Diego Rivera cubism in the style and period of Braque and Picasso .. Love the Mexican blanket part
A fine recollection of a fishing trip in Patagonia with brother John by journalist, author and sister Judy Muller.
A once in a lifetime trip to Patagonia.
By – Judy Muller
photo by – George Lewis
Some time ago, when I first started toying with the idea of a trip to Patagonia to fish for trout, a good non-angling friend asked me an interesting question. “Why,” she wondered, “would someone spend thousands of dollars to travel thousands of miles to catch the same kind of fish that could be caught in rivers much closer to home, and then, after all that effort and expense, release those fish back into the water?”
What seemed absurd to her seemed entirely sensible to me. “Because,” I replied, “that ‘someone’ is about to turn 70, because life is short and knees are weak, and the chance to wade in beautiful rivers in faraway places and connect even briefly with wild creatures is finite.” Actually, my answer was not nearly as polished as that, but one of the benefits of writing a fish story is the right to take some editorial liberties.
As for the part about putting the fish back in the river, I realize that catch and release fishing is a mystery to non-anglers, and I have given up trying to explain why conserving a fishery is so important, and why, as a famous angler once said, a trout is too beautiful to be caught just once. For the sake of the larger point here, let’s just move along.
The larger point has to do with time’s winged chariot hurrying near, as the poem goes, “hurrying” being the operative term. About a year before I was to turn 70, it occurred to me that I probably had about 15 good years left, if the family’s average life expectancy means anything, and that I should do those things that might not be doable for too much longer. Fishing in the Patagonia region of Chile was one of those things. Chile, in the language of the indigenous peoples, means “where the world ends,” which has a nice ring to it, bucket-list-wise. So I impulsively booked a trip to a place I had read about in a fly-fishing catalogue, the lodge at “El Saltamontes,” which means “the grasshopper.” It promised miles and miles of private water, from rivers to spring creeks to lakes, where huge trout were waiting for the grasshoppers that regularly blow into the water, providing a feast that is easily replicated by an artificial dry fly. The lodge only takes 10 guests at a time, providing fishing guides, fine cuisine, and spectacular scenery. I booked it for two, figuring I had a whole year to find someone who might like to go with me, or, as my brother John put it, “to get lucky.” I didn’t, so my brother volunteered to go with me, which turned out to be a perfect choice. We grew up in a family of anglers, and have shared many fish stories over the years. “Dad would have loved this!” became our mantra on this trip, uttered at least once a day, accompanied by the kind of reminiscing that could only have been appreciated by someone who shares your life history. At this age, in fact, we are the only ones left who share that common history, a point that was not lost on either of us.
Fly fishing for trout is a pleasure that stretches back to my childhood, which is probably why it has the power to make me feel like a child. When I wade into a river, peer below the surface of the clear mountain water, see the quick glint of sun reflecting off the back of a rainbow trout or the gold streak of a brown trout darting out from behind a rock or from under the riverbank, my heart quickens just a bit, and in a good way. I become absorbed in that place and that moment. And just for that moment, I forget about all the grown-up stuff I’ve left behind — demands and deadlines, taxes, and teaching. And if I’m lucky enough to fool that fish with an artificial grasshopper tied to the end of my line, I will have the thrill of seeing it charge up from a pool or riffle. And if, in that moment, I can summon the requisite skill, I will set the hook and keep the line tight enough to bring him to the net, where a quick meet-and-greet ends with slipping the hook out and releasing him unharmed back to the river. None of those steps — the cast, the strike, the landing, the release — is guaranteed, no matter how many fish have connected with my line over the years. Each encounter is brand new, an adrenaline rush that never grows old, even as I do.
Starting with my family, then with various friends and lovers, I have fished in some magical places, from Yellowstone to New Zealand, from the Catskills to Canada, from the Sierras to the Rockies, and in places with exotic names like the River of No Return Wilderness. Patagonia was the Shangri-La of them all, and while expectations are often “disappointments under construction,” as they say, my expectations in this case were not just realized, but surpassed.
Getting there involved a 12-hour flight from Los Angeles to Santiago, a three-day layover in that capital city, and a 3-hour flight to southern Chile’s Aisen region, to a little airport in Balmaceda, followed by a 2-hour drive to the ranch. Our host, Jose Gorrono, met us at the airport. In the fly fishing catalogue that first drew my attention to El Saltamontes Lodge, Gorrono is described as a “modern Renaissance man,” the real-life version of the “most interesting man in the world” from the Dos Equis ad. The skeptic in my journalist brain scoffed, chalking it up to typical tourist brochure hyperbole.
During our week with Jose on his massive estancia, we learned that Jose had designed and built his own electrical generator back in the 80’s, and shared the excess electricity with the local community. He designed and built the beautiful lodge and cabins out of local river stone and rough-hewn logs from the ranch property, where he raises prize horses and alpacas. He had sailed the Pacific Ocean by himself from Chile to Australia many times, and once had to repair his own boat at sea to survive. He had searched for, and succeeded in finding, sunken treasure. And, he had pulled off a self-rescue after a skiing fall during an avalanche, managing to do so with a compound fracture of his arm.
