Communion Of Dreams

Don’t think about it too much.

No doubt by now you’ve heard of the discovery of Dreadnoughtus schrani, the massive dinosaur found in the Patagonia region of Argentina (been there!), which in addition to being notable for its size is also notable for how much of it was found:

Lacovara says those other estimates are based on a mere smattering of bones, or on analyses that haven’t yet been subjected to peer review. In contrast, the estimate of Dreadnoughtus’ size and weight was based on measurements of more than 100 separate elements, including most of the tail vertebrae, a yard-long (meter-long) neck vertebra, numerous ribs and nearly all the bones from the forelimbs and hindlimbs.

Researchers unearthed about 45 percent of the skeleton’s full complement of bones, representing 70 percent of the bone types found below the skull (for example, a left rib without the mirror-image right rib).

Very impressive to find so much of it. Too bad they didn’t find the skull, as well.

Wait, no skull?


Yeah, I’m sure that it’s just a coincidence

Jim Downey

Matter of perspective.

This will probably come across as a little brag-y. Sorry about that. Not my intention.

The other day I got a phone call. For Legacy Art. The gallery we closed May 31, 2004. Yeah, more than ten years ago.

And after I got through abusing the telemarketer over this point, I got to thinking about the many changes in the last decade.

First thing I should say up front: I’m at a low point in my bipolar cycle, as I’ve noted recently. That means that my self-image isn’t all that great. This isn’t a debilitating depressive episode or anything — I’ve managed to continue to work steadily, as well as enjoy the usual aspects of life. So not horrid. But it is sometimes difficult to not focus on the things which haven’t gone well, and my own failings which are often a component of that. And one of those failings is a sense of not accomplishing much, of being lazy, of wasting my time and the time of others.

Anyway. I got to thinking about the changes in the last decade. And surprisingly, more positive things came to mind than negative ones. That fed on itself, and I found myself making a mental list of the accomplishments.

In no particular order or ranking: wrote two books (one of them as co-author). Most of the way done with another. Visited Wales. And Argentina. And New Zealand. And Italy. Wrote several thousand blog posts. Became something of an authority on small caliber ballistics. Wrote several hundred articles and columns for publication. Was the full-time caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s. Have done conservation work on something more than a thousand (that’s just a guess … may be closer to two thousand) books and documents. Made some great hot sauces. Raised, loved, and then said farewell to a great dog. Tried to be a good friend, and husband. Tried to help others when I could.

We all fail. We all have things we’ve done that haunt us in one way or another. Sometimes, those fears and demons overwhelm. Me, at least.

I may or may not be at a turning point in my bipolar cycle. But I’m glad that at least I can think of things I have accomplished. That helps.

Back to work on St. Cybi’s Well.


Jim Downey

I’ve been shot! (again)
March 30, 2009, 12:07 pm
Filed under: 2nd Amendment, Argentina, Guns, Health, Patagonia, Preparedness, RKBA

I mentioned last fall that I went to get a Hep A vaccination, in prep for our trip to Patagonia. Actually, what I got was the first part of the vaccine. To be fully effective, you need a booster shot six months later.

That six months was last Monday. This morning I went back for the second shot.

And as I sat there in the waiting room, I considered the matter. Why get the second shot? I only got the first one because I had a somewhat compromised immune system (the years of stress due to being a care provider) and was heading to Argentina, where there was an *outside* risk of exposure. I have no intention of traveling anywhere which might have a serious risk. And given how little I enjoyed our Argentine trip, almost no real inclination of going back there or anywhere else where there is a slight risk.

So why take the time, spend the money (just $25, but still . . .), and risk a low-grade reaction to the vaccine?

Well, partly it is just my approach to the world – I like to be thorough, see things to completion. And partly it was inertia: I had the card noting when I should come in for the second shot, and had all along figured that I would get it done.

But partly it was insurance. Like owning a fire extinguisher. Chances are I may never need it, but if I do, nothing else will be a very good substitute. And while I have absolutely zero illusions about being “safe”, why not take reasonable precautions?

Would you have bothered?

