by Robert Frohlich
The sun, pale and without rays, pounded down leaden heat in an indecisive light. It made me squirm as if I’d been prodded under the fifth rib. Hanging in Plaza de Dorrego, a spacious functioning outdoor market within the rakish barrio of San Telmo, I gathered why this section of the city is where bohemians let flow raw and refined pleasures amid cobbled roadways and narrow street colonial atmosphere.
A couple of street artists danced tango, she in shocking red and cleavage, her partner with tilted Fedora and tight vest. Passer-bys paused to watch while portenos (locals) and visitors sipped café coffee and watched the couple finish with a flourish then Michael Jackson freeze signaling the dance done.
San Telmo claims to be the birthplace of tango. Who is to know? Buenos Aires, like most things at the edge of the world, takes time to understand.
All week I’d been withdrawn from the very current of my own existence. And count my partner, acclaimed photographer and adventurer, Keoki Flagg, in, too, for that matter. Without cell phone, his addicted tech life had deadened to a pace usually only welcomed by those resting at some sort of Betty Ford clinic. But his cold sweats eventually switched to a glow, engulfed by one of the greatest cities on the planet where time becomes magically languid, if not, well, a fluid concept.
Buenos Aires felt good. I mean like really good, like better than graduating off probation or noticing the laugh from a girl’s fingertip. At times it transcended any rational discussion, because, really, it’s a city that’s anything but rational. But as Martin Sheen says in “Apocalypse Now” about the voice of Colonel Kurtz,” It really put the hook in me.”
Moreover, throughout our days, oh lovely sweet days, I’d been on a mission: To find more Mojo. Okay, not the kind of Austin Powers/ Hugh Hefner less romantic more hedonistic mojo that prompts a whatever-feels-good approach to life.
Mine was more the slant of fallen earth Mojo – after a year of cancer battle and enough infused chemo to hire Con Edison to corral, I was in search of more strength. The type that makes even the worst situations open into starbursts where chariots and white horses courageously breach the darkness and whose accompanying Milk of Magnesia bright clouds make joyful sounds of singing children.
Buenos Aires seemed as good as any primate city to find it. Keoki and I had begun our Homeric Odyssey in Recoleta in a large space low rent apartment building bordering Belgrano, and near to everything municipal to funky cool. We’d done the standard tourist gig: trying all sorts of groovetron stuff – from eating open spit cooked Cabrito (baby goat) to visiting a museum or two (yawn); walking miles of city, whether near the Casa Rosa square, through parks littered with huge statues and other oddball government houses that looked like a cross between the Pantheon and the Reichstag; checking out the waterfront of Puerto Madero (and no we did not go into the Hooters or TGIF that voraciously ambushed passerbys – egad!); to studying turn-of the century casa chorizos architecture – French-style mansard (two-tier) roofs and specific landmarks like the Palacio de las Aguas Corrientes on Avenida Cordoba.
All good fun, and it helped raise the vibe, mainly because we had help – from Bob and Beth Cushman, two Squaw Valley ex- patriots, raising their two teenage girls and living a wonderfully paced life in Buenos Aires. They took us to one of the hippest restaurants in San Telmo if not the world – La Brigada – un distincto en parrilla where we gorged on Asado, sopresatte sausage and salad, drank flagons of Terrazos Malbec all at about a paltry $25 a head. Decorated by countless signed soccer jerseys, balls and flags, the bar was a world of its own. Day six we went with Bob and Beth (and Fred and Barbara Ilfeld, too) to the stadium of the famed soccer team Bocca Juniors where we watched them stomp their sad sack opponent 3-0. While many spectators sat enthusiastically, possibly 20,000 Bocca fans stood the complete game singing and banging out songs louder thana Mitch Ryder concert.
I was stoked. Not just because I felt on top of the world, not at the end of it. It had been earlier that last day of our visit, before the futbol, during our visit to Plaza De Dorrego, in between drinking Quilmes beer and munching on a tapa ojo de bife, that I’d found the juju that I now truly believe will aid me in the upcoming Antarctic weeks.
The street vender was a whisper of a figure. The air escaped through his lips with a noise like the sound of bellows. It made one anxious to hear what he had to say. His neck was long and thin; his eyelids red; rare hairs hung about his jaw; his shoulders drooped like the broken wings of a bird.
“Oh Antarctica, yes, yes, have faith,” he said in broken English.
He spoke like a misshapen pagan burning incense before the oracle of a joss. He sold me a piece of shaped Amazon wood: it looks like a seashell. More importantly I chose special polished and colorful stones, all good juju he assured me.
“What you got there?” Keoki later asked over a Quilmes.
“Good juju, “ I said.
“Hey, man, right on, we’re going to need that!”
Today, the sun shines brightly. Our plane lifts off the runway in the early morning dawn headed to Ushuaia 1400 miles south at the ends of the earth.