The Magician – Translation
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[Olmedo Rentería]: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I am going to perform. Perform magic. Magic for you. I hope that you enjoy my performance.
[Daniel]: Welcome to Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
[Olmedo]: My name is Olmedo Rentería.
[Daniel]: Olmedo is a magician like the kind I’m sure you’ve seen at kids’ parties or on TV, pulling rabbits out of hats or making doves appear with a breath. He’s an older guy, almost 80. He has very short grey hair, but his hands and his gestures are those of a young man, skillful and agile.
So, today we’re starting with him and one of his performances in New York in November of last year.
[Olmedo]: I pick up on the floor ladies and gentlemen. And one, two, three, the handkerchief appeared ladies and gentlemen. Magical show.
[Audience]: Bravo, bravo, bravo (applause).
[Daniel]: Olmedo started his act with a trick in which he made a black handkerchief he was holding disappear. And, after feigning surprise at its disappearance, he made it reappear out of nowhere. Though it may seem like a simple trick, it never ceased to amaze the people who were watching.
It was all very exciting.
[Woman 1]: I loved it. The man is very sweet. Very fatherly.
[Woman 2]: It’s a wonderful thing to see someone with so much talent.
[Woman 3]: The bird out of his mouth was really like unexpected. I think it got everyone in the crowd.
[Man]: Incredible, I’ve seen that man since I was ten years old.
[Daniel]: The story of how Olmedo made it from Guayaquil to New York is surprising, like something out of a movie. He always dreamed of being a well-known magician, but he never imagined what would make him famous.
Our producer Lisette Arévalo continues the story.
[Lisette Arévalo]: Olmedo became an orphan at the age of nine. He doesn’t like going into detail about what happened to his family, but ever since then, he’s had to live on his own, leaving school and working. He lived in Ecuador and went from city to city looking for various jobs, like selling bus tickets or handing out political fliers for electoral campaigns. When he turned 17 he decided to stay in Guayaquil.
[Olmedo]: A small circus came to the neighborhood where I lived, and I got interested in going while they were setting up the tent and the circus.
[Lisette]: There he met the owner and asked if they had any jobs open. The owner says they did, and he hired Olmedo to set up the tent, set the stage, and sell candy. To Olmedo, this was just another job: it wasn’t a big circus with important performers. Really it was very modest and only performed in small neighborhoods and towns.
He worked there for three months, more or less, until October of 1960 when a Chilean circus arrived in Guayaquil. As soon as they heard about it, Olmedo and his friends went to see it. And it was exactly what you’re imagining.
It had a large green, white, and red tent with clowns, jugglers, and acrobats doing pirouettes, with the smell of freshly-popped popcorn and bright red candied apples.
Olmedo and his friends were so impressed they asked the owner to hire them to do what they were doing at the smaller circus.
[Olmedo]: And they gave all of us, well, a job immediately. And he signed up about eight o ten of us.
I helped at the circus: setting it up and taking it down. I sold snacks and sweets at the circus.
[Lisette]: But what he liked most about his new job was seeing the show, the lights, the colorful costumes, the applause and the crowd’s amazement at the acrobatics and the trapeze.
Olmedo was dying to be a part of that world, so in his free time, he trained with a group of friends.
[Olmedo]: I practiced the trapeze a lot as the strongman.
[Lisette]: The strongman is the one who catches the two or three fliers when they land after doing their jumps. Olmedo liked the adrenaline he got from doing it.
That’s why when the owner offered to take him on tour through Peru and Chile, he said yes right away. He didn’t have any other job in Guayaquil. It was an excellent opportunity to start a career.
And that was a definitive trip for him because in Lima he decided to go to another circus and there he saw Memper the Magician perform.
[Olmedo]: And I really liked it. It really caught my attention. I didn’t know what magic was.
[Lisette]: He saw the tricks: doves appearing, wands disappearing, and handkerchiefs changing color. But the thing that impressed Olmedo the most was the trick in which the magician took out a fake egg with a hole in it, he put a handkerchief in the hole, and when he broke it into a glass, a real egg came out.
[Olmedo]: I was amazed.
