SAN MARTIN, ARGENTINA — The liberal establishment press — The New York Times, The Washington Post — maintains that Dr Fauci is the voice of reason and science. Donald Trump, they regard as a paragon of prejudice and ignorance.
Fox News and the right-wing media trust Trump’s instincts. They believe the medical bureaucrats are trying to bring him down.
But we are in a credulous age. People are ready to believe anything.
On the internet it is known as ‘context collapse’. So much information — fact and fake — flies around that you don’t know what the hell to believe. Out of context, it is mostly meaningless.
Whom do you trust? Fauci? Or Trump? As far as we can tell, they are both dangerous knuckleheads.
But our job here at the Diary is neither to blame nor complain, but merely to see how the dots connect…and to reconstruct a context in which things make some sense.
No judge, no jury
Yesterday, we looked at the cowardly instincts of the American people.
Their heroes were once people who stood up to authority, and even rebelled against their rulers at great risk of personal loss (including death).
Now, their heroes — take your pick, Trump or Fauci — lock up seniors in their nursing rooms and impose a kind of martial law on the whole nation…with curfews, bans, interdictions and millions of people under house arrest.
In Michigan you can go to the supermarket, but you can only buy the ‘essentials’. What’s essential? Lottery tickets! In Baltimore, thank the lord, liquor is considered essential.
People have been collared for surfing…and for conducting church services. The nation is being held in captivity.
No right to peaceably assemble. No right to protest. No charges filed. No judge. No jury. No right to confront an accuser. Who knows…maybe not even a right to vote this November.
And forget about a speedy trial…or even due process of law of any kind. The courts are closed!
Lock down, juice up world
The context has collapsed. We don’t know what’s important and what’s not…nor what’s true…nor what’s good. And who can say?
But almost everyone goes along. Many gladly denounce their neighbours — for taking more than one walk per day.
If we think it extends our lives by only a few days, we gladly sit in solitary confinement…surrender our right to worship…and give the old Bill of Rights the heave ho, too.
One poll even showed 67% approve of Dr Fauci. And Donald Trump is still the odds-on favourite to win in the November elections (if they take place).
As for the ‘stimulus’ money…who doesn’t want it?
But where does the money come from? Who pays? How does this new money really make us better off?
If you ask questions, you’re lost. It’s almost unpatriotic.
In the suffocating atmosphere of our lockdown, juice-up world, it is better to just get in line. Apply for a giveaway. Stay inside until you’re told it’s safe to go out. And clap at sunset — not for those who defy authority, but for those who submit…and enforce.
In a nation of 250 million Christians, Caesar still has the highest approval rating.
But we’re not going to worry about it today. Instead, we’re going to continue our chronicle of life in the Calchaquí Valley in the year of the plague…
Chasing a local legend
‘How do you get up there?’ we wanted to know, looking up at the mesa. We had heard stories about it for a long time.
Archaeologist’s said there were Indian ruins that almost no one had ever seen.
‘Why not?’ we asked.
‘Because it’s so hard to get up there.’
Another friend had explained the history of the place.
‘In the annals of the provincial governors, you find the mesa mentioned. In 1659, the governor recorded that villages down in the valley were being abandoned.
‘The Indians were forced to work on the local plantations (calledencomiendas). Some, like escaped slaves, were running away to the mountains.
‘They went up to Hualfin (now spelled with a G, and meaning, ‘end place’), the governor commented, where they might find peace and freedom in the mountain passes.
‘The governor sent troops to round them up. It was recorded only that the troops were successful in their mission.’
The rest is local legend. The people retreated to three fastnesses. Two are on our ranch. The third is next door.
One was called the ‘fortress,’ where the Indians were said to fight to the last. When they ran out of arrows, they threw down their pots.
To this day, we find pot shards — many with the distinctive local designs of the Diaguita people — at the base of the fortress formation.
Another last-ditch stand was made on the mesa, known as Peña Punta. There, the Indians held out. The Spaniards couldn’t even get close to them.
But there’s no water on the top of the mesa. The Spaniards just waited them out. What happened to them is not recalled.
Finally, next door, the Indians were similarly holed up in a high cliff-side stronghold. The Spaniards eventually overpowered them. But rather than let themselves be taken prisoner, the Indians jumped off the cliff in a mass suicide.
And that was the end of the Hualfin Indians.
‘I’ve been up there [to the Peña Punta]… once, as a little girl,’ volunteered a local woman who came to visit last weekend.
‘My uncle, Justo, had the puesto [outpost] near there. He used to run his sheep up there to graze. Once I went up with him. I remember the ruins, too.’
‘So how do you get there?’
‘There’s a path up the back of the mesa.’
‘How long will it take to get there?’
‘Oh…maybe two and a half hours on horseback.’
We’ve learned that the local people have a different appreciation of time. Two hours on their clocks could be five on ours.
Distances and places, too, are remarkably general. ‘In back of the mesa’ covers a lot of ground.
‘Don’t worry,’ she told us. ‘It’s obvious.’
So we set off.
We were on our favourite horse, Ol’ Bayo. Elizabeth on Obuno. We had packed a lunch and put it in the saddle bags. We were ready to ride.
Setting off on horseback
It was a beautiful day. We rode through a long valley, along the river.
Willows hung gracefully along the banks. Alamos (a form of poplar) had turned yellow in the early autumn.
Riding up river
More than once, Bayo plunged into quicksand and fought against it.
Once, he pitched his rider onto the bushes nearby. Then, both rider and horse got up, dusted themselves off…and got back on the trail.
Finally, after about two hours, the mesa was in clear focus. But it looked impregnable…and still an hour away. No problem. We had time.
In the distance
We passed through a canyon. There was an abandoned house that looked like it had been repaired fairly recently.
It was Justo’s place. He lived there with his family for decades. The boys and girls moved away to the valley or the city. Justo and his wife died two years ago, within a few months of each other.
‘What a desolate place’, we remarked to Elizabeth.
‘I don’t know…it has its charms. No road noise.’
She was right about that. The only noise was the trickle of the brook in front of the house, and the rush of air through the sage brush. There were no trees.
We continued, working our way around the mesa. Steep and imposing walls made it unapproachable.
An hour passed. Another hour. Now we had gone as far as we could; there was no far side left. And yet…there was no path up, either.
‘I guess Spiderman could get up there’, Elizabeth remarked.
It was already mid-afternoon. Still no trees in sight, we sheltered in the shade of a huge rock to have our lunch.
‘You can kind of imagine the Indians here. The place is absolutely impregnable’, we replied.
We wondered what life must have been like for them. Hard, certainly. But beautiful.
Did they appreciate it? Did they have any context for understanding it or anything to compare it with?
They had been conquered by the Inca in the 15th century or so. Then, about 200 years later, the white man’s plagues — smallpox, chicken pox, influenza — had nearly wiped them out.
And then, the remnant…desperate…faced off against Spanish troops, here in the 17th century.
They probably stood on those ramparts and looked down at the Europeans. They let fly their arrows…but the arrows bounced harmlessly off the breastplates and metal helmets…
Thus, engaged in reverie, we looked down.
There, beneath our ham sandwich, was a broken arrowhead.