I was describing the kitchen. To the left, beyond the counter, there was a door going down to the basement, and beyond that another counter with a sink (I think) and more cupboards (I also think). The basement, the zótano, was a strange room. It smelled very much of humidity, and indeed I remember at some point, when La Plata was flooded, that the whole zotano was full of water. Seems weird now.
But before that, I remember going down there with Tito. He kept the potatoes in there and they had started to sprout. The sprouts were long and fascinating. The potatoes still cooked and eaten.
When I ate there, I think I mostly ate in the kitchen – or in the formal dining room, on those occasions when the whole family was there for dinner. The formal dining room was far away from the kitchen, I guess when you have servants that’s immaterial. Tito, on the other hand, ate in the little room off the service door (the door that we always used to get in and out). I didn’t like that room, it was dark and claustrophobic, and I also didn’t like the polenta he often made. It was ok when it had a lot of queso mantecoso, cheese that melted with the heat of the polenta and would string forever. But otherwise it was bland. There was also bread, Argentinians always eat bread with lunch (or did when I was growing up). Felipes y flautas, I think they were called. I liked felipes, later, when we ate asados at the City Bell house.
He drank wine from damajuanas, huge bottles of wine. Did he water it down with soda? I don’t remember.
I also remember pumpkin. The word. Was it a pumpkin? The pieces of pumpkin on the soup were something else, from my colonia, or summer camp, times. Just that, the word and image pumpkin.
In those days people thought that when you grew up you’d be twice as tall as you were at 2 years old. I always thought I’d be 5’10” when I grew up. I ended up being 5’1″, like my mother and Zuni, and probably many of my ancestors. My great-grandfather on the other side was said to be the tallest man of his village in Germany. Clearly I did not inherit those genes. Tito, a doctor and father of 8 rather short children, said that I had short legs, I wouldn’t be tall. He was right.
Of Tito and Zuni I also remember siestas. Just I, not my siblings – probably from when my mom dropped me off before going to work. Zuni, for many years, would tell me the story of some children who fell down a hole (or went down one? An aljibe perhaps?), and there they found a witch. I don’t remember any more, I know the witch didn’t have good designs for them and they eventually would have escaped – but what else happened? I really liked that story and Zuni would tell it many times.
Zuni, who must have been 58 when I was born – my mother says that when I gave birth to Mika, I was the same age Zuni had been when my mother was born. I was 33, my mother 25 when she had me. And Zuni usually wore comfortable shoes, but for some reason she had high-heel pumps in the cupboard under the window of her room (the whole house had cupboards under the windows, below shelves made from Carrara marble). The shoes smelled funny, but I liked to play with them.
The images from that time are so few, but what I remember most is the early afternoon light. It’s similar to what we get here in October mornings. It makes me feel happy and relaxed. And yet, I don’t mourn Zuni in the way I mourned Granny and I mourn Gladys now. Perhaps because she had a dozen grandchildren among whom to divide her love. It was always very clear that Granny and Gladys loved me best. They were mine.
But when I was little, Zuni and Tito were mine – those memories must come from then.
Going back to the house, which by the title you can guess was located on 55 and 1 in La Plata, let’s go up to the second floor. The stairs ended in a somewhat narrow hall. There was a bookcase with bounded books. Law? Medicine? I don’t know.
A door lead to my aunt Pipi’s room. It was a large room, and much later, when she worked as a book-keeper at a home appliances store, she would fill it with all sorts of, well, home appliances. Stella’s room – which had been my mother’s for the short time she lived at that home, was in the corner. Well, the balcony was in the corner, the room’s windows opened to calle 1. It was also a large room. Somewhere there was a white bookcase with all sorts of toys. The picture to the left. My father used to have a doll, I don’t know what doll, that he sent to have repaired. Apparently they melted it, or overbaked or something having to do with fire. I used to think of his doll in that room.
Stella was young when I was born, not yet fifteen. She tells me that she took care of me all the time when I was very little, she thought of me as her baby. Then, for some reason or another, I stopped going to the house and started going to Granny and Gladys’. Her heart was broken. She remembers 40 years later. I don’t think my mom does.
