California Part II: the Argentine Invasion

The sun was playing hide-and-seek with us the day we hiked from the beautiful, sunny Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge. As we neared the bridge the wind was fierce, and the fog came swirling in. Mist hugs the Golden Gate like a kid with a teddy bear, always tossing it away and then anxious to have it back. 

The sun reappeared as we retraced our steps, walking past the old stables by the beach. You can see San Francisco in the distance. Here’s one of Crissy Field beach, with the Golden Gate sparkling in the background. 

Crissy Field Beach

The Presidio to Golden Gate Bridge trail is a mile each way.  All the views are spectacular. We took a few shots of Alcatraz before chillin’ in the Presidio Café. One latte and one cappuchino. My body temperature slowly worked its way back to normal.

Nice being on this side of the water from that place.  We kept a sharp lookout for pirates.  You never know, these days… foreign infidels or homegrown NRA-lovin’ terrorists?

H. Bouchard

Blackbeard

Was Santos was feeling like a stranger in a strange land?  So far from Argentina, so close to the evil superpower. Did he feel like he was in the belly of the beast?  [cf. José Martí: “Inside the Monster: Writings on the United States and American Imperialism,” 1890s.]  But Santos is not the first Argentine to make the journey, not by a long shot. That claim goes to Argentine pirate Hipólito Bouchard, who ransacked Monterey on Nov. 20, 1818.  In just a few years, Bouchard went from sailor to naval officer to buccaneer. 

StinsonBch

Stinson Beach

Could Bouchard have anchored off Stinson Beach in the gale force winds that nearly blew us off our feet? Hey, we were just looking for a few rays of sunshine. We hoped to find them in Bolinas, where the sixties meets the sea, but Highway 1 was closed on account of mudslides. I guess a visit to that sweet spot will have to wait till the next go-round.

Hipólito Bouchard was a naturalized Argentine naval officer who fought under the flag of the Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata and Perú. He played an important role in Argentine independence from Spain. Amongst his most notable “activities,” Bouchard ransacked towns along the coasts of Perú, Ecuador, Central America, México and California, harassing Spanish pueblos and garrisons.

Acta de IndepBorn in Saint-Tropez, France, in 1780, Bouchard grew up around boats and sailing. As soon as he was old enough to earn wages (no child labor laws back then) he went to work on fishing boats and cargo transports. In 1798 he signed up to fight for the French navy against the English, thus beginning the hard life of the seafaring soldier. After campaigning in Egypt and Haiti, he arrived in Buenos Aires on a French ship just a few months before the beginning of the May Revolution, in 1809.  Most Latin America countries were trying to throw off the yoke of foreign domination in the early 1800s; most notably by the Spanish, Portuguese, French and British.

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Plaza de Mayo then,

and now.

Bouchard was liberal and anti-monarchy. He openly sided with the Revolution and quickly rose to second in command of the newly-created Argentine navy. His baptism of fire was in the battle of San Nicholás against the Spanish navy on March 2, 1811. This naval confrontation on the Paraná river was a tremendous defeat for the Argentines… but essential training for the young marine. “The art of winning battles is learned from defeat.” [Simón Bolívar]

Batalla de San Nicolás

In July and August of 1811 Bouchard fought against the Spanish Royal Navy’s blockade of Buenos Aires. In 1812 he enlisted in the Horse-Grenadier regiment under General José de San Martín. “Certain countries such as France and Argentina established units of Horse-Grenadiers for a time. The British did so as well. Like their infantry counterparts, these horseback soldiers were chosen for their size and strength to break through enemy lines and fortifications.” [Wiki] They were some bad-ass dudes… perhaps the original “bad hombres?”

They say Bouchard was a hard, brutal man who, if he wasn’t busy burning and pillaging, was picking fights with his own crew. He handed out harsh penalties for insubordination. Walk the plank, anyone? Keelhauling? Do you think he ever heard of Long John Silver, Blackbeard, or Captain Flint? I guess not. Robert Louis Stevenson didn’t write Treasure Island until 1883.

Maybe it’s the other way around: Robert Louis Stevenson might have heard stories about Hipólito Bouchard. He might have known people who knew of him, because Stevenson spent the last two decades of his short life (he died at 44) in Vailima, Samoa, where he settled in 1880. He and his wife Fanny were always sailing around the South Seas when he wasn’t busy writing. Stevenson wrote Treasure Island for his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, in 1883. Among other notable works, he published Kidnapped and the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886.

I never turned to piracy when the law was onto me, but as to kidnapping … well, sometimes you have no other option. Driving around San Francisco we stopped to say hey to ‘ol Cristóbal Colón. He wasn’t a pirate, just another heartless real estate developer. We parked about 10 blocks away and then we walked another dozen or so in the wrong direction, away from Coit Tower. We would have reached for our ancient sextant, but the stars weren’t out yet. Amazing how I can get lost with or without my GPS. Finally we climbed another 6 blocks of stairs going straight up the hill. Tango dancers can keep going all night, that’s a known fact. Dancing, that is. 

Colón at Coit Tower

By the way, Cristóbal Colón never made it to California, so I have no idea what he’s doing in San Francisco. He merely sailed around the West Indies, so named because he thought he’d landed on the coast of India. Colón always insisted, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, that the lands that he visited during those 4 voyages were part of the Asian continent, as previously described by Marco Polo and other European travelers. [Wiki]. Colón’s refusal to accept that the lands he had visited and claimed for Spain were not part of Asia might explain, in part, why the American continent was named after the Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci, and not after Colón. On Colón’s last voyage to the Caribbean his crew escorted him back to Spain in cadenas… chains. They say he had gone completely mad. 

I got a nice shot of the Bay Bridge for my hour of climbing. You can see a bit of the Embarcadero on the lower left.

According to Bartolome Mitre, Bouchard was a big, tall, muscular man. He was dark-skinned with straight black hair and asiatic eyes, said to be black and penetrating. Too bad about that fiery temper. 

hmmm… dark-skinned?

Does he look like a dark-skinned man to you? On the cover of the above book, I mean. Ever heard the term “white-washing” history? Making someone look whiter than they are, i.e., rewriting history? Let me show you what I mean:

Bouchard had the decisiveness of a man of action, plus the understated confidence of a man of the world, e.g., one who has traveled far and wide, is proficient with modern weaponry, and can project cool in any situation. Let’s call him a James Bond prototype.

Tall, dark, handsome, smarter than you and not afraid to take control of a situation. A man who “owns” the room as soon as he walks into it. Attractive with a subtle edge of danger.

Mike Colter, aka Luke Cage

They say Bouchard had a passionate love for Argentina, his adopted country. I can relate. Of course, his love of country took a backseat to his avarice and rapaciousness. He craved plunder and riches.

Spanish pieces of eight

Bouchard was, you know, not much different than a multi-national corporation that changes banks like you and I change channels, island-hopping from the Caymans to Panama to Switzerland to Moscow, one step ahead of the IRS and one payment behind on its big yellow cheeto payoff.  I’d take some of that… wouldn’t you? Call it what you will, we’re still living with piracy and plunder.

In 1815 Bouchard left the Regiment of Mounted Grenadiers and returned to life on the open water. I guess the good green earth just didn’t do it for him. Not enough pillaging and booty? Who can say? No doubt he yearned for the vast, open seas, under the yoke of no master but that fickle, dangerous temptress of the bluegreen depths.

One of Bouchard’s most prestigious campaigns was realized under the orders of Admiral Guillermo Brown. Together and in the company of their men, they ravaged the Pacific coasts of the Americas, attacking Callao, Guayaquil, San Blas and Acapulco, burning and plundering. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

Almirante Guillermo Brown (1777-1857), Irish born, was the first admiral of the Argentine navy. He devoted his life to the service of his adopted country, in honor of which he is considered the Father of the Argentine Navy.

The fleet of Brown’s campaign was composed of the Hércules, commanded by the Admiral himself; la Santísima Trinidad, under the command of Brown’s brother Miguel; the sloop Halcón, commanded by Bouchard, and the schooner Constitución, under the command of Oliver Russell. The boats Hércules and Santísima Trinidad left from Montevideo heading south the 24 of October, 1815; the other two boats would set sail five days later. Their orders were to reach Mocha Island, off the coast of Chile, south of Santiago, where they would establish a plan of operations.

Mocha Island, Chile

The Brown brothers arrived at the island on December 28,1815; the Halcón reached port a day later. Upon arrival, Bouchard expressed his belief that the Constitution had sunk in the huge storm which had battered Cape Horn for fourteen days. Russell’s ship had been heavily loaded with large caliber guns and other provisions. Neither the Constitution nor its crew were seen again.

On Mocha Island, Brown and Bouchard agreed to operate together for the first hundred days of 1816. They also agreed on the manner in which the loot was to be divided: “It were to be divided into 5 parts, 2 for Brown for being the commander in chief, 1-1/2 for the Santísima Trinidad, and the same for the Halcón. From there Bouchard and Miguel Brown set out for the Peruvian coasts, while the Hércules went to the Archipelago Juan Fernández to release some patriots who were imprisoned there.” [Wiki]

Describing Bouchard’s famous trip, our trusty Wikipedia historians applaud the sailor’s “two-year campaign, going around the world in the midst of continuous work and danger; a voyage of thousands of miles through the remotest seas of the earth, in which a revolt is mastered, a fire on board is extinguished, the slave trade in Madagascar is stopped, Malaysian pirates are defeated in the Strait of Macassar, and the Philippines are blocked by Admiral Brown’s fleet, [which] controlled the South Pacific, imposing the law on its greatest kings, by diplomacy or by force.” [Wiki]  Not your average John Doe, these guys.

Almirante Guillermo Brown

Brown’s fleet arrived at the island of Puná, in the neighborhood of Guayaquil, Ecuador on Feb. 7, 1817. Upon arrival, the Admiral ordered Bouchard and his crew to remain at anchor, keeping watch over several dams they had already taken. Supplies of fresh drinking water were essential to the Argentine fleet. Brown took command of la Santísima Trinidad, with which he was preparing to attack Guayaquil. The next day, he demolished the fort of Punta de Piedras located five leagues from Guayaquil. But Bouchard’s luck did not hold. The ninth of February was a total disaster for Bouchard, who was captured while attempting to take the castle of San Carlos. After a difficult negotiation, the other Argentine corsairs managed to exchange Brown for the frigate Candelaria, three brigantines and five boxes of official correspondence found onboard the Consecuencia. They finally made their getaway aboard the frigates Hercules and Consecuencia, the sloop Halcón, and the schooner Carmen. They had to abandon la Santísima Trinidad, which was no longer seaworthy.

After three days, Bouchard had had enough. He was done… for a time. He informed Admiral Brown that his ship was leaking and that his officers wanted to return to Buenos Aires. He asked for his share of the loot. The dice were thrown; Bouchard had to part with the Halcón, in exchange for the frigate Consecuencia, the schooner Carmen, and about 3,475 pesos.

Bouchard decided to return to Buenos Aires by Cape Horn. Again there were differences with his crew; these were mostly resolved by violence. He fought a duel with a sergeant major, which would later result in serious legal problems. Additionally, when an officer of the Carmen informed Bouchard that the schooner was leaking, the corsair demanded that the officer attempt to sail around Cape Horn with a full crew, because he didn’t want to lose the boat. At that moment the officers of the schooner, induced by the crew, disobeyed Bouchard and changed course for the Galapagos. The Consequence stayed her course, arriving in Buenos Aires on the 18th of June, 1816.

On the 27th of June, 1817, at the age of 37, Bouchard received his official pirate’s license (patente de corso nº 116), beginning what may be the most colorful and picturesque chapter of his life. On the first anniversary of Argentine Independence, July 9, 1817, he embarked from Barragán, a port in La Plata, at the helm of the frigate “La Argentina” for a two year cruise. In charting the direction of the ship, Bouchard planned to sail in search of the great equatorial southward current, which runs across the Atlantic to the African coasts. With a bit of luck, it would allow him to skirt the Cape of Good Hope, in order to pursue and harass the ships of the Company of the Philippines that sailed along the coast of India.

Plaza San Martín, Córdoba

On July 19, a deadly fire broke out on board the ship. The crew worked for several hours to contain the flames. Scuttling the boat was not an option. To reach the Indian Ocean, the ship headed northeast towards the island of Madagascar. After sailing for two months, the Argentina anchored in Tamatave, on the east side of the island. In Tamatave, a British officer introduced himself to Bouchard, and asked for his help in preventing four slave ships from leaving Madagascar. Bouchard offered all his forces available to prevent the slave traffic on those ships, of which three were English and one French. The British commander ordered his crew to aim their guns at the slave ships, while Bouchard, seconded by several armed men, exercised the right of visitation which had been used in Africa, Great Britain and the United States since 1812.

Bouchard verified that the suspicions of the British officer were real, so he kept the slave ships in port.  Before the Argentina left Madagascar, her crew seized the slave ships’ provisions and recruited five sailors from the French vessel. The Argentina resumed a northeast course, intending to attack any unlucky Spanish ships sailing nearby.

