Friday, September 11, 2020

The Tango War (a Book Review)

It's been a while since I've posted but, given the pandemic disruption of global travel, especially in my favored region of southernmost South America, I've been distracted with other matters. We're not dead yet, though, and I notice that, in recently commemorating the 75th anniversary of World War II's conclusion, the New York Times Book Review included just one minor item in the Western Hemisphere beyond the Río Grande—a children's book set in Cuba.

In that context I'll note that for every other Western Hemisphere country, the United States is not “America” but, rather, part of the Americas (In the end, we are all Americans). So, here's a book that  addresses the Times's lacuna.

The Tango War covers the conflict from a southerly perspective.

In The Tango War, US journalist Mary Jo McConahay demonstrates that the Allied Forces and Axis powers tangled (pun intended) away from the European and Asian spotlights both before and during the actual conflict. She focuses primarily on the United States and Germany, and their involvement in Mexico, Peru, Brazil and Argentina, though her title misleadingly suggests the centrality of Buenos Aires. There is less coverage of other countries, though Chile and Uruguay also figure into the story.

South of the Border… 

Being closest to the United States, Mexico was a priority because of Germany’s need for petroleum and President Lázaro Cárdenas‘s nationalization of the oil industry. In the runup to the actual war, there was a domestic turf war between FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and Colonel William “Wild Bill” Donovan, head of what became the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and, after the war, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).


Hoover was a publicity hound who tried to intimidate his opponents, but Donovan preferred to work behind the scenes. While Hoover often sent ill-prepared agents into the field, primarily in Mexico, Donovan employed professionals—one of whom was the late Woodrow Borah, a colonial Mexican history specialist who was also my own outside dissertation adviser at Berkeley. Borah, a fairly conservative man whose job involved working directly under a Soviet informant supervisor, told me that his main Research and Analysis (R&A) task was tracing the movement of German money south of the border.


Beyond the Equator

Farther south, the scenario was more complex. On the Pacific Coast, the issue was Japan and, in a regrettable development, legitimate concern took an illegitimate form—with little or no evidence, Peruvian authorities collaborated to expel nearly 2,000 Japanese-Peruvians to so-called “relocation centers” in North America, where US citizens of Japanese descent were already confined. Some of these Nikkei were, in effect, held hostage for prisoner exchanges during the war, though others remained in the United States after the conflict ended.


Brazil gave off ambiguous signals, as dictator Getúlio Vargas had strong economic ties with Germany and Italy, and large German and Italian immigrant communities abounded with Nazi and Fascist sympathizers. Brazil also had its own homegrown Fascist movement, the Integralists, but Vargas’s response to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy” tipped the balance. In fact, in support of the famous 10th Mountain Division, Brazilian troops played a key role in the Allied campaign that brought down Italy’s Benito Mussolini.

British agents watched the Graf Spee from atop Montevideo's Palacio Salvo.

Outright combat was rare in the Americas, but the Battle of the River Plate was an exception. In 1939, damaged in battle with three British vessels, the German battleship Graf Spee took refuge in neutral Uruguay—as permitted by international law—where British agents observed it from the upper stories of Montevideo’s Palacio Salvo and the Royal Navy bluffed Captain Hans Langdorff into scuttling it. Langsdorff later committed suicide in the Centro Naval in Buenos Aires; in Argentina, Juan Domingo Perón had sympathized with the Germans, who had suggested they would support his country’s longstanding claim to the British-governed Falkland Islands (Isla Malvinas).

The Graf Spee's captain killed himself at Buenos Aires's Centro Naval.

That said, the United States laid the grounds for Argentina’s belated entry into the war, at least partially, through the exercise of “soft power” in the form of–wait for it—Walt Disney! As part of the Good Neighbor Policy, Disney and a crew of assistants known as “El Grupo” produced an animated film that depicted positive stereotypes of Brazil and Argentina, including the legendary “Gaucho Goofy.” Later, Argentine gaucho caricaturist Florencio Molina Campos worked on several Disney projects.

