Thursday, 14 September 2017

Sad Announcement

Dear All,

I'm sad to announce that Caroline Holder, my aunt and the author of this blog, has passed away on Wednesday 6th September, 2017 at 7:30am after a long battle with cancer and non alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver.

As you will be able to see from her previous posts, as her illness grew worse, her energy and ability to post diminished and so it has been a long time since you had an update.  However, though she was unable to write the way she wished, the many friends she made on this blog were still on her mind and she asked me make an announcement after she passed to explain her silence.

She considered this blog one of the achievements of her life she was most proud of.  From the few comments I've seen on Facebook from those of you who crossed over into other forms of friendship, she was loved and appreciated.  She would have been touched and delighted.

Her funeral will be held on Friday 6th October, 2017 in Bristol, where she lived.  For those of you who might be interested, I will upload her eulogy the day after.

I wish you well and thank you for making my aunt very happy.

Caroline Frances Bridger de Holder

Monday, 27 March 2017

General Update

It’s been far too long since my last post, and there’s much to bring up to date – that is if I’ve got any readers left.  I’ve longed to write, but just haven’t had the energy.  I switch on the computer, open a new Word page… and end up playing Freecell instead.  It’s not that I can’t be bothered – I care very much – but I’ve felt very tired for 3 years now.

In early 2014 I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  I had an operation, plenty of chemotherapy, all the usual, to which I’m told I responded well, and they gave me about 10 years or so.  I was – and am – in no pain.  I’m now on a maintenance drug infusion every three weeks.

However I had to stop work eventually purely because of the tiredness, and blood analyses kept throwing up that there was something else, and 2 years or so later they found I had NASH Cirrhosis, a non-alcohol related disease of the liver, probably a consequence of diabetes, but totally separate from the cancer (so far).  The prognosis was far worse, and it seems likely – they say – that I won’t see another Christmas; it isn’t curable and I’m not eligible for a transplant because of the other co-morbidity. 
I get a build-up of fluid inside (ascites) which needs draining every few weeks, a procedure which requires me to attend Bristol’s most overworked hospital, the Bristol Royal Infirmary, situated downtown, with appalling parking facilities.  Door-to door it’s a 12 hour long day, and I’m very fortunate that my sister travels up from Dorchester each time to keep me company, call taxis, keep me fed and watered, and so on.  My brother-in-law tackles any jobs around the house I'm no good at because I get giddy, and helps me fill out long forms about my pension.  My neighbours all deserve medals too.  They get the washing machine going, the washing-up done, bring me shopping, drive me to appointments since I’ve stopped driving, and pop in regularly for a chat and to see how I am.

Nausea is my biggest bugbear, and sometimes drugs make little difference.  Weight has come off me dramatically from the shoulders up, the rest looks much the same because of the ascites.

I’ve been trying to put my affairs in order, but it’s a never-ending list of chores to do, and progress is slow.  As far as this blog is concerned, I’ve asked my niece Veronica to update it when I no longer can.  Mentally I feel reasonably upbeat, and stopped taking anti depressants a few months ago because I want my brain to stay sharp, whatever state it’s in.  Last December I thought I didn’t have long, but I feel alright at the moment – you never can tell.

All in all I feel philosophical about it – one has to die of something, and there are plenty of people in the medical profession who are doing their best to keep me comfortable.  I’ll be 64 in June, not a bad age to reach.  I don’t mind talking or writing about this; my way of dealing with it is not to keep it to myself.

I can’t help but wonder about the hereafter – will I see John again?  The family who have gone before me?  Or will I be reborn, another chance to get it right this time – a sort of Groundhog Day?  The most difficult concept of all to grasp is that it’s none of the above and one just ceases to be.

I have only two real sadnesses which overwhelm me sometimes – the fact that I will never return to Argentina, where I was born and lived till I was 20. 

The other is that despite the wonderful kindnesses shown to me every day, I’m dealing with this alone.  Except for my beloved companion, my 16 year old cat Banjo, who knows there’s something wrong and sticks to me like glue, I miss not being in a loving relationship where every fear can be discussed and there are ups as well as downs to make life worth living.  I wish I had had children.

Anyway, enough of the glums.  I’ve got at least three stories to tell if I have the time, and I plan to start with selections of letters written by my Uncle David to his family at home in Buenos Aires, describing his RAF training during World War II in Canada and the Orkney Islands in northern Scotland, until 1943 when he was killed while flying his Spitfire.