I always liked Stella. She married Pancho, the son of an Italian butcher, when she was very young. 21? I remember her wedding bouquet – silk white flowers with pink and light blue. I got it, don’t know, of course, what happened to it. As kids, we loved Pancho. He’s the funnest uncle you can have, nice, gentle, fall-to-the-floor-and-play. Indeed, he was the same way last time we went to visit them during our last trip to Argentina. They went on to have four children.
Once, I think, I went to Mar del Plata with Stella. I was very young. I have a picture of both of us together in the beach but I can’t find it. I thought I’d scanned all my pictures – but I looked and this one isn’t with the others.
I think I might have gone to Mar del Plata once with Pipi as well.
Between Stella’s and Pipi’s rooms there was Anibal’s room – its windows opened to the balcony. There were white iron lounge chairs and a small table in the balcony, they made a piercing noise when you tried to move them. Were there also flowers? I remember playing in the balcony with the capelinas that Stella had made for us. Those were floppy hats with broad rims. They were very cute.
We liked to go to Anibal’s room – mostly because he kept Coca-Cola and sometimes would give us some. Our parents wouldn’t buy soda for us – I think because of the expense, rather than any health concern.
On the other side of the hall there were two doors, one leading to Mikita’s room and one to the sewing room. Mikita was one of my uncles. I don’t know how he got that nickname. Nobody seems to call him that anymore. He was a lawyer (or perhaps still a law student when I was little?) and what I most remember about him in those days is that he had a tiny black & white TV set (color TV would only arrive in Argentina in 1979). Did we have a TV back then? I don’t remember. I do remember watching Domingos para la Juventud in la quinta – but I’m not sure if that was when we lived there, or later, when we’d go there for weekends. It must have been the former – because I also remember ironing in la quinta. My mom would iron shirts and so forth – and I the handkerchiefs. I have not ironed since college. I don’t even own an iron anymore.
The sewing room was called that (was it?) because that’s where my grandmother’s old Singer sewing machine was located. I don’t remember what else was there. The room was certainly not empty. But my memory can only focus on the sewing machine. My grandmother was a good seamstress. She had made her children’s clothing when they were growing up, and I still remember her sewing zippers, just not to what. Later, when I was 11 most likely, my mother would use this same machine to make clothing for my dolls. She would also used the tiny sewing machine I inherited from my aunt Gladys. I don’t know if my kids have seen it, or if they’d have a clue as to what it is. I think the needle is broken. I also have an ancient camera that I inherited from her.
It took me many years to discover the tiny door in the back of the side wall of the sewing room. We were so excited when we finally saw it. Something must have blocked it before, we couldn’t have been that clueless. Alas, what was behind it was nowhere as exciting – it was just an outside corridor that led to the bathroom window.
Beyond the sewing room, down a few steps, was the laundry area and the terraza – and beyond that still, another room (where a maid would have slept, I would imagine). It was known as Cuqui’s room, but Cuqui must not have lived there for very long either, as I don’t remember her in that house. I don’t even remember a bed in that room. What I do remember was the old clothing stored in its closets (that house was definitely not short on storage space). That’s where I found the skirt I used for my dama colonial costume in pre-school. Otherwise it was a dark room, and smelled funny.
So that was the house. The only thing I think I missed in describing (beyond the bathrooms, I’m sure you don’t want to know about them), was the little patio near the kitchen where the washing machine was. Yes, I’ve mentioned it, but I don’t think I mentioned that there were grapes growing there. Once, when I was older and my cousin Marito was visiting, we decided to make wine from those grapes. We did it by crushing them with our hands – I had the worst itching! I guess I’m allergic. I still remember the sour taste of the grapes, eaten perhaps when they weren’t yet ripe.
I think I mentioned that the house was located in front of the Estudiantes de La Plata soccer club. Estudiantes had three properties. The one on calle 1 was the one where the soccer stadium was located. There were also swimming pools (the one for children had disgusting brown water) and tennis courts. Perhaps something else. Beyond the tennis courts, for some reason, there were swings. And that’s where my grandmother would often take me when I was little. I think she also took me to the zoo, but I don’t remember that. The Zoo was behind the Estudiantes stadium.
Next to the stadium there was an area where they had rides. Perhaps there was a merry-go-round, there was certainly one further into the bosque, but what I remember was the gusano, a ride in the shape of a worm.
You know, I don’t think I ever had cotton candy when I was a kid.
This is a picture of all my aunts and uncles – I think it was taken in front of the zoo.