El Gaucho Goofy was part of a longer animated film called Saludos, ¡Amigos!

While Argentina came around opportunistically at war’s end, the country became a prime destination for ex-Nazis who, with Vatican collusion, used so-called “ratlines” to escape Europe and reach South America. Some of the most notorious war criminals, such as Adolf Eichmann and Erich Priebke, became long-term Argentine residents, but others, such as Klaus Barbie,  Joseph Mengele and Walter Rauff, ended up in Bolivia, Paraguay, and Brazil. A low-level Nazi, Paul Schäfer, headed the cultish Colonia Dignidad  in southern mainland Chile and cooperated with the Pinochet dictatorship before escaping to Argentina to avoid prosecution as a pedophile. Eventually extradited, he died in prison in Santiago.


The Cold War and Its Aftermath

All this constitutes a readable account that fills a notable gap in the World War II saga, but in my opinion McConahay (whom I have met) stretches it a bit to attribute Argentina’s “Dirty War” too directly to World War II. She cites Uki Goñi and Patricia Bernardi, both of whom I know, on the parallels between Nazi tactics and those practiced by their own country’s 1976-83 dictatorship (Patricia’s sister Claudia, who also works with the Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense (Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team) is a frequent houseguest of ours in California).

Intending to dine at the Club del Progreso, in 2002, we were startled to see a dining salon outfitted for an apparent Nazi event.

Certainly the Argentine military had extreme right-wing, often anti-Semitic elements. Anecdotally, I can’t forget the time in Buenos Aires that my wife, her brother, and I were startled to see an entire dining salon at the classic Club del Progreso restaurant outfitted for an apparent private event with swastika flags and other questionable artifacts. Preparing to leave in disgust, we nevertheless asked about the décor, and learned that it was a set for a scene in the 2003 film of Imagining Argentina, with Antonio Banderas and Emma Thompson. That relieved our misgivings for the moment, but the fact that even a period film would depict Nazi nostalgia in Argentina has left a lingering impact—especially since the United States government was not guiltless in the so-called Proceso.

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Monday, June 8, 2020

Laugh It Off? Humor in the Age of Autocrats

When I first traveled to southernmost South America, in 1979, both Argentina and Chile were under the yoke of brutal military dictatorships that killed and “disappeared” thousands of their opponents. While I arrived, the grimmest days had passed in Chile, where the 1973 overthrow of constitutional President Salvador Allende was startingly violent but the worst ended relatively soon. Argentina’s military junta, on the other hand, had staged a bloodless 1976 coup that got far worse over the weeks, months and years, with a far higher death toll.

I experienced some of this in public. Chile's regime enforced a nighttime curfew and highway checkpoints were frequent, though I never felt at risk there. I do recall personally disagreeable incidents in Argentina, and I also witnessed the police and military stopping city buses to frisk passengers on the highway between the international airport at Ezeiza and the city of Buenos Aires.
Behind closed doors, though, things could be different, at least in Chile. As I made friends there, I learned they resorted to humor to take the edge off. General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, the unquestioned leader of a military junta that also comprised the heads of the Armada de Chile (Navy), Fuerza Aérea de Chile (FACh, or Air Force) and Carabineros de Chile (national police), acquired the nickname “Pinocho” (Pinocchio)—for obvious reasons—and they told jokes about him. Was Merle Haggard right?
In many jokes about Pinochet, César Mendoza was an unwitting victim.
Even then, Chileans could be circumspect. While Pinochet appeared in all these jokes, a key figure was often César Mendoza, head of the Carabineros, widely regarded as the junta's dim bulb. At an informal but discreet weekend retreat on the Chilean coast, called to discuss labor issues among a small group, I recall hearing some of these.
General Mendoza was unclear on the concept of the DC-10.
One joke, for instance, told the tale of junta members boarding a plane (warning: explanation of Spanish-language pun ahead). Mendoza is the last to board and, before doing so, he pauses to hit himself repeatedly on the forehead. Asked by Pinochet why he’s doing that, Mendoza responds that “My general, on the side of the plane it says ‘DC-10’.” (In this context, in Spanish, “¡Dése!,” the imperative form of darse, would mean, “hit yourself,” in this case ten times).
Chilean liberator Bernardo O'Higgins begged Mendoza for a horse.
My own favorite, though, concerns a moment when Mendoza is sitting in his office and the portrait of Bernardo O’Higgins, the leader of Chile’s independence movement, speaks to him: “Mendoza, this country’s in bad shape. I want out! Bring me a horse!”