(PS I notice my counter re-set itself to zero recently – all those hard earned visits…)


Photo Finish - Digital


Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Chemo ain't so bad when you consider the alternative...

Picking up from February 2013...

I've been away from my blog for a long time, and before starting to write my stories again, I’d like to explain what the last couple of years have been like. 

I realise I've lost all my readers and that it’s a slow process to get them back, but I’ll be patient.  More importantly I love to write and I use the blog for practice; I’m still in search of my ‘style’.  I imagine my blog as a sort of magazine with articles, stories and pictures; broadly speaking my idea was to introduce English speaking people to the non-political Argentina where I grew up and to tell about people and events which might interest you and where no version exists in English.  

It’s not a journal, none of it is ‘yesterday’s news’ – there should be no difference if you look down the left hand side of this screen and click on the links now or in ten years’ time.  Each entry (or series of entries) stands alone.  Whereas old magazines are discarded and journals become irrelevant, quite simply this is my legacy.

My beloved partner John died on 18th March 2013, and he took part of me with him.  I longed to believe that I could re-create “Ghost”, the film with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, where for a while they found a way to communicate from either side of the divide.  Had it been possible I have no doubt whatsoever that he would have done so, but there has been nothing, apart from the odd puzzling (and slight) whiff of cigarette smoke every now and again.  But I talk to him anyway, and my great companion Banjo has the usual feline approach to these things (“She’s talking to herself again.  Oh well, as long as she keeps me fed…”)

2013 unrolled slowly, and work as research administrator at a hospital in Bristol kept me thinking about other things for some of the time.  In January 2014 I got another nasty surprise – an ultrasound the previous November for something else, detected what was later confirmed as ovarian cancer, and I started on chemotherapy in February.  

It’s one of those stealthy cancers that are rarely caught early because you simply don’t feel it.  In my case it has not been caught in time, but my oncologist tells me that although I probably will not go into remission, I've responded very well to several months of chemotherapy either side of a surgical intervention last May, and they are very pleased with my progress.  My family and neighbours helped me while I was weak from the treatment and the operation and wanted to sleep all day, and after nearly 12 months I have returned to work, though only for 2 days a week.  

I can honestly say I've had virtually no pain or discomfort, except during the week I was in hospital and for a week after that.  I have a physically lazy personality; you don’t need to tell me to rest. I would try looking at my blog every so often, but my brain couldn't seem to cope with it.  Freecell was as far as I got…  I have been surprisingly sanguine about the whole experience – I say “surprisingly” because I don’t understand why I’m not scared out of my wits, why I’m not neurotic about each stage of the treatment, why losing my hair wasn't the end of the world.  I’m told I’ll need chemo again some time this year, and though the oncologist tells me they’ll keep me going for a long time, understandably he won’t be drawn on specifics.  But that’s OK too.  Neither do I mind talking/writing about it, so if you want to comment there's no need to write "on tiptoe".

I think it’s because losing John was infinitely more devastating to me and I feel nowhere near getting over it – it will be 2 years in March.  Such things as my body falling to bits don’t seem as important.

My mother died of ovarian cancer in 2007, but she was at a very advanced stage and detailed analyses and examinations were never carried out.  Nevertheless we know these things can be passed on in the genes, so for the sake of my sister and niece we took part in a study to find out whether I carried the deadly genes – there are several.  All came back negative, and we've been told that until new genes have been discovered as carrying the mutation, they will assume that it was just coincidence.  I have to say I don’t believe this, but my niece’s husband is a doctor, and we will follow his advice on what we should do next.

This isn't all doom and gloom – there have been quirky, amusing times, such as the old gentleman in the room next to mine in the hospital who was operated on the same day as me, and though he never knew, we both shared the same gaseous discomfort on that first night.  I know because at some point in the middle of the night there was a sustained trumpet sound – astonishingly long actually – at the end of which I heard a very Bristollian sounding “Aaaaah – BOOTIFULL!”  coming from him.  I was horribly jealous and didn't see the funny side till the following morning.

My hair – my vanity disappeared with it, during the 2014 hot summer when I was forced to wear a windsock-looking thing on my head when there were people around.  It was strange to discover how quickly I could control heat and cold – remove windsock if hot, put back on if cold.  It was essential to wear it at night.  Banjo remained unimpressed throughout.  When out and about I was so self-conscious and worried that it would slip off the back of my head that I’d pull it right down to my eyebrows.  Mirrors were best avoided, but it was quite nice not to have to think about combing my hair.  It grew back straight up, at right angles to my head, and I made the transition from

 Telly Savalas 

to Tin-Tin,

to a Mohican.  