[Lisette]: Olmedo loved the magician’s performance but he didn’t go up to him after the show to talk to him because someone told him he didn’t like to be bothered. A few nights later, he was surprised to see that the magician, Memper, came to his circus.
[Olmedo]: Because there was a birthday party for someone, a performer with the circus.
[Lisette]: Olmedo was practicing trapeze.
[Olmedo]: When I went down, he called me over and he said: “Don’t practice the trapeze. Learn magic, that way you can work even when you’re 80 or older.” And I said: “Well, what can I do to practice magic if I don’t know it?” Then he says: “Come to the circus tomorrow. I’m going to do a show.” OK. That was it.
[Lisette]: Olmedo went back to the circus where Memper was performing and saw his show again. This time, he paid a lot of attention to the egg trick, and when he got home that night, the first thing he did was look for an egg.
[Olmedo]: I looked for all the stuff I needed, and I made an egg like his and I put the cloth over it and went through all the motions.
[Lisette]: All the motions to reproduce the trick Memper had done.
[Olmedo]: When I had the motions down, I went to his circus early and looked for him. And I told him that I wanted to show him how I had figured out the egg trick. And he laughed, and… and I did it. Then he said: “You’ve got ideas? A lot of ideas? I’ll teach you.”
[Lisette]: From that moment on, Olmedo stopped doing trapeze and started practicing with the magician. After every lesson, he went back to the circus and practiced in front of the people he worked with. A few days went by until he mastered four magic tricks and he decided to do something risky: he asked the owner of the circus to let him perform on stage. To his surprise, his boss said yes, but that he couldn’t pay him. Olmedo didn’t care, and right away, he started preparing for his performance that night.
The first thing he did was look for an outfit for his performance. And he found one. It was purple.
[Olmedo]: An Arab man at the circus gave it to me. It had long, pointy shoes, like Aladdin’s.
[Lisette]: The suit was covered in fake gems that glittered in the light. He was wearing a pair of pants, a baggy shirt, a turban, and a long vest.
That night the circus was packed. Olmedo was excited but nervous. Two other performers offered to go out with him to introduce him to the audience. Olmedo agreed, took the performers by the arms, and took the stage. When he was alone in front of the audience…
[Olmedo]: The owner of the circus sent out two girls dressed in Arab attire.
[Lisette]: Wide-legged pants, a crop top, a hat with a pearl on the forehead. They stood beside Olmedo and when the music played…
[Olmedo]: And the girls started dancing next to me.
[Lisette]: Olmedo started his show with the egg trick —which went well— and people cheered. But he also debuted a new trick that was harder: making a dove appear. Memper the Magician had shown it to him, and he needed the help of an assistant to pass him the dove. But when the time for the trick came…
[Olmedo]: And the girl, hen it was time for her to hand me the little box with the dove, the bird got out and flew away.
So I looked where the dove was going, and then I thought, “It’s gone. What do I do?”
[Lisette]: Olmedo froze. A period of a few seconds felt like minutes to him. And to add to that, one of the assistants forgot that the microphone was still on and said:
[Olmedo]: “Mr. Magician, the dove is gone.” And everyone at the circus was laughing, everyone. Everyone thought it was part of the act. So what I did was give the signal that I was done and we left. We went off stage.
[Lisette]: And the crowd loved it. His show was a success. And inside, backstage…
[Olmedo]: The owner of the circus gave me a hug. And that’s how I started my life in the circus, working as a magician.
I said: “This is what I’m going to do, and I need to go forward with this. I have to become a magician, and I’m going to be a magician.”
[Lisette]: From that day on, Olmedo was on the full-time roster of circus performers.
[Olmedo]: At the circus, they taught me how to walk. How to watch the crowd. At the circus, they taught me hand movements.
[Lisette]: He was getting better and better on a six-month tour of different cities in Peru and Chile.
When he went back to Guayaquil in the early ‘70s, he started doing his show in other places like schools and small theatres. He remembers one of his first performances. It was in the city of Latacunga, six hours from Guayaquil. People from that area…
[Olmedo]: Had never seen a magician. They’d never seen a dove appear. So, when I did my performance, they gave me a standing ovation.
