Monday, March 28, 2011


Just when I decided I would talk no more about the dictadura, this weekend was the feriado, “Dia de la Memoria”, a long 4-day weekend commemorating the end of the dictatorship and the horrors instigated by it, such as the many disappeared and the adopted children (which I’ve been reading about of late), many of whom have been learning about their true identities as children of the disappeared via the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an offshoot of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo) and the govt. DNA investigative body (super controversial, see feud between Pres. Cristina and the largest media conglomerate, CLARIN.. There was a huge march, about 20,000 up the main Avenida Yrigoyen here in Cordoba, mostly leftists protesting the governor of Cordoba State (who happens to be a Peronist just like Cristina who they were praising…I told you Peronism is bizarre and multi-faceted) and making the connection between the policies of the dictatorship, neoliberalism, Menem, Schiaretti, capitalism, the right in general, etc. Pretty much like a march in the US, with one exception…people holding up photos of hundreds of the disappeared..young, college-age faces from the 70s who haunt every demonstration and give all such gatherings a gravity that is undeniable and impossible to ignore.
Lots of warm regard for Nestor Kirchner too who seems to have become a saint…or as my teacher at my school explains…Argentines love dead politicians more than living ones and vote for them. As it was with Peron, so it is with Kirchner whose death more or less assures Cristina's victory. Every nation mythologizes the dead…Reagan and Kennedy are good examples of the US version, but then we don’t have whole movements spawned from them like they do here…Kirchneristas…imagine Reaganistas (‘que horror’ as they say here, although in a way what else would you call people like Sarah Palin and the rest of those sycophants in the House and Senate?) or Kennedistas. Again, I suppose it’s the cultural thing…Anglo Saxon culture doesn’t seem to personalize its political leaders as much? There’s something creepily ‘parental charismatic’ about the whole Peron/Evita thing and Kirchner/Cristina thing, as if the people are sort of looking for a king and queen to trust and relieve the substantial insecurity which is always in the air.
I had hoped to head into the mts again, but there was a bus strike, which created a huge mess, because this is like Labor Day weekend and buses are how people travel. I have one more weekend here and will try to get into the mts then.
Speaking of nearby towns, there’s a real soap opera of a murder mystery that’s been under investigation for years here. In a gated community in nearby Rio Cuarto, an American socialite, married to an Argentine doctor, was murdered apparently during an orgy she’d put together while her husband was out of town. At first, they arrested the house painter who has since been exonerated. Now there are all these DNA tests of the apparently 26 people at the party, but the prime suspect is the gay son!...there’s no good link for all this but you can search and piece it together.

So I stayed in town, haunting the cafes, reading, drinking coffee, trying to speak Spanish as much as possible and exploring Parque Sarmiento, which is like their Central Park, with a zoo, cafes, lots of walking paths, people sitting by the lake drinking mate, and lots of my new favorite tree, the palo borracho
 (‘drunken stick’ literally….a horrible name, but it’s either because of its baobob-like potbelly or the fact that they tend to grow at an angle, like a staggering drunk, or maybe both. The flowers are beautiful (white or pink) and this tree has become very special to me, like how I feel about oaks in California….…I really like trees. There are lots of beautiful acacia trees here too, which you can see in my last post overhanging the canada or rio.

There are three really good art museums here, amazing for a city this size. Because even though Cordoba is Argentina’s second largest city, it’s not a huge city. For perspective, Argentina is sort of like if the US had New York (BsAs) and then its second largest city was say, Sacramento. Or if NY were a country, that would be similar…but only in terms of one city being dominant because there are large regional distinctions in a country as big as Argentina, differences that people are very conscious of and proud of.

 Above are my new friends Roxana and Viviana (amazing that they have the same names as two of my favorite people at laane, Vivian and Roxana :). They are a lesbian couple (the ones here not my co-workers!) who have a little cafe called Butterfly near my school. They make the best lomo de pollo (chicken sandwich) and they know how to use garlic, unlike many other cafes here! If I must eat meat, RV make it much more palatable. Across the street, these guys do an asado (barbecue) in the street, using the curb, which is pretty funny to watch.
 Here is a regional dish called Locro, from Salta...way too meaty and stewy for me, but my friend Federico from Salta loves it 

Lots of graffiti left over from the fave: 'Ni macho, ni facho' (not macho, not fascist). 
I’m now preparing for my 17-hr bus ride next week to Chile—in a ‘cama’ bus. I’m thru with semi-cama, the difference is huge for about $10. Cama means bed, so you get the gist. I’m back to one backpack, two is impossible…so I’ve reduced my clothes, and since I’ve read half my books, those are gone as well. A friend here graciously offered to hold a glad bag full of clothes which I can pick up on my way back thru in July or donate somewhere. If I don't blog again from Argentina, here are many of my new friends and teachers (Argentines are truly warm and wonderful people, I'm quite impressed :) :
These four live together and have the sweetest little gay family I've ever experienced, really wonderful people. Victor and Ezequiel above, Jose Maria (aka Haity) and Pablo below. They are all super talented too...Victor, Ezequiel and Jose Maria are dancers (JM choreographs as well) and Pablo does costume design for Teatro Colon, which is of course the major theater in BsAs

Elebaires Spanish School in BsAs (wonderful Nuria, right):

My favorite teacher so far (on far left, Milagros :) 
Stephen, originally from Scotland, now living in BsAs for the last 15 yrs? with his Argentine wife and baby daughter. He generously gave me a cell phone to use and is basically a mensch: 

speed racer:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Cordoba 2.0

Two weeks now in Cordoba, and I love the river that runs through the city. I've been heading into the Sierras on weekends and was in La Cumbrecita last week.....

