Monday, November 15, 2010

The secret of the secret garden

Sketches, only sketches...

At the Argentinian-Brazilian border, an Australian woman is arguing with the bus driver. Apparently it's a matter of seven pesos for a ticket. The argument is heated enough that two khaki-clad border guards are getting on the bus. She thinks she's paid for the whole trip to Puerta Iguazu, and doesn't have to buy another ticket. The bus driver thinks otherwise. OK, fine, I'll pay, but I want your name, buddy. Where are your details? She snoops around looking for the non-existent name plate. He ignores her, takes my fare. I've been with this driver before, but suddenly the man is revealed beneath the uniform, the role. I like him; he has dignity and strength. The Aussie woman, having failed to establish the man's name, rank and serial number, goes for her backpack, says to her boyfriend, I'm taking his photo. He doesn't appear embarrassed by the hullaballoo, but stays uninvolved. The bus moves off and she sits down, red-faced, sweat running over her ample flesh. So. No photo after all? I watch her boyfriend lean back against the bus window, thumbs hooked in pants, sunnies and a three-day growth, chest pushed out, and two things are clear: what an absolutely first-rate dude he considers himself, and how deeply deluded he is in this conviction. As for me, I decide to be German.

According to the delightful John, who runs the Secret Garden B&B, a secret well and truly blown by an article in The Guardian, Umberto Eco said that Iguazu Falls was the one place in the world where he experienced a death wish. And this is funny - more funny for the rum cocktails we've all imbibed - because the English girl and I had been saying just the same thing: how we experienced an urge to jump. It might actually be worth it.

Awesome. How I hate that trampled and abused word. But here, it is justified. Picture a river twenty times larger than the Yarra plunging into an abyss. No, you can't. It's hopeless. The power of all that water lumbering over the lip of the chasm, the inestimable mass of it, passing with a deafening roar into a cloud of spume through which daring birds flick and and dart. It's not pretty like the photos. It's terrifying. But I experience no vertigo, even standing on the brink of the Devil's Throat. That's the strange part. It's not the perverted urge to jump of vertigo, which is nothing more than fear quantum-tunnelling to the Other Side. It's the Urge to Merge. It's holy terror, the longing for the divine, the desire for an end to separation from immensity. Umberto Eco's death wish.

John is serving the most sublime cocktails, and the German woman asks him, like she's asking the Great Guru, "So, vot is the secret of the Secret Garden? Vot makes it so special? Vy this vay, so different from every other vay?" She gestures to the tropical garden thriving in the darkness behind us, the flickering candles, the tables polished cross-sections of ancient trees. John is Indian, has that particular gentle charm unique to certain Indian men. He roomed at university with Sunil Gavaskar on whom he was supposed to be a sobering, academic influence, somehow ended up in a photographer in Buenos Aires and now, here he is, proprietor of the world's worst-kept travel secret. Now he gives a diffident smile and says that the answer is... rum. It so happens the the said beverage is doing its job. I turn laughing to the German woman and ask her what the German is for rum. "Well," she says in German, "I think it's Rum, but how can that be the secret??" I lean over and confide to her earnest Germanic face than this was, in fact, a joke. We're all a bit drunk, truth be told. Now John shows us that the candles are actually fakes. They're little flickering diodes in frosted glasses. "This is all a facade!" declares the American-Englishman. "It's fake candles and cheap rum!" God that seems funny at the time.

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