Jim Downey

And I thought . . .
December 6, 2008, 10:16 am
Filed under: Argentina, Humor, Travel, Weather, YouTube

. . . that my recent vacation around Argentina got a little rough sometimes:

Yeah, a cruise ship dining room, during a storm.  Best bits around 1:30, and then again about 4:30.

More later.

Jim Downey

Jim Downey and the Federation of Silver.
November 10, 2008, 10:21 pm
Filed under: Argentina, N. Am. Welsh Choir, Patagonia, Travel

Part Five: OK, this is what I came for!

After spending the bulk of Saturday sitting in the hotel pub, sipping beer, making notes, doing a bit of quiet reading, things got busy.

That evening, the choir was giving a performance at one of the Catholic churches in downtown Buenos Aires, in honor of Dr. Edgar John Hughes, the British Ambassador to Argentina, who happens to be Welsh.  They all left for the rehearsal at the church about 4:00, the rest of us following at 6:30.  Of course, this being Argentina, nothing started on time – the concert got going about 8:30, and was quite enjoyable.  Following the performance, there was a brief reception, and then we went back to the hotel, arriving about 10:30.  Not too bad, right?

Well, except that we’d not had dinner.  Remember, no one eats dinner until starting about 9:00.

Not such a problem, eh?  I mean, plenty of restaurants were open, this was Saturday night in downtown Buenos Aires – the night was just starting!

Er, except that we had to be up at 3:30, in order to make our flight out of the Buenos Aires domestic airport, to Bariloche.

No, I am not kidding.  Well, actually, I am a bit.  See, Buenos Aires was changing over to Daylight Savings time, so the clocks had to be set forward Saturday night.  We needed to be up by 4:30 in order to make our flight.  Except that was 3:30.  And the place where we were going – San Carlos de Bariloche – was not going to change.  So, as far as our bodies, and the rest of the schedule, was concerned, we had to be up at 3:30.  Yeah, it was built into our schedule that we would have a maximum of five hours sleep.

I’d still like to find out what idiot came up with this idea.  I blame ‘Ferguson’.

And of course, that five hours maximum was really not possible.  Because we had to repack our bags before getting to bed.  And that, after persuading the hotel bar staff to come up with some sandwiches before we crashed.

Why not pack our bags earlier?  Good question.  Because there was a 15 kilo weight limit for the domestic airline.  So Alix and I had scaled back what we brought on the trip, by a considerable amount.  This was not a bad thing, overall, except that it necessitated packing in a certain way.  Specifically, in a way which required the more formal clothing we wore to the concert to go into the bags *first*.

Ah, well.  We survived.  Got something to eat – basically, I ordered the sandwiches as soon as I walked in the door, and then the check as soon as they were brought – and then got packed and crashed.  Up ungodly early, had a light breakfast (rolls, coffee, juice) in the hotel lobby, then climbed on the bus for the airport.

The domestic airport in Buenos Aires is as nice as any airport I’ve been to in the States.  Security was somewhat casual, but still substantial.  Got our bags checked, then up to wait for the plane.  And of course it was late – we could have easily slept in at least another hour, and still had plenty of time to spare.  The flight was two hours, with another light breakfast en route, along with the sort of absurd officiousness to be found among airline crew everywhere.

We landed in Bariloche, at a small airport about the size of the one here in Columbia.  In other words, getting off the plane, collecting our bags, getting out took no time to speak of.  Cold there – with mountains in the not-too-far distance!  Ferguson kept telling people mixed up and confusing things, but we got into buses OK, then set out for a bit of a tour of the area around Bariloche – effectively, a tour of Nahuel Huapi National Park.

It was absolutely gorgeous!  Simply stunning.  Early spring, into the mountains.  Take a look at the images on the Bariloche tourism site, but keep in mind that they are no better at capturing the beauty of these mountains than any photos of mountains anywhere are.  I was reminded more of the Swiss Alps than the Rocky Mountains, if that helps.  And it is little wonder that the area was largely settled by Germans/Swiss and Italians.  Which shows very much in the style of the architecture and in the culture of the town. We stopped at several junctures, just to get out and enjoy the view.  I was hooked – this is what lured me on the trip to start with!

