In January 2015, Daniel Tunnard and his wife left Buenos Aires after 16 years to move to the small town of Concepción del Uruguay in Entre Ríos, Argentina, build a house and start a family. This is the story of everything that went wrong.
Leelo en castellano aqui.
The man from Telecom comes to install telephone and internet, some two weeks earlier than optimism had permitted me to hope. Because nothing is simple in this simple life, the engineer can’t get the cable from our flat to go down to the connection on the ground floor. He wants to check the phone cables in the garage, but since the new building we live in while the house is built is so cheap and made of cardboard and doesn’t employ a caretaker for such eventualities, I have to phone my mother-in-law who has to phone up the guy who sold her the flat and get him to send over a taxi with the remote control to the garage, charging me $67 for the empty pleasure.
While we wait the ten minutes for the taxi to arrive, Clemente the engineer – late fifties, stocky build, face like someone who’s spent too long squinting at the sun— keeps the conversation going in that admirable way locals do. He asks me what I’m doing here, where I’m from, Carlos Tévez, etc. He tells me that he loves Concepción del Uruguay (Clemente does, though El Apache probably enjoys yachting as much as the next man), he thinks it’s the best place in the world, he wouldn’t swap it for Mendoza or Iguazú or a mansion in Recoleta. The people are particularly special here, they’re like no one else in the rest of the country, he says. He says he sits outside his house under the shade of two ficus trees and the coaches to Concordia pass and all the passengers look down and see what a good life we live here. He says the women in Chajarí, 200km north, are the most beautiful in the country, a mix of Italian, German and native blood, dark black hair and green eyes all of them, even the men, not that he’s into men. He tells me the story of Yuyo Barragán, which goes on for so long I have to put it in a separate paragraph below. A propos of nothing, he asks me what shoe size I am. I’m a 42, he’s a 43. He takes this particular branch of the conversation no further. He asks me if I’m a Catholic, I tell him I’m Church of England, anglicano, he looks like he needs an explanation, but before I can go into a potted history of Henry VIII he says he’s an Evangelist and that the evangelists cured his knee. He tells me about his daughter, an English teacher training to be a translator, asks me if translation is profitable. He tells me about the Renault Duster he bought at a steal, and shows me the text message from 2011 when the owner told him it was valued at 115,000 pesos but he could have it for 92,000 pesos. I admire the text message, and the man who has saved it all these years, as if they were the last words of a missing loved one.
We open the garage and I check Charlie the cat isn’t there. Of course he isn’t. Clemente opens the phone box, pulls at wires, can’t find mine, goes back into the lobby, pulls at wires, thinks he’s found mine, goes back up to the flat, lubricates a cable with washing up liquid and feeds it down a hole in the wall, it gets stuck again, so he goes downstairs and tries to feed it upwards, nothing doing. This goes on for some time. It must be infuriating for him. He has faith that God will show him the way, he says. Faith is good. God is good. After two hours he admits partial defeat and leaves, saying he’ll come back with a workmate and get it fixed. Half an hour, he says. It’s 11.30. Time passes. It’s 12.30. I know how things work here. If you’ve not done something by 1pm, you won’t get it done until 5pm, unless it’s a Friday. Today’s a Friday. I’m dubious as to how many people work here on a sunny Friday afternoon before the 4-day weekend for Carnaval. If anyone does, I want to believe, it’s Clemente. He’ll come through. If not for me, then for the green-eyed girls of Chajarí. He pulls up in his van at 1.03, a-smiling and a-waving. God is good. Neither He nor Clemente can work out how to get the damn cable down to the cable box, but there’s no faulting their disposition.
