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This is a story about Argentina, England and love.  It will be published in several parts as it is being written, so follow the story as it develops. You can find me on facebook as Kenny Beechmount.

 

 

The Journal

By Kenny Beechmount

Roger had been busy for days going through the contents of his father’s estate. Earl had left him a sizable amount of money and his house with all its contents, which proved to be very substantial. It wasn’t just the furniture and the large number of books in the library, but also all the boxes that were filled with old files, documents and correspondence. Roger and Vivian had decided to sell their own house, which they had bought more than 15 years ago, and move into his father’s house, named “Brighton House”, after his great grandfather, who had built it. Vivian had always loved that house because of its ample size and classic architecture. She thought It was much more suited to their lifestyle than their own house.

He had to decide what to do with the many boxes of documents, but he didn’t want to arbitrarily discard them without going through their content first. Vivian was super busy with her architect business and Roger was working long hours as a bridge design engineer for the consulting civil engineering firm he worked for. He decided to take his time and go through them when his schedule permitted, which was mainly on weekends.

Earl Brighton’s career as a specialist in tropical agronomy had brought him to many different parts of the world and he would frequently be away for more than a year at a time. The long absences created a feeling of lonesomeness for both Vivian and Roger, but it was the way life turned out for them.

Some weeks after Earl’s funereal, Roger and Vivian moved into Brighton House. They had given away some of the furnishings plus odds and ends they didn’t need and some of the boxes with his files and work records had been looked through and burned, not having any relevance to anyone. Earl’s laboratory had also been cleared out and the rest of the boxes had been stored there.

Weeks went by and nothing unusual happened, that is, until Roger was going through some of his father’s boxes on a Saturday afternoon. Inside one of them, he found a shoe box with a couple of letters and what appeared to be a journal of of some kind. He thought it was letters Earl had written to his mother, when he was overseas, but both letters were dated 1929, 14 years after he had married Carissa, and nine years after he was born. He opened the first one it and began to read.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Sep 18, 1929

Dear Earl,

First, I want to thank you for the lovely dinners and the lovely time we had together. You are such a gentleman, so marvellously funny to be with and I look forward to your return later this year- in fact, I can hardly wait.

The office of the Department of Agriculture is arranging your next contract, which will include some soil surveys and an assessment of the fruit growing areas north of here. You must prepare yourself for some extensive travelling by car and, as you have already experienced, the roads are not the best.

You asked me to keep you abreast of the political situation here in Argentina. I can tell you that President Hipólito Yrigoyen was only elected last year. This is his second time, as he was first elected for a term in 1916. Both houses of congress are controlled by his party, the Radicals, most of whom are middle class political professionals, who favour social reform. There is a lingering unrest amongst the conservatives, who feel the experiment in democracy threatens the socioeconomic net in the country, but the government’s agricultural policies have been quite successful and for the moment, things appear stable. The military have undergone changes in the last decade and it seems the officer core, many of whom are sons of the landed aristocracy, is unhappy with the entire political system, as are scores inside the church hierarchy, who also represent the old elite. Many of them own huge estates (estancias, as they are called here) with impressive mansions. You will see some of them when you come again.

As you know, Carlos Gardel, our national tango idol, is back in Buenos Aires again. He returned after touring Paris and Madrid in June together with the two guitarists Barbieri and Aguilar and they are now playing in all the best restaurants and bistros here in the city. I love the songs “Adiós Muchachos, Cuando tú no estás, Lo han visto con otra” and so many more. Too bad there wasn’t time to go and dance when you when you were here. Gardel is immensely popular.

As soon as I receive the contract proposals from the Minister of Agriculture’s secretary, I’ll will look them over and send the documents to you. Don’t forget to address any correspondence related to the contract to me at the following address

Srta. Andrea Zucaro, Abogado

Derecho Departamento Legal

Ministerio de Economía

Avenida Del Libertador 2800

Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Please send personal letters to my home address. My secretary opens all my mail (my instructions) before she gives it to me and she is quite inquisitive.

I can’t wait to see you and hold you in my arms again.

