“In my home on Lavalle 165 Street in Ramos Mejía, we had a backyard and a horse, a pony. Next door lived a German family from the aristocracy, the lady's name was Margarita, she loved me madly and always invited me to have supper with them. I learned many good manners with her. I used to go help her out with house chores and she would teach me how to cook, how to set the table...”
“My mother, María, was a housewife and my father, Juan, worked at the “Chizzoti” factory. My dad was not very affectionate, he used to come for my mom and dragged her to the bedroom. One day she followed him and discovered that he had another woman, another family. They fought and he left. He never remembered us again, can you believe someone like that?”
“When my parents split I couldn’t continue studying. I did elementary school and nothing else. Everyone had to start working. If I had had another home, oh God, what I would have grown to be. In fifth and sixth grade I got a scholarship. I went to night school to learn how to cook and sew. I always loved cooking. I didn’t like math. How old was I in that picture? It should say in the back. What a wonderful memory.”
“My sister Olga worked in a bijouterie store and every time I went to visit her she gave me something: a necklace, a ring, a pair of earrings. We got along so well. We did everything together, we were very close. Life strikes hard. The only one left of my siblings is me. That's life, some leave before, others later. But you have to go through those moments. It wasn’t easy, if it wasn’t for my family I wouldn’t be alive.”
“In front of the Ramos Mejía train station there was a ladies store called La Lucha, there was my first job. I was 15 years old. One day, one of the managers of the coffee and chocolate chain store Bonafide passed by and told me that they wanted to have me as an employee and so I started working in Bonafide, first in the Ciudadela branch and then in Once neighborhood. I was the supervisor, I was in charge of the cash registers and the bills. In one branch we had a basement. One time, the manager tried to grope me and I got so upset I asked for the branch pass, so they sent me to the Center of Buenos Aires City, to Carabelas Street. I traveled every day by train from Ramos Mejía to work.”
“I also worked in a cookie store in front of the Barrancas de Belgrano station and I sold TSU cosmetics, I used to go to clients’ houses with a bag full of products. Later on, I also sold clothes in the store of my daughter’s mother in law. I always worked. In the sixties I was already driving, we had a red Renault Dauphine. I drove everyone around.”
“I met Alberto at the Estudiantil Porteño Club. It was an outdoor dance in a summer night and they were playing tango and folklore. I was with my mother and Olga, I was 18 years old and I was wearing platform shoes. He went with friends and he laid his eyes on me, he told them: “I'm not leaving until I dance with that girl". Finally, his friends ended up leaving and he was left alone. He came over and told me he wanted to dance with me but I didn't accept right away, I was dancing with my sister and it wasn’t the right moment. Then he came back again and told me that his friends had left and that he had stayed to dance with me. He asked me where I lived. We danced and that was it. He knew that I always went to the club so he started to come. He got closer little by little, we used to go for a coffee. Then he started coming to my house and we started going out, we went downtown, to the club, to the balls.”
“The first kiss didn’t happen right away but two or three months later. I was very punctilious. In the hallway of my house was our first kiss. We were all over each other. But I never slept with him before getting married. It was different back then, it wasn’t common to sleep with someone before marriage and for me it was forbidden. We didn't tell each other I love you immediately either, because I liked everything step by step. We used to make out in the hallway and stuff.”
“I liked his personality, how he spoke. He was a radio announcer at Radio El Mundo. He was naughty! He always liked horse racing. Before he came to see me at my house he would hide the racing fixture on a fence. We got married on February 5, 1955. I had a beautiful marriage thank God. I miss him so much. It’s a very big absence when you lose your husband.”
“The years passed by and I wasn’t getting pregnant. A summer on vacation with Alberto in Mar del Plata, in the Argentinian Coast, I went to the Stella Maris Church and prayed to the Virgin. I promised her that if I had a girl I would call her Stella Maris. Soon after that I got pregnant. In 1963 Stellita was born, our only child. She is a jewel. We waited eight years for her.”
“When I was young I was a ‘bomb’. People would stop in the street to look at me. I combed my hair, I ‘ruled’. I have always been very coquettish. After I got married, some of my husband's friends flirted with me, they would tell me to go out. I always said no and I got rid of them quickly but I didn’t tell Alberto, to not kick up a row.”
“You have to be happy with what you have, value all things, enjoy life, the good moments, treat yourself in everything, write down the important things because then you start to forget. And the main thing, love each other. If you love someone you have to tell them. Don’t leave love aside, there always has to be time for love.”
From the photographer: Elsita has been suffering from memory loss for the past years and since I started this project in 2016 her condition has been increasing: most times she is able to remember by heart her deceased loved ones, other times only by seeing photos of them, and some few scary moments not at all. But no matter if it’s a good or bad reminiscence day, there’s one thing that she always yearns when looking at her old prints: “Qué tiempos aquellos que no volverán” (What times those that won’t return), in allusion to a 1926 tango: “Tiempos Viejos” (Old Times).
As a routine exercise, I have been showing her images from her old family photo albums for four years now: they flawlessly work as memory triggers.
However, when I started doing this photo series, she could tell me details of the night she met my grandfather at a ball and specifics of her early years at her old house in Ramos Mejía. Now those memories have become treasured quotes that only live in the project. By obsessively revising her archive, I continue to work in creating the timeline of her life, connecting dots about places, events, people, journeys, to keep her memory as vivid as possible for her, and for me.
Update: in 2020, Elsita got infected with COVID in her nursing home. It was a rough time but she made it through. However, soon after her recovery she was hospitalized due to a severe heart failure, probably triggered by the aftermath of COVID. Against a dark prognosis, she also made it out. In November 2020, she turned 91, and we decided to celebrate it all together at home, the only time we could actually be with her since the beginning of the pandemic. Like many other elderly in nursing homes, she has now been confined for over a year, sometimes all alone in a room, and we are only able to see her through the street window, video phonecalls and, most recently, a few indoor meetings separated by meters of distance, surgical clothes and a glass barrier. No touching, no hugging.
Her strength continues to amaze me everyday.