Thursday, 8 November 2012

Nothing stays the same, not even in Uruguay

Seven years ago we spent three months living in a house on the coast, ostensibly and ultimately fruitlessly, to learn Spanish. Then we came back in the spring again, two years ago. Over those two visits we built a picture of an agrarian economy moving at a slow pace, like Scotland with sun, circa 1971. The grain lorries lumbered along in a cloud of noise and particulates, barely able to climb out of second gear, flash-tooting as they crawled past going uphill. The towns were thronged with cars held together with rust and baler wire and you could easily spot, (dependent upon your age), the first car that you, your father or grandpa owned. The grain silos were peeling, crumbling ecclesiastical edifices, the cutter bars on the cabless combines were no more than two good paces. Nobody wore helmets, nobody had to pay income tax.

The exchange rate deteriorated, inflation move ahead, but not much else seemed to change over those seven years. But now…The lorries move quieter and quicker, yet still manage the maté wave, even if the wolf-whistle horns are out of fashion. The grain elevators still resemble  Italianate cathedrals, only they are now surrounded by a massed congregation of silver shimmering silos. The farm tackle has homogenised to JD green, the combines have bloated, their cabs could sleep two, their cutter bars elongated and the seeder rigs require an escort to move along the road. The old cars have been compacted, scraped and  shipped to China, yet I still manage to spot  the first vehicle I remember my father driving; his, a red soft-top, this a sun bleached and aged to soft grey, hard topped Hillman. Yet I still hope to spy my own first, having come close with an Austin A40; mine being the brakeless, rusting diminutive, an A35. The motos are still here, only they’ve added a few horses to the engine, and a fresh paint job to the bodywork.  They’re still partially exhaustless, but I suspect that  might be more a question of choice, of modified baffles, than one of age.  The babies and puppies still ride side saddle, everybody can ride, drink maté and answer their mobiles, but the girls are in colour coordinated pink helmets and bags, the guys in full faces worn rebelliously on the back of the head. Yet it takes governments to make changes.  This one has, by introducing income tax, but there is one change that will never happen - it’s written in Laws of Nature: The drivers still wave, the pedestrians still want to know if you’re ‘Ally manny’ and the dogs still bark.  All day.  All night.