Friday, September 18, 2020

ARGENTINA | 02-12-2017 09:49

Testimonios del antiguo pueblo de San Martín by Maud Daverio de Cox

Prosa Editores, 116 pages

The Greater Buenos Aires district of San Martín has not always been industrial urban sprawl socioeconomically and a Peronist stronghold politically but not many people can remember anything else – Maud Daverio de Cox is one of the few who can and (as she explained at the book launch) this book represents nothing more or less than the idea of writing down these memories before they disappear.

This slim volume does not aspire to be either academic or literary but a compilation of memories of one particular place in the world – where Maud Cox joins forces with other local contributors such as Mica Ballester (from the founding family of Villa Ballester, in the area since 1784), Ana Gammalsson and her cousin Patricio Boyle.

A San Martín with much more green than grey and with almost no crime (apart from a suspicious intruder forming one of the main author’s anecdotes) but also a much narrower-minded society. Apart fron some notes of colour in Maud Cox’s own family history such as the Sikh immigrants of 1912 and a haunted house (today a hospital), the memories rarely go beyond domestic routine but the most trivial details can often be the most revealing (such as the staffs of servants inviting comparison with contemporary Downton Abbey), In its short history (starting in 1856 with separation from San Isidro), San Martín has usually been a microcosm of Argentina. Still with only 3,000 people a quarter-century later (1881), the population had shot up to 80,000 by 1923 (we see ourselves as living in times of unprecedented change but San Martín undoubtedly changed far more radically in the first two decades of the 20th century with cars and aviation than in the last 20 years). In the following half-century, the Campo de Mayo Army base (where the 1930 coup began) typified the frequent military rule then while in the most recent democratic generation the Greater Buenos Aires suburb has registered the Peronist predominance.

Argentina’s immigrant society is also fully reflected in the cast – English, Irish (Maud’s grandmother Kathleen Boyle, who gave the district an English school in 1894), several French (often Basque) and even a Swede (Gmmalsson from Scania) apart from the majority of Spanish (birthplace of Martín Fierro author José Hernández) and Italian (Florencio Parravicini’s family) origin. Less than a fortnight ago Sam Martín made Maud Daverio de Cox an “illustrious citizen” – an honour she has certainly earned with this collective memory.

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