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This is a story about Argentina, England and love.  It will be published in several parts as it is being written, so follow the story as it develops. You can find me on facebook as Kenny Beechmount.

 

 

The Journal

By Kenny Beechmount

Roger had been busy for days going through the contents of his father’s estate. Earl had left him a sizable amount of money and his house with all its contents, which proved to be very substantial. It wasn’t just the furniture and the large number of books in the library, but also all the boxes that were filled with old files, documents and correspondence. Roger and Vivian had decided to sell their own house, which they had bought more than 15 years ago, and move into his father’s house, named “Brighton House”, after his great grandfather, who had built it. Vivian had always loved that house because of its ample size and classic architecture. She thought It was much more suited to their lifestyle than their own house.

He had to decide what to do with the many boxes of documents, but he didn’t want to arbitrarily discard them without going through their content first. Vivian was super busy with her architect business and Roger was working long hours as a bridge design engineer for the consulting civil engineering firm he worked for. He decided to take his time and go through them when his schedule permitted, which was mainly on weekends.

Earl Brighton’s career as a specialist in tropical agronomy had brought him to many different parts of the world and he would frequently be away for more than a year at a time. The long absences created a feeling of lonesomeness for both Vivian and Roger, but it was the way life turned out for them.

Some weeks after Earl’s funereal, Roger and Vivian moved into Brighton House. They had given away some of the furnishings plus odds and ends they didn’t need and some of the boxes with his files and work records had been looked through and burned, not having any relevance to anyone. Earl’s laboratory had also been cleared out and the rest of the boxes had been stored there.

Weeks went by and nothing unusual happened, that is, until Roger was going through some of his father’s boxes on a Saturday afternoon. Inside one of them, he found a shoe box with a couple of letters and what appeared to be a journal of of some kind. He thought it was letters Earl had written to his mother, when he was overseas, but both letters were dated 1929, 14 years after he had married Carissa, and nine years after he was born. He opened the first one it and began to read.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Sep 18, 1929

Dear Earl,

First, I want to thank you for the lovely dinners and the lovely time we had together. You are such a gentleman, so marvellously funny to be with and I look forward to your return later this year- in fact, I can hardly wait.

The office of the Department of Agriculture is arranging your next contract, which will include some soil surveys and an assessment of the fruit growing areas north of here. You must prepare yourself for some extensive travelling by car and, as you have already experienced, the roads are not the best.

You asked me to keep you abreast of the political situation here in Argentina. I can tell you that President Hipólito Yrigoyen was only elected last year. This is his second time, as he was first elected for a term in 1916. Both houses of congress are controlled by his party, the Radicals, most of whom are middle class political professionals, who favour social reform. There is a lingering unrest amongst the conservatives, who feel the experiment in democracy threatens the socioeconomic net in the country, but the government’s agricultural policies have been quite successful and for the moment, things appear stable. The military have undergone changes in the last decade and it seems the officer core, many of whom are sons of the landed aristocracy, is unhappy with the entire political system, as are scores inside the church hierarchy, who also represent the old elite. Many of them own huge estates (estancias, as they are called here) with impressive mansions. You will see some of them when you come again.

As you know, Carlos Gardel, our national tango idol, is back in Buenos Aires again. He returned after touring Paris and Madrid in June together with the two guitarists Barbieri and Aguilar and they are now playing in all the best restaurants and bistros here in the city. I love the songs “Adiós Muchachos, Cuando tú no estás, Lo han visto con otra” and so many more. Too bad there wasn’t time to go and dance when you when you were here. Gardel is immensely popular.

As soon as I receive the contract proposals from the Minister of Agriculture’s secretary, I’ll will look them over and send the documents to you. Don’t forget to address any correspondence related to the contract to me at the following address

Srta. Andrea Zucaro, Abogado

Derecho Departamento Legal

Ministerio de Economía

Avenida Del Libertador 2800

Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Please send personal letters to my home address. My secretary opens all my mail (my instructions) before she gives it to me and she is quite inquisitive.

I can’t wait to see you and hold you in my arms again.

