viernes, 25 de diciembre de 2009

RSClef Epilogue

Joaquin blinks and covers his face from the wind with his little arm. He´s bundled up in a sweater over a fluffy blue body suit. The stroller I can´t remember where we bought it as I push it into the brisk wind coming off the sea. As I push the stroller along the boardwalk I try to lean forward to get a better a look at him. Those sweet long dark lashes so like his mother´s ... Another gust of wind batters us and I look down again anxiously. He´s placidly staring out to sea. Isadora´s father and grandfather were in the merchant navy and my father was in the navy and grandpa was a first mate in the English merchant navy. Something to hold onto. The stroller slips from my grasp and another gust of wind slaps my face as the sun slides out from behind a gray bank of clouds and nearly blinds me. I can´t find the stroller and I panic flailing my arms about.

I´ve slipped sideways off the remains of a trunk that I had fallen asleep against. To my right the remains of lunch in a plastic bag and over there the chainsaw and axe. And the sun is now shining right in my eyes. A late November sun, slanting through the bare trees - although some oaks retain their leaves. When Father collapsed on the driveway late last winter and died a few hours later I had wanted to move us all to Renfrew but Isa had objected. Jans and his company ( Cruz Phospates ) had recompensed us well and it seemed the moment to return for a while at least. Isa, however, wanted her Argentine son to grow up Argentino. With Diego back and Ori finally out of high school and now working as a pastry chef at L´Hermitage ( Sargento Vanni had helped her get the job and his company - SeguriSur - provides ´logistics´ to Cruz Phosphates ) Isa felt supported and liberated and wanted to stay where she felt at home.

The crows cackle loudly like Harpies and I want to throw something at them. They´ve been here for years in this woodlot; not a forest not marked by any path - as in the words of Dante in Canto XIII - but rather sliced into sections by some well trod footpaths down which I stumble with logs on my shoulders for our furnace. Mother keeps up with her aerobics but she´s slowing down more and more and she failed her test twice and has decided to let me do all the driving. We spend early May to mid September in Mar del Plata with Joaquin and Isa Diego and Oriana. Then we return here to cut the wood and they spend the holidays with us and return in mid February when Mardel is reclaimed by it´s citizens from the summer tourists. I finish cutting the wood and doing our taxes in March and April and we head to the airport the first week in May and start the cycle again. So it means a little over five months of each year without Joaquin. I sit up and then stand up slowly and trod over to the chainsaw. More wood to cut before they come in under two weeks.

Most of the work on Nonepileptic seizures seems fairly recent. Physiologic nonepileptic seizures arise from metabolic disturbances disrupting brain function. Hypoglycemia can produce this and I am definitely hypoglycemic. There are also Physcogenic nonepileptic seizures and these are the result of physcological conflict and the stress it produces, or arise from emotional trauma. They start slowly and build and involve screams or cries in the middle or near the end. There may be unusual posturing but the recovery is much quicker than in the case of an epileptic seizure.

Dr. Salas seemed very confident that this was what afflicted me. What do you think? If you live and die by Luke and the Gospels then I was a possesed soul who fought the devil´s embrace and won - at the cost of a step towards suicide: tending to my mother as she spins out her last years in this faded wooden cottage rather than living the whole year in Mar del Plata. The forest of suicides in Canto XIII. But think of it as a post modern slip towards the safety and silence of death. Nothing as absolute as taking one´s life, as robbing your soul of its own flesh. If you believe in the certainty of medical science, however, then the answer is more straightforward and my choice to tend to my mother is making the best of conflicting demands on me. The crows flap into the air and head towards highway 132 cackling agressively. I think I spot a hawk circling above them in the pale low sky. For some reason it makes me think of Kabede and I wonder if that package I recieved from Tel Aviv was him. It was a gold krugerand ( how did it make it through customs? ) and a brief note - regards from Toby it said. I had fingered the metal disk and had felt my world slip slightly ... we all know Toby never really existed ... don´t we? I´m sure it was exactly what Kabede had wanted. But his elegant little revenge hadn´t lasted: when you´re past fifty you´ve either learned how to let things go or you hate the world. And I don´t hate the world. The crows disappear over the Lepine´s large california-style home and their cackles fade into the woods.

When they head down the escalator towards the baggage claim in Ottawa in two weeks, I´ll observe how much Joaquin has changed in the nearly three months since I´ve seen him. I´ll see who carries him - Isadora or Diego. It´s a long flight from Ezeiza to Pearson and then the shuttle to Ottawa, so he´ll be dead tired and cranky and I doubt he´ll feel like walking much. As I take him in my arms maybe he´ll be asleep, his hazel green eyes resting under those lovely lashes. His reddish chestnut hair tousled from the flight. His body warm and heavier every time. He´s going to be larger than me and I hope he´ll learn to love earlier than me. So I´ll leave you standing here in our woodlot, gentle and otherwise reader, as I walk towards the swamp and some dead poplars that need cutting. You can watch me as I head up over that little rise and disappear around the bend between the fir trees.

jueves, 10 de diciembre de 2009


A dog barking. I open my eyes. Strange curtains and two other beds ... and a needle in my arm. I turn and see the IV drip feed. One of the beds is occupied but he´s asleep. I try to turn onto my side but I´m strapped in and the restraints hold me in place. I stop and stare at them for a moment, horrified; then struggle angrily but can barely move. The door opens and a nurse trots in with a doctor following her a few paces behind. A male nurse arrives quickly as well and the two hold me down while the doctor fills a syringe and then injects me in my left arm. I don´t scream but I do struggle half heartedly against their grips as I fade back into darkness and silence.

