“To a Cat”

Panther in the Wild

If you look hard at my life, you will see that it is like a marginal gloss to the poems, essays, and stories of the Argentinian Jorge Luis Borges. Ever since I first came across his work around 1970, I have returned to it again and again as to an ineffable guide. Here is one of his poems, called “To a Cat.” I have visited the zoo in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires where Borges probably got the inspiration for this poem.

Jungle Waterfalls at Buenos Aires Zoo (2011)

To a Cat

Mirrors are not more silent
nor the creeping dawn more secretive;
in the moonlight, you are that panther
we catch sight of from afar.
By the inexplicable workings of a divine law,
we look for you in vain;
More remote, even, than the Ganges or the setting sun,
yours is the solitude, yours the secret.
Your haunch allows the lingering
caress of my hand. You have accepted,
since that long forgotten past,
the love of the distrustful hand.
You belong to another time. You are lord
of a place bounded like a dream.

 

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.

 

Borges in a Nutshell

The Artistry of Jorge Luis Borges in a Single Image

When I was in Buenos Aires in 2015, I wanted to visit the Centro Cultural Borges in the Galerias Pacifico run by the author’s widow, Maria Kodama. I had expected to see more about Borges rather than various displays of modern art. There was one image that summarized Borges nicely, though my photograph does not do it justice.

At the top right is a drawing of Jorge Luis Borges, next to a representation of the Tower of Babel. This refers to his tale “The Library of Babel,” which sees the universe as an infinite collection of hexagonal library rooms, each containing uniformly-sized books representing not only books written, but all possible books. The tower rests on a pile of books, among which I can make out three titles:

  • The stories of Rudyard Kipling
  • The complete works of Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Thousand and One Nights

The Galerias Pacifico Where the Centro Cultural Borges Is Located

Other works that Borges discussed at length could possibly include the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, the Icelandic Sagas, the stories and essays of G.K. Chesterton, and the Argentinian José Hernández’s Martin Fierro.

I started reading Borges in the early 1970s, when an article in The New Yorker alerted me to the publication of Labyrinths and Ficciones. The seed sown by those two collections led me the richness of world literature—a treasure hoard I am still exploring and will not cease exploring until my eyes are closed for the last time.

 

TEGOBA

That’s Short for “The English Group of Buenos Aires”

Each time I have gone to Buenos Aires—that’s now three times in all—I have gone to one of the weekly meetings of TEGOBA, The English Group of Buenos Aires. At leastsince 2006, it has been meeting on Friday nights at a cafeteria in the upscale Belgrano suburb of B.A. called FAME, located on Cabildo across the street from the Congreso de Tucuman SUBTE stop.

The above picture was taken in 2006, when I was quite a few pounds heavier. (I’m the walrus at the far right.) At my left is Marta Viajera, who is the coordinator for the group. The others are a combination of Argentinian professionals and visiting Americans, Brits, and others who want to socialize in English over a nice meal.

A few days after this picture was taken, I broke my right shoulder in a blizzard that struck Tierra del Fuego. I slipped on some ice at the corner of Magallanes and Rivadavia and smashed my shoulder into a high curb. Usually, that would make someone turn sour on a place. Instead, I decided I loved Argentina and its people, and I resolved to return. And I did, twice so far. I hope I have it in me to back back at least one more time.

And, to be sure, i will join the group at Avenida Cabildo 2921 for another meeting of TEGOBA.