Con mucho amor

Andrea

“Vivian! Come in here” Roger shouted. You’ve got to see this”. Vivian came running into the old lab. “What is it, Roger, what’s so important?” she asked.

“Look, I found a shoebox with some letters that appear to be some kind of personal correspondence of dad’s. There is also a journal of a kind. I just read the first letter from 1929, and it looks like father had a love affair in Argentina”, he said

He handed the letter to Vivian who began to read it. “Oh my God she said, it’s clear as crystal he had an affair with this woman, Andrea.” She looked into the box with the letters and grabbed the second one. “Well, let’s see, the next letter, she said. It is also postmarked 1929. She unfolded the pages in great anticipation and began to read it aloud.

Brighton House,

Farnborough, England,

October 8, 1929

Dearest Andrea,

Thanks for your letter, which arrived yesterday. The marvel of the new transatlantic ocean liners surely do speed up the mail service between Europe and the American continent. In the old days, your letter would not have arrived for another two weeks or more at the best. SS Bremen, a German ocean liner, made the trip from Bremerhaven to New York in four days, 17 hours, and 42 minutes in July of this year. I guess the mail to Argentina is then forwarded from New York to Montevideo and then to Buenos Aires via mail steamer. There is talk of perhaps getting trans-Atlantic flights in the near future. Some flights have already crossed the Atlantic between continental Europe and America, but no announcements of commercial flights have been made yet. Time wise that would be a huge advantage over travel by ocean liners and think about the affect it would have on international mail service

Let me hasten to say that meeting you was one of the most exciting things that ever happened in my life. You are an incredibly beautiful and gracious woman, someone I have dreamt of meeting all my life. I was completely honest with you when I explained I was married and had a nine-year old son, but there is much more to tell, especially after I made love to you the night before I left. You have no idea how wonderful it was. I never have I felt as happy in my life.

After my son Roger was born in 1920, my wife changed in ways that are hard to explain. Our love life fell apart or perhaps I should say “crashed into a wall” and never recovered. No matter how hard I tried to revive it, nothing worked. For the last nine years, I have outwardly projected being happily married, but the truth is quite the opposite. I thought about divorcing Carissa, but I think Roger is too young yet. He needs a father as well as a mother. I’m essentially quite unhappy about the whole depressing situation.

I have worried a great deal about the stock market the last few of month and decided to cash in all my investments. I bought gold instead and stored it in a security box in a bank in Zurich, Switzerland. Since I made a very handsome profit on my investments, the amount of gold bullion I bought was very substantial, although I had to pay a premium over the world price of $21.00 per ounce. Don’t ask me how I managed to acquire the gold, since there are some questions yet as to the legality of a private citizen owning gold bullion here in England. If you or your family have any investments in stocks or bonds, you should consider cashing them in. The stock markets around the world, especially in New York, are running wild with uncontrolled speculation. Surely, this cannot continue and sooner or later some kind of adjustment to the inflated values must happen, which will mean losses for a lot of people.

You said your family was in the cattle business. Do they have a ranch? Since Britain imports a lot of beef from Argentina, one never knows if perhaps our next roast beef came from your family’s cattle business (I’m joking). We also import a lot of grain from your country. Britain never could grow enough of their own to satisfy the market.

Before I return to Argentina, is there anything I can bring you from Europe or New York? I may book on that ocean liner “Bremen” if the departure time fits with my plans.

I’m anxiously awaiting the contract documents so I can plan my next trip and be with you again. I’ll sign off in the same way as you did.

Con mucho amor

Earl

“I’m astounded”, said Roger. “I had no idea there was anything like that going on, I mean Earl having a lover overseas, and this is before mother died- it’s unimaginable to me. I don’t think mother had any inkling about anything untoward”. “If she did, she never let on to me”.

“Look, Roger, there’s something odd going on here”, said Vivian. “We just read a letter that Earl had sent to Argentina”. “Look at the stamp; it has been cancelled, so it must have been sent”. “How can the letter be here then?” “There is no indication it has been returned from Argentina”.