What Jose does not do, apparently, is fly fish. It took a visiting angler (an American) to clue him in to the spectacular fishing conditions on his estancia, which prompted him to set up the fishing lodge some years ago.
Also, it should be noted, he is a quite dashing 60-something, with a head of dazzling white hair and a smile to match. So when Jose flashed those pearly-whites my way, it took me a moment to digest his first words to us. “I do have some news,” he said, adding, “You two are the only guests at the lodge this week.”
For some couples this might have been received as a great windfall: the whole place to ourselves, complete with a master fishing guide and a chef, not to mention a genial host with amazing stories to tell, and miles and miles of great trout-fishing water. My sister-in-law, Susie, would no doubt have been delighted at the prospect of a week to explore a strange land, with exotic birds and plants (she doesn’t really like to fish). But as brother and sister, the prospect of having to spend the next six days talking mostly to each other was something of a daunting prospect. To file under “watch out what you ask for,” we had been dreading the prospect of sharing our vacation time with, say, Americans who wanted to bring up politics at the dinner table. In fact, we were sure that the six very loud Americans aboard our flight from Santiago might be headed for the same lodge, and we were preparing ourselves for a lot of “letting it go” moments. When those guys headed off with another fishing outfit, and Jose told us the news that we would be alone at the estancia, we had to shift our expectations dramatically. This was not one of those moments where we thought, “Dad would have loved this!” Our parents were extremely gregarious people, collecting other people’s life stories like so many souvenirs of each trip. Could we really go a whole week without devolving into sibling rivalry, snarky remarks, and suggestions for self-improvement aimed, of course, at the other person?
The fact that we did so says a lot about a) the power of meditation, and b) the power of nostalgia and shared stories, the kind of stories that would bore other people, but not us, because we were the stars of these stories. There was the time, for example, on a family fishing trip to Yellowstone, when my brother abruptly interrupted his evening bath, stopping his ablutions midstream, because he suddenly saw trout rising to a hatch of insects. I have a lovely rear-view photo of him, wearing nothing but his boots and a hat, hooking a very nice fish. For his part, he regrets that someone (can’t imagine who) lost the video he once took of me false-casting a very, very small trout on my line, back and forth, back and forth, totally unaware that I had caught a fish. In my defense, and because I am the one writing this story, I want to point out that it was a very, very, very small fish. Anyone could have missed it.
South of Marrakesh, the Draa Valley still exerts an indefinable pull, retaining traces of its now almost-vanished Berber kingdom.
THE SHAMROCK GREEN of Casablanca graded into a flat plain of beige. From the tarmac itself, I could see the beige run into a towering wall of white — the Atlas Mountains. Edith Wharton, in her 1920 travelogue, “In Morocco,” had felt herself fall under the spell of the Atlas and the desert beyond as well. “Unknown Africa,” she writes, “seems much nearer to Morocco than to the white towns of Tunis and the smiling oases of South Algeria. One feels the nearness of Marrakech at Fez, and at Marrakech that of Timbuctoo.”
To be in Marrakesh on that morning in late February was to feel the nearness not of the Sahara but of Stansted and Orly. The “great nomad camp” of the south — which had once attracted the Tuareg, the West African tribe who had plied the caravan route through the Sahara since at least the fifth century B.C. and were known as “the blue people” of the desert because of their indigo-dyed robes — was awash with the tourist trash of Europe — the EasyJet set. This was a city where glamorous European families, such as the Agnellis, owned houses, where the name of the garden designer Madison Cox, the widower of Pierre Bergé (Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Bergé, had fallen in love with Marrakesh in the 1960s) was whispered like a holy name among the demimonde. It was impossible now to smell Timbuktu in Marrakesh. Colonial boundaries and modern tensions — the border with Algeria has been permanently closed since 1994, after a conflict broke out between the two countries — had pushed the desert back. One had to go much farther south, across the Atlas and into the Draa Valley, an 8,900-square-mile oasis that ran along the Algerian border, to get a whiff of that world to which the exchange of goods and ideas — first salt, silver and slaves, then religion, manuscripts and notions of kingship — had given an inner cohesion. A Persian friend in New York, a man of taste and refinement, had spoken to me one evening of the Draa. He told me of medieval Islamic libraries in small Saharan towns, of shrines to desert saints and of old Jewish houses.
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I wanted badly to go. I was mourning an impression of Arabia that I had received 10 years before, while traveling in the Hadhramaut region of Yemen, known for its key position on the incense trade, and researching my first book, “Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands” (2009). I feared that civil war in Yemen in recent years had laid waste to that fairy-tale ideal of crenelated mud-walled cities set in a belt of blue date palm, full of cool and shade. It may be odd to go to one place in search of another, but so much has been lost of late, here in the spread of a homogenizing modernity, there through the destruction of ancient sites in places like Bamiyan in Afghanistan and Palmyra in Syria. Our time is the enemy of the past, and increasingly I find the wonder of travel lies less in the discovery of new places than in tracing the outline of those that have ceased to exist.
