At La Cabezas
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
We drove from Senor Bracht's to a neighboring estancia, La Cabezas, where sheep are the principal stock kept. This place was under English management. The sheep were thin but game; not many had died. Naturally they did not look well under such conditions; in fact, I felt always like apologizing for trespassing on a man when he was suffering under such adversities as were these men, first the drouth and then the locusts. At La Cabezas, how-ever, they had a small garden completely netted in with wire, so that locusts could not get in to it. Speaking of the locusts, I was told that horses and sometimes sheep ate them; that fowls ate so many of them that the eggs were quite spoiled and even the flesh of the fowls had a rank taste.
Some bright young English foremen were at La Cabezas; the place was interesting; about the house it was park-like, with an avenue and many trees. One of the young English capitaz remarked : "I was down among our colonists today; they are busily sowing wheat; but there is one man there, a new man and a Belgian, who will not do; he will make a failure, sure." "Why, what is he doing that is wrong" "He has harrowed his land until it is like a garden. He is a newcomer from Belgium. He says he is going to teach the Argentines good farming. He will never do for us." I think what the young man felt was that the Belgian would not get a sufficient acreage sown, using so much care with it. Weary but content we returned to Gualleguay. Next morning we took a train northward, for Concordia. I quote from my journal:
ON A SLOW TRAIN IN ENTRE RIOS
"It is a local train and slow, but I enjoy it. Entre Rios is like a great park, set with smallish, spreading trees with open spaces between them and again great grassy glades. The country is green from the recent rains, although we see many half-starving cattle and sheep. We pass some prosperous-looking farming colonies, one where there has been rain, and men are out gathering maize, as they would be gathering it in Illinois. Sometimes men and women work together in the fields. We pass a Jewish colony, which looks neat and prosperous, although its prosperity has thus far come in large part from outside aid. We reached Concordia after nightfall, weary and hungry, finding no letters from home, although we had hoped for them here."
Once Entre Rios was covered with tall, coarse grass, the so-called pampas grass of our gardeners. As soon as the estancieros were able they destroyed this by plowing it and digging it out; after which there came the finer, more nutritious grasses. All of this province has a semi-tropical climate and grows figs, oranges, palms and other vegetation peculiar to such a region. There is, however, frequent frost in winter. Its rich black soil is usually deep and underlaid with soft limestone, from which it is derived. Land holdings are usually very large, from one to many leagues. Linseed is considerably grown, there being in 1910 a half-million acres of this crop, 750,000 acres of wheat and 75,000 of corn. There were 300,000 acres of alfalfa and much more being sown, 7,000,000 sheep and 3,000,000 cattle.
Concordia is a quaint old city, green and mossy from the' rains, and is filled with the indescribable air of the sub-tropics. It had an air of languor about it and men and women were not much inclined to hasten their steps. My memories of Concordia are pleasing. We stayed there some days, visiting estancieros and wool merchants and seeking to glean what information we could. I was brought in contact with a curious product, an Englishman who has forgotten his language. English and Scottish estancieros have lived there for so long a time that one sees the grandsons of the first settlers. Many of the grandchildren can speak English only imperfectly and haltingly.
I have memories of great wool lofts, where swarthy peons were sorting wools, and putting each class by itself for baling to go to European or American markets. I saw some of the very coarse criollo wools that came down the river from the north, but in the main the wools are good Merino and cross-bred types. The cattle about Concordia are also good, but not so good usually as those farther south. One old estanciero remembered well the terrible Paraguayan war, in which he fought for Argentina. The little country of Paraguay was opposed by the combined armies of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, and it held out until nearly all its men were killed. The old soldier told us how the character of the grasses changed as he went north-ward, how, when he went with the troop through Corrientes bound for Paraguay, there was not much difficulty in keeping their horses strong and even fat until they reached the region about Mercedes in the state of Corrientes; after that the grasses were no longer nutritious, being the product of tropical rains. How curious it is that drouth makes sweet grass the world over.
