Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bridges real, imagined, or ruined.

Parque Provincial Aconcagua

Plaza España, Mendoza

We rode the overnight bus back to Rosario from Mendoza last night, luxuriating in coche came comfort--except that my legs are a little short to take full advantage of the footrest. Dozing off, I composed a brilliant blog post in my head. What follows may or may not resemble that ur-post, that gem of observation and clever phrasing, that witty repast for the hungry soul (dinner on the bus was especially bad, and the more disappointing because Thursday night's bus dinner was quite tasty). 

Open-air lending library in the Plaza España
Mendoza's streets are wide, the sidewalks are wide, the trees are abundant. The sycamore bark seems to dapple its own shade into sunlight, or else the other way around. In any event, the effect is restful and we drank it up, along with a bit of the local wine. Not too much, though. Our first wine tasting attempt involved bright orange rental bikes and a couple of kids anxious to take to the road after weeks of city living. Mine are not city kids. So we sacrificed winery tours for the open road (more sycamores, poplars, bougainvillea blooming over doorways, the requisite acres of vines and olive groves) finally ending up at a kind of beer garden. It took some getting to (always, if the signs and friendly locals could be believed, just 300 meters further on), bumping down an unlikely gravel drive to reach a blond-log compound equipped with mismatched chairs and tables, friendly staff, decent craft beer--no wine in sight--and a loose alterna-vibe. 

Surviving chapel, ruined hotel
On Sunday, we went into the mountains. I'm used to the Andes further north, but these slopes were steeper, less green, more variegated in their reds and yellows and browns. We had some snow, just enough to make us shiver and stomp, and the clouds blocked the views of Aconcagua we'd been hoping to admire. But it was worth the trip. I've avoided organized tours, yet I enjoyed the lines of white mini-buses (small, medium, large) carting all of us around, and the sellers of crafts and snake-oil and healing rocks, and the chance to see the jumping off point for a climb my father made almost fifty years ago. He urged us, via email, to enjoy the hot baths and afternoon tea at the hotel at Puente del Inca, but the hotel is no more, lost to a slide only a year or so after Dad was there. The hot springs are now off limits, too, so as to preserve tourists from mishap and protect the natural bridge, adorned as it is (still naturally) in its orange and green mineral wash, drip by dribble by year. 

Puente Picheuta (late c. XVIII)
Andean quartz, so that health
will not be lacking in your home
 It was all natural and unnatural at once. Centuries of ruins beside the road--Inca tambos, colonial-era stone shelters, disused railroad tracks with cracking avalanche sheds falling down around them, beautifully preserved bridges from the late 1700s and from 1905. A routine itinerary with stops for photo-ops and hot chocolate, vulnerable all the same to weather and rerouting. Or revision. I don't know if any of this is what I meant to write. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

In search of lost pictures

A mysterious tech glitch having eaten a quantity of pictures off my memory card, I have tried to reconstruct what it was I saw, what I thought I wanted to remember. Snapping quick photos as a memory aid, it's easy not to look carefully enough; many of the plants are lost to me now, vague sketches of color that I recall wanting to be able to look at again. (Wasn't that Plato's warning about writing--it would make the mind lazy?) But I've salvaged a few frames:

A bright yellow orchid growing on a tree in a dusty paddock, admired just after we'd been horseback riding; we were waiting for our guide to unsaddle the horses. Bright, bright, unvariegated yellow, the flowers shaped like fans, the scalloped curve hanging downward, maybe dots of red at the base of the fan, and the flowers (they're not petals, are they?) jumbled and overlapping. The guide said it grew only on that particular tree, and that people stole chunks of it from time to time. 

In the same paddock, an old red and white Chevrolet tailgate lying in the dust, faded toward pink, placed as a shallow water trough for the horses to drink from. The white quartz gravel of the road and the golden six o'clock light on the hills behind us.

Neat vacation homes on narrow lots flush against garbage heaps (residue of the last strike) and piles of brick- in-progress. Libros Moby Dick, a bookstore in Capilla del Monte; vultures and the more attractive Caranchos with their black caps or crests gathered around a dead cow.

My mother and my two kids high up on a granite boulder in another canyon, one that used to be called El cajón and is now called Paraíso, the river dammed above to make a reservoir initially intended for recreation purposes but now, after a three-year drought, providing crucial water to the area. Box canyon becomes Eden, with a water release at the base of the dam, a metal wheel like a ship's wheel and tall water sprays arcing off like spokes at intervals. Round boulders against sharper edges, common green parrots flying over the trees, a small rodent like a guinea pig across the stream from me, and water plants, deep green and red-veined, just under the surface in a cove of the creek.

But then, too, there are the pictures I never tried to take, because the car was moving fast: kilometer after kilometer of old stone walls crisscrossing the hillsides in the Sierra de Córdoba, supplemented now by barbed wire along the highway, but still standing, keeping cattle in or out of pastures. Up close, those pastures looked to hold enough rocks to rebuild all the walls twice over with material to spare. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Borders, Boundaries, Aerial Photographs

Not having taken any such, I wrote a poem once called "Aerial Photograph." Years ago, but I still like the poem. Here it is, with several aerial photographs of a quite different landscape: the Andes at the border between Argentina and Chile, taken on a flight from Buenos Aires to Guayaquil. I was irritated when the pilot came over the loudspeaker to announce the border, waking me up (I had been up all night).  And then I was fascinated by the dry, wrinkled, not-quite-snow-covered mountains, the suggestion of roads, the possibility of habitation, but maybe not. What do the poem and the photos have to do with each other? Not much, maybe, beyond a preoccupation with landscape, and how it belongs to us, or doesn't. Or a fascination with naming, with the ways we try to fit words to the world around us, adjusting pronunciation, spelling, understanding, until we achieve some kind of congruence.

Aerial Photograph

Skin scratched red by thistles
the old orchard brush now
interpolated from an aerial map:  trees spaced so
must have been set on purpose.
The way a home site is suddenly
four survey markers and a view,
these trees bear no more fruit than elderberries
road-dusted and dripping off the stems
impossible to harvest. Ranks of purple cones
spread half a mile beyond the feeder,
that seed hung out for finches
and the orchard sinking further
into the hillside.  

Trailers and small sheds
are easily distinguished, even in the grain
of prints distilled for public use.
It's easy to count incursions, stumps
that shouldn't have been cut.
Ella's place, Bauker Hill--
old boundary names that took,
the lilac hedge patched Forest,
a flowering almond in the old front yard
really one blossomed twig against the pale shrub.

Here lives the uncle from Stober,
my grandmother says,
syntax so openly transposed
I want not to notice, or want to boast 
the proof my high school German offers--
this is where her accent lies,
not in the vowels but in the prepositions.

Or the fences. Dark indentations 
where water gathers, wire 
crossing otherwise unbroken woods--one side
is ours, and on hands and knees we grope
under rain and through a mesh
we didn't think to find. The posts
are far too new, fast question
following immediate suspicion,                                         
furtive occupation, a sliding of green
weather-treated steel a few feet south.

Like the map of certain states
shaped like limbs or articles of clothing
you can't see this place but from the air
or from a tree. Not the slow 
hazelnuts, long past production,
but from a taller fir, or the oak 
below the fence line. Like a branch 
grafted to an older trunk
this place is only what we call it.