A Day Among The Basques
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
It is often charged against Argentina that it is "a remarkably monotonous country, all alike and uninteresting to journey through," 'I did not find it so. I found no two regions, no two estancias, alike. I spent a day among the Basques and Danes at Tandil. Argentina as a rule is level; in truth the great part of the eastern regions are doubtless old sea bottoms, and the wonderful fertile soil is no doubt a deposit from ancient rivers. At Tandil, however, are hills or real mountains of granite, standing up out of the level plain. They must have been islands once and in effect they are islands now. On all sides the level plains stretch away, covered with grass, oats or maize.
Tandil is a pleasant little city, with a good sprinkling of Danes among the population. The town is at least 100 years old. We had a day to wait at Tandil, so we climbed a granite mountain to see a balanced stone there. The stone, as large as a haystack, swayed by the wind, so that it. will burst a bottle placed beneath it. Since our visit the stone has unhappily slid from its ancient seat and rolled down the mountain side. From this mountaintop we could look away over a lovely plain, seeing homes, farms, dairies and roads. This was especially interesting to me ; much of Argentina suffers the curse of immense holdings of land, with an impoverished tenantry. Here was the beginnig of better things, the division of the land among users of it, with all the civilization that this plan should bring.
Seņor Indalecio Mendiberry, a Basque sheep-farmer and estanciero of some note in Argentina, has produced many famous Lincoln rams. He lives in town, as might have happened in Illinois. His town establishment is fairly typical. We entered his one-storied cement-coated house through a hall that lead directly to the patio or inner court. The patio had in it an orange tree full of fruit, a lemon tree with both fruit and bloom, a cherry tree and palms, roses and flowers. The house enclosed two sides only of the patio, a high wall on one side and the other a fence separated from a little orchard of pears, apples and plums with an orange tree or two. The tern-tern bird stalked around and from time to time gave warning cries; it is kept as a sentinel to warn against intruders. The seņora, much like a comfortable, kindly, hospitable house-wife of Ohio, welcomed us to her sitting-room. A yard with a high wall adjoined the house and in this yard the carriage and horse were kept, when he had a horse in town ; under a shed I noticed a pile of nicely sawn wood for the kitchen, there being no other place in the house where fire could be built. How I raged against the lack of fire in Argentina. The people, however, suffer little from the cold ; they are used to it, and it teaches them some useful practices. For one thing they go early to bed and do not get up too early mornings. I have never seen a people enjoying better health than those fireless folk down there.
Seņor Mendiberry is a big, bluff, vigorous man. In his carriage we sallied out. Near the city were really fine farm houses, all in Spanish style, sur-rounded by trees and shrubs and flowers. Some of these were the homes of Danish colonists, who seem to have done very well. It was interesting to see the light-haired children and wonder how many generations it would be before they had intermarried with the black-haired Italians and Spanish folk. The road had not been touched by man and yet the land was settled 100 years ago. We waded through ponds that put mud on our carriage step. What a shame, when all could so easily be made good. No doubt it will come some day;. it awaits the coming of proper road laws, and their execution by a people who have not Vas yet had a vision of what roads may be.
A CHURCH AND SOME TREES
A rather large and beautiful stone church claimed our attention. It was set in a grove of eucalyptus and other trees; beside it stood a fine schoolhouse. These were a gift of Seņor Ramon Santamarina, a man who owned great estates there and who must have had noble aspirations. From the church we rode many miles along the edge of a belt of eucalyptus trees that he had planted. The belt may have been 100 yards wide and the trees set about ten or twelve feet apart. Eucalyptus trees are often beautiful; these were. Although planted only twenty years, they were many of them near sixty feet high and growing rapidly. Within the lines of trees stretched a great pasture of some thousands of acres. On its farther sides were noble trees. On rising ground in the distance we could see his residence, and adjoining it a forest of pines, thrifty and grand. Grazing in the pasture were many good Short-horn cattle, in fairly good flesh. I have seen some great plantings of trees in my time, in Europe and America, but nowhere have I seen anything so noble, simple and beautiful as the concrete idea of enclosing say 10,000 acres with great evergreen eucalyptus trees.
Seņor Mendiberry's trace of land includes 2,000 acres. He told us something of his life; how he had been a shepherd for Henry Thompson many years ago and had cared for his Lincolns; how when he left his employ he had taken the sheep with him and bought his place, paying for it $24,600. I fancy he went into debt for his land. He has since paid for it and bought two other places. He has from 2,500 to 4,000 Lincoln sheep; many of them are exceedingly fine. He has bought rams from Henry Dudding and other well known English breeders. He breeds them nearly or quite as good as those from England.
There was a very good house on the estancia; a man was the cook and bottle washer. There was no stove; the fuel is not well adapted, they say, to burning in an American stove. At first I thought that the fuel on the great square raised platform under the big wooden hood (supposed to catch and lead away the smoke), was peat; afterward I learned that it was sheep manure taken from the corrals. A few twigs also were added and after a time a right merry fire was blazing. When it was being kindled the cocinero cut chunks of tallow from a great mass that lay on the bench and this soon melted and made a good blaze. "Is that fat from a steer?" I asked. "No, seņor, from a sheep; they are all like that here in summer-time." It was almost incredible; the fat was at least three inches thick. I enjoyed watching our breakfast cooking. We sat and watched it, laid on a twig at intervals and swallowed great volumes of smoke so that the chimney was quite equal to caring for the remainder. A kettle simmered on the back of the platform; in it bubbled broth that would make our soup. The bread in well-baked hard loaves the .size of a big grapefruit, was brought from town and we dined regally on broiled mutton, soup, bread and tea, with wine for those who desired it. Then we went out again to inspect the sheep.
MUTTON A POPULAR FOOD
I soon learned that the mutton-eating habit among the Argentines is established. On this typical estancia they annually kill about 180 big Lincoln sheep. These are consumed by five men, with the aid of occasional visitors and helpers at dipping and shearing time. I was told that they killed a sheep every other day; it may be that they really kill extra sheep for the days when extra men are present. This would make a sheep last a man about ten days; he would consume about forty sheep in a year. There are 6,000,000 people in Argentina. Not all of them eat mutton, of course, but they all eat meat, as much as possible. On most cattle ranches sheep are bought or bred especially to feed the men. I have-been on estancias where they killed five and even ten sheep a day. What is the effect on the people of this large consumption of meat! I do not know. They are a healthier people than we, but there are other things entering into the problem; I can not solve it. I know that in North America if I were to eat the vast amount of meat that some of these people consume I should be laid out; in-Argentina I subsisted to a large extent on mutton, with the net result that I felt ten years younger than I did before I arrived there. Seņor Mendiberry ate mutton as though he loved Lincoln sheep. He had surrounded his little home place at the estancia with a grove of North American black locusts, which grew well. A tiny bird hopped in through the open window, glancing inquiringly at us, intent on catching belated flies. After break-fast they got up a bunch of wethers for us to see; among them were some with little spots of scab, to be cured by hand-dressing. The shepherd quickly found the infected places, often on the bellies or near the udders; the scab was torn off; a pint of dip was put on, using one of the coaltar preparations, and the sheep let go. The seņor understands the nature of the scab germ; his policy was lame, however, in that he did not dip twice at short intervals. He dips at intervals of about four months.