Buenos Aires Again

“April 4: At Buenos Aires again. Coming into the crowded dock this morning, we had a good idea of the enormous magnitude of the shipping industry of this port. It was good to see again a city, a newspaper, an apple and a supply of fresh linen.”

Life in Buenos Aires was rather pleasant for a time. I stayed on the Avenida at Chacabuco Mansions, a palatial looking hotel conveniently located. Life there was quiet and comfortable and not expensive-$7 per day in Argentine paper. An Argentine hotel differs from an American in that there is usually no lobby or large office. Chacabuco Mansions consisted of several floors, which we reached by aid of an American elevator. Each floor was complete in itself and. had its little sitting-room or parlor, dining-room and bedrooms. The floors were all of handsome tiles; in fact, wooden floors are seldom seen in South America. They make there fine and often beautiful mosaic tiles of cement and villages even will have their little tilemaking factories. In the Mansions there were but two rows of rooms; one looking on the busy Avenida and the other out over roofs at the back. The building appeared a palace from the Avenida and was large enough to have contained 300 rooms, or more, in North America. I think it had about sixty rooms, on all its floors. Naturally it was more comfort able than had it had 300 rooms, for as a rule they were of good size and airy.


Each floor was a little community unto itself, with a few small Spanish maids to keep it in order, a boy porter, a small dining-room and tiny Spanish waitresses. The kitchen was somewhere aloft and the little senoritas called their orders very audibly up the dumb waiter shaft. The manager was an old German-American who kept himself considerably in the background, although he was successful in making the hotel run smoothly and orderly. It was at first a wonder to me where they had secured so many maids and all of them so diminutive. I have not traveled in Spain, but I assume that there must be a good supply of rather short, prettily formed, but undersized people there, since I saw many of this type in Argentina. They had very good manners and lacked the crudeness that one so often sees in North American girls in similar occupations. They could some of them read, and I used to see Spanish novels lying on the table of a little waiting-room where they were permitted to- sit when not busy. I quote from my journal: “Our little dining-room has six tables only; the outlook is on the beautiful and wonderful Avenida. There are pretty pictures on the walls, and all is very neat, clean and quiet; the United States hotel atmosphere is lacking. I have perfectly delicious little meals. Their cocinero (cook) will land safely in heaven I feel sure, for he does his duty like a man and brother. The little senoritas who wait on us are dainty, with pleasant manners and sweet tempers. One of them has golden hair. Whence came that golden hair? I like her best of all, for she is sunny and bright and sincerely interested in the guests. She has a musical voice and I can understand her Spanish quite well; also she takes the trouble to ask me the English words for napkin, fork, spoon and so on, and proudly repeats them to me when she presents me with them at the next meal.


“Our manner of life is like this: I usually take a long walk in the early morning, dropping in at a great market on my way back. The market is most interesting, especially in its fruit stands where one sees apples from Argentina, Australia and North America. Apples cost 20 cents each, paper money. Then there are fresh delicious figs, oranges, -and peaches and glorious grapes. The oranges are small but good; there are no grape fruits south of the equator. It is a fine market, to which come many señoras with large baskets and also many children, taking home food. The peddlers come here, too, in the early morning to stock their hand carts. There are in these markets unnumbered millions of flies. Some day some patriotic Argentino will banish flies from the markets of Buenos Aires and his countrymen will erect to his memory monuments at every plaza. At present the flies are said to be great carriers of disease to the people of the town.

“Usually I would buy a few figs or grapes which I would carry with me to the breakfast room. Coffee, or `aqua caliente’ (hot water) when one preferred, with a roll and butter, made the morning meal. No one eats more in Argentina. Breakfast came at noon; here all would assemble; earlier people dropped in one at a time or not at all, many having their coffee served in their rooms. Dinner comes at night; dinner is the meal of the day. As I began my day earlier than the others I dined earlier, and sometimes alone.


I have on my table a little cruet, not larger than a big apple, containing bottles of vinegar, olive oil, pepper and salt. When I appear the senorita, whom perhaps I ought to call the criada, gives me a smile and a `buenos tardes,’ then goes to the dumb waiter shaft and calls, ‘Domingo! Domingo! sopa por uno’ (soup for one). It comes to me in a silver bowl, delicious soup, too. When this is nearly finished her silvery voice floats again up the elevator shaft, `Domingo ! Domingo ! los primeros,’ which means the first course, of fish, and afterward `Domingo ! Domingo ! Los segundos,’ and so on through the dinner until finally you hear `Domingo ! Domingo ! Los ultimos’ and know that the dessert is coming. I had forbidden her to bring me any meat, which perplexed her greatly; she brought me a fine salad instead of crisp, curly lettuce, then, shyly and coaxingly, the leg of a fowl, which I laughingly sent back to the kitchen. She retreated rapidly after having served me, but peeped through the crack of a half-closed door, for she always came promptly when I had finished a course. I prefer this to any hotel in which it has been my good fortune to live for any considerable length of time.”

Chacabuco Mansions were not exactly a fashion-able hotel; the grand ones in the city cost up to $30 per day, but none of them is better located, nor could they give much more of real comfort. We had interesting society, too, since the official classes of the various states used to stay for days or weeks, bringing their families. I recall the governor of one of the states and his senora and rather numerous and beautiful children. I enjoyed sitting quietly and observing them, pretending to read the “Nacion” daily paper and listening to their conversations. The manners of the youngsters were perfect; the senoras looked thoroughly womanly and the señors were strikingly handsome men, with curled mustaches and flashing black eyes. Occasionally a young woman and a young man would sit at a table together. I assume that they must have been en-gaged to be married and that her mother was in the corner of the room, else it would have been most improper. I would sit and listen to their conversation, meanwhile pretending deep interest in my newspaper. I did not usually know what they said, nor did I much care; it was the manner and the tones that fascinated me.


The Spanish manner is radically different from ours. In these conversations no assertions were made. Our conversation consists chiefly of assertions. In Spanish conversation, such as I used to hear between señoritas and señors, the woman’s voice would be as sweet as that of a bird, and her every saying ended with a pretty rising inflection, with a question, sweetly deferring all her little ideas to his superior masculine judgment, as “It is a little warm the night—not?” “The theater here is better than at Rosario—no?” “The horses at Palermo were beautiful today—no?” and so on. Had I daughters I should, no matter what the expense, import a Spanish teacher who could aid them in developing the soft, sweet voices, the nice manners and the little deferring lift to their voices. Then I know that they would be irresistible.

The telephone in the hotel was a curiosity, as is every telephone outside of the United States, for that matter. One needed time and courage to get connected with anyone by telephone. You began by turning the little crank and ringing a long, long time. Then you called, “Senorita ! Señorita ! Señorita! Allo! Allo ! Señorita! Dame numero cuatro cinco tres. Numero cuatro cinco tres,” very distinctly, then louder, “Numero cuatro, cinco, tres. Senorita, Señorita! Desea numero cuatro, cinco tres,” and so on, for minutes and maybe hours. I gave up before that time and walked to see the man. It was quicker. Incidentally I got a clue to why I had not sooner had reply in my attempts at telephoning. I was talking with an official when his telephone bell rang. He calmly continued the conversation. Again the bell rang, yet he heeded not but calmly conversed with me. When the bell rang the third time I curiously remarked, “Senor, did not the telephone call?” “Si, si, pero no importe” was his reply (“yes, yes, but it is not of importance”). Perhaps that illustrates a type of Spanish character, a courtesy to the one present; a neglect of the one out of sight.