Life in Concordia is quaint and restful. While it is not at all in a state of decay, yet there appeared to be but little doing there and men took abundant time to do that. I recall the peace and calm of the offices, the streets with no bustle nor hurry and the docks rather silent, yet having their daily steamers from Buenos Aires, for this is at the head of steamer navigation on the Rio Uruguay.
It was at Concordia that I got my first sight of the salederos or salting establishments where the flesh of cattle is salted and dried in the sun. These are immense establishments, taking in the native cattle, mostly in thin flesh, and drying them into the salt "jerked" beef of the tropics. One would sometimes see acres of meat out drying in the sun and know that it was destined to go to the tropics, perhaps to Brazil, or else to the West Indies, usually to feed the black men who labor on sugar plantations. The cattle that go to the salederos are of the original semi-wild Spanish stock, usually full of days and empty of much of anything else but good, hard, tough meat that no doubt makes "good chewing" to the black man who finally finishes it. The salederos receive their cattle mainly from the tick-infested regions where well-bred cattle have not yet been introduced.
SOUTH AMERICAN STREET ETIQUETTE
At Concordia my interpreter companion gave me a lesson in Latin street etiquette, which it seems I had been violating all these days. "You see, Mr. Wing, it is not here considered the right thing to do to stop and gaze through the doorways and windows of shops. One ought never to stop along the street to look through gates into courtyards, as I frequently see you do." - " What, doctor, may I not then `rubber?' " "To `rubber?' Please tell me what that word means." "Well, you will not find the modern use of that word in many English dictionaries; it is a good but new American word and it means to stop, to turn the head, to stretch the neck, to peep, peer, gaze, spy out and examine things with curiosity, as though one had a neck of rubber. I came to South America to `rubber,' and `rubber' I must." "Very well; I desire that you rubber alone; not in my company," said the doctor. I could not blame the man, but neither could I fore-go the luxury of seeing the most interesting sights.
I saw carts with enormous wheels to which were attached three or four diminutive mules, abreast. The cart is a sort of dray that takes merchandise to the docks. Sometimes the wheels were so high and the mules so small that when the shafts tilted up-ward they nearly raised the shaft mule off its feet; it was as though the animals were backed up to go under a little shed. Indeed I used to wonder whether it would not have been possible to hitch the animals to the axle right under the bed of the cart, sheltered there from sun and rain, but there must be some reason why that would not be practicable. In fact I feel that I offended the doctor by suggesting to him the desirability of that arrangement.
From the balcony of our hotel we could see over the roofs of the buildings across the street, and in some patio see a tree covered with big red blossoms. The flowers were singularly gay and alluring and I made several leisurely journeys clear around the square, peering into every open passageway, hoping to espy the particular garden that held this marvelous tree and trusting to luck and my few words of Spanish to get admitted to its company, but I did not succeed; but this I know: the tree would live in Florida and Califorina.
Across the river lay Uruguay and the city of Salto. A little steamer plied between the two cities. We took passage and soon found ourselves on Uruguayan soil, and in one of the quaintest old cities of the new world. Rain had been falling in fine showers for some days; old stone-built houses with red tiled roofs and white walls were showing patches of moss in their crevices and patches of greenish-yellowish stains; little ferns in the crevices and on their roofs. The streets were paved with cobblestones, between which grasses grew. "Ah, this Salto is charming," I cried. "Why, look at it, just as it was when Columbus discovered it, I'll bet a dollar." "You are wrong, señor Columbus did not discover Salto," patiently explained my interpreter. "Ah, yes, he did; I feel sure of it, and it has not changed since that day; it is exactly as it was when Columbus discovered it."
