‘When you stop building, you die.’
Old Chinese proverb
On the hill behind the house, we have begun building a tiny, family chapel.
Almost all the farms in the area have a church.
Ours has none…at least, not on this side of the river.
Why would we want a chapel?
The world is a busy place. The busyness of it can distract…mislead…and distort your life.
If you watch the news today, for example, you will come away thinking that the US presidential election is the most important thing happening in the world…that the future of the nation depends on it…and that we must turn our thoughts and emotions towards it as if our favourite dog were dying in the corner of the room.
(As we explain below, as the election dust settles, it looks more and more like the world has not changed at all.)
In any case, it doesn’t hurt to have a place set aside for non-business…where the hustle and bustle of the outside world can be tuned out…with no internet, no TV, and no radio…
…a quiet, solemn, cool place…to wonder about what really matters…to admit our weaknesses and vanities…to strengthen our soul, steel our spirit, and prepare our mind for the vicious indignities…
…in the news!
More about our building project in a moment…
First…yes, we will suffer through the latest headlines…
The Dow rose again yesterday — by another 367 points. The futures market tells us it will rise again today.
What are investors thinking?
Aren’t they worried about a hung election? People are already on edge. Many think their happiness has been stolen by the Chinese, the Democrats…transgenders, etc.
And now, they have another grievance — the election has been ‘stolen!’.
‘It’s no secret that the Democrats will try to steal this election,’ said a Trump fundraiser yesterday.
About a third of the population believes that if the votes had been counted honestly, their man would be secure in the White House and ready to do everything that he promised to do four years ago.
But all of it — the election campaigning…the voting…the two candidates…the platforms — all of it is like a dust storm. In the middle of it, you can see nothing else.
And when it is over, everything is just the same.
And underneath all the flying dirt, a huge sewer runs its course…flowing day by day…carrying the effluent of our public policies…the mail-in ballots that went down the drain…the commentaries that no one read…the lies, the balderdash…the claptrap…
And all of us, too — rudderless, clueless, helpless, hopeless…drifting along…
…headed for the treatment plant, which is where — to use the colloquial expression — the sh*t hits the fan!
Business as usual
Investors figure that no big change is coming. Instead…with the election out of the way, it will be back to business as usual.
And more and more, it looks like they are right.
Here at the Diary, we always look at the bright side. And we held out hope that Trumpism would be demolished and that Republicans, sweeping up the debris and reflecting on what went wrong, might be reborn as genuine conservatives.
Alas, the voters repudiated neither the socialism of the Left (Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, etc) nor the socialism of the Right (Trumpism).
The headlines are reporting that ‘gridlock’ may be coming — with the Supreme Court and the Senate in Republican hands…and the House and the presidency under Democrat control. The Financial Times suggests that, if elected, Joe Biden may be a ‘lame duck’ president.
But no matter which bird ends up sitting in the Oval Office, the one grid that won’t be locked is the one that keeps all of them large and in charge.
Yes, the one thing they all agree on is that the money printing, interest rate suppressing, power-grabbing jackassery must continue.
And we know where that leads — to the aforementioned sewage treatment plant.
Faith and courage
Let us finish telling you about our chapel.
For nearly 50 years, we’ve almost always had some building project underway. Not only were they fun to do, they were also ways of engaging our children in meaningful work.
Restoring our old family farmhouse in Maryland. Fixing stone walls in France. Scraping off wallpaper…and painting rooms in an old wreck of a château. Building barns. Putting up fences.
And then, there were the ‘experimental’ projects.
One of them was particularly difficult. It was down here in Argentina eight years ago. The altitude made breathing difficult. The sun was so intense, we erected a sunscreen so that we could work in partial shade.
The rocks were heavy. The flies were biting. And we worked alongside a local crew from dawn to dusk; the last thing we wanted was to show ourselves up as weak or incapable.
‘If you can do this,’ we told our two boys, ‘the rest of life will seem easy.’
The boys didn’t forget. That experience stuck with them…giving them faith in themselves and courage to tackle whatever comes their way.
At least…that’s what we’d like to think.
Now, we are alone. The children have their own lives. But the building continues.
Here in San Martín, the techniques are basic. We buy no materials, save for a few bags of cement. Everything else comes from the ground…and nearby trees. The only real expense is the labour…currently running about $1 an hour.
With a small team of locals, led by a friendly giant named Monzon, we mix up mud, just as it has been done for the last 3,000 years.
A pool is shaped…dirt shovelled in…some straw added…and then, one of the changos (boys) stomps around in it until it is the consistency of, well, sticky mud.
The mud is then shovelled into brick molds and left to dry in the sun. These bricks are about three times the size of the common, oven-fired red brick used in the US.
Once dry, they are laid up with more mud, on a foundation of stone and concrete…up to about six-and-a-half feet high.
In the eastern wall, we have embedded a cross. It is made by taking our empty wine bottles — of which we have many — cutting them in half, and then putting two bottom ends together with duct tape. This gives us glass tubes that transmit the morning light over where the altar will stand.
The difficult part is the roof. It would be easy to stretch some barras from wall to wall, lay on some sheathing of cane stalks, and cover it with more mud. That is the usual way of making a roof in this area.
But what would be the fun of that? Where’s the challenge?
And then, gazing up at the ceiling in a moment of solemn prayer, where would we find inspiration? Great churches — and humble ones, too — typically have soaring roofs, braced and buttressed, reaching up to the heavens.
Here, without rafters, cross-bracing, or sheathing…we will build a roof of mud bricks in the form of two intersecting vaults, following an ancient model.
Years ago, we came across a book, Roman Era Construction Techniques. We will use it to guide our roofing effort. Then, if all goes well, in moments of quiet reflection, we will look up and admire our handiwork.
Home for Thanksgiving
But the finale will have to wait until next year.
In the next two weeks, we will complete the walls. And then, we hope to go home to the US for Thanksgiving.
Argentina opens up this week. Airlines are back in business — on a much-reduced scale. With a little luck, we should be able to make our escape, flying from Salta to Buenos Aires and then on to Miami.
But if we are able to get away, the chapel will remain unroofed…until our next visit here…in 2021. (Fortunately, it almost never rains here.)
As always…stay tuned.
For The Rum Rebellion
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