Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Dispatches from Latin America #2

The latest missive from 'Paddington', a friend of mine currently in Argentina:

'Every Friday back in the UK, I and a friend (who is
presumably only slightly less bored of his job than I
am) email each other a series of questions which
attempt to sum up the previous seven days. I thought
I´d try and sum up my first three weeks in South
America in this way, as otherwise my interminable
descriptions of Argentina will bore you rigid.

Just to give you a bit of background, I arrived in
Buenos Aires on 13 November, spent almost two weeks
there, and then took a 25-hour bus trip to Bariloche,
a hiker´s mecca set in the Andes. I was in Bariloche
for two days, then in San Martin de los Andes tomorrow
for a day before ending up in Mendoza, where I am now.

On the whole, rather disappointingly. One meal in
BsAs was especially awful - hilariously bad in fact.
It featured a turd of overcooked rump steak, fries
which looked like they had been microwaved then
dressed liberally with lukewarm vegetable oil, a
side-salad consisiting of a teaspoon of grated carrot
- and all topped off with ice-cold red wine. In
Bariloche, however, I ate the best piece of steak I
have ever tasted - thick, the rare side of medium,
juicy, succulent, and washed down with good local wine
at its optimum temperature. And so cheap!

That people are at their best, and certainly their
most open, when travelling. From talking to people
who are on the move, you´d think they were all a bunch
of f**k ups, because everybody appears to be running
away from a trauma back at home. Whether it´s
people´s families, broken relationships,
disillusionment at work, everyone has a story to tell,
and usually a fairly bleak one. But I think this is
because we are all f**k ups, and we only open up fully
when in the company of strangers in a strange land.

Although I do not plan to go there (too frickin´cold),
I have also learned the following facts about
- Antartica is technically a desert, since it has 50mm
less rain per year than the Sahara.
- No human being had set eyes on Antartica until 1820.
- Its largest land animal is belgica antartica, a
midge measuring just 13mm across.

Vladimir Nabokov, "Bend Sinister" - where "Lolita" is
ingenious, I found "Bend Sinister" merely precocious.
In "Lolita" he can get away with being a smartarse
because he´s writing as Humbert Humbert, whose morals
and tastes are questionable; in "Bend Sinister,"
whether he is writing as a narrator or as Krug, he
just sounds like the equivalent of one of those women
who carve incredibly ornate scultures from carrots and
radishes: very pretty, very clever, but not at all
I have also read Mark Twain´s "Pudd´nhead Wilson," an
excellent and ambiguous tale of slavery in Virginia in
the 18th century, and am currently reading Jaroslav
Hasek´s "The Good Soldier Svejk," from which I quote
the following:

"For people who did not want to go to the front the
last refuge was the garrison gaol. I once knew a
probationary teacher who was a mathematician and did
not want to serve in the artillery and shoot people.
So he stole a lieutenant´s watch to get himself into
the garrison gaol. He did this deliberately. War
neither impressed nor enchanted him. Shooting at the
enemy and killing with shrapnel and shells equally
unhappy probationary teachers of mathematics serving
on the other side seemed to him sheer idiocy."

Creedence Clearwater Revival, especially "Fortunate
Son," a song written 35 years ago about American rich
kids getting richer, and as such could have been
written yesterday. But, overwhelmingly, "Aerial" by
Kate Bush. The second CD, which is a kind of concept
album about painting and parenthood, is gorgeous -
probably the best music she´s ever made.

Cafes dobles, Quilmes (the main Argentinian lager),
Malbec from Mendoza, caiparinhas, margueritas, and a
couple of gins and tonics which I regret to say
Argentinians can´t make for shit (the French, in my
experience, are the kings of G´n´T pouring).

How long have you got? Argentinian women are
gorgeous, and everybody - male and female -
shamelessly flirts with each other as they go about
their daily business.

But the real answer to this question is Abby, a girl
from Washington State. We fell for each other almost
instantly and spent loads of time together in Buenos
Aires. We also had a perfect day in Uruguay before I
left for Bariloche. The plan was to return to Buenos
Aires to be with her next week, but I received an
email from her yesterday to say she couldn´t handle
seeing me again and then having to go our separate
ways (sorry, is this getting a bit Oprah?). So what
could have been an incredible relationship is not
meant to be. C´est la vie.

(An American guy in my hostel jockishly said that
American girls were like that, the insinuation being
that they are slutty and like to lead guys on. I came
as close to punching his lights out as a person can
without actually following it through).