Con mucho amor

Andrea

“Vivian! Come in here” Roger shouted. You’ve got to see this”. Vivian came running into the old lab. “What is it, Roger, what’s so important?” she asked.

“Look, I found a shoebox with some letters that appear to be some kind of personal correspondence of dad’s. There is also a journal of a kind. I just read the first letter from 1929, and it looks like father had a love affair in Argentina”, he said

He handed the letter to Vivian who began to read it. “Oh my God she said, it’s clear as crystal he had an affair with this woman, Andrea.” She looked into the box with the letters and grabbed the second one. “Well, let’s see, the next letter, she said. It is also postmarked 1929. She unfolded the pages in great anticipation and began to read it aloud.

Brighton House,

Farnborough, England,

October 8, 1929

Dearest Andrea,

Thanks for your letter, which arrived yesterday. The marvel of the new transatlantic ocean liners surely do speed up the mail service between Europe and the American continent. In the old days, your letter would not have arrived for another two weeks or more at the best. SS Bremen, a German ocean liner, made the trip from Bremerhaven to New York in four days, 17 hours, and 42 minutes in July of this year. I guess the mail to Argentina is then forwarded from New York to Montevideo and then to Buenos Aires via mail steamer. There is talk of perhaps getting trans-Atlantic flights in the near future. Some flights have already crossed the Atlantic between continental Europe and America, but no announcements of commercial flights have been made yet. Time wise that would be a huge advantage over travel by ocean liners and think about the affect it would have on international mail service

Let me hasten to say that meeting you was one of the most exciting things that ever happened in my life. You are an incredibly beautiful and gracious woman, someone I have dreamt of meeting all my life. I was completely honest with you when I explained I was married and had a nine-year old son, but there is much more to tell, especially after I made love to you the night before I left. You have no idea how wonderful it was. I never have I felt as happy in my life.

After my son Roger was born in 1920, my wife changed in ways that are hard to explain. Our love life fell apart or perhaps I should say “crashed into a wall” and never recovered. No matter how hard I tried to revive it, nothing worked. For the last nine years, I have outwardly projected being happily married, but the truth is quite the opposite. I thought about divorcing Carissa, but I think Roger is too young yet. He needs a father as well as a mother. I’m essentially quite unhappy about the whole depressing situation.

I have worried a great deal about the stock market the last few of month and decided to cash in all my investments. I bought gold instead and stored it in a security box in a bank in Zurich, Switzerland. Since I made a very handsome profit on my investments, the amount of gold bullion I bought was very substantial, although I had to pay a premium over the world price of $21.00 per ounce. Don’t ask me how I managed to acquire the gold, since there are some questions yet as to the legality of a private citizen owning gold bullion here in England. If you or your family have any investments in stocks or bonds, you should consider cashing them in. The stock markets around the world, especially in New York, are running wild with uncontrolled speculation. Surely, this cannot continue and sooner or later some kind of adjustment to the inflated values must happen, which will mean losses for a lot of people.

You said your family was in the cattle business. Do they have a ranch? Since Britain imports a lot of beef from Argentina, one never knows if perhaps our next roast beef came from your family’s cattle business (I’m joking). We also import a lot of grain from your country. Britain never could grow enough of their own to satisfy the market.

Before I return to Argentina, is there anything I can bring you from Europe or New York? I may book on that ocean liner “Bremen” if the departure time fits with my plans.

I’m anxiously awaiting the contract documents so I can plan my next trip and be with you again. I’ll sign off in the same way as you did.

Con mucho amor

Earl

“I’m astounded”, said Roger. “I had no idea there was anything like that going on, I mean Earl having a lover overseas, and this is before mother died- it’s unimaginable to me. I don’t think mother had any inkling about anything untoward”. “If she did, she never let on to me”.

“Look, Roger, there’s something odd going on here”, said Vivian. “We just read a letter that Earl had sent to Argentina”. “Look at the stamp; it has been cancelled, so it must have been sent”. “How can the letter be here then?” “There is no indication it has been returned from Argentina”.