Raúl ‘Yuyo’ Barragán, late of this parish, was a local Robin Hood-cum-gifted genius and arguably the country’s first hacker. While working for Aerolíneas Argentinas back in the late 70s, he figured out how to use the reservations system to send a false ticket request to another airline, who would send back confirmation. Yuyo would then use that confirmation to print out the ticket and thus fly all over the world first-class and sell cut-price flights to friends and acquaintances. He and a friend once found themselves in Rio de Janeiro with three days left and no money, so he printed out a couple of first-class tickets to Tokyo and they spent the next forty-eight hours flying to Tokyo and back, enjoying all that first class had to offer which, back in the 70s, forget about it. So infamous was he that he was invited to appear on that pinnacle of infamy, the Susana Gimenez chat show (previous guests: Carlos Menem, Michael Bublé, Shakira) where he appeared with his face concealed in a hood. He was ‘homosesual’, Clemente of Telecom tells me, ‘not that that matters’, he says, although the whole scam apparently started because he had a girlfriend in Caracas and wanted to visit her every weekend. There are a lot of “apparentlys” in this story, so legendary was Yuyo. What is for certain is that Barragán was arrested and investigated in 1993, but no airlines would testify against him. He was eventually convicted in 2003.
Much of this information comes from Auntie Marta, who knows everything about everyone in Concepción, quite a feat considering she’s from Villa Elisa herself. Josefina asks Marta if this is the criminal that her father was related to. No, says Marta, that was Fernandito Ibarra, promising tennis player, dashing dandy, treacherous thief, who would go and play tennis with his upper-class friends, and while the rest were engaged in a round of doubles, sneak into the changing room, take a friend’s house keys, and go and help himself to the family jewels. He’d do the same when his mother had her card-playing old dears round, knowing that he had a good couple of hours to do a thorough job of looting their homes. His grandmother was my father-in-law’s cousin. I could tell you the exact relationship (second cousin once removed) but these things get very fraught in Spanish and it isn’t worth the trouble, to the extent that everyone is referred to as a cousin. My wife has 18 proper cousins and an innumerable list of vague non-cousins who are called cousins, some of whom are in prison, probably.
We’re at Uncle Jorge and Auntie Marta’s, a paradisiacal leafy hectare, sitting by the pool and chatting about master criminals we might be related to, when a wasp stings me on the arse. ‘There’s a wasp on the back of your chair’, says Marta. ‘Don’t worry, it’s a bit woozy.’ I stand up just as the wasp contrives to fall down the back of my shorts, its panicked sting inevitable. I share its panic. I want to strip naked, but not in front of my aunt and mother-in-law, not now. It doesn’t occur to me to jump into the pool for comic effect. Instead I run into the house, squealing at my wife to follow. The wasp stings me at the top of my arse crack just as I wrestle my Walter whites off. Then it sits in my Y-front gusset, biding its time to sting my frightened scrotum, until Josefina spots it, and my scrotum breathes again. It hurts a little, but way less than the time I was stung by a bee as a kid and spent the rest of the day in bed. In fact, the endorphins kick in and I just giggle for a minute. It’s quite pleasant. I may become a beekeeper. Think about it, you get honey, which is good, and endorphins, which are also good. And royal jelly, whatever that is.
I ask Marta to talk to me about trees. Typical pseudo porteño that I am, I only recognise linden and plane trees, and even then I’d have trouble picking them out of an identification parade. What’s that tree? That’s a fresno. What’s that tree, a eucalyptus? I guess. No, that’s an álamo. ‘Remember the Alamo’ I growl. No one gets this joke, and even if they did they shouldn’t laugh. What’s that tree? That’s an oh no I’ve forgotten the name of that tree already. We’re in the market for buying trees. It’s a nice market to be in. We’re advised to start planting now so that we have shade when we move in. We say we’ll plant the trees as soon as we have water. It’s a long time before we plant any trees. We had a naïve idea about planting fruit trees in the garden: blueberry, blackberry, boysenberry, huckleberry, raspberry, strawberry, cranberry, peach. Even though we only ever eat bananas. But Auntie Marta says fruit trees, even if they do give fruit, are highly prone to pests and plagues and destroy your garden and are more trouble than they’re worth. Plus, you can buy better fruit at the shop. Yeah, all right, killjoy. We only eat bananas anyway.
Daniel Tunnard’s first book ‘Colectivaizeishon, el ingles que tomó todos los colectivos de Buenos Aires’ is available from Buenos Aires bookshops and mercadolibre.com.ar and as an e-book from Amazon and megustaleer.com.ar.