all remind me of my grannies, and I understand that they need to talk rather than to listen – I don’t know about anywhere else, but in the UK it’s an abandoned generation.  People in homes are rarely visited by their relatives, and I’ve had to learn to hide the shock I feel when people at dinner parties talk (in a roundabout way) about what a nuisance it is to have an old relative, and how ‘difficult’ they are.  These seniors long to tell you about their interesting lives when they were ‘someone’, and are now written off as doddery and stupid.  Most of the time it’s because they’re hard of hearing and forgetful, and being combined with possible incontinence problems, it all contributes towards this impression.  Sorry – I get angry just writing about it.

8.  Music – through my partner John I’ve learned to appreciate some opera, and there is classical music I love.  Unfortunately he’s not keen on folk music, which is where my musical tastes lie.  I loved Joan Baez when I was a teenager, and played the Spanish guitar, and through music lessons in Buenos Aires grew to love Argentina’s rich folk music heritage.  The more time goes by, the more in awe I am of the wonderful poetry written by folk music writers there.  I followed it all as kids nowadays follow their rock groups (and I followed the Beatles etc too of course…).  Once in England I learned about British and US American folk music.  Sandy Denny, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins and Tom Paxton could make me cry (Both Sides Now, You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, The last thing on my mind…), and I loved Fairport Convention and Gordon Lightfoot.  Then my tastes went slightly more towards folk rock with Steeleye Span, and I would see them whenever they came to Bristol.  But for John it was an effort, he wasn’t keen, and it became too complicated to listen to stuff with headphones – so I write words more than listen to music these days.

9.  Family – obscure facts that I share with each and every one of you reading this blog:  that we all have quirky ancestors who did unusual or interesting things, and ‘their stories should be told’.  Here are a couple of tasters:

On my father’s side, his maternal grandfather – my great grandfather - was a successful farmer in Uruguay with a very grand house on one farm, and several other farms to his name.  My grandmother had a handsome inheritance, and they enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle for the first ten years of their marriage, but instead of retiring, my grandfather (her husband) decided to continue with his investments – and in the crash of 1929 he lost absolutely everything.  So my father and uncles and aunt vaguely remember prosperous times, but mostly they grew up having to watch every penny, and only ever had one pair of shoes (at a time) each.  "New" clothes were handmedowns which when you got them were at least newer than the ones you were passing down to your younger sibling...

On my mother’s Italian side, her grandmother (“La Nonna”) was married with two children – Granny and her brother - and living in Florence when her husband died suddenly, leaving her penniless.  She became a music teacher and governess to make ends meet, and one day when the children were 7 and 8 she was contacted by a former admirer whom she had turned down, and who (disconsolate) had emigrated to Argentina, and later married.  He told her he was now also a widower, and had heard by chance that she too was now on her own.  Would she marry him by proxy, and take a boat to Buenos Aires to live with him and his children?  She agreed, and they married far apart, at each other’s embassies in Florence and Buenos Aires, for it would not have been seemly for her to travel alone and unattached over such a long distance with two children.  In 1903 she arrived in Argentina, and he took them back to the village where he lived, a place called Bell Ville, province of Córdoba.

10.  I have a diploma in wines and spirits.  While working for the company that makes Harveys Bristol Cream sherry, I was sent on the beginners and diploma courses in wines and spirits, held one day a week in a local college, and over 3 years finally obtained a diploma.  Being more of an arts and literature type person, this was most unusual for me, and I was proud to be able to look at a wine list in a restaurant and understand what would be good and what wouldn’t. 

I don’t share the view that wine tasters are a lot of pretentious twats who like to claim that wine tastes of raspberries and Marmite.  Wine smells of – well wine, but if you’re forced to distinguish between red wine A, B and C, and you’ve got to sit there till you do – well, you sniff gently over and over again, then taste them slowly, and eventually you begin to notice that they’re different.  But just saying they’re different isn’t enough – red wine isn’t generally sweet, so you can’t say A is sweeter than B.  You have to put it into words, and after a while your nose plays tricks on you and you find yourself thinking of raspberries for example – but just the faintest of a faint suggestion. 