During this journey the crew came down with scurvy, which is a vitamin C deficiency. So many crew members fell ill that the few remaining healthy sailors had to make a tremendous effort to keep the ship on course. On 18 October they spotted an American frigate whose captain informed them that the Philippine Company’s ships had not trafficked in the ports of India for 3 years, because most commercial cargo was passing through Manila. The Argentina continued her course toward the Philippines, resisting several storms that accompanied her until she reached the Strait of La Sonda, which separates the islands of Java and Sumatra. On November 7 Bouchard decided to drop anchor at the island of Java so that the sick could be attended to.

I’d play sick, too, for the chance to spend a few months recovering on Java.

After leaving Java, the Argentina continued its course for the Phillippines. The area was dangerous, due to the presence of Malaysian pirates. The ships used by these pirates were shallow, with cannons on both prows, a single sail and many oars. An encounter with some of those pirates occurred on the morning of December 7, when the lookout spotted five small ships. The combat began at noon, when the Argentina was boarded by pirates. Bouchard decided to save his powder, choosing hand-to-hand combat instead. After whooping their asses, he ordered his crew to take the pirate boat, while the other pirate boats fled. The commander summoned a court-martial to try those who had been taken prisoner, and he sentenced all but the youngest to the death penalty. The prisoners were returned to their ship, whose masts had been knocked down, and Bouchard’s men proceeded to use their boat and its crew for musket practice until it sank. After leaving the Strait of Macassar, the Argentina crossed the Sea of Celebes and anchored at the island of Joló, centrally located among the Philippine Islands.

typical Filipino “proa”

Bouchard arrived in the archipelago on January 2, 1818 and remained there for five days. Numerous rocky shoals and strong currents made navigation difficult in those seas. The inhabitants of Joló Island considered themselves invincible. They were excellent sailors, as well as fearsome pirates. Bouchard, foreseeing some kind of nocturnal raid, issued a stern warning to local authorities that if a boat approached after sundown, he would open fire upon it with all the munitions at his disposal. He’d make the enemy boats light up like the 4th of July!

While the frigate’s crew was negotiating with the natives to secure adequate supplies, sentries were stationed, with loaded muskets, to repel any possible attack. That night a sentry saw movement and alerted Bouchard’s men. The Joloans, in their boats, approached la Argentina and were preparing to board the vessel. Bouchard gave the order to open fire.  The Joloans were surprised and quickly fled.

A few days later, after a series of annoying incidents, the monarch of Joló appeared with a peace offering: the gift of a richly adorned proa, filled with fruits and vegetables, plus four water buffalo, to the delight of the hungry sailors. From that moment they were able to fill their water barrels without being disturbed, and the islanders were invited to trade freely with the crew of the ship. How about a bottle of rum for a night with that lovely island girl? A few pieces of eight? Shiver me timbers, the pirate life.

la peña

After refueling, the ship headed for Manila, the city that Bouchard intended to blockade. En route they spotted an English frigate heading for the same port. Bouchard decided to board her to check for illegal cargo. He attempted to conceal his identity, but the captain of the frigate was no dummy. As soon as he made port in Manila, the captain gave notice of Bouchard’s presence to the Spanish authorities.

On the 31st of January, 1818, la Argentina approached the port to have a look at her defensive capabilities, which were impressive. Manila Bay had solid defensive walls and a fort, la fuerte de Santiago, well stocked with powerful artillery. Bouchard began to take boats in the zone, quietly, always keeping his distance from the Spanish artillery. During the next two months he took 16 ships in his signature style that began with an intimidating cannonade progressing to a rapid assault. To further tighten his grip on Manila, Bouchard sent an armed boat with 23 crew members to block the Strait of San Bernardino under the command of 2nd Captain Sommers. In that action they captured  a number of small boats.

la Fuerte de Santiago, Manila

The inhabitants of Manila began to despair. Because of the blockade, the prices of food and basic goods had doubled and even tripled. The governor ordered that two ships and a war schooner be prepared to go in search of Bouchard. This expedition was deliberately delayed, and when it finally departed, the Argentina was already gone. On March 30, 1818, after making off with the best loot, Bouchard set sail for Hawai’i.

I’m outta here!

On August 17, 1818, Bouchard arrived at Kaleakelua Bay, a small port on the west coast of the island of Hawaii. At the anchorage a canoe, manned by native islanders, approached la Argentina and informed them in rudimentary English that a sloop moored in the harbor, belonging to King Kamehameha I, had previously been a Spanish ship. They were also told that the night before their arrival a frigate had left port, destination unknown.

Bouchard decided to pursue the unknown frigate, which they soon had in view because the lack of wind had nailed it to the sea. He ordered Sheppard, one of his officers, to take a boat and ask the commander of the frigate about the sloop that was in the Hawaiian port. After the inquiries, Sheppard reported that it was the Santa Rosa or Chacabuco, a sloop that had sailed from Buenos Aires about the same time as La Argentina. The crew of the Santa Rosa had mutinied on the shores of Chile, and changed course for Hawaii.

will dance for daiquiris

After learning of the fate of the Santa Rosa, Bouchard ordered the frigate to return to port, suspecting that some of the mutineers were among the Santa Rosa’s crew. Upon reviewing the sailors, he recognized nine men he had seen in Buenos Aires.  He had iron bars put on their hands and feet in punishment. During the interrogation, he learned that the leaders of the revolt were on the island of Kauai.

Taking a break from the revolt on Kauai

When Bouchard arrived at the port he found the Santa Rosa practically unarmed, so he decided to meet with King Kamehameha I. The corsair went dressed to the nines in his uniform as Lieutenant Colonel of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata. During the meeting, Bouchard demanded the return of the sloop. The king argued that he had paid for it and deserved compensation. Several authors affirm that during this meeting Kamehameha I recognized the sovereignty of the United Provinces; however, other scholars dismiss this, arguing that Bouchard, in his log, never mentioned the signing of such an important transaction, and furthermore, that the corsair did not have the authority to do so.

King Kamehameha I

After the negotiation, Bouchard returned to the Bay of Kaleakelua and waited for the king to send him the agreed upon provisions. The provisions failed to arrive, so Bouchard took his fleet of two warships to meet Kamehameha again in his residence at Kailua. Kamehameha, facing the risk of two warships in his capital, agreed to let him stock up on provisions in Maui. On the 26 of August Bouchard took charge of the Santa Rosa. Obtaining supplies in Maui, he rearmed and reconditioned the ship. He then sailed to Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, where he met Francisco de Paula Martí, a local expat and native of Jérez, Spain. Bouchard appointed Martí representative of the United Provinces of South America and Captain of the Armies. He also recruited Peter Corney, and made him Captain of the Santa Rosa. Maybe they toasted the new Captain with a few copas of Jérez?

On October 1st la Argentina anchored on the island of Kauai. Bouchard captured the sailors who had mutinied on the Santa Rosa, shooting the leaders and punishing the rest with twelve lashes each. After replenishing food, water and munitions, and hiring eighty new crewmen, Bouchard’s fleet drew anchor for California.

The real Bouchard? This handsome Argentine fits the description!

Bouchard set sail for the coast of California, where he hoped to take advantage of Spanish commerce. However, the Spanish authorities had already been informed that two corsairs were in the vicinity. Territorial governor Pablo Vicente Solá, who resided in Monterey, ordered that all valuables be removed from the city, and that two-thirds of the supply of gunpowder be transported a considerable distance from town. A discerning and resourceful man. He reminds me of California’s longtime gov, Jerry Brown. He recently declared California a Sanctuary State. I love this portrait  of him. Maybe Califas should secede from the union… it’s trending right now, worldwide. Just kidding… not.

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On November 20, 1818, the lookout at Punta de Pinos, at the south end of Monterey Bay, near Lover’s Point, sighted the two Argentine vessels. After notifying the governor, cannons were loaded, the garrison was armed, and the women, children, elderly and those unable to fight were sent to Mission Soledad. 

Punta de Pinos today

Bouchard met with his officers to plan the attack. Officer Corney was already familiar with Monterey, and aware of the great depth of the bay: 2.2 miles [3,600 meters] deep.  They decided to use the schooner Santa Rosa for the attack, because the frigate Argentina, with her enormous draft, might run aground so close to the harbor, and because the troop landing was concentrated there. The frigate lowered several smaller boats to the water, to tow her away from the reach of the Spanish artillery. Once towed out of range, Bouchard sent Captain Sheppard to the Santa Rosa with 200 men armed with rifles and spears.

Monterey, California circa 1842

The schooner Santa Rosa, under the command of Officer Sheppard, anchored at midnight near the fort. The men were tired from rowing out to the schooner and towing the frigate, so Sheppard decided not to attack that night. By the first light of day he discovered that he had anchored too close to the coast. The Spanish artillery was only a few yards away and ready to attack. The captain decided to open fire, and after fifteen minutes of combat the Santa Rosa surrendered. Bouchard observed the defeat from the frigate, but also noted that the Spaniards, since they had no boats, did not attempt to seize the Santa Rosa. Bouchard ordered anchors carried toward the port. However, because of the frigate’s draft, they could not get close enough to open fire. At nine o’clock in the evening they began moving the survivors of the Santa Rosa to the Argentina.

At dawn on November 24, Bouchard ordered his men to make a charge with the boats. They were 200 men in all, 130 armed with guns and 70 with lances. They disembarked a league from the fort, in a cove concealed by rocky cliffs. The fort put up little resistance, and after an hour of combat the Argentine flag was raised.

bouchard's flag

The Argentines ransacked the city for sixteen days (or six, depending on the source).  They appropriated cattle, burned the cuartel, the gunners’ barracks, the governor’s residence and the adobes of the Californios next to their gardens and orchards. 

Old Monterey: the Customs House

Mission Carmel

Having done considerable damage in Monterey, Bouchard’s fleet sailed south on November 29, heading for Rancho El Refugio, on the Santa Barbara coast. This ranch belonged to a Californio family whose members had “collaborated” with the Spanish, whatever that means. On December 5, Bouchard and his men disembarked near the ranch and, meeting no resistance, seized provisions and slaughtered cattle. A few soldiers from the nearby presidio were in the vicinity, waiting to take some of Bouchard’s men prisoners. They captured an officer and two sailors who had gone ahead of the others. Bouchard waited for them all day, believing they had gone astray. When his men didn’t return, Bouchard decided to leave for Santa Barbara, but first he set fire to the ranch. Arriving in Santa Barbara, Bouchard sent an emissary to the governor for an exchange of prisoners. After the negotiations, the three captives were returned to the Santa Rosa. Bouchard also handed over a prisoner, “el borracho Molina.” Poor Molina had to endure Governor Solá’s anger, and was sentenced to 100 lashes and six years’ imprisonment.

Santa Barbara coast

On December 16 the flotilla raised anchors and continued south to Mission San Juan Capistrano. There Bouchard requested food from a Spanish royalist officer, who replied that he had “plenty of gunpowder and bullets” for him instead. Bouchard, no surprise, decided to send 100 men to take the town. After a brief fight, the corsairs took some valuables and burned down the houses of the Californios. On December 20 Bouchard sailed for Vizcaino Bay, on the coast of Baja California, where he repaired the ships and gave his men some well-earned rest. Among the Spanish settlements in California, Bouchard was referred to as “California’s Only Pirate,” and “el Pirata Buchar.” 

Several factors led me to begin thinking about writing this piece on Hipólito Bouchard: 1) vacationing in California this summer enabled me to see some of the places I’ve known all my life from a new perspective; 2) my love of boats, sailing, and exploring new places; and 3) stumbling by chance upon a street named after Bouchard while walking in Lanús, a town just across the river from Buenos Aires, at Puente Alsina. HB

 

Marina SF 2

Marina on the Embarcadero, San Francisco

There’s a lot more to this tale: Bouchard went on to plunder and pillage Mexico and El Salvador; he hooked up with Simon Bolívar and General José de San Martin in the struggle for independence throughout South America. Another turn of the winch found Bouchard in Valparaiso, Chile, in July of 1819, where he was found guilty on the charge of attacking a boat with an expired privateer document [patente de corso]. Bouchard replied to the Chilean government that they had no authority to judge him and that he would only respond for his actions before the proper Argentine authorities. Note the signature: “Yo, el Rey.” [I, the King]

Patente de corso

So, you may ask, just what is a Pirate Permit?  This refers to the charter or document which permits the holder (aka licensed pirate) to attack and loot vessels on the high seas or on the coasts. Nice job if you can get it! No medical care, no pension, lousy food, dubious company… and no burial expenses when you go to Davy Jones. Whatever riches you manage to pillage or steal are yours to keep forever, providing you hide them in a very, very secret place that only you know about (or an off-shore bank) and you live long enough to go back and find them. If they’re still there, of course. [If you like this kind of story, you’ll love Conan Doyle’s, The Sign of Four]

t-shirt

I want a pirate t-shirt!

On December 9, 1819, Bouchard was acquitted of piracy charges in Chile. The court agreed to return the ships, newspapers and other papers to Bouchard. But, while awaiting the verdict, all the money, weapons and ship’s provisions had quietly disappeared. Somebody must have put the Black Spot on Bouchard!