[Lisette]: His show amazed people especially because, in Ecuador in those years, there weren’t a lot of magicians, much less any really good ones. What’s more, magic shows like Olmedo’s are among the oldest recorded in the country.
It was after one of these performances that a woman went up to him and said:
[Olmedo]: “Olmedo Rentería is nothing. You could call yourself something like Houdini. Do you know who Houdini was?”
[Lisette]: Houdini. I’m sure you’ve heard the name before. The Great Houdini, a Hungarian-American illusionist from the late 1800s. He was famous for his escapes from chests sealed with locks and chains in record time, for making elephants disappear from the stage and one trick in which he’s buried alive.
Olmedo said to the woman that he had read a little about him, and she told him:
[Olmedo]: “Your name is Olmedo. Why not call yourself Olmedini?”
[Lisette]: He liked the play on words, and since that day…
[Olmedo]: I said: “Well my name’s going to be Olmedini,” and I had cards made with the name Olmedini on them. The slogan on my card was: “Magic and smiles, with Olmedini.”
[Lisette]: Years went by and Olmedini was more and more sought after and famous. He appeared on several TV shows and performed with very important national artists like the actor and comedian Ernesto Albán or the pasillo singer Julio Jaramillo.
In the early ‘70s, Olmedini did several surprising tricks: in one, with a magic wand, he made a woman disappear from a cage and in her place there was a Doberman, and in another, he sawed a woman in half. He got more and more ambitious: eventually, he even put an assistant in a flaming box and got her out unharmed, and in another he made her levitate. They were tricks that, at the time, would amaze anyone.
Around that time, Olmedini became a father: he had a son with his girlfriend at the time, but the relationship didn’t work and they split up after two years. A little later, he met his wife, who he had two children with. The four of them lived in Guayaquil, and their life revolved around Olmedini and his shows.
Olmedini did magic in his country from the late ‘50s to the late ‘80s. And despite how famous he was in Ecuador, in 1990, at 50 years old, when he was at the peak of his career, he made a drastic decision: to leave it all behind and start from scratch in the US.
[Olmedo]: I wanted to be an internationally famous magician. I want to be on the shows I watched on TV. This or that magician in Las Vegas. And I said: “I want to be like them. “So, that was my dream and I came here, to New York.
[Lisette]: The plan was to get established in the new country with his wife and then bring his 7-year-old and 12-year old children, who had stayed in Guayaquil with their grandparents.
In February of 1990, Olmedo landed in New York.
[Olmedo]: My suitcase was loaded with illusions, with dreams of triumph, with dreams of being great, with dreams of being able to see my name where I wanted. I wanted to appear in the magazine Genii.
[Lisette]: Genii is the largest and most important magazine in the world of magic. The greatest magicians in history have appeared there: David Copperfield, Lance Burton, David Devant.
Olmedini didn’t know where he was going to live, and he didn’t speak English.
[Olmedo]: The first six months were very hard. First, I came without knowing anyone. I didn’t know where to go, you know? I didn’t have any friends.
[Lisette]: He managed to find a room to live in with his wife in the Bronx, and they paid the rent with the savings they had brought from Ecuador.
In three months, he ran out of savings and he couldn’t find anywhere to work. He went to all the Hispanic restaurants, clubs, and bars he could to offer to do his magic act, but they wouldn’t hire him.
What he did manage to do in that time was apply for a work permit in the US. Even though that allowed him to work legally in the country, it didn’t help him get work at any theaters. So he looked for another option.
[Olmedo]: I decided to work on the streets of New York, walking downtown, that is, in the city center of New York.
[Lisette]: He’d seen a few magicians in different parts of the city and decided that he could do it too. He did a little research to see what would be the best place to perform, and he picked Times Square, one of the most touristy places in the city. Since he didn’t speak English, he bought a cheap sound system to get people’s attention and started performing on the street.
He did light, simple tricks, that fit in a small briefcase or in his pocket, like the trick to make a handkerchief disappear. He also performed near Penn Station and on Wall Street. He did his show from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. every day.
