Those Were The Days - Stories and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing
Those Were The Days - Stories and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing

Set Up in Buenos Aires

Graham Hill enjoys the attention of two fans.

Graham Hill enjoys the attention of two fans

Buenos Aires in January has always been a good gig. If there is one thing for sure it is that the Argentineans love their motor racing. It means that any time spent there is party time. It's a beautiful place with wide avenues and shady boulevards. It has been called the Paris of the South. But not by me. Paris France is great but Buenos Aires is a tougher, more demanding proposition. Especially since they cleaned it up. When I first went there in the 'sixties, it had been a battle ground for a long time and it showed in the state of the roads and pavements. Bullet pocked walls also added some tension to the city and the constant threat of another Colonel-led coup at the expense of the ruling junta and more poignantly, on the citizens, was a daily worry. One of the main shopping streets, Florida, looked like the Somme from a high angle shot. The pavements and road hadn't had a touch of maintenance for a decade. Retiro, where the main railway station terminus is situated, was a scrap yard of rusting cars and refuse. Only Avenida Libertador retained some of its former glory. In January the massive Jacaranda trees which line the wide road were in full bloom. Something not to be missed. By the end of the decade the city had begun to look cleaner and some building was in progress. Florida had been paved over and become a pedestrian precinct and the whole city looked spruced up and ready for business in spite of the searing 2000 percent inflation. The Junta running the country was merciless in its pursuit of anyone named an enemy but had managed to get some municipal departments functioning.

The first real sign that Argentina was cleaning up the city, if not its act, came circa 1970 when the Sheraton Hotel was built opposite Retiro. Finished just in time for the Argentine Grand Prix, the manager was eager to welcome the teams with prices which were lower than the ubiquitous Hotel Ajacumientos. (I hope the spelling is right. I never visited one, you understand.) The Sheraton was greatly appreciated by the drivers and when they weren't thrashing around the Circuito Almirante Brown, they could be found flopped out on sun loungers around the pool. It was such a relaxing alternative to noise and bustle of the race track that it was easy to say something you could regret later. Through the sweat I suddenly realised the date. My birthday! I said something naff like, "What a way to spend your birthday." Graham Hill was lying on the next lounger. He looked across, twitched his moustache and said, "We'll have to do something about that." He thought for a while. "Gatto Negro in Olivos, 9 o'clock," and then spent the rest of the afternoon spreading the news.

The Gatto Negro was a night club we had found the year before. Very impressive. It had a great lawn out back with those pupae-like baskets that were so chic in the sixties, hanging from towering eucalyptus trees. If there is one thing that Buenos Aires in noted for it's its 'Boites'. I wasn't sure what Graham was planning but turned up on time to find myself almost alone. I was beginning to think I had the wrong place when a journalist, Jeff Hutchinson, turned up. We sat and brooded over a drink and got more and more depressed. It suddenly all changed. First one to turn up was Francois Cevert. He was being molested by a nubile blond who should have been voted Miss Universe on the spot. Others began to turn up. Carlos Reutemann with his wife, Mimicha looked in to say that he wouldn't be coming because..... John Watson clocked in with one of the local girls he then proceeded to ignore while he chatted to Jacky Ickx who was fighting off the attentions of most of the spare crumpet in the room. Graham finally arrived with a couple of absolutely eye popping beauties who he introduced as the daughters of a friend. He was doing his friend a favour and chaperoning them for the evening. I'll give him his due he did keep a close watch on them. Very Close. Even Denny Hulme had turned out. Night clubs were not his thing usually but I guess he was caught up in the mood of the 'cuidad de la noche' and couldn't be left out. He did confide to me that he couldn't stay long as he needed his sleep before practice the following morning. I couldn't quite understand why I needed to know that. Frenchman Henri Pescarola formally thanked me for the invitation and then went and sat under a tree and watched the miniskirted girls gyrate on the poolside dance floor. Jochen Rindt turned up with his beautiful model wife Nina but left after someone asked her to dance - Jochen didn't like that sort of thing. Emerson Fittipaldi came in late after dining with some mover and staker on the South American market and was surprised to find that Marie Helena was not there. He had a quick class of champagne and disappeared into the night.

There was a lot of yodelling and shouting and Graham walked out on the lawn carrying a huge cake with one big candle. He set it down and belted out Happy Birthday and everybody joined in. Even people I didn't know. I was invited to blow out the candle. As I bent forward Graham tried to push my face into the icing. He wasn't quite quick enough. I picked up a handful of cake and threw it at him. In an instant everyone dived in and birthday cake filled the air. Exhausted we slumped down on the chairs and Graham made a grandiose gesture and ordered more Champagne. I think it was at this point I had a little stab of fear. But I ignored it.