IT WAS A RELIEF to see Monsieur Azzdine — burly, bearded, bespectacled, all flesh and blood, with a chipped-tooth smile and a predilection for Winston cigarettes — materialize out of the speculative haze of a WhatsApp chat. He had come to me as men only can in our time. A year before I met a handsome Moroccan yogi on an Etihad Airways flight to Delhi, India. We became fast Instagram friends. When I needed a driver to take me south into deepest Morocco, it was he who suggested Azzdine. Soon we were all on a WhatsApp group chat titled “Maroc.” Once the recipient of the French prize at college, I now speak an execrable but energetic French, full of unwarranted ambition. When Azzdine expressed fears about le sable, I thought, “Le sable?” dimly recollecting the title of a 1985 novel by the great Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun: “L’Enfant de Sable.” “The Sand Child” … aah no, I assured Azzdine, it was not the sand of the Sahara I was after but the world of the Sahara. We agreed on a price and arranged to meet at Marrakesh Menara Airport.
We made a brief gas stop at an Afriquia station, then we sped out of the pink city, whose streets were lined with orange trees, their fruit-laden canopies pruned into perfect cubes. I caught flashes of bougainvillea in deep shades of cerise framed against a sky of such intense blue that even the French Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix, in 1832, had not attempted to paint it until his return to France months later. We ascended into the Atlas, heading southeast via the Tizi n’Tichka, a road renowned for its sweeping vistas and sharp spiraling gradient.
The girdle of the Atlas Mountains that gives Morocco its crooked spine had also served as a barrier of sorts between worlds. The bled al-makhzen, the region of law, lay on one side; the bled al-siba, literally the “region of anarchy,” lay on the other. These were precolonial distinctions that divided the area under the rule of the 17th-century Alaouite dynasty from the ungoverned tribal area in the south that had not submitted to its authority. Half this humpbacked country faced the sea, from which the influence of Phoenicia, Carthage and Rome had washed over it; the other half gazed out at an ocean of sand, no less a world unto itself. Out of the east had come Arabia and Islam, blending with the oldest element in Morocco’s syncretic character — the Berbers. These were the indigenous inhabitants of North Africa who spoke Afroasiatic languages, a world away from Arabic, and who practiced various animist cults. Their history, their language, their dress and customs served as a link to the ancient past of the land, as distinct from the history of the Islamic faith brought about by the successive waves of conquest starting in the seventh century.
Good Morning, Jerry,
We are in Berkeley visiting Nori’s friends. Last night we went to the 50th reunion book signing of the Berkeley “Battle for People’s Park”. Many of the original activists were there. It was held at “The Art House “ a very funky 60’s vintage shop full of photos of the riots and times by Gerald Adler who was there as a photographer for the Berkeley Barb. He still has the same wild Afro. This poster is for the big event on Wednesday.Ralph (Tingey)
President Trump famously declared that he wouldn’t lose any voters even if he shot someone in the middle of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.
If the first two years of his presidency have shown anything, that statement could be amended to say he wouldn’t lose votes from Republican senators, who have for the most part voted in line with the president at every turn, even when it has seemed to conflict with their stated values.
“Saturday Night Live,” sensing perhaps the elevated tensions coursing through the capital, took aim at this political phenomenon with a parody on NBC host Chuck Todd and his Sunday show, “Meet the Press,” for the cold open.
The three guests?
A trio of Senate Republicans who have occupied particularly prominent positions in the public eye over the last couple of years: Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (played by a surprisingly convincing Beck Bennett), Sen. Susan Collins (Cecily Strong, who nailed Collins’ idiosyncratic style of speaking), and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (Kate McKinnon, the faux South Carolina drawl poured on thick).
Todd, played by Kyle Mooney, began with an issue that has bubbled up in the news lately — the lingering questions about a potential trade war with China.
All three of his guests, Todd said, had opposed tariffs in the past. Would they support them as part of the president’s agenda now?
“Well Chuck, there’s a simple answer to that,” McConnell said. “There was no collusion.”
“When you have a president who’s a financial genius and a business Jesus, like Donald Trump, you just got to trust him,” Graham said, a parody of the over the top obsequiousness some have ascribed to the senator of late. “This man has lost 100 times more money than I’ve ever made.”
Todd noted that his guest had done a complete 180 from the independence he had appeared to flash during the presidential contest and early part of Trump’s presidency.
“Chuck, I am a man of conviction and principles,” Graham said. “Unless he can help me and then it’s, ‘new Lindsey, who’s this?’”
The segment also roasted Collins ruthlessly, skewering her as a woman who espouses beliefs that she simply cannot bear to stand up for in any substantive way.
This cartoon is a shameless pseudo-hack of two jokes, so no, I didn’t think of the punch line, so sue. The first joke really isn’t a joke per se, it comes from a book called “Awakening the Buddha Within” by Lama Surya Das, aka Jeffrey Miller, aka “The Deli Lama” which is what his mom called him after the author in his 20’s, a Jewish boy from New Jersey traveled to Nepal and became a buddhist monk. The part about, “Make me one with everything” is from a joke that goes, “What did the Dali Lama say to the hot dog vendor? Make me one with everything.”
So there. I’ve deconstructed the cartoon and probably sucked all the humor right out of it. But life is suffering, right?