His street performances were going well. It gave him enough money to pay the rent. But when the winter came, it was more and more difficult to spend the entire day outside, dealing with a kind of cold he’d never experienced before.
One of those first icy days, he was performing outside of a movie theatre and a woman who saw what he was doing asked him why he didn’t go into a metro station to get out of the cold.
Olmedini took her advice and, even though he had a bigger crowd, it wasn’t exactly what he had imagined for himself in New York. He was already 50, and his dream seemed more and more distant.
[Olmedo]: I felt very unhappy. Very humiliated. Because I was thinking about Guayaquil. I was doing this and that. “My God, why am I here? Why?” I called my oldest son and told him: “Son, I’m not happy in New York. I’m going to go back to Guayaquil.
[Lisette]: To which his son, who was 23, replied:
[Olmedo]: “Dad, what’s happening is that you’ve had everything handed to you on a silver platter here. Tighten your belt and learn to live. Don’t come back.”
[Lisette]: What his son had said meant a lot to Olmedini, and even though it was a difficult decision, he stayed in New York.
Years went by and Olmedini was still performing at metro stations. Until one day in June 1994, he decided to get in one of the train cars and perform there.
[Olmedo]: I did very simple tricks, and people stood up and put money in my pocket.
[Lisette]: And they applauded him non-stop. His show was so well received that when he got home, he decided to leave behind his sound system and look for portable tricks.
[Olmedo]: I started trying to plan: “How do I do it? How do I do it? How do I do it? What do I do?” Then I got the idea to make a little cart that’s easy to move around, and I could walk through the middle of the train with the cart. I made a little box. I decorated it nicely. I put a dove in it. I put a rabbit in it and a handkerchief, and I went to the train.
[Lisette]: It was a red, rectangular cart with wheels. He painted a white sign with the letters “N” and “Y”, the initials of New York, and next to a red heart he wrote the word “magic”. He met a woman on the train and offered her to be his assistant in exchange for half of his earnings. She accepted. As soon as they got in the train car, Olmedini started whistling.
[Olmedo]: That whistle got the audience’s attention. I did the trick in which I made the dove appear. I made the rabbit appear, and then the handkerchief that says, “Thank you.”
[Lisette]: If you’ve ever taken the New York metro, or have even seen it in movies, surely you’re familiar with the variety of artists who perform there. There are musicians, singers, break-dancers, poets. And this is part of the identity of the city’s subterranean world. But at that time, in the ’90s, you’d be hard-pressed to find a magician doing tricks in the middle of a moving train.
That’s why the media started to take notice. And six years after arriving in New York…
[Journalist]: The stages he performs have gotten smaller, but Olmedini says he’s learned a lot in these seven long years.
[Lisette]: A TV channel did a story on him after following him on the train while he did his tricks.
[Journalist]: He’s learned to work close to the audience, to spot their smiles, to surprise people in two minutes making doves and rabbits appear. And the most important thing he has learned is never to give up or lose hope.
[Lisette]: This outlet wasn’t the only one to report on Olmedini: in 2001, the New York Times did a story on him and his magic show on the train.
Though most people were fascinated by his tricks, not everyone was. There were people who, when they saw him doing magic on the train, made the sign of the cross and left.
[Olmedo]: There are others… they say the devil is going to take me away. There are others who say I’m going to die of cancer. There are others who say it’s evil, that what I’m doing is of the devil.
[Lisette]: And that’s because for a lot of believers, magic is something dark that comes from the Devil himself. But these comments didn’t affect him, and he kept working.
In any case, Olmedini was doing better performing on the train than in the streets and metro stations of New York. He would go at least four hours a day, every day. And the money he was making was enough to eat, get around, and pay the rent for a small apartment in Queens, where he lived alone. A few years earlier, his wife had had to go back to Guayaquil to see their kids because they were having issues in school and with their parents.
After that, his wife couldn’t go back to New York and from then on, Olmedini was left alone in the new city.