Those mushrooms were amazing, hundreds of them, and the size of salad plates. There aren't a lot of trees as you can see. Argentina is not big on trees, though there are lots of little squat trees....there are a bunch of weird little German-themed towns up here, and one, Villa General Belgrano (founding father, creator of the flag and also gay--mystery of why the flag is so pretty finally solved!) was actually started by survivors of the Graf Spee,, a German battleship in WW2 that had been reeking havoc in the Atlantic and got cornered and pursued by the British in the River Plate delta, where it was damaged and then sunk, suicide-style (scuttled I guess is the word...can one scuttle one's life?) by the proud German captain. Anyway, all the architecture is German, pines have been planted everywhere and there's lots of cervezas artesanales. Very touristy and kind of odd... Solvang, CA-style.
Anyway, stuck in the bus station for a connection to La Cumbrecita, I was once again faced with a common situation, where there was no food to be had (other than media lunas--pastries aren't food!), but always absolutely perfect coffee.
Which brings me to Fernet, the Cordobese drink...a fermented herb which is something like 130 proof and served mixed with coke. Very tasty and intense (you can see why the coke is's a very intense mate-like herbal flavor and supposedly good for the digestion.

I've been watching the stray dogs who are legion here, and everywhere in Argentina. I don't know, on some level it's more humane than our system in the US where they're euthanized, but now and again they form packs and get kind of aggressive. I got confronted by a group of beasts in the park, and while they scare easy, it's still a little unsettling. They scare easy I'm guessing cuz they don't really have territory to defend, so they're kind of just neurotic about their aggression, it's not really based on anything vital like a dog with territory. I'm not an expert, just my observation. I like having them around though, they just come up and lay down next to you at cafes. But some are clearly ill and one can't sentimentalize the situation. But it is funny how comfortable they are, they just sort of lay down on major thoroughfare sidewalks and go to sleep and everyone just steps over them. People are nice to them, they're like cows in India I guess.
I met an older woman today in a cafe who told me she knew Che as a kid and was also a friend of his girlfriend, Chichina (she's the one in Motorcyle Diaries who turned him down). Chichina went on to marry a capitalist and ended up very rich. I didn't know whether to believe her, she looked 65 max and Che would be in his eighties. Who knows? What was interesting was that she was clearly a wealthy woman who leaned right politically, but when she talked about Peronism and Che she wasn't strident like I'm used to in the US when meeting rightwingers. She just said, I'm not a Peronist, but it's a very interesting movement and they have a lot of power. She is the first person to tell me she doesn't think Cristina will win. She says the primaries will bring in new 'horses'. Everyone else seems to think Cristina's re-election is a foregone conclusion.