The same fucking dog. This is a joke. I´m obviously at the hospital in Cruz del Eje - and I´m groggy and I have a headache. I let my eyes slowly close. How long have I been asleep? 55 crystalline spheres, with deferents and epicycles - circles circling around larger circles. The Ptolemaic Universe and it´s attempts to explain celestial movements. A predictor in a way of the elegance of sine and cosine functions. But those are waves; broken half circles stretched and joined. Sound, light, seas. We´re at number 55, the last sphere. The Prime Mover. Then I jolt awake. My son ... where is he? Where is Isadora?? I call out trying not to yell. I have to negotiate with them somehow.

Hola ... ? Hola ... ?

Footsteps outside. The door opens. A different nurse, a little older. She surveys me carefully and then answers me.

Buen dia Señor Keeley. Estas en El Hospital.
Mira vos ...
Tu hijo y mujer descansan en la hacienda. El parto resulto perfecto.

I stare at her as if the words hung there in the air - thinking of the song. I slowly nod at her. Am I crying? Hopefully the tears are a slim little flow and not a pyschotic flood. I raise my eyebrows politely ( is that even possible? ) and she approaches and loosens a restraint and then hands me a paper towel. I wipe my tears and realize that I really have to pee. She steps out into the hall a moment and then returns with the same male nurse from last time. They release the restraints and he helps me down the hall to the bathroom. I have a gown on but unlike those scenes in a movie I also have underwear on. Later they let me take a shower and hand me a small knapsack ( it looks like it´s Diego´s ) with a change of clothes.

The psychiatrist interviews me late that afternoon. It´s in a office one floor down and thank goodness I can wear street clothes. He´s younger than me, perhaps in his late thirties. Thick head of short dark hair. The name is Salas, Dr. Federico Salas.

Tuviste un episodio fuerte Allard y tuvimos que darte sedativos. ( a porteño accent - I feel relief ).
Si ... cuantos dias estoy aca?
Tres. Como te sentis?
Drogado che. ( he smiles, good ) Y necesito ver mi hijo.
Claro Allard, Eso lo logramos en poco tiempo. Decime, cuando empezaron estos episodios?
Hace unos meses ... ( be honest ) era el viento las persianas ...
A ver ...
Era como un trance ... me senti paralizado. Dominado por una fuerza.

He shifts in his chair and taps his pen against some papers. Clinical report I´ll assume.

Sentiste como una corriente electrica?
La adrenalina es un factor importante en estos episodios. Decime, vos has tenido ataques eplilepticos alguna vez??
A ... si, la verdad. En Venezuela, Bocono.
Aja. Desmayaste?
Si, pero el medico dijo que no era epilepsia sino ... coño me olivdo.

He smiles at my use of coño and scribbles quickly for a minute. Then he looks up.

Te hicieron electroencefalogramas?
Y nada resulto?
De lo que me acuerdo, nope. Era normal. Doctor Hack Belloso ... una clinica privada en ... la avenida Bella Vista creo ...

He nods distractedly at my uneccessary details and focuses on his notes.

Allard, te vamos a cuidar aqui unos dias mas para observarte y despues te damos en alta. Te parece?

I nod carefully and wait quietly. He writes some more, perhaps some prescriptions and then puts down his pen.

No me parece que ya necesitas sedativos. Mañana hablermos un toque, ok?

His tone is cordial and casual - I walk back down the hall and upstairs wondering if he´s from Cordoba but studied in Buenos Aires. I don´t have a good enough ear to distinguish that sort of subtlety but his careful modulation suggests that may be the case. He had walked me to the door and had shaken my hand in the hallway. When did he say we were to meet again? Tomorrow? A nurse at a desk smiles crisply at me as I pass by and head upstairs. Then she goes back to arguing with someone on her cellphone. The day passes slowly and I ask for some magazines. There´s La Voz del Interior and I read that and finally fall asleep.

Next day the interview with Dr. Salas is punctual and cordial. More magazines and a new copy of La Voz del Interior. I grin sardonically at some political intrigue in Cordoba Capital - fake invoices and family members employed in the tax collecting agency ... more of the same. I fall asleep again to the sounds of the barking dog.

I dream of a small hand grasping my fingers. Dark skin. Then lighter skin. A soft warm head pushes against my chest. The sound of water, or merely the sense of water. I´m moving forward slowly. Tunneling through that hidden passage my guide and I have entered, to find again the world of light. Dante´s words but who is my guide? Him, of course. That soft warm head. Those small fingers grasping my index finger. I move slowly breathing hard like a miner crawling through a collapsed mine shaft. His warm wet weight binds me and obliges me forward. Without thinking of a moment´s rest we climbed up - Dante´s verses like a ladder towards the stars that await us. An enormous rushing wave pushes us towards consciousness at an accelerating rate. Panic takes hold of me and I gasp for air. The math is wrong. I´m not rising towards a view of heaven. We´re falling back - slip sliding down again. I can´t find a center. Something to hold on to. I spin and gasp, screaming and sweating. Help me, god just please help me.