Stunned, the stuttering Mendoza rushes to Pinochet’s office and exclaims “G-G-G-General, the portrait of O’Higgins spoke to me!” The nonplussed Pinochet responds, “Don’t be silly, Mendoza, get back to work,” but Mendoza insists that the dictator accompany him to his office.

Relenting, the reluctant Pinochet accompanies his subordinate back to his desk and eyes the portrait of O’Higgins, who responds in exasperation: “Ay, Mendoza! I said a horse, not a burro!”
Shortly after Pinochet's arrest in London, taggers in Santiago chuckled that "The circus announces the capture of the gorilla."
In the end, to some degree, the joke was on Pinocho. After his arrest in the United Kingdom on the orders of Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, he was a pathetic figure and his Chilean opponents could laugh in public. Even though the dictator ultimately escaped formal punishment—except for his year and a half under house arrest—the rest of his life was not what he imagined when he reluctantly accepted the result of the 1988 plebiscite that restored democracy in his home country. He lived his final years in disgrace rather than the glory he always envisaged.
On this Santiago wall, a British bobby apologizes that "Justice takes time..."
As we in the United States contemplate what our near future holds, we can take some solace in the hope that the current occupant of the White House—already the object of widespread disgust and ridicule—may fare no better than Pinochet. Unlike Chile's dictator, he may even suffer legal consequences, but that will be a process rather than just an event. Ideally, he'll be unable to laugh it off.

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Saturday, May 23, 2020

Walled Out? Walled In? Or Both?

Having received an advance from my publisher, I am theoretically updating the current edition of Moon Patagonia, but it’s not quite that simple. When I flew to Chile in late February, after a few days in Santiago I drove south to the volcanic highlands of the Araucanía region and across the Argentine border to San Martín de los Andes and San Carlos de Bariloche. I abruptly returned to Chile, though, when Santiago announced the impending closure of the borders between the two countries.
In mid-March, Chile was about to close the border with Argentina because of the Coronavirus crisis.
I had double-checked and acquired quite a bit of material in the process but, when I left to return to California in late March, I told my Chilean friends—one of whom is storing my car in Santiago—that I hoped to return in November, but couldn’t guarantee that would be the case. February or March of next year sounded a bit more realistic. Even now, that’s far from certain because of the Coronavirus crisis, which is worsening in Chile—though it’s not yet reached the levels of misgoverned countries like Brazil, the United Kingdom and, of course, the United States.
COVID-19 trends are worsening in Argentina and Chile, but still not close to those in the United States, Brazil, or the UK. 
Many people are without work these days, but my own is simply in limbo even if, in theory, I could be working on the book in question. In past years, spending the summer at home in Oakland before heading south after the World Series, I would revise background material such as government and politics. Still, even before I arrived in Chile earlier this year, that was full of uncertainty with the pending plebiscite on a new Constitution—now rescheduled for October 25th—and whether the accompanying political unrest might affect the travel and tourism sector.