After all, if I forced you to taste chocolate blind, and made you describe exactly what the difference was between Swiss, Cadburys and Hershey, say, I’ll bet you’d have the same difficulty.  Or different cuts of steak, or different colas.  So you use any trick that will work to help you remember the difference in the future.  There’s a French generic wine called Beaujolais which I can recognise blind (or I used to be able to) simply because when I smelled the bouquet it reminded me of cheddar cheese.  Of course it wasn’t cheese, and I couldn’t tell you what on earth it could be that made me identify it with cheese – but each person finds their own triggers to help them.  Thump.  That’s me jumping off the soap box.


Photo Finish:
from Lonicera's digital & non-digital archives

Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a pub...

Hydrangeas on my coffee table (non-digital)

The river Wye from Chepstow Castle (Wales) 2010

North west Argentina, 1994 (non-digital)

Río Colorado, evening (2009) Argentina

Río Negro province (2009) Argentina

A Maldives atoll - 2007

Maldives - flowers in the rain


Sunday, 13 February 2011

Obscure or Nerdy? (Part 1 of 2)

A belated thank you to Tina at Tina's Weightloss Journey for nominating me for a Stylish Blogger award. I delayed the acknowledgment purely because I was mid-series with my Dressmaker story, but the gesture was no less greatly appreciated as a token of blogger friendship and faith.

Make yourselves a cup of strong black coffee, here are the 10 obscure (read nerdy) facts about myself – as usual in two parts, because this is turning out too long.

1. I enjoy filling out forms and making them. (I told you you’d need the coffee). In large institutions such as where I work, form-filling is a fact of life, and sometimes it needs to be done by hand. Inevitably the ‘originals’ you’re given are 20th generation copies, sloping, smeared, wavy and faint. If there’s no time to re-create the form from scratch at work – in Word or Excel - , I do it at home and e-mail it to myself. I gaze in rapture at the beautiful result: clean lines, symmetry, equal sized boxes perfectly aligned, delicately shaded in the areas which are deliberately blank, and enough space between the dotted lines for handwriting… sigh.

2. I love working with Excel. I don’t claim to be an expert – simple formulas are all I can manage, and perhaps time/date formulas on a good day. I find it blissfully relaxing to gather loads of information from different sources and classify it by column, sorting it, include formulas to enable easy analysis, test that they work, then beautify it by adding subtle colours, in such a way as to make it easier to understand. And – what a lot of people forget to do – I ensure that it will print squarely on the page, and give it faint grey lines to make it easy to read and not make you dizzy.

Moving on…

3. I’m a poor housekeeper. I’m 5’ 4” high, and cobwebs are above my head. Ergo, I don’t see them, they’re not there. Unless I’m in bed and glance up at the ceiling. At this point I go into denial after muttering ‘must do something about those cobwebs’. However, I can’t bear dirty clothes littering the place, and I particularly hate anything lying on the floor. So there’s clean, unironed clothes piled up in the spare room (yes, collecting dust), a high stool in my room collapsing under the weight of what I might wear to work tomorrow, and the cupboard door forced shut from the pressure of shoes on the inside which have been tossed in any old how because I don’t want them lying around. But if I want a matching pair, it takes a while to dig them out of course… Incidentally, I also enjoy hanging out clothes on the drier or the line, carefully smoothing them out and hanging them neatly to ensure very little ironing is required. And I hate ironing with a passion.

4. My dress sense depends on how I’m feeling about myself. I know there’s a sexy dresser under there because I knew her once, when she was slim. Right little colour-coordinated looker she was, with blouses tucked in, belts used, make-up discreetly applied, etc. She knew she’d got it right because she noticed the effect. A poor self-image, low spirits and self-esteem took care of that for a while, and she has faith that one day it’ll come back – maybe too late to be sexy, but in time to feel good about herself, whatever her personal circumstances. I also keep clothes for decades when they’re of no particular style, partly because I intend to fit into them again, or because I derive a certain degree of comfort from the sense of continuity. Second-hand clothes are just as interesting to me, hence my interest in eBay.

