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Notes on the Geography of Argentina: San Antonio de Areco

Tired of concrete? Want to see the pampa and a couple of small towns?

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Such an ordinary picture, yet so expressive. We're only an hour's drive west of Pilar and the edge of metro Buenos Aires.

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We're on an abandoned line of the Argentine Central. This was never the main line to Rosario; instead it was a branch parallel to and south of it.

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There had been plans (see the gleam in the eye of the Yankee William Wheelright?) to connect Buenos Aires and Santiago. Didn't make it. The line was abandoned in the 1980s, and the Vagues station made into a museum. Closed today. Anyway, there are no locomotives. What fun is that?

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Once, however, this was a junction with its own marshaling yard.

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What's replaced it? Long-haul trucking.

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Where do you think the scale came from? You have one guess: don't blow it.

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The Brits owned the railroad, so what do you expect? Henry Pooley and Sons, based at Liverpool's Albion Foundry, were in their day the world's biggest maker of scales.

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Here's another station, Duggan, 20 miles farther west.

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Why the disc? Because the building is now an agricultural school in the heart of the former agricultural empire of the Duggan brothers, Irish immigrants of the 19th century. They did all right: one of them married Trillia Hinds, an American girl from Huntsville, Alabama. She did all right, too; after her Irish husband died, she became the second Lady Curzon. Very, very English.

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So much wealth from these grasslands.

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The open range was eventually fenced, even at creeks.

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Cattle still graze, but most of the land is in crops, in this case hay in round bales.

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Wheat.

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Corn--maize if you're particular.

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Soybeans.

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Here's how it's done.

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PLA is an Argentine manufacturer based west of Rosario. It also exports widely, including to the United States. This planter is designed to be hauled down highways but then to rotate 90 degrees on its own power, settle down, and go to work. Your friends at YouTube can show you the beast in action.

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Competition.

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Without giant machines, the Duggans hired 2,000 workers and set up a town near the railroad station. The names of both were probably never in doubt.

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A Catholic church is the most impressive building in town.

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Profile.

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A model of simplicity until you start noticing details.

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Farmers here today don't want, let alone need, 2,000 employees, so Duggan has gradually shifted to second homes for people who want a breath of fresh air on the weekend. On a weekday you'll have trouble finding even a hundred people in town.

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Nice.

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The local recreation center survives. Its namesake, Hipolito Vieytes (1762-1815), was a politician and businessman from nearby San Antonio de Areco who conveniently died exactly a century before the club was created. That helped with the name. The original members, by the way, were descended from many nationalities, but none were Irish. The Irish had their own club.

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Gridded streets and a moribund commercial district.

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You can see why: we're only an hour's drive and a bit from the Pilar Walmart, so people coming out for the weekend can stop here and load up with whatever they need.

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Omigod: plastic bags. Maybe we can find somebody who knows how to open the damned things.

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Outside of Duggan, there are still signs of old homesteads.

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Too bad that fencing makes it difficult to poke around for house foundations.

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If people in Duggan forget to buy a loaf of bread they'll head to San Antonio de Areco, 10 miles away and with about 20,000 people. It's a tourist magnet, especially with its annual gaucho festival, which we've contrived to miss. (The distances are in kilometers.)

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The name of San Antonio de Areco comes from the river, the Areco. The bridge, from 1857, is now a national historical monument.

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Downstream, there's a diversion dam.

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The terraces are modern and replace a mill.

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Voila! The town is laid out with rectilinearity to match anything the American Midwest can offer. A couple of blocks south of the river you can see a plaza with a church and a two-story building. There aren't many in town even now.

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A monument to the mill.

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One-story buildings, antique dealers, and modern paving hinting at occasional crowds.

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Here's that two-story building on the plaza. Of course it's a bank.

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The form seems to have been contagious.

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Here's the church on the plaza.

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Interior: lots of marble and gold.

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Courtyard of the town office.

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A house converted to a small hotel.

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The main room has a view into a deep back yard.

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Have a seat.


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