Chestunt hair, redder than I had expected. My paternal grandfather was a redhead and her paternal grandmother was a redheaded Italian. But I can´t hold him long. Salas wants to keep me here a while longer after my latest episode. As far as I´m concerned it was just a nightmare - can you blame me?? Isadora had been crying. Love and anguish in her eyes as I held him. Joaquin Keeley Osabe. They´ve named him already but it´s ok. It´s what we had agreed on. Diego had stood in the doorway, still in love with Isadora. Tall and strong and handy and happy. Not at all like me. I cradle his head and feel his sweet warmth against my chest. He´s sleeping now. So I hand him back to Isadora and they leave me alone here again... I wanted to give you a happy ending, to banish that devlish snapping wind to the frozen core of Dante´s hell and resume my life here on Earth´s surface. Maybe I can still. But purgatory demands patience and humbleness. I can´t even leave this hospital to care for my son and wife. Humble is a very plausible option right now. And remember the math, this should leave us back again at verse XIII - the forest of suicides. How can I make this work out? In a post modern world where faith is an accessory. How can I make this work out? Patience gentle reader. I think I know how ...

domingo, 4 de octubre de 2009


I stumble up the incline and tell Jeb that the plane scheduled for fly over photographs is due any time now. I hand him his thermos of tea and sandwich and also translate a request from one of the crew, Carlitos, to take the afternoon off so he can see his dentist. It´s October and we have a dozen more samples to send to Acme Labs in Mendoza. I had almost laughed the first time I heard their name mentioned but they do indeed exist and it´s convenient to have a lab an hour´s flight away - assumng you have the cash to lease a private plane. Jeb wants to see what some of the neighbouring properties look like from the air. We´ve been fielding calls from supposed landowners since word got out that we´ve leased Diego´s property. With the amount of cash Jan has raised we´ve got to be careful about spreading ourselves too thin, but we don´t want to lose out on some potential opportunities.

I hear a buzzing and I finger my cellphone to see if it´s Isadora. She´s due October 18 and I´m really starting to get nervous. Diego has her installed in the farmhouse - he proposed the idea and it seemed that Isa agreed so I consented. Did I have any choice? They grow parsely and a few other herbs as well as the ubiquitous soyabeans and raise a few cattle as well. I moved in with her and Diego after spending a few lonely days at the hotel. So now Diego drives me directly to the property each morning and then picks me up at the hotel when Jeb and I return from work. I stumble over rocks and weeds and do my best to help Jeb as well as answering Jans many calls while Diego and Isa live in rural comfort at the farm. Most of the staff assumed Diego was the father until Isa corrected them. I still get wry looks every time I come home from work, tired and sweaty and needing a shower in a bad way. The provinces are a long way from Buenos Aires in every sense of the word. Especially northern Cordoba.

That buzzing ... it´s not my phone. Oh. Somewhere over to the east. Yes. The sound increases and a small Cesna appears in the sky. Jeb stares up at the plane for a short while and then comes over and sits in the shade of a lone Ceibo. Baldemo Cuiti, Dra Mazz´s assistant, is up there with the photographer. Jeb seems to trust him to supervise the photographer who´s worked for other exploration companies as well. We need to get these samples to Mendoza so Jeb has stayed here on the ground. I slump down beside him and we both chew our sandwiches. The plane disappears for a brief moment then reappears heading back the other way.

Cagnazzo call this morning?
Uh yes Jeb, he did.
So the permits are good?
The fine won´t be too bad ... yes they´re in place.

The sun is hot but the wind is a little fresher today, more in season although any coolness will soon be gone - so they tell me. Cagnazzo did indeed cash my cheque, and Diego´s as well, and yes he did take 10% off the top. I thought it best not to argue. A judge Nabu ( or was it Nabot? ) had sheparded the process and Cagnazzo had let it be known that she was related to the Saadi clan. Best not to probe further in other words. We sit and watch the plane recovering our energy for what will be a long afternoon carefully loading the samples for the trip to Mendoza. I wonder to myself whether the Saadi´s influence spills over from Catamarca into northern Cordoba or whether Cagnazzo was merely justifying his commision. Doesn´t matter, let the thought go. Jeb stands and heads up the incline and I follow him towards the plywood table and it´s metal tubes.

It is a long afternoon but we make it back to the hotel and I climb into Diego´s waiting truck. We drive out to the hacienda and I notice that the wind is picking up. Over to the west above the foothills the cloud cover is building. We hit a rough patch of gravel on the property´s road and the Ford´s windows rattle suddenly just as a dust devil swirls past us. I feel my skin prickle and the nape of my neck feels like someone is tugging at it. Oh my god. Oh my god. Please not now. Diego parks outside the kitchen door but I remain seated. He looks back and says,

Che, andas bien??

I can´t nod but I look up at him and grimace in what I hope will be taken as a tired attempt at a smile. He stares at me for a moment and then turns and heads into the house, his tall rangy body swaying from side to side. He dresses like a beach hippie but walks like he has spurs on.

I´m sweating heavily but I try to convince myself that it´s the prestorm heaviness. The wind snaps at the truck´s windows and I want to howl like a wounded wolf. More swirls of dust. More bending of branches. The first heavy drops of rain. I can´t move from my seat. I look up and see Isadora in the doorway staring at me, her belly swollen and her face worried. I fix my eyes on her but she stumbles in fright. Diego appears behind her and eases past her into the rain but Isa pulls him back. He turns, surprised and angry but she tells him something I can´t hear with the rain clattering against the roof of the truck and against the corrugated metal roof the shed. He turns hostile and tall in the mud splattered courtyard but doesn´t approach the truck. Isa has disappeared back inside ... where is she?

