"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Antarctic Journals, Chapter Seven

You Can't Escape Politics

Ernest Shackleton uses his considerable talents to raise funds for his third expedition to Antarctica.  Though largely financed by private donations, even the British government kicks in £10,000.

He receives more than 5,000 applications from people wanting to be part of this venture.  He is sometimes eccentric in his hiring methods, often hiring men because he likes the cut of their jib, so to speak.

He also continues with a trait that contributed much to his problems with Robert Falcon Scott on Shackleton’s first polar expedition, that of considering all the crew equal and expecting even the scientists to pull their weight in the ship’s chores.  It is a trait that endears Shackleton to his men and will pay dividends in the future.

Finally, two crews are selected, one for each of the two ships employed.  Shackleton’s ship will proceed to the Weddell Sea south of South America.  The second ship, the Aurora, will go south from New Zealand and lay in inland chaches of supplies for the latter part for the 1800 mile trek across the mile continent.

In addition to scientists, Shackleton also acquires 70 sled dogs, a veterinarian, and a dog handler.  And a photographer named Frank Hurley becomes part of the crew.

Shackleton finds his ship in Norway.  It is a ship built for tourism and is called Polaris.


Long after I signed up and paid for this trip, I realized that I would be gone during the November election and that on election day, in particular, we would be far at sea.  Surely, I thought, news would somehow reach the ship and we would at least know the results of the presidential election.

I was ambivalent about this but finally decided that it would be for the best for me.  I would avoid those final days of campaign ads and I wouldn’t have to suffer the interminable election night vote counts. 

Freedom from politics after all the nastiness and dire predictions sounded pretty good by the time I left for Argentina.

Yes, escape from politics sounded good indeed.
It was not to be.

Day Three, there’s a bus tour around the city.  There are six buses to handle the lot of us, all pre-assigned.  While Kathy and I are on Bus Four, my friends Jim and Jan are on Bus Six.

Wall of the Recoleta Cemetery

Our local guide for the day is a young Argentine woman with excellent English skills who also was our guide on the trip from the airport into the city.  The hotel is in the Recoleta area of the city, so after a spin around that part of Buenos Aires, a trip to the Recoleta Cemetery is next.

Lonely planet has a great piece online about the cemetery:  For a much better read about the cemetery than I could give:

Thus, I’ll just show you photos.

Some of the mausoleums have fallen into disrepair.
Some are mini-palaces.
Our local guide, standing in front of the Duarte family mausoleum where Evita's remains are interred.

On the drive to the cemetery, our guide speaks about Eva Peron, the young woman who captivated the married Colonel Juan Peron, who eventually became the president of Argentina.  They married amid much gossip, especially from the upper classes who considered the actress a fallen woman.

She was born the illegitimate daughter of Juan Duarte, later a president of the country, who refused to allow her to use his name.

Her cause as Peron’s second wife became that of the workers and the poor, the so-called "shirtless," who idolized her and called her Evita.  She did many things to benefit them.  Most of what she did was at the expense of the upper classes, who had to pay for her causes.   

She would, according to anecdotal evidence, suggest to a baker that a thousand cakes should be given the poor at Christmas.  The baker understood the “suggestion” and Eva took credit.  A shoe store owner “voluntarily gave” a hundred pairs of shoes and again the Perons took credit.

She died of cancer at the age of 33 in 1952, and the lower classes’ obsession with her became even stronger.  Eva’s body eventually was entombed in the Duarte family crypt in the Recoleta Cemetery. 

As one of our program managers later said, Evita never said, "Don't cry for me, Argentina."  That's a song written for the movie.  Rather, she is quoted as saying, “My biggest fear in life is to be forgotten.” 

 Sixty years have passed since her death and she remains a visible icon in Argentina.  Monuments of various types abound in the city.  Every day, those in the city are reminded of Evita, for in the middle of the green strip on Ninth of July Avenue, the main drag so to speak, a steel image of Evita is welded to the sides of the Ministry of Health.

Visible from the north, where the upper classes live, the image is of Evita with a microphone.  Locals say she is  haranguing the wealthy and the government to do more for the workers.  On the south side of the building, she is smiling to the workers and the poor.

The Ministry of Health building in the distance.
The view of the Ministry of Health from the north side.  I was never able to get a photo of the south side.

She is still admired for her many works to benefit the poor, such as a beach resort for the working class, a home for unwed mothers, and an amusement park for children.  There are reminders of her everywhere in this city.

On the other side, she is reviled as a profligate and irresponsible spender out for her own glory.

The government building.  The balcony from which Evita gave her last speech is the small balcont to the left of center with the white shutters.  This is not the balcony shown in the movie.

Three different speakers on this trip make it abundantly clear that the subject of Evita and Peronism still cause a powerful rift in Argentina among the political and economic classes.  They criticize the continuing concept of Peronism, which draws its support from the working classes and unions, financed by the upper classes.  

Among many, many things, social justice is a prominent tenet in Peronism.  The lower classes become more and more dependent on government handouts, claim the anti-Peronists, thus destroying self-responsibility and self-initiative.  Further, they claim Peronism encourages class warfare.

Evita's balcony.

To me, it sounded a lot like politics at home.


  1. Politics as usual!!!!!

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and the sights you've seen. I imagine entering all this on your blog helps you to process all that you saw and did on your whirlwind trip. You benefit yourself and educate those of us who weren't actually there.

    You're amazing, my friend!

  2. I especially like your use of present tense in the descriptions of the historical voyages.

  3. Very interesting and most enjoyable to read Post. Thanks. Cap and Patti too.