Argentina journal

High pass border, there’s a man in a shack that has rickety wooden double doors that let the whistling gale in, we chat, this solitary Bolivian functionary thumps the stamp and pats me on the back, thanks me for visiting his pais. Nearby a pole with a sign, another few K then over a small edge bump, suddenly Larry whrrr on pavement, asphalt, blacktop, I wasn’t necessarily longing for it, in fact I like it less, but it’s nice not to have washboards.

Transitions, boggling descents, hillfolds, soon riding in sunshine warmth headed to hot. The words are a little more articulated, but also snappier and with sh ch jjhuh sounds where I don’t expect, I have to focus and interpolate at pace, smartly trimmed roadblock police, calm friendly questions. I’m expectant for observing the source of gravity here, entering Argentina the back way, literally and metaphorically, Buenos Aires as distant from this landscape as Tokyo or Helsinki are. And for days it’s a swimming flotsam of impressions. Far greater wealth than Peru or Bolivia, of course, shiny pickups, zippy recent model cars, at one highway crossroad there is a gas station with an interior all of white and metal surfaces, could be at an off ramp in Missouri, panini sandwiches lined up waiting to be microwaved and the woman behind the counter in a smart polyester uniform. One day for breakfast I stop at the village corner shop and buy a wedge of divine cheese and a baguette and a square of chocolate, sit in the tree shaded plaza not particularly nostalgic for the empty tiendas of the last weeks. Soon I’ll be shuffling confusedly through a bonafide grocery store, frightened by the largesse. It all makes me feel more self conscious in my stinking riding clothes and permanently dirt infused shoes.

Habits return to those learned living in Tucson, brim tipped down warding sunward, breathing now different in the heat and sanddust, cones axons pulsing rhythmically to red emphasis and curved rock, greens are tactile, ominously prickly.

But there is too the other way of my knowing without knowing this place, through the pens of two favorite writers, Borges and Cortazar. Not what they’ve said explicitly in their writing, though both offer studied attention to detail and at various times in their careers specifically foregrounded gaucho culture. But more in the dappled shadows of their prose, the background that is the landscape superstructure even in stories of numerical abstraction in Borges’ case or intimate singularly urban life in Cortazar’s. There is a kind of implicit metaphysics derived from place, from the kinetic physics of it rather than the other way ’round, that infuses what they see with their writer’s eyes, helped along by the angular precise readiness of Spanish for philosophy and its equal lyrical comfort for poetry, maybe even occupying the sweet spot between these.

The labor in the sunshine and the symbiotic coordination with domesticants, the acquisition of expertise as a ranch hand, skills cultivated against a background of hills and hard to deny horizons, the creak of leather scrape rope clumps of earth moved. Soon the body does and the imagination can roam into an exquisite detachment where magic isn’t unexpected or where in- and anti-corporeal Platonic forms are realized on tesseracts, the way they are in Ficciones. There is no danger of these visions compromising or getting away from their authors. They are Argentinian, ineluctably there and using the confidence in the footholds to achieve leaps.

I show up to dinner at 8:45, looking around it feels like I am early. Drink 375 ml of serviceable Mendoza red at a better clip than one ought, thoughts are loose and sloshing and I grin and say buen provecho to immaturely antagonize dour tourists with skeptical expressions, but at least the Argentinians, to whom I mean it, earnestly say “thank you.” Days for me are getting shorter since the solstice, I muse, and thus the tiny code is compressed closer.

I divide the stated hostal price by four to try to imprint the value of the currency. In the morning I distractedly switch the tires on the Pugsley, the one with more life in it now on the rear since it is wearing faster. These days are a break but not an afterthought, though thinking, itself, may be.