"But, señor," wearily, "the reason why I feel sure that you are wrong is that Columbus never - sailed up this river, so how could he have discovered Salto?" That seemed reasonable, but the internal evidence was to me convincing in the other direction. We took carriage and -proceeded. By the way, a carriage costs always one peso, which 'on the east side of the river was worth about 43 cents in our money, and on the other side $1.03, yet I think the cabby makes as much on one side as on the other, because on the Argentine side he is busier than in Uruguay, which is an illustration of the fact that high prices for labor do not always mean large earnings.
As we proceeded up the street my eye caught sight of a wonderful tree in a walled enclosure attached to a dwelling house. The tree was perhaps forty-five feet high, with a dense, rounded top covered over with delicious lily-like pinkish blooms, as large as Japanese lilies. "Stop," I cried in amazement. "Let us go and see that tree," The doctor looked at me in annoyed pity. "No, señor, I cannot let you stop here. I do not wish to see the tree, for I do not know the people who live there and I care nothing for trees anyway, nor can I allow you to stop, for I do not know where the hotel is and you would become lost from me." "Drive on," was my sulky response, but no sooner had we found our hotel than I broke away and hurried back to find my tree. As I went I put together all the Spanish words that I could recall that had any bearing on the case and hoped for luck, and luck was indeed with me; the door through the wall that enclosed the yard was slightly ajar. I entered a little way, looking warily for dogs, and stood gazing at the tree. One eye I kept turned toward the house, -the other toward the tree, and presently, as I had expected, a servant noted me; then a little later the señora herself appeared on a little' balcony and looked at me. Steadily I contemplated the tree, with evident appreciation. The señora drew a step nearer. I went to her then and with my best bow said in Spanish, "Pardon me, senora, but I so much admire your beautiful tree with its wonderful flowers." She saw that I was a foreigner and ignorant, so she came down smiling and pleased. Together we went to the tree and she told me about it, in torrents of Spanish, many words of which I could not grasp, but at least when she had finished informing me, I knew this; that the tree came from Brazil; that it was called the cotton tree; that the lower branches were broken off by mischievous children, so that there were now none low enough for us to reach. She, however, grasped a bamboo fishing pole and proceeded vigorously to whale the tree, breaking off hundreds of the delicate and beautiful flowers until the ground was quite carpeted with them. This sacrilege I stopped and, taking the pole, I fastened my pocket knife to its end and with little difficulty sawed off a branch, laden with half a hundred great delicate, lovely blooms. These, with many thanks to the senora., I carried away, leaving her smiling and happy that her tree had been appreciated.
My carrying these flowers through the streets of Salto attracted a deal of attention. Presently I was surrounded by a bevy of bright-eyed smiling, eager little girls, each begging for a blossom. As I had enough. for all I made each one happy and carried a good many on to my room at the hotel. There I learned that the doctor had let it be known that we were in the town—an amiable and useful habit of his, and certain men, dignitaries and bankers of the place came to dine with us at the hotel, this in honor of my having a government mission. The dinner went merrily forward and when dessert was brought I excused myself for a moment and brought down the flowers, placing them on the table. All exclaimed at their beauty.
"I am glad, señors, that you are here, for you can tell me the name of the tree that bears these blooms and whence it comes, for I feel that it would grow in my own land in North America, certainly in our California," I said. "But, señor, where did you find such flowers as these?" "I found them in Salto, down by the custom house." "And you say that they grow on a tree?" "Yes; they grow on a large tree." "Astonishing. We have lived here all our lives, and we have never seen that tree." "Well, señors, I am an inquisitive Yankee; I had not been in your town five minutes before I had spied your tree," I rejoined.
There is a sad sequel to this tale. A man tried to secure the seed of the tree for me, but Salto took some unaccountable rage for development.; the vacant space where the tree grew was desired for a building site, the tree was cut down and I never saw another one in all my wanderings. I learned later that it belongs to the family of the 'pain borracho, the common sort having pale yellow blooms. The tree I saw had larger pink and red lily-shaped blooms, with orange-colored inner tubes, each flower a perfect thing and the tree en masse marvelous indeed.