The local guide for our bus, Frederico, was very knowledeable about not just the culture of the area, but also of the local geography.  Young, smart, relaxed, and with a much better command of English than Ferguson, it was a real pleasure to listen to him as we toured the countryside.  I would have loved to have traded him for Ferguson for the rest of the trip, but my karma is not that clean.

Finally, mid afternoon we rolled back into Bariloche proper, and went to the hotel.  (Whose website is yet another example of the god-awful preference they have for flash-design in Argentina!  Gah!!  Particularly given the poor condition overall of the internet infrastructure down there, especially outside of Buenos Aires, you’d think they wouldn’t want to run such a bandwidth-heavy design.  Makes me crazy.)  It was a complete debacle at the hotel, trying to get checked in and getting to our rooms.  Oh, the hotel staff was friendly and helpful enough, but it was like they were totally unprepared for the mass of us to arrive there, and good ol’ Ferguson just kept confusing everyone by standing up and loundly trying to ‘clarify’ things.  Madness.

Eventually, we got into our rooms.  Tired, hungry, we went out to seek something resembling a decent meal.  Turns out, this was the day that Argentina celebrates “Mother’s Day”.  Meaning that every restaurant had done a huge business for the normal lunch crowd, and we were arriving at the tail end of that.  But Alix and I were able to join another couple on the tour for a pleasant meal at the Familia Weiss – something of a local institution specializing in smoked meats, wild game, and handmade pastas.  I ordered some wild pork – which arrived as four large medallians, thick and juicy, and absolutely delicious – and easily more meat than I would normally eat in a week at home.  I think that it was at this point in the tour that I made the conscious decision to scale back radically on how much I was eating – in an effort to enjoy everything, I was over indulging.

It was also here that I discovered that there was a handcrafted – the Argentines translate it as “homemade” – label of the national beer Quilmes called “Patagonia Amber Lager” which is excellent.  Much like any decent microbrew amber ale you’d find here in the States.  And comes in a nice quart-sized bottle.  Yum.  That helped moderate my tiredness and aggravation at having to listen to Ferguson back at the hotel.

Following our leisurely meal, we wandered back to the hotel in the rain.  Got settled in.  Napped.  Alix went down for a social function with everyone in the lobby, but I decided that I was full enough, and tired enough, to just stay and snooze.  It was also evident at this point that I had the beginnings of a cold.  Ah, well, to be expected, I suppose.

Jim Downey

Jim Downey and the Federation of Silver.
November 7, 2008, 9:03 pm
Filed under: Argentina, N. Am. Welsh Choir, Patagonia, Society, Travel

Part Four: Interlude.

Some random notes and reflections while sitting in the hotel bar under a large stained-glass window, sipping beer, enjoying some peace and quiet while Alix is off to a rehearsal.

* * *

First, a note about that window, which says a lot about Buenos Aires.  It’s actually a long series of window panels, along the front of the hotel on one side, off of the entrance.  And outside the actual window is a very stout, very businesslike grid of steel bars.

You will see some variation of those bars everywhere.  I mean, everywhere.  Even the nicest parts of the city have this kind of security, which in the US is usually only found in high-crime areas.  It is hard to tell if it is due to crime, or whether it is a precaution against social breakdown such as has occured many times in the history of the country.  Regardless, security is a big deal here, though not so blatant as to draw the notice of most of the rest of the people in our party.  It is usually behind the scene, just out of casual sight.  The steel bars I mentioned.  There’s also plenty of solid locks and security cameras.  And lots of guards, both private and actual police.  I’d mentioned previously that the “Federal Police” were common on the streets, and they are.  But they also seem to function almost as attached security in many locations.  You see them positioned in front of nice hotels, banks, and businesses – usually the same ones, in the same locations, on the several days I have been here and exploring the immediate business area around our hotel.  I do know that the same cop has been outside the entrance to our hotel since we arrived.  He doesn’t seem to interact at all with the guests, and has looked past me completely when I have tried to make eye contact with him.  But he is on very friendly, almost joking, terms with the staff.  I don’t know whether this is some kind of formal arrangement, or just a form of low-level graft, with the cop taking a payoff from the hotel management to provide a presence.  But, it seems to work.

