Two days later, the Cap Polonio docked briefly in Montevideo, where another reception committee of journalists and ‘diverse Jews' came aboard to accompany Einstein on the short passage to the ship's final destination, Buenos Aires. The group was headed by Mauricio Nirenstein, secretary of the University of Buenos Aires, a ‘resigned and decent' man, according to Einstein, who was his guide while in Buenos Aires. He counseled Einstein on how to avoid the various political and philosophical controversies that were currently swirling in Argentina. The other members of the welcoming group were, however, more or less ‘unclean' (unsauber), according to Einstein. Eventually he had to be rescued from that ‘unappetizing riffraff' by the stewards and Else Jerusalem. Apart from the commotion they caused, the ship encountered several other delays and did not dock in Buenos Aires until early the next day.
Early in the morning, on March 24, the hullabaloo created by the reporters and greeters on board started up again, but with Nirenstein's help Einstein made his escape and came ashore at 8:30 a.m. A photograph of Einstein as he disembarked shows him walking down the gangplank, his face unusually tense, surrounded by broadly grinning, excited greeters. He was quite exhausted by the time he arrived at the palatial home of Bruno Wassermann, a wealthy German Jewish merchant, where he would stay while in Buenos Aires. There he found peace and quiet, at last.
His hostess, the ‘cheerful Senora Wassermann,' volunteered to act as Einstein's private secretary; her newly arrived friend Else Jerusalem acted as his interpreter in his encounters with the press. In the afternoon, several other ladies belonging to their circle arrived at the Wassermann home, as did the German ambassador. He was followed by Leopoldo Lugones, Argentina's most celebrated poet, author, and politician, as well as by representatives of several Jewish organizations. In the evening, Einstein made the requisite courtesy calls on the president and the dean of the university: modest, straightforward, sober, and friendly people, but without a sense of mission. They reminded him, in some regards, of the Swiss and of other republicans. It seemed to Einstein that the city was comfortable but boring, and that its inhabitants were fragile, delicate, and one-dimensional. Coming from Germany, a country still reeling from the shock of mass slaughter, defeat, and political turmoil, Einstein saw luxury and superficiality everywhere he looked.
On March 26, the social and academic merry-go-round that Einstein had dreaded for so long began in earnest. He faced a horde of journalists and photographers in the morning before being taken on an automobile tour of the city ending in the Abasto, the city's largest food market. After calling on the dean of the university and his wife, Einstein met with a delegation of Jews, who invited him to take part in a celebratory mass meeting; but recalling his “belly-full” of mass meetings in New York, Einstein declined resolutely. After conferring with a few more delegations, he was glad to spend a quiet evening at the Wassermann home; Else Jerusalem was there also, displaying her wit and high spirits. Einstein thought that her good cheer seemed forced, however.
The formal welcoming ceremony at the university took place the next day. After several ardent introductions, Einstein presented a brief, general lecture, speaking in stumbling French to a mostly unruly audience—all in all, it was ‘an uncivilized occasion.'
The first of his several lectures at the university took place the next day, but not before he had listened to more flamboyant speeches by the academics and politicians gathered on the rostrum.
The hall was overcrowded and sizzling hot. On this occasion at least, there were many young people in the audience who took an interest in what he said, which put Einstein in a much better frame of mind. Several ‘inconsequential visits' followed, but he found them bearable. That evening he was a guest at a small dinner party in the home of the wealthy Alfredo Hirsch and his wife, a ‘beautiful Jewish woman.' Their luxurious home was filled with magnificent works of art, and there was even a pipe organ. Einstein mused that the urge to possess beautiful things was a barbarian's first step toward respectability; it reminded him of a child who is not satisfied with seeing a butterfly but needs to touch it or even put it in his mouth.
The next day was a rainy Sunday. Einstein spent the morning alone in his room, treasuring the blissful peace and quiet. He ruminated that a person has to be exposed to a great deal of turmoil before finding happiness in peace and quiet, and the past few days had prepared him sufficiently to attain that happy state. In the afternoon, he left his room and went for a walk with his host, Bruno Wassermann.