“I have no idea” said Roger and picked up the next letter from the bundle marked “A-2” 1929 and began reading.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Noviembre 3, 1929

Querido Earl,

I received your letter two days ago and how right you were with the stock market. The New York stock exchange crash that culminated on October 29th must have been a horrible situation for thousands of investors all over the world. I’m uncertain just how bad the crash has affected investors in Argentina. Many of the wealthy people here own land, rather than stocks and bonds and few if any amongst the working class have any investments and if they did, it would be in Argentinean businesses. My father is a land owner, having inherited the family estate from his father and he in turn from my great grandfather, who came from a small village called Dicomano, north of Firenze in Italy. He married the daughter and only child of a wealthy landowner and thus came into possession of the estate. I’m also the only child of my parents. The estate is near the town of Tres Arrollos, in the province of Buenos Aires.

The department of agriculture have approved the contract for the soil surveys and economic assessment of specified fruit growing regions. I should have the documents on my desk within a week and will forward them to you pronto. If you have any questions, please cable me. Assuming all goes well, you should be able to depart for Argentina in January next year and frankly, I can hardly wait for your return. Will you be staying at Hotel Castellar again?

On the political scene, things are much the same. There is uncertainty with respect to exports of grain and beef, given that the crash no doubt will affect the international markets and some reduction in exports has already been noted. There is upward pressure on interest rates, but no run on the banks as of yet.

You may want to investigate the possibility of flying from Panama to Buenos Aires. A company called Panagra now provides air transportation for passengers, mail and cargo over a 4,251-mile network of routes from Panama, Through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. The service only began this year, but seems to be growing in popularity. It would probably cut your travel time by one week, since you will only have to sail from New York to Panama and then fly from there.

All girls like to be spoiled, but you don’t have to bring me anything, Earl- just yourself.

Con mucho amor

Andrea

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A travel log of Edification and Condescension from

Mid-nineteenth century Cuba

This essay in essence is an expose of some surprising aspects of Joseph Dimock’s[1] travel diary: Impressions of Cuba in the Nineteenth Century,, with inclusive commentary on some of his frequently derogatory remarks and arrogant opinions.  While the critique of his writings is based on 21st century opinions, it is important to bear in mind that Dimock’s political and racial views were considered ordinary in some parts of society in the United States during the mid to late 1850s, and as such, not subject to substantial negative critique.  Some aspects of these political views remain nonetheless, and much to the exasperation and vexation of many countries, unchanged to this date.  In further defense of his strongly derogatory remarks, it is also necessary to reflect upon the likelihood that it was not his intention to publish his travel diary on his return to the US, but rather retain it as a private reminder of his journey.

Joseph Dimock’s journey to Cuba took place between February 2 and March 28, 1859, beginning and ending in New York City. For someone not familiar with the history of Cuba or the United States during the 1850’s and the lush tropical beauty of the Caribbean Islands, his journal will be found revealing and full of both pleasant and unpleasant surprises.   Dimock’s powers of observation rivals that of a seasoned travel writer and his remarkable ability to describe the flora, fauna and physiography of the landscapes must be applauded, especially given that he had no training as a naturalist.  His perceptive assessment of the culture, customs and daily lives of both the Spanish and non-Spanish inhabitants is a clear indication of his significant ability to observe the environment and people around him and pen his observations in a highly readable style.  Some of the information and impressions of the island’s beauty could have been obtained from other travel journeys available at the time, covering roughly the same time period and indeed, Dimock made use of some of these during his journey. 

A surprising and unusual aspect of his travel dairy, however, is the kind of unrestrained,contemptuous criticism of the extant political, racial and social conditions and his unabashed, radical and arrogant opinions of what is best for Cuba.  In defense of these, however, it must be said that not all of them were completely groundless. Equally surprising is perhaps Dimock’s conceited attitude and his persistent conviction that everything American was superior and the only requirement to solve Cuba’s problems was American intervention or better still, complete annexation of the island and incorporation into The United States.  This sentiment no doubt reflects the general expansionist views held by many in the US, following the war with Mexico (1846-1848) and the subsequent annexation of Upper California, New Mexico and Texas under the treaty with Mexico, February 2, 1818.