Did it grow back curly, you ask?  Well, there’s a kink that wasn't there before, but the startling thing is the colour – I was originally mousy brown, then reddish, as per my blog picture… and now I’m dark grey with white temples… and virtually black on the top!  Somebody asked me the other day if I’d been dying it purple.   It took 5 months for the upstanding hair to flop over.  I’ll lose it again when they put me on the stronger chemotherapy, which I hope won’t be this year.

There has been plenty of time for my nails to grow, and to give in to the temptation of painting them again.  I found a product on the market which will thin gummed up nail varnish leaving it as new, so I painted them different colours every other day, and watched them grow longer and longer as somebody else did the housework.  Banjo’s reaction was interesting, to say the least.  He’s not an aggressive cat at all, but clearly my nails became talons in his eyes, and when near me his eyes would be fixed nervously on my hands.  I was sometimes scratched when trying to stroke him.  This tendency has disappeared altogether since I cut them short before going back to work, and have not painted them for a couple of weeks. 

Judge Judy – I’m now a self-confessed Judy Junkie, and if you know where to look, you can watch her for large chunks of the day and night on British TV.  I have a tablet, so I can watch her anywhere I want, and lie in bed with it turned on one side…  Lovely.  The cases are 10 minute ‘video bites’ my chemo brain can cope with, and I like her Punch-and-Judy attitude to welfare spongers generally.  The only thing I’m disappointed she doesn't deal with is people who have vehicle accidents when they were on their mobile phones at the time.  I've never heard her condemn drivers who speak on their mobiles while driving.  And … why does the show pay the settlements?  The losers never get punished, and it seems crazy to me.  The British equivalent, called Judge Rinder, does the same thing.

Of necessity there has been quite a lot of television in the past year, and apart from the above, and enjoying “The Big Bang Theory”.  I have come late in the day to enjoy “Everybody loves Raymond”, where most of the characters are funny in their own right.

Not for the squeamish but important if you have a gastric band:  If there are any readers out there who originally read my blog when I had a gastric band fitted to help me lose weight, it might interest you to know that for me it has been incompatible with my cancer treatment.  This is simply because chemotherapy can bring on nausea, and you have to take anti-emetic medication (or life isn't worth living).  Conversely, to enable the gastric band to work you have to be able if necessary to remove blockages by making yourself sick, and with anti-emetics inside you, you can’t.  After several panicky events, I went back to the bariatric hospital where they fitted my band, and asked them to unfill the band completely.  There has been no problem since then.

So that’s it folks.  It brings you up to date.  I’m doing fine, but the events over the past 2 years have made me re-evaluate what I want from life, and that it’s time to leave to one side what does not give me pleasure.  I don’t know as yet what form this will take, but I’ll keep you posted.  All I know is that my blog most definitely DOES give me pleasure.  I continue to read all the blogs I store down the right side of the screen, and am so glad you’re all doing well.  I have several stories in the pipeline and hope soon to be back to my old concentration levels to write them.


Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Story of the Village of Bell Ville, Córdoba, Argentina (Part 7 of 7)

The story so far:
My grandmother and mother were born in Bell Ville, originally named Fraile Muerto, and this series of posts is the result of my research into this village, later a town.  There were English farmers in the countryside and (mainly) Italian immigrants in the town, and I descend from both.
Part 1:  The history of the area up to the mid nineteenth century.
Part 2:  The arrival of the English farming pioneers as typified by Richard Seymour and Frank Goodricke, who resided at their farm Monte Molino from 1865-68;  their first encounter with marauding indians;  headman Lisada’s gesture of friendship to an indian scouting party.
Part 3:  More encounters with indians; description of gauchos; characters in Fraile Muerto.
Part 4:  The arrival of Richard Seymour’s brother Walter and his friend Hume Kelly.  RS’s stsruggles with farming, loss of all their livestock after an indian attack; the weather and the primitive living conditions.
Part 5:  Shepherd Harry’s story.  Another indian raid; war with Paraguay, effects of cholera on Fraile Muerto.
Part 6:  Domingo Faustino Sarmiento newly elected president of Argentina; new farm machinery arrives from England; Lisada’s encounter with indians when incident related in Part 2 paid off; speculation why Richard Seymour gave up farming and returned to England.  The story of how Fraile Muerto was renamed Bell Ville.

