It was another Buenos Aires day of predictably erratic weather trends — a humid morning of dark and heavy cloud cover burning off to unveil the fierce, sweltering revenge of the sun gods. I, of course, was wearing a sweater. At least I know how animals with fur coats and men with excessive body hair feel during the summer. Luckily, I had slipped a precautionary tank top underneath the abrasive, clingy pullover. Even the scarcest of clothes, however, does nothing to ease the claustrophobic sensation of riding the crowded subway, which, like a major league locker room during shower time, smells like athlete’s foot.
I was already totting the sweater in my satchel by the time I had reached Plaza de Mayo via subte line D. When I arrived, I needed a break from the intensity of the sun, so I sat on the cool marble steps outside of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral, the main Catholic church of the city. Looking down to blot my face, I heard the marching boots before I even saw them coming. These soles belonged to the guards of General Jose de San Martin’s Tomb. On one of the hottest days in Buenos Aires I have experienced so far, the soldiers were wearing spotless, well-pressed, full-dress tunics reminiscent of the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace. I am supposing that the fabric was wool, or at least made of a similar, unbreathable material. Fascinated by their charm — and their ability to outlast the heat in such insulating attire — I chased them all the way inside of the church where the tomb stands.
In front of the tomb, I watched as two of the soldiers took stance in the entryway, and I ran up close to snap their photo.
I was adjusting my f-stop and aperture when I heard, “Psssttttt…..” I look around, but I was standing alone. So, I shrugged it off and continued capturing images of the tomb. “Pssssssssssssssttttttttttt ….. ehhh!” I heard. I nearly dropped my camera. Was the dead general’s ghost speaking to me from the afterlife? I looked at the guards and noticed that one of them was discretely nodding his head at me, trying to wave me in his direction. I pointed at myself and looked around incredulously. “Me,” I whispered, and he nodded his head yes. I was shocked. First of all, I thought the guards were not suppose to speak. Second of all, what on earth would a guard of Jose de San Martin’s tomb want with me?
I approached him not knowing what to say. An enthusiastic “Hola,” was the first, and only, thing to escape through my bashful smile. “El ventilador,” he said gesticulating his head to the left and quickly resuming a rigid, expressionless face. “El qué (the what)?” I asked him. I hadn’t yet learned that word. “El ventilador,” he wheezed now even more madly shaking his head. Instinctively, I turned in the direction to which he was nodding and saw a fan. Right. I picked up the cord, looked at him, and then pointed at it. “Si,” he whispered and nodded. I searched everywhere along the ancient marble walls to find a plug outlet, which I wasn’t even sure would exist being as the church was constructed in the 1800s.
“Psssssstttttt ……. arriba (up),” he called desperately. I turned to him, and he looked like a statue. Odd. So, I tilted my head up, and there was the outlet. I plugged in the fan, and afterward, thought I saw the soldiers’ shoulders drop a little in relief. I resumed taking photos in front of the Mausoleum when I heard a very quiet, “Gracias” from behind me. I turned around, and the soldiers were not moving.