Thursday, June 7, 2012

Argentina's Mad Existence

...leads us to Eastern Europe. Well sort of... as you know by now, I'm fascinated with the source of Argentina's troubles and it's led me most recently to the mass immigrations of the turn of the century (19th to 20th) which brought Italians, Ukranians, Russians, Yugoslavians, Jews and others (interesting side note: the Jewish settlements in Entre Rios, which I visited 2 weeks ago:


BarĂ³n Mauricio de Hirsch
(interesting character who financed many of the Jewish settlements)

With these immigrants came anarchism, socialism, communism, etc., which laid the groundwork for the class conflict which Peron eventually exploited, and arguably neutralized...for awhile....

The same thing was happening in America at the turn of the century, resulting in the American labor movement. Prosperity in America assimilated much of this movement, just as stagnation (and resource-driven economics) failed to do that in Argentina. (Incidentally the dictatorship of the 70s was harder on these immigrant communities, and Jews and Eastern Europeans took a bigger brunt of the abuse since they were often connected to, or stereotyped as connected to, leftist political movements and thought). Anti-semitism continues in Argentina, even as it boasts the largest Jewish population in South America.


The hideous junta of the dirty war
 America's growing presence due to war on terror, conflict with Iran:

The fact that these class issues have never been adequately addressed has led to the politics of resentment, as it's often called here. The rich resent the masses demanding to have a share, and the poor resent the rich for refusing it and calling in the military when the demands get too animated. The small middle class resents the lack of credit (and stability) which results from the back and forth between favoring the rich or favoring the poor. I've had some great political discussions here, and each time, I try to reach a little further back to try and pinpoint where things went wrong. First I thought it was Peronism, now I'm thinking it's the turn of the century and the failed corrupt government of Hipolito Yrigoyen. But Gaspar is always right in the goes all the way back to 1810 and Buenos Aires. Yes, just like the US, it goes back to the I explain to people here when they ask about the strange Christian lunacy of America--well, that's who started our country and that is our tragic flaw that I hope won't end us.

Argentina's is more about the power of Buenos Aires, lording it over the rest of the country, a beachhead of European civilization in a barbarous land, or so they used to depict it way back when. Never really true. I just read a biography of Juan Bautista Alberdi, who was of the caliber of a Jefferson or Madison and repeatedly forced into exile. Imagine if Madison had been forced into exile repeatedly because of the 'caudillo' (basically the usual brutal dictator type) nature of power in Spanish America.....

And his nemesis, Juan Manuel Rosas, who set the precedent for all the dictatorships that have followed.....

But lest I bore you all with this only-of-interest-to-an-Argentino-phile, there's a new Argentine film out which I saw last night about the miserable conditions in the 'villas miserias' ..

Justin Timberlake reigning over Villa 31...que horror


I still prefer gauchos, and that aspect of Argentine society...i.e. the provinces outside Buenos Aires, where the free-wheeling gauchos roamed with their great, high energy folklorico music (tango is just too dour and formal for me), their mate and their sense of freedom and an egalitarian society which Buenos Aires, in all its annoying European arrogance, prevented at every turn. The gauchos plight is more tragic here than one would think, especially with our own idealized cowboy myths. To truly understand it, one must understand the story of Artigas..., the founder of Uruguay, as well as read Martin Fierro .... familiarize oneself with Gauchito Gil, the gaucho folk saint... Of course, there are good gauchos and bad, as one learns in Sarmiento's seminal work about Argentina's unique karma if you will.... see Juan Manuel Rosas above). So, there's a dark side to everything, and I'm probably just projecting into the part of Argentina I understand less...funny how that works...I always romanticize what I don't understand but find enticing for its freedom...then I learn the ugly truth...I guess it's how I the end all things are 'mas o menos', Evita is neither a whore nor a saint...and politics is really just a pack of dangerous lies since it continually promotes myths over truths. Enter Che.....

I've mentioned in past blogs that the Madres of the Plaza de Mayo have been more or less subsumed into the K faction of the Peronist movement...which is quite weird, because they were mothers missing their children and now they are associated with a part of Peronism (Cristina's faction, the K for Kirchneristas) that plays itself off as the permanent revolution (love child of the Montoneros via Evita, and all of it a very dubious bridge, and playing a little fast and loose with some pretty dangerous stuff in my opinion...., much in the way that the PRI sold itself for 70 years in Mexico. An institutional revolution run by the party in power which is not the product of a revolution. Patently absurd and that's why people end up talking about fascism. Che would be appalled. But myths don't get appalled.

Speaking of which, I love this mural in San Telmo, where Che and Gauchito Gil have merged into one.


Yes, that's how you spell Hollywood in Argentina

And if it ain't Che, or Gauchito Gil popping up's guess who...

