“I Am Everything I Have Already Lost”

Argentinean Poet and Writer Silvina Ocampo Aguirre (1903-1993)

I’m not about to call her a poetess, because she could hold her own in the literary world of women and men. She was a great writer who was married to another great writer, Adolfo Bioy Casares, friend of Jorge Luis Borges. I understand she is buried in Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, which I have visited three times without finding her grave. I will have to make another visit and try harder to find her so that I can pay homage to her beauty and talent.

The following poem is from her collection Poemas de amor desesperado (Poems of Desperate Love, 1949).

Song

Oh, nothing, nothing is mine,
not the tone of my voice, nor my absent hands,
nor my distant arms!
I have received it all. Oh, nothing, nothing is mine.
I am like the reflections of a gloomy lake
or the echo of voices at the bottom of a blue
well when it has rained.
I have received it all:
like water or glass
that turns into anything,
into smoke, into a spiral,
into a building, a fish, a stone, a rose.
I am different from me, so different,
like some people when they are in society.
I am all the places I have loved in my life.

I am the woman I hated most.
and the perfume that wounded me one night
with decrees of an uncertain destiny.
I am the shadows that entered a car,
the luminosity of a port,
the secret embraces hidden in the eyes.
I am the knife of jealousy,
and the aches red with wounds.
Of the long eager glances I am the sparkle.
I am the voice I heard behind the blinds,
the light, the air above the cypress trees.
I am all the words that I adored
on the lips, in the books that I admired.
I am the greyhound that fled in the distance,
the solitary branch among the branches.
I am the happiness of a day,
the whisper of the flames.
I am the poverty of naked feet,
with children going silently away.
I am what they did not tell me and I knew.
Oh, I wanted everything to be mine!
I am everything I have already lost.
But everything’s elusive like the wind and the river,
like the golden summer flowers
that die in your hands.
I am everything, but nothing, nothing is mine,
not the pain, nor the joy, nor the terror,
not even the words of my song.

 

This poem can be found in the excellent edition of Silvina Ocampo’s poetry published by NYRB/Poets and translated and edited by Jason Weiss.

Villa 31

View of Apartments in the Villa 31 Shantytown in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on April 25, 2017

I had a long conversation with my friend Suzanne about the homeless earlier this evening. The increasing poverty displayed by the rising numbers of tent-dwelling homeless bothered both of us, especially as we did not find any easy solution to the situation.

During my travels, I have seen some grinding urban poverty, mostly in Buenos Aires. That was only because the train and bus stations in Retiro border on one of the worst slums in South America, namely Villa 31, one of the Villas Miserias in the Argentine capital. In BA, the ugliest slums tend to be prefaced by the word Villa in their names.

The following YouTube video will give you an idea of the place:

YouTube Video About Villa 31

In 2015, I was at the edge of Villa 31 while walking between the train station and the bus terminal. At the time, I was carrying over $2,000 in Argentinean pesos I had just obtained. A couple in their thirties came up behind me and sprayed me with a combination of steak sauce and mustard. Suddenly, they started wiping the mess with tissues that appeared miraculously in their hands. They tried to get me to go to a restroom where they would help me clean up and strip me of anything of value. But as they were urging me to my left, I suddenly cut right toward a waiting taxi and made my escape. The taxi driver was not happy with a passenger that smelled of steak sauce, but I tipped him well to clean up the upholstery after I left.

I did not visit any of the other famous favelas or shantytowns of South America, but I did get a good look at Villa 31 as my bus sped me toward Puerto Iguazú near the border with Brazil and Paraguay.

The Crowding has Made Villa 31 a Covid-19 Hot Spot

If you have any sort of conscience, you can only feel uncomfortable dealing with so much raw poverty. In the gospels (specifically Matthew 26:11), we are told “The poor you will always have with you.” But we are not told how we can eradicate poverty. Maybe we can’t, but I think it is only right that we be disturbed about it.

Along the Paraná

Vacation Homes Along the Delta of the Paraná

I was talking to my friend Bill Korn a few minutes ago. When he happened to mention that there were massive fires in the delta of the Paraná River, I was shocked. I was familiar with the Paraná Delta, having taken a boat tour of the area in 2006 and 2015. I pulled up an article The Guardian, which described parts of the delta upriver from Tigre, around the city of Rosario: The area with which I was familiar was where the river feeds into the Rio de la Plata. It is an a weekend getaway for the residents of Buenos Aires that is densely vegetated, very pretty, but full of mosquitoes.

The Drainage Area of the River Paraná

The Paraná is the second longest river in South America. Its drainage area includes Argentina, all of Paraguay, and parts of Brazil and Bolivia. As you can see from the above map, Rosario is not far from Rosario, a city I went through on a night bus on the way to Puerto Iguazu, where the boundaries of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina meet, The river is some 3,030 miles (4,800 km) long and is navigable for much of its length with several deep water ports along its length. In Puerto Iguazu, I dined on surubi, a fresh water fish caught on the river.

