Thursday, October 04, 2007


are they having a relationship?
Javier and Sandra have an assado for bikers on Saturdays. I take the Metro and the train out to Florida. An East German is the only other foreigner. He is a computer engineer (mamoth computers), works as a consultant for a couple of years, then does a runner for a year, wandering Latin America on a big bike. Back home his friends think him crazy: all that money he could be earning and hoarding in the bank. Ming would understand; he is about to do another runner. So would the Polish software expert I met last year in Porto Bello, Panama. The Pole was director of a software company in Boston, Mas. He gave lunch to a client in a restaurant over looking a marina and spotted a FOR SALE sign on a small sailboat. He walked down to the marina after lunch, bought the sailboat and never went back to the office.
What do these men have in common?
High earning capacity and discovery that money isn't a sufficient goal. Nor is it a satisfactory foundation for society. There has to be more. The East German talks of social morality. Why is shooting people a greater crime than being responsibile for people starving?
I listen and nod my agreement, drink red wine and eat meat...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


My cousin was a banker. One of his sons is a banker. Thursdays are a family get together at my cousin's home. I am proud of myself. I have climbed two flights of white marble stairs at their town house and a circular staircase to a large open plan living room that opens to a roof garden. Twelve of us sit at a square table, three to a side: my cousin and his wife, their two sons and their wives, their daughter and a blond English girl for whom statuesque or trouble are equally accurate descriptions. Various members of my family back home would never ask me to such a dinner. They think of me as inhabiting the extreme left wing of the left and worry that my politics will give offense. I have never been against people being rich. I am against people being poor.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


I was riding on ice on a dead straight gentle climb. Visibility was perfect. A driver coming from behind would have seen me from a mile back. I would have been a dot in the road, then a man on a bike and finally a man on a bike travelling at a few kilometres an hour, a biker scrabbling for purchase on the ice with his feet and clearly with minimal control. The driver that hit me didn't slow. He sounded his klaxon to warn me to get off the road. I was trying to get off the road when he hit me. I can remember the sound. I think that I heard first the plastic above the rear wheel shattering. I remember my shoulder hitting the ice and the black fender above me and knowing that the wheels of the truck were a few feet back from my skull. I knew that, I was fully aware of it. I expected to go under the wheels. I didn't. I was sliding on the ice. I wanted the driver to slow. I kept thinking why doesn't he brake? Why doesn't he slow? We slid and slid. The klaxon was holding me. The klaxon mounts had snapped. The two electrical cables to the klaxon held. I remember the cables. The driver and the driver's mate dragged me and the bike out from under the truck fender and helped me to my feet. The klaxon was dangling by the cables. It must have been trapped behind my knees.
The driver held me in his arms. He called me hermano and was crying. The Chilean cops came. I told them that the accident was my fault, that the driver wasn't to blame in any way. They accepted what I said. They wanted to get me to the first aid post. They didn't take a statement from the driver. I am glad they didn't. I shouldn't have been riding on ice.
I have made jokes about the accident up till now - how it is to be hit by three trucks - orthopaedic trucks because my back hasn't hurt once since and I had been in continual pain for the four months prior to the accident.
It wasn't a joke. I should be dead. That I am alive is almost inexplicable. Two electrical cables probably made the difference between life and death, between being crushed and being alive. I would have felt the wheels hit the back of my head. There would have been a few seconds of sliding with the tyre against my head before I was crushed. I was fully conscious. I would have felt it all happen quite slowly and known all the time exactly what was happening until the tyres finally crushed my head. I needed to write this down. I have been feeling increasingly shaky. I suppose that I am suffering delayed shock...And being alone now, no longer amongst the guys at the Hotel Argentino, I don't have to maintain an act. You know? The tough upper lip Brit? I got hit by three trucks, Ha Ha Ha...


I have a tribe of cousins here in Buenos Aires. They are cousins at three or four generations distance. Thirty years ago one of them was over in England playing polo and sold my brother a pony at the end of the season. That was the only contact until I called on my way south to Ushuaia and was invited to lunch by the seller of the polo pony and his wife. A brother and his wife were present. They have been sending me emails since the accident, worrying and fussing, wanting me to come stay while I heal, be checked over by the doctors they use. This phlegmatic Brit is embarrassed at writing of how much this family connection and support has helped me over the past weeks. I get weepy. I am weepy. I have suffered a shock. Pepe is up here from Tierra del Fuego and visiting patients. We were in a cab earlier on the way to an art exhibition. He made me face what really happened on the road. I guess he felt it was time - or he was bored by my romanticised account. Now that I have faced what happened I feel sick in the stomach. I want to throw up. My hands shake. As I write, I feel weepy.


