A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

I was born on August 31, 1942 in Sanatorio Anchorena in Buenos Aires. My birth was recorded by a photographer with magnesium flash powder. The burst of light made me decide then and there that one day I would be a photographer.


The above statement is false except for the fact that I was born in the mentioned hospital on that date in Buenos Aires. My birth certificate states I was born April 18, 1943.

Yesterday was my birthday but nobody called. Birth spoons, particularly those made and engraved by Mappin & Webb (which in 1942 and in 1943 had a Buenos Aires store) are supposed to be accurate. The clock is set for 2:50. My mother told me I was born early in the morning and further added that the proof that I had been born on a Monday was the fact I was a pain in the neck. The date is August 31, 1942. The spoon is the only "document" I have with a record of my true birthday.

For all of my life I have celebrated August 31, 1942 but I have to be ready to respond to customs and border bureaucrats with the other one.

I hate all my birthdays. The official one does save me from embarrasment as it helps me to remember that today is Rosemary's. My mother always invited my school friends to a garden party. It featured a piñata, bag races and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. One of my classmates, the overly agressive Mónica would break all my toys and break the piñata. My cousins Georgito and Ricardo would gallop in with sneers in their faces and terrorize me. I hate cake of any kind. And it always rained. August 30th is St Rose of Lima's feastday. The storm that hits Buenos Aires near that date is called " la tormenta de Santa Rosa". I hate all my birthdays. I don't tell anybody when either of them is. But I still get depressed when nobody calls.

According to my mother, my father forgot to register me until almost a year later. Could this be true? Wouldn't he have to produce a live habeas corpus (me), a document of sorts, a doctor's signature? Was I that young looking even at the early age of almost one?

All my Argentine documents cite the April 18 birthday from my passports to that all important draft document (not anymore since President Menem abolished he draft) called a Libreta de Enrolamiento.

Then there is the problem of my name. My birth certificate states my father was called Jorge Waterhouse Hayward. In our family there was a tradition that the firstborn carried Waterhouse as the middle name. My uncle Harry was the firtsborn but I remember someone telling me that my grandmother Ellen Carter had not yet married my grandfather Harry when Harry Jr. was born. Technically he was not the firtborn but a bastard. Or perhaps my uncle Harry (who prepared a wicked salad and I fondly remember him putting sugar into his preparation of a Coleman's mustard salad dressing) didn't want to bother with the name. By 1942, 43 nobody in Argentina could legally have a foreign name (other than the surname). When the registrar objected to the Waterhouse my father explained it was part of the surname and slipped a bill (a coima) under the table.

But I was't the firstborn. Bastards seem to be a family tradition. My mother had revealed to me that my father had married a socialite from the Province of Salta and that the wedding had been blessed by the Salta bishop. It seems that in their wedding night my father's bride confessed to him that she was pregnant by another man and that she hoped that he would be an English gentleman and remain married to her long enough to give the child his name.

As a little boy I was never curious enough question that when we crossed borders my mother would tell me to be quiet and then when asked she would say her name was Filomena de Irureta Goyana. Why was her name different to mine? The document records that she is soltera or unmarried.

I did not know that at the time (in 1954 when you look at her Argentine passport of that date) Argentina did not recognize the divorce. I later remember, hazily that my mother and father married in Uruguay.

Eduardo Waterhouse (he dropped the Hayward) never met my father but looks exactly like him as they both resemble David Niven and share beautiful blue eyes. About 13 years ago I met his mother. Eduardo refused to accompany me and dispatched me with his son Patricio. Patricio's grandmother was gracious and served me empanadas salteñas. She spoke fondly of my father and told me how he had taught her to swim. My mother had been an exquisite swimmer and my father had taught her to dance the tango. My father danced the tango beautifully. When I asked the woman if my father danced she replied, "George, didn't."

I think my birth was much too complicated. My mother told me of all the effort she put in trying to get pregnant. It took her about five years and she had several miscarriages. To make sure I was a male she tried all kinds of concoctions like Coca Cola and vinegar.

I have thus decided that my death will be much simpler. I plan to die vaporized and I will leave no residue.

Today's blog title isn't entirely correct. Someone did call yesterday. I received a text message from Telus wishing me a happy birthday.


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