January 20, 2022 5:23 pm

Heat wave: remembrances of a historic day, that of January 29, 1957

For some reason, that neither the mind nor the heart reveal, details of Tuesday come to my memory January 29, 1957. They are memories that I record clearly that are often denied to me for events from hours ago, or just minutes ago. Something as inexplicable as having belatedly become aware that we were on that day in a flaming day like no other and the personal thermal phenomenon that this entailed.

I remember going down the steps of the José María Moreno station at 3:30 p.m., on the oldest line in Buenos Aires, line A. In the morning, until after lunch, absorbed, without much happiness, in reading a book of Obligations. The material was disgusting to me. It was listed as Civil Law II in the study plan of the time and as the next port, in March, in the arduous journey of the dispersed law student, at the same time, in this newspaper in labor matters that by definition were pressing.

Entering a rather crowded passenger car, I noted with no small astonishment that the day was less uneventful than I had first perceived. Until then, that January 29 had been hot, without anything special that defined it with respect to other days of the heat wave, but in the rattling confinement of the convoy I soon understood that something different must be happening.

I noted, reviewing the casual traveling companions, how unusual at that time, even in summer, that the male cast had stripped off their jackets, tucking them under their arms as the car lurched forward, and their ties, unknotted. They stopped squeezing their necks. “It must be hotter than I thought, or felt,” I inferred foolishly.

Coming out of the subway, and leaving Peru station behind, I walked, with the security of routine, through Florida to Sarmiento; I turned to the right and, upon reaching San Martín, to the left. Half a block more and I entered THE NATION. The streets were thin compared to that crowded transport below the asphalt. They seemed quieter than usual, and not much more than that.

It has been a habit, since time immemorial in the tradition of the journalistic profession, to say that in the Editorial Office of THE NATION pleasant air has always been breathed. On the other hand, it would be inappropriate to say that with the same constancy this professional environment was breathed, then covered by a severe boiserie that did not exactly lighten the large paintings composed of Miter and his children that hung somewhat sullenly from the walls, an air conditioning that surpassed of high or low temperatures. Those conquests of modernist technique and progress would be relegated for many more years, at least in that illustrious space of the Argentine press.

At 4 pm on January 29, 1957, the Newsroom was emptier than usual. That was saying a lot in times more delinquent than today. You knew that at that time you could meet an old editorial secretary, opening correspondence and arranging papers in order to assign tasks to the reporters who would show up later. That we could identify the presence of three or four journalists, especially from fixed sections – meteorological, property auctions, maritime or preparation of conference agendas and blackboards to expose urgent news in the windows on Florida and in agencies of the interior–, but with the certainty that the Editorial Office would not begin to stretch until 5:00 p.m. That it would be at full creative pace beyond 6:00 p.m., until the last death rattle, late at night.

When I entered the Newsroom that January 29, the first thing I noticed was the enormous body mass of Adolfo Miter, with at least half of his 150 kilos spread out on a desk. Adolfo, the great Adolfo, was a famous theater critic and the founding father, almost, of the independent theater in Buenos Aires. He had the privilege of his own office on the second floor of San Martín 344, a few steps from the local bureau of The New York Times, but he had gone down to the first floor surely because of the irrepressible impulse of his common sense to get himself a fan at all costs. He had succeeded, and the modest blades of the small device turned lazily a few centimeters from his face, exposing it as if before a morsel, not to eat, as it really was not, but to receive with joyous lust its reluctant winds.

Adolfo slowly turned his head towards me; and, pointing to a portable radio with a more energetic movement of that cerebral helmet to which some of the best prose in vernacular journalism was imputed, he said with force appropriate to historical revelations: “Do you know what the radio said? He said the heat record of the century has just been broken: 43.3°C.”

I ended the day writing a note on the event-sized street repercussions. A comment stuck with me. It was the addition of La Helvetica, the old and disappeared bar and restaurant owned by Morini, on the corner of San Martín and Corrientes, so beloved by generations of downtown porteños, and in which Rubén Darío, before entering or leaving from THE NATION, he wrote poems, and more regularly, he met, in the most popular sense of the word, with the girlfriends who rotated, and frolicked, around him: “Today we serve only three coffees. We ran out of soda and beer.”


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