Dimock arrived in Cuba on February 9, 1859 and his first debasing comments are made on February 11, when he remarks on the labouring people of Cuba:

The Negroes are most of them pictures of ugliness, frightful to behold, of the true baboon class, projecting muzzle and retreating chin and forehead. They are rarely more than half clothed and their general appearance is very repulsive. They are of inky blackness and would probably rejoice in the heart of any true amalgamationist.” (JJD: 12)

Dimock is no doubt comparing the slaves’ attire in Cuba with those of the US, where modesty and climate dictated that they be better dressed.  The climate in Cuba is completely comparable to many African countries, where both men and women, at that time, wore a simple loincloth.  The Spanish and Creole slave owners in Cuba apparently did not consider the sight of a scantly dressed Negro slave offensive.  His comments however, clearly reveal his unabashed racist attitude, no doubt a reflection of his birth and early upbringing in Virginia, where slaves were extensively utilized.  He also shows a clear contempt for the view held by the so-called ‘amalgamationist’ in the US, who advocated interracial marriage and were against slavery.

The same day, on passing by some sugar warehouses, he noted a great number of Chinese coolies, dressed in only straw hats and pantaloons or cloth wrapped around their loins and hips. He is obviously repulsed by the site and writes:

“They are apparently little better than idiots in point of intellect and it is said that even niggers feel above    them.” (JJD 14)

The import of Chinese labour to Cuba began in June of 1847, when the first boatload arrived.  This was in response to the growing problem with African slaves and the fear that, due to their huge number, they might rebel.  The Chinese were not treated any better than the Negroes and although theoretically working under eight-year renewable contracts for pay, they often didn’t get paid.  In 1860, all coolies were forced to sign a new eight-year contract when the first expired or leave Cuba.  Suicide was very common amongst them.  The last shipload of Chinese coolies arrived in Cuba in 1874.

On February 14th, he discusses with his friends the idea of annexation and ‘how much better Cuba would be if belonging to the States’ thus exhibiting his American superiority complex.  There was never any doubt that the States viewed Cuba with envious eyes.  In 1848, President James K. Polk[2] and his administration had offered Spain 100 million dollars for the island, but to no avail.  Narciso López[3] a military freebooter or filibuster, tried unsuccessfully three times (1848, 1849 and 1851) to invade Cuba from the States and, also to no avail, President Franklin Pierce[4] offered Spain $130 million for Cuba in 1854, which was $30 million more than the previous offer from President Polk.  This offer became known as “The thirty million dollar bill”.

On February 18, he describes the work done by Negro slaves during the sugar cane grinding season and comments:

 “They are constitutionally indolent and have no more judgment than an animal, consequently, there are always some in the hospital.” (JJD: 45)

Treatment of the slaves in Cuba ranked as the worst there was.  They were often worked 18 hours a day and their diet was insufficient to maintain them, giving rise to their frequently emancipated appearance.  It is difficult to comprehend why Dimock opines that they are indolent, assuming that he means they are lazy.  Four hours of sleep per day combined with a poor diet is hardly conducive of great vigor or ambition, quite aside from the fact that an unwillingness to work hard must, for obvious reasons, be an inherent trait in any slave.  Apparently, the only place they were treated on an equal footing with others was in the hospitals, an enigma in a society that had no other care for slaves than to maximize the amount of labour and profit they could achieve from them.

Dimock seem to hold the impression that they (the slaves) are well fed and treated, but much evidence point to the contrary as indicated by Louis A. Perez, 1995.

“Those who worked at night in the boiling-house worked also next day in the field. The treatment of the slaves was terrible.  Dimock contradicts himself on the point of the slaves being “well fed” in his entry for March the 13th:

 “The prevailing sickness among the Negroes is diseases of the bowels, and for this reason, their food is regularly rationed out to them, but they eat fruit immoderately, where it grows in such profusion, and the consequence is, there are always more or less in the hospital.” (JJD: 99)

 The fact the slaves ate a great deal of fruit is probably an indication that the planters did not feed them sufficiently.  The additional diet of fruit is unlikely to cause diseases of the bowels. Contaminated water and unsanitary conditions are more probable causes.

