I arrived in Buenos Aires in September 1970 armed with 3 contacts one of whom was a Jewish relative of Barry, a journalist I had met at the Woodstock Art Gallery where I was a regular visitor in London.
After 2 nights at a hotel paid for by the elusive Industrialist Mario Cohen, carrying the Frommer Guide 'South America on 5 dollars a day' and with the help of his PA Nilsa, I ventured downtown to find a room using my American bible. I was a travel agent for Global Tours of London in those days and had paid only 10% of the £450 fare to get to the furthest point, BA, before moving on to my dream destination, Rio de Janeiro.
I found a 'hotel' but Nilsa would not enter. She knew! I, the innocent, did not! To the right of the entrance in the hall was the guichet to pay for a room by the hour! I beat a hasty retreat and quickly found another $5 hotel further up the street and deposited my large heavy suitcase. Wheels had not been invented in those days so one had to drag the case or carry it. After leaving me in the bustling Avenida Corrientes, the main hub of BA, back she went to Brital to work.
What to do? Where to go? I had an introduction to Pablo Werthein at the Banco Mercantil Argentino so off I marched in search of my contact via Barry. I recall I was wearing a lime green mini. In those days, I was slender with longish golden brown hair parted in the middle and even looked sexy! Up the marble steps I went to the reception desk to find Pablo was in Iguassu. I must have seemed lost, so the friendly receptionist asked if I would care to meet his mother. Porque no? I was thus ushered into a large traditional library-cum-office with an imposing agate desk behind which was a kind looking stout Yiddishe Mama with an overweight son, fair haired Marcelo, sitting next to her.
Surprised La senora peered over her glasses and asked who I was, where did I come from and who had sent me! It was the Argentinian Inquisition! I mumbled the name of the British Jewish Journalist whereupon there was a big debate as to who he was a relative of. The second cousin of X or Y? She and Marcelo finally worked out the family link so I was 'in' so to speak. Satisfied, she next asked where I was staying. That threw me. I humbly murmured 'Downtown' but she was not satisfied. Where? The name of the hotel. I hedged as it was a dump but was forced to give the name and when I said the name of the street, Marcelo gasped and asked her if they could take me home. I was in the Red Light District (la zona rocca) thanks to the Frommer Guide without knowing it!
Marcelo kindly picked up my stuff and off we drove to Calle Gelly y Obes in the wealthy Recoleta district by the Cemetry. My first impression, as we entered the family abode, was a large barking dark brown and black German Shepherd racing up the long corridor to greet his master and then 'introduced' to Marcelo's guest, Me. It was a traditional apartment in the best of taste and Marcelo's bedroom was to the right next to the third bathroom while my room was to the left opposite his at the end of the long corridor.
I have always loved dogs growing up first with Samson, then Ross, both beagles and finally Pluto, an Ormskirk heeler in Liverpool. But that was another kettle of dogs. He was enormous and I was wary. He had not accepted me even though I had wined at him. I mimicked dogs' wining and normally they cocked their ears, put their head to one side and recognised me as a human dog! He sensed I was terrified of him and enjoyed playing a mental doggy game as he lay on the threshold of my room not budging when I wanted to get to the bathroom in the morning. I had to wake his master to get him to call his faithful best friend to move. Woof, woof what fun Atos had!
I stayed a month receiving amazing hospitality. Marcelo had an attractive fair haired girlfriend called Cora who he later married I was to discover. After a few days, Atos accepted me and would come into my bedroom licking my face 'Good Morning'. He trusted me because his master did and I was thus temporarily a member of the important family.
I recall some things like his sister Anna Lia, an artist, married her fiancé knowing he had a year to live. They all lived in the flat en famille, in fact the family rarely went out in the evenings and so dinners were sacred with prime Hereford beef from their estancia in the La Pampa province.
Marcelo introduced me to the wonderful 'New Tango' of Astor Piazzola, unheard of in London in the 70s. Then one could only find his LP's in Paris. I was certainly ahead of my time and still love his music today decades later.
Marcelo was a radio ham and we had fun contacting someone in London who called my ex-flatmate Patricia Barnes-Ward. We talked ham to ham while he held the phone with Patsy on the line so we could a actually speak! What fun! Another incident I recall. I had a ticket to go on to Santiago in Chile but Marcelo told me not to because of the politics and anti-American demonstrations. People might think I was American and there would be no time to ask! People were disappearing off the face of the earth. But the strangest memory was in his kitchen. We were due to fly to Montevideo for the day the next day but for some reason he 'contacted' his deceased father, Numo, who warned him not to fly the plane and so I never went to Uruguay. When I finally left BA, after going north to Salta, Humauaca and Jujuy, Marcelo drove me to the airport and waited with me for my flight. He kindly offered me a drink and, as I loved the local tomato juice, I asked for a bottle. When Marcelo passed it to me, he laughingly told me the plant was owned by his family and felt it strange that he should have to buy back his own product!
Atos is long gone, Marcelo fell out with the family bank, divorced with his children and grandchildren in New York and BA, he still breeds Hereford cattle in La Pampa province and has another dog who is his best friend.
He wrote in an email a few years ago, 'we are waiting for your return visit!' Inshallah!
How did I find out all those decades later?
My darling late husband Martin after 22 or 23 years of faithful marriage, became besotted with our Argentinian neighbour Diana Frangi. Not knowing she was a professional trickster, he loaned her, without a contract, £25,000 of our joint money without my permission of course supposedly towards a deposit for a house while waiting for her mother's house in BA to be finalised. The scenario sounded plausible and he fell for it. He really thought he stood a chance of happiness with her but there's no fool like an old fool and she knew it!
She lied that she had lived on the same street as Marcelo and promised to trace him when she was next in BA. With images of dollars before her eyes, she quickly tracked him down and, on her return provided me with his personal phone number. At least I spoke to him after 40 years and he remembered me generously sending me a silver mate tea gourd with a silver straw and a fine wool poncho that kept me warm in our cold winters.
She even stole thousands in cash from her own sister in law who was an artist on Brighton pier who came knocking on my door distraught as Diana had managed to cause a rift between sister and brother! Martin even caught her with her hand in his office draw stealing abandoned dollar notes! An evil bitch to the end. I just hope she did not extract money out of Marcelo who I later befriended on Facebook.
However, it was a decade ago and now Martin has gone to heaven or hell but the temptress remains free to strike again and how ironic one of her compositions is called Charlatan!
Written travelling to London by train from Brighton. 2/8/17.
Wikipedia - Werthein family history
Google - Diana Frangi
Wikipedia - Astor Piazzola