Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mar Del Plata

Mar del Plata is a big beach town--a city really--about 5 hours southeast of the capital. I guess it's sort of like Atlantic City as it's the traditional beach escape for Buenos Aires and has been for 100 years, so it's enormous, with big hotels, casinos, Vegas-type shows and private beaches. It's a zoo during the summer months (January, February), but it was delightful tranquil in March.

It's also famous for odder things, such as the 11-story fall of a famous comedian/actor, Alberto Olmedo
the video:

and the place where the poet Alfonsina Storni walked into the sea (suicide)

and where a young girl named Evalina went on hunger strike in the hopes that Evita would be the vice presidential candidate when Peron was running for a second term in 1952. By this time, Evita's popularity was eclipsing her husband's, and his advisors (and probably Peron himself, an unsentimental powermonger and probably threatened by the fact she was outshining him) wouldn't allow it. It was the ulitmate betrayal of all she'd done for him. But he also knew she had cancer by then, and he kept it from her when the doctors informed him, so he used it ultimately as the excuse that she wasn't up for the job. Who knows, the drama and opera of the Perons is too much for anyone to get their head around. Sadly Evalina, who was fasting in one of these beach tents (lots of private beaches here--thank goodness this isn't allowed in California, pictured below, was washed out to sea when an enormous storm hit, or so the story goes.

This may all sound a tad morbid, but they're kind of into death here, in a very different way than in the US. It has a more religious feel here than a scandalous one, or as if it's a moment of failure. I don't know, this is a developing idea I guess, but I think death in America is treated sort of like poverty, as if it were a weakness. That's pretty twisted. There's a darkness here, but it's real so you sort of embrace it? Again, just a developing idea, as such things don't digest fast. But death is definitely not 'other' here.

The casino


I like the ceramic art on the building on the left

It was a relief to enjoy seafood for days on end, as it's hard to come by in meat-obsessed Buenos Aires.
We ate like pigs at Chichilo, a huge Seafood place down at the port, founded by an Italian family after WWII, where we enjoyed merluza, paella, rabas (squid) and bunuelos de algas marinas (seaweed and flour fritters)

the fat man post-feast. I'm running, but I'm gaining weight in this fat-centered diet. I need my fresh, light California cuisine!

Speaking of fat, these medialunas (the standard breakfast of Argentines, along with coffee) are the size of cats. One can choose between medialunas de grasa (that's fat as in meat fat) or medialunas de manteca (which is butter here). Either way, you're doomed. We called these giant puppies Media-planetas

I love to walk, and so does Ezequiel. We walked about 10 miles through Mar del Plata which is the best way to get to know a place and to find weird off the beaten track phenomena.

One comes across things like this when one gets away from the main thoroughfares. Evangelism. An invasion of God's love...nothing like military analogies to make one feel loved. This one features a sign with, I guess, an angel/cherub/infant, same difference (white-skinned and blue-eyed. This  makes one wince as there's a very pronounced color prejudice here. Note God's big nose and dark hair. Let's see, God is a Mediterranean with a corporate haircut but the angels are Norwegian?)
Nothing makes Catholicism a relief like the above. And wouldn't you know it, we next found a Lourdes Grotto in our peregrinations. And say what you will, but these places have good energy. I think because people bring their best selves here. A Lourdes Grotto attracts people who are in serious trouble sincerely asking for help. It was truly a sanctuary. I think people need to drop the theology and concentrate on the place. Quiet caves are good things.

But all good things must come to an end, and right next door to the grotto was this cheesy piece of Catholic kitsch, complete with mechanical assumption into heaven (and I mean loud, clunking chain mechanical)

It was a full-on model Holy Land, with over-sized ducks and creche figurines walking around. I spotted several magi, meandering about alone, looking lost, and way too many shepherds. Speaking of religion.....

Shoe store named for the city of my birth

This fountain was in front of our little worker co-op hotel. You can walk across those blue parts and there is a flame burning in the center. It memorializes local boys lost in the Malvinas War. Always so sad to see names with dates that add up to about 20 years.