“I have no idea” said Roger and picked up the next letter from the bundle marked “A-2” 1929 and began reading.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Noviembre 3, 1929

Querido Earl,

I received your letter two days ago and how right you were with the stock market. The New York stock exchange crash that culminated on October 29th must have been a horrible situation for thousands of investors all over the world. I’m uncertain just how bad the crash has affected investors in Argentina. Many of the wealthy people here own land, rather than stocks and bonds and few if any amongst the working class have any investments and if they did, it would be in Argentinean businesses. My father is a land owner, having inherited the family estate from his father and he in turn from my great grandfather, who came from a small village called Dicomano, north of Firenze in Italy. He married the daughter and only child of a wealthy landowner and thus came into possession of the estate. I’m also the only child of my parents. The estate is near the town of Tres Arrollos, in the province of Buenos Aires.

The department of agriculture have approved the contract for the soil surveys and economic assessment of specified fruit growing regions. I should have the documents on my desk within a week and will forward them to you pronto. If you have any questions, please cable me. Assuming all goes well, you should be able to depart for Argentina in January next year and frankly, I can hardly wait for your return. Will you be staying at Hotel Castellar again?

On the political scene, things are much the same. There is uncertainty with respect to exports of grain and beef, given that the crash no doubt will affect the international markets and some reduction in exports has already been noted. There is upward pressure on interest rates, but no run on the banks as of yet.

You may want to investigate the possibility of flying from Panama to Buenos Aires. A company called Panagra now provides air transportation for passengers, mail and cargo over a 4,251-mile network of routes from Panama, Through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. The service only began this year, but seems to be growing in popularity. It would probably cut your travel time by one week, since you will only have to sail from New York to Panama and then fly from there.

All girls like to be spoiled, but you don’t have to bring me anything, Earl- just yourself.

Con mucho amor

Andrea

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Ciro Alegria was born in Peru in Sartimbamba in 1909 and died in 1967.  One of the best-known Spanish-American novelists of the 1940s and 1950s.  While Manuel Rojas wrote about the common man on the street and the poor, Alegria wrote about the lives of the Peruvian Indians and exposed the problems of the Peruvian Indians while learning about their way of life. For more information about his life, there are a number biographies published on the internet, of which the following is only one.

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/13703/Ciro-Alegria

——————————————————————————————-

  

The Siren of the Forrest

 

(La sirena del bosque)

by

Ciro Alegría

 

 

The tree called lupuna (1), one of the most originally beautiful in the Amazon jungle, “it has a mother.” The Indians in the Jungle say they believe this tree is possessed by a spirit or inhabited by a living being.   These beautiful and rare trees enjoy some privileges. . The lupuna is one of the tallest trees in the Amazon forest; it has graceful branches and its trunk, of leaden gray color, has triangular fins at its base. . The lupuna is attractive at first sight and generally, after looking at it for a while, produces a sensation of strange beauty. Since “it has mother”, the Indians do not cut the lupuna. Their axes and machetes are used for chopping, knocking down parts of the forest to build villages, or to clear fields for planting yucca and bananas, or to open paths. . The lupuna will stay dominating. Anyway, since they are not cut, they stand out in the forest because of their height and particular shape. They are very visible.

For the Cocamas Indians, the “mother” in the lupuna, is a white, blonde and singularly beautiful woman. On moonlit nights, she rises through the heart of the tree to the crown and comes out to be illuminated by the glowing light and then sings. In this Vegetable ocean, forming the tops of the trees, the beautiful woman resonates her clear, high, and singularly melodious voice, filling the solemn grandeur of the jungle. The people and the animals, who listen to it, become bewitched. The forest may calm down its branches to hear it.

The old Cocamas prevents the young men from falling under the spell of the voice. Whoever listens should not approach the singing woman, because they will never return.  Some say that they died waiting to reach the beautiful and others that she turns them into tree. Anyone who thought her out, any young Cocamas that followed the fascinating voice, dreaming of winning the beautiful, never returned. This is the woman, who comes out of the lupuna, the siren of the forest. The best thing you can do, on some moonlit night, is to listen to, and remember her beautiful singing, nearby and far away.

