Buenos Aires In May
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
I quote from my journal: "May 3: The people at the hotel (the Chacabuco Mansions in Buenos Aires) seem glad to see me again, and it seems quite like home, only there is no fire here. A hotel with fire in Buenos Aires costs some incredible sum, $8 per day in gold, so I will worry along. I wear my fur-lined coat always in my room, and when I write. What a rain we had this morning. All the streets were put aflood and part of the city is under water. Many houses fell down because although built of burned bricks, they are laid up with mud mortar. The Spanish have an expressive word for a house falling down, `derrumbiamento.' One can hear the walls falling as one rolls out the syllables of that word. As to rainfall, it seems to be a case of either drouth or floods in this land. In Santa Fe, however, the drouth remains "unbroken. It is now dark at 5 o'clock and not light before 7 —which is strange for the month of May. I met today Señor Emilio Lahitte, chief of the bureau of agricultural statistics, and a strikingly intelligent man of high ideals. There are many of that type here. It is fine that the goodness of the world is not all compressed into one country or region. I am writing to Secretary Wilson suggesting that I bring home some young ostriches; they would be fine to acclimatize in our pastures, say from Kentucky southward. They are easier grown than turkeys and are larger and good for human food when they are young.
"There is a fine market in Buenos Aires where fruits are brought from Mendoza. I saw beautiful apples, but twelve of them cost $2.50, so I readily left them. I learn some curious things about foods. There is here a market where one can buy Swift's or Armour's bacon and chipped beef. The initiated do not buy Argentine pork products because they are apt to make one ill, as I experienced. The reason may be that swine here consume the decomposed carcasses in the fields. It does not look as though there would soon be an Argentine pork industry, partly because of the prejudice that is sure to exist against Argentine bacon, although there will no doubt some day be good stuff made here.
"I learn steadily points on etiquette. One must not touch an orange or an apple with one's fingers ; one must peel them with a knife and eat them with a fork. I offend because I take oranges and apples in my fingers. One may, however, pick one's teeth and smoke cigarettes at a table. A man does not take off his hat when he meets a lady in a hall or an elevator, but he takes it off when he enters a bank. It is all a bit puzzling.
"At the hotel in Rosario one day I ordered bacon and eggs. `I do not think that they will have bacon,' said the doctor, but they had. When the eggs came, no bacon was visible; exploration revealed tiny bits as large as postage stamps, reposing beneath the eggs.
"Once a day, usually in the evening after the lights are lit, I walk to the American Consulate on Calle Suipache to mail what I have written for my government and ask for letters from home. I en-joy these walks along the crowded streets, elbowing my way through the groups of idlers at the corners, stopping now and then to look in shop windows. The booksellers' windows are interesting, especially those selling French and German books, and there are many fascinating maps; they quite make me wish to set off to new and strange regions to explore. We have the poorest maps in the world in North America; it quite humiliates me to remember it.
THE BOTANICAL GARDEN
"I think that I shall surely have to go to the Royal Hotel, where they have steam heat. I have had dinner and am sitting in my fur coat, writing. It has been a happy day; I have felt well, got rid of a lot of work, and things came out well. I went out to the botanical garden, which is a pretty and interesting spot. There is a great mingling there of countries—Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia and North America, and then each province of Argentina has a spot by itself. I was happy under the trees of North America; they are not very big, nor are they all here, yet there are oaks, walnuts, pines and sycamores. They had mostly lost their leaves. Many flowers are still blooming in the garden. I was in search of my wonderful lily tree. I did not find the one bearing the red lilies but I found its kinsman—a tree with a yellow bloom. It is the palo borracho. It seems to be the Chorizia (or Chorisia) insignis. It is not blooming here; it may do so in the spring, or it may be too cold for it to bloom. I mean to go back early in the morning and meet a man who speaks English and learn what is the name of the red one, so that I can help to get it introduced into Florida and California.
"Saturday morning, 10:30: I went early to the Jardin Botanico, walking a great deal of the way to take off the chill after bathing. The sun shone, and it was cheery. I was disappointed, after all, in finding the man who was to speak English for me, but the gardener was sent to accompany me. He had a catalogue, splendidly illustrated. We got along well together; he showed me the American trees and the palo borracho (Chorisia insignis) ; we found one lemon yellow lily on that tree; it evidently is too cold here for it to bloom well or else it blooms in the spring or summer. The illustration shows a fine bouquet of the blooms. He did not have the red species. The kinds here are: Family of Bombaceae Chorisia crispiflora, insignis and speciosa. I saw a catalpa; maybe it was one of the `wrong' kind. It had a bad attack of blight, The honey locusts, of the North American trees, seem best; there is the common locust too. We saw the cypress (Taxodium distichum) growing magnificently, beyond all expectation in America, five years planted and as high as a house. I told my informant of its nature in North America, and he was so pleased and interested that he took me to see the Big Tree of California, a young one, but thrifty and pretty, and told me how he would take away the nearby trees to give it room. I showed him that either the white pine is much changed by its environment or else it is wrongly labeled.
'While looking at the American trees, and various beautiful things, I happened to remember my boy David—how he would if he were here, go about smiling and enjoying. I could see him plainly, and I said `God bless the dear boy.' A finely uni-formed guard near by looked about, bowed and took off his cap, wishing me `buen dia, señor.' In reply I wished him `muy lindo dia, señor'—`very beautiful day, sir.'