Cervantes is everywhere. It's funny because there are Plaza San Martin's in every city (he's the great liberator who drove the Spanish out of Arg, Chile, Peru) and there's always a statue of San Martin in those plazas. In the Plaza de Espana's, also ubiquitous, there's always a Don Quixote.

 I like this sculpture but it's weirdly in honor of real estate brokers. Go figure. There are probably few people less heroic or commendable than real estate brokers.

This was too good to pass up (note fresh turd at left). The amount of dog shit and litter in Argentina is embarrassing.

Only a matter of time. Skater culture has finally been co-opted. Skater culture is big here, and I like it. It's like a way for young guys to be macho and aggressive without hurting anyone else. More skaters, less football, less war.

A typical Argentina suburban house. Weird architecture, I'm not quite sure what it is...a weird Spanish/Italian/German hybrid.
Then we bussed home in the rain....moving like a......

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

La Bandera, La Grasa, La Iglesia, La Pena y La Peron


The Argentines love their flag, and though it seems to represent only football to many of them, I think it's the colors that really make it so likeable...there's nothing really martial in it, nothing bold and forceful about that baby blue--not like all the red, white and blues of France, Britain, the US. Manuel Belgrano, the arguably gay boy among the founding fathers, designed it. 

Sarmiento (the other man of reason in Argentina's somewhat tragic and emotional history) said the blue stood for the sky, and the white for reason, with the sun of enlightenment in the center. All about transcendance... very 19th century, and very painful considering how much this country has struggled, and its people suffered, to transcend its brutal, and typically Spanish Colonial past.

They call this tower "El Big Ben del Sur". It was built by the British in 1909 to commemorate the centennial and stands in front of the main Retiro train station, close to where I'm now living (The British built Argentina's railroad system and have been involved in its economic development since the beginning). Many Argentines idealize the British for their efficiency and organization, something a bit elusive here.


As much as they display it, they don't seem to have the same respect for it as Americans do theirs (this one is in the park in front of the National Congress building), but then again, the flag is subject to the same casual attitude as traffic lights, train maintenance, law enforcement and corruption in general. It is, in that sense, representitive, a true symbol of its nation. 


Con todo....with everything except the 'r' that is. The simple joys of learning a new language are often reduced to noticing misspellings. 


The dietic challenges here are immense for a person who is trying to keep his fat intake at a reasonable level. Even the empanadas de verduras are oozing with cheese. Below is an empanada de carne, complete with olives and eggs. 


...aka Empanadas Arabes, the middle eastern style empanadas....spicier and eaten with a lemon that you squirt into it. Quite good, and lethal to the cardiovascular system.
I'm eating a lot of olives--sans empanada--one of the few healthy snacks I can find. There is a bit of a health movement here but this is a serious meat culture, and changing eating habits is about as easy as dispensing with Catholicism, which is also a slog, but happening here slowly as well. 

In case there was any doubt about the church's unholy alliance with violence, that's a tank on the front lawn at the Naval Academy's chapel.

Gay marriage is of course legal, though there is still religious opposition... 

According to “Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia” (1998), “Argentinians endured some of the most brutal campaigns of official and unofficial persecution of lesbians and gay men anywhere in the 20th century.” After the military coup of March 24, 1976, “some 400 gay men were ‘disappeared’ – kidnapped, barbarically tortured, and executed . . . Encouraged by Roman Catholic church leaders, the dictatorship raided and closed gay bars, arresting as many as 1,400 men in a particularly brutal 1978 campaign that took place on the eve of the World Cup soccer tournament in Buenos Aires.  In 1982 and 1983, the last two years of the dictatorship, paramilitary groups assassinated a number of gay men working in the arts. . . .” 

....and just yesterday they finally legalized abortion in cases of rape. In the past, no abortion was legal.

 The absolute best experience last week was "La Pena Jujuena." Penas are gatherings where folkloric music is played and they're sort of carneval-esque. 'Jujuena' means from Jujuy, which is in the far north near Bolivia, a mostly indigenous province, so this pena was unique to that region. Ezequiel's friend Victor is a Jujueno and invited us along. 