1)      The following links provides some background on this tree, including legends and superstitions

http://www.flickr.com/photos/hgcharing/4138391176/

http://www.singingtotheplants.com/2007/12/pucalupuna/ 

http://meta-religion.com/World_Religions/Ancient_religions/South_america/myths_peru_amazon.htm

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 Manuel Rojas was born on January 8, 1896, in Buenos Aires, Argentina and died on March 11,       1973, in his adopted homeland, Chile. He probably  settled permanently in Chile in 1924.

 In 1927, he published his first collection of short stories, Hombres del Sur, which included the story “El vaso de leche” (“The Glass of Milk”). This story is both moving and realistic, especially given the poverty that existed in many parts of South America at the time.  Rojas wrote primarily about the common man, the poor and the downtrodden.  He became a member of a an anarchist political movement and wrote articles for the newspapers, La Batalla in Chile and La Protesta, Argentina. For those interested in more detailed information about the author , go to:

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manuel_Rojas_(author)#Tales

The Glass of Milk

 (El vaso de leche)
By Manuel Rojas

Fact: in the starboard railing, a sailor seemed to be waiting for someone. In his left hand he had  a white paper wrapping, with grease spots on it here and there. In the other hand, he held his pipe.

 From between a couple of wagons, a thin young man appeared: he stopped a moment, looked out over the sea and then advanced, walking along the edge of the dock with his hands in the pockets, distracted or thinking.

He was hungry. He had gone three days, three long days without eating.  It was more out of shyness and embarrassment than pride that he refused to stop in front of the steamer at meal times, waiting for the generosity of the sailors to give them a package containing remains of stews and pieces of meat. He couldn’t do that, -he could never do that; and when, as in a recent case, one offered him some leftovers, he heroically rejected them, feeling that refusing it, increased his hunger.

A young man who moments before passed by, stopped a short distance away, and looked over the area. When he passed in front of the ship, the sailor shouted in English:

 -“I say; look here” (¡Oiga, mire!)

– The young man raised his head, and, without stopping, and spotting the package that the sailor had in his hands, hastily replied in the same language:

 -“Yes, sir, I am very much hungry!” (¡Si, señor, tengo harta hambre!)

The sailor smiled. The package flew through the air and fell between the avaricious hands of the hungry fellow. Without even thanking, he opened the still warm package, and sat down on the ground, happily rubbing his hands together, contemplating its content. A drifter from a port may not speak English, but it is unforgivable not knowing enough to ask for food from one that speaks this language.

It was six days ago that he began roaming the streets and docks in the port.

He had been left there by an English steamer that came from the port of Punta Arenas where he had deserted from a steamer in which he had served as a captain’s boy. He was there for one month, helping as a hand on an Austrian spider-crab fishing boat, but on the first ship that headed towards the north he secretly boarded as stowaway

They discovered him the next day and send him to work in the boiler room. In the first large port the steamer arrived at, they put him ashore, and there he was, like bundle without return address or recipient, without knowing anyone, without a penny in his pockets and not having an occupation he could work in.

While the steamer was there, he was able to eat, but after … The huge city, which stood beyond the narrow streets full of sleazy taverns and inns, to which he was not attracted; they looked like places of slavery, without air, dark, lacking the great, wide expanse of the sea, and between the high walls and straight streets, people lived and died, stunned by the stressful traffic.

He was possessed by the obsession he had of the sea, which makes lives more even and defined as a strong arm, a thin rod. Although he was very young, he had made several voyages along the coasts of South America, on various vessels, performing different jobs and stations, tasks and jobs that had almost no application on Earth.

. After the steamer left, he walked and walked, waiting for chance to do something that would allow him to make a living in some way while in familiar surroundings; but it found nothing.;

There was little traffic in the port and in the scarce steamers that arrived, he was not accepted to hire on.

An infinite number of beggars by profession were ambulating around the area; sailors without contract, like him, defectors from ships or escaped criminals;

Good for nothing left on their own, supported by unknown means, begging or stealing, passing days like the beads on a greasy rosary, waiting for who knows what strange events, or not waiting for anything, individuals of races and peoples more exotic and strange, even among those whose way of life they don’t believe ever having seen a living example of.

The next day he was convinced that he couldn’t endure much more, and decided to resort to any means to obtain food.