Some of the more justifiable critique in his travel dairy is well illustrated in his journal entry for February 28, where he discusses funeral rights and burials:

The burial grounds are most disgusting spectacles, being full of bones and parts of decayed bodies, but very few graves remain untouched more than three month, and it is considered by that time the body has gone to dust again (or ought to), and the ground is dug over again for another occupant.”(JJD: 70)  

Even the most hardened soul would find the vision of such a scene repulsive in the extreme and it is incredibly surprising that the Catholic Church would condone this practice.  It is completely out of character when considering the religious piety that existed in Spain at the time. Even in the most primitive societies, respect for the dead far exceeds the contemptible comportment shown them by the Spanish and so graphically described by Dimock.

His contempt for the Spanish was not confined to the people alone. On March 20th, he wrote: “I see from the balcony of our hotel the flags of nearly every maritime nation.  Conspicuous are the stars and stripes, and the red cross of St. George, the sickly looking flag of Spain, with its broad yellow stripes, reminding one of a quarantine and yellow fever.” JJD: 120)

On the day of his departure for the US, March 24, 1859, he expressed his desire to see Cuba annexed by the States in the following, somewhat elegiac manner:

 “May I live to see this favoured island represented by one of the galaxy of stars, which glisten in the blue field of the flag of the free.” (JJD: 140)

There is little doubt that Dimock became genuinely fond of Cuba during his short visit, thus his desire to see the island become part of the United States may have been as much a personal wish as a reflection of the US pursuing its policy of Manifest Destiny.  It should be noted that “the free” did not include the millions of slaves residing there against their will[5], and whose destiny within two short years would be the cause of the Civil War in the states. John L. O’Sullivan, an editor and apparently influential democrat in 1845, coined the phrase “manifest destiny”.  In his attempt to justify American territorial ambitions, he wrote the following: 

The right of our manifest destiny to over spread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federaltive development of self government entrusted to us. It is right such as that of the tree to the space of air and the earth suitable for the full expansion of its principle and destiny of growth. (Brinkley: 352) quoted from Michael T. Lubragge: Manifest Destiny, 1/6 The Philosophy That Created A Nation.

The use of the words: “Providence has given us” is rather arrogant, since most of it was taken by force, rather than given to them.  In the United States’ constitution, a special provision for uniting Canada with the US is still present, perhaps an ominous reminder that the US philosophy of manifest destiny is still on the books.

Sidestepping for a moment, it is interesting to note that “The right of our manifest destiny” has unequivocal parallels in Hitler’s philosophy of “Lebensraum”

For it is not in colonial acquisitions that we must see the solution of this problem, but exclusively in the acquisition of a territory for settlement, which will enhance the area of the mother country, and hence not only keep the new settlers in the most intimate community with the land of their origin, but secure for the total area those advantages which lie in its unified magnitude. (Hitler, Mein Kampf, 653); 

It is ironic that Dimock chose to fight for the north, considering his racial opinions. Destiny, however, did not allow him to witness the outcome of the war, nor later events that nearly brought Cuba into the bosom of the US, whose citizens, to this date, still so tenaciously refer to as “The Land of The Free”, and which, to an uninitiated foreigner, invokes the idea that freedom is the exclusive reserve of the United States. 

For those intrested in Cuba as it was in the 19th century, click on the following link to see a large collection of photos from that period.

http://merrick.library.miami.edu/cdm4/results.php?CISOOP1=exact&CISOFIELD1=CISOSEARCHALL&CISOROOT=/cubanphotos&CISOBOX1=Cuban+Photograph+Collection&CISOSTART=1,101

There is also an interesting website about slavery in Cuba in the mid 1800’s

http://www.melfisher.org/exhibitions/lastslaveships/cuba.htm

 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Not published due to copy rights of this essay


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