A Sevillana That Didn’t Switch — Horst Comes to the Rescue

Scan — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

My Tía Sarita’s sevillana has been inside the centre drawer of my desk since I can remember. I wrote about it (one of my very early blogs) here.

For at least 10 years the switchblade has not worked. It would not lock. I have never used it as a letter opener nor do I need to use it for any kind of self-defence. It is a pleasant reminder of my Argentine aunt who was correntina (from the province of Corrientes). So she would have been considered a provinciana by the more snobbish and metropolitan porteños of Buenos Aires. There was something about her that was both fatalistic and mysterious.

She was icy beautiful and that was a marked contrast from my Uncle Tony (my mother’s brother) who was effusively warm and almost loud. Their son Jorge Wenceslao (Wenci) was my friend and favourite cousin.

Sarita and Wenci for me represented the other side of the coin of my British heritage family from my father’s side. I saw them as exotic and more so when my mother and I accompanied them on a paddle steamer up the Río Paraná to Goya and from there via a Studebaker flatbed truck, inland to Tía Raquel’s estancia of Santa Teresita. Her estancia (Argentine for ranch) was large. It took a day’s ride on a horse to go from one end to the other.

Tía Sarita in my mother’s Filipino dress in our Buenos Aires Garden — 1951

I will never forget that night ride in the truck to Santa Teresita. The Milky Way was splashed overhead and had I had a book I could have read it with the light that so many light-years away still had power in that South American sky.

It was at Santa Teresita that I saw my first facón (knife) fight and the man who survived it had to leave pronto to escape the authorities. It was there that I first swam in the Río Corrientes but not before worker on a horse would first splash around to scare away those nasty pirañas.

But the most interesting event related to my Tía Sarita was a conversation she had with my mother on a very hot afternoon. I was sleeping siesta under a mosquito net but I could hear them talking by my window. I was anticipating with pleasure the watermelon that had been lowered to the well to cool it.

I was around 11. Tía Sarita told my mother that the boys (Wenci and yours truly) were soon to become men and that she would arrange for an “india” to teach us the ways of women in the coming year.

I never did return to Santa Teresita and I have been too shy to ask Wenci about his education into those ways.

In 1967 (and 1966) while doing my obligatory military service in the Armada República Argentina (the navy) I often visited my Tía Sarita. We would drink mate or coffee and she would tell me about her son’s progress in becoming a small businessman.

When it came time for our last meeting as I was going to soon board an Argentine merchant marine ship (ELMA) that would take me back to my home in Veracruz, Mexico, my Tía Sarita said she had something for me. She produced a copy of Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén Sóngoro Cosongo (I had it beautifully rebound in leather in Mexico). That book introduced me to poetry and it made me a fan of the poetry of Borges, Dickinson, Shakespeare, Aridjis and others.

The other two gifts were odd. One was a switchblade which Tía Sarita called a sevillana as switchblades were once made in Seville. It was only most recently that I noticed it had been made in Italy. The other gift was a little bottle of whale oil that my Tía Sarita said would make it open effortlessly. She said I would need its protection in foreign ports.

I never saw her again. This year when I return to Buenos Aires I will ask my cousin Wency for more details about her death.

This blog has a happy ending of sorts. My switchblade is in my centre desk. For a while it wasn’t. My friend the consummate camera repairman Horst Wenzel said he could fix it.

He did.

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Latin American & Spanish Literature in any language

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alexwh

alexwh

Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at:http://t.co/yf6BbOIQ alexwh@telus.net

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