Enrichetta Alina Maria Aloisi, my grandmother,
taken in Florence in 1891, when she was 1 year old.

Graciela Amalia Schiele, my mother,
taken in Bell Ville in 1923, when she was 1 year old.

The Italian Connection
The influx of immigrants from Italy seeking a better life in Argentina is the greatest by far, larger even than those from Spain.  Between 1814 and 1970 the country has welcomed some six million Italian immigrants.  They and their descendants, now 60% of the population, are the backbone of Argentine daily life and culture.  In fact, leaving Italy itself aside, Argentina is the nation with the highest percentage of Italians and with the strongest Italian culture.
After Napoleon Bonaparte’s downfall and the Treaty of Vienna in 1815, Italy was governed by Austria as many separate states until the Risorgimento movement headed by Victor Emmanuel II...

...started the unification of the country under Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Despite its success, the decades of struggle had created social and economic chaos and disunity, with the richer states being in the north and the poorer in the south; and many dialects – 10 in Sicily alone.  Initially the infrastructure to enable them to resolve these differences simply did not exist.  Corruption, unemployment and strong class-consciousness dominated their daily lives to an extent that drove many families to emigrate. 

Rinaldo Baronti, 1890s 
In the mid 1870s Rinaldo Baronti was one such hopeful.  He had been born and bred in the prosperous northern city of Florence, and as a young newly qualified architect met Amalia Bertani, the 15 year old daughter of a friend of his who lived with his family very near the Ponte Vecchio over the Arno river in the same city.

Amalia Bertani (my great grandmother)
as a girl

He fell in love with her, and asked his friend whether he would consent to their getting married one day, allowing via a long courtship for her to grow up a little.  Bertani was shocked and obdurate.  His daughter was too young to think of such things and he was to steer clear of her.  Despondent, Baronti opted for getting away from this forbidden fruit altogether, and he joined the stream of immigrants to Argentina.
Amalia’s sister Enrichetta was older, but already affianced to Vincenzo Rosignoli, a sculptor of renown from Assisi.  There are many statues around Italy which were created by him and in the picture below from 1912, he and her sister Enrichetta - now his wife - pose in front of Nymph, one of them.  He is best known for his tender portrayals of St Francis of Assisi caring for animals. 

Meanwhile Amalia grew up into a handsome girl with the accomplishments of the age – she spoke French fluently, wrote poetry of some merit, painted in oils, made all her own clothes, had a fine soprano voice and played the piano like an angel, being a fully qualified teacher of music.  My mother has told us that she was also fiercely proud of an uncle - il Zio Colonello - who had fought with Garibaldi.  Ten years after her aborted romance with Rinaldo Baronti, she married a marine engineer in Florence, Enrico Aloisi. 

Enrico had come top of his graduating class in 1885 and had been presented with a gold medal by Umberto I, the king of Italy himself.  Below is a postcard clearly used by the sculptor Vincenzo Rosignoli as a way of promoting his business, whose signature is appended.  The statue in the picture is of Vittorio Emanuele II, King of Italy, with a half relief at the base of Umberto I, previous king, who had presented my great-grandfather Enrico Aloisi with his medal. 

Enrico was five years her junior, so she lied about her age and incidentally did so for the rest of her life.  She bore him a son, Enzo, and a daughter, Enrichetta (my grandmother, later spelt 'Enriqueta'), but his life was tragically cut short in 1890 when he died of pneumonia some months before little Enriqueta was born.  The child was named after both her dead father and Amalia’s own sister.
Top left is Amalia Aloisi, newly widowed

Amalia was now a widow in her thirties, still living in Florence.  She was fortunate to be taken on by the Contessa Piscicelli, who employed her as a live-in governess to her children; she taught them and her own children French and music.   They kept close family ties with Amalia’s sister Enrichetta and her husband Rosignoli, and when possible stayed with them in Assisi.  Don Vincenzo, aside from being a serious sculptor, also had a sense of humour, and liked to create tableaus which he would get professionals to photograph.  Here is one where he is portraying himself as a dwarf (on his knees with shoes protruding) with his wife Enrichetta holding a puppy and her niece (my grandmother Enriqueta) front left, next to her older brother Enzo.