Spanish is hard, it's just soooo structured, and I am not a very structured person, so I am having to work on it. Music helps...., courtesy of Gaucho Federico courtesy of the fab Tucumanos, Pablo and Haity  courtesy of magical Milagros
My addiction to reading in English for pleasure is a constant struggle. I read the paper and some books in espanol, but at my level, it's not terribly exciting, whereas my English books are engaging on my level (I've finished all my Argentine books and I'm now reading George Orwell's essays, which are awesome. His essay, "Inside the Whale", about Henry Miller and English lit between the wars was really enlightening and I'd say a must-read for all writers. He's such a smart down-to-earth thinker, and yet one wonders what he'd make of how things played out economically/politically. He didn't think liberalism/capitalism would survive, and I suppose it won't, but he thought it would die faster. "Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War" is really good too, he's soooo refreshingly objective that one realizes it really is about humanism, not politics. Which brings me to the state of Argentina....people are frustrated certainly, they've taken huge economic hits, but there's also a hopeful feeling...27 years of democracy is a huge, huge thing in Argentina, and the younger people, of which there are many, have lived their whole lives in that system. One realizes that unless you're over 40, the dictatorship is not part of your experience, though its echoes are certainly there in the shadows...the disappeared are remembered on murals and in this week's 'feriado' (holiday in memory of the disappeared, courtesy of Cristina) and the Museo de la Memoria, which is disturbingly 20 feet from the cathedral and on the site of the actual location where people were arrested, held and tortured in Cordoba, which was a hotbed of subversion (the dictatorship's word, not mine....half the people I work with would be dead if they'd been here in the 70s...the bar for 'subversion' was pretty low). The museum recounts the stories of countless individuals, mostly people in their 20s, who vanished without a trace. It's very weird and really sad, like an entire generation was just rounded up and killed (but even worse..disappeared, no one took any responsibility), while the Catholic church's bells tolled 20 feet away. So much for religion. The creepy fascist logic of the generals believed socialism was a mental disease and infected those who were around it, which is how they justified stealing the children of the disappeared and adopting them out to rightwing people who would 'prevent the infection' and instead instill the children with 'proper thinking'...these children are a big issue now as there is an investigative body that is attempting to DNA-match all the children with their real parents, which, of course, is running up against some resistance. This process was spearheaded by the grandmothers of the disappeared, an outgrowth of the mothers of the disappeared weird for these children. It makes you think about how devastating and unsettling the 60s were, what a huge social upheaval occurred and the different ways different countries dealt with it. A guy I know here told me a person from New Zealand asked him if he were ashamed to be Argentine. He was offended and said ''No, I'm proud to be an Argentine". It made me think about that sort of Anglo-Saxon arrogance that seems to believe other cultures are somehow more barbaric than theirs. Did my friend ask the kiwi about the Maori? I don't know. Americans often seem to think the same way (we are so Anglo-Saxon, which is more and more apparent, everyday I'm here), and while no, we have not been subject to a military dictatorship, we did sacrifice 60,000 of our young people in Vietnam and killed millions of Vietnamese (and Native Americans), and never even hesitated vis-a-vis Iraq and Afghanistan (next stop Bengazi), but shame seems to never get mentioned. It could also be argued that Bush2 was a coup and a military dictatorship, but in that oh-so-subtle Anglo Saxon way. It's all about making it look OK, not too heavy-handed, even though the results are the same. A lot of the horrors that happened here happened in the context of the Cold War--the really irrational fear of all things even remotely socialist--which still exists in the US today--and which was and is consistently exported by the US, more or less through economic blackmail, military hardware and training. What happened here was western civilization doing what it does--crushing its shadow--so we're all guilty, including kiwis. One day Guantanamo will be a museum.
I've done it again, preached to the converted. OK, well I do love the US still cuz I can actually say these things, and I love the food in the US, and I love the mts and the optimistic conscientious can-do creative innovations that my peeps are known for! There is hope! And on that note, my search for hummus has once again been successful. The below pic is for Stella!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Boy and His Asthma

Che's family moved to Alta Gracia to help relieve his asthma. Alta Gracia is a sweet little town in the Sierra Chicos where the air is cleaner, crisper, etc. at slightly higher altitude. I spent a nice day up here walking in the rain. Che's boyhood home has been turned into a museum and there's even a little restaurant down the street serving Cuban food. Otherwise it's very much a suburban middle class neighborhood where Che and his family spent 11 years. The museum was not at all what I expected. Neither pro nor con vis-a-vis Che the revolutionary, it's really about Che the kid and the origins of his determination to fight injustice. I never thought I'd feel so emotional about Che as I have a complicated relationship with his life and myth as many people do. But Che the kid appears to have been awesome. A natural leader, he rounded up the other kids for games and became an avid reader when he was slowed down by his asthma. His childhood friends recalled numerous stories about how he protected animals and told the other kids not to hurt them, and he had a penchant for making friends with all kids--upper and lower class alike (not done in those days apparently among the middle and upper class Argentines--things haven't changed that much it seems). The lady at the front desk was incredibly nice and the gift shop was a kick...Cuban cigars, Che coasters, childhood pics, books, etc. One walked away with the feeling of knowing this kid when he was 8 or 9. One sees the roots of his later work, his sincere desire to fight for justice...which in some sense led to the rude awakening that it's really hard... he decided revolution was the only way. That's a whole nother topic, but this museum really gives a human face to Che, superceding the ubiquitous t-shirt visage and revealing the very human story behind his destiny. Argentines have an interesting relationship with him. He's a major historical figure and he speaks to their pride, yet he never really played a part in Argentine politics at all, though he certainly influenced radical left groups in the 70s. He's like part of the family, and you got to love him anyway. And call me sentimental, but I fell in love with Che in Alta Gracia. I'd always thought he was hot, but that's different, and I still won't wear the t-shirt because I don't support violent revolution. I have zero sentimentality for communism or any political system, but I think very highly of people who commit their lives to righting wrongs and fighting for justice. Not enough people do. Che said "I will triumph or die". He was committed. I almost shed a tear. Oh lord, I'll stop.... but yes, Laaners (my colleagues at, like el che, you have changed me and inspired me and you are committed to the only human endeavor that is worth pursuing, and I admire you for it. And I thank you, for you have helped me to see.

