Of Dirigibles and Gothic Towers

There was a time, back when we thought wars were gone forever, when we made magnificent buildings, automobiles, and flying machines. Bridges of stunning grace spanned our waterways for the first time. Finely crafted cars were prized more for their sculpted beauty than for their utility, or even performance. Skyscrapers reached higher into the sky for no other reason than that they could. It was an era of daring innovation and style, and one we have not seen the likes of since.

DSC_0451All of this came to mind while looking at an old photo of the art deco/gothic masterpiece Palacio de Salvo building in Montevideo’s Ciudad Viejo. In the picture, a massive dirigible (probably the Graf Zeppelin) is seen floating over the towering cupola of the iconic structure. It is a study in extremes, one architectural and another aeronautic, both at the pinnacle of their art form, both in the same space and time, and both representing the exuberant cultural zeitgeist of the 1930’s.


I wonder if those looking up at that momentous event realized that war would eventually destroy the civilization that made such wonders possible. Probably not, as we seem to never be aware of the folly and hubris of our own day and age, and that is precisely why I like Montevideo so much- It seems to be so utterly out of touch with the times, like a man who has been stranded for too long on a desert island, or the crazy uncle who still wears a bow tie and tips his hat to the ladies.


So completely unaware of its lack of sophistication! So utterly unaffected! The world can pass by in its frenetic blur of sound and fury and yet-there goes Montevideo- there goes Uruguay- quiet, dignified, unpretentious, and unperturbed. The day will start at 10, lunch will come at one, the siesta at two, and dinner no sooner than 8. Everyone will be greeted cordially- the waiter and housecleaner as much as the doctor or lawyer- and no one will be hurried in this languid, soft, pastel picture-postcard of a place that hearkens back to a more leisurely time, a time of manners and grace, when customs and tradition mattered.


The farms will be tended in the same way for generations, and in the summer families will flock to the same beaches at Piriapolis and Punta del Este. People will dress informally, in their plain black pants and white shirts, sipping their mate’ as they walk across the sunny plazas. Children will wear their smocks to school, and play in the parks until dark, when they will, together with their family, eat dinner.


The people are European, and they are not ashamed of their heritage, nor do they make a fuss over it. They just are who they are, honoring their family legacy by living it, never seeking to become “multicultural”. I think they feel that their own culture is not in need of improvement.


They are nominally Catholic but are rather famously liberal, and perhaps these two go hand in hand. Their socialism can be reconciled with Christ’s commandment to “Love thy neighbor”, but they have taken this to mean allowing your neighbor to live his own life and only help him when he is truly in need. No one starves here, and their are precious few homeless, even in the city center. The churches are not full- these are Easter Sunday Christians at best- but the church is respected, and few would argue that it is an important societal institution.


I do not know exactly how the world passed by Uruguay or how, and in any case I know my tourist’s impression is not entirely true. Certainly they have their own share of problems. The cost of living is quite high, and they have had their share of banking crises, for example. Yet there is also something to the idea that they have, in the face of the juggernaut that is the NWO, maintained a quiet, peaceful existence outside of the worst influences of modernity-and for that they should at least feel a slight glow of inward satisfaction.


Perhaps their position near the bottom of the world has helped in their isolation. Perhaps they have benefited from the problems of their much larger neighbors who have used Uruguay as a safety net, an escape from their own internal turmoil. My own view reflects the Jeffersonian concept that an ideal society is an agrarian one. Uruguay has been blessed with some of the best farmland on the planet, and they have wisely hung on to their family acreage. The land is a tie that binds.

And so life goes down here in a country almost entirely off the radar screen, unseen, unheard, and blessedly unmolested by the riptides of mass immigration, globalism, and pollution, hidden away like a family heirloom in a trunk in the attic. It is perhaps the Montevideo of my imagination, an ephemeral dream, hearkening back to a bygone age, floating on the breeze like that great dirigible, but it is a pleasant vision, and one you don’t want to wake up from.


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4 Responses to Of Dirigibles and Gothic Towers

  1. So I’m guessing they haven’t found much oil under the ground? That would ruin all the retro paradise you described.

    Have you lived long enough and wisely enough to recognize whether this truly is a preferred life, culture, and tradition … or do you think a decade of it would have you longing for what America brings to the table? Or does America really not bring anything lasting and of value to the table?