Pg_003_-_Engraving_(bw)

A pirate pawning his loot.

with Santos at the Baywood Café and Marina in Los Osos

 

+W y S*:Roxy Johnny

with Roxy & Johnny at the Sandpiper in Monterey, Pier 1

+Pati y yo Los Osos*

with Pati at our friend Anne’s house on the water in Los Osos

Bouchard’s last years and death

When he retired, Bouchard decided to take care of the haciendas that had been awarded to him by the Peruvian government, in San Javier and San José de Nazca. He bought a sugar plantation and mill in partnership with his old comrade Echeverria. Bouchard had not been in contact with his family for some time. He had lived with his wife for only ten months after the expedition with Almirante Brown, and did not get to know his youngest daughter who was born after he began his expedition around the world. He finally brought his Argentine wife and children to the sugar plantation in 1836.

During his life at sea, Bouchard has been characterized as a cruel, unforgiving man. He instigated serious incidents with his crew, and took fierce reprisals against those who were insubordinate. They say that on his estates he treated his slaves with the same cruelty with which he had treated his seamen. Sick of his abuses, one or more of his slaves killed him on the night of January 4, 1837. “By his own slaves, suddenly” according to his death certificate.

The remains of Bouchard were lost until 1962, when they were found in a crypt located in the Church of San Javier de Nazca in the city of Nazca, Perú. On July 6 of that year they were exhumed and repatriated to Buenos Aires by a commission formed by the Argentine Navy and the Peruvian Navy. Today they rest in the old pantheon of the Argentine army in the Cementerio de Chacarita, in Buenos Aires. 

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Cornelis_Vroom_Spanish_Men_of_War_Engaging_Barbary_Corsairs

Spanish Men-of-War Engaging Barbary Corsairs, painting by Cornelis Hendricksz Vroom, 1615 

Some historians have pointed out that the flag of the United Provinces of Central America (from which the flags of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica are derived) were inspired by the flag of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata (the earliest flag of the Argentine Republic), which flew from the frigate La Argentina in the service of las Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata in 1818 and 1819, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Hipólito Bouchard, of the Argentine navy.

The End

Abstract: Terror struck the coast of Alta California as Bouchard sailed north. Blood was spilled, towns looted, pirate joy was everywhere. Monterey, the capital of Alta California, was taken by force. Bouchard and his men seized more than 20 pieces of artillery, rescued an Argentine warship, and imprisoned Spanish sailors and soldiers from the Cuartel of Monterey. More than 25 enemy ships were set afire, administering the kiss of death to Spanish commerce in its colonial possessions. The newly-created Argentine flag was flown triumphantly. It was certainly a memorable cruise.

 

 

 

 

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Rx California: Salinas Rodeo, San Juan Bautista

view of SF bay from the Top of the Mark, Fairmont Hotel

I miss my pre-internet brain.  Does it miss me, I wonder?

Would I even know?  Nothing that can’t be fixed with a cup of coffee and an alfajor dipped in coconut.  Or a trip to California.

Sure was nice to relax in that California sun, leaving behind a cold, wet Buenos Aires winter.  Day 1 we feasted with family at our favorite Mexican restaurant, the Blue Agave in Pleasanton.  Their chicken mole is to die for… I shared my meal with a Don Julio Añejo margarita.  Jet lag annihilated! 

  Latino elixir vitae

Day 2:  California Rodeo Salinas.  We took it slow… starting with pony rides.

We worked our way up from ponies to bronc ridin’, bull ridin’, barrrel racing, calf ropin’, team ropin’… watching, that is.  Plenty of action in the hot Salinas sun. Unfortunately, yours truly is not equipped for high tech action photos.  My apologies.  Googled these from this summer’s rodeo.

heads up at the buckin’ chutes!

Texas singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen Jr. said, “Riding a bull is like driving your car on the freeway at 70 mph and then just chuckin’ the steering wheel out the window.”

hang in there, cowboy!

“I had a rodeo career lasted 15 seconds… that’s five bulls x 3 seconds apiece. After that I just stuck to the Copenhagen part of being a cowboy.”

Bullriding ain’t for sissies!

These days bullriders wear helmets and protective vests.  Too many rough-stock riders have lost their lives.

bull fightin’ in Salinas …

The cowboy has to stay in the corral with the bull for 40 seconds to score.   Then he gets the hell outta Dodge, usually by jumping over the fence.  The cowboy, that is … although I have seen a few bulls jump fences.  Never seen a crowd of people runnin’ so fast for their lives!

cowgirls with speed and determination: barrel racing!

Santos at the Salinas Rodeo

We had a fabulous time with friends and family at the rodeo.  Even the mutton bustin’ was fun to watch.  That’s where little kids get to ride a sheep and hang on as long as they can!  My Buenos Aires boy had never seen this kind of action!

Oops! wrong end!

 

Calf Ropin’

 

Team ropin’: one cowboy heads, the other heels 

Later that evening we had dinner with Roxy and Johnny at los Jardines de San Juan, one of my favorite restaurants anywhere … in historic San Juan Bautista. 

Santos at the Casa Juan de Anza, built in 1799.  This old adobe structure has been restored several times, yet still appears to be falling apart.  So wabi-sabi.  Santos REALLY liked it.

The beautiful San Juan Bautista mission, built in 1797, is still standing and in darn good shape… especially since it was built right on the San Andreas fault.

Hitchcock filmed many scenes for his film Vertigo (1958) here at the mission. Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak… wow!!  Check out this still shot at Fort Point, right under the Golden Gate bridge.  

Kim Novak throws herself into the water and Jimmy Stewart, a complete stranger, jumps in and pulls her out.

Of course he falls in love with her, even though she’s a complete whack job.

She thinks she’s the reincarnation of her grandmother, Carlota Valdés.

This is a spooky mock-up of the mission, made for the movie.

The real mission never had a tower like that… but it does have a bell tower.

Hitchcock makes Jimmy Stewart’s character gets dizzy every time he tries to climb the tower stairs, chasing after Carlota.  He spins into crazy, psychotic, psychedelic episodes.  What kind of drugs were they on?  Hitchcock must have looked into his crystal ball and seen the Summer of Love coming, 10 years later.

don’t look down!

I guess Hitchcock needed a hallucinogenic tower ’cause more than one person has to fall from (or be pushed off) the tower.

Hitchcock and Kim Novak on set. Hitchie had a thing for gorgeous blondes.

What’s not to love about this movie?  And you cult followers can play the “spot the subliminals” game.  ‘Nuf said.

There’s no lack of cool spots to visit in San Juan Bautista.  I already told you SJB sits right on the San Andreas Fault.  Years ago there was a seismometer (an earthquake measuring instrument) in a glass box on a cement pedestal right by the mission, where you could watch the needle as it scratched up and down with the beat of every underground tremor.  It looked kinda like this:

and a tremor looks like this:

seismographic recording

I thought the seismograph had been vandalized and destroyed some years ago, but checking just now it appears to have been moved to a safe location inside the mission.  They say we’re ready for another Big One… although we did have a local Big One in 1989 – the Loma Prieta quake.  They called it a 7.1 at first but later downgraded it to 6.9.  It was real scary.

It was too early for Daisy’s to be rockin’ out that day, but evenings and weekends the place is jammed with bikers, along with sixty or seventy Harleys and other scooters parked out front.

old school bikers

plaza-hall

The above building is Plaza Hall, built in 1868. It faces the Mission across a large grassy square. Before that, it was an old adobe building which may have housed cavalrymen, and even earlier served as a monjerio or dormitory for unmarried mission Indian women. In 1868 those same adobe bricks were used to form the ground floor of a two-story building that was planned to be the courthouse of newly established San Benito County. Lucky for us, “when Hollister was chosen as the county seat in 1870, the first floor of Plaza Hall was modified to serve as a hotel and later as the residence of the Zanetta family, while the second floor was used for public meetings and celebrations. Laid over 30-foot-long redwood beams, the floor of the upstairs hall had good “spring” and therefore became famous as a dance floor.

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Many a grand ball was held there as were political rallies, temperance meetings, traveling shows, and gatherings of local groups such as the volunteer firemen.” San Juan Bautista can rightly boast of having the oldest dance hall in California. When I was dancing with the Alta California Dance Company we held numerous Californio style balls and fandangos there, with live period music.  [cf: San Juan Bautista Plaza Historic District]

Sometimes we also danced in the bar of the Plaza Hotel, across the street.  The Californio era dates from the first Spanish presence, established by the Portolá expedition in 1769. During that period Catholic missions were built up and down California, following El Camino Real, each a day or two’s journey apart. 

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California became part of the US in 1848, after the Mexican-American war and the Gold Rush, that large-scale western migration lasting more than a hundred years. California officially became a state in 1850. Beautiful melting pot of immigrants… let’s keep it that way!

Next door to Plaza Hall are the old stables with an amazing collection of antique carriages, wagons and buckboards.

This one’s seen better days:

I’m guessing the lighting was oil back then.  See all the oil lamps?

Harness room.

Saddle room.

see the sidesaddle and the military saddle?

Tack room.

all kinds of bridles, bosals, bits and other stuff here

Last but not least, Santos’ favorite, the beer wagon.

We can’t wait to go back to San Juan Bautista.  If you go, and you’re hungry, JJ’s is the best burger place.  They have a to-die-for jalapeño cheeseburger, and you can get it with guacamole.

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Stay tuned for part 2 of our California trip: San Francisco, Monterey, Los Osos and San Luis Obispo, including tales of the ships boarded, the towns ransacked and burned, and other true episodes of pillaging and plundering by Argentine pirates on the coast of California!

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Santos at Mission San Luis Obispo

Oops! I almost forgot to add the photo with my cowgirl credentials. This darling with her mama is one of the many babies I raised and trained over the years.

cowgirl creds

Over and out from Buenos Aires!

International Women’s Day 2017

March 12, 2017, was International Women’s Day in Buenos Aires.  Women and men, young and old alike, from all walks of life, marched to reclaim our rights and privileges as women.

International Women’s Day, Chile

Women’s rights are human rights.

The march started in Congreso … 

But in these troubled times, as our world becomes more unpredictable and chaotic, the rights of women and girls are being reduced, restricted and reversed.  Empowering women and girls is the only way to protect their rights and make sure they can realize their full potential. 

the beautiful Senate building could use a little TLC.

Women’s legal rights, which have never been equal to men’s on any continent, are being further eroded. Women’s rights over their own bodies are questioned and undermined.

Migration is a human right.

 

Science teachers marching.

Historic imbalances in power relations between men and women, exacerbated by growing inequalities within and between societies and countries, are leading to greater discrimination against women and girls.

Casa de Teresa, a cultural center in Abasto, & Casa Popular Camilo Cienfuegos in Lanús.

Around the world, tradition, cultural values and religion are being misused to curtail women’s rights, to entrench sexism and defend misogynistic practices.

Enough Femicide Already! Justice for Paula!

Women are routinely targeted for intimidation and harassment in real life and in cyberspace.

100% Diversity and Rights! All Rights for All!

In the worst cases, extremists and terrorists build their ideologies around the subjugation of women and girls and single them out for sexual and gender-based violence, forced marriage and virtual enslavement.

Buenos Aires is home to many displaced Bolivians.

Despite some improvements, leadership positions across the board are still held by men, and the economic gender gap is widening, due to outdated attitudes and entrenched male chauvinism.

Red banners filled la Avenida de Mayo.

We must change this, by empowering women at all levels, enabling their voices to be heard and giving them control over their own lives and over the future of our world.

CTA = Argentine Trade Union Federation

Denying the rights of women and girls is not only wrong in itself; it has a serious social and economic impact that holds us all back.  Gender equality has a transformative effect that is essential to fully functioning communities, societies and economies. 

Communist Party marching for Women’s Rights

Women’s access to education and health services has benefits for their families and communities that extend to future generations.  An extra year in school can add 25% to a girl’s future income. 

Artists & Craftspeople in the Fight for Women’s Peace & Dignity

When women participate fully in the labour force, it creates opportunities and generates growth.

Confederation of Informal Economy Workers

Increasing the proportion of women in public institutions makes them more representative, increases innovation, improves decision-making and benefits whole societies. 

Women Against the Ajuste (Adjustment: when the government spikes prices of basic necessities such as food, gas and utilities, &/or devalues the peso.)

Gender equality is central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the global plan agreed by leaders of all United Nations member countries to meet the challenges we face.

In Memory of Agustín Tosco (1930 –  1975), beloved Argentine union leader, an important participant in the historic uprising known as the  Cordobazo.  [see my recent post on Córdoba]

Ni Una Menos (Not One Woman Less) – the State is Responsible

On International Women’s Day, let us all pledge to do everything we can to overcome entrenched prejudice, support engagement and activism, and promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. We must move from ambition to action.  

The above is a partial transcript of the UN Secretary-General’s message for International Women’s Day, published on March 6, 2017

el Che in blue

“You should never let your fears prevent you from doing what you know is right.”  –  Aung San Suu Kyi

Human Rights do not need a Passport

“Well behaved women rarely make history.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Red Dignity

“Extremists have shown what frightens them most: a girl with a book.” – Malala Yousafzai

All Genders Front

“A woman is like a teabag – you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.”  – Eleanor Roosevelt

Legalize Abortion – Bread for Sale

“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”  J.K. Rowling

Fuck the Patriarchy

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”  Mother Teresa

A pretty woman is one who fights…. Ni Una Menos!