I still can´t move. A huge flash of lightning strikes somewhere close by. Diego doesn´t flinch. Nor do I. Strange, I´m usually a little jumpy in a thunderstorm. I feel ridiculous sitting here but it´s as if the storm´s power is coursing through me. My neck feels sore. My skin is covered in goosebumps. Deep breaths. I can´t fight much longer. More sweat from every pore. The cabin feels like a steam bath. I´m outside in the rain. Did I use my foot to kick open the door? Now I´m in Diego´s face. How did I move so quickly? I can´t recall ... He looks scared. Nothing scares him. And we´re screaming. A high pitched cry. Is it him? Me? Wait ... Merecedes the woman who cooks and cleans? Who´s screaming?? Diego´s pupils narrow like in a Sergio Leoni film. It´s a look of recognition. It´s Isa who´s screaming.

I´m already through the door ahead of him as we dash towards the bedroom. Mercedes is there and Isa is laying with her knees spread apart and her face red with pain and exertion. A basin with hot water. A thermos and some towels. Mercedes has done what she could in the short moments she´s had to react. Diego now has his cellphone out trying to call an ambulance but he curses. His battery has run out. I thrust my arm out towards him handing him mine and give myself up to the beast. I feel myself thrown against the wall as Mercedes tries to comfort Isadora wiping the sweat off her face. It can´t be. This is my son who´s about to be born. It can´t be. Don´t they see me? Don´t they realize? The rain beats at the windows but I have no sense of place now. Strange cries as time dissolves around me and the bedroom fades to a small circle surrounded by brown shadows and then that too slips quickly into a black silence.

domingo, 20 de septiembre de 2009


Yes Allard ... I suppose it is like the Drakensbergs around here.
They´re closer to Cape Town right?

But Jans is distracted by my analogy with Cruz del Eje so I keep quiet. Jeb Hoerst, the geologist who found a sizable gold deposit for Latin American Minerals in Santa Cruz in Patagonia, is standing next to Jans and examining some core samples set out on the plywood table. It´s warm here in northern Cordoba and the drilling rig sits in the sun some 50 metres towards the road. It´s surprisingly small but it makes sense; lighter and easier to get through rough terrain. The fact that this rig was sitting just over the border in La Rioja and was available was another lucky stroke. Jeb had taken one look at the property and had told Jans it was worth hiring the rig rather than risk someone else scooping it up.

So here we were while Isa was back in town and Diego was at the hospital making inquiries. Or were the two of them at the hospital? I wasn´t sure and it was my damn kid! But I have to trust Diego to help me take care of Isa. And I do. Jans and Jeb lean over another sample and stare intently, exchanging a few short phrases that I can´t make out. Jans handed me a fifty thousand dollar cheque on Tuesday. Diego and Caranzo got a hundred thousand for the twenty year exploration lease. Plus the stock. For me. For Isa. For Diego. And for Cagnazzo of course. Jeb mutters something and Jans nods. I´m standing a few feet back for fear of dropping or breaking something. They stare at the drill, then at the sample, then look back at me. I raise my eyebrows optimistically and ask,

What do we have?
Allard we might just have a very large phosphate desposit, Jans says slowly,
that´s what we have.

I have drunk all my water. The other bottles are in the rented truck parked by the roadside. I feel thirsty, very thirsty. Is it greed and fear - a terror that this is all an illusion and will vanish any minute? I nod slowly and feel sweat accumulating on my forehead and in my armpits. It´s over 25 C even though it´s only mid September. Here in Cruz del Eje it´s dry heat of course, unlike Buenos Aires or Mar del Plata. The rig´s crew sits in the small pool of shade beside the machinery. They´re eating lunch and drinking mate. I still don´t believe all of this but I approach the table and stare distractedly at the samples. Crushed rock and earth of varying colors in a tube like shape is all I see.

How soon can we get these to Acme in Mendoza?
Tomorrow we can fly them in I think. And have the results by ... maybe October?

Jeb looks a little doubtfully at Jans. I wonder if he´s dealt with that lab before. In any case, things are moving fast. If it really is a large phosphate deposit we´ve hit paydirt. With all the need for fertilizer here and in Brazil and hell ... everywhere ...
maybe we could let Bunge or Potash buy us out and ... stop it Allard. You have a cheque for fifty thousand and you have stock that might be worth something in a while. Leave it at that and let Jans take care of the rest. I´m also hungry but I don´t want to look impatient. Some of the work crew are now carefully loading the samples into metal tubes and carrying them towards the truck. We´ve only drilled three holes and there´s much more work to do while Jans flies back again to Toronto and sprinkles his enthusiasm in all the right places. He mentioned another private equity placement and I try not to worry about dilution. This is all smoke and mirrors so far and as long as my stock is worth something someday I should be very very happy. I´ve managed to pick up just enough jargon to make a fool of myself but my main job is to keep Jans informed while he´s away so that Jeb can focus on the drilling and the samples. That means I´ll be spending a lot of time at this site sweating like a pig and supervising a crew who specialize in something I know nothing about. We pull up in front of our hotel, a white and red stucco pile with worn tiles and cheap furniture. As we troop into the lobby to wash up and have lunch the thought occurs to me - I finally have a real job. I have to laugh a little as I shower quickly. Keep it together I tell myself. Cash the cheque; Cagnazzo will help you there. Keep the documents with your stock options safe and do your stupid little job for Jans without making any obvious mistakes. I towel off and pull on some pants and a shirt just as Jans knocks on the door.

Let´s go. Lunch and then I have to get to Mendoza.

