Land of

Alejandro Winograd
Dan Newland,

(Terra Australis, Editorial)
In our review of the weirdly wonderful journal by Paul Magee, From Here to Tierra del Fuego we wrote about his take on those who traveled from afar to visit Patagonia,

    It's the perfect circle, people traveling to the End of the World so they can say that they traveled to the End of the World. Once there, there is little to do except buy the T-Shirt and maybe a plastic penguin, and then turn around and go back from whence they think they might have come.

Magee concluded, "The visitor to Tierra del Fuego today, traveling along the route taken by Magellan, Darwin, and even Bruce Chatwin, should pack plenty of sunscreen."

    Due to severe ozone depletion, the sub-Antarctic sky now rains down upon the island the fire it was once seen to emanate. From the start of the colonial era to the end of this industrial one, Tierra del Fuego anecdotally figures a Europe that has been turned on its head. It is now a showcase for the world's densest concentration of ozone-blind sheep.

This new volume, Patagonia: Land of Giants comes to us out of Buenos Aires, and is far more romantic than Magee's. No blind sheep nor tourist shops here, only sea lions, ever-adorable penguins, fat, funny elephant seals, "the aroma of the sea," the elegant Trans-Patagonian Railway Terminal in Puerto Deseado, the gorgeous blues of Beagle Channel, interesting clouds over Punta Tombo, and the astonishing (but disappearing) Upsala Glacier in Santa Cruz. No, no --- not that Santa Cruz; the one down there in Argentina.

Now, there's nothing wrong with a pretty book like Land of Giants. There are over a hundred-fifty finely reproduced color photographs, a dutiful listing of "Indigenous Bird Species of Patagonia" --- including the Screaming Cowbird, the Band-winged Nightjar, the Tufted Tit Tyrant, and the Great Kiskadee.

There is a list of the "Indigenous Mammal Species of Patagonia: the Elegant Fat-tailed Opossum, the mysterious Pudu puda, the Hoary Bat, the Intelligent Grass Mouse (but not the Bonehead Grass Mouse), the Silky Tuco-tuco, and the presumably nearsighted Spectacled Dolphin.

It is a romantic take on what was indeed a once-romantic land, and you and I certainly need more romance in our lives. There are even scenic shots of the oil wells in Comodoro, the "indicator marking the passage of a gas pipeline" in Neuquén along with the assurance that the extension of the pipelines "has served to diminish the use of wood as fuel and has thus gradually contributed to the survival of native forest." This is a Happy Book, with happy pictures, so there is no mention at all of the many species that have disappeared. There is no discussion of the loss of so much timber, the permanent damage to the permafrost, the usual overfishing, erosion, the dumps of spent oils and fuels and chemicals, the mountains of (sometimes frozen, all repulsive) trash on the outskirts of cities and towns.

These lacks can be reassuring for those of us who are easily reassured, although there are some shots to remind us of what we missed. Of, for instance, the disappearing Puma concolor, the flightless ducks, the rheas, the fur seals. And --- alas --- "La Trochita," the narrow-gauge railway on the Argentine side, now truncated, bringing tears for those of us who have this thing about old steam puffer-bellies and their huge glorious black clouds of wonderfully polluting smoke.

--- Mitchell Ryskind
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