Songs from an old lover

WHEN I WAS far younger, I lived for a spell in a penthouse that overlooked the sea in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. It also overlooked the supposedly perilous slum of La Perla, but that’s a story for another day.

I lived in that penthouse with a black-haired, freckle-faced Argentine girl of 20 whom I met in a bar just a few blocks away. Our relationship was often iffy, but always fascinating.

Returning once from a flight to her home in Buenos Aires, she brought two record albums, the old style you played on a turntable. Here are two songs from those albums, tunes that have remained in my mind for decades, and I now have the compact disk versions.

The first singer is Atahualpa Yupanqui, whose real name was Héctor Roberto Chavero. He was considered Argentina’s most important folk singer of the 20th century. He died in 1992. I like his style.

The second video is Vinicius de Moraes, a Brazilian. The song is my favorite from that album. He is singing with Maria Creuza and Toquinho. I think Portuguese is the loveliest of languages. I wish I spoke it.

Either of these songs immediately takes me back to the hammock on the terraza outside my very small apartment in San Juan. The sea breeze was always soft. The music was always marvelous. The Cuba Libres were always strong, and they were handed to me by the lovely, young Argentine through the window from the living room.

I lacked for nothing that mattered.

Tropical music memories

HAVING WATERED the potted plants on the downstairs terraza, an every-Saturday-morning chore, I sat a short spell in one of the wicker rockers and listened to a song coming through the window behind me from the living room music machine. Roberto Carlos was singing El Show Ya Terminó.

borderIt reminded me of Puerto Rico, where I lived in the 1970s in a penthouse atop a five-story building on Calle Norzagaray* in Viejo San Juan — Old San Juan — overlooking the sea. I lived there with an Argentine named Silvina, a reformed working girl who always kept things from getting stodgy.

Once, she flew back to Buenos Aires for something or other, leaving me briefly alone high above Calle Norzagaray, but when she returned she brought gifts, vinyl discs of Atahualpa Yupangui, an Argentine folk singer and guitarist, and of Vinicius de Moraes, a Brazilian.

We spent many a late night — after I had returned from my work at the San Juan Star and she from her job waitressing at a restaurant-bar — sitting on our rooftop patio, next to the hammock, with Bacardi, Coke and music, watching cruise ships sail into the dark, starry nights.

Those two vinyl records have long vanished. I forget the title of Yupangui’s disc, but I have since purchased another of his albums on a modern CD. I like it, but far better is the compact disc I found of the exact other album she brought from Buenos Aires. It is titled Vinicius de Moraes con Maria Creuza y Toquinho.

mdThey sing in Portuguese which may be the loveliest language of them all.

I left Silvina behind when I returned to the mainland, but about five years ago she found me on Facebook. She was back in Buenos Aires, running a stable of taxicabs. She reminded me that I had introduced her to T-Bone Walker, so I emailed mp3 versions of T-Bone, and she thanked me.

She has grandchildren now, but I don’t — and never will.

It’s amazing where morning on a Mexican terraza will lead one’s time-stretched mind.

* * * *

* Calle Norzagaray is a short street, and I think the building where I lived is the pink one in the photo, but don’t hold me to that. It’s been 40 years, even though my second wife and I visited just 20 years ago.

(Other visits to the island are here and here.)