I wonder where Isadora is as we pile back into the truck and head to a local parilla to eat some more beef. Jans lends me his cellphone and I manage to get a hold of her. She´s just undergone a checkup and they´ve done an Ultrasound. And I wasn´t there! I try to keep my voice calm but at least Isa agrees to meet us at the parilla. She´s starving of course. Jans turns around from the front seat and winks at me,

First child Allard?

I nod and grin sheepishly. Everyone laughs. Even the foreman who´s driving.

lunes, 7 de septiembre de 2009


We had settled into a long lunch with several courses served by a waiter who was no longer young. The tables had those worn linen tablecloths that you hardly see in Canada anymore. It´s obviously been a tourist attraction for decades. And I was here. In 1981. Or 1982. As a young management trainee for a bank on a temporary posting to the Buenos Aires office. I had spent Christmas at Punta del Este in Uruguay and New Year´s in Mar del Plata. So it was likely the first week of 1982. I had sat over there at the northern side if you will; by myself ( ¨estas solito?¨ the waiter had asked with raised eyebrows ) and I had eaten a pasta and clam or scallops dish. I don´t think the decor has changed much since then but my memory is, of course, selective. Cagnazzo filled Jans in on the politics in Cordoba with me volunteering the occasional addendum. Doctora Mazz flooded Jans with data but he quickly cut through her jargon and she realized he´d be making up his own mind based on his own geologists´ assesment. With the cognac and flamed crepes ( a little too seventies for my liking ) it was decided that Jans would fly up and take a look this week. So he is interested. Then Jans turned to me and said clearly enough for all to hear,

Allard, I need to talk to you.

Eyebrows were raised but I smiled as casually as I could and answered quickly,

Of course. Let´s take a walk down the coast.

Cagnazzo called the waiter over but Jans scooped up the tab and paid with his card. We both stood but everyone else did as well and it looks like we´d have to explicitly ask for some time apart. I wait till we´ve filed through the door with it´s port hole opening and are outside. Waving a hand carefully at Jans I say,

Vamos a hablar un toquecito y despues nos juntamos todos. Les parece?
Y ... dale.

It´s Cagnazzo who answers and everyone is smiling suspiciously. Even Isa. For God´s sake honey, trust me I say with my eyes as I look quickly at her. We head quickly down the wharf with the rest of them following us at a distance but Jans seems in a good mood. We chat a little about the World Cup and Bloemfontein, where he´s from. At the sidewalk we turn away from the Casino and Jans says,

Allard, you really have to relax. The report is good and I think we can do something. Tell me man, how long have you been here?
Ah ... a couple of years.
So, how do you like it?
It´s complicated, tricky I mean but me and Isa ...
Yes of course. So you´ll be here for a while longer?
It´s my home Jans.

He pauses and I glance back at the rest of them.

Good. Listen. I´ll give you one hundred thousand shares and the rest of them can divy up say a million shares. If it gets to market of course ... Plus I can advance you fifty thousand.
Uh ... yes. But we should ...
Allard. I´m going to trust you. I know it´s been a while since you worked in an office but I need someone to keep me up to date. Diego, it´s his land. Mazz knows her stuff but Cagnazzo ... I´ve met his type before. You, we, need him on the team. I know how things work here. But you´ll be my point man. Can you do it?

I´m trying not to imagine what 100,000 shares would be worth at say 65 cents or say 1.20 ... I breath deeply and look right at him.

I´ll do what it fucking takes to get it right Jans. I´m in face first.

He laughs and slaps my shoulder gratefully. I have to assume he means it. He´s the one who´ll raise the money in Toronto and Vancouver and elsewhere. He has no need or reason to scam me. And the rest of them ... over there pretending to talk to each other ... it´s in their interest to keep Jans happy so a deal gets done. We turn back along the sidewalk and head towards the rest of them.

You´ve had a tough time haven´t you? Some deals that weren´t quite ...

Jans is looking carefully at me as he speaks. He wants to know that I´m not a fugitive or something like that. I shrug and nod my head. He nods satisfied. He doesn´t need to know any more. We reach them and Jans shakes hands again and Cagnazzo looks pleased but I´ll have to fill him in on all the details. Jans herds Caganzzo and Dra Mazz off to one side for a brief moment and chats quickly with them. They look like cats who´ve eaten a cage full of canaries. I guess he made his stock offer to them as well. And perhaps cash up front. Diego´s bored look is a little fake if you ask me and Isa is holding my hand rather tightly as well. Jans returns and announces that he has got to get back to the hotel and catch a flight to Buenos Aires.

I´ll see you there.

Damn he´s talking to me. Once he´s some distance away near Plaza Colon and we´re heading the other way to where the vehicles are parked I turn to Cagnazzo.

Un millon de acciones y setenta y cinco mil dolares. Vos??
Cien mil de acciones y cincuenta mil.
Bien pibe. Entonces habra que laburar un toque para sacar tu guita. Te vere en Cordoba parece.

But Isa needs to digest things. Back at the apartment she complains about having to move to Cruz del Eje so late in her pregnancy. I have to convince her.

Mañana salimos con Diego en su Ford.
Aja ... y que hago con esta barriguita? Y las citas con la ginecologa??
Cagnazzo nos pagara una clinica privada. Nos los debe.
Aseguraste eso??
Lo voy a concretar carajo! Te lo juro!!