This state of affairs continued until she got the surprise of her life one day in the form of a letter from Rinaldo Baronti, her former suitor, now settled in Bell Ville, Argentina.  He had married but his wife had unfortunately died a few years before and left him with three small children to bring up.  He had never forgotten Amalia, and was now proposing marriage to her.  He offered her a new life, a new beginning at the opposite end of the world, and she accepted. 

He then sent her this fond card of himself sitting by a stream -

...which said on the reverse in a touching mixture of Spanish and Italian:  A vos que antes y sola me enoblesisti mente y corazon, ofresco como peño de verdadero amor este ricuerdo simbolo di eterna fe. ("To you, who alone once ennobled my heart and mind, I dedicate this token of true love, a symbol of everlasting faith.")

Amalia, Enzo (12) and Enriqueta (8) arrived in the port of Buenos Aires in 1898, where Rinaldo was waiting on the quayside.  Sadly their feelings on seeing each other again have not been recorded, but being a formal gentleman he had arranged for a civil wedding ceremony to take place immediately, and on the same day the four of them departed for Bell Ville, 450km (285 miles) away, to the Villino Baronti.
Enzo and Enriqueta in Bell Ville,
a couple of years after they had arrived from Italy.
(The original is only about 2 inches high, hence the low resolution)

My mother described the house as large, with an inner patio and fountain, and large bird cages.  It was dark inside, and had tiles on the floors and some of the walls, therefore cool in summer, and the dining-room had splendid and imposing matching furniture in light oak – sideboard, carving table, huge table, chairs and grandfather clock.  In time the furniture was sold along with the house, but the grandfather clock followed Amalia and later Enriqueta throughout their lives, my mother inheriting it eventually.  It is now with me, beautiful but too large to look natural in most modern homes. 

It took little Enriqueta many months to settle down, during which she often cried herself to sleep. 

This might have been in part because of her new surroundings and inevitably less attention from her mother, but it could also have been because it was not always easy adjusting to her new step brothers and sister.  Pepe Bertani was the eldest, then Querubina, and Angelito was the youngest.  Querubina and Enriqueta had very differing personalities, but they were approximately the same age, and Amalia was anxious that her children should give her new stepchildren no cause to clash.  Don Rinaldo was kind to the little girl, but her only real consolation was her older brother Enzo, whom she adored.
In her memoirs, my mother says –
“Amalia kept busy with her music, the garden and birds, of which she always had a number in cages.  The practicalities of housekeeping did not appeal to her, so that by the time my mother was fourteen, it was she who was running the house.”
In 1908 Bell Ville was officially proclaimed a proper town.  Rinaldo Bertani had a successful business as an architect, and had received various local commissions.  The best known of these is a building still standing today which is regarded as one of the best known landmarks of Bell Ville, the Hotel de Inmigrantes. 
As it was then

As it is now

This imposing building was designed to house immigrant families when they first arrived in Bell Ville and before they had found themselves somewhere to live.
As they grew into young ladies, the girls socialised together and chaperoned each other, always immaculately dressed in the garments made for them by Amalia.  This Bell Ville studio photograph is an example, with Querubina on the left at the piano and my grandmother Enriqueta on the right.  Note however that they are wearing identical dresses.  I wonder how they felt about that...

One afternoon in around 1914 her older stepbrother Pepe appeared with a friend of his, Manfred Schiele.  Manny belonged to a large family which farmed in the area, and was presently employed at Estancia La California, some 100kms away from Bell Ville, owned by the wealthy Benitz family.  At that time the young man’s job consisted in checking the state of fencing and gates over a large area, which he did on horseback.  In the evenings he dined with the Benitz family, where old-time etiquette was strictly observed.  Full evening dress, dinner jackets and black ties were required.  The relative informality of the Villino Bertani must have come as a welcome relief. 

Manfred and Enriqueta, engaged, in about 1912

I love this portrait of Granny, and the dog is magnificent, isn't he?

He hit it off with Enriqueta straight away, and it was not long before he was making excuses to stop off at Bell Ville on the way to anywhere.  It became official when his mother Agnes Schiele made the long journey to meet her (or as was the custom in those days to ‘check on her suitability’) and was charmed by her, so they became engaged. 

Edward Constantine and Agnes Schiele, recently married.