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

Graffitti artists working hard, having fun and defending women’s rights.

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” – Audre Lorde

“I am Woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal Woman,

that’s me.”

– Maya Angelou

“Animala” with a few letters reversed… how cool is that?

“Do not wait for someone else to come and speak for you.  It’s you who can change the world.”   – Malala Yousafzai

One Femicide every 24 hours: we want to Live!

“I raise up my voice … so that those without a voice can be heard… we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”  – Malala Yousafzai

We Want to Live!

“I hope the fathers and mothers of little girls will look at them and say, “yes, you can.”  Dilma Rousseff

Justice for Caro Saracho

 

Journalists and media interviewing marchers

”I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” – Audre Lorde

Sorry to bother you, but they’re killing us!

“Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.”  – Cheris Kramarae

Mothers marching for a future without drugs and violence.

“A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman.” – Melinda Gates

“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” – Pablo Picasso

I dress how I like, and I undress with whoever I like.

“The enemy is not lipstick, but guilt itself; we deserve lipstick, if we want it, AND free speech; we deserve to be sexual AND serious – or whatever we please. We are entitled to wear cowboy boots to our own revolution.” – Naomi Wolf

Caution: Women Fighting Back!

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the horns.  Life’s a bitch.  You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” – Maya Angelou

Puppet theatre…

“I myself have never able to find out precisely what a feminist is.  I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”  – Rebecca West

Not one immigrant less!

Uh-oh!  Women making trouble!  Reading books?  Writing on the walls?  What will they think of next?  What can we do to stop them?  Go, girls!

“To the walls, young women of art!”  –  Miss•Tic

Passing the Obelisco

“I always felt that the movement was a kind of collage.  Each of us puts in one little stone, and at the end you’ve created a beautiful mosaic .”  – Alice Paul

“The working woman… source of inexhaustible reserves of devotion, abnegation and self-sacrifice.”

stickers for sale – working the informal economy

 “Humor is one of the best ingredients of survival.” – Aung San Suu Kyi

Some good Buenos Aires BBQ will keep you going when the going gets tough.

live street painting … 

“I am a woman with thoughts and questions and shit to say.  I say if I’m beautiful.  I say if I’m strong.  You will not determine my story – I will.”  – Amy Schumer

Lesbian Visibility Day

“We get it: people in olden times drank too much, had wild sex, got naked and wrestled in the streets, and on special days dressed up as barnyard animals and summoned the god of hellfire. Now, we sit at work all day looking at stuff on the internet, then go home and look at stuff on the internet. This is called ‘progress.’ It is widely considered to be some sort of achievement.”  – from the bulletin of the Jane Austen Society

“Defiance” Women’s Collective, a Theater of the Oppressed

As miles of marchers passed by, a talented theater group entertained us by staging live performance art in the plaza of the legendary downtown boulevard, el 9 de Julio.

 

A rich bitch with her oppressed maid on a leash.

 

A pregnant woman at the mercy of her disinterested doctors.

 

Men making fun of a woman in chains.

 

A circle of women enslaved by another woman..

 

Street performances by Colectivo Fin del Mundo. Awesome!

 

Note the traffic advisory along Avenida del Mayo: Total Shutdown on Account of Demonstration

“I am not an angel and do not pretend to be. That is not one of my roles. But I am not the devil either.  I am a woman and a serious artist, and I would like to be judged as such.”  – Maria Callas

The Metropolitan Police reported a few disturbances at the end of the march.  Five or six women wearing black hoods ripped off their bras, set them on fire, and threw them at the doors of a church.  The official estimate was more than 25,000 marchers.  Other sources reported thousands more.  All in all, it was a glorious day for women here in the Lejano Sur – the Southern Cone of South America.

I’m closing with some impressive shots from International Women’s Day all over the world:

International Women’s Day, Istanbul

International Women’s Day, Melbourne

International Women’s Day, Poland

International Women’s Day, Mexico

International Women’s Day, Rome (“Global Women’s Strike”)

International Women’s Day, Philippines

International Women’s Day, USA

International Women’s Day, Denmark

International Women’s Day, Cyprus

International Women’s Day, Madrid

International Women’s Day, USA

To all my Sisters, REMEMBER:

“You are a being of Light… a messenger of Light… a keeper of Light… and a Life-Giver.  

Sparkling light scintillates before you as you walk.  

Sparkles dance about you as you move.

Mother Earth, la Pachamama, Creator of all Life, gave you the gift of Light to illuminate our world and bring Light into each and every Heart.

Blessings be upon you and yours!”

 

 

 

 

 

Over and Out from Buenos Aires

Beware of  Women Reading Books!        

 

Córdoba: Hotel Nazi, la Salamanca, and Other Tall Tales and Adventures

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The city of Córdoba, capital of the province of Córdoba, Argentina, was founded on July 6, 1573 by Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera, a Spanish conquistador.  Cabrera named the city after Córdoba, Spain.  Córdoba was one of the first Spanish colonial capitals of the region that is now Argentina (the oldest city is Santiago del Estero, founded in 1553).   The U of Córdoba is the oldest university in the country and the second oldest in Latin America.  It was founded by the Jesuits in 1613.

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Córdoba has many historical monuments preserved from Spanish colonial rule.  The most recognizable is perhaps the Jesuit Quarter (la Manzana Jesuíta), declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. 

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This beautiful barrio consists of a group of buildings dating from the 17th century, including the Colegio Nacional de Monserrat and the colonial university campus.

recova Plaza San Martín

recova Plaza San Martín

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In January we flew up north to the province of Córdoba. The original Córdoba, in Andalusia, Spain, was built by the Romans and conquered by Muslim armies in 711.  Córdoba became the capital of the Islamic Emirate and the Caliphate of Córdoba, which included a great swath of the Iberian Peninsula, not to mention my favorite Andalusian cities: Granada, Málaga, Sevilla.  According to archeologists, Córdoba had upwards of a million inhabitants in the 10th century, in a time when only one other European city had more than 30,000: Constantinople.

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Córdoba was famously cultured, enlightened and stunningly beautiful, and is credited, as I will illustrate, with jumpstarting the Renaissance.  The city was known for its gardens, fountains, artificial lakes and public baths fed by an aqueduct.  Muslims bathed daily, unlike their fragrant European neighbors who were averse to cleanliness, and instead resorted to the invention of perfume.

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General San Martín

During these centuries, Córdoba became a society ruled by Muslims, in which all other groups had second-class status but lived together in relative peace and poverty except for the noble classes, who were exempt from paying taxes.  Spain returned to Christian rule in 1236, during the Reconquista.  In 1492 Fernando and Isabella, los Reyes Católicos, forced all the Muslims, Jews, gypsies and other “deplorables” out of the country in the name of Catholicism.  (Many converted to Christianity to avoid being deported: los conversos)  The ebb and flow of tolerance seems to be a recurring pattern worldwide.  We humans just can’t seem to rise above the avarice, ego, and drive to dominate others, which is apparently encoded in our DNA.  History repeats itself. 

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Because of its enlightened rulers, Córdoba was home to a university, medical schools, a library of 400,000 volumes, and 27 free primary schools for children of the poor.  The literacy rate was high for both males and females …. encouraged by a famous king, Alfonso X, el Sabio.  Alfonso the “wise” was crowned in 1252. He is known for his interest in science and literature.  Under his rule, early Greek and Roman texts (Homer, Herodotus, Aeschylus, Euripides, Sappho, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, et al.) were translated into Castilian Spanish.  Alfonso X sponsored, supervised and often participated with his own writing and in collaboration with a group of Latin, Hebrew and Muslim intellectuals known as the Toledo School of Translators, in the composition of an enormous body of literature that kick-started the production of literature in Spanish as we know it today.

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Córdoba has many historical monuments preserved from Spanish colonial rule.  The Colegio Nacional de Monserrat and the colonial university campus, as I have mentioned, all date from the 17th century. The campus belongs today to the historical museum of the National University of Córdoba, which has been the second-largest university in the country since the early 20th century (after the University of Buenos Aires), in terms of the number of students, faculty, and academic programs.

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January and February is school-free summer vacation time here in the far southern latitudes.  Trees are in blossom all over the place.  The Córdoba countryside reminds me so much of California; the Santa Lucias, the Gabilanes, Los Padres, Ojai…  Seeing Córdoba adds life and depth to an understanding of our California missions.

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Isn’t she lovely?

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a Dominican convent in the Jesuit quarter

Segue to the 20th century: a beautiful bronze bas-relief in the historic quarter of Córdoba, dedicated to the women of Córdoba.  Just in time for International Women’s Day!

monumento a la Mujer Córdobesa

monument to the women of Cordoba, 1956

In case you might not know about or have forgotten about a very difficult period in Argentina, there is the Museo de la Memoria in Córdoba.  The coup d’etat of March 1976 was a civic-military rebellion that led to the establishment of a military junta, led by Lieutenant General Jorge Rafael Videla.  The junta called their state-sponsored terrorism the Process of National Reorganization.  People called it “la Dictadura” and “el Proceso.”  It was not the first, but by far the bloodiest dictatorship in the history of Argentina. [Wikipedia]

Museo de la Memoria

More than 30,000 people were “disappeared,” tortured and killed.  The junta remained in power until December 10, 1983, when Raúl Alfonsín was elected president by free and fair elections.  In Buenos Aires you will see many bronze plaques set into the sidewalks, in every neighborhood, where the names of the disappeared are listed, along with with the date they were kidnapped from their homes at that location.  On the facade of the Museo de la Memoria are hand-lettered the names of those who were “disappeared” in Córdoba.  I saw quite a lot of politically-inspired street art in Córdoba.  People having a voice is what democracy is all about.

we want to live   …    we exist because we resist

 

El Cordobazo: a student – worker uprising against a previous dictatorship in 1969.

When reality gets too depressing, you have to just forget about it all, for a while.  C’mon, let’s go dancing.

Saturday night Milonga in Plaza San Martín, Córdoba.

If you’ve got a bad case of the blues, and the Cathedral at Plaza San Martín is just too damn lovely, take a walk on the Goth side, near the Plaza España.  It’s absolutely wild!

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Gótica extremensus!

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You would think this cathedal, la Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón, was built in the 1700s… that’s what I thought!  I mean, it’s positively crawling with grotesque and beastly gargoyles.  But I was soooo wrong, just like the Beatles’ song.  Also known as the Iglesia de los Capuchinos (let’s just call it the Cappuchino church, even if it doesn’t have an espresso bar), it was built by the Franciscan order between 1926 – 1934.

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Gothic my ass!  The brickwork gives it away.  It’s pretty amazing, just the same.

Hmmm… prehistoric Legos?  Holy Friars!  What were they smoking?

Córdoba Day 1.

Our first destination in Córdoba was La Cumbre, a pretty little town 500 miles northwest of Buenos Aires.  We loved La Cumbre… we stayed there for a whole week.  You can keep your yurts… La Cumbre is the best base camp anywhere.  It’s friendly and picturesque, and the dozen or so sidewalk cafés and bistros serve up some really delicious food.  How about a plate of crusted stuffed Patagonian trout?  Rúcula and radicheta salad with caramelized pears and melted brie?  We’re talking’ some really good eats in this town, not to mention the BBQ, the empanadas, and the quintessential malbec: in vino veritas!  In La Cumbre the Tourism office doesn’t close till midnight.  Argentines are all about their night life!

La Cumbre

La Cumbre has a lovely willow-lined creek on the edge of town.  

la-cumbre-creek

We discovered the creek while wandering about town the next morning, trying to find the 10K trail we were told about.  It starts behind the statue of El Cristo Redentor and ends at the San Gerónimo reservoir.

el Cristo Redentor

It’s a 10 minute climb up a series of steps to get to the lookout.

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Nice view of La Cumbre.  The best part was getting to pet the adorable cuddly vicuña for 10 pesos.

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The trailhead starts right behind the statue and we nearly missed it, but our new friends, las Gaby, pointed out what looked like a rabbit trail going straight up, a few feet from the backside of Christ.  The four of us spent most of the day climbing with hands and feet up a narrow, rocky trail to the top of the ridge. Lush, grassy green hillsides with horses and burros grazing.  My kind of paradise!

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There was a cute burro hanging with the herd but he kept moving away and I couldn’t get a good shot.  As we climbed up the views of La Cumbre just got better and better.  Santos added the “the bear went over the mountain” to his repertoire of Latin American hiking music.  After living in Buenos Aires for most of the last 6 years  – that big beautiful cognitively-dissonant city that I love –  it was delightful to be up in the hills with the sweet air, the fresh breeze.  The  warmth of the sun was absoutely glorious.  A wonderfully healing and energizing day.

We had to ditch our sneakers and socks to ford a creek that was only a few inches deep.  Our happy feet dried in the sun as we kicked back in the tall grass munching trail mix.  We scrambled up faint paths on all fours, rock to rock, like, seriously climbing!  On the downhills we scampered and skittered like clumsy goats, concentrating on each split-second landing, not afraid, but keenly aware of the possible unfortunate consequences of one poorly placed foot.  Luckily I had brought along a good pair of hiking shoes, and with zen-like concentration I donned the spirit cloak of a mountain sprite.

