Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Historian on the Move: July 6 - 12

After a long week of transcription I headed to the Vic on Friday with no definite plans, but it turned out to be one of my best nights in the Falklands. My friends were at the pub planning to go to the dance at the Town Hall marking the end of Farmers' Week. It was so much more fun than the Liberation Ball! There was no dress code to speak of and the bar was set up in the same room as the music and dancing. Under 18s were not allowed, so the adults got to take over the dancing. Between Andy P, Paul, and Alex I got to do a lot of dancing! Paul had taught me the "Falklands Two-Step" on Liberation Day so I could handle that one, but there were so many other dances that I didn't know. Some of them reminded me of contra dancing at William & Mary and Anna's wedding in 2010, but there was no one calling the steps - the dancers either already knew them or just picked it up as they went. My inner academic popped up during the evening to observe that someone could write an entire dissertation on vernacular dance in the Falkland Islands. I'm not a dance historian, but it's completely uncharted territory. One of my interview subjects was the man who teaches the weekly dance lessons on Wednesday nights in the Town Hall and he told me that a woman had come down to study Falklands folk music, but no one had taken a similar interest in dancing. According to Andy P there are even distinctions between the ways people dance on East and West Falkland. We all cooled off after the dance with a bit of a sing-song and some delicious leftovers from a dinner Alex had prepared for a large group of farmers at the Waterfront.

On Saturday my hosts actually returned from their months of travel, accompanied by a truckload of luggage. First introductions were only a little awkward, but fortunately I had plans and somewhere to be - the Vic for Pride Night. I hadn't realized the GLBT community in the Falklands was large enough to host a Pride Night, but they surprised me. Still, the majority of those who turned out were allies and supporters. It was still a pretty normal night for Stanley; we assembled at the Vic, danced at the Globe and Deano's, then finished the evening at Paula's. However, a bunch of Paras up from Mount Pleasant for exercises at Hillside was also out on the town and making a ruckus on the dance floor. I later found out that the only trouble they caused was among themselves, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Now that I was no longer alone in my house, I  wanted to get out of the way on Sunday to allow my hosts to settle back in. I walked around town for a while and had a late lunch at the West Store, where I managed to run into a couple of CHC crewmen and one of the Commandos from Hillside. They satisfied my need for human interaction before they headed off to watch The Pacific (they also love Band of Brothers and bemoaned the lack of a British equivalent at the previous Steak Night).

Over the past two months I did most of my transcription spread out at the dining room table in my house, but I now needed to find a new work space. Alex offered a solution on Monday by kindly allowing me to work from the Waterfront. I set up my computer and pile of references on a table in the dining room and sat down to a full day of transcription. It was a little chilly for the first few hours as the heating wasn't working in that area of the hotel, but Alex got that fixed before long. Several benefits came from working at the Waterfront: an unlimited supply of tea and biscuits just steps from my table, an easy walk to Jac's for lunch, and the added bonus of getting to see friends on a Monday. I even got a lot of transcription done!