On Monday, March 30, Einstein delivered his second university lecture and then spent a pleasant evening with his cousin, Robert Koch, who resided in Buenos Aires. Since the two men were the same age, and had attended the cantonal school in Aarau at the same time, they had a lot in common and knew each other well. On this occasion, they marveled: ‘how old we have become!' (Einstein was forty-six.)
The next day, Einstein was invited to inspect the plant of La Prensa, Argentina's largest newspaper, where he viewed the very latest automated printing presses. The enormous expenditure of paper and of human effort dismayed him; he asked if it would soon be time for the automated reader, as well. A visit to the city's Jewish quarter was on the agenda the following day. He was shown a newspaper office, an orphanage, and several synagogues (shuls), but the visit left Einstein unimpressed. It was a tragedy, he opined, that ‘the Jewish people lost their soul along with the lice'; but was that not the case for other nations, as well?
On April 1, Einstein and señora Wassermann were taken on a sightseeing flight in a German Junkers seaplane, which happened to be visiting Buenos Aires. It was Einstein's first ride in an airplane, and he was duly impressed, particularly by the takeoff. In the afternoon, he was received by Argentina's president, Marcelo de Alvear, and several ministers; afterward, he was taken on a tour of the Ethnological Museum until it was time to deliver his third relativity lecture at the university. Later, Lugones brought Einstein to his home, where the two men spent the rest of the evening. It had been a busy day. Einstein ended his account of the day's activities with ‘That'll do' (Das reicht).
The following day, Einstein traveled to the town of La Plata, forty miles from Buenos Aires. The quiet, pretty town charmed him, reminding him of towns in Italy. He was obliged to attend the formal start of the new term at the university, which was housed in superb, American-style buildings. The drawn-out academic ceremony included a number of exceedingly long speeches and musical performances.
Although there is no mention of him in Einstein's diary, his host in La Plata was Richard Gans, the director and founder of the university's physics institute. Gans was an accomplished German Jewish physicist who had immigrated to Argentina in 1911 but disapproved of Einstein's political views. Indeed, Gans harbored such fervent nationalist sympathies that he returned to Germany soon after Einstein's visit. His subsequent history in Hitler's Germany is most surprising and constitutes a fascinating story.
Back in Buenos Aires, Einstein gave his fourth relativity lecture on April 3, afterward dining with the rector of the university. In a talk to the philosophy faculty the next day, he discussed ways of conceptualizing spherical space. He was then finally able to relax, spending another serene evening at the home of his cousin, Robert Koch, whose uncle, the French industrialist Louis Dreyfus, was also present. Einstein was impressed by Dreyfus, finding him very intelligent, canny, and good-natured.
On Sunday (April 5), the Wassermanns drove with Einstein to their country estate of Lavallol, a place where he was able to relax and escape the commotion surrounding him in the city. Lavallol was his sanctuary on this and several other occasions.
Back in Buenos Aires, Einstein visited a laboratory where experiments had demonstrated that exposure to intense monochromatic light caused subjective apparitions to appear on one's retina—this is an example of the ‘inconsequential visits' his hosts sometimes arranged. There was a large Zionist meeting in support of the Hebrew University in the evening, and after Einstein had listened to a number of pathos-laden speeches by the ‘Spaniards,' he gave a short speech of his own. Benzion Mossinsohn, whom Einstein had last seen on his visit to Palestine in 1923, gave a homespun speech in Yiddish, a language that Einstein found to be remarkably warm-hearted and expressive.
The next day, Einstein met with the eminent physician and the rector of Buenos Aires University, José Arce. Einstein was sufficiently impressed by Arce's clinic, as well as by the man, to comment on how much he stood out from his surroundings. Fortunately, Einstein was again able to recuperate from his crowded schedule during a three-day stay at Lavallol, the Wassermanns' estate. While he was there, he had a ‘marvelous idea for a new theory' to connect electricity and gravitation.
On April 11, Einstein boarded a special railway carriage for the overnight trip to Córdoba, a city some four hundred miles northeast of Buenos Aires. He was not alone; with him traveled the philosopher Coriolano Alberini, Mauricio Nirenstein, Enrique Butty, and several others. On their arrival in the morning, Einstein was taken on a sightseeing drive through the barren and forbidding granite mountains west of the city. The excursion over, he was honored at a ‘very boring' government dinner.