    Honest question.

  2. Jonathan says:

    No oil. there greatest resource is their land, which rivals that of the US midwest or Ukraine.

    To answer your other question: I have never lived wisely. 🙂 I am on my third trip to Uruguay and am writing from Piriapolis right now. That doesn’t make me an expert, of course. My impressions are gleaned from the expat Americans, Dutch, and Germans I’ve met here, as well as a few locals, many of whom have the choice to live in the USA, but don’t.

    I have painted a deliberately positive view of Uruguay in this article, born strictly by the fact that the image I saw was so provocative and romantic. I wrote about the seedier side in a different one, “Mugging in Montevideo”. The truth is somewhere in between. It’s a great place to live, but you will pay a lot for the privilege and there is a lot of petty crime.

    That is of course a separate issue from what America brings to the table. I think the only honest answer to that question is, of course there would be things any expat in Uruguay would miss about the USA. Most of them make regular trips back “home” to purchase consumer goods that are obscenely expensive down here (or not available at all). Most complain about the crime, both petty crime and dishonest business practices. I’m sure they all miss their native language. There are cultural hallmarks that many would pine for: Thanksgiving, Super Bowl, etc.

    No country is perfect. The expats I talk to say 2 things propelled them to Uruguay: the growing police state in the USA and a healthier lifestyle based on better food, water, and air. Another surprising reason was the lack of natural disasters.

    But the sense of family and togetherness is real here. It can’t be faked. It is not uncommon at all to see multiple generations eating at the same cafe’. And I have travelled the country enough to know that they are not racially diverse at all.

    Anyway, it’s a long answer to a complicated question.

  3. So I’m hearing that petty crime is an irritant but is better than the major U.S. crimes related to NSA, Zirp, and QE.

    I’m not that interested in cheap prices for consumer goods (would prefer to avoid a consumerist lifestyle). Thanksgiving and the Super Bowl? Can definitely live without.

    The language? That would be tough. Would have to experience it a few years before I really knew the effect. I can why a lot of expats head to New Zealand.

    My real question regards the “family” kind of issues you describe. I wonder if over time there is a downside–you can never really be “in” when a culture is all about extended family.

    My research on Chattanooga might make a good case study. This city, unlike most, is really run by an oligarchy of very wealthy, multi-generational families, rather than by elected officials and government. The benefits are that the city is run better. The downside is that the plebes often complain that they are left out of the inner circle (rightly or wrongly perceived).

    My conclusion is that, despite the downsides, the private/family centered power is preferable to government control.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Uruguay is about as welcoming to immigrants as a country can be…especially if you are of European heritage. They are a nation built by European immigrants, just as the USA is-with the major difference that they do not seek out Africans and mestizos to assuage some sort of NWO-generated guilt complex. In fact, I believe you or I would be more welcome than the average 3rd world person. As an additional bonus, they do not harbor any great amount of anti-American animosity-at least no more than average.

    Speaking on that topic, I’ve found that, unlike Americans, and fortunately for expats, most people can distinguish between the policy of a country’s government and its people. So we are not generally blamed for US blundering-though it’s best, if you agree with US foreign policy, not to brag about it.

    As to the issue, will you ever truly fit in and be accepted? More so here than in most countries, but no, in the end I think you’ll always be an immigrant. I do not think this will be manifested in obvious ways. People here who have been ripped off by both outright thieves and businesses confirm that they think that is just the way of the world for everyone, whether you are a Gringo or not, down here. IOW, you are not targeted because you’re a Gringo out of animosity or jealousy-you’re targeted because you have made yourself an easy target. Also, people here who speak the language get invited to Halloween parties, for example. But the fact is, when the party’s over, the natives spend their time with their family. You will not have family here, so what becomes your family is the other expats around you-but that in itself serves to make you stand out a little. And BTW, you can’t afford to be picky about that family-you pretty much have to accept any nutjob that moved down here, because they’re part of the group as well-kind of like the crazy uncle that makes everyone roll their eyes, but is still there at the family Christmas dinner all the same.

    I do not lightly think of leaving America, but I feel like America left me a long time ago sometimes.

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