Monday, March 12, 2007

Australians are hard to digest

John Gimlette's At The Tomb of The Inflatable Pig: Travels Through Paraguay is the most recent book on Paraguay that I have consumed. At first I thought it was sensationalist, but I am very impressed with this scholarship. The Paraguay that emerges from his book is a country that has been the subject of utopian fantasies from all corners of the earth -- usually with tragic results.

I learnt from this book about León Cadogan, descended from Australian settlers, who became an expert on Guaraní culture. Less appetising, was Gimlette's portait of Aussie descendents such as Bruce Murray, who seem unable to warm to the Latin ways. Even the Japanese proved more adaptable.

My encounter with Murray should not have troubled me as much as it did. Father Feehan had warned me: 'People here don't have the warmth of other Paraguayans. There is not that sense of belonging.' I thought about this as I made my way back through the square. It was planted with silky oaks, brought from Australia with the first settlers. There was a plaque to the villagers who'd perished in the war against Bolivia: Drakeford, Jones, King, Shepperson and Douglas Kennedy. Dying for Paraguay was, I supposed, only part of belonging to it. The Australians had obviously proved rather harder to digest than the Japanese.

John Gimlette At The Tomb of The Inflatable Pig: Travels Through Paraguay New York: Vintage, 2003, p. 228

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