I have very few photographs of my father who my mother used to tell me looked liked David Niven and had the same voice and accent. My father voluntarily left our Buenos Aires home in 1950 (I was 8) because he could not handle his alcoholism. He would visit me on some weekends and take me to the movies. We would take the train to the downtown station of Retiro and from there we would hop on the Subte to Lavalle which was a street with wall to wall movie houses. We would walk back and forth until I would pick the Western, swashbuckler or war film of my choice. After the movie my father would take me for a strawberry ice cream soda at the nearby Roxy.
At my age of almost 74 I can still remember his voice and his scent, a blend of Old Smuggler Whiskey, Player’s Navy Cut cigarettes and his Harris Tweed jacket.
Every day when I visit our downstairs bathroom I always look at this framed picture taken (by the stamp on the back) by the Lahore Hermanos. I wonder if they were Hindoos (as Kipling wrote the word)? It adds to the romance of the lovely portrait. I stare at it and wonder (and of course answer in the negative) the question I ask, “Papi, who would have thought that someday you would grow up to be my father?”
As always when I think of my Buenos Aires past I think of Jorge Luís Borges. Today, is Sunday, Father’s Day, and it is raining. One of the most beautiful of his poems is called La lluvia or the rain. It is all about lonely homes that one visits in one’s memory in search of someone long dead. And yes, it mentions Borges’s father. I can imagine myself my father opening the black portón at the end of the garden and walking in my direction and smiling and saying, “How are you Alexander?”
Below the poem La Lluvia both in Spanish and in English.
Bruscamente la tarde se ha aclarado
Porque ya cae la lluvia minuciosa.
Cae o cayó. La lluvia es una cosa
Que sin duda sucede en el pasado.
Quien la oye caer ha recobrado
El tiempo en que la suerte venturosa
Le reveló una flor llamada rosa
Y el curioso color del colorado.
Esta lluvia que ciega los cristales
Alegrará en perdidos arrabales
Las negras uvas de una parra en cierto
Patio que ya no existe. La mojada
Tarde me trae la voz, la voz deseada,
De mi padre que vuelve y que no ha muerto.
The Rain — J. L. Borges
The afternoon grows light because at last
Abruptly a minutely shredded rain
Is falling, or it fell. For once again
Rain is something happening in the past.
Whoever hears it fall has brought to mind
Time when by a sudden lucky chance
A flower called “rose” was open to his glance
And the curious color of the colored kind.
This rain that blinds the windows with its mists
Will gladden in suburbs no more to be found
The black grapes on a vine there overhead
In a certain patio that no longer exists.
And the drenched afternoon brings back the sound
How longed for, of my father’s voice, not dead.
[From Dreamtigers, by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Harold Morland]
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.