In the morning, Einstein delivered his lecture—he would give only one at Córdoba—in a magnificent hall at the university and was then celebrated at a festive academic assembly. He sat next to the newly elected provincial governor, ‘a very fine and interesting person,' but apart from him and Alberini, Einstein had had his fill of the ‘tiresome profusion of Spaniards, journalists and Jews.' It took a droll speech delivered in Hebrew by a ‘trembling virgin' to restore his good humor.
Einstein admired Córdoba's wonderful cathedral, and he appreciated the well-proportioned houses without any silly decorations. He thought that he could detect remnants of the old Spanish culture, with its love of the land and awareness of higher things—at the price of being ruled by priests (Pfaffenherrschaft). Einstein decided that even that was preferable to a self-satisfied civilization devoid of culture.
On April 14, Einstein traveled back to Buenos Aires, overnight, in the same private railway carriage in which he had come. He was glad to be back, but he was in a sour mood and a terribly misanthropic frame of mind (bin schrecklich menschenmUde).
Most of the people he encountered struck him as ‘lacquered cigar-store Indians, skeptical-cynical, indifferent to culture, and debauched in oxen fat.' He felt severely oppressed by the thought of having to roam about there so much longer.
Two days later, Einstein met with the executive committee of the Zionist organization in the morning and was honored at a session of the National Academy of Exact Sciences in the afternoon. After he was elected as an external member, the academicians asked him such remarkably stupid scientific questions that it was difficult for him to keep a straight face. He was photographed by a portrait painter the next day, and later the same day, he gave the penultimate university lecture of his visit. Einstein's day was not yet over: he was honored at an evening reception given by the German embassy and to which only Argentinian dignitaries had been invited—no Germans were among the guests. Einstein suspected that this was due to the hostility that members of the large German community felt toward his pacifism. ‘A droll lot, these Germans,' mused Einstein, ‘I am a foul-smelling flower to them, but they keep sticking me in their buttonhole, all the same.'
Einstein's suspicions regarding the guest list for the embassy reception were confirmed by the report sent by Karl Gneist, the German ambassador, to the Foreign Office. He gave a glowing account of the popular interest generated by Einstein's visit: “Hardly a day went by without the papers bringing many columns of stories related to the person of the scientist and his theory…. The local German community, unfortunately, stayed away from all events because some members had objected to comments Einstein made in an interview with Nación, as being pacifist…. For the first time, a world famous German scholar came here, and his naive, kindly, perhaps somewhat unworldly manner had an extraordinary appeal for the local population. One could not find a better man to counter the hostile propaganda of lies, and to destroy the fable of German barbarism.”
On April 18, at the Wassermanns' home, Einstein gave a private lecture to señora Wassermann's circle of female friends, but the Panther Cat was conspicuously absent. She was evidently miffed at Einstein for his having neglected her. Later, he addressed the Societa Hebraica, and in the same lecture he discussed both the spirit of Zionism and the size of atoms. The next day being Sunday, he relaxed at the country house in Lavallol, but in the evening there was yet another reception of Jewish Societies, with a speech by Mossinsohn and with singing. At the last university lecture (April 20), he spoke before a particularly enthusiastic audience, but on the following day he attended ‘a very tasteless reception' at a Jewish hospital. He found that occasion so annoying that he gave the organizers a dressing-down.
After five weeks in Argentina, the time had come for Einstein's farewell. At a luncheon for his closest associates in Buenos Aires, he presented photographs of himself to señora Wassermann and Professor Nirenstein, each inscribed with an appropriate, witty poem. Einstein had also prepared such a memento for Else Jerusalem, but the ‘Panther Cat,' still miffed at Einstein, was again missing from the circle.
The official farewell breakfast on April 22 was attended by all of the scientific and political bigwigs. A more informal farewell party, given by the university students, took place in the evening—this was more to Einstein's taste. There was a lot of singing and guitar playing, and to cap it off, Einstein played his violin.
Posted by Sine Metu , a las 11:20 a.m.