Heroes plural in this instance: the people of
Argentina. The reputation they have is of being
arrogant, surly, rude, Anglophobic and faintly
ridiculous - particularly porteños (natives of BsAs).
In my experience, this could not be more wrong. They
are friendly, helpful, chatty, engaging, patient when
listening to my feeble attempts to speak their
language - and only taxi driver I have encountered
said he would happily kill all English people.
Actually, my parents as well, who have furnished me
with money - I lost my wallet on the second night
after I arrived, and thus have no access to money. It
is like being a smoker who is carrying a packet of
cigarettes but has no matches with which to light them
- i.e. frustrating as hell.

The variety of landscapes I have seen in Argentina.
The hiking areas around the Lake District are how I
imagine the Alps to be. In Bariloche we took a short
hike up to a vantage point over Lago Nahuel Huapi (in
which a Nessy-type monster apparently resides) - the
view was staggering. I will try and send some photos,
but they don´t do it justice. Every colour - whether
the white of snow on the higher mountains, the blue of
the sky, the deeper blue of the lake, the green of the
trees - was iridescent.

And yet, the scenery between San Martin de los Andes
and Neuquen is just the opposte - barren, stark, all
greys and browns. In its own way, it was just an
impressive, and close to how I imagine Patagonia to

I think the most breathtaking scenery could be yet to
come: Foz de Iguazu are the somethingest waterfalls in
the world (can´t remember if it´s highest, widest,
most water etc), and they will form the start of a
tour I will make up to Rio over the course of 10 days.

My truly pathetic attempts to learn the tango -
certainly the most emasculating experience of 2005.

The cricket reports I have been reading on the BBC
website - where are Ramprakash, Hick and Crawley when
you need them?

And one of the most noticeable things about Argentina
is that, despite an air of general affluence, there is
a hell of a lot of poverty. Whereas American and
European cities generally do a very good job of hiding
their poverty, shunting poor people into slums on the
outskirts of town and ensuring they do not blight the
areas which attract tourists, poverty seems to be much
more open in Argentina, and BsAs in particular. I
haven´t quite grasped the attitudes of the middle
classes towards the poor - I think it is a mixture of
sympathy and patronisation. It is common to see kids
on the subway attempting to sell things for a couple
of pesos. They are not treated with the contempt that
they might be in London, but nobody ever buys
anything. It is as if the poor are filling a role -
as long as it is they who are poor and not the middle
classes, they are tolerated.

I have also noticed that people of European descent
and indigenous people do not socialise, unless on a
employer / skivvy basis.

And of course, I have been pretty depressed by the
thought that two people who are head over heels about
each other can´t be together, but that´s a story for a
different blog.

The next time I write, I will probably be in either
Paraguay or Brazil, which - please contain your
excitement - will mean another history lesson.

Until then, it´s ciao for now.


Labels: ,


At 5:22 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Cheers Paddington.

On query - Kate Bush?

At 7:48 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting your remarks about the people you have met who are also travelling. Are most people trying to "find themselves" in some meaningful way or simply enjoying the various delights South America has to offer? Also, you mention the lack of interaction between people of European origin and the indigenous population - does that extend to tourists as well ?

Also, if I could make a small request for your next Letter from (South) America, could we hear a litte about the impact of the media in the countries you have visited ? How are the people depicted on screen etc, is there much original material made (or do they import a lot of stuff from the USA)and what sort of political line (if any) is taken by the major media outlets ?

A few questions from an enquiring mind.

At 9:09 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for comments both. Will try and think about the media take on things - the obstacle to gathering too much information about the media is that my Spanish is really not hot at all.

Re. travellers "finding themselves", I don´t think it´s so much that people go to South America (or anywhere else) because they are lost souls, but that travelling gives you a hell of a lot of time (sometimes almost too much time) to think about things and look at stuff that´s going on at home from a different perspective.

And re. Kate Bush - seriously, the second CD is gorgeous. Whatever your view on KB (and she tends to split opinion down the middle), I´d recommend you give it a try.

At 1:27 am, Blogger Snowball said...

I have found an interesting round up of blog posts on Kate Bush's record here:


At 4:22 am, Blogger Zenny K. Sadlon said...

THE GOOD SOLDIER SVEJK? You might want to click on every hyperlink at www.SvejkCentral.com :-)


Post a Comment

<< Home