We finally made it over the ridgetops and scrambled down, down, down to the San Gerónimo reservoir.   The water was still a little muddy from recent rains.

Dique San Gerónimo

Dique San Gerónimo after the rains

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web photo: cobalt blue water!

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a spillway: built to last!

It was about 4 pm when we made it to the reservoir.  After a short break our 4-person team set off down the dirt road towards La Cumbre. Riders on horseback passed us ponying a mare with a colt skittering alongside.  It was about a 4K walk into La Cumbre.  After a while we turned onto the main road (also dirt) and to our right was a sight for sore eyes: la Estancia Rosario!  It was a hot and sunny afternoon, and the gate was OPEN!

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La estancia welcomed us with beautiful sweeping lawns, benches all over the place, a café, a restaurant, huge nice restrooms, and a shop that sells an enormous variety of alfajores (saddlebags in english).  Alfajores are cookies sandwiched with jam or dulce de leche.  Sometimes the cookie dough is made from almond paste and nuts, or breadcrumbs mixed with honey and spices.  Speaking of breadcrumbs, I spent so much time in the ladies’ room washing off the sweat and trail dirt, and rebraiding my hair, that the team sent one of the Gabys to drag me out.  Then I had to stock up on alfajores… dulce de leche is my favorite, dusted with coconut instead of dipped in chocolate.  Estancia el Rosario makes the best alfajores I’ve ever had.  Ah, alfajor heaven!

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So, rested up, full tummy = happy heart.  We set off to hike the last couple of miles into La Cumbre.  Piece ‘a cake!  Flat, no stones in my passway….

Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues

Robert Johnson, 1911-1938, King of the Delta Blues

A stray dog decided to join our wolf-pac.com.  Maybe he liked the scent of dirt, dust and alfajores?  After awhile he changed his mind and headed back to his comfort zone.… the familiar.  He didn’t want anything weird to happen at the next crossroads.  Happens to all of us at some point, right?  If not, there may still be time…

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After a day of climbing nearly vertical rabbit trails, walking on the flat was sooo easy.  We were NOT complaining.  But then, as if the universe wanted to applaud our efforts, we heard a vehicle approaching, bouncing and jolting its merry way along the washboard.  We all turned to look.  It was a white ’64 Ford pickup.  Its driver spotted us and slowed down to have a look.  Three women and one guy.  The odds are good but the goods are odd!  Just kidding, he was a good guy.  There were 4 or 5 tires in the back of the truck which looked liked couch cushions to us.  Santos spoke to him, he gave a nod, and we jumped in.

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Gabriela la Morocha and Gabriela de Córdoba: las Gabys

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Back in town, we celebrated under the umbrella of a sidewalk cafe downtown with Quilmes, empanadas and a spiked mango licuado for yours truly. Good times and best friends forever!!

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Later on Santos and I drove to Cosquín to go to a peña.  What’s a peña?  It’s a club where you can sit and have a nice meal and a bottle of wine and listen to live folk music, and sometimes other local musical offerings.  Santos was really jazzed to go to Cosquín, because it’s THE center of Argentine folk music and dance, and he’s way into all that.  They have music festivals there all year round, and the biggest ones are broadcast live on Argentine public tv, night after night. 

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During the day they have rodeos where you can watch gauchos in Argentine style caps and sombreros ride outlaw bulls and broncs. It’s kinda funny for me cause, being a cowgirl myself, I’m used to American rodeos with clowns and dumb-ass announcers and lots of flag waving and team roping and steer wrestling, barrel racing and all the rest.  In Argentina, especially in the provinces, they’ve got guys riding broncs and bulls with folk singers singing at the same time!  Crazy!  But that’s how it’s done here.  Their rodeos are called domos.  Later on, for the folks at home, the tv broadcasts hours of folk dancing, all in very elaborate and beautiful costumes, very much like our baile folklórico in California and Mexico.

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dancing la Zamba at Peña La Salamanca

So that evening we went to la Peña Salamanca.  The food was great (we had locro, a traditional corn and beef stew) and there was a stream of different groups performing… a dozen at least.  It was the week leading up to the big festival weekend, so lots of performers were in town doing the rounds of the peñas.  We got up and danced to the chacareras, and when a group played some Piazzolla, we were the only dancers brave enough to get out there and show our stuff.  The audience went wild for us!!  Blame it on that bottle of tinto we were drinking.  

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The fact that we were visiting “la Salamanca” made Santos spill the stories his mom told him when he was little, about the Devil and la Salamanca.  

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According to the Santiagueño version, la Salamanca is a place where people go to make a deal with the devil (Zupay) in exchange for knowledge and powerful gifts.  La Salamanca is usually a cave in the mountains.  Zupay may teach the initiate the musical arts, such as playing the guitar or other instruments, dancing, horse breaking and training, or the evil arts of brujería (witchcraft).  Tradition tells that if you hear the music of la Salamanca, you will fall into an evil life, full of fear and horror.  People of good faith can avoid falling into the temptation of the Zupay by carrying a rosary.  It is said that those who have made a pact with the devil can be spotted because they cast no shadow.

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“As always, there are many versions of this legend, but most of them agree on the main points.  This story was well known in Spain during the 14th and the 16th centuries and was so famous that it went with the first Spanish sailors who took part in the colonization of Central and South America. This is why … people still refer to … caves and dark places as “Salamancas.” [spanishinspain.blogspot.com.ar]

While I was writing about la Salamanca an old Robert Johnson song came into my head.  I remember stuff like that instead of people’s names and what I had for breakfast.  Weird, right?  Are you seeing a connection here between the singer and la Salamanca?

          I got stones in my passway
And all my roads seem dark at night

          – Robert Johnson, “Stones in My Passway”

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[The following story is from Henry Goodman, excerpted from Vagabonding, Rolf Potts, June 26, 2015]

Meeting with the Devil at the Crossroads  

Robert Johnson been playing down in Yazoo City and over at Beulah trying to get back up to Helena, ride left him out on a road next to the levee, walking up the highway, guitar in his hand propped up on his shoulder. October cool night, full moon filling up the dark sky, Robert Johnson thinking about Son House preaching to him, “Put that guitar down, boy, you drivin’ people nuts.”

Robert Johnson needing as always a woman and some whiskey. Big trees all around, dark and lonesome road, a crazed, poisoned dog howling and moaning in a ditch alongside the road sending electrified chills up and down Robert Johnson’s spine, coming up on a crossroads just south of Rosedale. Robert Johnson, feeling bad and lonesome, knows people up the highway in Gunnison. Can get a drink of whiskey and more up there.

Man sitting off to the side of the road on a log at the crossroads says, “You’re late, Robert Johnson.” Robert Johnson drops to his knees and says, “Maybe not.”

The man stands up, tall and black as the forever-closed eyes of Robert Johnson’s stillborn baby, and walks out to the middle of the crossroads where Robert Johnson kneels. He says, “Stand up, Robert Johnson. You want to throw that guitar over there in that ditch with that hairless dog and go on back up to Robinsonville and play the harp with Willie Brown and Son, because you just another guitar player like all the rest, or you want to play that guitar like nobody ever played it before? Make a sound nobody ever heard before? You want to be the King of the Delta Blues and have all the whiskey and women you want?”

“That’s a lot of whiskey and women, Devil-Man.”

“I know you, Robert Johnson,” says the man.

Robert Johnson feels the moonlight bearing down on his head and the back of his neck as the moon seems to be growing bigger and bigger and brighter and brighter. He feels it like the heat of the noonday sun bearing down, and the howling and moaning of the dog in the ditch penetrates his soul, coming up through his feet and the tips of his fingers through his legs and arms, settling in that big empty place beneath his breastbone causing him to shake and shudder like a man with the palsy. Robert Johnson says, “That dog gone mad.”

The man laughs. “That hound belong to me. He ain’t mad, he’s got the Blues. I got his soul in my hand.”

A few more notes about the legend of Robert Johnson, the blues guitarist who supposedly made a pact with the devil to become the greatest blues guitarist of all time.  Robert was the 11th (and illegitimate) child of a poor Mississippi family.  He was 17 or 18 when he found out the name of his biological father, and he then took on his real father’s last name.  Robert married at 19.  Perhaps due to bad luck, as some say, his wife Virginia died in childbirth, losing the baby, too.  She was only 16.

A few years later,  Johnson made the mistake of fooling around with the wife of the owner of a club where he was playing.  The outraged husband sent a bottle of poisoned whiskey to Robert’s table.  Apparently Robert drank a fair amount of that whiskey, ’cause later that evening he stopped playing, walked outside, and passed out.  He died three days or two weeks later, as the tale spins, from the strychnine-laced whiskey.

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Everyone knows a deal’s a deal, especially if it’s a deal with el diablo.  When your time runs out, you’re done.  Robert didn’t collect a lot of time in this world, but the devil sure got his due.  That’s the story of Robert Johnson, part history and part fiction.  For me, the truest part is the mesmerizing sound of his soulful voice, the genius of his music and his technical skill on the guitar, for all of which he earned the title “King of the Delta Blues.”

          I went down to the crossroad

          fell down on my knees

          I went down to the crossroad

          fell down on my knees

          Asked the lord above “Have mercy now

          save poor Bob if you please”

          – Robert Johnson, “Crossroad Blues”

[Check out this YouTube history in Spanish: Historias y Relatos – El Pacto de Robert Johnson]

Did we earn our Adventuresome Tourist badges on day 1?  Yikes!  Segue to another sketchy location about 30 miles away:  La Falda.  Home to the  decrepit, deteriorating, notorious Hotel Eden, the world-famous Nazi vacation retreat and watering hole.  Córdoba Day 2.

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Hotel Eden is an enormous building… about the same size as the Hotel Palace.  But you can’t book a room; it’s actually not habitable.  The second floor has big holes in the floors and walls, so the guided tour only took us up the decaying stairs (that was scary!) to the 2nd floor landing.  The hotel hasn’t been open for business – except guided tours – for many years. 

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view from the back

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section of the ground floor

The main event was a long boring documentary about all the rich Germans who stayed there before the war.  Albert Einstein did visit the hotel in 1925.  It was widely rumored that Hitler was also a visitor but there is no supporting evidence.

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Santos and his brother Einstein, 2017

During Einstein’s visit to Argentina he met with an Argentine physicist, Enrique Loedel Palumbo, who had written his doctoral thesis on the optical and electrical constants of sugar cane.  Is that, like, what color is it and can it bite you back?  According to Wikipedia, the two had a conversation about the differential equation of a point-source gravitational field, which resulted in a paper published by Loedel in Physikalische Zeitschrift.  I’m guessing that was a German scientific journal.  It’s claimed that this is the first research paper on relativity published by a Latin American scientist.  You go, Enrico!

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Enrique Loedel Palumbo, 1925

Another influential character, George Strausser Messersmith, was the U.S. ambassador to Austria, Cuba, Mexico and Argentina.  Messersmith also served as head of the U.S. Consulate in Germany from 1930 to 1934, during the rise of the Nazi party.  He was best known in his day for his controversial decision to issue a visa to Albert Einstein to travel to the United States.  Good move for the USA!  ICE, get a clue!

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George Strausser Messersmith

As America’s consul general in Berlin in 1933, Messersmith wrote a dispatch to the State Department that dramatically contravened the popular view that Hitler had no consensus among the German people and would not remain in power, saying,

“I wish it were really possible to make our people at home understand how definitely this martial spirit is being developed in Germany. If this government remains in power for another year, and it carries on in the measure in this direction, it will go far toward making Germany a danger to world peace for years to come. With few exceptions, the men who are running the government are of a mentality that you and I cannot understand. Some of them are psychopathic cases and would ordinarily be receiving treatment somewhere.” [Wikipedia]

We enjoyed walking about the ruins of the pool and adjacent servants’ quarters.  Guys on one side of the pool, girls on the other.  How convenient is that?  How about I swim over to your place later, baby?  Our tour guide, noting the sparse accomodations of the maids who took care of the children of rich Germans, and their proximity to the equally spare quarters of the male wait staff, gave rise to amusing speculation about how much hanky panky was going on after hours under the noses of the fat cats.

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The scariest part of the Nazi hotel tour, besides the mala onda (bad vibes – which apparently have at least an 80 year half-life), was the crowded squeeze of our tour group into a basement wine cellar full of empty wine bottles arranged into low walls on every side, kinda like the bones in the Paris Catacombs.  Spooky. 

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The last and worst part of our 60 peso tour included a wine and cheese tasting in the bodega.  A little taste was all there was.  A 3 oz. plastic cup half full of an unidentifiable anemic red wine, and a piece of cheese literally no bigger than my pinky fingertip.  No little toothpicks, no cute little umbrellas; 50 tiny cheese bits piled on a wooden board so you had to grab a morsel with your fingers, touching many other cheese bits in the process.  Yikes!  Where’s the city health inspector?  Where’s the building code inspector?  AWOL and for good reason.

