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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. An archive of links to previous notes is below. More notes will appear here every other 
day for a while.


January 22, 2005

Iím in Cordoba now, a university town without students, since everyone is off on summer break. The place itself is pretty and colonial and full of old churches and places that might interest some people, but Iím not really moved myself by old buildings. The people though have one of the more remarkable accents Iíve ever heard. I wish everyone could hear it: the way it rises and falls, throwing stresses in the most unlikely places, like a warbling record or something. I keep trying to extend every conversation; whether buying the newspaper or ordering coffee, I always ask for directions, just to hear the people sing their way through a few sentences.

Otherwise, things are well. I was in Paraná a few days, in the care of Leandroís parents who treated me like royalty. It was there that I heard of the latest blows to the dignity of Peru: the vice president was insulted on national television by the opposition with such ferocity that he collapsed and had to be hospitalized. And the rumor, reported on CNN and later disappeared without a trace from all news media, that President Toledo had been caught in photographs naked as the day he was born with a woman who was not his wife. We theorized in Paraná that this might help his approval rating (9%) since his wife is also not very popular. In any case, with the vice president in the hospital, that allegation of adultery, which was the only way Toledo would ever get to be called ďClintonesque,Ē has vanished from the news altogether.

In Paraná, I heard a story, which Iíll repeat here, though I may get some of the details wrong. The essence is this: a Montanero, one of these ďPeron or DeathĒ guys, is out walking with his wife and kid, and is a half a block from home when his house explodes. His response, the only reasonable one, is to look through the ashes of his destroyed home, find the passports and leave the country. He lives in exile, in Spain, for 12 years, all the while agitating for democracy and an end to corruption. He risks his life for his ideals. Civilian rule returns and so does he. He is elected to some post in his region, and one winter he authorizes the use of government funds to buy blankets for the poor, but has the wholesalers charge for an extra 20 centimeters of cloth per blanket. He keeps the difference, which is not an insignificant amount. Somehow people find out, there is a scandal, he resigns in disgrace. Then he dies of a heart attack.

Why would someone who had risked so much become so petty? 

The question really is if any country in Latin America deserves to be taken seriously. What if everyone is corrupt? The party in power, the opposition, the fringe groups, the cop on the street, the university president, the students, the ice cream man. Everyone. What then? The stories you hear about the months after the crisis of 2001, when every region in Argentina was printing its own money and the banks were not allowing withdrawals, these are just insane. And it happens every ten years or so. Everyone sees it coming, and then acts surprised when it does. Crisis. Calm. Crisis. Calm. In some countries the cycle is much faster. In others, the crisis is constant. The recent events in Peru might even be comic if it werenít for the fact that there 24 million people, most of them poor, being governed by these charlatans, watching as the mediocre battle the venal for the right to further pillage the nationís treasury.

Anyway, I donít know how I got on this topic. Maybe itís inauguration shrapnel. Itís summer and Argentina at least is relatively rich. This means there is more to steal of course. There are tourists everywhere, and mostly theyíre Argentine. This is a sign of a middle class country. You donít see it so much in Peru. Maybe more now, but not so much when I was there last.

Iím headed to Cosquin tonite, for the folklore festival and then to Mendoza, and then I donít know where to exactly. Santiago soon. Lastly, the food here is so boring. Steak Iíve decided is good about four times a year and after that it is just a chore to eat so much red meat. I tried to tell a woman I met this, with all due respect, I said the food here is really boring and she said, yes but we also have pizza.

So there you have it: steak and pizza.


Check back Tuesday for a note that 
includes the words "a stain in the 
Generalís crotch 

Previous notes, from first to last:

Buenos Aires, Montevideo, & Colonia

Las Cañas & Gualeguaychu

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