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.

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