Off I went to La Gruta, which is a grotto for Our Lady of Lourdes with all that that entails. The anti-Che reality--but not really--and a lovely sacred spot. I especially enjoyed the little kids running about misbehaving while their parents encouraged solemnity (although not too strictly---parents are really sweet to their kids here and the kids seem strong, happy and confident, perhaps because of it). Perhaps Che was such a kid....I walked away past a gaggle of nuns...a child shouting and pointing...'monjas, monjas!' (nuns), reflecting on how people put their faith in things...some in religion, the earth (catholicism is not just Christian, esp at an earthy pagan place like a grotto) or a political philosophy....I thought sadly to myself...I wish my dear Che had become a priest or Buddhist monk...but then again, he had the balls to live his truth and he definitely left a mark and a legacy that has changed the Americas certainly and America's relationship to them. Someone asked me as I left...where is your faith? And I answered rather the human heart, mine or yours. It's an unreliable, inexact, confused place, but it's the best of us, for what it's worth, and whatever faith I have is there. But I still doused myself with the holy water and made three wishes (my mother always told me that you get three wishes every time you visit a new church..I love this tradition and I have been doing lots of wishing..for myself, I admit, and for others as well--yes you too Mom, thanks for the magic! It's a nice feeling to wish :) Ojala!

Soy un Cordobese por un mes

I'm back in the lovely city of Cordoba, which I visited for 3 days last year.,_Argentina It's the second largest city in Argentina, but way more chill than Buenos Aires. It was once more important than BA when Argentina was still a part of the viceroyalty of Peru and much money was to be made from silver coming out of Bolivia, along with all the attendant supplies needed for its extraction and transport via Lima. The Spanish later created the viceroyalty of the Rio De La Plata and BsAs eclipsed all the provinces and seriously slammed them economically, setting into motion a major historical problem and tension ever since. The Jesuits were big here in Cordoba, and the churches and other buildings are beautiful (libraries, chapels, a carmelite abbey, etc. I lucked into finding an apt smackdab in the middle of the historic sector, that includes a washing machine no less--anyone who's traveled weeks or months realizes the boon of this....see pic above). Of course, the Jesuits were kicked out after being too successful in their estancia businesses. The Jesuits were rabid about conversions and working the local Indians, but they were good about not killing them the way the Spanish and Portenos (people in BsAs) were in the habit of doing. See the excellent film, The Mission, which is about a Jesuit mission in the Missiones state in the northeast and outlines well the conflict between the Jesuits and the crown.
Above, you can see a memorial to the Cordobazo (student and worker uprising against the military dictatorship of General Ongania.. and a memorial to the Malvinas debacle ...all Argentine maps show the Malvinas (aka the Falklands) as belonging to Argentina. It's a point of pride, and whatever you think about it, it was an embarrassing war for everyone and tragic for untrained young Argentine conscripts ...see my earlier post... Thank goodness that era of Reagan, Thatcher, Pinochet and El Proceso is behind us, though the shamelessness, violence and general lack of humanity of all those past 'leaders' and 'neoliberals' continues to reverberate, and much they sowed has yet to be repaired. which leads us to....lovely little Alta Gracia and a boy who decided to take on the injustices rendered by such people....

First Queer Bookstore in South America

I stumbled upon this store in Palermo, Buenos Aires and was delighted to find it is the first queer bookstore in South America. I talked with the proprietor and he asked about gay bookstores in the US and I had to explain that there are very few left, and we got into a conversation about how amazon has taken over book sales in the US. Buenos Aires is full of bookstores, almost as many as cafes...well not quite. But it's amazing to see 3 or 4 in just a couple blocks. People read here, or at least the older generation...I'm not so sure about the younger..they are generally enchanted by the world techno culture and have little time or interest to read it seems. Globalism is a big topic with all sorts of good and bad aspects, but it's creating a boring Brave New World. We also talked about the amazing Pedro Lemebel (author of My Tender Matador, his only work to be translated into English. He's as huge as he should be in South America, but generally unknown outside the Spanish speaking world. Perhaps a small seed of a longterm goal if I can really perfect my Spanish someday:  translate the rest of his work. It's unique, wonderful, spirited, political, funny...pretty much everything great lit seeks to be. If you can read Spanish, here is his blog ....or you can google translate, but google translate offers some bizarre, albeit poetic, interpretations, technology being limited as it is..

