30 Jul 2007
Eight green parrots in distinct pairs fly from palm to palm, screeching as they go. Below, Charron arrives, late.
Its Sunday again. I have walked, as you would expect the full length of Defensa San Telmo, through Plaza Dorego complete with crowds, stalls, music, the smell of incense, and tango dancers. A ten metre line of drummers, men women and children, has passed bringing trading to a halt. They wear matching blue and white tee shirts (the colours of the Argentine flag) and pause at the head of the square to buy Mate´ in small polystyrene cups. Today I am not remaining in San Telmo. I quickly pass the contortion performance where a man with curly black hair wearing a cat suit twists his torso 180 degrees, grasps his legs, folds them over his back and places them under his arms. Impossible you say?...step forward and look!
I am now crossing Avendia Juan de Garray. Beyond this is not San Telmo, nor yet La Boca. The feared Constitution, allegedly the most dangerous barrio of Buenos Aires lies to my right. To my left, the entrance to dock 1 at Puerto Madero across the distant rail lines. Here in front is Parque Lezama, positioned neutrally between the barrios. It is distinctive, as it cascades over a hill and under a canopy of tall plane trees which form the winter skeleton to the flesh of the palms and fern trees. Beneath, the paths tumble steeply to Avendia Martin Garcia, and each path appears to be lined with canvas and plastic roofed tents, curling like ribbons from the mount. To my left, youths play football, one exhibiting his skills by keeping the ball from the ground for over 20 seconds before projecting it to his friends. Over in the children's play area mothers and grandparents sit in the sun and knit, drinking Mate´ together and eat empanadas, whilst dozens of highly coloured children play noisily. The tents I have described turn out to be stalls, trading mostly second hand clothes, shoes and bric-a-brac. Here they are not a quirky fashion option but a necessity, for many families would remain unclothed but for the market stalls. As I pass, a deal with size 8 shoes is struck. A small wiry man with straight black hair pulled into a pony tail has tried them on, as his wife held the baby and his sneakers. Yes they fit. 15 pesos and a recycled plastic bag. I pause at the display of tools, sickles, spanners and hammers which have survived scores of years of use and now await new hands to polish them.
Having re-ascended the hill, passing the smallest man I have seen here in Buenos Aires, distinguished only from a dwarf by his perfect symmetry, I take the first available bench to sit to eat my empanada carne. Seven men in their early 20's have already arrived at the bench opposite and pull large shells from their bags. These they attach with nylon wire to long bent willow and bamboo poles, now transformed into bows. Tension is gained by pulling the pole across the knee and fastening the wire with a platted rope. One man sits on a folding stool at a bongo drum, others on plastic stools and 3 on the bench side by side. Eventually they start to play, slow percussive rhythms, changing the tones by lifting the shells and inserting small oval stones against the wires. A mother of two has joined me at my bench and she sings whilst mirroring the rhythms with her hands. Across the way a mature man, of uncertain age and sexuality, dressed by the market, mouths words to the beat. And the three of us sit as odd witnesses to the developing scene.
It is at this point that Charron arrives. I know not his name, but that word is written on the back of his red and white leather jacket which he unfastens with theatricality. He is slim and strong and a man with considerable power. He moves like a cat. His control is palpable. He places his bag on a pile with the others behind the players and returns to an area of tarmac in front of the players which earlier was swept for him by hand brushes. He squats. And then he starts to sing. Even the noisy return of a squadron of parrots goes unnoticed. His voice, an electric wire of sound connects with the trunks of the plane trees and stops families in their tracks. From his squat he rises slowly and strongly to face a junior member of the band. A slim youth releases his percussive bow and creeps forward for the confrontation. And they dance. Slow movements, with martial art precision hand lifts, their legs curving and circling over and below each other's torsos. A group of twenty now threatens to obscure my view so I move under the planes. The scene is frozen in time by the hypnotic pulse of the instruments and the dance, reflected in the ent-like sway of the crowd. Eventually Charron rises, his opponent is vanquished.
My return is back through Defensa, passing Cafe del Mercado, still filled with diners, and into San Telmo which, with the exception of La Vieja Rotiseria by the covered market, appears tame, having relinquished its danger to Lezama and La Boca. My pace can slow. The last of the day's sunshine flickers across pavements at the grid junctions as I make my way over Avendia Belgrano and on to the city.