El Ombú

The Ombú Outside the La Biela Café in Buenos Aires’s Plaza Francia

One of the most spectacular trees to be encountered in Argentina is the Ombú. The one in the above picture is in front of my favorite Buenos Aires café, La Biela, where Jorge Luis Borges frequently dined with Adolfo Bioy-Casares. Also, it reminds me of the tree described by W. H. Hudson in his first story in Tales of the Pampas (1916):

IN ALL THIS DISTRICT, though you should go twenty leagues to this way and that, you will not find a tree as big as this ombú, standing solitary, where there is no house; therefore it is known to all as “the ombú,” as if but one existed; and the name of all this estate, which is now ownerless and ruined, is El Ombú. From one of the higher branches, if you can climb, you will see the lake of Chascomus, two thirds of a league away, from shore to shore, and the village on its banks. Even smaller things will you see on a clear day; perhaps a red line moving across the water—a flock of flamingos flying in their usual way. A great tree standing alone, with no house near it; only the old brick foundations of a house, so overgrown with grass and weeds that you have to look closely to find them. When I am out with my flock in the summer time, I often come here to sit in the shade. It is near the main road; travellers, droves of cattle, the diligence, and bullock-carts pass in sight. Sometimes, at noon, I find a traveller resting in the shade, and if he is not sleeping we talk and he tells me the news of that great world my eyes have never seen.

They say that sorrow and at last ruin comes upon the house on whose roof the shadow of the ombú tree falls; and on that house which now is not, the shadow of this tree came every summer day when the sun was low. They say, too, that those who sit much in the ombú shade become crazed. Perhaps, sir, the bone of my skull is thicker than in most men, since I have been accustomed to sit here all my life, and though now an old man I have not yet lost my reason. It is true that evil fortune came to the old house in the end; but into every door sorrow must enter—sorrow and death that comes to all men; and every house must fall at last.

But my memories of this Ombú are all happy ones. I have eaten at the café there twice, both times having excellent meals. The first time was with Martine in 2011. In 2015, I met with my friend David Benesty there. Below is a picture of David sitting between Borges and Bioy-Casares at what was once their favorite table:

Jore Luis Borges, David Benesty, and Adolfo Bioy-Casares


I would love to go to La Biela again and have a cool bottle of Imperial beer on a hot Buenos Aires afternoon.

 

I’m Not Finished with Argentina!

The South Atlantic Near Ushuaia

The South Atlantic Near Ushuaia

Even while I am planning my Ecuador trip, I am hinking of returning to Argentina. It is almost like another home to me, after three visits. This time, I am interested in traveling down RN 3 along the South Atlantic from Buenos Aires all the way down to Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia (in Argentina) and Punta Arenas (in Chile). That is slightly over 3,000 kilometers. I may even fly to Puerto Williams in Chile, the absolute southernmost inhabited town in the world. Then I would fly back to Buenos Aires.

Along the way there would be the following stops:

  • Bahia Blanca with its famous Museo del Puerto de Ingeniero White.
  • The twin cities of Carmen de Patagones and Viedma, separated by the Rio Negro.
  • Puerto Madryn, which I visited with Martine in 2011 and perhaps some of the Welsh colonies around Trelew and Gaiman.
  • Comodoro Rivadavia, the industrial port from which Argentina launched the 1982 Falklands (Malvinas) war.
  • Puerto Deseado, visited by Magellan and Charles Darwin, called by naturalist Francisco Perito Moreno “the most picturesque place on the eastern Patagonian coast.”
  • Puerto San Julian, where both Magellan and Sir Francis Drake suppressed mutinies by executing the ringleaders.
  • Rio Gallegos, a key southern transportation hub and an old wool and petroleum shipment center. From here I can go to Punta Arenas (Chile) and see the Torres del Paine and the Fitzroy Massif. And from there, I could fly to Puerto Williams (a bit pricey, but comes with great bragging rights).
  • Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, where I’ve been twice and which I love. I’ll even stay at the same place, the Posada del Fin del Mundo owned by my friend Ana Bermudez.
The South Atlantic Is Not for Swimmers

The South Atlantic Is Not for Swimmers

Now that I’ve come to understand the long distance buses in Argentina, I know I’ll be able to travel in comfort and at a relatively low price. The longest stretches would be between Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia and between Buenos Aires and Bahia Blanca.

Except for Buenos Aires, Puerto Madryn, and Ushuaia, most of the above cities are off the tourist route. I could live with that.