The man who got off the boat in Buenos Aires in 1871
2 was known as Johannes
Dahlmann, and he was the minister of an evangelical church. In 1939, Juan Dahlmann,
one of his grandchildren, was the director of the city library on Córdoba Street,
saw himself as profoundly Argentinian. His maternal grandfather was a man named
Francisco Flores. He'd been in the 2
Infantry Division, and he died on the Buenos
Aires frontier run through by one of the Catriel Indians' spears.
Reality likes symmetry and faint anachronisms. Dahlmann had arrived at the
clinic in a hired car and now a hired car took him to Avenida Constitución.
12 After the
oppressive heat of summer, the first cool days of autumn were like nature's symbol of
his destiny rescued from fever and death. At seven in the morning the city had not lost
the smell that night gives an old house. The streets were like long hallways, and plazas
were like patios. Dahlmann recognized the city joyfully and tinged with vertigo. A few
seconds before his eyes noticed them, he recalled the street corners, the cinema
marquees, the subtle diversity of Buenos Aires. In the yellow light of the new day all
things were returning to him.
The emporium once upon a time had been painted bright red, but the years had
softened that violent color for the better. Something in its sad architecture reminded him
of a steel engraving, perhaps in an old edition of Paul et Virginie.
17 Some horses were
tethered to the hitching post. Dahlmann, from inside, thought he recognized the
shopkeeper; then he realized he'd been fooled by the fact that the man looked like one
of the employees in the clinic. After hearing about Dahlmann's situation, the man said
he'd have the carriage hitched up. To add another layer to that day's events and to kill
time, Dahlmann decided to eat at the general store
The ruffian compadre
19 with the Asiatic features stumbled to his feet. One step
from Juan Dahlmann, he shouted insults at him as if he were a very long way off. He
was pretending to exaggerate how drunk he was, and that exaggeration was both
ferocious and mocking. Among curses and obscenities, he tossed a long knife into the
air, followed it with his eyes, caught it deftly, and invited Dahlmann to fight. In a
tremulous voice the owner protested that Dahlmann was unarmed. At that precise
moment something unforeseeable happened.
Let’s take this outside
The went out, and if Dahlmann felt hopeless, neither did he feel any fear. As he
was crossing the threshold he thought that dying in a knife fight out in the open and on
the attack would have been liberating for him, a joyous fiesta, on the first night in the
clinic when they stuck him with the needle. He thought that, back then, if he had been
able to choose or to dream his death, this is the death he would have chosen or