...and in later life

After their marriage they lived in Bell Ville for several years for practical reasons because my grandfather held positions at different estancias which necessitated quite a bit of travelling.  In due course they were settled at one of these, and their life consisted of life on the farm, visits to his parents on a farm 200 miles away, to her parents and family in Bell Ville, and to relations in Buenos Aires.  Granny had five children; Dick, Vera and John born in Buenos Aires (“the expensive ones”) and my mother Chela and Fred in Bell Ville (“the cheap ones”).

From left:  John, friend, Richard, Vera, friend, Graciela (Chela).  Youngest brother Fred would have been too young to be in the photo.

John, Chela and Vera

Chela in 1940, at 18

Chela’s earliest memories were of playing in the shady patio with the tinkling fountain, and being treated with affection by her grandmother and step-grandfather (Nonna and Nonno).  The household spoke Italian, and she picked it up from them, remaining fluent for the rest of her life.  Mum and my uncles and aunts were all trilingual.  Her mother Enriqueta worked hard to learn English, as it was spoken by all her in-laws, and I remember well that she spoke it very correctly and fluently, although with a heavy accent.  “Wood in a basket” became “vood in a busket”, for example.  She was very good natured about the inevitable teasing.

The Nonna - Amalia Baronti - in later life.

Enzo in later life

After the Nonno died, Nonna Amalia went to live with her daughter and family, who by now had a house in Buenos Aires so that the children could go to school.  They remained very close, and my uncles and aunt remember the two women sitting close to the old wireless, listening to operas, tears of emotion streaming down their faces – and the Nonna exclaiming… “Ah poveretta! Ora muore!”  (“Ah poor thing!  Now she dies!”)

Enriqueta (Granny), at about 78 years in 1968, with my sister
Belle Ville has come a long way from those days, and even since the 1970s when Mum and I visited it on a hot afternoon.  It is now a bustling, noisy town of 35,000 inhabitants which attracts its good share of tourists, particularly those interested in football.  It has an enthusiastically supported team, perhaps a response to the outstanding success of one of its sons – Mario Kempes, who was the star of the World Cup in 1978, scoring 6 goals, the top individual score of the tournament.

- or Osvaldo Ardiles, who was born in the same province, though not in Bell Ville.
The city’s claim to fame these days is its thriving industry in football manufacture, with their products being sold all over the world.  Research first started on this subject in Bell Ville after the FIFA 1930 first World Cup held in Uruguay when the host team beat Argentina in the final, it was said unfairly because of the ball that the Uruguayans had selected.  What resulted was a new type of ball with no stitching, which is still used today.
The environs are still devoted to crops and cattle farming, and though the sea of waving grass has shrunk considerably and is bounded by fences and bisected by country roads, it is still there.

(1)  Pioneering in the Pampas by Richard Seymour. First published in 1869, reprinted 2002, Stockcero Publishers
(2)  Fraile Muerto by Juan Carlos Casas, 2002, Stockcero Publishers
(3)  A Ramble through my Life, memoirs by Graciela Amalia Schiele de Bridger (Chela), 1922-2007, unpublished.
(4)  Websites: Wikipedia

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Story of the Village of Bell Ville, Córdoba, Argentina (Part 6 of 7)

The story so far:
My grandmother and mother were born in Bell Ville, originally named Fraile Muerto, and this series of posts is the result of my research into this village, later a town.  There were English farmers in the countryside and (mainly) Italian immigrants in the town, and I descend from both.
Part 1:  The history of the area up to the mid nineteenth century.
Part 2:  The arrival of the English farming pioneers as typified by Richard Seymour and Frank Goodricke, who resided at their farm Monte Molino from 1865-68;  their first encounter with marauding indians;  headman Lisada’s gesture of friendship to an indian scouting party.
Part 3:  More encounters with indians; description of gauchos; characters in Fraile Muerto.
Part 4:  The arrival of Richard Seymour’s brother Walter and his friend Hume Kelly.  RS’s stsruggles with farming, loss of all their livestock after an indian attack; the weather and the primitive living conditions.
Part 5:  Shepherd Harry’s story.  Another indian raid; war with Paraguay, effects of cholera on Fraile Muerto.

