I spent my childhood summers at my father’s farm outside Buenos Aires. After the long highway drive and the dusty dirt road, as soon as we arrived, I would run to the front of the car and begin the delicate process of unsticking the crushed butterflies from the still hot radiator. Most of them would be terminal, but one or two would cling to my finger, slowly regain center, and eventually fly away, always leaving behind some dust from their wings.
I have two older sisters, but when I was nine, they were teenagers, existing in another dimension, so I would wander pretty much alone around the corrals, the sheds and the fields, talking to the horses and the cows, feeling sad for the perpetually frightened sheep, following my father as he made his rounds, chatting with the foreman’s wife Isabel, looking for snake skins on tree branches, turning beetles right side up, and flying kites made from newspaper.
In the evenings I would cut up old New Yorker magazines my mother brought back from her trips to the US, and with those pictures I illustrated my own journal, “The Bumble Bee”, which I would sell to my parents for one peso.
At night we would set up beach chairs, wait impatiently for UFOs to appear, and count falling stars. The only trips we would take were to Doña Blanca’s place, where my father would bring tires to be fixed, and buy eggs, cheese and homemade jam. She had packs of dogs and puppies that would greet us jumping and clawing; sheep, goats, rabbits, ponies roamed loose, and heaps of animal bones, scrap metal, and old furniture were all on chaotic display. In the country, most places go from a dull quietness to an eruption of movement and noise when visitors arrive, so I assumed back then that at Doña Blanca’s something out of the ordinary was always about to happen.
My parents sold the farm in 1981, and it would be a long time until I returned to the countryside. When I did, it was to their smaller farm to the south of Buenos Aires, and I was older, just back from a year studying photography in New York. One day my father took me along for a short drive to have someone fix his broken windmill pump.
We drove a few kilometers and slowed down near a group of trees. A pack of wild-looking dogs rushed out, jumping and scratching at the pick-up truck doors, and a round woman opened a flimsy wire gate and walked towards us, both smiling and shrieking at the dogs to shut up. It was Juana. I spent the next few years visiting Juana constantly, photographing her animals and listening to her tales of days long gone, her musings on life and the Bible. She would tell me all her animals’ names, their histories, and, while gutting a freshly killed boar that she had raised, insisted that if you paid enough attention to animals you would be able to understand and see that each one is singular.
There were always many visitors at Juana’s, and most of them would sit silently sipping mate and leave without saying a word. Once every couple of hours a car would drive past, or a man on horseback would ride by and tip his hat in salutation.
The most regular visitors were her grown daughters Pachi and Chicha, who lived nearby with their own families. They’d come over with their youngest daughters, Belinda and Guillermina, and chat as they prepared sweet fried bread and sipped mate.
Beli and Guille were always running, climbing, chasing chickens and rabbits. Sometimes I’d take their picture just so they’d leave me alone and stop scaring the animals away, but mostly I would shoo them out of the frame. I was indifferent to them until the summer of 1999, when I found myself spending almost every day with them. They were nine and ten years old then, and one day, instead of asking them to move aside, I let them stay.
Photograph of Alessandra, Belinda, and Gullermina in 1998, by Martin Weber
Excerpt from Alessandra Sanguinetti's text in The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and The Engimatic Meaning of Their Dreams, published May 2021.
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