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Heading to Cordoba

I'm wrapping up my 4th week in Buenos Aires, and do excuse my flakiness re this blog. I've been working the Spanish hard and have made lots of new friends and that's kept me busy, exploring the city and the language. I have also developed a rather large tarot following, which is almost comic...the love lives of all my teachers and new friends are playing out before my eyes. It's been great for my Spanish...go figure--the occultist method of language studies.
Fortunately, I found a vegetarian restaurant where I've been gorging on vegetables...don't know how these Portenos stay 'regular' on a grain and cheese diet...not working for me! I also had the good fortune to be introduced to Hasan, a great Syrian restaurant with falafels, tabouli, etc.--and hummus! which I've been longing for, and back home usually eat daily.
Directly above you'll see my favorite 'old man' bar as Tin and I dubbed these old style cafes last year, simply because the bartenders are ancient (many of these traditional bars are subsidized as historic sites--there are about 100 apparently. I stumble across one now and again--don't let the 'historic site' designation fool you, they're not disneyfied like we do in the US. The Roma, above, is a dusty little joint, with old bottles lined up along the walls and two octogenarian bartenders who watch soccer games with the rest of the elderly of the neighborhood. The windows are pulled up and wide open to the air all day and there are sparrows walking around inside nibbling crumbs. There's not really a kitchen, just an espresso machine, but one of the old guys will whip you up a salami and cheese sandwich on french bread if you're hungry. It's a lot like someone's house and there are usually only a few people in it. A perfect segue to Starbucks, the antithesis of home and which is attacked by anti-imperialists worldwide for obvious reasons. Even MacDonalds seems to purchase their fixtures locally...Starbucks has the exact same tables, chairs, napkins, cups, everything....I don't think they spend one dime locally in the host country, which is kind of the worst most visible kind of imperialism. I won't go on, Che said it all already...see the pic of Che above on the communist party's building on Entres Rios--and while I think communism is kind of very college male in a lot of ways--esp. the way Che practiced it--places like Starbucks are one reason Che remains relevant here (his analysis of Yanqui imperialism is spot-on whether or not you agree with his adoption of revolutionary communism as a solution). And Starbucks is hugely popular with the younger set--in the ritzier apolitical or rich neighborhoods that is--the one I visited was the size of a friggin airport---I kid you not, like Best Buy size. Some of the MacDonalds are that big too. Anyway, it's actually interesting to just watch myself write this as I make disclaimers in regard to Che and communism. While Argentina has a lot of political problems, people here read and the political debate is informed in a way America's can never be. The fact that we can't even stomach the words socialism, communism, anarchism, etc. in our political debate is a little shocking and childish on some level. One is struck here by the broad and very sophisticated political reality, debate and knowledge and reminded at every turn at just how simplistic and blind our own system is. I'm not making a comparison really, it's apples and oranges...but our orange is totally dependent on our enormous wealth, and our middle class, which is fast evaporating. When explaining American politics, I basically have to explain the two party system--which is bizarre in most democracies--as a right and center right contest. Here in Argentina, the middle class, which has enabled our weird right-center political reality, has never been that strong, and it's taken huge hits in the past 50 years...the streets are full of men and boys...cartoneros...who gather recyclables. Most are from the province (the state of BsAs which surrounds the city, and which seems close to Appalachian in its poverty). These guys totally hustle all over the city, as most people seem to, and one realizes the economic probs here are not about productivity, but about economic inefficiency and govt. corruption. Peronism.... to's beyond a PhD dissertation and I'm just slowly figuring it out. There was a huge 'manifestacion' the other day as Cristina was speaking in Congress (I love it, she actually is wearing black for the year of mourning after losing Nestor, her husband....but it's black cocktail dresses, pearls...not really in the spirit of mourning unless you're an Argentine woman I guess)---every single group marched past the school...first the 'presidential guard' or somesuch, dressed in Napoleonic style uniforms (apparently in the fashion of the great liberator, San Martin, the endless parade of Peronists, which range from conservative old guard union leaders to fairly radical socialist youth (big with Cristina who is a left Peronist), communists, socialists, lots of drums and Argentine flags, banners thanking the late Nestor Kirchner Peronism pretty much runs the gamut, which is weird, and I can't really explain it, but briefly, its a working class movement created by Juan Peron and Evita, who basically built their political foundation on the unions and working class. They were of course a tad tyrannical and fascist which allowed them to centralize and consolidate, and what they created was a working class movement with enormous strength that outlasted them on the one hand, but that on the other, being as it was born out of being empowered by someone in power, doomed them to the same fate as their patron. Having worked in the labor movement, the tragic flaw, as I see it, is Peron. He empowered the labor movement from outside it, so that on some level, it wasn't empowered from within itself, which is the key to any successful and healthy movement. So, on some level, it's a lot like its historical enemies: the military and the rich, and to some extent, the church. Which makes Argentine politics this weird war of the entitled. I could be totally offbase, and have definitely oversimplified as it seems all things Peron tend toward the enigmatic and ever-morphing, almost like calculating PI or something. There's also the fact that Peronism was outlawed for decades during military rule, but it continued anyway underground and above ground really (I mean its like the entire working cant outlaw half the population). It's also so enormous it's fractured into all sorts of different shards, and of course, most important of all, its powerful and power, as we know, corrupts. But these are my thoughts based on reading and discussions thus far--albeit in childlike Spanish--so you've been warned!