The public health crisis, of course, put that issue on the back burner—almost literally, as the Chilean government decided (rightly, in my opinion) that holding an election in the midst of a pandemic was risky. For what it’s worth, the country does not allow absentee voting, so vote-by-mail is not an option; voting was once obligatory, but that is no longer the case. Interestingly, Chile does allow resident non-citizens to vote in its elections.
Open-air dining space at Pucón's Loretano
Besides background material, though, there’s equal uncertainty about tourist services. In my short time in South America, I discovered new restaurants, such as the Peruvian Loretano which, at present, continues serving takeout meals in Pucón. Still, in the aftermath of the public health crisis, many restaurants, accommodations and other services are sure to fail or, at least, change dramatically. It’s too early to say whether Loretano, or even established accommodations and restaurants with a solid track record over the decades, will necessarily survive.
I'd love to try the Peruvian-style ceviche at Loretano again.
Even if the travel and tourism sector re-opens, there’s another obstacle for me (and many other US citizens). Everybody knows, of course, about the notorious vanity wall under construction at the Mexican border, but now the current White House occupant’s minions are taking it to another level entirely. My US passport expires in early September, and I recently learned that the State Department is not processing either new or renewal applications so that, even if Argentina and Chile open up for tourism, it's uncertain (at best) when we'll be able to return.
In early March, when I entered Argentina from the Chilean side, I saw this camper van with Washington State plates. What their status might be at present, I can only guess, but the immediate outlook is not promising for US travelers.
The United States, of course, always used to criticize the Soviet Union and its allies for confining their citizens within their borders—most notably after the erection of the Berlin Wall. Now, it seems, any supposed “reopening” of the US has its limits, as its citizens must contend with walls—not just to keep foreigners out, but also to keep us in.

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Erosion of Lonely Planet

Guidebook writing has been my occupation for three decades, though the digital revolution has put pressure on the print sector for at least two-thirds of that time. In the context of the coronavirus crisis, it drew renewed attention last week when Lonely Planet, my first publisher, announced the closure of its Australian flagship in Melbourne and its London editorial office. It is also shutting down its namesake magazine. This will leave it with a reduced presence in the Nashville suburb of Franklin, Tennessee (!) and Dublin, where it’s presumably cheaper to operate. The Tennessee office replaced its former US headquarters in my hometown of Oakland, California.
The skeletal 1989 edition of LP's Argentina prominently featured the author's name.
I’ve always had misgivings about digital travel content, especially crowd-sourced sites like TripAdvisor. They are vulnerable to anonymous and pseudonymous comments—especially by competitors—but not everything about them is necessarily untrustworthy. I would never even consider a restaurant on the basis of a TripAdvisor recommendation, for example, but if somebody reports claims to have eaten there three days ago, I’ll have reasonable confidence that the business in question still exists (except, perhaps, in times of coronavirus).

While the proliferation of digital content is certainly a factor in the decline of print guidebooks, LP’s corporate culture has also devolved from what it once was. In the beginning, the company gave its authors an autonomy to explore and make decisions on the content of their titles. Developing regional expertise over the years, those authors held copyright to their work, and received generous royalties—enough, in some cases to result in six-figure annual incomes.

Arguably, LP’s decline coincided with the devaluation of the on-the-ground regional expertise that first made them credible. In this context, Paula Hardy’s quasi-obituary in the Guardian (linked above) is a blend of naiveté and misinformation, not to mention gaping lacunae. About the time she came on board, in 1999LP was morphing from an author-friendly company to one that dispensed with experienced authors, eliminating their copyrights and royalty contracts.Some were told that (I’m paraphrasing here) “You’re getting a reputation as difficult to work with.”

After the company warned that it might start titles from scratch with new writers, longtime authors learned that continuing with LP would involve fixed-fee contracts for a third or less of their previous income, with no certainty of future employment. Several whom I know opted out—choosing to sell their copyrights to the company, which seemed to conclude that destinations and authors were fungible (in fairness, the copyright buyouts could be generous).
Nothing in Santiago de Chile remotely resembles the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, but an LP editor wanted it as a cover shot.
New editions and titles became the product of multiple writers, some with doubtful qualifications—if an author had collaborated on a guide to, say, Sweden, he or she could just as easily draw an assignment for Myanmar, academic preparation and language skills notwithstanding. Many incoming authors and editorial personnel were neophytes whose geographical ignorance was palpable—in one case that I know of, an editor chose a photograph of Spain’s Santiago de Compostela (population about 96,000) to represent the capital of Chile (population five million-plus).
My first LP guide (left) omitted our names from the cover, but the licensed Spanish-language version  acknowledged us.
In that context, it’s noteworthy that LP stopped putting authors’ names on the covers of their books in the late 1980s, as best I can figure. After signing my first LP contract in 1990, I never had my name on the cover with a single exception—when Barcelona’s Editorial Kairós licensed my Argentina, Uruguay & Paraguay title, it featured both my wife’s and mine (María Laura was also the translator).