5. I love reading all sorts of things – from The Economist and History Magazine to photography magazines and Hello at the hairdressers, and from large fiction tomes, classical or modern, to biographies. But I also have a very soft spot for romantic little throw-away love stories where I’m guaranteed a happy ending such as Mills & Boon (and Corín Tellado in Spanish, where I started as a teenager), and particularly when I’m staying in someone else’s house and I find them in their bookcases. I realise however that they encourage an unrealistic view of life and romance, and like most feelgood devices should only be taken in small doses. Thus I don’t buy them.

6. Food – when I arrived in England and went to university in Bristol I discovered from the endless coffee-fuelled discussions with flatmates about the world and each other which went on late into the night, that I had brought some food habits with me which were considered "weird" by British standards. For example –

Snack: cheese and honey together in a sandwich, or on a piece of toast;

Main course: a minced beef-filled pie made with shortcrust pastry which before being put in the oven has beaten egg poured all over it and sugar sprinkled on top of that, which crystallizes in the oven and is a perfect counterpoint for the spicy beef, served with mashed potato and vegetables;

Dessert: a chunk of cheese and quince cheese together (imagine jam/jelly in a solid cheese-like block).

All combinations of savoury and sweet – wonderful. And the one that made them clutch their throats:

My beloved maté tea, either with boiling water and sugar drunk in a gourd the traditional way, through a strainer looking like a silver straw, or the comforting childhood way, my favourite – heated with milk and strained before drinking. The effect that made them bilious was the fact that the result was green. I daresay green milk would put anyone off – but if you grow up with it, it’s no big deal.

I'm sure you had enough for one day - I'll post the other half in a few days.


Photo Finish:
from Lonicera's non-digital archives
(Note: the last 3 are digital)



Saturday, 5 February 2011

Tales from Argentina – The Dressmaker (Part 5 of 5)

Link to "The Dressmaker" Part 1 - Early Struggles:           Click HERE
Link to "The Dressmaker" Part 2 - Pastures New:             Click HERE
Link to "The Dressmaker" Part 3 - Doña Sol's Daughter:   Click HERE
Link to "The Dressmaker" Part 4 - The Struggles Return: Click HERE

The Summing Up

In the mid seventies it was decided (probably unilaterally by Juliette) that Doña Sol could no longer live alone.  She and Fernando sold both their own flat and her mother’s, and a large flat was purchased on the seventh floor of an apartment building in a busy but leafy part of town.  The two women had some adjusting to do to enable them to live together, and a source of amusement for the boys was what they called “The Curtain Game”. 

Doña Sol had only come to enjoy and appreciate nice furniture and pictures as an adult after she had moved in with Don Pedro, and had always been obsessive about looking after them; in particular protecting them from the hot antipodean sunshine.  She feared the polished wood would split and the fabrics would fade and spoil.  Thus it was her strict instruction for the heavy curtains to be permanently drawn during the day.  If her daughter wished to read, she was allowed to open the curtains very slightly, which forced her to curl up in an armchair very close to the window. 

Juliette had never forgotten this, and when she had her own home she instigated the exact opposite.  With joy she drew the curtains and flung open the windows, welcoming as friends the bright daylight and the breeze, revelling in the glowing colours of the pictures on the wall and the upholstery. 

When Doña Sol came to live with them it was a struggle at first.  She accepted that this was her daughter’s home, but her instincts were powerful, and when her daughter was out she would trot round closing all the curtains, not always remembering to open them again before she returned.  Juliette would know as soon as her key was in the lock that they were in the dark once more, or perhaps it was the sound of her family diving for cover.  She would march through the house, angrily whipping the curtains aside and vocal in her displeasure.

The old lady had a large bedroom, and she was allocated a closet in the corridor for her dressmaking things, but only on the condition that she no longer had clients, since there wasn’t the space for this sort of activity.  She had no choice but to accept the house rules – or so they all thought.  But she was wilier than they had given her credit for.