Olmedini felt that he was finally closer to getting what he always wanted: people liked what he was doing, they asked him for his card, and sometimes they gave him theirs. Then they would call him to hire him to perform at different venues: eventually, he performed at Grand Central Station and he worked alongside other magicians in New York, performing in elegant clubs in the city. But, besides that, they also hired him to do his show at the 50th anniversary of the United Nations and for a celebration with the governor at the time.
[Daniel]: Years went by, fifteen since he had been on TV, and Olmedini was still performing on the train and he started being known as “the New York Metro Magician.”
Until one day in December of 2012. He was about to perform and before the show, he went over to the refrigerator.
[Olmedo]: And I looked for a drink. I opened the fridge. I bent over. I got a drink. I closed the fridge and stood back up and I said: “Who turned out the lights?”
[Daniel]: Just as things started going his way in New York, Olmedini had gone blind.
We’ll be back after the break.
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[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Before the break, Olmedo Rentería —Olmedini— the New York metro magician, was about to perform.
When all of a sudden, everything went dark. Olmedini started to feel dizzy. He managed to hold himself up on the refrigerator door and the people nearby were able to help him. They got him into an ambulance and took him to the nearest hospital. When he arrived, he was seen right away.
[Olmedo]: The doctors operated on me. The doctors told me I had had a stroke and that my eyes were full of blood, on the inside.
[Daniel]: They told him they were going to take the bandages off his eyes and if he saw pink, it meant he was going to get better soon. When they took the bandage off…
[Olmedo]: Well, I told the doctor everything’s red, pink, red… more red than pink. So the doctor told me, “Your retinas were damaged, but don’t worry: when the blood is gone, you’ll see again.”
[Daniel]: The doctor told him they needed to give him a treatment and in six months he would recover. They discharged him a day later and from that moment on, everything would be different for him.
Lissette continues the story.
[Lisette]: Olmedini lived alone in New York and his family was in Ecuador. So, when he left the hospital and went home, he didn’t have anyone to help him with his day-to-day tasks. Activities that before he did with ease, almost without thinking about it, now took all his concentration.
[Olmedo]: I couldn’t eat because —I can’t believe it— you even need your eyes to eat. Because you bring the silverware to the plate and you don’t know if you got any food and you bring that to your mouth, you even miss.
[Lisette]: Life, his whole life, became difficult. He ran into furniture. He bumped into everything and fell over all the time. Sometimes friends came to help him, but when they left, it was all the same as before: darkness, silence, powerlessness.
[Olmedo]: I didn’t think about if I was going to do magic again or not. I left it alone. I left everything alone. All I thought about was how I couldn’t see, how hopeless I felt. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t do anything.
[Lisette]: Olmedini had to go in to see his doctor every week. After six months, he hadn’t regained his sight like his doctor had said. He says that then he stopped going in for check-ups every week and only went once a month. Until a year after the stroke, and in that final appointment, the doctor told him he’d never regain his sight.
That same day, feeling defeated, he went back to his house.
[Olmedo]: As I’m going up the stairs, a neighbor of mine says to me: “Olmedo, I’m having a little get together for Mother’s Day today. Why don’t you stop by for a while and do a little magic?”
[Lisette]: It seemed odd for his neighbor to ask him something like that, especially since everyone in the building knew he couldn’t see.
[Olmedo]: I said, “I’m blind.” “Yes, Olmedo, I know you’re blind, but you can do it. Do a show. About ten minutes. Do it humor my mother,” she said. “My mother wants to see you do magic.” She said: “I’ll go to your apartment and help you look forthings.”
[Lisette]: Olmedini told her it was impossible. How could he know the exact moment to get the handkerchief? How could he know if he got the wand to disappear? He told his neighbor he didn’t want to waste her time, but she insisted and insisted.
[Olmedo]: She said, “No, Olmedo, I know you can do it. You’re brave. Do it with us, among family.”
[Lisette]: Olmedini ended up agreeing, and the neighbor went with him to get the things he needed.
[Olmedo]: I started thinking, “What do I do?” I said: “Get this, this, this, and this.”
I picked the wand that appears and the wand that disappears. I picked the trick with the infinite handkerchiefs. It’s s handkerchief that you show people and you shake and more and more and more and more appear.