I spent ten years with LP, producing titles on Argentina, Chile, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Baja California and The Rocky Mountain States, but was never so fortunate as to have a royalty contract. That said, the flat fees seemed reasonable at the time and, in one instance, LP provided me a supplement when Argentina dollarized its economy, which made it a very expensive destination for several years.

Meanwhile, Hardy’s assertion that LP is the only guidebook publisher to send authors into the field is laughable. I  can contradict that on the basis of my own experience, in part after returning, earlier than I had hoped, from fieldwork in Argentina and Chile to update my Patagonia title. Because of the public health crisis, I have no idea when (or even if) Imay be able to resume the work, but I still hope to do so. A friend, also an ex-LP author, recently informed me that a different publisher has commissioned him to update two of his titles, and I am confident that other publishers will do the same.

The Independent’s Simon Calder seems to share Hardy’s romanticism about the publisher’s struggles: “When this wretched crisis is over, we may begin a new era where travellers will be hungry for resources they can trust, in particular guides researched and written by professionals, which don’t require batteries or an internet connection, and which feed our sense of adventure.

I too would like to think so, but LP seems unlikely to carry that torch forward. After two ownership changes since my time, it is wearing down; the current contraction is part of a process that began decades ago when it jettisoned its most credible and dedicated authors. In both the physical and the publishing world, erosion is a slow but inexorable process.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Ice Cream, Empanadas, and the Pandemic

It’s been more than three weeks since I “escaped” from Argentina and Chile, but I never stop thinking about them. I have many relatives in Argentina, and friends in both countries, who’ve been in touch in the coronavirus “aftermath” (obviously, it’s not over yet), but we express concern about each other and the future (short- and medium-term especially). The public health crisis seems to have hit Chile harder than Argentina, although the latter’s statistics seem incomplete according to the regional live data update at NCOV2019 (disclaimer: this site often seems to be overwhelmed with traffic).
A recent screenshot of Coronavirus stats in South America
Last week, I did receive an email from my friend Gabriel Famá, owner of the landmark ice creamery Heladería Cadore in Buenos Aires, and he’s feeling the pinch of Argentina’s near total lockdown. Though food providers such as himself can remain open for delivery, he was in hard-hit Italy when the crisis began, returning at the end of January “with no restrictions or controls, and look what. A lot of people underestimated the situation.” He comes to work “by car, with one of my sons, to avoid contact on public transportation and we operate with as few employees as possible.”
In non-virus times, Cadore can get really crowded.
Another friend, Marcelo Ferrante of Periko’s Hostel in Bariloche (where I spent a night before crossing back into Chile on my odyssey home), found himself on an RV vacation in Spain, another country devastated by the virus—“With luck I was able to get back to Bariloche, it was difficult but I managed it.” On April 8th, he wrote me, “We had to close on March 20th when the last guests left” (I had departed on the 16th). Then, he added, “I don’t think we’ll be able to open before before June 1st,” which would coincide roughly with ski season, but even that sounds optimistic to me.

That said, Argentina appears to be relaxing its strict quarantine restrictions, though the details are not yet clear. It's not been so draconian under California's "shelter-in-place" measures but, on an early Saturday supermarket run, I stocked up on Three Twins ice cream which, sadly, has folded under sustained economic pressure exacerbated by the plague.

