Saturday, 5 May 2007

Adios, Argentina

All good things must come to an end and so, with heavy heart, I must bade farewell to glorious Argentina. Adios y gracias.

But first, a few more adventures.

One thing I hadn't quite prepared for on the long drive back across the pampa was the flies. At first it was just a few flecks splattered on the windscreen. When I pulled into a petrol station 300km into the journey, a gawky kid hanging around with a dog asked me if I wanted the windscreen cleaned.

'Nah', I thought. 'Nothing I can't sort out myself.'

About 100km further on, I was having trouble seeing through the window. It was completely covered in splats. First I used up all my windscreen wash, then I had to stop the car and manually wipe off the sludge using my drinking water and tissues. As it got darker and my headlights went on, I found I was driving through a ferocious storm of greenfly, hitting the car like hail. Unable to see and groping my way in the dark and the glare of the headlights of oncoming lorries, I had to abandon driving and pull into a garage. The petrol station had vast swarms of flies swirling everywhere - more flies than I have ever seen. The front of my car had turned green with squashed fly sludge - it looked like a lawnmower that had spent a hard day cutting grass.

In order to avoid the traffic chaos of Buenos Aires, my plan was to spend the last night in Lujan, the pilgrimage centre dedicated to the cult of the Virgin. It was however a depressing place, full of the usual mix of kitsch tittle-tattle and insufferable religious piety that you can find in Fatima, Lourdes and Knock. A couple of hours there was more than enough so I opted to throw caution to the wind (the Virgin of Lujan is after all the matron saint of safe journeys) and brave Buenos Aires for one last night. With a couple of aperitifs in San Telmo and supper in Las Canitas, it was the only way to properly see out my Argentine travels.

Here's a quick list of things to love and loathe about Argentina.

I liked:

The People - marvellous, charming, unaffected people. It's going to be very hard to support England in any future England-Argentina internationals.

The Wine - Malbec of course, but Cabsavs and Pinot Noirs are glorious too.

The Love of Literature - puts the British to shame.

Futbol - pure passion and love of life.

Oh, and the huge expanses, the tango, and yes, even Dulce de Leche.

A few things I didn't like:

Stray dogs everywhere; grafitti everywhere; and the Malvinas obsession.

And a few things on which the jury is still out:

Julio Cortazar (300 pages in and he's not exactly floating my boat, but obviously someone thinks he's great)

Mate (perhaps it needs more practise, 35 million Argentines can't be wrong)

There's a wonderful English language bookshop in San Telmo called Walrus Books, a charming place with great books and mellow melodies. On my final morning I considered buying two hefty tomes, The Golden Bough and An Argentine Reader. I keep promising myself that I will keep my bibliomania in check and my suitcase already groaned under the weight of books. So I left the shop and paced around San Telmo, mulling my purchase.

I had recently bought in England The Cairo Trilogy and Lloyd George's enormous war memoirs in two volumes, plus a slew of other titles, and when was I going to get time to read them exactly? An inner voice answered that I had once bought in Winnipeg a 800-page History of Ukraine and hadn't I read it when I was bedridden for a few weeks? I found a part of myself secretly looking forward as a consolation to future illness that I will have time to read some of the books I keep buying.

So the conclusion was inevitable. I went back and bought the books. Oh well, at least I'll be able to inscribe my second-hand copy of The Golden Bough with the magical words 'Bought in Buenos Aires' inside.

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