* * *

The whole pace of life is different here, and I understand this will be even more noticeable once we get out of the busy city.  Here, the locals will have breakfast at about 9:00.  As with any other meal, it is leisurely.  So business gets started sometime after.  The hours posted may say a shop opens at 10:00, but that seems to be little more than a fiction – almost no place was actually open and doing business by then, most not by 10:30.  Lunch starts sometime after 1:00, and will run at least a couple of hours, though the shops here usually seem to be open during that time.  They usually have a light meal, something along the lines of “tea”, with sweets, perhaps a thin sandwich (and by thin I mean basically mashed, the local preference being ham & cheese with the inevitable white bread, but pressed flat and toasted).  No one even thinks about dinner until 9:00 or so, and as I noted earlier most restaurants don’t open their doors for dinner until 8:00 or 8:30.

This is not to say that people eat heavily, or constantly, at each of these meals.  Rather they just seem to take their time, encouraging conversation.  It is quite civilized, but takes a real adjustment.  Even the wait-staff functions comfortably according to these rules, taking their time about bringing orders, in absolutely no hurry to rush you off.  They will not bring the bill until you specifically ask for it – and then in their own good time.

* * *

The local beer – or, should I say, the National Beer – is Quilmes.  Named after the city near Beunos Aires where it was first brewed by German immigrants.  It isn’t at all bad, really.  A crisp lager, about on a par with some of the better mass-produced American beers (which is to say, relatively light and low in alcohol).  I have seen in a store that the brand also makes a Bock and a Stout, though none of the restaurants I’ve been to seem to carry these.  Dark beer in general – “robusto” in Spanish – doesn’t seem to be very popular in the city.  Last night when I popped out to get some dinner, I stopped in to an upscale wine shop nearby, which also carries hard liquor.  Argentina does have a respectable wine industry, as I mentioned, and this was reflected in their wide selection of national labels, mostly of the Marbeck (Merlot) varietal.  I can’t drink more than a half glass of full bodied red wine (triggers migraines), but I have also had some of the local whites and those are all quite good.

There in the shop I did ask about local hard liquor.  It seems that other than some very low end whiskey and vodka, there really isn’t anything produced in Argentina.  A shame, really.  They did have a small selection of local liqueurs, most of which is based on the national addiction to dulche de leche.

* * *

I’m not kidding about the Argentines being addicted to that stuff.  You find it everywhere.  There’s always great vats of the stuff at every breakfast layout, used as we would use jam or even butter for toast or rolls.  It goes into most cakes and pastries, and it is actually hard to find a candy sold in the country which *doesn’t* have dulche de leche in it.  It’s added to fruit cocktail.  It is one of the common flavors of ice cream.  It goes into coffee and tea.  Cookies with a thick version of the stuff sandwiched inside are very popular.

It is good, though cloying to my palate.  About as sweet as honey, but with an intense milk caramel flavor it imparts to everything it touches.  As popular and prevalent as it is, you’d expect this to be a nation of diabetics.

* * *

Jim Downey

Jim Downey and the Federation of Silver.
November 5, 2008, 9:26 pm
Filed under: Argentina, N. Am. Welsh Choir, Patagonia, Society, Travel

Part Three: The Kitty Cats of Death.

Friday started out with me feeling the psychic pressure of being in close proximity with so many extroverts for so long. We had an early breakfast in the hotel with the entire crowd, since everyone was going on an excursion together this morning and the buses were to load at 8:00. Meaning a bit of a fight to get service, since even under these circumstances the Argentine default is to leave people to have a leisurely meal, no rushing about to refill coffee cups or any such nonsense. Somehow, we managed.

On the buses a bit after 8:00. Another brilliant and beautiful spring day – just perfect for a nice jaunt through a cemetery.

Say what?

Yeah, Cementerio de la Recoleta – where all the beautiful people of Argentina go to spend the afterlife. No, I’m not kidding. Our guide took great pleasure in explaining all about the place, and how as far as most Argentines are concerned, it doesn’t matter where you came from, or what you did, so long as you are buried in the right place.

