I caught the hiccups of my lifetime in Buenos Aires, when I was leaving the Mercado San Telmo. At first it was a normal case of the hiccups. I went home to my room at the bed and breakfast, drank three gulps of water, stood on my head, held my breath seven times, did twelve pushups and the splits three times—and they stuck with me. At some point I got hungry and went to get myself some Chinese junk food. The Chinese guy thought I should press my elbows three times against my stomach and go “hoo-hoo-hoo.” I went “hoo-hoo-hoo.” The hiccups continued.
The next morning they were still there. “The longest known case of hiccups lasted almost seventy years,” I found out after some research. The victim in question hiccupped four hundred thirty-four million times. And what about me? I soon attained the first ten-thousand mark.
I burped, growled like a tiger, jumped over parked taxis, smoked cannabis. Sometimes the hiccups seemed to be ebbing away, got sort of quiet, stopped for a conspicuously long time—and came back. These hiccups were, with regard to me, serially monogamous. I tried to think whether my credit-card insurance would pay for a medical evacuation to Vienna. If I was going to die, then let it be at home.
For now I just went to the Café Tortoni. A guy with a beard in an artsy blazer, apparently crazy or drunk, sat down with me. Normally I would have removed either him or myself, but right now I was too weak. I hiccupped in his face. He said he thought all politicians were crooks. I went hoo-hoo-hoo. Undaunted, he told of an Argentinian president who had received a Ferrari as a gift on a state visit to Italy in 1991. His critics, however, thought that the Ferrari belonged to the officeholder, not to him as a private person. The president declared on TV: “La Ferrari es mía, mía!” It belonged to him, to him … He was the one who received it, so why should he now have to give it up?
I couldn’t help but laugh. When I had finished laughing, the hiccups were gone. They were gone, gone, gone!
“Gracias, señor!” I cried and embraced the bearded man, “gracias, gracias, gracias, señor, señor, señor! Hoo-hoo-hoo!" I kissed him on both cheeks and ran jubilantly out of the Café Tortoni. He must have thought I was crazy.
Mercado San Telmo, Bolívar and Carlos Calvo; Café Tortoni, Avenida de Mayo 825, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Translated by Geoffrey Howes.