OK, back to empanadas. I like them and eat a lot of them because the Argentine diet is just friggin boring to me. I miss Thai food, Mexican food, 'hot'--as in picante--food. Thank god for Hasan and Ezekiel, who being half-Syrian, has directed me to all the middle eastern barrios. Ezekiel has been great...he doesn't speak a word of English and takes me all over to meet all his other non-English speaking friends :)
After a month here, I think that Argentines are really nice people overall. And in my school, I feel the same about Americans. A lot of them are a tad clueless, but they're always nice. I like the Dutch kids as well. And the Nordic boys are always sweet and generally hot.
I drink a lot of Quilmes beer--the bud of Argentina--so finally bought a t-shirt on the street in San Telmo (old cool neighborhood, but way overdiscovered by hipsters and tourists), only to learn later that Quilmes is an indigenous tribe who were marched across Argentina (very much like our 'Trail of Tears') to the coast where the other Quilmes is...where they make the beer Words are powerful, especially if you learn their origin.
My current favorite Spanish word is 'ojala' which is from the Arabic 'god willing'. Basically it's like saying, I hope something will happen.
Ojala que you are all well and happy, and that Qaddafi gets a clue and that people realize what is at stake in Wisconsin.

Clases, Clases, Clases y Tarotistas (from Feb. 11, 2011)

(the view from my balcony)
I've completed my first week of classes and feel like I'm nearly drowning in verb forms. Eso es la realidad. So I'm practicing, practicing, practicing...of course all my classmates could be my children. It's interesting to sort of relive one's post-college reality through them. I traveled through Europe at 22 for 4 months with a backpack doing the whole hostel thing which they are all doing. It seems so unpleasant from this vantage point, but they have that amazing resiliency on their side that I once had as well. I still do a hostel now and again, but a room with 6 people is pretty unbearable at 48 and  being constantly drunk and social is pretty much a disgusting proposition at this point, though I was into at 22 as I recall.
Anyway, mis companeros were 3 English girls, one very sassy who seemed to have a cute little crush on me, and then a Canadian and Brazilian girl and two Swedish boys who were kinda nerdy in a hot way. My teachers are great, Ana speaks slowly and Melisa is just cute and confident beyond description. And you know how language learning materials constantly throw these 'dialogos' at you? We'd already been through Cesar's cumpleanos and we then arrived at 'la feria' where Claudio y Luciano came upon a tarotista (sounds like terrorist I know, but it's a tarot reader). Of course Melisa had to ask, 'does anybody know tarot?' Blank suspicous stares from Los Ingles y the Swedes...a big enthusiastic smile from me. I felt like such a Californian on some level as to me tarot is sort of almost mainstream. So, Melisa insisted I bring 'mis cartas' to class the next day to do readings, which I did, which made for a very interesting spanish class and of course, as hard as it was, it was great practice for my spanish having to talk with all of them and field complicated, specific questions. As noted in my last missive, I'm this weird intermediate student with massive holes in my spanish training, so while 'mi accento' is pretty good and better than some of mis companeros, they've got me on vocabulary and verb forms, so I'm a little bit the-slightly-dumb-behind kid in the class, though since I try harder, not being a hormonal 22 year old, I keep up.
Well, word got out, and then all the teachers in the school asked me for readings. So, each day I do one teacher, which is great spanish practice, and even better, I get this interesting vantage point into their personal reality...the young ones, of course, end up with readings overloaded with men (pages, kings, et al) as they are all into,'amor casual' while the older ones have issues around making changes, etc. Inevitably, they want to chat about all sorts of stuff so I've even been able to talk about Las Malvinas, a subject one is often warned not to broach. Las Malvinas are, of course, the Falklands. As you'll recall, Argentina's attempt to retake the Falklands led to the collapse of the dictatorship which had cost up to 30k in lives, so losses like that are pretty much gains as I see it. Then again, Argentina is a proud country that can't, for instance, understand why it's not as influential in Latin America as the US is....I can't even begin to explore this just yet for fear of regretting whatever I say 6 weeks down the line. But it's a CENTRAL issue, that is clear.

I'm combining all this with my reading which really helps inform my conversations as I know who most of the historically influential persons are, and am absorbing the problem of Buenos Aires central role in the country's history, which has for the most part been to the advantage of portenos and the disadvantage of the rest of the country. This seems to be an almost intractable problem, and as my new Peruvian friend Victor (he's from Iquitos which has to be one of the weirdest cities on earth: big,old,colonial, in the deepest reaches of the amazon.. you've seen Werner Herzog's Fitzcarroldo... you'll know the place) insightfully points out: Portenos kind of want to be English, but act like the French, are actually Italian and speak Spanish. And as such, el interior is just not really part of their mental landscape. Anyway, I've heard a lot of delusional comments this week:  Chileno girls aren't as hot as Argentines (waiter mentioned this, assuming I'm het, but even so, its a ridiculously arrogant comment to make to a tourist), Andean immigrants are a problem because they have NO cutlure (wow, tres colonial, senor), Chile didn't back us up with the Falklands and supported the UK (as did the US).
Granted Pinochet was a fascist dictator too, but it's so obvious to me why he wouldn't support Argentina which has pretty much nothing to offer him and was creating problems in Patagonia around territorial boundaries (they almost had a war at the time over Tierra del Fuego). Pincohet was also on the outs with the US by that time and probably wanted the support of Britain which has been involved in both these countries as heavily as US has for their entire history (he was later arrested in the UK, poor Augusto, no one loved him and he never could understand why).
Whats more, the Argentine dictatorship
assumed the US would back them up because of the Monroe Doctrine, but didn't actually confirm that and I guess forgot that the US and Britain have been major buds for at least 100 years. Anyway, there's a lack of clarity as I see it, and one person was adamant about how Cristina Fernandez
lacks clarity in a big way and fights with everybody. 'She's a friend of Hugo!' they shouted, exasperated, meaning Hugo Chavez of Venezuela of course. "Politicos" I attempted to explain, but they weren't buying it....they said she actually LIKES him, which made me laugh. But, of course, there is no alternative in the next election as they see it. They then asked me about Sarah Palin, and all I could try to explain was that the difference was that Sarah was 'no muy inteligente' and would therefore never become president. We then discussed the American character, how obsessed with independence Americans are and how they don't accept government. Simple but true, as we all know.