View from a Boat Ride on the Delta

I have been to Argentina three times and fallen in love with the country. I hope that, what with Argentina mired in the coronavirus, they manage to save some of the beautiful places I have seen. It is along the river that much of Argentina’s Yerba Mate crop is grown. I remember from that bus ride passing through almost a hundred miles of fields where the tea leaves are grown.

 

Plague Diary 4: The Empanadas Run

Our Local Empanada Take-Out Restaurant

Near the corner of Sawtelle and Venice is our local Argentinian take-out restaurant, called Empanadas Place. I have been to Argentina three times, and I find that Empanadas Place has tastier empanadas than the South American versions. I decided to pick up a bunch of them for Martine, myself, and my elderly Mexican neighbor Luis, who is particularly fond of the place.

So I drove down there and placed my order. The tables for the sit-down part of the restaurant were all in storage, except for one for people waiting for take-out. I had a nice chat with the owner, an Argentinian of Italian ancestry (like about 75% of all Argentinians). Because his business had always been heavily oriented toward take-out, his business did not seem to be suffering from the forced closure of all sit-down restaurants. Unlike most Americans, he did not see his business as a path to riches: He was quite happy to make a small living selling delicious empanadas to the residents of Culver City and West Los Angeles.

For myself, I got four items: an Arabe (lemon-flavored ground beef and onions), spicy beef with cheese, spinach, and potatoes with cheese. I ate two of them for lunch, saving the remainder for tomorrow. Luis was pleased with his empanadas. (I think I will try to do an occasional take-out run at least once a week for the duration of the plague.

A Selection of Goodies from Empanadas Place

In addition to the featured items, Empanadas Place also sells a selection of Argentinian groceries, such as yerba mate tea, dolce de leche, and cookies known as alfajores. You can also get sandwiches and salads, as well as a refreshing glass of iced yerba mate tea.

 

A Little Bit of Wales

A Welsh Tea House in the State of Chubut, Argentina

Today’s post is the result of finding a business card in Spanish for one of our 2011 Argentina destinations. It was part of the best day on that particular trip. In the morning, Martine and I went to the giant Magellanic penguin rookery at Punta Tombo where we saw baby penguin eggs hatching under the watchful eyes of hungry shore birds. Then we drove to the Welsh settlement at Gaiman where we had high tea at the Ty Gwyn.

Although we were many thousands of miles from Wales, it was as if we were in the Old Country. The tea, sandwiches, and cakes were absolutely delicious. In fact, we had such a good time that we took a bus from Puerto Madryn back to Gaiman and had another high tea.

High Tea at Ty Gwyn

The State of Chubut was originally settled by the Welsh who settled in a number of communities, including Gaiman, Puerto Madryn, Trelew, and Dolavon. At the souvenir shops at the Trelew airport, a conspicuous presence were the packages of Torta Negra Galesa, the dark Welsh Cake that is the highlight of a Welsh tea.

The only other places where Martine and I had high tea were at Blenheim Palace in England—the birthplace of Winston Churchill—and Butchart Gardens near Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. It is interesting that the Welsh in Argentina were easily on a par with the other two.

 

Spilimbergo

Landscape by Lino Enea Spilimbergo (1896-1964)

I have always thought that the world has never sufficiently appreciated the artists and writers of Argentina. Having paid three visits to that distant country, I have begun to appreciate the artistic vision of its people. This post honors the work of Lino Enea Spilimbergo, the son of Italian immigrants, who was born in the Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires, but for health reasons relocated to the drier province of San Juan in the center of the country.

“Pasaje de San Juan” by the Painter

What draws me to Spilimbergo’s work is that his eye seems to capture much of the wonder that is the Argentine landscape. Though the artists work was by no means limited to landscapes:

“Mujer Sobre Paisaje”

The above picture has both surrealistic and straight landscape elements, incorporating the jungles of northern Argentina with a female nude. Unfortunately, relatively little is written about Spilimbergo’s art on the Internet in English, though I think his work deserves serious study.

 

The Zombie Apocalypse Comes to Coronel Pringles

The Zombie Apocalypse Pays a Visit to South America

Who or why or what is Coronel Pringles? Actually, it’s a medium-sized town of no particular distinction in the Province of Buenos Aires, not too far north of Bahía Blanca. It is perhaps best known not only as the birthplace of Argentinian novelist César Aira, but the scene of several of his stories. One of these stories is Dinner (or Cena in Spanish), first published in 2006.

The story starts slowly enough with a penniless bachelor in his sixties who has moved back in with his mother. Together, they visit an unnamed friend of the unnamed narrator and view some of his collections. When they return home, the mother expresses dissatisfaction with the evening; and the son turns on the television … only to learn that the dead of Coronel Pringles are rising from their graves and attacking the living:

This was as improbable as an adolescent fantasy. It was, however, true. The guard who sounded the alarm first heard some rustling sounds that kept getting louder and spreading across the graveyard. He came out of the lodge to take a look and hadn’t even made it across the tiled courtyard to where the first lane of cypeses ended when, in addition to the worrisome rustlings, he began to hear the loud banging of stone and metal, which seconds later spread and combined into a deafening roar that reverberated near and far, from the first wing of the wall of niches to the rows of graves extending for more than a mile.

