Bruce Chatwin records his journey through Argentina in a series of encounters, histories and sceneries which portray the nation as disjointed and isolating-- both to its inhabitants and its visitors. The loneliness of the expansive terrain exacerbate the settlers' diversity of heritage. This tension is never more clear than when Chatwin is introduced to a fellow Englishman.
He was, certainly, the perfect English gentleman, of middle height, with thick grey hair and a close-clipped moustache. His eyes were a particularly cold shade of blue. His face was netted with a regular pattern of burst blood vessels and his stomach showed signs of indulgence in food and drink. His dress was the result of meticulous planning: the Norfolk jacket in brown and herring-bone tweed, the hardwood buttons, the open-necked khaki shirt, the worsted trousers, tortoiseshell bifocals and spit-and-polished shoes.
When he meets the Englishman he is in the midst of selecting sheep for show with the help of his Spanish gaucho.
The rams panted under the weight of their own fleece and virility, mouthing a little alfalfa with the resignation of obese invalids on a diet. The best animals wore a cotton oversheet to protect them from dirt. Antonio had to undress them, and the Englishman would plunge his hand in and splay out his fingers, laying bare five inches of creamy yellow fleece.
'And what part of the old country d'you come from?' He asked.
'Gloucesterhsire, eh! Gloucestershire! In the North, what?'
'In the West.'
'Damn me, so it is. The West. Yes. Our place was in Chippenham.
Probably never heard of it. That's in Wiltshire.'
'About fifteen miles from me.'
'Probably a different Chippenham. And how is the old country getting along?' He changed the subject to avoid our geographical conversation.'Thing's aren't going too well, are they? Damned shame!'
In spite of the Englishman's impeccable costume, his conversation with Chatwin reveals an insecurity in his identity. His dress makes him un-Argentinian, and his lack of geographic knowledge makes him un-English. Ultimately, Chatwin and the Englishman fail to connect either as men from England or as outsiders in Patagonia.
1. How does Chatwin compare the Englishman to the sheep in the shearing shed? What does this suggest about the function of the Englishman's attire?
2. How does the Englishman differ from the poet, whom Chatwin encounters in the preceding chapter?
3. This chapter ends with Englishman's last line of dialogue. How does this ending help maintain Chatwin's objectivity as a travel writer?
Chatwin, Bruce. In Patagonia. New York: Penguin Classics, 2003.
Last modified 31 October 2007