Empanada Time!
On the bright side, here in the East Bay we have multiple options for Argentine-style empanadas, which are my favorites. There are four places within 2.1 miles (3.4 km) from our home in Oakland’s Temescal district.
9 de Julio Empanadas at the annual Temescal Street Fair on Telegraph Avenue
Unfortunately the one within easiest walking distance, the 9 de Julio Empanada Kitchen, hasn’t yet opened its new physical location in Rockridge, though it appears to be doing catering. Taking its name from the date Argentina’s independence day, it’s the creation of Erica Sanders, an Afro-American woman who moved to Buenos Aires to learn the art of the empanada. In past years, I’ve tasted her product—which features empanada styles from throughout the Americas—at street fairs in Montclair and Temescal, but the public health crisis appears to have delayed the opening.
Windows at the Wooden Table Café have fileteado flourishes.
The next closest is Uptown Oakland’s Wooden Table Café, which I’ve only sampled erratically because I usually pass it after taxiing my wife to work (she’s now telecommuting). Parking is scarce, though, so stopping is a matter of opportunity on my way back home. It’s very specifically Argentine, to the point of offering yerba mate drinks (the current crisis makes me wonder whether Argentines—and Uruguayans—will give up the custom of passing around the mate gourd, with a shared bombilla, among friends and family). It also offers a variety of sickly sweet alfajoresdulce de leche concoctions which are not to my taste. I do like the decorative fileteado on the windows, though.
Javi's Cooking is the empanadería I've most often patronized.
Nearly as close is Javi’s Cooking, in the Hoover-Foster district, whose products I first saw in the frozen food section at Berkeley Bowl West, and later sampled in Javier Sandes’s food truck during an event at Lake Merritt. It’s a place that I’ll make an occasional escapadita to when food in the fridge is scarce, and it also offers facturas (pastries) including my personal favorite medialunas (croissants, of a sort).
With its sidewalk seating, Café Buenos Aires feel more like a spot in the Argentine capital.
The most distant of the bunch is South Berkeley’s Café Buenos Aires (2.1 miles or 3.4 km), which I stumbled upon while taxiing an Argentine political scientist to a downtown event there. It has a wider menu than the others, especially with regard to pastries, but it’s not quite so convenient as the others. It’s a bit more spacious as well but, under current conditions it—like all the rest—is for takeout or delivery only.
María Laura's homemade empanadas - chard in this case - are our default choice these days.
In any event, we’ve not bought empanadas recently. The local price of roughly $5 each would appall most Argentines but, fortunately, my Argentine wife is capable of making them much more cheaply with no sacrifice in quality. Still, I look forward to revisiting all these others, so nearby, in person when our shelter-in-place restrictions relax.

Monday, March 30, 2020

On the Way Home...

Last Tuesday, after managing to change my flight from Chile to my California home, I was killing time until, on the morning of my presumed Friday departure, I received an email from a friend in Puerto Varas. He referred me to a US embassy warning that LATAM Airlines had no scheduled flights to the United States for that day. This alarmed me, to say the least, as I wasn’t sure I could handle yet another postponement during the coronavirus crisis.
The US Embassy's alert suggested there'd be no Friday night flight.
Unwilling to accept the news from a single source—even one with the embassy’s authority—I immediately emailed a friend who works in the communications department at Nuevo Pudahuel, the concessionaire that operates Santiago’s Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benítez. He told me that they’d received a communiqué to that effect from the airline; there would be a flight to Miami, he added, but availability was doubtful.
Nuevo Pudahuel's website showed my flight leaving on time.
This, of course, alarmed me even more, but when I went to LATAM’s flight status page, it assured me that my 11:55 p.m. departure for Los Angeles was still on schedule, even though many other flights had been canceled or delayed. Just in case, I phoned their local customer service number and got the same encouraging response. Still, I asked the agent to look into further, and she left me on hold for some time before repeating that confirmation. She added, however, that if there were any change in status I should receive an email from the airline by 6 p.m.
Neil Young's lyrics suggested the uncertainty of everything. 
On a hunch, I went to Nuevo Pudahuel’s passenger page which—despite what my friend there had written—also showed the flight to be on schedule. With Marializ Maldonado, who would drive me to the airport, I decided on waiting until 7 p.m., rechecking the online resources before departing. Neil Young’s words to "On the Way Home," sung here by Richie Furay, seemed appropriate.