Walking, he went in front of a steamer that had arrived the previous night and that loading wheat. . A column of men walked with heavy sacks on their back and shoulders, going back and forth from the wagons, crossing a landing stage, up to the hatch in the hold, where the stevedores were receiving the load.

He stood looking on for a bit, until he dared to speak to the Captain, offering himself for work. He was accepted and exited joined the long line of porters.

During the first part of the day, he worked well; but later he began feeling weary and dizzy spells came over him.  Hesitating in the landing stage when he was going with a load on his shoulder, he saw at his feet, the opening formed between the steamer and the wall of the dock, at the bottom of which the sea was stained with oil, and full of discarded debris and garbage.

At lunch time, there was a short break and while some of them went to eat in the nearby cheap eating-houses and others ate what they had brought along, while he preference was to rest on the ground, hiding his hunger.

     He finished the day completely exhausted, covered in sweat, reduced to the limit. While the workers retired, he sat on a sack, keeping an eye on the foreman, and when the last one was gone, he approached him, confused and hesitant, but without telling him what was going on, asked if he could pay him immediately or whether it was possible to get an advance on what he had earned.

     The foreman replied that it was customary to pay when the job was completed and that it would still be necessary to work the next day to complete loading steamer. One more day! There was no way they would give him an advance – not a dime.

But, he said, I can lend you forty cents, – that’s all I have.

He thanked him for the offer with a distressed smile (but didn’t take the money) and an acute desperation overtook him then.

He was hungry,-hungry,-hungry.

A hunger that gave him a shooting pain; he saw everything through a blue haze and walking, he stumbled as a drunken man. However, he couldn’t really complain or cry, because his suffering was gloomy and arduous; It was not pain, but dull disquieting end; it felt like he was being crushed by a large weight.

 He suddenly felt a burning sensation in his bowels, and stopped,

He doubled over, leaning, bending forcibly as an iron bar, and thought that he was going to fall.

At that moment, as if a window had opened before him, saw his house, the landscape that could be seen from it, the face of his mother and his sisters, everything he wanted and loved appeared and disappeared before his eyes closed by fatigue. Then, little by little, the dizziness faded and he began straightening up, while the burning sensation slowly cooled. Finally he stood up, breathing deeply. One more hour and he would have fallen to the ground…. It hastened the passage- fleeing from a new dizziness, and while walking, he resolved to eat anywhere, without paying, willing to become embarrassed, be beaten or sent to jail; of all this, the most important was to eat, eat, eat; a hundred times he repeated the word mentally, eat-eat-eat, until it lost its meaning, leaving an impression of an empty, hot feeling in the head.

Not thinking of escaping; he would say to the owner:”Mister, I’m hungry, hungry hungry and I have no money to pay with.—do as you wish”

He reached the first streets in the town and in one of those, he found a dairy. It was a little business very clean and bright, filled with small marble tables. Behind a counter stood a blond lady wearing a very white apron. He chose that business.  There was little traffic in the street. He might have eaten in one of the cheap eating-houses that found along the wharf, but they were full of the people who were playing and drinking.

In the dairy, there was only one customer It was an old geezer wearing glasses, that, with his nose stuck between the leaves of a newspaper, reading, remained motionless, as if glued to the chair. On the table, there was a glass of milk. Half consumed.

He was waiting for him to leave, walking down the sidewalk, feeling little by little the fire relighting in the stomach that had burning earlier and waited five, ten, even fifteen minutes.

He became tired and stood to one side of the door, from where he threw the old man a few stony looks.

Why the heck was he reading with such concentration!? He began to imagine that he was an enemy, who, knowing his intentions could hinder them. He felt like going back and saying something strong that would force him to leave, rudeness or an expression that will tell him he didn’t have the right to remain an hour sitting and reading, with such a small expenditure.

Finally the customer finished, or at least interrupted his reading. He took a sip of the milk that was left in the glass, stood up calmly, paid and headed to the door. He left; he was an old geezer, hunched over, and smelling faintly like a Carpenter or painter.

As soon as he was in the street, he set his glasses, and again put his nose between the pages of the newspaper and went away, walking slowly and stopping every ten steps to read with more meticulousness.

