Journal of Dr. Thomas Mitchell.
2nd of February, 1836
I finally reached Buenos Ayres at two o'clock this afternoon. The weather is warm, and wet. My clothes are clinging to my body as I write this. It is certainly much hotter than my beloved Providence, though I had expected that. What I never expected was just how humid this damned continent would be. By God, I miss the cold! I would give my right arm to stand knee deep in some snow right now.
All around me, porters are clambering with goods. I sincerely hope they do not break anything of mine. I'm sure anyone reading this could forgive me for not being particularly trusting of these Argentines. For the past twenty years or so, this whole land has been engulfed in civil strife and dictatorship of one sort or another. If that does not have a deletrious effect on the character of the inhabitants, then God knows what would. Now and then, I spot what I take to be one of the gauchos - the horsemen of the pampas who periodically intervene in Argentine politics to the favour of one dictator or another. Everything in Argentine politics rests on the politics of these ruthless men who have, I am told, been instrumental in any number of horrid atrocities. Thus far, though, they have been nice as ninepence to me. Must be a rare thing to see in these parts, an American.
I am booked to stay in the Hotel de la Piax, beside the theatre. I fancy I might go to see whatever they are showing, as I am assured that there are no theatres in Paraguay and it might be my last chance for some time.
Where I'm headed is far, far inland, many hundreds of miles up the River Paraná. I had never heard of Paraguay before my contact with Dr. Francia. I have made a concerted effort to read up on the subject, and familiarise myself with the history of this obscure place. From what I have read, it seems to have a rather remarkable history. It is, like other South American nations, composed primarily of mestizos - born of Spanish and Indian parents. Unlike the rest of the continent, however, the Indians have retained their rights to a much greater extent, and their language is considered on an almost equal footing with Spanish, for the Indians absorbed the Spanish and not the other way round. For three hundred years, the country was dominated by Jesuits, who effectively organised a Jesuit republic within the Spanish Empire. Though they have long been kicked out, their legacy of autocracy remains. Whilst there is a creole nobility, Dr. Francia, the Dictator, is in the process of taxing and brutalising them out of existence. They are not even allowed to marry amongst themselves, but must choose husbands and wives from amongst the Indians and Negroes so that all men might be equal. Quite incredible, if you ask me.
Furthermore, this Dr. Francia is a remarkable character in himself. It is near impossible to get any written material on the man - so obscure and reclusive is his country that few outside of South America have ever heard of him. Just to get here, I had to be issued with a special pass permitting me not only to enter the country, but to go home again afterwards. Apparently, most foreigners, once in Paraguay, are simply not allowed to leave! There is no foreign debt, and very little contact with the outside world - my very visit goes against all convention. I only hope that Dr. Francia intends to let me go once I have done my work. I have heard wild stories about his treatment of other foreigners - there are supposedly dozens of them languishing in jails in the capital, Asunción, because he does not wish them to return to their own countries with information about his.
Buenos Ayres is a messy, crowded, heaving mass of people. I can only hope Asuncion is nicer. From what I have heard, Paraguay is a poor, backward place. But from what I have observed here, such a notion does not seem out of keeping with the rest of South America. I find myself troubled by the fact that, for the next four years, this will be my new home.
Buenos Ayres, capital city of Argentina in the mid 19th century.