Tuesday, July 26, 2011

La Provincia


The weird 'welcome to Claypole' sign which is a sort of tropical fantasy in the middle of the very rough and tumble province where no one goes on vacation. Ezequiel grew up here in Claypole about 2 hours south of the city and we went down for his Mom's birthday. 

Here's the family, a really nice group of people, all of whom work hard and fight the good fight in a town where a lot of people don't: left to right..cousin, aunt, Jessica Eze's sister, me, Eze, Marco his fraternal twin bro, his Mom, Sylvana who is Marco's wife and that's their son Santino, and then one more cousin. One often can't help but wonder how does a nice family like this stay so nice in a place like Claypole. People have been asking such questions forever, and who knows, but I have to give a great deal of credit to Eze's mom who is a really great lady and clearly a good mother who raised really good kids, and told endless stories of Ezequiel disappearing for whole days, which worried her as she was terrified, and rightfully so, in the rough barrio they live in. But Eze has a weird angelic quality and everyone likes him and he'd just be out, even as a kid, making random friends. 

There are lots of Gaucho Gil shrines in Claypole as he is the patron saint of thieves, among other things, and Claypole has a very large population of 'ladrones' (thieves), many of whom are Eze's former classmates. It's a tough place, full of gangs and corrupt cops and you pretty much can't go out at night. He told me a lot of stories as we greeted various neighborhood denizens while we wandered the streets. I wouldn't feel safe coming here alone, but since Eze is a nice guy and has that likeable angelic nature and knows all these people, they don't bother him or his friends. It was good for me to see this other part of Argentina as in the cities and tourist attractions you pretty much see mostly only the more fortunate folks. Claypole is in better shape than it was several years back according to Eze, and it's more evidence that no matter what you think of Nestor and Cristina, the country has improved markedly under their leadership for all its flaws. Many of the apt. blocks in Claypole were once govt subsidized but they all got privatized under Menem who is often blamed for a lot of what's gone wrong here economically since the dictatorship (as mentioned in previous posts, it was the usual neoliberal privatizing orgy which is always paid for by the middle and working class, while the businessman fatten their wallets and build new skyscrapers..chile, britain, US, etc. What is especially horrible here is that all the debt was dumped on the populace who had their currency devalued by 2/3. Who knows where that money went...likely offshore. This is a wealthy country and it's impossible to see the debt as anything other than a ripoff by one class against another, or as the lady in Cordoba thinks... one political group against another. Whatever the case, it's unconscionable and I plan to do more reading on the subject when I get home as I can't quite get my head around what's happened here). I mean imagine what happened here in 2001 happening in the US. One day, the banks close and the newspaper tells you your $1 is now worth 30 cents. The middle class became the lower class overnight.
And then there's the police. The police have a terrible reputation in Claypole and in BsAs (the current mayor of the city was actually kidnapped and ransomed back to his family by what turned out to be the metropolitan police). In Claypole it's a little more 'street' as thieves and other criminals pay the cops hush money. There's a very high rate of escapes from the local jail as well which is likely a mixture of the same corruption as well as lax security...and more ominously, resulting in cops killing fugitives when they come across them (esp. when they stop paying), justifying these assassinations as 'justice' since escaped criminals generally are given very little consideration by the larger society and considered fair game. A policeman mistakenly shot an innocent bystander in San Telmo this week while pursuing a thief...he pulled out his gun on a busy street at 5 o'clock to shoot at the criminal and hit someone else. He's now claiming the gun fell out of his holster and shot by itself. Many people concur that the police don't protect people, they kill them. Eze told me tons more stories from Claypole but I'm not that comfortable sharing individuals' tragic stories on a blog, so if interested, I can share more with whomever would like to talk about it. Just send me an email.

the ubiquitous perro callejero

Meanwhile, back in my neighborhood in BA...we just can't get over how tacky the name of this place and its sign are.

The communist party has moved in across the street, into the same building as a bank, which is kind of funny.

Finishing yet another version of my novel Faun

We also took a trip out to Tigre, which is upriver and used to be the port of entry for all the fruit/veggies from the more tropical climes to the north. Now it's a tourist trap with refurbished docks and wharves full of kitschy tourist stuff. There are lots of summer homes here as it's a big delta, a maze of rivers, which makes it much cooler in the summer and fun for boating, etc.

palos borrachos!

someone is refurbishing this cool old house

Back in BsAS, we took a final walk through San Telmo, where last time through we'd had a lovely meeting with Maggie at Bar Federal (Maggie's traveling around the world and is now in South Africa)

PROAMuseum in La Boca....Ezequiel and Jose Maria (Haity), and of course, Maradona and a cow

An interesting memorial this one, as they constructed a sort of shadow of the Israeli embassy that once stood here before it was blown up (culprits never found which hints at Argentine govt. collusion or hushing up at least)
And sadly, it's not the only bombing...two years later, terrorists blew up the Argentine Israelite Mutual Assoc which killed even more people

More street commentary on the controversy over money laundering by Schoklender while working with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Schoklender as priest with Hebe as the devil) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebe_de_Bonafini..
http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergio_Schoklender (you'll need to google translate this one)

Below:  sitting with Mafalda in San Telmo, who is sort of the Peanuts equivalent down here (but more political).

The weird passion of soccer fans which seems almost thuggish. I dislike River Plate (previous post outlined rioting by fans after they were beat by Cordoba's Club Belgrano, which basically knocked River Plate into B level play) River Plate is all about money and expecting to win. Viva Belgrano!!

