Friday, May 15, 2015

Ian Campbell: Australian Journeys to Chile and Uruguay

Ian Campbell of Sydney reports:"I just wrapped up the six weeks or so in Chile and Uruguay, mostly researching Post-Neruda but also my wife's family visits and friends.
There was a nice article in 'El Mercurio' of Santiago 10 mayo 2015 on Delia Falconer' novelista australiana'editara libro sobre su tio-abuelo, primer aviador mártir chileno'  (the Australian novelist will be publishing a book on her great-uncle, the first aviation martyr of Chile'). He died in an air accident in Chile in 1914 when attempting to complete a test run in a Bleriot 50 aircraft. It was to be his final step toward gaining the rank of military pilot in Chile. The novelist was reportedly visiting locations in Chile to follow up the life story of her Chilean grandmother’s brother, Francisco Mery, known as the first martyr in Chilean aviation history. She was visiting the National Library of Chile in Santiago at the time of the press interview about her background research for a new novel.

I happened to be at the National Library in Chile on a few occasions during that time but was unaware of her visit. I had previously (April 2015) visited the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo, and the beach-resort areas of Atlántida and Punta del Este, both north-east of Montevideo, to follow up memorialization of Neruda’s life and works in Uruguay, including at the museum in Punta del Este which bears his name, as Museo Paseo Neruda.

I was visiting the National Library in Chile to gain access to one of the Library’s copies of the large folio facsimile edition published in Santiago in 2002 of selections of pressed flowers, grass and leaf items collected by Matilde UrrutíaNeruda’s then-clandestine loverover the period 1952-1956 in Atlántida, the beach-resort town north of the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo. Neruda wrote the poem 'Oda a las flores de Datitla' (Ode to the flowers of Datitla) in 1956 to accompany the herbarium items collected by Matilde, later to become his third wife, and the facsimile edition has the same title. The Chilean poet had given the nick-name ‘Datitla’ to the beach resort town in Uruguay where he and Matilde shared the bungalow owned by Uruguayan architect, Antonio Mantáras, whom they met on the liner  returning from France in 1952.

I was initially intrigued that in the poem, 'Oda a las flores de Datitla' which Neruda  wrote (1956) in Uruguay, he refers to the ‘pines, eucalypts and acacias,’ which grow in abundance in those coastal areas, having been introduced initially in the late 1890s-1900s as stabilising trees that would tolerate the high sandy quartz soils of the area and had the capacity to absorb water from the heath-like riverine lowlands of the regions of Maldonado and Canelones.

The eucalyptus reference, is in Ilan Stavans (2013) translation: 'thousands of minimal cups left behind by the eucalyptus over your cold and fragrant silhouette…' ('… miles, de copas minimas el eucalyptus deja caer sobre su fria y fragrante sombre…'); the acacia reference is probably not to a variety of acacia introduced from Australia but to ‘acacia craven’ or ‘aromo,'  which is a variety of acacia native to Uruguay (and Chile). The reference Neruda makes is to (‘… wiry pavilions of dark acacia ...’) (‘hirsutos pabellones de acacia oscura…').

In the 2002 book 'Oda a las flores de Datitla' published in Santiago, Chile in folio facsimile format, one of the reproductions of leaves from the Matilde herbarium collected around Atlántida and in Neruda’s original 1956 self-crafted ‘little ‘book’ was a variety of Australian eucalyptus, eucalyptus l’herit. All other botanical items selected by the two were species of flowers or tree leaves endemic to Uruguay, Brazil or Argentina. In the poem, Neruda does not distinguish between introduced species eg pines, and eucalyptus, and local/native species.

A plaque outside the house Neruda stayed in 1952-56 in Atlántida in Uruguay at various times was erected a few years ago and says under these pines Neruda wrote poems referring to his stay in Uruguay. But the memorialisation only refers to the literary outcomes, of course!

Most colonial and post-colonial  periods have been marked by de-forestation. But in Atlántida in 1908 in Uruguay the La Arborica Uruguaya SA group was recorded as having planted 150,000 eucalypts, although surely 15, 000 is the more likely number, to stabilise the land and coast for their beach resort buildings that occurred when main road (1908) use of motor cars, and growth of educated professional class, led to development of the balneario-beach resort phenomenon. The  irony of the planting of huge numbers of eucalyptus and acacias in the areas around Montevideo and in Maldonado department and Canelones department in the early 1900s and to this day is that the mainly sandy, heath-like vegetation of these areas was gradually transformed and stabilised along the beach fronts by the use of these foreign species. This, to the extent that the 1800s flat-heath landscape has often given way to a landscape of tall treespines and eucalyptus, plus masses of acacias. But these species have often displaced the lower growing native species because of their high absorption of water and tolerance of sandy, quartz-rich soils. But there are now 1 million hectares of eucalypts under plantation cultivation in Uruguay alone, and it is the major hard-wood produced from plantation cultivation in that country.

I have sent a few emails to Australian experts about acacias and eucalypts and the history of their introduction into Uruguay, but don’t know whether all will reply. I now set out to search some Australian sites: has some information about my grandfather and the poem in English I constructed from a review of his 1921 book on acacias as Australia´s national floral symbol. Dr Bruce Maslin is the Australian botanist who set up the website and there are links to my grandfather's role. The Australian National Botanic Garden site is and this is the 1921 book of A J Campbell. I will also write later to the Acacia Study Group whose links are and I will write a short article for their bulletin when I return.

On the Uruguayan side, in Punta del Este, Antonio Lussich (1848-1928) played a major role in the introduction of Australian tree species. In the Lussich Arboretum of the 143 total tree species listed, I find that 24 of these are Australian native species, i.e. about 30%. These include those listed from Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania, as Australian Federation only occurred in 1901 and the origin of trees is usually by region, not country. These include five acacia species and four eucalypt species, i.e. 9 of the 24 Australian species in the Arboretum are either acacia or eucalypts.

Back in Chile I also visited  Temuco, 677 kms south of Santiago, Chile to gain first-hand impressions of the railway town Neruda lived as a child/adolescent from 1906-1920, and post-Nerudaism memorialization in this city of 270,000 people.  There's no substitute for actually being at sites of memorialization of writers; internet and other material do not give a full sense of place-context. Neruda’s father worked on the 'frontier' railways. The sense of 'closeness-proximity' of the Neruda childhood house site to the station was far more intense than if I had never visited. Memorializing at the exact site is a little akin to the Jakarta memorializationNeruda had been Consul thereas the original building shell exists but all the exteriors have changed. But here they solved the memorialization problem by placing a bronze plaque with symbol of the railway and a segment of one of Neruda's poems about the door to his house embedded in the footpath, and two wooden inscriptions attached to the exterior wall of the now butcher's shop.