He waited for him to leave and then entered. For a while he stood at the entrance, indecisive, not knowing where to sit; He finally chose a table and headed toward it; but halfway to it, regretted, fell and stumbled into a Chair, then settled in a corner.

The lady approached the table, wiped the tabletop with a rag and in a soft voice that hinted slightly of a Spanish accent, she asked.

What would you like?

Without looking, he answered:

“A glass of milk”

“Large?”

“Yes, large”

“Just that?”

“Do you have biscuits?”

“No, vanilla cookies”

“OK, vanilla cookies then”

When the lady turned around, he rubbed the hands on the knees, delighted, as one who is cold is about to drink something warm.

The lady returned and put in front of him a large glass of milk and a plate filled with vanilla cookies, after which she returned to her place behind the counter.

His first impulse was to drink the milk all at once and then eat the vanilla cookies, but he immediately regretted; sensing that the woman looked at him with curiosity. He dared not look at her; it seemed to him that, in doing so, she would figure out his state of mind and shameful purpose and he would have to get up and leave, without tasting what he had ordered.

Intermittently he took a vanilla cookie, dipped it in the milk and took a bite; drank a sip of milk and felt that the fire, which still burned in his stomach, was being put out and extinguished. But immediately, the reality of his desperate situation appeared before him and something hard and hot rose up his throat to his heart; and he realized he was going to sob, to sob and cry and even though he knew that the lady was watching him, He could not end or undo the burning knot that tightened more and more. He resisted, and while still resisting, ate hurriedly, frightened, and fearing that crying would prevent him from eating. After he finished with the milk and the cookies, his eyes clouded over and something warm run down his nose, falling into the glass. A terrible sob shook him to his shoes.

He put his head in his hands and for a long time cried, cried with shame and anger, wanting to cry like he had never cried before.

He was leaning forward and crying, when he sensed a hand caressing his tired head and a woman’s voice with a sweet Spanish accent said:

“Cry son, Cry!”

A new wave of tears swept over his eyes and he cried as hard as the first time, although this time not so agonizingly, but with happiness, sensing that a new serenity penetrating him, extinguishing the fiery heat that had choked his throat. While he cried, he felt that his life and sentiments being cleaned like a glass under a stream of water, recovering the lucidity and steadfastness of other days

When the worst of his crying had passed, he wiped his eyes and face with his handkerchief, again calmed down.  He lifted his head and looked at the lady, but she was not looking at him, she was looking toward the street, at a distant point and her face was sad.

On the little table in front of him, there was another glass filled with milk and another plateful of vanilla cookies. He ate slowly, without thinking about anything, ate as if nothing had happened, as if he was in his house and his mother was this woman behind the counter.

When he finished, darkness had arrived and the store was illuminated with a light bulb.

He remained seated a short while, thinking about what he would say to the lady, when leaving, without anything coming to mind.

Finally he stood up and simply said:

“Thank you very much lady: goodbye”

“Goodbye, son, she answered”

He left.  The wind coming from the ocean cooled his head, still hot from crying.  He walked for a while in no particular direction, and then took a street that headed down toward the docks.  The night was extremely beautiful and huge stars appeared in the summer sky.

He thought about the blond lady and how generous she had been, and intended to pay her, to compensate her in a dignified manner, when he had some money; but these thought of gratitude waned along with the burning sensation in his face, until they had disappeared and the recent event slowly went away and became lost in his past, twisted life.

Suddenly he surprised himself by singing something softly. He straightened up and walked cheerfully, treading firmly and decisively.

He arrived at the shore and walked from one side to another, bouncing, feeling like recreating his previous strengths, before they disappeared,- to have them come together and merge firmly.

Tired from work, a slow tingling sensation crept up through his legs and he sat down on a pile of sacks.

 He looked at the sea. Lights from the pier and ships were reflected by the water in a reddish and golden, gently shimmering trail. He laid down on his back and looked at the sky for a long time. He didn’t feel like thinking, nor singing or talking.  He felt as if he didn’t want to live anymore.

Until he fell asleep with his face turned towards the sea.

Translated by K. Beechmount

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