I'm reading American news a little more now as I'll be returning soon, and of course, I'm disturbed by the weirdness of America: The Christian creeps, the endless shoot-ups by crazed gunman, the inane, uninformed and embarrassing political climate--Gray Davis gets recalled, but Scott Walker doesn't? REALLY. Say what you will about Argentina, people seem better informed, and Peronist or not, anyone with an education sees through the propaganda. Sadly I can't say that about most Americans who have been sold a bill of goods beyond anyone's imagining by the a nutshell, if you have eyes to see:
I think the difference is that many Americans choose not to look very hard for the truth. Argentines don't have that luxury.
And yet Americans are fascinated with the end of world:  Someone is concerned that the Andromeda galaxy is going to crash into the Milky Way in two billion years. A Harvard physicist explained that it would just be two great big fuzzy balls of stars and mostly empty space passing through each other harmlessly over the course of millions of years.“We’ll just have twice as many stars,” he said. “The end of the world is a really silly concept. It’s been here for four billion years. I can imagine us blowing ourselves up as a civilization, but the planet wouldn’t care.”

Meanwhile back on earth.....

 The lovely Kavanaugh Building. The apartment I had near here for a couple months was designed by the same architect. It had a nice little patio and sleeping loft

Home of the long-suffering Argentine market dollar price is now at 6/1 thanks to government restrictions. Word on the street is it will reach 8 or 9 (official rate is 4.5/1). Inflation is the cause, and in order to stem the tide of disappearing dollars sent overseas and a debt payment that is due in October, apparently the government had no choice. But the fact that the government doctors the inflation rate numbers is a big blow to what little confidence people have here in the peso, which just generates more dollar flight.

Below:  Cristina lives behind this wall in a large quinta outside the city.

You'll never see me in a Che T-shirt, but that doesn't mean I'm not a revolutionary...Kittistas!

Our own private K movement ...that's Ezequiel's twin brother Marco and his son Santino
 They don't use apostrophes in Spanish, and when they try, it sometimes comes out like this.

 Buses of Buenos montage courtesy of Russell Kiel:

My brother Brian took the below photo of his wife Anita at an Argentine restaurant in Pasadena called 1810.
So like Brian to find a little mirror and send it to me. He always does this which is why he's such a special friend and brother, and why I've just dedicated my new novel Faun to him.

I'm having trouble ending this blog, so let's get out a map and just take a walk through Buenos Aires while we listen to Sarah Brightman sing "Don't Cry for Me Argentina". 

I've avoided the song, because it's too easy, because Argentines don't particularly like the depiction of Evita in the opera, and because it's sentimental and feels cliched. But there's something about it, and after spending another 6 months here--a much tougher 6 months--I feel I understand it in a different way. It's not about Evita, it's not about Argentina--it's about loving oneself which is why people like it and are touched by it...mostly because it's hard to love oneself and Evita clearly didn't love herself enough, as most of us don't. It's about
Argentina breaking your heart, it's about Argentina being your heart. I can say it has broken mine, and I can also say that that is a gift...a hard gift, but a precious one.

 It's no good to talk about such a song without including the words, so here they are

It won't be easy
You'll think it strange
When I try to explain how I feel
That I still need your love
After all that I've done
You won't believe me
All you will see
Is a girl you once knew
Although she's dressd up to the nines
At sixes and sevens with you

I had to let it happen
I had to change
Couldn't stay all my life down at heel
Looking out of the window
Staying out of the sun
So I chose freedom
Running around trying everything new
But nothing impressed me at all
I never expected it too

Don't cry for me Argentina
The truth is I never left you
All through my wild days
My mad existence
I kept my promise
Don't keep your distance

And as for fortune and as for fame
I never invited them in
Though it seemed to the world
They were all I desired
They are illusions
They're not the solutions
They promise to be
The answer was here all the time
I love you and hope you love me

Don't cry for me Argentina

Don't cry for me Argentina
The truth is I never left you
All through my wild days
My mad existence
I kept my promise
Don't keep your distance

Have I said too much?
There's nothing more I can think of to say to you
But all you have to do
Is look at me to know
That every word is true 

OK, for those of you who are now rolling your eyes...I know I'm not the first...

 Now take a walk with me through the city of cupolas and cafes......

Suerte Argentinos! A truly lovely people. Truest thing I heard here: "Argentines just know how to get along, despite everything. They know how to get along with each other."

Well, most of them....

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Art and Artfulness

Comes in many forms of course. I've always liked South American art and literature. So here's a bunch, conceptual, found and otherwise:

One of the many hotel transitorios. You drive in, hook up, and drive out.
Below....we had a great time with Liliana Forni's video at the Bellas Artes Museum in Rosario. Rosario was once Argentina's second largest city and a major port. It's kind of the Chicago of Argentina I'd say, eclipsed more recently by Cordoba, just as LA has eclipsed America's second city. One quickly realizes one is not in Buenos Aires, the minute one isn't...Rosario wasn't terribly exciting but we found good art there--and Mexican food, though it was the usual bizarre Argentina version: burritos shaped liked triangles, full of eggplant, red peppers, corn and onions, and no hot salsa--and worked around the lack of signal lights, which never ceased to amaze us. There aren't even stop simply proceed into intersections hoping for the best...much honking, many 'hijo de putas' and 'pelotudos' proferred back and forth. As for pedestrians...cuidado....back to Liliana Forni's work.....

