Cello Lockwood sends her final blog from Argentina which we will reprint in two issues: February and March.
Doma India: curso de caballos y la vida
In the past months I have been willingly swallowed by the pampas, happily swept off grid by these wild and welcoming gauchos. The second episode of my Argentine adventure began at a prominent Gaucho event in the Congresso in Buenos Aires. I had been invited to attend by Cristobal Scarpati, who I would be studying with. I stood on my tip toes in the packed assembly, peering over traditionally dressed gauchos and gauchas to the stage where I saw Adolfo Cambiaso (the polo player) was being recognized and then Oscar Scarpati (the father of Cristo). Oscar is famous in Argentina, and beyond, for his unique approach to taming horses. The Scarpatis are not working gauchos, but they are the heart of Argentine equine tradition. Every single gaucho in this country knows their name.
We spent the next day at a polo club where German filmmakers were shooting for a documentary on the Scarpatis. Oscar, Cristo, and Painé (Oscar’s second eldest son) worked with rebellious polo horses until they allowed the barefoot men to nimbly spring onto their backs and lie beneath their bellies. Even the professional polo players stopped practice to watch.
On Sunday we set off on a 10-hour road trip to the Scarpati homestead in the mountains of San Luis province (a desert region in the north-west corner of Argentina). My time with the Scarpatis unfurled like soft smoke from an asado: timeless, shapeless, fluid, transformative. Life exists in a separate dimension here. The day is formulated by presence, not by time. There is no Argentine translation for “what’s the plan?” Also, difficult to communicate is “when?”, “where?”, “with who?”. A full 180 from my earlier travels, I had zero agency in what we did during the day. During the first week I alternated between deep peace and pre-panic attacks. The complete lack of structure was like walking on the moon; no matter how hard I tried to place one foot in front of the other, I kept floating away from the path I was desperate to remain on. It took me many weeks to realize that the line I was trying to follow only existed in my head.
The first 9-hour family lunch brought me close to tears... The exhaustion of not being able to understand the adults (or the crying kids), combined with the effort of trying to squash the feeling that no matter how welcomed I felt, I was still an outsider.
The next family lunch lasted 36 hours. (I learned that when with the Scarpatis, it is essential to keep a toothbrush in my purse.) This gathering was hosted by Oscar in his home 2 hours away from Cristo’s. His house spawns out of the desert, natural and unassuming amid the dry brush and sturdy cacti. A living museum, rusted relics of the past decades decorate every surface of the modest open-plan house. Horseshoes hang on the walls like crucifixes.
It is amazing to me that humans can live in harmony with the land here, the harsh climate so unwelcoming after the soft, lush pampas of the east.
I watch in awe as the kids run around unsupervised—everything poses danger to their soft flesh. Cacti with 4-inch-long prickers, tarantulas as big as my hand, rattle snakes of all sizes (a special kind that don’t have rattles). But they brandish grandpa’s old shotguns against these trivial evils and race across sand in their alpargatas. Oscar scoops up a tarantula in his hands. The kids squeal as they admire it, then he gently places it down where he found it and the game of tag continues. I pick up my feet, suddenly inspired to sit cross-legged on my bench.
Later in the day the fire from our asado licks the night sky. I chew on some thick juicy carne (doing my best to ignore my true vegetarianism). Mumbles of Spanish spice the air, millions of stars sprawl above us. Except for the nano-puff jacket wrapped tightly around my chest, this moment could exist in any decade. Time isn’t linear here. Not in this place, not in this house, not in this family. Conversations don’t fade until the embers have long extinguished themselves.
Still unaccustomed to the 2am bedtime, I excuse myself, gingerly picking my way among the rocks and cacti to the small structure where a bed has been laid on the floor for me. I realize I no longer feel lonely. I am beginning to feel that I belong.
Despite the Argentine wine it takes me a long time to fall asleep, my ears alert for the silent movements of tarantulas and rattle-less rattlesnakes.