The cordless rings and it´s Pipo. He mentions a clinic in Cruz del Eje to me. I pause and catch my breath. Ok. It´s not magic. Cagnazzo likely had him arrange that a few days ago and as soon as he drove off he phoned Pipo and told him it´s on. So Scarmiglione is paying for Isa´s pregnancy at a private clinic in Cruz del Eje. Likely with some of Pranav´s cash. I talk loudly ( too loudly, Isa flinches ) so she can hear it all and then as soon as I hang up I head to the computer and google the clinic. Yes, it´s there. Good. It takes all my strength just to get through the smallest details with her sometimes. Let´s hope we can all make it to Cruz del Eje. Will Oriana want to come as well? Or will Diego let her stay in their shared house? I stare at the screen a little dazed as I start to come down from the high of the deal. And it´s not signed yet. Isa´s hand on my shoulder startles me. I take her fingers and squeeze them and turn to face her. She´s softer now and seems to have decided it´s good to go on this trip.

Falta ver Cruz del Eje. Es cierto.

I breath out slowly, relieved. I gently take her onto my lap despite her protests about how heavy she is and hold her in my arms in the fading light in our living room. The setting sun is a fuzzy red orb behind a thin layer of gray clouds. It slips down into a patch of turquoise sky just before disappearing behind the tiled roofs and the sweeping pampa beyond. Somewhere way out there ( more to the right actually - not straight ahead ) is Cruz del Eje - Diego´s home town where a barren, rocky 100 hectare property shimmers seductively. Our own little El Dorado. I wonder what exactly in Dra Mazz´s study interested Jans enough to bite? Or is it just that the credit markets are flowing nicely again and the terrain is plausible enough to raise the cash on the TSX Venture Exchange? Isa strokes my head as we wait for the sun to disappear completely from the blue-green purple sky.


Allard ... is that Dutch?
Hugenot actually, yes. My paternal grandmother Jans.

He grins fraternally but it might just be the drinks although he´s still very much in control. I haven´t bothered asking him when he moved to Toronto in order to avoid coded complaints about South Africa´s current condition. I have a sale to make and this suit feels strange. We bought it and dry cleaned it all in a couple of hours to get the new suit smell out. The shirt as well. The shoes are a livelier version of Birkenstock Kensington black leather oxfords and Isa hated them on site but I insisted. So she´s here with Me, Diego and Cagnazzo at the Hotel Dora chatting with some geologist ( I think ) from St. John´s who works out of Vancouver. Having watched several hundred Pesos go towards these shoes she had to be recompensed. And she looks amazing in a lovely black cocktail dress that just fits her swelling midriff. The men, and some of the women, are melting over her. Good. Cagnazzo and me have dispensed with cravats and I begged Diego to come ¨casual elegant¨. His hair is in a ponytail and we bought him a leather windbreaker so he sort of fits in with the wandering-geologist-too-busy-to-look-sharp look. Plus it´s his land.

Jans is talking about Mansfield Mineral´s property in Salta. I gently finger the skin under my eye where the bruise has been covered up by a touch of make up applied by Isa an hour or two ago. She had to do both eyes and quite enjoyed herself. Ori laughed lustily and Diego grinned a fair bit. Glad to have entertained them all. I nod and try to follow Jans; he doesn´t dwell too much on the jargon although he clearly knows a fair bit. Is he a biz grad or is he a mining engineer? Or a geologist? Or just another veteran stock promoter? I nod again and ask what he thinks of the north of the province of Cordoba.

Well Allard, that´s where your property is I believe, yes?
Yes! Near Cruz del Eje.

He grins at my enthusiasm - a slightly disconcerting grin that lets me know he´s seen it all before and not to bullshit him. He´ll take care of the bullshitting. But I have more than just enthusiasm for Jans. When the four of us entered the lobby, Cagnazzo was immediately greeted by a confident older woman - Dra Mazz, profesor of geology at Universidad del Sur in Bahia Blanca. How did he know her? As she had guided us to the bar, making some introductions along the way, she had turned to me and said,

Perdon por no mandarte el estudio preliminar. La tengo aca.

She handed me a large envelope. A preliminary study? When did she do this? And why the hell does Cagnazzo delight in keeping me off balance? Can´t he realize that we need to look like a team if we´re going to make a sale!!??

Cuando estuviste en Cruz del Eje Doctora??
No no Allard. Mi asistente, Baldemo Cuiti, hizo el viaje y junto los datos preliminares para despues analizarlos aca conmigo.
Ah bien. El es candidato doctoral?

She grins at my Spanish but nods her head. I had leaned forward anxiously and asked her quietly,

Y algunas ... digo las posibilidades son interesantes no?

She had paused and surveyed me carefully. Then a smile and.

Son interesantes si.

I´m grateful she had spared me the jargon. Cagnazzo and Diego had then joined us and we had quickly assigned roles there and then with me trying not to hiss angrily at Cagnazzo and Diego looking a little bored. My role was to talk up any junior mining executives who might be interested in leasing the property from us; Dra Mazz would be ( and was ) the local expert; Cagnazzo would be ( and was ) the political fixer and lawyer and Diego the bored landowner. And Isa the beautiful wife. People were friendly and casually curious as to what I was doing here in Mar del Plata and I kept it as simple as I could - bringing in Mazz and Cagnazzo to shake hands on occasion and pointing out Diego now and then as well and answering questions about my ¨beautiful wife¨ and trying not to look irritated as I did so. I sipped my scotch and soda carefully and tried not to feel like a fool. But I slowly realized that the exploration industry is built on faith and optimism and somehow we were all in this together. We had a property and it might even be worth a good look. I circled amongst the attendees and finally Jans seemed familiar with the north of the country ( as well as Patagonia ) and I decided he was the one to make the sale to.