Javier and Sandra of Dakar Motos have a bunk room for visiting bikers and a garden where bikers can pitch a tent. A Scotsman and his girlfriend on a Beemer are staying as is an East German Computer engineer. Mostly I feel a fraud when I chat with fellow bikers. Real bikers don't ride baby Hondas. Being hit by three trucks is a passport to the inner circle. I talk with an Argentine. Javier joins our conversation. Javier enjoys speaking English which irritates the Argentine biker. The biker has strong views. Everything has gone to hell since the return to democracy. Kids lack discipline. They don't work. They don't study. They drink, they fuck, they take dope. Parents are as bad, lazy, always expecting a handout. I recognise the biker. I drove Don's Hummer behind his twin last year in Dallas. Fun to put them in a small room. Would they kill each other before they discovered they shared such similar beliefs?


The metro runs direct from Avenida del Mayo to the bus and rail stations at Retiro. A Belgrano train to Florida gets me close to Dakar Motos. The journey is easy. Uncomfortable is seeing the hovels teetering on every available piece of wasteland. Poverty is the flip side of Buenos Aires.
Javier at Dakar Motos speaks English. He is a tall man, red hair, a biker from his boots to the top of his head. The baby Honda sits on a mechanic's pedestal. It has no back wheel, no rear suspension. It looks small. It is small. Even in one piece it would be dwarfed by the BMWs, Africa Twins and whatever. Ming's Monster looks small. Ming has given it to a friend. The friend will pick it up next week. Javier says the baby Honda should be ready for next Wednesday.


Buenos Aires is a light, clean and beautiful city with many parks. For much of the architecture, imagine Paris late 19th century. What are the costs?
Room with large double bed and a good bathroom half a block off the Avenida del Mayo which is as central as you can get: $19
Big container of fresh fruit salad from the greengrocer on the same bloc: $1.15
Take a left and walk a block and a half to the Chinese: The best ever hot and sour soup: $2.20
I keep a bottle of wine at the Chinese and drink a glass when I ever eat there - often late in the evening to watch a movie on cable TV. $6 will buy a good steak and fries in a brasserie. A cab to most places is $2 or less. Metro is $0.25 a ride. Urban train fare five stops to Dakar Motors to check on the bike is $0.50. I saw the third Bourne movie at a clean movie house: $1.20


The Gran Hotel Espana is my home away from home. The Gran is a misnomer. The hotel is small. I have a quite room and bath at the rear on the third floor. Were cynicism an Olympic support, the manager would be a shoo-in for the Gold medal. I sit in the tiny lobby and chat with the afternoon receptionist, Gustavo. He telephoned Rio Grande as soon as he read of the accident. Such small acts of kindness and concern are heartening on a long journey - knowing that you have the support of friends.


Eight hours to Buenos Aires, look out of the window and the land is flat. We saw a hill four hours ago. We won't see another. I have read the newspaper. I don't have a book. For sport, I list other similarities shared by Argentina and the USA.
The bulk of the population are descendants of comparatively recent immigration (beginning in the late 1890s).
The bulk of immigrants were poorly educated and driven from their birth countries by war, poverty and persecution.

Both countries slaughtered their indigenous population around the same time and mythologised the killers.
Cowboy and gaucho are equally romanticised.
Both gaucho and cowboy duelled and murdered each other, gauchos with knives, cowboys with revolvers.
Both Chacara and Country and Western music celebrate loneliness and the broken heart.
I discussed similarities with an Argentine sociologist in Rio Grande. He wrote his doctoral theses in Arizona. He claimed one essential difference: North Americans are optimists. They believe in a better future.
Argentines are fatalists. They have no belief in a better future.


We are on an airfield one thousand miles long by five hundred miles wide. Farmers have ploughed bits of the airfield, planted crops and a few trees. Travelling by train from NY to Dallas was the same - totally flat. Look out of the window and you wonder what quirk sited a town where it is rather than ten or twenty miles south, east, north or west. The wastage of land is similar. We Europeans treasure every square metre. A business fails, someone rebuilds on the same site. Not so in small town Argentina or in small town USA. Abandoned buildings abound. Land is cheap. Easier to build new on a green site. So the urban sprawl spreads.