Champagne drunk, everybody started to leave. I felt reassured until Graham and his two 'wards' came up, thanked me for a great time and left. Soon there was only Jeff Hutchinson and me propping up the bar. I realised I had been well and truly shafted. The owner of the bar came over and gave me the bill. Even the paper looked heavy. I looked at it reassuringly, nodded a few times to make it look as if I understood what it was all about. I was really trying to think how I was going to get out of the place without paying the bill with my kneecaps. I hadn't failed to notice that two of the boss's heavies had moved into strategic positions. I think Jeff was beginning to wish he hadn't been so friendly. There was no way I was going to be able to pay the bill. Cautiously I had left my credit cards in the hotel. In my pocket I had about 5,000 pesos, roughly seven quid. Enough for a good night out under normal conditions. But this was far from normal. Jeff confessed to having even less. I tried an engaging smile on the proprietor. His English wasn't too good but he had obviously met my sort before. He nodded to the Goliath behind the bar. As the huge bouncer moved in on me I told myself not to cry, whatever happened. But I knew I would. Before my deformable structure could be dented and my tear glands tested, a man sitting at the end of the bar said something magical to the men crowding me and they stepped back. I had seen the man sitting there most of the evening. He had a wide white smile, a thin Don Ameche moustache and slicked back black hair. You couldn't get better casting for a South American gigolo from Central Casting. He seemed to be having a good time although he never actually joined in. The proprietor walked over to him, words and a wad of money were exchanged, the proprietor and his henchmen drifted away and I was left with my saviour. His name, believe it or not, was Alfredo Dieguez. I chatted to him for a while and then he drove me back to the Sheraton. I suggested that I cashed-up the money I owed him with my credit cards but he said it wasn't a problem. Tomorrow would do. What a man.

I gave him his money the next morning and a couple of Paddock tickets for the Grand Prix and invited him to the party after the race. He introduced me to his sister, Raquel and lent me a white Mercedes convertible. I learned that, among other activities, he ran a haulage company and was one of the biggest wine distributors in the country.

Next morning when I went to the circuit Graham came up and thanked me for the party. I don't think I was very sociable. As I was about to leave the circuit Graham drew up beside me and tossed me an envelope. "Christmas present from some of the boys. " he said and sped off. The envelope contained a wad of notes which came to nearly as much as the party cost.

ARGENTINE PARILLA

We've all been to the Barbecue party where the offerings are charred but not cooked - chicken legs, sausages and hamburgers. But have you ever tried a genuine, created in the pampas, PARILLA? Just don't invite vegetarians to the party.

As everyone should know, the basis for a good Asado (barbecue) is the fire. The fire must be made of charcoal and no accelerants must be used or they will compromise the taste. If you have some dried out Eucalyptus wood available, you could do worse than add it to the fire. Once all the charcoal is nothing more than a shimmering, silky grey haze it is time to get cooking. How much you cook is up to you. You know your friends.

INGREDIENTS

Beef Ribs
Pork Sausages
Chops (Lamb/Pork)
Rump Steak
Lamb Steaks
Goat Hocks (Roasted and flaked)
Chicken breasts and legs
Kidneys
Sweetbreads
Chicken Intestines (stuffed with basil and minced lamb)
Salt and pepper

Have I left anything out? Ah.yes! Sheep's brain. Not something I yearn for myself but eaten enthusiatically by the Gauchos.

WHAT TO DO

There is no secret ingredient to Parilla. The cooking is everything. And remember: grilling meat on the barbecue is the slowest form of cooking.

The success of an authentic Argentinean Asado is in the cooking. Prepare the meat in such a manner that cooking times are more or less compatible. It is not possible to be exact but a Gauchos will cook it so that everything comes on stream at the same time.

Making sure that the heat source is not too close to the meat (tested by sticking your hand under the grill - but not recommended), place the goat and lamb pieces on the grill first. Below in a list in percentages of how long the various meats should be cooked:

Goat and Lamb 100% = 60 mins
Chicken intestines 80%
Sausages 75%
Chops 75%
Chicken Legs 60%
Breasts 50%
Beef steaks 30%
Sweetbreads 30%
Kidneys 20%
Sheep's brain 10% if you must.

And remember you can't just bung them on the grill and an hour later everything will be done to perfection. You are chained to the grill for the full period, turning the meat, changing its position if it is cooking too fast or too slow. Fussing over the colour and the shape. A bottle of Mendosa wine comes in very handy at this time.

You can serve it with baked spuds and Brussels if you like. But only if there are no genuine Gauchos around. The meat's the meal. Washed down with delicious Argentine wine and pepped up with some Worcester or Chimichurri sauce you can't go wrong.

As Grumpy Old Man, Arthur Smith, said to me as he had his last meal before leaving the Federale Capitale, "I'll never eat meat again until I'm back in Argentina."

Be sure to accompany your meats with a bowl of Chimichurri sauce at the table.

Posted 16/6/2008

Those Were The Days - Motor Racing Stories, Tales and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing