I’ve never been one for the “holidays,” and have normally worked through them – one of my greatest frustrations, on the road, has been the week of enforced inactivity between Xmas and New Year’s, when it’s difficult or impossible to accomplish much in updating my Moon Handbooks to Argentina, Buenos Aires, Chile and Patagonia. I’m always operating on deadline, with limited time to explore and revise my coverage of the cities, towns, parks and associated attractions in the countries I’ve grown so attached to, and the virtual loss of a week when it’s almost impossible to meet with anybody can be frustrating.
The best-case scenario, often, is to retreat to my room, which is easiest when I’m in Buenos Aires, glued to the computer in my own apartment. It’s also a risky time of the year in the Argentine capital, not because of high crime but rather because of uncontrolled fireworks that, during last night’s celebrations, led to 57 emergency room visits. It gets worse at New Year’s Eve, when the reckless airheads start tossing firecrackers from their balconies into the streets.
Alternatively, I’ll stay in a quiet Chilean town such as Villarrica, hoping to polish some of the work I’ve already accomplished. Perhaps the most memorable holiday I’ve spent was December 24, 1998, when I was the only visitor in the campground at Chile’s Parque Nacional Nahuelbuta (pictured above), home to the largest coast range concentration of the pewen or monkey-puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana). That may have been the only place I’ve ever experienced the peace and calm that, ideally and often wrongly, so many people associate with this time of year.
This year, having returned from Buenos Aires about ten days ago, I’m passing the holiday period in the cool, damp winter of Northern California where, however, there’s one enduring reminder of Argentina. With the heavy rains of the past week, we’ve experienced an invasion of Argentine arts in the kitchen and, to a lesser extent, in the bathrooms. Argentines themselves may find it increasingly difficult to travel abroad because of foreign currency restrictions, but their native insect colonies are a permanent presence here.
Explaining the Looting
As Argentines continued to argue over the causes of the wave of looting that took place over the past several days, I concluded that “If you don’t know what’s going on, well, you’re not alone.” One far more astute observer than I has pointed out the difficulties of assigning blame or responsibility in Argentina’s byzantine street politics – the Argentine-born Chilean-American novelist and playwright Ariel Dorfman, in an interview with Argentina’s Ñ magazine, was asked the following question: “You have said that nobody has been able to explain Peronism to you in a reasonable manner. How would you explain it to a third party?”
Dorfman, whom I know slightly, gave the following response: “If I could explain that to a second party, or third, or a fourth, I might have written a best-seller about it.”