A new president

The cholera continued.  In the city of Rosario rows of houses were boarded up, either because their owners had died or escaped to the countryside if they could – one French family managed to get away, only to fall into the hands of  Indians, who kidnapped them.  The disease swept its way onward, indiscriminately killing native and foreigner alike.  It was estimated that people were dying of cholera at a rate of one in ten.  Richard Seymour himself was struck down with it, but was lucky.  After a very unpleasant twenty-four hours he took a turn for the better and recovered relatively quickly.
At a German colony in a village nearby called Cañada de Gómez a farmer witnessed every member of his household die in succession, and when he himself was attacked by the disease, he shot himself in despair.  His holding became abandoned, with livestock wandering about at will, and the whole area was severely depopulated.  It brought out both the best and the worst in people – the fear of infection was so great that the dead were being buried in great haste, and sometimes people left their relatives to die alone rather than set foot inside their front door.  They would then lasso the body from the outside and drag it out for burial.
As soon as the cold weather set in the disease vanished.

In May 1868 Domingo Faustino Sarmiento became the newly elected seventh president of Argentina.  This was welcomed with relief by the farmers, who saw in him their only hope of support against the incursions by the Indians. 
Until such time as Sarmiento could solve the indian problem, they turned their attention away from cattle and towards crops such as wheat, maize and flax, purchasing 20 young bullocks to do the ploughing so as to prepare the land for wheat growing, after scorching the grasslands with fire to prepare the soil, as was the custom in those days.  This was a method which in that area worked well because there was nothing but grass, though it was reported that in the province of Buenos Aires, which was well populated by thistles several metres high, serious damage could ensue if the fires were lit towards the end of the summer when the vegetation was very dry.
Driving the bullocks required infinite patience, for the animals didn’t fancy going in a straight line, and only seemed to respond when the shouted orders were accompanied by coarse and hoarse epithets (“...the gauchos ought to find their bullocks most obedient servants...” Dick Seymour commented wrily.) The creatures were reduced to order at last, but were obstinate and tiresome to manage.  This was not helped by the fact that the native ploughs were very primitive, consisting as they did of a log with a nail in it, which barely scratched the surface of the soil.  However the soil was so fertile and rich that there had been no incentive to improve the mechanism, until the European farmers settled there.  Later on when steam-driven ploughs from England eventually arrived, the locals could not believe their eyes.
Dick Seymour wrote that on a typical morning he would have ploughed up some dozen snakes, and there would be dense flocks of birds following to pick up seed, which, he said, in turn often provided food for the ploughmen.  He was also impressed by the number and variety of plants which flourished in those parts – their kitchen garden’s vegetables in ‘the greatest luxuriance’ .  The onions and radishes grew to an immense size, one specimen of radish reaching a size of 18 inches in circumference.  The soil was perfect also for melon, pumpkins, cucumbers, and many trees, including peach trees.  He loved the purple and red verbena wildflowers particularly.
Sadly their prize English rams died off one by one with a mysterious swelling of the throat, and they concluded that European sheep were not meant to live at those latitudes.
Round about at this time Gumersindo Lisada, formerly the capataz or foreman at Monte Molino (see Part Two) and latterly living in the village, had his most terrifying encounter yet with the indians.  He was visiting his friends at Monte Molino for a few days with his little brother Stani and they were rounding up stray cattle one day, when a party of indians came upon them and kidnapped Lisada.  Stani got away because he was at some distance and his horse was not as tired, and he was able to raise the alarm. 