While I was getting ready, I felt very afraid, very nervous. “This isn’t going to go well. I’m going to make a fool of myself.”
[Lisette]: But still, he got up his courage and went with her. He went into his neighbor’s living room, and with her help, he started the show. And to his surprise…
[Olmedo]: When I did the first trick, people applauded and they kept on applauding, they really liked it, and then I said, “I’m going to keep going.”
[Lisette]: Olmedini says that, at first, he thought they were applauding out of pity because he was blind. But when the show was over, he realized that everything had gone well, that he could still do it. And as far as he’s concerned, that neighbor saved him.
This experience gave him the courage to keep on doing magic on the train with tricks he could carry in his pocket. He selected a few and asked his neighbor to introduce him to someone who could be his assistant and she introduced him to a man. Olmedini said they would split the earnings, the man accepted, and they went to the train together.
[Olmedo]: The first time I felt very unsafe, very unsafe. And I took a lot of precautions.
[Lisette]: Precautions like performing on routes or at times that had very low traffic on the subway. So he wouldn’t run into or hit people while doing his act. But that day, all his tricks worked well.
So he decided to keep going. But since he couldn’t see and that made it harder for him to communicate, he enrolled in English classes where they taught him some keywords for his show.
[Olmedo]: And I can say it to you right now with my eyes closed. Let’s see if… with my eyes closed, eyes closed, right? That’s because my eyes are closed (laughs).
Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I am going to perform magic, magic for you. I hope that you enjoy my performance. Ladies and gentlemen, I have a birdcage. My music is: “Tan, tan, tan, one, two, three, tan, tan, tan, tan”.
[Lisette]: It was the start of 2014, a little more than a year after he went blind. That was when Olmedini, who was 73 years old, went back to the subway with the help of his assistant. Lots of people applauded. They hugged him or took pictures with him. And he says that most of the time they didn’t even realize he’s blind.
That was a new stage of his career as a magician and Olmedini thought that maybe it was the final one. But, toward the end of 2018, he got a call. It was a Guatemalan photographer: Jaime Permuth. He had seen his show on the train in 1998 and even though he didn’t go up to Olmedini then, he had been very impressed. So much so that nearly 20 years later, he looked him up online, found his number, and called him.
[Olmedo]: And he said,:”Olmedini, let’s work together. I want to do a book on you. I work with the New York Times. The New York Times is interested in doing a book, etc., etc.”
[Lisette]: Olmedini agreed. For him, it was like going back to the time in Ecuador when journalists sought him out to take pictures of him and ask him about his life as a magician. When the story came out in the New York Times in January 2019, Olmedini became known as the New York subway’s blind magician. And then, of course, many outlets started seeking him out.
[Journalist 1]: Today I’m telling the story of Olmedo Rentería, known by his stage name as Olmedini the Magician.
[Journalist 2]: One of the most famous magicians in all America left the stage one day and traded it for the subway.
[Journalist 3]: And he’s totally blind. Olmedini the Magician, at 79 years old, dazzles New Yorkers.
[Journalist 4]: Of all of the surprises you find in New York, none has as much talent, courage, and charm as Olmedini.
[Lisette]: He was interviewed on Russian, Spanish, and Brazilian shows. All of them with the story that a blind magician was getting famous on the New York subway. But it wasn’t just the media that wanted to learn more about Olmedini.
One day, one of the journalists that had interviewed him called him and asked him to reserve June 19th, 2019 for her because she wanted him to do a show for some kids. Olmedini agreed. He got everything he needed for his magic tricks ready and he put on a shiny red jacket, a red bow tie, a black top hat, and a white dress shirt.
When the day came, the woman went to see Olmedini at his home.
[Olmedo]: When I go down and open the door to the building, it’s a big commotion.
[Lisette]: He didn’t understand what was happening.
[Olmedo]: And the woman tells me, “In front of you, there are fourteen TV cameras from all the channels here in New York. In front of you, there’s the New York Yankees, who are going to take you to have breakfast with the kids”
[Journalist]: The Great Olmedini and his assistant left his apartment in East Harlem, New York, to perform his usual magic act when something appeared at his front door. It was none other than a group of players for the New York Yankees who were there to honor his perseverance and dedication.