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After waiting 20 minutes in line for the formidable aperitif, we had to do a U-turn and leave the way we entered.  There was only one staircase, and it was barely wide enough for 2.  If there had been a fire or an earthquake, we would all have been buried under that low-ceilinged hell hole, like so many cans of bait.  No wonder the municipality of La Falda washed its hands of the hotel, and left its care and upkeep in the hands of a park concession business: imagine Curry Village in Yosemite turned into a FEMA shelter. 

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We couldn’t wait to get the hell out of La Falda.  Others seem to like it just fine… dozens of cafés and food joints lined the road up to Hotel Eden, and they were all jumping.  We grabbed a parking spot, walked into a place across the street, found a quiet booth in the back, and zoned out.  We took our sweet time consuming a plate of fries and cool drinks, basking in the A/C.  (It was a hot day in La Falda.)  When we finally made our way back to the rental car, we found a small dent in the front fender.  Did some lurking evil spirit follow us back from the Nazi Hotel?  

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One of the young guys who works at the hotel spotted us trying to pop out the dent in the parking lot when we returned that evening.  The next morning he brought over a dent restoration specialist friend.  They restored the fender to near perfection in about 5 minutes… and didn’t charge us anything.  Another star for the Palace Hotel!

On Córdoba Day 3 our first stop was El Cajón Reservoir, just a few kms north of La Cumbre.  We spotted a dirt road leading towards the river that spills out of the reservoir to the south.  We rattled along that first dirt road and finally got to the creek, but there was no place to park except sand dunes, and only one sketchy turnaround.  Later we realized we could have just parked in the road and waded across the river.  No problem blocking traffic at a dead end.

But I was a little shook up from all the big potholes and treacherous sandy spots.  So we headed back to the highway and took our best shot at the next dirt road.  Bingo!  It seemed like a long ways and practically all washboard, but finally we found the river crossing.  I parked on the other side, pointed in the return direction.  I always like to be ready to get the hell outta Dodge; must be all those 007 movies I grew up watching.

Río Dolores diquecito El Cajón

We were delighted to find ourselves in a nearly empty riverside retreat with a few acres of natural lawn sloping gently down to the water.  Families and kids were up and at it, splashing around in the water, and a couple of barbecues were already in high gear, making us hungry.   As we walked upstream I was blown away by the number and size of my namesake trees along the river.  Do you remember Kenneth Grahame’s famous children’s book, The Wind the the Willows?  Almost all the characters are animals.: Ratty, Mr. Badger, Mole, Otter, Mr. Toad of Toad Hall, and a “mixed lot” of rabbits and squirrels, weasels and stouts.  Nice to catch a glimpse into the willowy land of make-believe.

“Please, Ratty, I want to row!”

 

grandma willow

There was a little snack shack where we bought sodas and choripan.  If you’ve never had a choripan I feel really sorry for you.  Think Ray’s Own Brand Pork Sausage from San Luis Obispo, hot and juicy in a french roll with a little salsa criolla on top.  Extreme yumminess.  Actually they weren’t the best choripanes ever.   That honor goes to the first one I ever tried, at an authentic gaucho asado in the middle of a day-long ride in Bariloche, in 2012.

Santos and I sat in the shade of a willow to eat our choripanes.  Then we strolled upriver aways to get our bearings.  We didn’t go in the water, cause we hadn’t brought towels or swim clothes, but we lounged contentedly in the sun, like a couple of cats.

Rio Dolores choripan shack

We eventually hit the road, cause we had a number of places we wanted to check out.  We stopped in Los Cocos.  It was perhaps once a quaint town but shows every sign of death by tourist trinket shop overdose.  They have a pretty park that you have to pay to go in.  It looked nice from the sidewalk, but we didn’t take the bait.  You can also pay for a ski lift ride (el teleférico) that hauls you up and down the mountain.  Instead we stopped for coffee in a quiet café that had a shady deck and a resident feline.  That was the best of Los Cocos. 

We continued north to Uritorco, a peak known for its healing energies, complete with a creek for swimming.  It’s all private land so you have to pay for the privilege of river access.  We paid the man, parked, and walked along the river a ways.  There were lots of people camped there.  We wanted to hike to the top, only about a half hour hike, but turns out it cost extra!  We hit the road again.  

I guess I’m used to the immense free, or nearly free, state, county and national parks we have in the U.S.  The concept of private land on mountain tops seems odd.  But we had ol’ Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir and Aldo Leopold.  They set the standard for all time. 

Rio Quilpo, San Marcos Sierra

Santos and I headed north again, this time to that quintessential hipster paradise and land of enchantment, San Marcos Sierra.  A little ways off the beaten track, but not too hard to find.  The roads of San Marcos Sierra are unpaved, but there is wifi, and I hear they’re putting in their first stoplight.

Like most colonial towns San Marcos Sierra is built around a big square.  There’s lots of tall trees and a few patches of grass… some of it cannabis, judging from the lingering scent about town.  San Marcos Sierra really is a hippie magnet.  The local economy depends on apiculture (bees and honey), olives, goat cheese, and tourism.  You can rent a room, a tent, a sleeping bag.  The beach along Rio Quilpo is a big draw.  We saw hippie grandmas herding their grandkids to the beach and back.  Reminds me of California beaches in the sixties and seventies, minus the sand.  

Río Quilpo swimming hole

We had coffee and medialunas at a cute place in the shade across from the church.  I read that the local environment is pure and unspoiled.  They probably have a town ordinance prohibiting pesticides.  That explains the clouds of flies buzzing around everywhere.  Nice idea but things can get out of hand in that tropical heat.  We were under constant attack from the buzzing little black nano-drones.   I always used fly spray on my horses – maybe that’s why my brain has more than a few crossed wires.  

The Río Quilpo is crystal clear.

I guess the town looked a lot different 400 years ago.  Amazing that this beautiful colonial church survived. 

San Marcos Sierra church

 

church interior

We walked to the river and found a few rocks to sit on.  Santos sat in the shade with his back against the riverbank, and I found a quiet spot below where I sat on a rock with my feet in the water, reading.   There were whole families camping in tents above the riverbank, kids playing in the water.

reading Middlemarch by George Eliot

I had a lovely time reading by the river for a couple of hours, with my toes in the water.  That alone was worth the journey.  I’m not sure what Santos was up to, but it turns out he took a few surrepticious photos.  Friends wanted to know what huge book I was reading.  Middlemarch, by George Eliot (an English woman writer), published in the 1870s.  I was reading it cause I heard it’s considered the greatest novel in the English language.  But no, not my cup of tea.  I found it monotonous and depressing, like a Downton Abbey episode that keeps repeating.  Nowhere near as good as the novels of Jane Austen.  If you’re into 18th century British women’s literature, I did enjoy this good critical comparison of both novelists: “Without Austen, No Eliot,”  Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker,  Jan. 28, 2013. 

Later we walked into a few shops looking for algarrobo flour for Santos’ homemade bread.  They grind the algarrobo pods into a delicious dark brown flour.  In San Marcos Sierra we parked the car, walked around town, splashed in the river and no one charged us anything.  Way to go!  Santos wanted to try the locally brewed beer, but the pub was closed for mid-day siesta.  Wow.  This town is nothing if not laid-back.  We had to be satisfied with a photo of the Quilpo microbus, and a glimpse into the Hippie Museum.  

Museo Hippie  …  Peace and Love!

We got a bit lost heading back to La Cumbre that evening.  Blame it on all that lovely sunshine making algarrobo guacamole of our brains.

On Day 4 we spent a couple of hours swimming and lounging around by the pool.  Later on we went for a 10K ride.  Late afternoon drifted into sundown as we climbed up the high ridges.  For the first hour or so we followed twisting dirt roads wide enough for vehicles.  We forded a lot of creeks.  Our horses were amazing.  They had one speed, and it was non-stop.  They never slowed down unless asked.  Higher up we forded stony streambeds and clambered up rocky, slippery trails; those criollo horses never missed a beat.  Best trail horses I’ve ever rode, and I’ve been riding since I was a wee one!  Santos, who grew up playing hooky in the dirt streets of the barrio, had no riding experience whatsoever.  But after the first half hour he was sitting his horse really well.  A natural, that guy.  Santos is the Man. 

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our horses Zamba & Gurí

We rode past ranches, a polo field, and 3 or 4 drop-dead gorgeous homes straight out of the magazines.  We were met with plenty of attention by 3- and 4-packs of dogs.  The horses were unfazed. 

polo field @ Estancia La Triana

polo field @ Estancia La Triana

Our trusty guide, Pedro, had the keys to multiple gates crossing private ranches, enabling us to continue ever onward and upward.  Climbing the last few switchbacks up to a trail along the ridge, I spotted a faint crescent of moon topping a far ridge.  The rising full moon gleamed incandescently.  The moon’s powerful presence hijacked me to another realm of consciousness, where I remembered just how small and insignificant we humans are in the grand scheme of things.   I felt as if I was light years away from civilization.  A magical moment, indeed.

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The moon lit our way as we rode along the hills and ridges above La Cumbre.  By the time our horses began to pick their way back down the rocky paths it was getting late.  The meandering trails turned into broad, well-travelled dirt roads leading to town.  We walked back to our hotel, dog-tired.  We celebrated the great ride and moon viewing with shots of Tequila.  We rested and showered and went out for midnight pizza at Rhapsody, a hoppin’ joint just across the street from the Hotel Palace.  The sidewalk tables were all full but for one… the one that was waiting for us.  We shared a Rhapsody specialty, pizza al fuego… with their special spicy jalapeño sauce.  Así nos gusta!

Córdoba Day 5:   Cuesta Blanca

The four of us renewed our mountain climbing skills the very next day.  It was a long drive… almost 2 hours.   A typical LA commute, right?  We had to pass through the city of Carlos Paz, which we didn’t like much.  We had already driven about an hour south towards Córdoba, and we needed a coffee break.  We found a place to park, close to where I took this photo.  Then we hoofed it 4 or 5 blocks to the main drag where we claimed a couple of tables at a sidewalk café.  The good thing was we had a spot in the shade, and the waiter didn’t waste any time bringing our café con leche, jarrito, lágrima, café solo, cortado, etc.  Argentine coffeespeak: it’s another language.  But Carlos Paz was hypercrowded, noisy, full of traffic fumes and annoying trucks blasting promotions from loudspeakers.  El infierno. 

with las Gabys in Carlos Paz

with las Gabys in Carlos Paz

We drove out of that hell hole all the way to Cuesta Blanca, the Hippie Beach or La Isla Hippie, as some call it.  There are only two ways in. 

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First you have to drive up a steep, twisty, dusty dirt road for a few miles, till the road drops back down to a spot near the river.  You hike to the dam, then uphill to the top of the dam – 5 minutes –  where a guy paddles you upriver in his canoe to the beach landing.  

Some folks don’t bother hiking in; they just splash around below the dam.

The second way in (or out) is a 40 minute hike up and over a steep hill; a snaky, rocky trail full of brush and boulders.  We took the canoe.  I love the slow, steady drifting along, riding the water.  Easier than swimming and you can bring all your gear. 

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a glimpse of Cuesta Blanca from the top of the dam

 Check out these horses!  How beautiful is that?

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Cuesta Blanca is an idyllic, laid back, no rules but respect others and pack out your trash kinda place. If you need to use the restroom you have to take a hike, ’cause this site is privately owned and wonderfully unspoiled.  We swam, sunned, kicked back in the shade, lunched on salame and bread and cheese and drank vino tinto.  A really cool place, and not in the guidebooks.  It was las Gabys who knew how to get there.

Santos took this awesome shot

Playa Hippie from the other side, upstream

When you get to the top you’re rewarded with a view of the whole scene.  Quite a few people bring tents and kids and stay for days.

We paid 50 pesos apiece for the canoe ride, and returned via free climb, as you can tell in the above photo because the sun was setting when we left.  None of us had thought to bring a flashlight… hey!  We’re on vacation!  We don’t need no stinkin’ flashlights!! 

la Casa Jipi along the path to Cuesta Blanca

la Casa Jipi along the path to Cuesta Blanca; 4-legged guardian on watch duty

The light was fading as we hiked out, and we had to backtrack several times to find the trail.  But we made it back to La Cumbre just fine, later that evening.  The four of us went out for beer and empanadas, and I had my fruit smoothie.  We had to put up with a karaoke bar on the sidewalk at the café next to our café, where we listened with amusement to the assorted bunch of nut cases who thought they could sing.  That put us in an entertaining mood, and las Gabys wanted to take us to their new favorite bar around the corner from the Palace, la Biblioteca.  They had been in there a few days before and the bartender had refused to make them Daquiris.  “No es para vosotras, señoritas,” he told them, “Es un trago muy macho.”  (“It’s not for you, ladies,” he told them, “It’s a very macho drink.”)  We decided to head over to la Biblioteca and show them how girls can throw down tequila shots.  Mission accomplished.  Delicious with a good kick in the ass!