This sort of action by natives generally meant that they needed someone of Lisada’s age and experience to act as scout, or baqueano.  Everyone knew the sort of treatment meted out to both gaucho interpreters and these press-ganged scouts, and in Fraile Muerto he was mourned as if already dead.  Richard Seymour was in the village at the time, and was much cast down by the news of his cheeky, feisty and highly regarded former capataz.  Several days later he bumped into one of Lisada’s friends, who reported that he had returned home late the night before, safe and sound.  Seymour hastened to Lisada’s home, where he found him tucked up in bed, resting from his labours and recovering from his fright.  After a few restoring rounds of mate, he told him his story. 
He had been seized by a party of some thirty braves, who were soon joined by an even larger number.  They informed him (through the gaucho interpreter) that he was now their scout and asked where he had come from.  On hearing that it was the Monte Molino estancia, they demanded him to guide them there.
Lisada was able to reply truthfully that thanks to the number of recent predations upon that property by their good selves, they would find nothing left to take – and he described the most recent raid (see Part Two).  They held a council, and decided they would head instead for the Esquina Ballesteros estancia belonging to the family of Casas, the Chief of Police.  When they reached there a group of them attacked the house accompanied by the gaucho and Lisada stayed back with the rest.  He heard a lot of shouting and shots, and smoke billowing out of the windows.  The interpreter told him later that the place had been bravely defended by three people, but the Indians had eventually got in and killed them all.  They also took with them every horse, cow and sheep they found, the latter doubtless merely to feed them on the way to their next raid.
A while later they attempted to kidnap another gaucho, who made a desperate attempt to escape but was caught after a chase over several leagues.  They bound his hands together and ordered him to his knees, and after allowing Lisada to give him a cigarette, the fugitive’s last request, executed him with their lances. 
Lisada was quite sure he would be next and was quaking with terror, but to his everlasting surprise learned that they remembered him from the raid to Monte Molino when he had crossed the moat and shared his cigarettes with them.  They had admired his bravery and appreciated his gesture of friendship, and would therefore spare him.  They gave him an old horse, shook hands with him, and told him to go home.
Dick reported that his former capataz continued to live and flourish in Fraile Muerto, unless he was later called up to serve in the army in Paraguay.  This would have been a severe trial for him, he reflected, fond as he was of sitting around drinking mate and – in Lisada’s own words – finding that his bedsheets “stuck to him” in the mornings.
Richard Seymour never spells out in his book why shortly after this he returned to England in 1868 for good and gave up his Argentine farming adventure, but his remarks make it easy to read between the lines.  The climate and soil were perfect and permitted the growth of excellent pastureland for cattle, which attracted many foreign immigrants with whom they had established excellent relations.  The communications with Buenos Aires and London were good, providing the market for their products, and the introduction of the railway was making the process faster all the time. 
On the minus side he had clearly been unprepared for the unknown diseases which affected his animals and killed them with no warning, the vast distance to Fraile Muerto because there was no bridge to cross the river which made errands a major chore, the regular locust plagues which left the cattle scratching for food and emptied their kitchen garden of vegetables, and the chronic lack of firewood on a sea of grassland with few trees.

Locust plague in progress

But all this was as nothing to the disillusionment he felt over the severity of the Indian problem and the government’s lack of reaction to this impediment to progress, let alone the loss of life.  The constant depredations had almost bankrupted him, but his experiences had a lasting influence on his life.
The Indians themselves and the 30,000 who died in the last quarter of the nineteenth century became a shameful and forgotten chapter in the country’s history until the last decade, when the true facts about their systematic extermination have become known.  Many books have been written on the subject and many claims for their land still continue. 

The indian campaign, 1879

Fraile Muerto becomes Bell Ville
The time had finally come for Fraile Muerto, the oddly named town of Dead Friar, to shed its name.  The moment and the place were set by the visit of the new President of Argentina, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento.  In late 1870 he was travelling to the city of Córdoba for the inauguration of the First Industrial Exhibition, and he made a stopover of several days at Fraile Muerto.
The flags and the bunting were out, the schoolchildren let off school for the day, and a large outdoor barbecue was organised in his honour.  Sarmiento circulated among the guests chatting amiably to all and sundry, and presently asked to meet the oldest settler present.  He was introduced to the brothers Anthony and Robert Bell, farmers originally from Dunbar in Scotland who had established themselves as farmers in the area some years previously, and were recognised as having introduced modern farming methods. 
The President was an anglophile and had taught himself English many years earlier by translating Dickens novels solely with the use of a dictionary.  He questioned one of the brothers closely about the quality of the soil, the clearing of the bush, the crops they were growing, how the cattle fared, and the rainfall. 
Then he said “And the water – what is the water like in this area?”
Robert Bell smiled and replied “The truth is Mr President, I don’t know.  I only drink whisky.”
President Sarmiento was very amused by this, and on impulse he proposed the name of the town should be changed.  Calling it after a dead friar did not reflect its new progressive image; why not call it Bell Ville?  Two years’ later the name was officially changed and it has been Bell Ville ever since.
Many variations of this story have been told since then, but my grandfather Manfred Schiele was present when it was related first hand to his father Edward Constantine Schiele, my great-grandfather, also a farmer and landowner in those parts, by an Englishman who was standing by on that day in 1870.

My great-grandfather, Edward Constantine Schiele
Grandfather Manfred owned an estancia called El Recreo near Bell Ville, and later sold it to his brother Bertie, my great uncle, and in her letters home to her parents in England between 1912 and 1919, my great aunt Winifred described it as having a watchtower and a moat around it.  Drought and locusts seemed to be a constant in their lives.

Winifred and Bertie Schiele


For Bibliography see end of Part 7.

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