I then went across the street for empanadas. I'm sick of cheese, and I can't find any black beans. I'm heading to the Armenian district tomorrow to try and find some Middle Eastern food which I miss, along wiht tofu and Mexican and Thai, etc. I apparently need to make peace with meat and cheese.

(from Feb 4, 2001)

Mi Escuela cerca de la Plaza del Congreso (the white cupola is my school)
I can sleep anywhere with almost any amount of noise, but not on a's the whole sitting up thing. Only a drunk can sleep like that, and I tried, courtesy of Augusto, the Argentine flight attendant who plied me with vino tinto, argentine style, which means filled to the brim. What airlines need to do is offer hammocks. They could hang them from the roof, and since few would take advantage, those oddballs like myself who would could get some much needed sleep. Argentine customs was charming as always, half the tsa people nodding off...and a friendly argentine warned...remember, Argentina is all about lines, which I soon the bank, at the post office, in the grocery stores. I actually kind of like it as I get to read, which I have less opportunity to do in efficient america. No wonder Argentina is such a literary culture. I can also practice my spanish as I'm a bit of a talk-slut.
Anyway, back to the airport and I'm on a shuttle and then a taxi (I love the challenge of avoiding ripoffs while traveling--they inevitably happen, but there's nothing funner than circumventing the obvious and inevitable) and I was at my apartment, chatting with Luisa,the fab architect who owns the apartment and who I rented from last year. We had the longest conversation about 'falta' which neither of us could quite resolve until I realized it meant 'owe' as in I owed her $ :) Thus begins the strange tale of mi espanol...more later.  The weirdest part about the apartment: she repainted the room the same bizarre color my roommate Sera just did her green. It's in the Congreso District, a working urban neighborhood with lots of theaters and bookstores (independent bookstores thrive here, perhaps the last place on earth--warms the heart for a one such as I), a few hostels and the eponymous Congress building two blocks away (daily protests by communists, movemiento evita, etc.--I need to find out who all these people are, but it's awesome to see young people taking their concerns to the street, which is of course quite rare in Los Estados Unidos. Then again, I've heard all kinds of things about the daily protests here, including that some participants are paid....all the more reason to find out more.... and of course all roads lead inevitably to Peronism which is a weird mix of right and left and ultimately populist, which is why it persists as far as I can tell right now. But weirdness still...imagine young shirtless 20 yr old hipster and hippie men touting the virtues of a 1940s diva--would never happen anywhere else.)
I'll update you on the meantime, as per pesonal concerns, they said I couldnt remain vegetarian, while in the Argentine, but sure enough, right there en Disco (the safeway of Bs As) I found vegetalex soy hot dogs, milanese, etc. and I've made dinner twice in high California healthy meatless style!
Much has been said about how beautiful Argentines are and what with the heavy beef diet, how do they do it? It must be the walking. Everyone is on the street, 24 hours a day, so they walk. I'm guessing they also dont overeat, portions are generally reasonable, even coffee is small...only in the local Starbucks up Callao 10  blocks from me, do they serve gigantor coffee -- and you notice right away how out of place it is. Suffice it to say, the sidewalks have potholes and I trip a lot between the fab architecture and the stunningly handsome men and hot women. Whats great is that none of them seem to be trying...the true key to beauty, which is totally lost on has to look unintentional, duh. Aw, but we are the culture of visible intention, arent we? Or maybe it just helps to be Mediterranean?
So, to the Spanish School I went to take my placement test. It turns out it's in an amazing building (and just 5 blocks from mi apartamiento..pic on this journal shows it--it's the white cupula in the center of the pic, just east of the plaza del congreso, a big park in front of the congress bldg...another thing I like about Argentina..there are public squares in front of both the congress and casa rosada (white house equivalent) with daily public front of casa rosada the famous circumnavigation of the madres de los desaparecidos in the plaza de mayo, who continue to press for full disclosure and justice which has been itinerant at best in Argentina. The late Nestor Kirchner did much to revive the effort, and the current president, Cristina Fernandez Kirchner is doing the same, unlike the previous Reagan-like Menem who handed out pardons. Speaking of which, regardless what you think of the current president, Cristina Fernandez Kirchner, she is a trip. She DOES NOT wear suits ala Hillary or Dianne Feinstein..she wears cocktail dresses. Call me a fag, but it's important. Sure, Maggie Thatcher and Angela Merkel and Bachelet and Rousseff are all pioneers, along with many others, but Cristina packs a feminine punch none of them come close to, and frankly I'm feelin' the girlpower (is it related to Evita? I dont know, something I want to explore, but I dont think so, no one seems to mention it, except for London Times in 07:
