Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for April 13th, 2009

On a Hoof and a Prayer: Exploring Argentina at a Gallop

Posted by nliakos on April 13, 2009

by Polly Evans. Bantam UK 2007, Delta Trade Paperbacks 2008

I like travel literature (Bill Bryson being my favorite travel writer), and I enjoyed this book, which I picked up at a discount when my local Borders closed (sob), a victim of the recession.  Polly Evans, a British writer, arranged to combine a tour of Argentina with some riding lessons on huge estancias.  She did not exactly explore Argentina at a gallop; she mostly took buses and airplanes to get around while arranging some riding activities from time to time.  Still, she’s a good writer and has a wicked sense of humor.

Her descriptive passages can be wonderfully impressive, like this one:

“What really struck me about his glacier…was its incredible, indisputable beauty.  It was more radiant by far than any glacier I’d seen in the past…. The white ice glistened.  It towered into amazingly sculpted pinnacles, and then carved itself into astonishingly glowing blue crevasses.  The depth of color was dazzling.  (explanation of why glacier ice appears to be blue)  I’d seen photographs of blue icebergs before,…but I’d always thought that extraordinary hue was due to some kind of photographer’s trick.  Now I realized that the opposite was true.  The photographs I’d seen hadn’t enhanced the color: This ice exuded a blueness that no image I had ever seen had been able to capture.  The ice quite literally shone.  From its crevasses, a thousand electric-blue light bulbs seemed to beam.  It was as though the ice itself was possessed of a tremendous energy.  In the deeper chasms, the ice appeared the color of a lurid snow cone that lightened to shimmering turquoise as each face climbed to a peak.  In places, the elements had carved these freezing mountains into seductive curves, then whipped their summits into sharply tapering spires.  Other sections fell away in sheer smooth drops, like a lustrous sorbet sliced by a knife.  And then, as the glacier rose on and up into the distance, and the peaks and gullies grew ever farther from the eye, the surface of this great expanse of ice took on the appearance of millions of sugary rosettes, the finely piped icing of a cake baked for an army of Patagonian giants.”  (Chapter 19, “On Ice”–a description of the Perito Moreno Glacier)

In addition, there are a lot of interesting historical tidbits–how so many British ended up in Argentina, the economic crisis of the 1970s, Juan and Evita Peron, Felix Aldao (“a very sanguinary monk”), Juan Manuel Rosas (whose 19th-century reign was also “sanguinary”) and Charles Darwin, the Manzaneros (“apple people”) and the savage Yamana of Tierra del Fuego, who apparently tolerated the cold of their frosty homeland without the aid of clothing but were wiped out by European diseases.  I never knew any of this (except Darwin, of course) and was fascinated.

Link to this book on

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