Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Tales from Argentina – The Dressmaker (Part 3 of 5)

Link to "The Dressmaker" Part 1 - Early Struggles:  Click HERE
Link to "The Dressmaker" Part 2 - Pastures New  :  Click HERE

Doña Sol's Daughter

They settled into the routine whereby Sol rose early to start her working day at the sewing machine while Don Pedro emerged mid morning, dressed smartly, and would disappear to his club with a jaunty step, swinging his silver cane and doffing his hat to the ladies he encountered on his way. 

In June 1927 they had a daughter, whom they named Adelina, after his mother.  Curiously María Adelina was also the name of his youngest child by Victoria, his lawful wife.  She was was by now a young woman of 23 years of age, and this must have rubbed further salt into the wound of his deserted consort.   It was surprising that Doña Sol should have agreed to this name, unless she knew nothing about its associations.

Little Adelina was a winsome child with dark hair and brown eyes, the apple of her father’s eye, and she adored him too.  Sometimes he stayed at home to play with her; she was his toy, and his pet name for her was Perlita (little pearl). 

Every birthday for many years he gave her a tiny gold medal with a little seed pearl in the middle, and on it engraved her pet name and the date; years later she had them all linked on a gold bracelet chain – which she never wore, but never explained why.

Doña Sol’s business prospered and she was soon able to afford to employ two seamstresses to help her.  She had some very fine ladies among her clientele and on more than one occasion made gowns for the wife of the president of the day.  When a new president is sworn in (usually on 25th May, the most important public holiday in Argentina, being as it is the anniversary of the date in 1810 when Argentines declared their intention to be free of the Spanish yoke, and established home rule) it is the custom even today for a special gala concert to be held at the Teatro Colón in the evening.  On one of these occasions Doña Sol made the dress which was worn by the wife of the president.   She was immensely proud of this achievement, and in addition it was a source of great secret satisfaction to her that she had been able to conceal from all these society ladies the fact that she did not read or write.

However, the twenty-four years they lived together in the flat were not without their ups and downs.  After having Adelina she lost fourteen further children – but not due to miscarriages.  It is not known why she had so many abortions, aside from the obvious factor that birth control was out of bounds for practising Catholics.  Perhaps Don Pedro didn’t want to have to cope with the added family opprobrium, the expense or the responsibility of starting the process of bringing up children all over again.  It is possible that his attitude towards his young mistress was that often sported by pet owners – let the female pet have one litter so she gets the instinct out of her system, then stop her having any more.  Who knows?  It is astonishing that her body was able to sustain such turmoil.

He had burned his boats when he opted to make her his mistress; he did not work and there was no further income from the family.  They lived on her earnings as a dressmaker, and during the good years there was enough to be able to pay for a succession of governesses.  Don Pedro did not wish his precious Perlita to mix with the common herd, as he declared to Sol when after a week at an expensive private primary Catholic school he removed his six-year old daughter one day and refused to let her return.  It is likely that he had either seen the signs of her being bullied by other children or foresaw that she would be singled out by the parents because of the circumstances of her birth.  So instead there was a French governess from whom she learned French, and an English governess who taught her English.  The English lady read stories to her, one of which featured a little girl called Juliette. 

At this point Adelina decided that one day she would change her name to Juliette.  Although in later years she never explained the reasoning behind this decision, there were several factors at play here.  She was not permitted to use her father’s surname, Quintana – she went by the name of Adelina Vázquez - and this hurt may have been compounded by the fact that she also shared her first name with a half sister she had never been allowed to meet, and that they had both been named after a grandmother she would never be allowed to call her own, and who manifestly showed no interest in her.  Don Pedro’s family would have put much pressure to bear on him never to recognise legally an illegitimate child, not to mention ending up with two offspring with virtually the same name – a further unnecessary humiliation for his abandoned wife Victoria.  

At any rate the governesses left her with a positive legacy – a love and respect for both the British and French cultures, and a drive to learn as much as she could on a variety of subjects, which remained with her for the rest of her life.

Adelina – now Juliette to her friends if not to her family – grew up in a secure environment where she knew she was loved; she would not have understood until she was a young woman the implications of her birth in the class-conscious Buenos Aires of those days.  She saw her mother’s smart and wealthy society clients come and go, heard their little cries of delight as Doña Sol’s magic touch transformed them from dowdy matrons into evening sirens, and soaked up the kind words and little token gifts which they regularly bestowed upon her. 

She was a studious child, thirsty for knowledge, and read avidly.  While at a local college studying secretarial subjects her striking good looks were spotted by a young man who was studying commercial English.  He swept her off her feet, and she married young, at 20, despite the objections of Don Pedro, who was now in his late seventies.  However his little Perlita was soon able to persuade him to agree to what she wanted.

Contemporary image from the internet (1948, Argentina)

(The names and some of the places have been changed. All illustrations are from the internet)
Part 4:  The good times come to an end.

Photo Finish:
from Lonicera's digital archives

Patagonia, Argentina

Twilight in Sierra Colorada, Río Negro

Fruit Plantations, Río Negro

(The answer, my friend...)

Last year's drought

Estancia Maquinchao

Laguna Ñe Luan

Go to Part 4 of "The Dressmaker"
- The Struggles Return:  Click HERE
Back to the top:  Click HERE


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