Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Encargada de banio

It takes a special character to shine in the traditionally lowly status of toilet attendant. Cecilia, a permanent fixture of the Nuevo Chique Ladies, has it in spades, and her grace and good cheer seem indefatigable.

I photographed her in November, but this picture taken by Cheryl Brown earlier in 2011 is much better. Cecilia had her birthday some time in October/November and was called into the dancehall to be presented with a cake, a chorus of Happy Birthday and much fond applause.
Like many of her colleagues, Cecilia supplies all manner of cosmetics, hair products, perfumes, brushes and combs. And though the more squeamish might flinch from applying a lipstick that's already met a hunded mouths, most would do so in a make-up emergency rather than go naked into the milonga.
The Ladies is tiny - a space two steps wide between the stalls and the handbasins. The few chairs are usually occupied, so women wobble on one foot as they change shoes, dress and undress, and tweak hair and make-up, as well as pee. And when she's not keeping the toilets and handbasins clean, Cecilia looks on from her chair near the door.
Locals greet her with kisses and a que tal? and often proceed to talk at length with her about life, the universe and everything. But that doesn't mean they fail to drop a few pesos in her saucer on the way out.
Tourists aren't quite so sure what to make of her. But two visits are enough to establish her charm, generosity and all-round goodwill.
Although I don't know Cecilia's surname, I was suprised to find no trace of her on the internet in connection with Nuevo Chique. She's the star of these encargadas de banio. I never met another so personable - or with such a good memory for faces.
Here's another encargada - this time, at the El Aranque milonga. I'm afraid don't know either of her names.

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