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.

 

Curupayty

The Only Battle the Paraguayans Won

Here is a trick question for you: What was the most deadly war fought in the Western Hemisphere? What, the American Civil War? Not even close. Just as we were fighting our Civil War (which I don’t think is quite over yet), the tiny country of Paraguay decided to invade Brazil. Soon, Argentina and Uruguay joined in against Paraguay, in what is called the War of the Triple Alliance. By itself, Brazil had the resources and the manpower to crush Paraguay. But the war went on from 1865 to 1870, during which 80% of the total population of the little inland country lost their lives.

The man behind the war was dictator Francisco Solano López (shown below), better known for his obesity and rotten teeth than for his military prowess. Oddly, this was a war on which there were heavy casualties on both sides. Who knew that the starving Paraguayans fought like the devil and wouldn’t just play dead. They also had one self-trained military genius, a young railway engineer named George Thompson. He designed the Paraguayan fortifications at Curupayty to take his adopted country’s weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

The Fomentor of the War

I am re-reading one of the best travel books I have ever encountered, John Gimlette’s At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig: Travels Through Paraguay. Here is Gimlette describing the aftermath of an abortive allied attack on the positions so skillfully designed by Thompson:

The Allies took Curupayti as a terrible blow. Argentina lost any remaining enthusiasm for the war, and the greater share of the fighting now fell to the Brazilians. Allied strength was built up to 80,000, but even the Brazilians struggled to find the numbers. Brazilian rural life was fractured by violent recruiting gangs, and eventually the plantation slaves of Bahía were drummed into the ranks on the promise of freedom and land. The cost was debilitating at £14,500,000 a year, of which £2,000,000 went on maintaining the horses of the imperial cavalry. All sides were now desperate for a conclusion.

Curupayty held out for another year. At first the Allies were paralyzed with shock, and then the ranks of both armies were liquefied by cholera. López was so terrified by the disease that he forbade anyone to mention it by name, and it was only known simply as “the Chain.” It claimed fifty men a day for six months…..

When Curupayty was finally abandoned, Thompson mounted the earthworks with one last, sullen garrison. The wary Allies shelled them for three days before mustering the courage to advance. They were in for a bitter surprise.

The last defenders of Curupayty were merely scarecrows, stuffed with straw.

I highly recommend Gimlette’s book for anyone interested in learning about events that are unknown to 99.9% of Americans. When the War of the Triple Alliance finally sputtered to an end, there were ten Paraguayan women to one man. The war continued on to levels of craziness not often seen in battle:

Meanwhile, the Allies poured fire down on to the defenders. The Paraguayans responded with all they had left, often just blowing their túrútútús—or trumpets—and infuriating the Allies with their stoicism. They dug themselves fox-holes with names like the Hotel Français, de Bordeaux and Garibaldi fed their gallows humour.

“If a Paraguayan in the midst of his comrades was blown to pieces by a shell,” wrote Thompson, “they would yell with delight, thinking it a capital joke, in which they would have been joined by the victim himself had he been capable.”

Do you wonder why I want to visit Paraguay?