29 A Guitar from the Monte

29 • A Guitar from the Monte

Argentina, 20th century
54 cm long; wood

‘I entered my homeland’s dry forest, probably the biggest dry forest in the planet, and the most threatened. The province of Santiago del Estero in Argentina, probably named because of the enormous amount of stars filling its vast sky, is as big as France and as old as Spain. I find myself sitting by a friendly fire, its light the only light in the black desert around me. A sweet, determined and mature woman is singing for me, sitting in the yard of her adobe house. ‘Una mujer del Monte’, as we call the dry forest. She is happy and proud of her new guitar, an industrial one, just arrived from the distant town, but already turning grey and greasy, like all of us. The first paved road is more than a hundred kilometers from here, a day by car, much longer on horseback or walking. We are singing together in the gateway between civilizations. The guitar is used like a percussive instrument, a six strings Berimbao which allows her to sing and laugh as only a grown-up woman can. She is great. My own lack of knowledge of chords (which embarrasses me) has no meaning here, she says, and laughs. It is such a different rhythm, coming from such a different heart, a whole different music erupting from her. Only much later will I be able to play for her, when the fire is close to ashes. At some point she begins to laugh again, and decides she wants to give me her old guitar, the one with which she sang before the new guitar arrived. It was abandoned somewhere, but she finds it and gives it to me. She made it herself, a long time ago, but she isn’t attached to it at all. Having no use for it, it simply has no sense any more. With her new guitar she is now discovering a new civilization. Flying between the night stars and the sunlit landscape, she spends her time singing in celebration of Creation. When she travels, as is usual for the people of Nature, her vehicle is Silence.’

Ricardo Paz