[Lisette]: The Yankees had communicated with the journalist to get her to help them surprise Olmedini. It was all part of a plan the Yankees had for their program HOPE Week, in which the players pick five inspiring stories of individuals, families, or organizations to pay homage to. And that year, 2019, Olmedini was one of the chosen few. He couldn’t believe it.
[Journalist]: It’s not every day you get a visit from the Yankees.
[Olmedo]: A visit. Imagine it. The Yankees, incredible. This is a blessing.
[Journalist]: How do you feel?
[Olmedo]: I feel very excited, very excited. Very… I can’t put it into words. The Yankees are here visiting me!
[Lisette]: They all walked to the metro station and took the train to Yankee Stadium together. Then, Olmedini did his routine on the train: the disappearing birdcage, the red handkerchief.
[Olmedo]: One, two, three… Tan tan tan tan. Ladies and gentleman, a magical show.
[Lisette]: When they got to the stadium, they took him to a table with a buffet. They ate and then they gave him a surprise: from that day on, Olmedini would be a recognized member of the Society of American Magicians. For Olmedini, this was a dream come true.
After the announcement, they took him to perform his act in front of 74 children between the ages of 8 and 11, who had gone to the stadium to see him.
[Olmedo]: I got the flags ready. I got the flowers ready. And I told the lady, two ladies: “Get the magic ready quick.” They introduced me and pam, pam, pam, pam, pam, pam, pam, the show.
[Lisette]: Olmedini crumpled up some old newspapers, and in their place, colorful flags appeared. He made a few strips of cloth turn into a wand. The Yankees and the children were amazed by all of his tricks.
When he was done, they took him to the stadium where they asked him to throw the first pitch of the game they were going to play that day.
[Olmedo]: And when the words “Olmedo Rentería, Ecuadorian magician, Olmedini” came on the big screen. And the crowd went: “Wooo,” the cheers and applause, and they sat me in the VIP box and the whole time cameras would show me there like a great figure (laughs). That was a feeling that’s overwhelming for me to this day. Something that was truly fantastic and unforgettable.
[Lisette]: And even though for him this meant fulfilling one of his greatest dreams, two months later he was on the cover of Genii magazine, the one he had dreamt of so much since he arrived in New York, almost 30 years earlier.
[Olmedo]: With the publication of that magazine of all the great magicians, I felt like a star. I felt like my dream had come, that I made it to my dream.
[Lisette]: And he celebrated with his family, but at a distance. He called his daughter who lives in Argentina and his younger son who’s in Ecuador and told them the good news. And when he spoke to his oldest son, who’s 53 now and lives in Australia…
[Olmedo]: I said: “Son, I made it to the final step on the staircase. This is what I wanted. I made it to the final step. I think this is it.” My son said to me: “No, dad. There’s still much more. The stairs never run out of steps.”
[Lisette]: In this past year and a half, Olmedini has fulfilled many dreams that before he couldn’t even conceive of, or seemed impossible: being the guest of honor of the New York Yankees, his favorite team, being a member of the Society of American Magicians, and, especially, performing at important magic conferences like Magifest in the US. But the thing all these accomplishments have in common is that they happened after he went blind. And Olmedini has thought a lot about that.
[Olmedo]: I think that this success I’ve had is due to the loss of my sight since there’s no magician in the world who’s lost their sight and is still on stage. No, I wouldn’t have tasted that fame.
[Daniel]: Lisette Arévalo is a producer with Radio Ambulante. She lives in Quito. This story was edited by Camila Segura and by me. Sound design is by Andrés Azpiri, with music by Rémy Lozano. Andrea López Cruzado did the fact-checking.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Gabriela Brenes, Jorge Caraballo, Victoria Estrada, Miranda Mazariegos, Patrick Moseley, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill, David Trujillo, Elsa Liliana Ulloa, and Luis Fernando Vargas. Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, and it’s produced and mixed on the program Hindenburg PRO.
Very soon we’re launching our news podcast: El hilo. Visit elhilo.audio to find out all the updates.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening, and take care of yourselves.