Today, we rode up to see Felix and Eleena. It felt good to be back in the saddle after months in Baltimore, Paris, London and so forth. It felt good, too, to get out of the saddle after just two hours! What a pleasure riding up the valley in the bright sunlight, crossing the river, through the pampas grasses, over the rocks...
There are Indian ruins all around. They built terraces to hold the topsoil. It must have been a lot wetter then. Now, the soil has all washed away. All that is left are the rock walls. Thousands of them. The climate must have changed. You could put the dirt back now and you wouldn’t be able to grow a thing. It is too dry.
Felix and Eleena live among the ruins. There are huge mortars next to the house, rocks with holes worn deep where the Indians ground their corn. There is a pot in what passes for their living room that must date back to ancient times. And on a rock near the kitchen is a 'dibujo' - a horned animal carved in stone. Was it a goat? Were there wild antelope or sheep in this area once?
We don’t know.
It is a beautiful spot, with green pastures, corrals for goats and horses, adobe buildings, rushing water in the irrigation ditches, a fruit orchard with 100-year-old grape vines on an antique arbour. Hidden in the mountains, a green jewel in the intense sunlight – it is almost paradise.
But you didn’t pay good money to read about our travels, did you?
Wait, you didn’t pay any money at all? Then, we’ll write whatever we damn well please!
No... our miserable calling is to keep our eye on the money and to report what we see. But we interpret that mission in the widest possible way. We keep our eye not just on how to make it, but also how to keep it and how to spend it too. Making money is hard enough. Holding on to it is even harder. But getting rid of it while maintaining your dignity – that’s the real challenge.
So, we’ll return to the ranch in just a minute. First, let’s check in on the markets. What do we see?
Well, nothing important. Not in the US. But look what’s going on in Europe.
A report in the Financial Times tells us that not since 1987 have so many Irish people left the country. Ireland has always been a big exporter of people. Almost wherever you go in the world, you’ll find a Mick or a Paddy whose grandfather or great grandfather came from Ireland. Here in Argentina there are plenty of them. One is a longtime candidate for president – Ricardo Lopez Murphy.
And then, there was that famous Irish trouble-maker, Ernesto Lynch Guevara, otherwise known as Che.
But let’s not get distracted. People are leaving Ireland, because the economy is a mess. But the economy is not just a mess in Ireland. All of Europe is a mess.
Yesterday we reported that unemployment has never been higher, ever since they began keeping track of pan-European unemployment in 1995. There are 18 million people without jobs.
Today, we discover that British workers are depressed. One in ten has taken time off of work because of depression. That makes UK workers the most depressed in Europe.
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And here’s a shocker from the Telegraph:
"For the first time since the end of the Second World War the number of bicycles sold in Italy has overtaken the number of cars.
"In a radical departure for the car-mad country, home to legendary marques such as Fiat, Ferrari and Lamborghini, 1,750,000 bikes were bought in 2011 compared to 1,748,000 motor vehicles.
"As austerity cuts deepen and petrol prices hit a new high, the purchase of new cars has dropped to levels not seen since the 1970s.
"Families are buying bikes, ditching their second cars and signing up to car pool schemes – a major shift for a nation which has one of the highest car ownership rates in the world, with around 60 cars for every 100 people.
"As bike sales boom, the car industry is going through its worst crisis for decades – new car sales in August were down 20% on the year before.
"Sergio Marchionne, the head of Fiat, said last month that "anyone operating in the automotive sector in Europe today is experiencing varying degrees of unhappiness. The European car market is a disaster.
"Italians are not just cutting down on their beloved cars – they are also spending less on food and groceries.
"Six out of ten Italian families have cut their expenditure on food, including staples such as olive oil and milk, according to a study by Coldiretti, the country’s main agricultural association."
And in Spain, the wealthiest part of the country – Catalonia – is so fed up with debt and austerity, it is threatening to secede!
But let’s leave Europe to stew in its own juices. Let’s get back to the ranch.
Our goal in visiting Felix and Eleena was to make sure they were OK. They’re both in their 70s or 80s, (it’s hard to tell). We were going to convince them to come down to a lower elevation, where we could get to them with medical attention if they needed it. When we made that suggestion in the past, they said they preferred to stay where they were.
“If we come down the valley, then we’ll get sick,” Eleena had countered.
But a year has passed, so we thought we’d try again. They both seem remarkably spry and lively. Not only that, they seem remarkably happy... laughing, smiling at each other. They’ve had nothing but each other’s company for the last 30 years... but they don’t seem to have gotten tired of it.
But no one and nothing lasts forever. And since you can only get to their place on horseback, you’d think they’d want to move.
"Move down to the city?" Eleena asked with a horrified look. "I hate city life. I don't like being in the city."
“Me too,” said Felix. “I don’t want anything to do with the city.”
"We're talking about moving down the valley. There's only one house there. And it's abandoned," we explained.
"Well... I don't like crowds," Eleena replied.
But our arguments were nullified even before we got there. A medical helicopter landed in their pasture just minutes before we arrived.
“It was a hospital helicopter,” Felix explained. “It had been sent to take that old lady who lives up in the mountains down to the hospital. The pilot doesn’t know these mountains. So, he stopped here to ask directions. I told him she lives on the other side of the mountain. But he said the mountain was too high. He can’t fly over it. So he flew around. That lady is 94, he said. Apparently, she’s not doing so well.”
“Well, you’re not so young either,” we replied. “Maybe you should move down. We have a house there for you all ready.”
“No. I’ve been here all my life. I’m never leaving. Besides, if I get sick, the medical helicopter can get up here.”
Later... we called the hospital to see how the old woman was doing.
“We couldn’t get her,” was the answer. “It was so windy up there... and the valley is so narrow, we couldn’t land. We’re sending a team up there tomorrow on horseback.”
“OK... ” we replied, “we’ll provide the horses and a guide. Do you realise it’s a six hour ride?”
“Yes... hope the old lady lasts that long.”
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