So here I was with Jans. He listened while I sketched out the rough details, throwing me some precise questions that I answered as best as I could. Finally, he pointed at the envelope and said,

Allard, it might be helpful if you let me read that report. Who put it together? That profesor?
Yes, yes. Doctora Mazz. And her assistant Cuiti.
Good. Well, from what you´ve told me we might have something here.

He´s already opened the envelope and is quickly shuffling through the report. It´s mostly in Spanish but there´s a summary in English. He pauses at the photographs, especially the aerial ones.

Good ...
I can translate if you want Jans ...
Not necessary. I have contacts here Allard. It looks good ... yes. We can build on this, yes ... good.

The real drilling is done in Toronto and Vancouver and Montreal and Calgary etc. Where you take core samples of investor enthusiasm and shift through market liquidity and try to extract some cash. And maybe even find a workable mine. It´s all in his face as he reviews Dra Mazz´s report. Maybe I´m not such a fish out of water here. I just need to observe a little and mostly keep my mouth shut. Jans looks up quickly at me and winks.

Where are they ... ?

I turn and Cagnazzo and Mazz are already heading towards us, the profesora excusing herself from the company of some bankers I believe with a crisp laugh. Isa manages to free herself from the Geologist ( the tales he´s told her ... we´re probably invited to dinner in St John´s when we return to Canada ... I wonder how much she understood ) and joins us as well. Jans shakes hands again and kisses cheeks and tucks the report tucked under his arm. We agree to meet tomorrow and I propose we eat lunch at Muelle Club de Los Pescadors - The Fisherman´s Wharf. It´s a faded but cozy tourist attraction with a seafood menu and everyone agrees. I had glanced at Jans for approval but Cagnazzo had nodded briskly taking control of things right at the end and so me Isa and Diego had headed back home. Cagnazzo had stayed behind with Dra Mazz and I wondered if maybe they had some other properties for rent. No matter. We had possibly made a sale to Jans.

On the drive back Isa had sat in the middle and Diego had driven a little more carefully than normal. The face of a righteous man and the rest of it serpent. And those who only cared for money tortured on the burning sand. Canto XVII full of fraud and avarice. Rome´s hatred of unbridled capitalism. Do the ghosts of indulgences past - those fees for salvation of souls - inhabit the marrow of modern punitive tax systems? R H Tawney´s Religion and the Rise of Capitalism is a wonderful survey of the Reformation and it´s effects on the business world. Yet capitalism had existed long before Luther nailed his 95 theses to the cathedral door in Wittenberg - as Tawney points out very clearly. It´s the Puritan winter that followed the tempestous autumn of the Reformation that undid the late summer of universal, Catholic Christianity that really distinguishes North America from Argentina ( and most of South America ). The metaphor is Tawney´s as well of course. So you use the same symbols semantically - accounting , geology, finance. But the language is different here. And I had to turn from Milton the Puritan to Dante as my guide. And the Devil is far less mobile and somehow less dangerous in the Divine Comedy. Strange, hadn´t thought of that. I stare out at the dark sea as we turn onto Strobel and double back towards our building.

domingo, 6 de septiembre de 2009


I hid and recovered in the warm spell that arrived in Late August, blown in by a warm wind travelling eastward from the Andes. They call it La Zonda and it´s like the Chinook in Alberta, bringing dramatic increases in temperature for a short period. Whether La Zonda actually reaches all the way to Mar del Plata is very debatable but it was a warm wind and it blew in off the pampa, so perhaps La Zonda was at work somewhere in the west and northwest and was ultimately responsable for the heat wave. And then the rain came, La Tormenta de Santa Rosa; a lovely little legend that has some truth in it as well perhaps. One Isabel Flores de Oliva, a devout citizen of Lima, had in 1615 prayed that her city be spared the assaults of Dutch pirates who had just ransacked neighbouring Callao. On the 30 of August a fierce storm had arisen driving them away. Lima was saved, Santa Rosa beatified and her storm faithfully placed in the mystical pantheon of South American Catholicism. The cult took root in the River Plate, perhaps following those administrators of the crown who moved to Buenos Aires when the viceroyalty of the River Plate was established in 1776, precisely to combat smuggling by merchant/pirates from Holland and the rest of Western Europe. So the transplanting of Isabel Flores de Oliva´s redeeming storm was likely a very pragmatic process done by ambitious bureaucrats constructing a brand new viceroyalty. Meteorologically, La Tormenta de Santa Rosa is not quiet so awesome. According to studies done, a true storm occurring within a few days either side of August 30 only occurs some 15% of the time ( going back to the 1860´s in the Buenos Aires area ). However, a light rain after the Zonda is much more frequent. So if you need to lift your face to the sky and thank the pious lady of Lima for the moisture on your cheeks ( tears aside ) then perhaps there is just enough rain to keep your faith intact.

And I did lift my face to the sky in a light rain one day after the 30 of August. My face was mostly healed and the rain was a relief. I felt sheltered by the drops, cleansed even. Isa had changed the Euros bit by bit and with the rate at over 5 to the Peso we were able to leave the remaining dollars alone for a while. Diego had scavenged dry wood near the end of the heat wave and brought it to our apartment, commenting in a rustic singsong way about how the cold would soon return after ¨El viento de San Juan¨as he put it. It made Isa laugh, but she was careful to wait till he had left. He hates being reminded of his country roots. So the woodstove was lit again and I was returning to the apartment after this walk by the sea and puzzling about a phone call from Cagnazzo that Diego had mentioned. Cagnazzo had asked how I was doing. Does he know about the brawl at Kerry Keel? Did Isa tell Diego and Diego tell Cagnazzo? If he does know it´s a bad strike against me. No one wants a partner who brings unwanted attention. I wait for a pause in the traffic to cross over to our building. But wait. A squad car is approaching. The window rolls down and it´s Vanni. He points over towards Strobel and they turn that way. I follow across the lanes of traffic, my stomach churning anxiously.