The Area Around Coronel Pringles

At first the newly risen dead show a lack of coordination, but they begin to pick up speed. “No two were the same, except in how horrible they were, in the conventional way corpses are horrible: shards of greenish skin, bearded skulls, remnants of eyes shining in bony sockets, sullied shrouds.”

What do these undead do? They go for the brains of the living (as expected), but what interests them most are the endorphins contained therein, which they suck out with ghoulish glee. Is there nothing that can stop these delinquent ancestors from decimating all of Coronel Pringles? Well, yes, there is, but you’ll have to read this short (101 pages) but delightful book for yourself to find out. Be prepared for a completely surprising dénouement in Part III.

 

Two Ships: The Lady Rose and the Modesta Victoria

Aboard the MV Lady Rose in 2004

I have always liked Canada. While we were losing our minds and preparing for a second Civil War, Canada remained itself—calm, reasonable, sane. One of the highlights of my 20014 trip to British Columbia was an all-day cruise from Port Alberni to Bamfield and back. The Alberni Inlet and Barkley Sound extends for many miles of isolated houses and logging camps, many of which were supplied by the packet freighter MV Lady Rose. I understand the ship is no longer being used for that purpose. On the plus side, she is at Tofino awaiting restoration at Jamie’s Whaling Station.

There is something about small ships that intrigues me. In Argentina, I took the Modesta Victoria on Lago Nahuel Huapi to Los Arrayanes National Park. The Modesta Victoria was built around the same time as the MV Lady Rose, though in the Netherlands rather than Glasgow. The Modesta victoria has recently celebrated 75 years of navigation on Lago Nahuel Huapi, which sits in the foothills of the Andes in Argentinian Patagonia.

The Modesta Victoria at Anchor

My day cruises aboard both ships were among the highlights of both vacations. The Alberni Inlet was lovely, abounding in bears and other wildlife. And the Modesta Victoria’s cruise to Los Arrayanes was spectacular. It is said (though probably this is a myth) that the orange trunks of the Arrayanes trees were the inspiration for the forest in Walt Disney’s Bambi.

A Different Jesus

The Crowning With Thorns at Buenos Aires’s Tierra Santa

This country is so Protestant, so Evangelical, that it is positively refreshing to visit a Biblical theme park that is oriented toward Catholicism. The Tierra Santa Theme Park in Buenos Aires does not get many American or European tourists. Its website is in Spanish only.

The park is set along the south bank of the River Plate, just west of the Aeroparque Jorge Newberry. You can see animatronic figures of the Creation, of the Last Supper, and other events from the life of Christ. There are a few references to the Old Testament, but not many. If you get hungry, you can dine on pita bread with hummus and other foods that are reminiscent of the time and place.

The Wedding at Cana: “There is no more wine.”

It’s probably better to go there via taxi, but both times I went, I took the Belgrano Train Line to the Estación Scalabrini Ortiz, only a few minutes from the Retiro railroad terminal. It involves taking a nice walk along the River Plate and looking across the muddy waters at Uruguay. There is generally a cool breeze along the river, which makes the 20-minute walk from the station bearable.

Frankly, one of the things I like about South America is that it is unabashedly Catholic. To be sure, the Evangelicals are making inroads; but I can more easily ignore them than I can in the United States. My pictures of Latin America include a lot of churches, because I visit a lot of churches. They look like churches. In Los Angeles, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels looks more like a warehouse than a church. It was built by former Cardinal Roger Mahony: Therefore, it is often referred to as the Taj Mahony.

 

The Cemetery Cats

Homeless Cat at Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires

One of the biggest tourist draws in Buenos Aires is Recoleta Cemetery, surrounded on all sides by a high-toned urban neighborhood. Tourists go mainly to see where Evita Perón is buried (she’s buried there under her maiden name, Eva Duarte, in the Duarte family crypt. In addition to Evita, virtually everyone who was anyone was at Recoleta, including a number of former presidents, as well as numerous generals and admirals. Not buried at Recoleta is Juan Perón, who was refused admission there, buried at Chacarita Cemetery off to the south, and then, after the body was vandalized, moved to a special crypt at the Museo Histórico Quinta 17 de Octubre in the suburb of San Vicente.

Not quite so well known is that Recoleta Cemetery is full of cats. It is one of several public places in B.A. that is infested with felines, including a botanical garden in nearby Palermo. The kind-hearted Argentinians typically feed these cats, so they are not quite 100% feral. They are a bit wild, however, though they recognize their benefactors. I thought the cats wandering the concrete walkways of the Recoleta were a nice touch.