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Our last two nights in Córdoba we stayed in the capital, right in the historic district.  We ate out at nice cafés and restaurants and walked all over town.  I used to dread getting lost in strange cities, but I’m beginning to realize it can be a fine and passionate experience of the here and now.  And if I have someone to keep me company I don’t end up in a panic with tears running down my cheeks.

dancing la Zamba in Plaza San Martín

 

Over and out from Córdoba, Argentina

Two Uruguays

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Lately I’ve been reading too much news, and none of it is encouraging.  The loud little voice inside my head wants to scramble off the map and hide out somewhere for a couple of milennia.  A few Portuguese on the other side of the Río de la Plata found their patch of paradise back in 1680, on a beautiful little spit of sand surrounded by water.  Manuel Lobo, founder of the colony, should be recognized as the inventor of modern soccer because he and the Spanish kept kicking ownership of la Colonia del Sacramento back and forth until 1828, with Brazil and Spain coaching.

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Full steam ahead to the 21st century.  Colonia became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and thus attained tourist trap status, but managed to maintain its sweet and idyllic vibe, keeping the plastic and trashy side of commercialism at bay.

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The polka dot place serves free art with every meal, and plenty of locally crafted cerveza.  A chopp [pronounced like the o in slope] is a draft beer; a choperia is a pub.

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In Colonia you can fish or picnic under a ceibo,

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or grab a cold one at the Casa Grande.

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There’s an ancient stone lighthouse (el faro) that you can climb up for the panoramic view,

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and cool vistas to the south, looking across the river towards Buenos Aires.

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The Basilica del Santísimo Sacramento was built by the Portuguese in 1808.

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I think it’s pretty cool.  Like the fountain, too.

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Colonia’s massive portals and high stone walls hide secrets and forgotten stories; maybe even pirate treasure!

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Felix Luna, Argentine historian and writer, lived here.  Santos really likes his books.

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We stayed at the Posada Don Antonio, which has a lovely breakfast room and a beautiful patio and pool.

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From there it’s a two minute walk to a quiet abandoned cala (cove),

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and just past it, a block or two from the water’s edge, you pass the old map of Colonia, embedded in a wall.

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The dock, on the sheltered side of the peninsula, was warm and sunny the day we visited.

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We had a snack at the polka dot place, in the shade of an ancient sycamore.

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Fast track to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. Montevideo has an historic district, la ciudad vieja, and parts of it are worth seeing.

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We took a tour of the neoclassical Teatro Solis, built in 1856.  Beautiful inside and out!  It belongs to the city now, and they have done much to repair and restore it. The list of world renowned singers, dancers and musicians who lit up the stage there is absolutely mind-blowing:  Sarah Bernhardt, Enrico Caruso, Arturo Toscanini, Ana Pavlova, Margarita Xirgu (actress and friend of Federico Gárcia Lorca), Rudolf Nureyev, Josephine Baker, actresses Lola Membrives and Eleonora Duse, dancers Isadora Duncan and Tórtola Valencia, Astor Piazzolla, and Italian actor and director Vittorio Gassman.

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There’s a couple of French style Baccarat crystal chandeliers inside which even I, lover of funky ranch and mission style, was drooling over.

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While the Big Baccarat might feel quite at home in the new winter white house (if it could stand the company) it would be be seriously slumming in my dream fixer-upper:

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Oops! Did I unconsciously lapse into an alternative reality?  I didn’t see that comin’… did you?

The tall white building in the background, across the plaza from the old customs house, is home to the mercado del puerto … where you can buy fruits and veggies, beef and freshly caught fish, and all the other stuff you’d rather not buy at the supermarket.  We did go to the supermarket a couple of times, and it was a nightmare. It was small, super jammed (the aisles were narrower than the legroom in economy class) and an altogether unpleasant experience.

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The old customs house is still beautiful:

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Back of the old customs house is the river, where a couple of pitiful boats were tied up. We went for a sunset happy hour cruise, live tropical music on deck.  I was hoping for a cocktail to go with the tropical beat, like a Mojito or a Daiquiri, but to my dismay they only serve beer and soft drinks.  I guess they don’t want customers drinking, dancing and falling overboard.  So who’s gonna feed the fish?

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The bronze horseman in Plaza Zabala is Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, founder of the city, who no doubt wrested the land single-handed from a bunch of native fishermen who were tragically underinformed vis-a-vis the use of explosive powders in modern colonial warfare.

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We heard rumors of a milonga at a place called La Pérez, and we found it, but there hadn’t been a milonga there for a really long time. However, checking the local milonga listings, La Perez is still happening, but at a place called Lo de Maria, on a different night.

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Undaunted, though it was Sunday, we did find a milonga: Joventango, at Mercado de la Abundancia.  Calle Aquiles Lanza 1290 esq San Jose.  9:30 pm – 2 am.

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The developed part of Montevideo, aka the banking district, rumored to be the Latin American version of a money laundering automat, like the Caymans, contrasts starkly with years of mismanaged and stalemated development.  Oops!  I forgot that’s called progress.

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Reminds me of Texas: saving unborn lives is a top priority, or so they say; but once those babies are born, hells’ bells kid, you’re on your own!  No guarantee of education, housing or healthcare or jobs… but you can carry a gun.  Here in Montevideo the ubiquitous A/C units look like a blight of tin boxes on the facades of almost every building.  When was the last time you bought a new car that didn’t come with air conditioning?

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Thankfully the local stevedores still have a labor union. The average daily pay is better than the minimum wage in Mexico.  Impressed?

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If you think President Ban/Trump is going to support the higher minimum wages the AFL-CIO or AFW will be asking for when they build all those new auto factories they’ve promised in Michigan, guess again. Maybe they’ll be relocated to Uruguay, now that Mexico won’t have us. ¡Pobre México, tan lejos de Díos, tan cerquita a los Estados Unidos! (Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the U.S.)

The “historic district” of Montevideo is block after block of hopelessly rundown and deteriorating buildings. Such a shame.

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Rumor has it that when the government expropriated most of the properties in la ciudad vieja, it was given to the military generals, who kept it but didn’t keep it up. Here you see the results. This story was told to us by someone who’s family has been living in the same house continuously for over 100 years.  And now I’ve probably said too much.

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Note the sign: no free parking on this street.  Gracias, mi general.

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This building’s classical beauty begs for restoration.  Somebody fix me up, please!

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Despite all the issues facing the people of Montevideo, they still have a collective sense of place:  I Love my Neighborhood!

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The upshot: of the two Uruguays, Colonia gets my vote.  The worst day in Colonia beats the best day in Montevideo.  Sorry, Montevideo!

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Happy to be back home in Buenos Aires

Stay tuned:  your travel guide to the beautiful province of Córdoba coming soon!

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Buenos Aires Between the Lines

At a gathering of Polacos and Porteños I was informed by a Polish writer that if I’m not sufficiently self-disciplined to crank out a daily blog post, like a serious writer, perhaps I should write novels.  I could follow my own rhythms without having to consider the reader’s expectations… hmmm… I guess I always had it backwards.  Aren’t novelists the serious writers?  Bloggers are another breed, a different species, a lower life form… qué no?

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maybe I could upgrade to graffiti artist?

I seem to spend most of my waking hours as if dancing tango was my profession.  Maybe addiction is the better word.  Everything else revolves around prepping for or recovering from my addiction.  Luckily, unlike other addictions, my “job” doesn’t involve robbery, hacking or hijacking to support my habit.  Add a boyfriend into the mix and there goes the hours that I, a “serious” writer with a “serious” Ph.D. (in literature, what else?) should be dedicating to my craft.

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Honk if you’re a Hippie!

Hanging out in cafés is another one of my addictions.  I like to walk around the city, tune into the vibe, see who’s been scribbling on the walls.  On a good day I can get some writing in, when I’m not busy radiocarbon dating adorable street artifacts:

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“AUTO BEING REPAIRED”

jaja very funny! Being repaired by little elves who work after midnight? And unfortunately all the fixes are magically erased when the sun comes up? Doesn’t sound like the works of elves to me… I think they’re Trolls!

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’63 Fiat?

A friend and I saw a guy at a café in my old neighborhood, across from el Palacio de los Patos, which I still frequent like a well-trained pet.  We were all sitting together, us girls on the inside and the guy with a dog at a table outside, only a wall of glass between us.  We watched him let his pint-sized dog sit on his lap and put its paws on the table. The dog had a little sweater on. The guy let the miniscule and misbegotten opportunist have the first bite of his medialuna. I think my jaw dropped, and not from hunger!  After that I had to quit looking.

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Wow… I draw the line at spoiling pets.  I don’t get how people can care more about their pets than the little kids going hungry or worse every day in less privileged parts of the world… or their own neighborhood.  Sorry to be so brutally frank, but… whatever happened to humanity?  What about the Golden Rule?  Treat others as you would be treated.  Love Thy Neighbor.  Corollary No. 1: Treat animals like animals; with love, respect, kindness, and well-maintained boundaries.  Eg: Trust in God and tie your camel.  Corollary No. 2: Back when we still lived in the caves, you didn’t let animals dominate you, or pretty soon they’d be having your liver for lunch.  Corollary No. 2 also applies to apocalyptic combovers.

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Back in the day great leaders UNITED people, not divided them

Segue to today’s geography Fact.  Please note: this is not a slippery political Fact. Nor is it a Wikipedia Fact, or even a Donald Trump Factette. (Or is that a Factoon?) This is a true Factazo… and you heard it here first: the one and only true Mecca of Tango exists in the city of Buenos Aires, that awesome and amazing metropolis 6,000 miles S.E. of San Luis Obispo, California.

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Buenos Aires’ quality of life is ranked 81st in the world, which ain’t bad. That makes it one of the best places to live in Latin America, with its per capita income among the three highest in the region. [Wikipedia, 2012]  Buenos Aires is the MOST visited city in South America (ahead of Rio de Janeiro) and the 3rd most visited city in Latin America, after Mexico City and Los Angeles.  (Yeah, you heard that right. LA has been a Latin American city since its inception.) About 13 million people live here in the greater metropolitan Buenos Aires.

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Buenos Aires defines itself as a multicultural city, being home to multiple ethnic and religious groups.  Several languages are spoken in the city in addition to Spanish.  This is because in the last 150 years the city, and the country in general, has been a major recipient of millions of immigrants from all over the world, making it a melting pot where multiple ethnic groups live together.  Buenos Aires is considered one of the most diverse cities in Latin America. [Wikipedia]

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Many Argentines are of Italian descent; the rest are Spanish, with a spattering of other nationalities, like the spots on an Appaloosa.  Many are criollos, persons of mixed Euro and indigenous blood, born in South America.  That’s why Argentines are so handsome, so beautiful.  It’s all about the mix!

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One of my favorite places to dance in Buenos Aires is Salón Canning… one of the most famous tango clubs in the world.  Not everybody loves it, some people think it’s stuck up and cliquey, and they’re right, too.  But the most fabulous dancers in the world go there to dance, to drink, to hang out with friends, to meet interesting foreigners and celebrate special occasions.  It’s THE place to see and be seen in Buenos Aires.

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Amen to that!

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Orquesta Típica el Pichuco at Salón Canning a couple of weeks ago

In case you’ve already forgotten your geography lesson, you’re not alone.  A survey of Canadian media consumption by Microsoft concluded that the average attention span has fallen to eight seconds, down from 12 in the year 2000. “We now have a shorter attention span than goldfish, the study found.” [The Eight-Second Attention Span, Timothy Egan, NYTimes, Jan. 22, 2016]  If they did a survey of presidential candidates that number would shrink by at least half. 

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Buenos Aires is about 6,000 miles southeast of San Luis Obispo, California.  But in energetic terms, like, cosmic vibrations, Buenos Aires, in fact all of Argentina, might as well be in an alternate reality.  Land of warm and friendly people, beautiful people, trees with big purple flowers (Jacarandá), trees with spiky trunks and pods of cotton popping out (Palo Borracho), plenty of rain all year round.  Land of vast prairies, unspoiled mountains, and abundant natural resources. Outdoor types come here for some of the most beautiful lakes and rivers and backcounty in the world… blue skies, good vibes, asados (BBQ) and Trout Fishing in America. 

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Lago Nahuel Huapi

The hypotheses of prominent scientific types submit that the cosmic Tango Zone is most commonly found in these latitudes, late at night, while staring into a big glass tube full of smoke and mirrors.  Some people in white jackets call it a telescope.  I call it a wine glass — or champagne if it holds lots of tiny bubbles — into which one can stumble … metaphysically if not literally … into dozens of milongas featuring live music every night of the week.  One of my favorites is El Tacuarí, a funky offbeat tango salón in a gritty, rundown, unpretentious barrio called San Telmo.

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Tacuarí 1557, San Telmo

Compared to Salón Canning, el Tacuarí inhabits a whole other universe.  It’s a down home kinda place, a real milonga del barrio.  Tacuarí is part of a collaborative organization of dancers, musicians, singers, artists, tango teachers, DJs, milonga organizers.  One of their newest events is a monthly Tango orchestra jam session, where musicians gather to play for friends, family, and fellow musicians and dancers.  I was there last Friday and it was phenomenal.  Four orchestras each played a 30 minute set: an exhilarating mix of traditional tango, vals and milonga, along with Piazzolla and other contemporary tango, all performed with the exuberance of youth and nuevo flavor. 

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The Tacuarí tango zoners appear to be mostly under 30; hip, cool youngsters, lots of scrubby looking guys and beautiful young women, a few middle-aged hipster intellectuals, the usual lefty mix.  

