Friday, January 27, 2012

Domingo F. Sarmiento, "Physical Aspect of the Argentine Republic, and the Forms of Character, Habits, and Ideas Induced by It," Facundo, or Civilization and Barbarism

The Continent of America ends at the south in a point, with the Strait of Magellan at its southern extremity. Upon the west, the Chilean Andes run parallel to the coast at a short distance from the Pacific. Between that range of mountains and the Atlantic is a country whose boundary follows the River Plata up the course of the Uruguay into the interior, which was formerly known as the United Provinces of the River Plata, but where blood is still shed to determine whether its name shall be the Argentine Republic or the Argentine Confederation. On the north lie Paraguay, the Gran Chaco, and Bolivia, its assumed boundaries. 

The vast tract which occupies its extremities is altogether uninhabited, and possesses navigable rivers as yet unfurrowed even by a frail canoe. Its own extent is the evil from which the Argentine Republic suffers; the desert encompasses it on every side and penetrates its very heart; wastes containing no human dwelling, are, generally speaking, the unmistakable boundaries between its several provinces. Immensity is the universal characteristic of the country: the plains, the woods, the rivers, are all immense; and the horizon is always undefined, always lost in haze and delicate vapors which forbid the eye to mark the point in the distant perspective, where the land ends and the sky begins. On the south and on the north are savages ever on the watch, who take advantage of the moonlight nights to fall like packs of hyenas upon the herds in their pastures, and upon the defenseless settlements. When the solitary caravan of wagons, as it sluggishly traverse the pampas, halts for a short period of rest, the men in charge of it, grouped around their scanty fire, turn their eyes mechanically toward the south upon the faintest whisper of the wind among the dry grass, and gaze into the deep darkness of the night, in search of the sinister visages of the savage horde, which, at any moment, approaching unperceived, may surprise them. If no sound reaches their ears, if their sight fails to pierce the gloomy veil which covers the silent wilderness, they direct their eyes, before entirely dismissing their apprehensions, to the ears of any horse standing within the firelight, to see if they are pricked up or turned carelessly backwards. Then they resume their interrupted conversation, or put into their mouths the half-scorched pieces of dried beef on which they subsist. When not fearful of the approach of the savage, the plainsman has equal cause to dread the keen eyes of the tiger, or the viper beneath his feet. This constant insecurity of life outside the towns, in my opinion, stamps upon the Argentine character a certain stoical resignation to death by violence, which is regarded as one of the inevitable probabilities of existence. Perhaps this is the reason why they inflict death or submit to it with so much indifference, and why such events make no deep or lasting impression upon the survivors. 

1 comment:

  1. "Benjamín Otálora cuenta, hacia 1891, diecinueve años. Es un mocetón de frente mezquina, de sinceros ojos claros, de reciedumbre vasca; una puñalada feliz le ha revelado que es un hombre valiente; no lo inquieta la muerte de su contrario, tampoco la inmediata necesidad de huir de la República. El caudillo de la parroquia le da una carta para un tal Azevedo Bandeira, del Uruguay. Otálora se embarca, la travesía es tormentosa y crujiente; al otro día, vaga por las calles de Montevideo, con inconfesada y tal vez ignorada tristeza. No da con Azevedo Bandeira; hacia la medianoche, en un almacén del Paso del Molino, asiste a un altercado entre unos troperos. Un cuchillo relumbra; Otálora no sabe de qué lado está la razón, pero lo atrae el puro sabor del peligro, como a otros la baraja o la música. Para, en el entrevero, una puñalada baja que un peón le tira a un hombre de galera oscura y de poncho. Éste, después, resulta ser Azevedo Bandeira. (Otálora, al saberlo, rompe la carta, porque prefiere debérselo todo a sí mismo.) Azevedo Bandeira da, aunque fornido, la injustificable impresión de ser contrahecho; en su rostro, siempre demasiado cercano, están el judío, el negro y el indio; en su empaque, el mono y el tigre; la cicatriz que le atraviesa la cara es un adorno más, como el negro bigote cerdoso." Borges, El Muerto.