Estas mejor pelotudo?

He´s grinning maliciously at me. They parked the squad car just past the car wash at the corner of Strobel and Camet but what´s really unsettling me is the official who also got out of the car. I recognize him ... Oh my god. He moonlights as a bouncer at Kerry Keel. Vanni tilts his bulldog head slightly to one side and his hazel eyes drill into me.

Y como pensas que zafaste esa noche pibe? Eh!??
No quería armar un lio ...

I have to be as direct and honest as I can. So that´s why I had to admit that it was a scam of mine that ended up in a violent fashion. Vanni pauses and nods satisfied. The bouncer/officer has a neutral look. Vanni is the one running things I have to assume. I want to ask him if there´s any more commisions for us from Pranav but I wait quietly. Vanni turns and nods at his official who gets into the driver´s seat and wheels the squad car around and drives ... into the carwash. On a rainy day. Vanni squeezes my elbow lightly and guides me into the bare bones cafe where you sip a coffee while they clean your car. No automated machines, rather some pumps and hoses and brushes and detergent and a handful of employees washing down your vehicle. The manager nods a little nervously and after serving us two cortados leaves us there alone and heads out into the work area to ostentatiously supervise things. Vanni sips his coffee and then speaks quietly,

Archivaron el expediente. Ya no hay causa. Y los Hungaros fueron, digamos, endemnizados.

So Miklos and Janos have withdrawn their charges and/or had the assault charges againt them dropped. Isa has been telling me that a brawl in a bar is hardly worth a second thought to the police or the courts. But perhaps the fact that it involved two Hungarian businessmen made things a little more complicated. I lean back relieved and realize I have to be grateful. Very grateful. If I want any more money from Pranav by way of Vanni. If you´ve been following my rough calculus we´re back at Canto XVIII where flatterers wallow in excrement. Although the expression here is ChupaMedias - SockSucker. I grin a shit-eating grin and say,

Che, vos no te perdes una. Sabés lo que hago yo antes que yo me doy cuenta!
Pibe, basta de joder. Que tenes planeado?

Blunt and efficient as always, Vanni just wants to know what my next move is. How did he get wind of it? Diego? Cagnazzo? I had thought they were a little more discreet. A week or so ago, I finally got Diego to open up a little about his inheritance. Given the death of his siblings in that pile up on Ruta 9, he inherited three properties: an agricultural supply business in Cruz del Eje which Cagnazzo promptly sold for him and two other parcels of land. One of the remaining properties is productive agricultural land but it´s the third property that interests me. It´s a rocky piece of land, 100 hectares some twenty kilometers outside town. Cagnazzo emailed some aerial and ground photographs to Diego who passed them on to me. My warm weather retreat has been spent frantically searching online to familiarize myself with basic geological terms and how they might apply to the junior mining industry. You see ... there´s a conference starting tomorrow in Mar del Plata. Somehow the mayor managed to get Siminera 2010 to hold a part of it´s events here rather than in Buenos Aires. All part of the push to put Mardel on the international conference circuit - poker tourneys, mining confabs, come on down! So yes, I do have something planned. And Cagnazzo of course is involved. And I suppose Vanni wants in. I sit up a little and sip some of my cortado and say,

Siminera. Tenemos un proyecto.
Ahi en Cordoba??
Y ... si. Cruz del Eje.
Mira vos ... Y decime ... como funciona eso??

Oh goodness ... he really wants to know how it works. He wants out of the petty scams and the grimy squeezes he has to put on people to supplement his pay. I nod to myself and glance over at the suds sliding down the side of the squad car. I feel like crying, out of exhaustion and relief. But I let the angst drain out of me and get down to business. How much do I tell him without angering Cagnazzo? How much does Vanni already know? Little, I suspect.

Vos armas un especie de arrrendamiento y la minera hace el laburo y si encuentran minerales, metales ... a veces tambien te dan un porcentaje addicional.

Vanni´s eyes glitter with curiosity and avarice,

Y che, depende. Ellos se quedan con la mayor parte pero te tiran algo viste?
Aja. Y que hago yo??

It´s a threat but also a plea. I pause a long moment and then say carefully.

Mira. Yo tratatre con las mineras. Son Canadienses en gran parte. Y de ahi a ver que arreglo Cagnazzo y yo armamos ... Ok??

He taps his fingers briskly on the flimsy little table and then looks back at me. The car is now being wiped down with large rags out on the sidewalk on Strobel - a somewhat futile excercise given the rain.

Vos me tendras en cuenta, eh??
Obvio que si ... pero ...
Aca, tomá.

He hands me an envelope which I pocket quickly. It feels like cash. Good. The deal is done and we stand and I have to kiss his pockmarked cheek but what the fuck. I get some cash out of it and I´ll handle his bit in what I hope will be a successful venture. Outside it´s still spitting lightly and I turn right and head the short half block to our building. I´ll just have to make Isa and Diego - and Cagnazzo - understand that it would be dangerous to exclude Vanni. I lift my face again and let the rain cleanse the faded bruise under my eye.