Here’s a Spanish language site with a lot more photos of the place. It really is quite amazing, in a very surreal way. Incredible art & architecture to the some six thousand mausoleums – ranging from pseudo Baroque to Art Deco. Elaborately carved doors, stunningly beautiful statues, glorious & glowing stained glass – you’ll find it all there in the cemetery. Most of the dead people there live better than the vast majority of the still walking population in Buenos Aires, and the amount of wealth splashed about the place seems almost obscene when you find yourself driving through/past the shantytowns around the city. And the cemetery has far and away the best sidewalks in the entire city.

One other thing it also has is cats. While stray dogs rule supreme throughout the rest of the country, here in the quiet of the necropolis, it is cats who reign. Domestic housecats. Er, make that domestic mausoleumcats. They’re everywhere. Everywhere. In twos and threes. Solo and in small packs, clustered around bowls of food, milk, and water that locals leave for them. Silent, serene, more than a little eerie.

I was, honestly, glad to get out of the place. No, cemeteries don’t bother me. And I love cats. I even appreciate good art in almost all forms. But this fetishization – this status competition of which family has the best location and grandest burial for their dead – was creepy. Such ostentation strikes me as being more about the glory of the living than the memory of the dead.

Anyway, we left. Back on the buses. Through the city. Through suburbs. Through more suburbs, all on surface streets, stopping at every light, looking around into the houses and businesses. Easily feels like it could be just about any major American city, in the nice part of town. Plenty of car dealers. And boat dealers. And fast-food places. Our guide (not ‘Ferguson’) explains that these are all the rich parts of the city, desireable because of the proximity to the river.

The river? Actually, the estuary Rio de la Plata. But they call it a river, and take pride that it is so wide. No, I am not kidding. Yes, it is wide – some 30 miles where it starts at the juncture of two other major rivers, to almost 140 miles at the boundary of the Atlantic. And a big chunk of this estuary forms a huge delta, interlaced with numerous small navigable passages, creating countless small islands just a few feet above the water level. Most of this delta is, by treaty, a nature preserve, but one large section of it close to Buenos Aires is settled, more or less permanently.

And I can see why. It is a beautiful, peaceful, place. It would be a great place to hide from the world. And relatively inexpensive – a decent sized hunk of an island, big enough for a nice little vacation home and a bit of yard, a garden – will go for $30,000 to $100,000, depending on the quality of the house and how remote the location. We got out onto the river in a couple of decent sized tour boats, and for almost an hour made our way through some of the larger channels, finally arriving at the Restaurante Gato Blanco (“White Cat”). Charming. And good food. We sat out on the deck, watching other patrons arrive by boat (and their boats taken away by valet service – when you have seating for some 250 people, and are only accessible by boat, this is an issue), enjoying the breeze and the food.

Once done eating, while the others sat and chatted, I wandered off behind the restaurant to explore a bit. The whole place was dead-flat level, and lush, the soil somewhat springy and very very rich. Even though it was still early spring, there were already many trees and flowers in bloom, with both butterflies and bees feeding at the flowers. The island was very much like a park, an old park in a quiet part of town, showing signs of love and age and much use.

We got back on the boats that brought us, made our way back to the Tigre Fluvial Station. From there the group split, with the choristers heading off for a workshop rehearsal, the rest of us back to the hotels. Our friend ML and I dropped off stuff, then headed out for some shopping, swimming against the human tide. Got back and spent some time relaxing.

It had been arranged that we would all go off to have dinner with some local families, in small groups of six to eight. It would be a chance to spend time with some of the residents in their homes, getting to know one another and learn a bit about how a typical family lived. Alix was looking forward to it, but I just decided that I couldn’t face more time with people – I was worn ragged by all the contact I had had over the past several days. So when she got back from the workshop, I let her know I was going to beg off the dinner. It was a shame, really, because she had a great time (along with the others), and I probably would have as well. But my ‘extrovert batteries’ were just dead, and I needed to spend some time alone in peace and quiet in order to recharge enough for other things coming up. She went, I popped out to a local street vendor and got a sandwich, and then retired to the room where I relaxed and did some reading. It helped.

Jim Downey