"Dreams are strange things. I dream interminably of North America and of home, but never of. my wife and children; it is always things, people and events of the long ago. Repeatedly I visit with my father, who died twenty years ago. I think sometimes one sees things clearer and better in a dream than in waking hours. I feel that one knows best one's real self when one sees it perform in a dream. Last night in my dream I was a boy, about to launch a little boat on Darby Creek, which was in flood. In this boat I planned to float to the Ohio River and so on down to Louisville in Kentucky. My father came to me (I saw him, oh so distinctly) and asked gently if he could not go along with me. I awoke then and it was revealed to me with some-thing of a shock that I had not always taken the father with me in my thoughts or hopes or plans, and that he had felt being left out just as in the dream. Poor old father, with a big, loving heart and a difficult temper that spoiled his life, how much his boy is like him !
"In the early morning I see some care-worn poor women; there must be many, of course, in a city of 1,200,000 people. I wrote out my speech to deliver some time at the University and Dr. Paz is to translate it, and as I deliver it he will translate as I go along. I visited the `Zoo' again. There was a monkey, with clothes on, loose up in a big tree, and folk were trying to coax him down. I saw a pretty sight at the `zoo'-a wee, wee brave little laddie running at the hyenas' cage and shouting at them ; the cowardly brutes looked as though they were eager to get at him, but he waved his baby hands and pretended to try to frighten them. An old grandfather near by smiled indulgently. I attended church services. It was a fine old building, with columns like a temple. There was a good audience of fine clean-looking people, chiefly men. How I enjoyed the singing, the mixed choir, and the reading and prayers and all. I could almost imagine myself in the dear old chapel at home. In the lovely park that lies in front of the city, to-wards the water, I wandered, seeing the flowers, the magnificent palms and the green grass so bountifully refreshed by the great rains. A little Italian girl came along with a big basketful of greens; at least the tops are of spinach. She had a pure and pretty face, and I watched her going out of her way to pass close to the flowers. She leaned far over from the weight of her big basket against her slender form."
TO BAHIA BLANCA
On that Sunday night we took a train for Bahia Blanca, a seaport in the southern part of the province of Buenos Aires and nearly as far from Buenos Aires as Chicago is from Omaha. .Nearly every inch of the way is through a fertile, level land. There are, however, some uplifts of rock, and the old peaks of mountains that once emerged from the sea when all this region was below the sea and the river Parana was pouring down its muddy flood and redepositing it to make the fertile plains of Argentina. Now these rocky hillocks and mountain tops emerge from the level plain like islands from the sea. There are several lines of railway running to Bahia Blanca, which is planned, and probably destined, to become a great port. Our train was comfort-able. I quote from my journal.
"May 8: We arrived here this morning at 9:30. We passed low mountains; the scenery reminds me of Colorado. We were met by a pleasant German, and he has spent the day trying to make us happy. It is an interesting new city, of great hopes. It is not on the water, curiously enough, but about three miles back; but they have built immense docks and elevators for grain from which they can load a big steamer in seven hours, and they are yet working at enlarging the docks. It is a great wheat growing country. No passenger ships come here as yet._ There is a park with gay flowers and yellow Scotch broom blossoms. They lost four crops of wheat in succession in the country tributary to the port; then the steamships ceased to call. They prefer to take all the wool to Buenos Aires, where the freight is higher. Well, such plucky men as are here will succeed, no doubt. There is a wonderful grape-growing region near by. The hotel at Bahia Blanca is the finest that I have ever lived in. It has great marble stairs and columned halls ; the rooms while simple are large and the beds fine; we rested well. From my train on the west line of railway the desert came into view soon after leaving Bahia Blanca. It was the same old desert of scrub brush that we left in Chubut. For an hour or two we came through a region of sand-hills ; in a little valley were alfalfa fields and homes and the beginnings of vineyards and orchards ; then came a wide region of wheatfields, new-plowed and ready for sowing, then the desert and brush. Now we have just crossed the Rio Colorado.
"There is quite a village here, but I see no signs of irrigation or agriculture. The whole land seems given to sheep as in Chubut. We have just had luncheon. I was not hungry but the soup was good; I ate some chicken, salad and oranges. The dining-cars, as they have no ice or refrigerators, carry chickens alive, dress them slightly, removing all the larger feathers, and cut them in chunks with a dull hatchet, then cook them slightly. Sometimes we see lads with armfuls of chickens at the dining-car door selling them. It is a full (lining car. Diagonally across in front of us is a fine-looking young cavalry officer in red trousers, top boots and blue coat with a high red collar, the stripes of a captain. Opposite him is a man of Jewish cast, only more bulky and masculine than the real Jewish type; he is one of the loud, aggressive kind with a very thick neck and wrinkles on it. `Do you know, doctor, what I would do with such mien if I were Czar of the universe?' `Why, no; what would you do?" I would drown them, one and all; for I hate them. They are men who succeed, who scruple at nothing that brings success, who domineer others, who scorn others' opinions or delicacies or desires, who successfully bully their way through life and get more than the rest of us.' The doctor said nothing; what he thought I can not tell. There was a heated argument between this man and the young officer; the other and older men had little to say, but had quietly to express themselves now and then. After-ward I learned that the discussion was about some mari who had been exiled or banished by a former president and who had now been asked to move back home by the present president. It is a wise man in Argentina who takes the attitude of the older men; they shrug their shoulders and make non-committal replies, unless they are sure of their companions. The young officer will live and learn, no doubt. The hook-nosed man is, I imagine, of the type that has often started revolutions.