Fortunately, on Tuesday, last week's bad luck did not continue and the weather cleared up enough for my excursion to Goose Green. This would turn out to be my only trip to the Camp and it was an experience I won't soon forget. My guide for the day was Eric Goss, who managed Goose Green during the 1982 Invasion and kindly let me tag along as he took a group of veterans out to the battlefield. We picked them up at Liberty Lodge, an accommodation established exclusively for the use of 1982 veterans and their family. Our group included a member of 2 Para (and his son) as well as a sailor from the HMS Exeter (whose father joined him on this trip to the Falklands, but didn't feel well enough to join us that day). The drive out to Goose Green took about an hour, allowing me plenty of time to stare out the window at the barren yet beautiful scenery. 
You can see the route from Stanley to Goose Green (2) on this map from the Falkland Islands Tourist Board.
Upon arrival, we stopped our 4x4s near a shack that had definitely seen batter days to survey the area where British forces started the battle. Eric Goss relied on his own memory, heavily annotated maps, and the account in Razor's Edge to take our group through the entire length of the battle, ending at the Goose Green settlement. We saw the remains of Argentine gun emplacements, positioned with an almost complete control of the landscape; markers and monuments for both fallen Brits and Argentines; ground still scarred from a crashed Harrier. I've visited many battlefields over the years with my dad, but nothing really compares to walking ground drenched with blood only 30 years ago accompanied by people who saw it with their own eyes. Sorry, Dad, but I don't think I'm going to be able to write a Staff Ride. The consistently warm reception from the Islanders and the ability to revisit these places has helped many 1982 veterans deal with the lingering effects of the conflict. I can't even imagine how so many Islanders cope on a daily basis, constantly surrounded by reminders of the war and unable to lay memories to rest.
The shack and the British approach towards Darwin and Goose Green.
An Argentine gun emplacement, with a blanket still stuck in the ground.
The Argentine view of the British approach. The dark speck on the right is the shack from the first photo.
Eric Goss standing with the cross that marks where he
buried the Argentine dead in 1982. Their bodies were
later moved to the nearby Argentine Cemetery.
What the British would have seen while climbing Darwin Hill. The gorse
on the ridge concealed Argentine snipers.
The town hall in Goose Green, where Argentine forces imprisoned the
settlement's residents.
Wednesday meant business as usual, though my excursion to Goose Green remained at the front of my mind. Miserable weather killed any intention to walk the mile to the Waterfront, but I found another work space at the museum, only a block away from home. With the 1982 exhibition now open in St. Mary's Hall, the collections usual home lies mostly empty and roped off from visitors. I managed to create a fairly comfortable nest surrounded by the remaining artifacts and the museum offered equally unlimited access to tea as well as the biscuit tin. 
My makeshift office in the 1982 room, complete with
Sidewinder missile.
I received word of two interviews scheduled for that afternoon, but long before it was time to go both interviewees had cancelled due to illness - the same bug that knocked me down the previous month. In any case, I got a lot of transcription done before braving the weather as I walked to the Vic for Steak Night. The pub was surprisingly empty, but I was not deterred. The nice thing about being a regular at the Local is that you always know someone to talk to. I texted the regular crowd to see where they'd gotten to and ordered my steak. I was wondering why I hadn't gotten any responses and decided to check the balance on my phone - I had no money left! I was almost done eating my steak at the bar and planning to head home soon when Steve, Mike, Gary, Miguel, and Paula strolled in. They sweet-talked their way into a few late steaks and explained that they'd been at the Stanley Arms. The pub across the street from my house all the way on the other side of town that no one but the regulars ever go to. In any case, I stuck around while they ate and even until closing, by which time Joss, Kathy, and Vanessa had shown up. We all headed to Steve's for a bit more merriment before the end of the night. On my way out the door Joss invited me to her birthday dinner the next night at the Malvina - I guess I had plans for Thursday now!

I continued working from the museum on Thursday, but that afternoon's interview appointment actually held. I got to talk to a man who used to work in the whaling industry on South Georgia. He had some great stories, but I'm afraid that days without an interview had left my skills a little rusty and didn't produce the best recording. Not a great way to go out as this would be my final interview in the Falklands. My packed evening made up for my lackluster performance during the day. I visited my friend Sam before heading to dinner, but I had an unfortunate encounter with a mud puddle on the way from her house to the Malvina. I didn't wipe out completely, but mud splattered the bottom foot of my jeans and completely covered my black Chucks. Obeying signage and not wanting to make a mess, I left my shoes at the door and walked to the dining room in stocking feet. My bright red wool socks raised a few questions about where my shoes had gotten to, but at least one person figured it out on their own. Upon his arrival, Alex asked if those were my mud-covered Converse by the back door. Dinner was delicious - I had the squid rings again followed by a delicious piece of lamb. I'm glad I got to try the Malvina for both lunch and dinner. As this was a celebration, there was birthday cake, and we closed the place down. Festivities continued back at Alex and Vanessa's house, where an uninvited neighbor called the police with a noise complaint. We turned the music down and closed the windows, but the policewoman answering the call didn't know quite what to do when two of her fellow officers answered the door and invited her in for a drink. I love the Falklands.

1 comment:

  1. Good job on the photos and captions! What a great opportunity.