A particularly endearing part of life in Argentina is the glut of feriados (public holidays). This time we were commemorating the May Revolution of 1810, a precursor to the Argentine War of Independence which concluded some six years later. Naturally this meant that tools were collectively downed across the nation as afternoon became early evening on Thursday the 24th.
Swept up in the infectious wave of nationalism – and somewhat under duress – I had even been spotted sporting a blue and white escarapela (rosette), alongside everyone else in my department, as we sat down for a traditional lunch of empanadas and locro earlier that day. Like how May 25th feels like a dress rehearsal for July 9th (Argentina’s official Independence Day) however, Thursday proved merely the entrée for what followed on Friday.
Just a few weeks ago, the novia had asked if I would like to do a ‘Día del Campo’ one day soon. Not really knowing what this was, in either of the languages we communicate to each other in, I had said Yes/Sí and awaited further instructions. Surely enough they came, and so we met near the Congress building on Friday morning and headed to Buenos Aires province by mini-bus. A hundred kilometres later, we reached Lobos before taking a taxi for the final stretch to La Candelaria country grounds and polo club.
A world away from the city, this was the archetypal setting for the fabled Día del Campo: a celebration of the country’s rural heritage, by stepping back in time to the romantic days of the gaucho. Upon arrival to La Candelaria we were handed a map of the grounds, told where to be when for nourishment and culture, and then left to roam freely.
Occasionally straying from the lush lawns to the surrounding forest paths, first we discovered the ornate chapel amidst an autumnal medley of reds, yellows and browns. Thereafter, an indirect traipse took us to the white brick castle centrepiece, after a break for empanadas. During our guided talk there, the national favourite of asado meats had been expectantly sizzling nearby in the open elements, ready for lunchtime.
Detouring back to the huge marquee via the lake, we saw the slabs of pork/steak/chicken being oak-smoked before the fiery pit and among the coals, as we headed in, ravenous. Otherwise on the brink of slipping into a meat coma just minutes later, all lunchers were suddenly stirred into action by three sword-bearing gauchos galloping to the scene and then ceremoniously dismounting their horses. Out of nowhere appeared three maidens, traditionally clad in dress shirts and wavy red dresses, and the show began.
Lots of theatrical handkerchief waving from both parties took place, punctuated throughout by the heavy staccato clop-clopping of the gaucho’s shoes, as the courting ritual of yore played out to indigenous folk music. Inevitably wooed, the maidens were then left in the wake of the three rugged men. Back on the horses, and from whence they came, went the three horsemen. This added powerful authenticity to the legend of the gaucho, as they cantered into the leafy unknown.
Just a few hours later, we loosely followed the trail they had blazed, en-route back to the city. It seemed only fitting that as our minibus arrived back in CABA we caught a glimpse of the Obelisco, resplendent in the projected colours of the flag. The first successful act of South American defiance in the independence process, the Revolución de Mayo is definitely not an event the locals take lightly.
Indeed, having two hundred years of history thrust upon me in two days, this was one of my more educational feriados. A forerunner of the nationalist spirit that is ingrained in the Argentinian identity today, the gaucho still runs wilder and braver than ever. Nowhere to be seen yet everywhere to be felt, he is Argentina.