 

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El Tacuarí was so jammed it was almost a meleé.  A few dozen people spilled out onto the sidewalk in front; a happy, high-energy vibe filled the space.  Musicians and company started arriving before 10.  Beer, wine, sodas and empanadas were consumed at an alarming rate.  More tables and chairs kept appearing from behind the very tall curtains at the back of the dance floor.  The dance floor disappeared under the crowd.

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A group of leather-jacketed Fonzie types were standing around, beers in hand, by the doorway.  (Are they here for the music, I ask?  Of course not, says a friend, they’re here for the girls!)   There’s no scarcity of men who can dance in Buenos Aires.  The odds are good, and the goods are…. dark and handsome!

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The orchestras were electrifying.  Most of the musicians appeared to be under 30.  The music was awesome, the singers were really good, all of it as intense and passionate as the porteños who create it.  The evening just kept getting better.  Young unknowns = future giants.

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Tango is the heartbeat of Buenos Aires.  Tango was born here, and it still thrives.  UNESCO calls tango a national treasure.  Tango is rich, sultry, elegant, compelling.  What can I say about it?  My understanding is infantile compared to those who have grown up with it.  Let’s just say that the more you get into it, the more you see that it’s an enormous genre of music: complex, classical, orchestral, radiant and romantic, an entire world unto itself, with a long and fascinating history.

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What brings most people to that first tango class — is it the music? or the dance?  Everyone has their own story.  The more you get involved with tango, the more addicted you become.  Tango pulls you in, like a giant magnet; you just want more and more.  A beginning dancer — a principiante – learns a vocabulary of different steps and moves which the leader (usually a guy, but not always) puts together spontaneously as you dance.  There are no set choreographies in tango.  You have to practice long enough for the moves to become embedded in your muscle memory.  After the long and awkward early learning stage (aka Tango Hell…) you begin to put the moves together fluently and expressively.  Your inner response to the music is channeled through your outward expression. 

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If you’re a female principiante, let’s assume you can accept being led, perhaps in a way that is new and maybe out of your comfort zone.  As you and your partner begin to move together, you may need to channel some of your impulsive energy into the dance floor.  This will help you to connect and surrender to your partner’s interpretation of the music.  Your energies will blend, possibly approaching harmonic convergence.  OK, I’m having a little fun here, but it’s true.  You are approaching the celestial realm of tango.  It’s called Connection.

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Of course this happens.  It’s really so elementary, so fundamental to tango.  The follower acquiesces to the leader’s interpretation of the music.  You are dancing through his lens: his eyes, his body, his feeling.  He, in turn, responds to your interpretation of his lead… the energetic response creates a completely new blend which, being spontaneous and improvisational, is always moving, shapeshifting.  It’s a merging, an intimacy that is absolutely blissful.  Two become one.  Time and space collapse around you.  You and your partner exist in a timeless bubble, alone in the universe, but not  really alone.  You’re connected in so many ways: to each other, to the other dancers, to the music, the musicians, the sound waves pulsing through every molecule in your body; your feet are connected to the floor, caressing it;  the meaning and feeling of the lyrics deepens your understanding.  At some point in time you realize you’ve arrived.  You’re there.  You’re dancing Argentine tango.  The connection is everything.

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I apologize for not remembering the names of the orchestras.  I was tired, brain dead and happy but incoherent after 3 hours of classes with Ruth and Andreas and a glass of vino tinto.  Ruth’s women’s technique class is the best ever… picture a relentless 90-minute yoga / modern dance workout, in heels.  And you get to practice all those lovely adornments you’ve been wanting to learn.

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El Tacuarí is over 100 years old; it dates from 1910.  The original tile floors, brick bovedas, walls of hormigón; all a bit old and worn out.  Steel reinforcement cross beams were added at some point.  El Tacuarí has been renovated and updated many times… we’re talking past life experiences… previous incarnations… we all know how that goes.  Some of those lives were better than others. 

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But… BIG NEWS!!  As you may know, Argentine Tango was recognized by UNESCO in 2009 as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.  Tango informs a huge part of the cultural identity of Argentina and Argentines.  This year the City of Buenos Aires added El Tacuarí to the list of Tango cultural heritage sites.  This level of recognition by the city means that El Tacuarí will receive funding for restoration and preservation, as well as for modernization, including a new acoustic ceiling, improved ventilation system, and restoration of the original tile floor.

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Juan Manuel, the bearded piano player, looks like a runaway from Portland

“The music, dance and poetry of tango both embodies and encourages diversity and cultural dialogue.  It is practised in the traditional dance halls of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, spreading the spirit of its community across the globe even as it adapts to new environments and changing times.  That community today includes musicians, professional and amateur dancers, choreographers, composers, songwriters, teachers of the art and the national living treasures who embody the culture of tango.”  (unesco.org/culture)

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“The tango is one of the most significant expressions of Rio Platense culture.  During its beginnings at the end of 19th century, the tango was associated with the working-class sectors of the city of Buenos Aires and was thus rejected by the rest of society.  Only when it succeeded in Paris did it become universally accepted by the rest of the social classes. Throughout its history, it often moved from the main cultural stage to more low-profile venues.  Even then it was widely accepted because it was a musical and poetic expression which reflected the social transformations of the city, which moved from its origins on the banks of the river to the brothels, before becoming the property of the Guardia Vieja (the old guard, the generation of tango composers who worked between 1900 and 1930).  It is both a dance form and a song, and changed with the formation of tango orchestras and the development and evolution of an instrumental form.”  (atlasdebuenosaires.gov.ar

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“Each of these expressions had a social, a political, an economical and a cultural frame that shaped and explained it.  In each of these periods these expressions gave rise to spaces where they could be held or performed.  A place, a physical or geographical space, is full of a social meaning which confirms the presence and the identity of its bearers.  It is a place full of memories and affection which regulates interaction, evokes hierarchies and reminds us of those who are absent.” (Ibid)

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“Each of these places expresses a different moment in the development of tango and explains a different tradition in its use, in the construction of identities and relationships through time.  These places are historical.  They differ from each other.  They show the complex structure of the territory and of meeting points.  They express the Rio Platense identity and let others see our singularities, and they allow us to work at constructing our identity.” (Ibid)

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Raúl Bravo with Guillermina Quiroga

At El Tacuarí you can take classes with one of the greatest living tango teachers of all time. Raúl Bravo, maestro de maestros, has been teaching tango for 63 years.  Some years ago the city of Buenos Aires formally designated him a “national living treasure,” and I, along with countless others, have called him Maestro for many years.  Saturday night was Raúl’s birthday, and many tango greats danced for the crowd.  Besides Raúl’s birthday, we also celebrated the 7th anniversary of la milonga del Tacuarí.  Photos, videos, calendar of classes, milongas and shows can be seen on Raúl’s facebook page, and at El Tacuarí Tango.

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Raúl performed with Guillermina Quiroga

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Feliz Cumple, Maestro!

Gloria & Eduardo Arquimbau, Angela Ruth Manonellas & Andreas Erbsen, Nora Robles & Pedro Calveyra, Toto Faraldo, and el Pibe Sarandi are some of the other world class teachers at Tacuarí.  Classes are only 100 pesos (less than $7) for 90 minutes of the best tango instruction in the world. 

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Ruth and Andreas, owners, teachers and organizers of el Tacuarí, go off every winter to workshops and performance tours in Italy, Germany, and France.  They just returned a few weeks ago from their 2016 European tour.  Lucky them, since it’s summer in Europe when it’s cold and rainy here in Buenos Aires.  Argentine Tango teachers seem to go back and forth to Europe like you or I would go to the supermarket. The above and below photos were not taken last Saturday, but you get the idea…  they were spinning around too fast for my camera…. a stunning performance.  

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[I repeat, the above photo is NOT from last Saturday night!  [If you have video or stills from the event, please send them to me and I will update the post.  Same goes for the names of the orchestras and musicians.  I appreciate your collaboration.][Estimados amigos, si vos tenés vídeo o fotos del evento, por favor enviarmelas a mí y voy a actualizar el post. Lo mismo va para los nombres de las orquestas y músicos. Agradezco su colaboración.]

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Before closing I have sad news to report:  the death of Horacio Salgán, Argentine tango composer and pianist.  Adam Bernstein of the Washington Post wrote the obit, which I quote in part:  

“Horacio Salgán, an Argentine tango composer and pianist who helped broaden the vocabulary of his musical form and became one of the genre’s most influential and revered maestros, died Aug. 19 in Buenos Aires. He was 100. … Like his near contemporary Astor Piazzolla, Mr. Salgán cast a mesmerizing avant-garde spell on the tango that did not always enchant musical purists in his homeland.  …  Mr. Salgán helped to forge the vanguard of the “new tango” sound in the 1950s and 1960s in a way that was less about rebellion than about synthesizing his varied, somewhat un­or­tho­dox musical influences.”

“Among others, Mr. Salgán drew inspiration from the U.S. jazz shadings of Tommy Dorsey and Duke Ellington, classical works by Béla Bartók and Gioachino Rossini, Brazilian choros and sambas, and African percussive rhythms. The result was deemed too uncommercial for radio airplay at the start of his bandleading career during tango’s “golden age” of the 1940s.  … his best-known compositions — including “A Fuego Lento,” “Don Agustin Bardi” and “Grillito” — remain exquisite, even swooning, melodically.  In addition to writing hundreds of his own compositions, he also arranged older tango standards to suit his protean tastes.”

“Mr. Salgán, who found appreciative audiences in world capitals such as New York, Tokyo and Paris, survived the fickleness of musical tastes in his home country. By his 80s, he had outlived most of his peers and was revered in Buenos Aires as tango’s elder statesman.”

“As he shifted into composing, he called upon his grounding in the classics as well as his mulatto heritage — Catalan on his father’s side, mixed race on his mother’s. …  At 20, he played with Roberto Firpo, later with Miguel Caló.  “Ella Fitzgerald was reportedly so hypnotized that she recommended the duo to jazz impresario Norman Granz, who then produced their 1961 album ‘Buenos Aires at 3 a.m.’”

Here Bernstein quotes Salgán from Yale art historian Robert Farris Thompson’s book Tango: The Art History of Love:  

“Training in Western symphonic music opened up a whole world of harmony, orchestration and pianistic execution….  But there’s also a black dimension to my music. It’s not casual, nor flagrant, but part of my origin . . . my style and my truth.”… “There are many people who come to tango or to other music genres with the idea of innovation.  I came to tango neither to save it, nor for anything of the kind,” Mr. Salgán once told the Club de Tango magazine. “I, among other things, play all the genres — classical, jazz, etc. — but … have a respect almost religious towards music itself, because music is a bridge towards God. . . . What turned out came because I spontaneously so felt it.”

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Adios, Maestro!

 That’s all for now, folks.  Thanks for tuning in.  I always appreciate your thoughts and comments. 

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That’s me with Santos and Raúl.   Ciao from Buenos Aires!

 

Death on Pasaje Bollini

The other day I saw a dead man in the street.

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He had a book in his hand, and it wasn’t Alice in Wonderland. As I approached, I saw someone walking over to the body. Was he an innocent bystander?  A first responder?  An investigator?

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Maybe the man in the white trousers was a cold-blooded killer.  I sidestepped around the crime scene, hoping to pass for an innocent streetwalker. But I couldn’t avoid staring at the weird green light emanating from the cobblestones.

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The green light moved. White trousers was holding the light.  What did it all mean?

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Nice looking corpse. Was he really dead, or just playing possum?

El muerto 2

A dark narrow hallway appeared; I slipped inside the café. A crowd had gathered at the crime scene; no one seemed to notice me. La Dama was empty. The bartender was gone, or maybe he was just in the back room. Dark cafés always have back rooms. The only thing moving inside was a curious feline who studied the scene from behind the shutters.

La Dama gato 2*

It looked like a scene out of that hard-boiled genre from the 1930s… they called them detective stories… like Farewell My Lovely, or Spanish Blood, by Raymond Chandler. 

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Chandler’s short stories have never been equalled, but Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) came pretty darn close.  San Francisco, Los Angeles in the 1920s and 30s… the days of police corruption, Prohibition, bootleggers, narcotics-smuggling, red light districts, big beautiful cars with running boards. Mean streets. Gangster heaven.

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Raymond Chandler

A gorgeous blonde drifted in and sat down at my table. A young kid with a striped apron appeared out of nowhere to take our order. The girl ordered vino tinto; I asked for a coke. I wondered if she knew what was happening. If she did, she wasn’t talking.

Valerie1*Some more girls showed up and so did the band. Pretty soon the joint was rockin’ to a bluesy kinda sound and the owner – the infamous Dama de Bollini herself – bought us all another round and passed out party favors.

La Dama 3*

Meanwhile, out on the street, Mad Max pulled up in a rundown bucket of bolts that Sam Mendes could have used on the set.

MadMaxPalermoSoho

Parking is verboten on Pasaje Bollini but… who’s gonna tell him?

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He was thirsty and looking for a cold beer… turns out he wasn’t dead in the street after all; just taking a break till the film crew called it a wrap.

Tom Hardy

Mad Max snagged the blonde. After a couple of beers he was ready for tango lessons… that’s what they all say, right?

La Dama 1

Over and Out from Buenos Aires!