BLTC Press Titles


available for Kindle at Amazon.com


Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman


The Worm Ouroboros

E. R. Eddison


The Bhagavad Gita

Anonymous


The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

A. Conan Doyle


Letters from the battle-fields of Paraguay

by Sir Richard Francis Burton

Excerpt:

My Dear Z ,

You ordered me to report to you in these letters more about men and modernisms than concerning cities and antiquities. I will therefore sketch the capital of this wee Republic, a South American Monaco, a dwarfish abortion amongst the Giants, with the very broadest touches.

Monte Video (not Video) has little of history, but " en revanche" an awful name, "Cidade de San Filipe y Santiago de Monte Video.'' The Spaniards and Portuguese, whilst fighting for the Colonia and the Islet rock of Martin Garcia, mere wards, wholly neglected this, the true key of the vast Platine valley, and allowed the hide huts of pauper fishermen to occupy the only good port at the mouth of the Southern Mississippi. Presently it was fixed upon by the Brazilo-Portuguese as a smuggling station, a fibre connected with the heart of the great Viceroyalty further inland. As late as 1726 the Governor of Buenos Aires, D. Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, described as a man of "bizarra y arrogante presencia," received the orders to crush the contraband, then worth to the Portuguese two annual millions of dollars; to drive the interlopers from their forts into the pauper land, now called the Province of Sao Pedro do Rio Grande do Sul, and with money supplied by the Viceroy of Potosi (not Potosi), and by the corvee of enslaved aborigines, to found, in 1726, the settlements of Monte Video and Maldonado. The colonists were mostly Canarians and Andalusians, a tall and handsome, brave and adventurous race, hard-working and not readily conquered. The Montevidians, as opposed to the Orientals, are still called " Canarios," and their pretty women, I regret to say, "Sapatos rastrados "—slipshods. There is much small but malignant jealousy between them and their rivals the Portefios, more classically termed Bonaerenses, and qualified by the smaller city as "Zaraziras," or wearers of striped clothes—once servile gear. In 1751 a Lieutenant-Governor was appointed to Monte Video, which, till then, had obeyed the commands of Buenos Aires, and from that date the progress of the place has been rapid and regular.

The protoplasm, the original expression of all these new Iberian settlements from Monte Video to Asuncion is a cell, the Plaza, a central hollow square. It dwarfed by its vastness the surrounding of mean dwellings, amongst which were the Communal, such as the church or chapel, in those times also Cemetery; the Cabildo, a town-house above and common jail below, replaced in 1825 by the "Municipality;" the barracks or police-office, and perhaps the theatre. Presently cool shady trees were planted round it, and brick or stone-paved bands of walk were run along and athwart it, the rest remaining weedy or muddy. After the "glorious days," a solitary pillar—a built-up obelisk or some other such unarchitectural, unornamental monument, with or without railing, was erected about the middle region, in memory of something or somebody, more or less memorial. Often the centrepiece is capped by Liberty, a lass of Amazonian semblance and proportions, in foolscap or Phrygian bonnet, and bathing-house drapery, armed with shield and spear, or as at Monte Video, directing at your breast—O Gringo!—a sword, with the gesture of a knife thrust. At the corners of the pedestal, around the column base, will stand busts in kitcat, of white plaster, blue ribbons (Argentine colours) and gamboge epaulets. These caricature the revolutionary generals and heroes, such as S. Martin, Bolivar (not Bolivar), Belgrano, Alvear, Lavallot, and others. The inscriptions embody some eventful date, of course differing in the several Republics; and the pleiad of South American Commonwealths " makes epochs" of almost every day in the year. Thus, "25 de Maio" (1810), is the local 4th of July commemorating Argentine independence; whereas, "18 de Julio," (1829), establishes the Constitution of Uruguay, alias the Banda Oriental. This "Eastern Side" of the Uruguay river—popularly the " Banda "—is often erroneously called Monte Video, even as Utah Territory has been merged into Salt Lake City.

Upon the Plaza debouch the long streets, whose bisections suggest to every traveller a chessboard; they change names at the square, and thus each has two, a useless luxury of nomenclature serving only to confuse. The settlement is further divided into cuadras (solid) squares or cubes, whose dimensions everywhere vary. As a rule, however, the further inland they are, the larger they grow. Here we have the cuadra of 100 varas (each 34, or to be more exact 33750 inches), and at Buenos Ayres the more normal 150 "yards." The distance is counted from the mid-street, which, at the latter city is 16 feet wide, whereas, as President Sarmiento informs us (p. 114), in old Monte Video it is only 14. The "Cuadra cuadrada," or squared square, is also called a " Manzana," or block. You would think it easy to find your way through streets perfectly straight and " distractingly regular thoroughfares," as the Britisher grumbles, liking irregularity, except in his home or his ledger. Such is, however, by no means the case, especially at night, when strangers cannot thread the maze except by aid of some remarkable building in each street. Plans, however, are everywhere published, and these may be printed even on the backs of Almanacks and Ayers Sarsaparilla.

There are two views of the little capital where she best shows her peculiarities. The first is that seen as you skirt the southern end of the eastern or new town. The thoroughfares facing west-south-west, and abutting upon the water, open as you run by them: after the gorgeous growth of Rio de Janeiro, they look bald and stony, treeless and barren as lanes in a burrow. The sky-line is fretted with miradores, gazebos, steeples, and here and there towers a gaunt factory chimney. Successively rise high into the air a huge-flanked religious house; a Dutch-tiled cupola, over whose ochred walls peep cypresses and black rows of empty niches declaring it to be a cemetery; the English "temple" resembling a shed to stable bathing machines, or a reformed powder magazine sulkily turning back upon the bay; the new hospital (de Caridad), three storied, yellow tinted, and dwarfing as it should the churches; the big brick barn— also seen in reverse—known as the Solis Theatre, and the Hotel Oriental, which, like a tall bully, lifts its head and lies. Then comes the substantial stone Matriz of SS. Philip and James, the "womb" whence have issued other places of worship. The whole affair is a mistake; the dome springing from the flat roof suggests a pepper castor upon a thick book: it is too small and too distant from the towers, and these are absurdly far apart: fantastic as to terminals, the minaret-shaped belfries are evidently crooked, diverging like asses' ears. All three protuberances are capped with azulejos, blue and white Dutch tiles, fancifully disposed, which glisten like the gilt cupolas of Moscow, and whose eye-pleasing power suggests that you might imitate it to advantage at home. This is everywhere the practice of Argentine land, and whenever the dome is dingy we know that money has run out, and that the "cura" waits to collect more from his little flock of "beatas " and pious seniors.

Round the heel of the boot, the eastern Punto de S. Jose projecting into the bay, we find the old Spanish castle .'' S. Joseph," whose fifteen saluting guns are supposed to command us. The once considerable outwork has now been levelled, and the "fort" is reduced to a small stone affair with two artless bastions on the land side, and seawards a double curtain fancifully whitewashed. Beyond it is the Mercado del Puerto, a new market-place, with a fine zinc dome of engineer architecture, built in Manchester, to shelter the stalls of butchers and fruiterers: in the centre is a fountain which at present, curious to say, plays.


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