Un viaje en tren por las Américas

Ambrose Bierce define así al ferrocarril en su ‘Diccionario del Diablo”

“RAILROAD, n. The chief of many mechanical devices enabling us to get away from where we are to where we are no better off. For this purpose the railroad is held in highest favor by the optimist, for it permits him to make the transit with great expedition.”

Hay algo de extraño, terrible, nostálgico al leer The Old Patagonian Express  de Paul Theroux, un viaje que empieza en el año de 1979, en un invierno terrible como cualquier otro, en  Boston, Massachusetts y termina cuatro meses después en Esquel (un pequeño pueblo en la Patagonia) en Argentina, lugar donde al autor se le revela epifánicamente que “ningún lugar es un lugar”. Viajar en tren es, efectivamente, muy diferente a viajar en autobús o en avión, como bien menciona en el primer capítulo de su libros. Quiénes viajan en un tren?, por qué?, para qué? Es lo mismo viajar dentro de los Estados Unidos que en América Latina?

Theroux descubre ese abismo que separa un país del llamado primer mundo con los países al Sur del Río Grande o mejor dicho Río Bravo del Norte (como se le conoce en México), un abismo de colores, de sonidos, de sabores, de viajeros y de políticas, de costumbres y de historia. Así, Theroux no intenta escribir un retrato completo de muchos de los países por donde viaja, sino que con la gente que va conociendo va armando a suerte de pincelazos una cara de los  lugares y de las personas con las que interactúa. Tal vez eso sea lo interesante de un libro que  se detiene de la manera más inusual en los lugares menos esperados: un partido de fútbol en El Salvador, en una playa de Veracruz donde una mujer busca a su amor desaparecido, varado en la frontera a Nicaragua meses antes de la Revolución Sandinista en contra de la dictadura de los Somoza,  viviendo la violencia en Colombia, perdido en las calles de Lima, en medio de la crisis política en Bolivia, visitando a Jorge Luis Borges en Buenos Aires en medio de la dictadura militar.

En ese tren que viaja de norte a sur, Theroux muestra una América Latina en el último año de la década del setenta, ya muchos años lejos de la prometida revolución social que cambiaría a las sociedades latinoamericanas y bajo el control de dictaduras militares con el apoyo de los Estados Unidos. Si bien a Theroux no le interesa remarcar ese detalle político, su libro revela el momento justo antes de entrar a esa década aún más oscura que fueron los ochentas. Leer su libro es un viaje en el tiempo a una época que, bien mirado, no ha cambiado mucho y a la que simplemente se le ha sobrepuesto otra realidad, una que parece haber borrado el pasado con ayuda de políticas neoliberalistas.

Finalmente, me llamó la atención la última linea del libro donde Theroux hace una reflexíon diciendo algo así como “y pensar que llegué aquí (La Patagonia) en el mismo tren que toman los bostonianos para ir a trabajar.” Después de semanas de pensar en eso, y conversando con mi buen amigo Florentino Díaz, me queda claro que el énfasis de Theroux al final de su libro es justamente la posibilidad de él de viajar por donde quiera y cómo quiera; él, cuyo viaje lo afirma como ciudadano de Estados Unidos y de toda América finalmente y confirma la política de los Estados Unidos desde siempre: “aquí nos paseamos como en nuestra casa”. En contraste, todos los países al sur de USA no pueden ni siquiera movilizarse dentro de sus propios países, mucho menos viajar a otro país y mucho menos hacer lo que hizo el norteamericano. Viajar de norte a sur (o ya a cualquier punto del planeta) es un privilegio del primer mundo más no de países como los de América Latina.

Pasajes

“Looking south, across the river. I realized that I was looking toward another continent, another country, another world. There were sounds there -music, and not only music but the pip and honk of voices and cars. The frontier was actual: people did things differently there, and looking hard I could see trees outlined by the neon beer signs, a traffic jam, the source of the music. No people, but cars and trucks were evidence of them. Beyond that, past the Mexican city of New Laredo, was a black slope – the featureless, night haunted republicans of Latin America.” (p. 40) entrando a Mexico.

“I had a political reverie on that train. It was this: the government held elections, encouraged people to vote, and appeared to be democratic. The army appeared to be impartial. the newspaper disinterested. And it remained a peasant society, basically underfed and unfree. […] When one sees a government of the Guatemalan sort professing such high mindedness in its social aims and producing such mediocre results, one cannot be surprised if the peasants conclude that communism might be an improvement. It was a Latin American sickness: inferior government gave democracy an evil name and left people with no option but to seek alternative. The cynic might say -I met many who did- that these people are better off with an authoritarian government. I happen to think this is nonsense. From Guatemala to Argentina, the majority of the countries are run by self-serving tyrannies that are only making merciless vengeance of anarchy inevitable. The shabby deceits were as apparent from this trains as a row of Burma-Shave signs.” (p. 102)

“Few great cities in the world look more plundered and bankrupt than Lima. […] Like a violated tomb in which only the sorry mummy of withered nationalism is left, and just enough religion to console a patient multitude with the promise of happier pickings beyond the grave, Lima -epitomizing Peru – was a glum example of obnoxious mismanagement. Official government rhetoric was dispirited and self-deceiving, but the railways workers’ anger was sharpened by their sense of betrayal, and their hunger.” (p. 290) sobre Lima y los trabajadores del ferrocarril.

“”Isn’t Peru awful?” said a Peruvian to me one day in Lima. It was a very un-South American sentiment: no one so far had run down his country in my presence. Even the most rebellious Colombians praised coffee, and Ecuadorians said they have tasty bananas. I wonder  wether this Peruvian was fishing for a compliment, so I expressed mild surprise and wary disagreement. He insisted that I was wrong: Peru was cruelly governed, hostile to its neighbors, and falling completely to pieces. He was not fishing for compliments. I said, “Yes, now that you mention it, it is rather awful”” (p. 296) sobre Perú.

“Like me, the people in Lima were all bit lost; they took walks or lounged around the plazas because there was nothing else to do, and when the visited museums and churches their motive was the same as mine: sheer boredom. I knew I was an alien, but these people? They were poor, and the poor are always aliens in their own country. For quite different reasons we were placeless.” (p. 297)

“The people in La Paz had heavy dignified faces and none of the predatory watchfulness I had seen in Colombia and Peru.” (p. 324)

“”But the government is not so bad,” said Borges. “Videla is a well-meaning military man.” Borges smiled and said slowly, “He is not very bright, but at least he is a gentleman.” / “What about Perón?” / “Perón was a scoundrel. My mother was in prison under Perón. My sister was in prison. My cousin. Perón was a bad leader and, also, I suspect, a coward. He looted the country. His wife was a prostitute.”/ “Evita?”  “A common prostitute.”” (p. 373-374) encuentro con Borges en B.A.

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