Don't ask me about Argentine men just yet, I keep meeting Peruvians. Don't get me wrong, I love Peruvians, but I'm in Bs As! anyway, I go to the school for my placement test and Nuria, who does intake, is sort of tripping on me. She says she's not sure how to place me as I talk a mean streak of spanish but it's all over the place and not necessarily correct. She is impressed that I navigate conversation so well but that I really have a pretty shoddy foundation....could be said for much of my charmed life I suppose. Anyway, it got me into the intermediate course which was my goal as I'd die in either beginners or advanced, the first out of boredom, the second out of frustration. She asked me:  how are you learning spanish?...I answered: sort of winging it and just going for it, and pretty much talking to everybody and figuring it out, which led to peels of laughter.
I do love talking to people, which makes learning a language easier...i could care less if I sound like an idiot, I can still connect....
Ok, I am weirdly annoyed by Brahma beer's tv ad, which I keep hearing:  the soundtrack is Sylvester's "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real" which is a  beautiful song from 70s gay liberation and is all about wounded unconnected people discovering others like themselves and finding love and connection. It's one of the few 'gay' songs that makes me actually cry--and now it's selling beer in Argentina? So what is making one feel real?...alcohol? wow, there's a slippery slope indeed. All I asked for was a hammock!
Co-opted music is always surreal...makes me think of how Reagan used Springsteen's "Born in the USA" which only succeeded because no one listened to the words--except the chorus of course, since being born in the USA is apparently enough (like the rainbow that way, eh?) (Hitler's adage about telling a lie 5 times equals a truth)
Which leads me to my final thought. I keep getting emails from Citibank since I opened an account with them to once again circumvent ripoffs. As Citi is an intl. bank, it charges no fees unlike BofA or Wells Fargo which dock you $5 every time you do an atm withdrawl. Then again, you can do free intl. $  transfer via Banco Frances if you have Wells Fargo....everyone else charges $25-$50, including Citi. OK, boring, but goes to show you have to do your research. Corporations are all about ripping you off and reassuring you (parenting?), which is a weird mix, but I  bring it up because Citi is offering me healthcare of all things. It made me think about corporatization and how it's really the next (or already current) wave of political reality. People will likely get their healthcare and who knows what else (postal needs, car registration, retirement, connection, love....make me feel real, Citibank) via rewards type set-ups via credit cards, which means if you use their card you will be taken care of. If you don't, good luck--no love for you. Another pay-for-play scheme which only favors those with means of course. Well, I just finished reading James Joll's The Anarchists ( on the plane and am of course thinking of how cynical and capitalist hegenomonic (not sure if thats a word) political reality has become in this century (Then again, Anarchism is one of the most beautiful tragic idealisms ever, and to read about its potential and efforts in the Spanish Civil War is to become so disillusioned, it hurts. Of course, Anarchism is just way ahead of its time--or has way too high a regard for human nature. They were so right about Marxism, and for all the right reasons. Viva Kropotkin. And be forewarned that Joll is a historian not an anarchist per se). Now I'm reading the Argentine Reader (eds Nouzeilles y Montaldo:, a really excellent primer for all things Argentine with more than 50 contributors (the single best volume on Argentine stuff I've found so far after reading Sabato, Borges, Aira, Echeverria, Cortazar, Ocampo, Eloy Martinez, Chatwin....all recommended and all included in the Argentine Reader except Chatwin, who is of course English).
OK, I love the Argentine flag, it has zero nationalistic bs, it's just sun and sky and clouds...gracias Manuel Belgrano. Then again, there is debate...
I like the Mary reference, but you can make up your own mind about the Bourbon stuff. The impression remains the same: sun and sky and clouds and it has a weird way of asserting something other than a lot of the bad stuff that has happened here. It feels to me like an ideal (which of course colors it with sorrow for Argentina, which has had many setbacks vis-a-vis its realization) So, it's like the more perfect union idea, what we are striving for. A flag should be a potential or the symbol of a dream that we work toward realizing.. Only I've never liked the ideal of the American flag, which seems mostly libertarian and very 'dont tread on me' which is a negative expression. We should replace our stars with Argentine suns and our stripes should go and clouds, tree and dirt...I'm happy with brown and green stripes....adios for now...remember the sky and sun and clouds and may we all realize our various potentials.