Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On the Rains, Argentine Ants and Other Invaders


Yesterday, even as Argentine president Cristina Fernández launched yet another irredentist diatribe on the British-ruled Falkland Islands from the Patagonian coastal city of Puerto Madryn, some of the heaviest rains in more than a century inundated Buenos Aires and surrounding communities. Residents in neighborhoods like Belgrano were knee-deep or deeper in floodwaters, thanks to an antiquated drainage system whose modernization is decades behind schedule, as the TV footage below shows (skip through the first few minutes to get to the street scenes). It’s not quite Hurricane Katrina, but it’s a relief to know that our Palermo apartment is two stories up from street level, where many dwellings are underwater.
Eight Argentines have died in Buenos Aires, plus 46 more in the Buenos Aires province capital of La Plata. For the federal government, though, scoring symbolic points against the British appears to be a higher priority than disaster relief or infrastructural improvement in the low-lying cities or the adjacent Pampas. That parallels the disinterested response to a different sort of disaster just over a year ago, when 51 people died in a notorious rail crash at Estación Once.

Even if yesterday was the 31st anniversary of the disastrous Falklands invasion, other unwelcome Argentine invaders, which have infested much of the world, continue to get less attention than they should. Here in California, our winter rains aren’t quite so severe, but we have to keep our kitchen antiseptically spotless to try to avoid the plague of Argentine ants, whose colonies stretch underground for hundreds of miles here and in other parts of the world. With the tiniest opening, thousands of the tiny critters will find the slightest trace of grease or sweets, and we can spend hours trying to clean them up – only to have to do so again the following morning.

Finally, someone appears to be tackling the invaders, but the cure may be worse than the disease. According to the New York Times, an office park in North Carolina has seen a different invasion of Asian needle ants, which are displacing the Argentines. While the Argentine ants may be a pest, the Asian species appears to be a danger – they have a poisonous sting that can make humans ill and, in some cases, can even be fatal. In this case, I guess, I’ll have to resign myself to the relatively innocuous Argentine invaders.

Moon Handbooks Chile Visits Los Altos
Next week – Tuesday April 9 at 7:30 p.m., to be precise – I will offer a digital slide presentation on travel in Chile at the Los Altos Library (13 S. San Antonio Road, Los Altos 94024, tel. 650/948-7683). Coverage will also include the Chilean Pacific Islands of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and Juan Fernández (Robinson Crusoe), as well as southernmost Argentina (Tierra del Fuego and the vicinity of El Calafate) that appear in the book. I will also be available to answer questions about Argentina and Buenos Aires. The presentation is free of charge, but books will be available for purchase.

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