In which Moneypenny finds herself at Palacio Haedo drinking Port Ruighe
The night was still young - but thinking about it with a bit more realism - I am certainly not. “Moneypenny, how about joining me for a Talisker Port Ruighe malt?” “I know the only place here in Buenos Aires where you can taste it”.
“Oh, and where might that be, James?”, she replied with teasing informality, emphasising my first name.
An advantage of age and distinction is that night taxis tend to stop when you wave, especially when dressed for a milonga, rather than driving by looking for a better fare. Holding the cab door for Moneypenny, she dived in, and I followed more conservatively and with a little more decorum. “Recoleta - Santa Fe 690”, I say.
Palacio Haedo was built in 1860 and restored in 1923, making it one of the oldest buildings in Buenos Aires. It certainly retains all of its original features as befitting a national historic monument - including unfortunately, the plumbing and heating in my grace-and-favour apartment provided by Her Majesty’s government.
As we enter Moneypenny glances around her with that quick bird-like manner and whistles quietly. “Wow, Mr Bond, do you really live here? It looks just like a museum!” Well, in that I live here, that is precisely what it must be”, I quip as I slam the lattice doors to the lift and it jerks into motion to ascend.
“Yes, the Ministry - National Parks or something - is housed down below, but somehow they forgot all about the top floor apartment and the roof garden”. “Fortunately for me, they also neglected to retire Raul the gardener. He lives in the basement with Cleo his cat”.
Rosa, the maid, has been away visiting relatives in Cordoba, so on our arrival the main room is still strewn with books and papers where I left them. As we enter and before I can find the switch, a column of moonlight catches a breath of rising dust. For a moment Moneypenny stands and stares as if bewitched.
“Come along, old girl, let’s try this malt”, I offer, just to break the spell. “Its double matured in port casks, very Gaelic, and not a lot of it leaves Skye, let alone arrives in Buenos Aires”. “How do you take it?...a little water, I suggest”.
Moneypenny crosses to the radiogram and picks up the cover of an old vinyl LP which she turns in her hands. “Any tango, Mr Bond?”, she calls as I open a window to the terrace. “Di Sarli if you can find it”, I rejoin. “Oh, and in the cupboard I think you might find a packet of Belgium pralines that were stolen from a party I once attended”. “Be a good girl and fetch them too”.
I’m not really sure I should follow Mr Bond, and I’m even less sure about what Talisker Port Ruighe is, but it sounds like it’s meant to impress ne, not that malt is really going to do the trick but I guess tonight is as good a night as any to try it.
I’m always impressed with how easily he is able to get a taxi. It’s as if they’re trained to distinguish between those who have money and those who don’t, and even more so those who give good tips and those who don’t. Mr Bond is and does both. ‘Recoleta, something (I can’t remember) Santa Fe, Palacio Haedo’, he says to the driver in his very perfect British English he is always so proud of.
The taxi sets course towards the Palacio. I remember this area from my first visit to Buenos Aires when I took a historical walking tour of the city. It’s near Plaza San Martin, in honour of José Francisco de San Martin, the liberator of the southern part of South America (that’s a lot of south) from the Spanish Empire. There is a grand statue of him in the center, which should point to his famous crossing of the Andes when he met his Northern counterpart, Simon Bolivar. But when the city was being remodelled and large avenues were constructed around the famous Liberator, his statue was turned ‘because it looked better pointing in that direction’, according to my guide.
This parc and the elements around it embody so many of the contradictions which make the Porteño city what it it. There is a Maldivas war memorial right in front of the Torre de los Ingleses, which is an odd ‘Big Ben’-like tower the British gave Argentina to congratulate her on her independence. Buenos Aires once did a survey on what the people considered the best and worst building in the city, and one building won both votes, that building lies in this square as well.
The taxi suddenly came to a halt, we had arrived and I abruptly woke from my daydream r to find Mr. Bond holding the taxi door open and extending his arm to help me out. As I looked up to reach for his hand, our eyes met in a way they had never met before and I started thinking about how many women got escorted to his apartment in this very same manner throughout the years. His reputation as an irresistible seductor had impressed even the most porteño of porteños, who, as it is well known, could hold their own when it came to romantic liaisons.
What was I doing here? It had actually never occured to me that I could one day just be another ‘Bond-girl’. Why hadn’t it occurred to me actually? He was still handsome and certainly knew how to charm a woman, he even managed to seduce the un-seducible Sabrina once, who despite her many lovers and admirers, has never gotten over him. He and I weren’t friends in the conventional way, but still it had occurred to me that it could go in this direction for some reason.
Him: ‘I’m not going to keep my hand out all night you know.’
Me: ‘Oh sorry, right, sorry.’ I clumsily replied.
Him: ‘Top floor, just wait until you see the view, and in daylight I’ll show you the garden.
Daylight, was I staying that long? Mind you it was nearing 4 am, I guess we didn’t have long to wait. He opened the door to his apartment and it was as if I had stepped into a black and white hollywood movie where my part would be played by Vivian Leigh or Audrey Hepburn and his would have been played by himself (or yes of course Sean Connery).
Me: ‘It’s messier than I expected’ I said, staring at the piles of papers and leather-bound books which almost fully covered the round persian carpet in front of the large brown Chesterfield that sat in the middle of the room. ‘I also half expected a live-in buttler to open the door.’
Him: ‘He died and the maid is on holiday, come along now, this malt won’t drink itself. How do you take it?...a little water’ he suggested.
Me: ‘With crushed ice, the equivalent of an ice cube, but crushed.’ I replied.
Him: ‘Right a little water it is then.’
He’s insufferable sometimes but yet I always come back for more. I looked around the room, it was a large living room, it had large windows that let in the moonlight which gave the art-nouveau arches on the mirror and the elegant marble fireplace on which it stood, a light lustre which almost made them look frozen, maybe frozen in time, like the rest of the apartment and maybe a little like Mr Bond himself. The clicking of my shoes against the marble and hardwood floors made me self conscious with every step I took; so I stood still in almost awe of this dream-like place I had entered. I could hear distant music, laughter and clinking of champagne glasses which must have resided in these walls from years ago.
My eye caught a gramophone in the corner and I slowly made my way towards it and looked at the collection of vinyl records.
Me: ‘A tango, Mr Bond?’ I asked.
Mr Bond: ‘Di Sarli if you can find it”, he responded “Oh, and in the cupboard I think you might find a packet of Belgium pralines that were stolen from a party I once attended. Be a good girl and fetch them too.’
Me: ‘I really prefer Swiss chocolate actually, so I won’t bother fetching anything you can do it yourself and be a good boy about it.’ He really was condescending sometimes. ‘Also, I’m not sure I want old belgian pralines from a fictitious party, they’ve probably gone sour by now after so many years’, I responded, ever so slightly alluding to his age and more so our difference in age.
He didn’t answer, he just smiled and moved towards me holding two glasses of scotch with a drop on water in each.
Me: ‘I thought I had asked for crushed ice? Why ask me what I want if you’ll just ignore it?
Him: ‘Just try it, you’ll love it.
Me: What shall we drink to?”
Him: ‘This malt is so good and it doesn’t require a toast. You drinking it is enough.’
So we drank, put our glasses down and began to tango to Di Sarli, and in his embrace I found comfort again. We weren’t friends in the conventional way, but I also wasn’t going to be a Bond-girl in the conventional way. Our’s was a story of tango. At least for now.
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