Mrs Ethel Pincott was a wealthy widow in her 80’s who had been a loyal client of Doña Sol’s for over forty years.  “La Pincó”, as she called her, was an amateur painter of questionable talent, taste and technique who was very fond of romanticised scenes set in the Buenos Aires of the early 19th century.  There were Arcadian landscapes with delicate ladies dressed in mantillas drifting languidly across them, rough and ready gauchos playing the guitar or doing their traditional country dances on a feast day with smartly dressed citizens looking on politely, little black children on said feast day selling hot empanadas (savoury pastries) from a beribboned basket, native people wearing immaculate and brightly coloured ponchos, and so on. 

Many years before she had given to her ‘dearest Doña Sol’ one of her precious paintings, a gaucho on a horse – which after a hasty look and a shudder, the beneficiary had ungraciously dumped in a spare room as soon as her client had departed.  It wasn’t until she moved in with her daughter that she took the wrappings off and they both gazed perplexed at the gaucho with his oversized hands and slightly twisted face, and the horse’s modest hind quarters completely out of proportion with his unquestionably noble and extraordinarily large head.  Juliette was all for giving it to the rag-and-bone man next time he was in the neighbourhood, but Doña Sol had good reason to defend it (as we shall see) and say she wanted to keep it in her room.

Mrs Pincott had contacted Doña Sol on the quiet and begged her to come out of retirement temporarily to make a dress for her to wear to her grandson’s wedding.  Knowing better than to discuss this with her daughter, she confined herself to checking with Juliette whether she could invite her for tea.  Suspicious, Juliette consented but a date was agreed upon when she could be present to ensure that no business was discussed.  The classic, spot lit painting opposite the front door was taken down on the day, and the gaucho mounted the wall and his horse once again. 

As expected, when they opened the door to Mrs Pincott, the lady was absolutely delighted to see her painting in such a prominent place, and spot lit into the bargain, and two very pleasant hours were spent talking about everything except making dresses, since Juliette didn’t leave the room.  “La Pincó” therefore had no chance to browse through fashion magazines to choose a dress, so she rang the dressmaker the following morning and arranged to drop round when her daughter was out to look at magazines and leave the fabric she had chosen.  However the old gaucho had been taken down again, and Doña Sol forgot all about it. 

Her old client realised the situation as soon as she walked through the door, and highly offended, did not stay long, to the dressmaker’s puzzlement.  Later that day when Juliette returned, the domestic told her who had visited and the whole story was finally revealed.  Fernando and the boys clung to each other helpless with laughter, but Juliette was incandescent with rage, and the old lady was reduced to sullen monosyllables.  “La Pincó” never got her dress.

In 1988 Doña Sol’s advanced years and her distant past caught up with her; she died of chronic lung disease, probably the consequence of wading across the Maldonado stream with the family bread all those years before.  The first third of her life had been difficult, yet she had known how to seize opportunities when they arose and didn’t look back.  By accepting what she couldn’t change and being willing to work hard to exploit her talents she made her own luck.  She was also blessed with a certain fatalism and the good sense to recognise that for a woman in her position the social niceties didn’t matter.

It was different for her daughter Juliette.  Don Pedro’s legacy to his daughter, though he probably never realised it, was that she retained forever an air of barely subdued anguish and a certain vulnerable brittleness in her manner about what she perceived to be her social status, which no amount of love or reassurance and arguments concerning the modern world could assuage. 

Fortunately this was tempered by what she inherited from Doña Sol – a measure of cunning, the art of survival and a comprehensive understanding of fashion; and thanks to the income from the dressmaking business and the thirst for learning sparked by the governesses, she acquired the self-taught knowledge and culture which together with the support of her husband Fernando ultimately soothed and sustained her.

(The names and some of the places have been changed, and all images in this series of 5 posts are from Google images.)


Photo Finish:
from Lonicera's digital archives

Studies from an opera rehearsal, summer 2010

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