Across town in the Abasto, we were accosted by a police officer who insisted we be witnesses in a dispute next door to Cafe Roma. Luckily, I dodged it as I'm not a resident (he didn't even care that I was a US citizen and not Argentine). Anyway, as it turns out, the above building has been occupied for 3 months by 4 disgruntled workers (spanish speakers, pls see graffiti). I talked to the owner for awhile so I only got his side of the story, but he seemed to me like a reasonable person. His main complaint (aside from whatever dispute he was having with the union) was that it had taken the police 3 months to finally address the issue. He made the usual complaint of 'this country' which everyone uses. It's interesting because no one ever says that in the US. It's never 'this country' its 'those people' or 'that policy' etc. But here it's the country that gets blamed. It's a weird identity complex and sort of speaks of a hopelessness that's a real bummer. A woman I know got mugged. Her response: 'this country' shaking her head.
Anyway, the policemen ushered Eze and another witness in with the lawyers and an hour later, let them go. The owner also told me he partly blamed Cristina as he felt she lets the unions drag disputes out and doesn't enforce anything against them as it's too costly politically. This is likely somewhat true as the unions and CGT ...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Confederation_of_Labour_(Argentina)....have enormous power here and can round up and produce enormous demonstrations on a dime and often do, apparently sometimes even paying those demonstrating. To their credit, they brought down several military govts. so whatever you think of them, they are better than those who oppose them generally. No one works clean or fair in Argentina is the sad conclusion.

Once I'd worn out my Spanish with the owner, I sat nearby drinking coffee at Cafe Roma, one of my fave old man cafes, which was the point and why we'd headed over to the Abasto in the first place

 The Bicentennial Museum that just opened behind the Casa Rosada is incredible and highly recommended, one of the best and most informative museums in Argentina. I had expected something lame and/or propaganda-like as it opened during an election year in the backyard of the reigning president. And granted, there is a bit of that, with the historical videos ending on a hopeful note of....after all we've been thru, nestor and cristina came along and its a new day and everything is moving in the right direction for the first time in a hundred years or more......then again, there's even a bit of truth to that. The history of Argentina is a rough one.
A few horrible facts: 649 soldiers were killed in the Malvinas (Falklands War) and 400 more committed suicide afterwards, which got me thinking of all the sad and disturbing news I've been hearing about returning vets in the US. And as for the budget mess (more for vets by the way, por favor), do any of those idiots ever think of the rest of the world? It angers me that a lot of Americans think it's great America has so much economic power, but if that is true, what about the responsibility? The default threat is now affecting other economies, and there are people who will go hungry because John Boehner is more interested in applying his sun-in and his arrogance than thinking about others (oh they're all Christians right? What an embarrassment...the whole world is watching and they look like buffoons).

Same as it ever was, eh, speaking of buffoonery.....in their role as the Hollywood couple, Juan and Eva

The Justicialista! I love this car, but what a name... Peron had it named after his political movement. Oh, he's not a fascist right? Sheesh. One of my teachers told the horror story of how university teachers were fired (her grandpa was one) if they wouldn't wear mourning armbands for Evita when she passed away. Anyway, the Justicialista was Peron's attempt to initiate an auto industry, but it didn't last....http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IAME_Justicialista

A horrible photo of a great allegorical painting that takes on the entire history of Argentina.....Eve in the middle as earth mother spawning Eva in her hand is priceless.....

Meanwhile, across town, is the Evita Museum. And yes folks, even Evita was once a clown 

A lot of her outfits were on display, as are my poor photography skills. To my credit, the camera sucks

Eva as the virgin mary is a recurrent theme that is really disturbing. Yes, she was very kind to orphans and was a working class person who never forgot where she came from and always helped those who had to live in the poverty she escaped. It's why she is loved by the poor and the working class Peronists. She was actually designated spiritual mother of the country, which easily morphed into mother of god. And she accepted the title. Anyway, it all just hints at the creepy connection between fascism and catholicism, which is like an iron chain, and if you doubt that, study fascism and you'll always find a big fat Catholic rat scurrying about. This may sound odd coming from a Virgin Mary aficionado like myself, but a lot of my interest in the BVM is camp, esp. when it reaches this exploitive level. Remember, I only like Buddha-Mary! Like any mythic image, she's been co-opted aplenty and used for all manner of things. This also makes me think of the movie Elizabeth which I saw a few weeks back...as you'll recall, the Virgin Queen accepted the spiritual mother position as well, co-opting the archetypal power of it as mythic spiritual mother of the protestant British Empire.

Evita also died at 33, the same age as Christ, so how can one not see the inevitably of her legacy...it's a little weird and operatic, and her glamorous life is in many ways a very sad one.  Even those who don't like her appreciate she gave women the vote. For all her flaws, she did fight for justice more than her husband ever did (one has the sense she was overly sentimental whereas he was brutally pragmatic) and was the better of the two. I feel about her a little like I feel about Che, though they were radically different people. They both wanted to do what they felt was right but weren't terribly enlightened about it---and in that way they were like all of us (albeit with enormous Argentine egos. As the joke goes: how does an Argentine commit suicide?..... By jumping off his ego).
With all the endless Che t-shirts, I finally saw the bluntly truest. The Che beret pic, but it's Marilyn Monroe's face where Che's should be under the beret, mole on cheek, lipstick and all :).
OK, this may be my last entry, but I'll try to do one more. I'm feeling a little sad. As I told Mili today in my last class (I took a final 4 private classes with my my fave teacher), I feel comfortable here and I REALLY like the people and I've been blest with amazing friends, especially the very generous and so-funny ever-delightful Ezequiel. I miss my family and friends of course, and I miss the mountains and burritos. The rest, well, I don't know, I can take it or leave it.

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