At the Airport, on the Plane
When that hour arrived, we threw my bags into the car and, via a nearly empty highway, arrived at an airport that is usually swarming with people but was now almost equally empty. After confirming with floor personnel that my flight was still in order, I approached the check-in—with virtually no line—to get my boarding pass and drop my bags. It was a pleasant surprise that, even though my reservation inexplicably indicated only one bag on an international flight, LATAM accepted my second one at no additional charge.
Normally packed on a Friday evening, Santiago's airport was eerily empty.
Passing through immigration and security was equally expeditious, and I found myself with nearly four more hours to kill before departure. That left plenty of time for one last pisco sour—even though the only restaurant serving alcohol was a US chain whose name I’ll decline to mention here, I bit the bullet on an overpriced cocktail. I also ordered a chicken sandwich that was at least palatable but, except in desperation, I’ll never choose to eat there again. 
With many flights delayed or canceled, Nuevo Pudahuel has provided cots for napping.
Only about half-full, with passengers spaced fairly well, this was a bare-bones flight that served only water—no alcohol or even soft-drinks (except perhaps in business class). Having sandwiched earlier, I declined the dinner, but the next morning’s breakfast was perhaps the worst airline meal I’ve ever had. Except for one edible asparagus spear and some soggy mushrooms, it wasn’t even recognizable as food, and I really didn't want to know what it was. Nor was there tea or coffee.

Back in the USA
The baggage claim at LAX was virtually vacant.
On arrival at LAX, the airport was even emptier than SCL had been the night before, and I’ve never gone through immigration and customs faster at any US airport. There was one oddity, however—on board the flight, cabin personnel had distributed a CDC traveler health declaration that asked whether a passenger had been to China’s Hubei Province and other destinations that had seen coronavirus outbreaks.
The CDC's explanation of its health declaration.
There was no screener for arriving passengers, nor anywhere to submit the declaration (which I will now recycle).
Badly drawn, the declaration claimed to be mandatory but also seemed to state that only travelers coming from affected countries would be obliged to fill it out. In the end, though, that was irrelevant—nobody collected or even asked for the form, nor was there any box to drop it in. This, of course, could easily be a metaphor for the current administration’s ineptitude and negligence in confronting the greatest public health crisis in a century.

On the Road Again
My ticket home included a connecting flight to San Francisco, but dealing with security theater and being cooped up in another plane didn’t appeal to me, so I chose to rent a car. I’ve done this before, and often use it as an excuse to explore parts of the California coast and coast range that I don’t know as well, and also to visit a winery and have lunch in San Luis Obispo or Paso Robles.
Despite the crisis, Harris Ranch remains the go-to place along I-5 between Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
This time, though, I chose the most direct, quickest route via Interstate 5 through the Central Valley, where digital highway warning signs advised us to stay at home and avoid gatherings. I stopped at Coalinga's Harris Ranch, a classic lunch break at almost the exact midpoint of the trip; in the current crisis, the restaurant proper is closed, but they’ve set up a tent to take orders and deliver them to your car. I chose a grilled chicken sandwich and a lemonade before continuing north, arriving in Oakland around 4 p.m.
Chaltén was ready for a walk.
Here I’m sheltering in place, and couldn’t even embrace my wife or daughter, though I could give a hug to Chaltén, the rescue husky who’s quickly become part of the family. After that, we returned my rental car to Oakland International Airport and, following a light dinner, I was in bed by 8 p.m. (midnight Chilean time, though).
Our neighborhood's many restaurants mostly remain open for takeaway meals.
I awoke at 3 a.m. and, after indulging in some videos, took the dog for a walk at daybreak. On a Sunday morning, there were few people out but, in a neighborhood with many restaurants, I noticed that nearly all of them now offer takeout. For the time being, at least, this is the new normal.
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