The Cost of Pearls – The Unbelievable Tale of José Leandro Andrade

Before you arrive at the end, you must start at the beginning. For Part 1, The Voodoo Child, click here.
José Leandro Andrade was the toast of Paris. He knew each of his barkeeps’ name and his tab was always good until it wasn’t. He was in debt. He paid it with his eye.
The Cost of Pearls - The Unbelievable Tale of José Leandro Andrade

The night I was born,
I swear the moon turned a fire-red,
My poor mother cried out: “Lord, the gipsy was right!
And I seen her fall down right dead.
Well, I’m a voodoo child,
Lord, I’m a voodoo child. – Jimi Hendrix, Voodoo Chile

The five-finger grass, boar bristles, pigeon entrails, snake powder, scented candles and human fallibility are some of the ingredients used by Voodoo. The magic draws its power from nature and the nature of men (in fact, it counts on it). Voodoo accounts for the patterned madness in men, and oftentimes gives us a little (unsolicited) push towards it.

Men and gods from the old continent understood that better than most.  Anansi, the full-stop at the end of all stories, knew it better than anyone living/dead/in between.

The end of the story arrives like still-vague thunder.

The Dancing Man

Before Uruguay won the 1924 Olympic final in Paris, Jose Leandro Andrade usually woke up around seventeen hours late and seven bus stops away from the national training session, inevitably around purring women wrapped in a scrimmage of satin sheets and legs. He would call up the concierge to ask his team-mate Angel Romano to collect him. Getting up, he would ask the ladies if they liked their coffee black.

After the Uruguayan team left with their Olympic gold, Andrade stayed for the Parisian afterglow.

Andrade breakfasted at high-rises with his many would-be brides and had brunch with the bourgeoisie at Le Meurice, overlooking the Louvre, where Dali stayed with his ocelots. At lunch, he showed menacingly-moustachioed Hôtel de Crillon chefs how to cook the asado. What’s a baguette in front of barbequed beef, monsieur? By tea, he would have his hosts eating out of his hands.

When the streetlights were lit, Andrade was where the music was the loudest.

Look for the crowded corner of a nightclub or a bar, and there! With the top hat and blood-red cravat, yellow leather boots, and a purple Hussars military jacket wearing the man and his salesman smile. Andrade, like the best salesmen, smiled with his eyes.

He would talk for as long as he could about himself and then nod attentively, only to catch his breath and sip his red wine. His hands had a way of capering as he talked, which made the performance more convincing. Now draped in yellow velvet gloves, they danced independently, while his headlight eyes scanned faces for reactions. You could have tried to look away but you couldn’t. Some, though, were more than equal to his gaze. Josephine Baker was one of them.

Josephine Baker was later a covert French Resistance agent during second World War. She was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French military, and a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by General de Gaulle.

Ernest Hemingway had many talents; being one of Josephine Baker’s alleged lovers was one of his best.

Headlining the world-renowned Folies Bergère cabaret with only a girdle of bananas and her Creole steps, more flew in to witness her in the 1920s than they did for the Louvre. Black Pearl and the Bronze Venus di Milo to every hot-blooded man, woman and transgender of Paris. A woman of pluck and colour, Josephine saw Jose Andrade fit to be one of hers – as did one of her lovers.

Colette, the writer of Gigi,  was a mime, actor, journalist and a Nobel Prize nominee – and also a riot at the Moulin Rouge. Which is to say, she started one in 1907 with her irrepressible sexuality on-stage. Truman Capote wrote her a story, Johnny Cash’s daughter wrote her a song, but long before that, José Leandro Andrade made her spine shiver. At a villa-party in the suburb of Argenteuil, dancing ‘la tango’, he had Mme Colette spellbound.

A honey-lathered live frog picked clean overnight in a glass case full of fire ants would reveal a heart-shaped bone with a hook. Voodoo queens from the Bight of Benin would give it to those seeking someone else’s tight warmth between their thighs.

Jose Andrade, growing up on Amalá, the ritual dish offered to the Orixá gods on Wednesdays, a stew made of chopped okra, onion, dried shrimp, and palm oil, would never need love trinkets. Andrade was not of grimoires and Voodoo spells – in most ways, he was Voodoo. But more tellingly, he was a creature of nature.

Andrade knew each of his Parisian barkeeps’ name and his tab was always good until it wasn’t.

The Cost of Pearls

Like on the dance floor, on the pitch too, his muscular impudence invoked a swell of an almost-sexual quality, a feeling noted by scholars and scribes. Such physical irreverence drew both the admiration and envy of men and inevitably, the attention of gods – which is never a good thing. One god, in particular, you know who had José Leandro Andrade in his sights.

Andrade, on one of his surging runs, was seen tripping on an invisible thread, crashing face-first into the Italian team’s goalpost. Odin of the Aesir sacrificed his left eye at Mimir’s spring in order to gain the Wisdom of Age. Anansi, spider-god of the Asante, took Andrade’s left eye at the 1928 Olympic semi-final against Italy to teach him a lesson.

Against Argentina, one-eyed Andrade won even greater accolades and Olympic gold, but the cost was high. Diagnosed with bouts of syphilis in Brussels, his vision was fading. Miraculously, between the disease, losing depth-perception and his deathbed, he played every game in Uruguay’s World-Cup-winning campaign of 1930.

The miracle took its toll. Andrade went AWOL only to be found in 1956 in an algae-ridden Montevideo basement, too drunk for dignity or help.

In his final days, hemp sandals replaced his leather boots, and an asylum replaced his uptown apartment. In his waking hours, often delirious, he would demand the finest champagnes from orderlies. He would talk in his sleep, dreaming of the life he had lived, and dreaming that he never had to wake up.

Andrade didn’t have many visitors. But on October 5th, 1957, he had a special one.

‘Stay, stay a while, ’ he whispered that day. ‘I’m coming. I will be with you soon,’ he said with a sleepy smile. And Andrea, the orderly who came with the food tray, thought the old man was speaking to her.

José Leandro Andrade never woke up.

Compe Anansi was there at the start of all stories, and he will be at the end of yours. When he comes, greet him like an old friend, for he’s weaved yours.

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Srijandeep Das

Managing Editor, journalist, writer. On a mission to elevate Football Writing to an art form.