At left, Victor, 'la juje' (his gay Jujuy-inspired nickname). This is at a Peruvian restaurant, the absolute best and least fat-inspired cuisine available in Buenos Aires. Sadly, most of the vegetarian restaurants in Buenos Aires are run by Chinese immigrants and heavy on grease.

anyway, back to the pena.....

...I felt like I was standing on a platform all night as I towered over the crowd. The crowd carried a devil aloft which I was told symbolizes his being freed from his earthly confines and set loose so that the people go crazy for a time. They then dust your face with talcum powder to pull the bad spirits out of you and refresh you for the coming year. It was a blast and pretty insane after a few hours.

 I prefer this music to tango, which is a bit dour and nostalgic for my tastes--or maybe just my mood right now. Folklorico is of the people, of the land, and full of great energy. It has no interest in being European, even though its Spanish influence is obvious. It's definitely native at heart--or at least gaucho, which here means having gone native in a way our cowboys never did--with lots of Andean flutes, drums, etc. 

the zamba


Jorge Gordilla with his fiddle. He was accompanied by an incredible guitarist (not pictured) who played so hard I was sure the instrument would splinter and fly into pieces. His voice kept up with it too. Wish I could find him online, but no luck so far...all I know is his name is Brian from Entre Rios :)

After finishing Santa Evita, I'm slogging through Eloy Martinez's The Peron Novel, which is far less intriguing as Juan's just not as interesting a person. A philosophy forged by military training is just not the same as the girl from nowhere who made it all the way to the top. But he did have ideals and he was better than the rest of the army types, so you gotta give him that. I guess saying someone could have been worse is a bit of a backhanded compliment, but considering how bad the military has behaved in this country, he comes off as a very reasonable person who, though arguably fascistic, for the most part eschewed violence unlike his colleagues who seemed to revel in it, almost orgiastically by the 1970s dictatorship. The fact that his own military turned on him--as did the church--is to his credit. And again, he did believe the state had a responsibility to the poor and working class (not just the rich), which is why his legacy has survived, although it morphs in the strangest ways from left to right, all the way to indigenous:



Peronism talks a good game, but the results don't seem too evident. More and more it seems to me like the fat cat Peronists behave like old time cuadillos and retain power by depending on an uneducated desperate lower class, who they throw their patronage towards. The train crash is a case in point. The private company that was awarded the franchise is heavily subsidized by the government in order to keep tickets cheap. But apparently the company (run by a family that is friends with the president's) didn't use said subsidies to maintain the system. What did they use the money for? Need one ask? The other cynical thing are these staged marches which are apparently paid for by the various Peronist factions. That is very Peronist as Peron himself used the same tactics, calling the people into the streets and encouraging a sort of mob frenzy to intimidate the oppostion. It's sad to have to say, it's better than the alternative, though that seems to be a general consensus.

with VP Boudou, once a potential heir apparent, now embroiled in a corruption scandal

No one knows what will happen here once Cristina's term run outs, but one person said, 'maybe they'll change the constitution and she can get another term.' Such is democracy in Argentina. 


Below, Juan Domingo (in plaster) eyes Ezequiel from across "Cafe Con Peron", a party-affiliated coffeeshop on the former site of Juan and Evita's home. Like all things Juan and Evita, the dictatorship that followed them destroyed the house and all images and memories of them, even outlawing the mention of their names.


The government is running out of money financing this cast-iron image of Evita on the Health Ministry's building. That's Don Quixote on the right.

Lots of cute children as always, and this one must be dreaming of Jesus or martyrdom.
Speaking of which, my personal imp or 'familiar,' or low-maintenance child, Henry, made the trip and has been enjoying the city....

Henry is holy as well. I'm a Buddhist Agnostic, but I do love to pray. Perhaps it's an indication of my alienation as it always makes me feel connected to people to light candles for them and send good wishes. Or maybe it's just the long slow withdrawl from Catholicism which is a monster of a mindset to dispense with. I'm working on it. In the meantime, send me your prayer requests.