Friday, November 27, 2020

Farewell, Jan Morris...and That Soccer Guy

In the early 1990s, I finished my original guidebook to Argentina for a publisher whose name I will decline to mention here. Shortly thereafter, the same publisher offered me a contract to update their existing guidebook to Chile, which I accepted, and my career as a guidebook writer seemed like destiny.

While those two assignments might sound comparable or almost identical, there were significant differences. The same author—whose name I will also decline to mention here--had done the previous editions of both books. In the case of Argentina, though, the author held copyright and, therefore, I had to start the book from scratch. Given that the book was awful—so bad that the publisher decided to do a new version shortly after the initial publication—on one level that was no big deal.


Of course, that meant more work for me (and my wife), who also wrote part of the new title. We had to avoid plagiarizing the previous author’s work but, given its shortcomings, that was never an issue. The downside was that the publisher would claim the copyright to our new book, as it was then eliminating author-friendly royalty contracts.


In the case of Chile, the publisher already owned the copyright, so plagiarism would not be an issue—or would it? That came to mind last week when I heard that Jan Morris, famed for her journalism, travel writing and personal life, died Friday at the age of 94. I had once unknowingly plagiarized her.

When Jan Morris visited Puerto Montt, in the early 1960s, it looked different than it does today.

In 1961, Morris had described the southern city of Puerto Montt as filled with “structures in the Alpine manner, all high-pitched roofs and quaint balconies.” Thirty years later, the author of the Chile guidebook wrote that “many houses are of northern-European design, faced with unpainted shingles, high-pitched roofs and quaint, ornate balconies,” without attribution.


Updating the book, I was unaware of the flagrant plagiarism until several years later, when I expanded the quotation with appropriate credit to Morris herself. Legally, the publisher would probably have been responsible but, when I was fortunate enough to meet her at the annual Book Passage Travel Writers Conference in 1999, Jan simply laughed it off. That’s a great way to remember her.


It Goes to 11, or Is It 60?

In other necrology news, soccer icon Diego Maradona has died at the age of 60. Never able to appreciate soccer’s absence of hand-eye coordination, I'm not a fan of the sport, but there’s still no underestimating the impact this addictive personality had on his native country—which was always willing to rationalize his personal shortcomings.

Maradona shares a mural with tango icon Aníbal Troilo.

Argentine President Alberto Fernández declared three days of mourning, with Maradona’s body lying in state in the Casa Rosada presidential palace, but that turned into a truncated free-for-all as many fans tried to force their way in to view the corpse; earlier, morgue employees at the autopsy site apparently took selfies of that event.


In a country where embalming is unusual—the most famous case is that of Eva Perón, whose post-mortem odyssey is a true epicMaradona apparently requested to have himself put on public display in perpetuity, but the family appears to have overruled that. “El Diego” may never enjoy Evita’s privileged position at the elite Cementerio de la Recoleta, but his tomb in suburban Buenos Aires Province seems likely to  become a pilgrimage site in its own right.


Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano may have summed up his legacy best: “Maradona was condemned to believe himself Maradona and obliged to be the star of every party, the baby at every baptism, and corpse at every wake. Success is even more devastating than cocaine. No analysis of urine or blood can reveal that drug.”

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Should the Borders Open?

In March, after the COVID pandemic drove me back to California, I put aside thoughts of returning to Argentina and Chile for the foreseeable future. It didn’t help, of course, that my passport expired in September and, amidst evidence that the US Government was slow-walking renewals, I couldn’t even find the document in question—making its renewal a moot point. Somehow, in the process of self-quarantining on my return, it had gone astray.

We thought we’d searched everywhere possible, with no luck whatsoever. But then, in the process of finding a Hawai’i guidebook for my daughter, who was flying there for a ten-day holiday, my wife stumbled upon the document in a basement bookshelf. I had no memory of putting it there, but I’m relieved that it’s still in my possession.


In theory, I could now apply for a renewal right now, but to what end? Historically speaking, a US passport has opened doors to the world, but the current administration’s mismanagement of the greatest public health crisis in a century has rapidly devalued our citizenship. Ideally, the current election will reverse the process but, even so, it’s not likely to happen overnight. We will need a major U-turn.


Desperately Premature?

In the meantime, how are things looking beyond the Equator? Just a few days ago, the government of Argentine President Alberto Fernández made the surprising decision to open its borders to neighboring countries—Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia and Chile—in the interest of reactivating its economy for the approaching summer. There will be no quarantine, but some limitations: there will be no overland entry points—only by air or river (in the case of Uruguay)—and and a negative COVID test in the country of origin will be obligatory.

Are the immigration lines at Buenos Aires's international airport likely to match this any time soon?

This leaves some questions unanswered, though. Uruguay, which has been the continent’s most successful country in controlling the COVID crisis, has announced that it will not reciprocate, keeping its borders closed to foreign tourists. It may be most concerned with its porous northern border—the Uruguayan city of Chuy and its Brazilian neighbor Chui, for instance, share a main avenue that marks the limit between the countries. Still, even if Uruguay allows its citizens to cross the river to Buenos Aires, it’s not likely to reciprocate toward Argentines heading the other direction.

Argentina may be counting on the passenger ferries from Uruguay, but will Uruguay reciprocate?

The statement issued by Argentina’s tourism minister, Matías Lammens, left some things unsaid. While citizens of neighboring countries are presumably clear to cross the border, what about resident non-citizens—say, a US citizen living permanently in Chile? What about legal tourists to bordering countries, such as Brazil, which still allows US citizens to enter by air? Can they cross into Argentina as well?


Who’ll Go, and How’ll They Get Around?

One question, of course, is whether anybody will want to go. After an early lockdown seemed successful, Argentina’s per capita COVID stats are a bit better than Chile’s but worse than Brazil’s in terms of total cases, though not quite so bad as Peru’s. Another question is the practicality of logistics in a country that now requires special permission for inter-provincial travel, with internal checkpoints at every provincial border.

Argentina's current COVID-19 statistics are not encouraging (

In the course of writing a magazine article on coastal Patagonia, which I submitted last weekend, I heard from one operator that “transportation between cities is restricted, except for emergencies, flights are resuming but only for medical issues and special cases, not for tourists, and I think it will be difficult to open again before the end of the year. All our 2020 reservations were canceled, but there’s a ray of light toward the season’s end, in February or March, if the situation improves, but there’s lots of uncertainty at present.” Another eco-resort was unable to open on October 1st, its usual date—“We have all our hygiene and security protocols in place, but the outlook is uncertain and far from encouraging. Hopefully we’ll be able to open when summer starts, at least!”


It’s worth adding that Chile is also considering reopening its border to tourists. One eco-lodge operation in northern Patagonia just wrote me that “I think we’ll open in early December, right now we’re looking at the security protocols, we’ll also offering a half-price deal if a group wants to take over the whole lodge for a minimum of four days without additional services except for lodging and kitchen access.”


In Tentative Conclusion…

For my part, in search of normality, I’ll take it step by step. In that sense, I actually enjoyed having my teeth cleaned yesterday—my dentist’s reopening is, hopefully, an early indicator that things in California have begun to return to normal (Joe Biden’s victory should make it even more so!). Before we started, the hygienist required me to cleanse my mouth with a wash of iodine and mint (not hydrochloroquine!) and they refrained from polishing the teeth, as that could spread aerosols.


That said, this will be the first winter in recent memory that I will spend entirely in the Northern Hemisphere. Though I miss South America, I’m personally not confident enough to plan my return for another year or so.

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