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Mr. Alarcon is traveling in South America. Below you'll find a note he sent to people recently. His story collection, War by Candlelight, comes out soon. The first two notes are here. More notes will be appearing every other day for a while.


January 17, 2005

Well, Iíll confess that I only came to Gualeguaychu because the name was so incredibly dope, but the town has really grown on me. Itís charming and laid back, has a nice river and at one in the afternoon the streets are completely deserted. The trash is picked up on horsecart (which was also the case in Montevideo) and everywhere one gets the impression of a provincial town living life at a very manageable pace. The movie theatre is only open Thursday through Sunday. Thatís the kind of place it is. Iíve spent a couple of days here reading and swimming and riding a rented bike.

Previously I was in Fray Bentos, a town whose municipal library is housed in the bus terminal. I donít know why I found that so startling since the terminal is by far the most modern building in town, so maybe it isnít such a bad place for it. I left Colonia and on the way met these kids from a town called Nueva Palmira who were going to Las Cañas, and invited me along. Las Cañas is about four miles from Fray Bentos, and having seen the library in the bus terminal, I knew it wasnít my kind of place so I went with them. These kids were hilarious. Picote and Andres and Picoteís little sister Shaila. Andres and Picote were drunk by 8 pm, throwing up by 1, and back on their feet and dancing by 2. They were very talkative, and spoke with great authority about things they knew nothing about. It was totally enthralling to hear them pontificate about the science behind daylight savings time for example, which I donít really know much about, but I know it has nothing to do with the tides. Or did I know that there was a city called Sweden in the Netherlands where there are no poor people. On and on, for hours, through many beers.

Most interesting was to hear Picote explain some surgery heíd had last year, that involved a hose being placed in his lungs (he showed me the scar) because some ďbad airĒ had gotten stuck in there and had to come out. As a result, heíd decided to quit smoking
for a while. Andres reminded him that the day before the surgery heíd fallen off his motorcycle, so that maybe the cigarettes had nothing to do with it. He shrugged. In any case, he was smoking again, so it didnít matter. Las Cañas was full of folks from Palmira who had come on two trucks, the kind of trucks used to carry wood and cement and heavy shit, they come on those to Las Cañas, standing and then sleeping on the backs of these. There was party that night that went till six am, but I took off at four, and then found a place to sleep down by the river.

The greatest thing about these kids is how proud they  were to be where they were from. Nueva Palmira is, they explained, the safest, most beautiful, most pleasant place one could ever hope to live in. Nobody steals. Nobody fights, though there is a problem with
teenage pregnancy apparently. They (by they, I mean the dozen or so kids I met from N.P.) couldnít believe that Iíd been to Buenos Aires and not been shot, killed, stabbed, robbed. None of them had ever been, but theyíd heard. Argentines were the worst kind of
person they said, canít be trusted, etc.

Itís amazing how people who have never been anywhere are so certain itís the most beautiful place on earth. Theyíre right, of course. Palmira sounds like a lovely place. 

Iíve had to modify my story a few times. Iíve found that explaining who I am in different ways elicits different responses. Saying Iím from Peru doesnít really get people so excited. Peruvians in Argentina and Uruguay arenít exactly well-liked. Most Peruvians come to work and after the fire in the disco in Buenos Aires that killed nearly 200 people, I read in the papers that it was a Peruvian woman who worked in the coat check who also sold fireworks and it was her fault. This is scapegoating, but it shows a bit how weíre viewed. The US is of course universally despised, but Americans themselves are interesting, and if I present myself first as an American, then I get points for speaking such good Spanish. Then I mention I grew up speaking Spanish and that I was born in Lima. Then they ask why am I here? So my newest story is that Iím visiting an uncle who lives in X town about a day away, and that I thought Iíd see a little bit of the area while I was here. This works. Otherwise, itís youíre traveling? Alone? Whereís your family etc? You must be really rich. And I have nothing to say to that, and then everyone wants to know how rich, etc. As an occupation, I should add ďwriterĒ does get head shakes, but few follow-up questions. I guess people donít really know what to ask.

Oh, last thing. For those of you who know about my relationship with birds and bird poop, check this out: I was hit once in Buenos Aires and twice in Montevideo. I swear to God. If youíre keeping score that brings my lifetime total to ten. Call Guinness.

Check back Friday for 
a note about steak 
and pizza.

[Forever after at

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