Easy to tell which one's the dancer and which the writer....

Below...a lovely brain made out of chewing gum...
("Great Social Brain or My Daily Chiclet"...Juan Mathe)

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Rosario housed in a refurbished grain elevator. The city also has a pretty bridge across the enormous Rio Parana, which dwarfs the Mississippi. It's basically the southern outlet of the Amazon basin, thus its big brown, riddled-with-channels immensity

Art about the river....
Jose Flanas Casa

Below: the Monument de la Bandera (flag), designed by Manuel Belgrano, one of Argentina's gay founding fathers....the flag's design gives it away if the pics of him don't

This woman was playing a Paraguayan harp.. which was really interesting. Smaller than the usual harp, with fewer strings, it is played more rapidly, almost like a guitar, creating a unique and really lovely sound. It's used in Paraguayan folklorico music among the Guarani who are the native people of Paraguay and who were expert at making musical instruments for European courts. If you've seen the movie, The Mission, you'll have seen a little bit of the Guarani's history and an illustration of how musical they are.

Jorge DiCiervo

Juan De Prete

Adolfo Nigro

Even the military likes to create sculpture gardens. One sees these military hardware displays in various parks...a leftover from the dictatorship celebrating the glorious military in a nation with no enemies. In the last 150 years, they've only attacked their own people, except for the Falklands of course, which finally brought the dictatorship down.

After declaring independence in 1810, Argentina was basically at war with itself for the next 60 or so years...mostly being a conflict between Buenos Aires and the rest of the country. Federalism never really succeeded here which is why Buenos Aires still monopolizes the country and often acts imperially toward the other provinces

And then, of course, there's the church art....

I liked the cherubs

love the foot...

most had wigs in this Santa Fe (2 hours north upriver from Rosario) museum,but they ran short

This one dropped his arm...

There were lovely gardens outside at this Franciscan convent...reminded me a lot of the California missions which were also Franciscan. A nun took a liking to us and pounded us both on the chest with her palm, wishing that we find girlfriends

Meanwhile the evangelicals are calling it a 'show'......

The rest of Santa Fe was a bit dreary, and being that it rained all day....

We headed across the river (several bridges, then a long tunnel) to Parana which turned out to be a really cool place...I only went there because my friend Gaspar is from there, but I was pleasantly surprised at what a pretty little city it was....with a huge park along the river

And more spectacular art in Parana at their Museo Bella Artes.....

Antonio Berni is one of Argentina's most renowned artists. This piece is called "Huelga" which means 'strike' and explains why he had to go into exile during the dictatorship
Below is another of his works when he lived and worked among the poor in Santiago del Estero after the fall of the dictatorship

Leo Vinci

Marino Santa Maria

Oscar Antonio Vaz

Juan De Dios Mena: "Changerin" (chango is a dude, so its like a guy who does whatever work is available)

Juan Grela
I love this as it looks a lot like Egyptian depictions of the goddess Nut. She is the only female skygod in any mythology as far as I know. Along with Osiris, who is a male fertility god associated with the Nile, Egyptian cosmology is indeed turned around, unique and queer. I've written about a queer male earth god and sky mother in my poetry and my upcoming novel, A Horse Named Sorrow. It makes a queer kind of sense to me.

Luis Luzzi

This painting recounts the building of the Buenos Aires subway, with the Congress building in the background, which is just down the street from my apartment.

The biggest palo borrachos I've ever seen are in the museum's courtyard...I love these trees, and they flower in pink, yellow and white

Luis Tessandori


And here's a bunch of art from Uruguay that I never got around to posting.....some really good stuff....

Jose Pedro Costigliolo

Jose Pedro Costigliolo

Maria Freire

Carmelo de Arzadun 

Manuel Rose

Jose Cuneo

Julio Alpuy

Manuel Blanes, above and below...his work is picture-perfect along the lines of Caravaggio. He's considered Uruguay's national artist...

The weirdest presidential palace (Montevideo, Uruguay) you'll ever see...looks like a bank and reminds one how economic matters such as monetary policy and banking in general are primary in any hope for a successful presidency in Uruguay, Argentina or anywhere in the developing world for that matter....

Speaking of currency, while I lived downtown in Buenos Aires the last few months, I'd watch these trucks line up on Reconquista, Buenos Aires' Wall Street. Whether they are full of pesos, dollars or nothing is anybody's guess. And where they go who knows.....

Found art......