1950s Archive

South American Journey


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“Life for the average man in Argentina isn't luxury, but it isn't hard and living can be fun. You drink the yerba maté, eat the calabasinos and papa fritas (stuffed squashes and fried potatoes), lots of pucberos (stews), and much beef.

“For fun I raised up fighting cocks. It's the baseball of the back country, the football and polo of the poor and middle-class. I raised up some biddies of Dominique hens and bred some fighting gamecocks. My little cock-fighting roosters lived better than most people I knew. I bred up some Roundheads crossed with Brazil Blues and White Hackles, but I didn't care much for the Haiti Grays. I had a nest set of fighting cocks the year after the yellow girl came. One of my best with bronze-green feathers was Little Eddie. A fat old don named Diaz Ruiz Ovando had a blue cock, Dark Miguel, and I bet a hundred on Littler Eddie. I had raised him up on soft food and hard-crushed corn. I plucked out his tail feathers so he looked sleek and fast.I clipped his comb down to a nub with a razor. I filed off his own spurs and fitted him with steel needle gaffs. It was a great day on our delta when the meet in an old coffee barn started with the judge shouting, 'Bill your cocks.' And after they had touched bills he said, 'Pit your cocks.'

“It was a great fight and Little Eddie was doing fine, springing up in the air like an explosion of feathers and coming in spurs first, like a charging cactus plant. But the blue Miguel outweighed him and was lucky, very lucky. Little Eddie got a gaff full in his brain, and he died,beak and mouth open, a drop of blood on the end of his horny nose. I wrung his neck tenderly. I felt so bad I decided to go into the salesman business. Maybe I was wrong to leave the fat easy life on the Bahia delta.”

The train was climbing now, going like a snorting little horse up the grades, climbing up towards the blue skies, up to the mountains and the lakes. Mollie came awake and said, “How old-fashioned to come by train. We should use the airplane.”

Uncle Willie shook dust off his dark straw hat and said, “You see more this way.”

“You see it full of cinder, dear.”

At last we got to Bariloche. It looks just like the Swiss villages on badly colored post cards, with houses with peaked roofs and wooden walls. In fact, some Swiss had been its original settlers. In the winter (the winter here is from July to October) there is even skiing. The whole region is part of the Nahuel Huapi National Park.

We got our little car in order and rode on to Lake Nahuel Huapi. Rollo lost a fight with two Indian boys over who should move our bags. The government runs the two hotels here and they are both good: the Llao-Llao (you say it yao-yao—and if I were a proper travel writer I'd find out what it means, but I don't know) and the Tunqueien. We took the first, just on a gamble. We had some fine rooms with a balcony overlooking the lake, and we sat on our balcony in the late sun drinking light rum and fruit juice, looking over the best that nature could offer. The lake is 2,000 feet high, and we could look up at mountains that lorded it over us at 1,200 feet. Unlike most travelers, we had no desire to climb them.

Rollo picked up the empty glasses and said, “Tomorrow you can go fishing at Lake Traful, or take a motorboat to the fiord at Puerto Blest. There is also a huge waterfall, Cascada Blanca, that comes down from the glaciers.”

“Keep your information to yourself,” said Uncle Willie. “I'm here to rest.Do they have a tango band?”

“The best,” said Rollo, helping Uncle Willie to an ash tray.

“Good,” said Uncle Willie. “I dislike raw nature in all her forms, wild places the most. Mollie and I will stay and dance. You, Stevie, can do what you want.”

Mollie held Uncle Willie's hand. “You are the most man I have been engaged to for the much long time.”

“Stop talking like Hemingway, ” said Uncle Willie, and he went inside to the bar. He was not in a good mood. Unlike Gramp, his father, he was awed and made sad when nature in the large economy-size showed him all her muscles.

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