Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Strange Things

There are many, but I'll share just a few. Yellow lights follow green lights, but they also follow red lights, which warns people to proceed with caution before gunning it with the green. I think this is a good idea, but may only be the result of the insane amount of red-light running here. No one is ever ticketed, or not that I've seen. The police only seem to hassle people over parking.

Milk in bags. I thought about this for awhile before finally asking someone. It's like a pillow basically, which means it's great for muscle pulls but spills all over the place when you try to pour with it, and you better have some kind of decanter to prop it up in afterward. As it turns out, most Argentines have these plastic containers that the bags fit into. Of course there isn't one in my apartment.

The Mothers of the Disappeared is now flush with cash and has its own fleet of trucks. They have raised enormous amounts of money, mostly because they are favored by the Kirchneristas (Cristina's and Nestor's base within the 7-headed monster that is Peronism). Peron set a dangerous precedent by making unions part of the labor department. That's no longer the case with unions though they have a lot of pull within the Peronist party, but nonprofits like the Mothers are often more or less sucked into the government and act like a large bureaucracy--there was a huge money-laundering scandal with them last year as they now build low income housing with their enormous endowment, and no surprise, money was being funnelled into offshore accounts.

The endless, and laugh out loud, absurdity of what I can only call Italian machismo. OK, get this: a straight guy has a 'culo de oro'--that's a pure gold ass because it's untouched by other men. A bisexual has a gold-plated ass and a queer has nothing but what we usually think of as an ass since its no longer pure. This is some sort of weird Catholic version of male virginity I suppose.

There is, as well, the usual regard for comic Latin chivalry. The Stella Artois ads are a case in point. It's the only decent beer here and they have the Argentine market down...the whole faux-French retro-romantic thing--think tango and the Parisian-style cafes. And of course, made by an English advertising agency. Watch the commercial--which is a slightly longer version than the one that runs on TV here (this one is also in English), but you'll get the point:
Here's a more comic type 'Italianate' Argentina soda ad:

Another amazing aspect of Argentine culture is the sheer volume and visibility of transexuals. There are several famous ones on TV and in theaters and you see many in the street. They take no shit and are generally left alone to be who they are. No one stares at them here, but many live pretty tough urban lives as prostitutes...

Political correctness never happened here. These are cannibal cakes complete with bones through the hair.

And yes, there is apparently a school for making empanadas. Having attempted them several times, I can attest to how difficult it actually is.

the lovely ombu tree in Plaza San Martin...very banyan like, from the pampas

There should always be a big bookstore across the street from any church, just in case people need a second opinion

As a young poet in San Francisco, I used to create my own chapbooks. Most poets start this way and it was nice to see this box of homemade poetry chapbooks with cardboard covers here in Argentina as well.

Argentines have a funny way of saying 'basta' this or 'basta' means 'enough already' and this one is perfect. And here's a good article to set things straight about that whole KONY song-and-dance of recent months: 

Grafitti of Gauchito Gil, the Argentine folk saint I wrote about last year ..

Cristina without makeup--doesn't she look a lot better?

You can say that again, the cult of Nestor is beginning to rival Peron and even Evita, which is how it's done here (As one of my teachers once said: they only vote for the dead here). The business of mythologizing Nestor is sort of like the Reagan myth, except that he's of the Peronist left. But there are all sorts of little squares named after him and his image is everywhere. And the big blue 'K' of the Kirchneristas, which can be seen at every demonstration, are a constant reminder of his efforts--and Cristina's--at rejuvenating the Peronist left. He died of a heart attack two years ago which is why Cristina always wears black. Their idea had been to switch off as President so they could dominate for 16 years. It likely would have happened. Since Nestor is gone, Cristina is now working toward changing the constitution so she can run for a third term. Most people seem to be OK with it as they are nervous because there are neither viable oppostion candidates nor a viable successor. As for the traditional rightwing or centrist opposition, it vanished with the middle class after the default and peso collapse of 2001 and is now basically led by the press, La Nacion and Clarin, the two largest dailies that are constantly after Cristina and the K.

There was a rock concert to celebrate the expropriation from Spain of the nation's oil industry (can you imagine a rock concert for an oil company...well it's a little different, but still, it's weird). And yes, hosted by the Mothers of the Disappeared. The connection may not be obvious at first, but this is how Peronist nationalism works....According to the Peronist Youth and Movimiento Evita the oil company was stolen from us and we're taking it back (It was actually sold during the Menem Administration), the Malvinas were stolen from us (It was retaken by Britain after an Argentine invasion) and our children were stolen (this part is true, and real). But we've got Spain, Britain and the Argentine dictatorship all implicated here as on the same side. On some meta level between right and left, or on a historical or class level, it's arguably true, but especially from a Peronist perspective, it plays well. Because Peronism is about the working people, or so they say. Certainly, Peronism has always used the working people and poor as its base, but whether they deliver is another thing. I think in some ways they do, but it's an awful lot of talk and none of them since the Perons themselves have been that beneficial to the working people in terms of actual economic realities, like wages and living standards. It's more of a Populist movement acting out a socialist fantasy. A sort of necessary evil perhaps because the right has such an abysmal record of governing or improving the lives of working Argentines. As my friend Gaspar, one of my brightest friends here, explains...

you can't understand Argentina unless you understand the conquest of Patagonia and the big land giveaways to the general/capitalist guys (the new world Spanish system basically and very feudal). I love comments like that. You have to keep going deeper to really understand anything, especially in politics and economics. As for K Peronists, Gaspar says their whole approach is to keep the young involved and so they present everything on an adolescent level. I think that is spot on (and it's what the right does in the US). For example, Argentina expropriated the half of YPF that was Spanish controlled (51% controlling interest). They didn't expropriate the other 49%, much of which is owned by US and European oil companies. Peronists never mention these details as it seems that money/power/nationalism are their prime motivators, at least from what I've seen. Which is the reality of politics certainly, but one can't help but roll their eyes at the blatant propaganda that it is otherwise.

I'm guessing it was Peronist Youth who plastered this wall with images of Peron. They were pasted right over  posters of Monica Lopez, a prominent feminist, who is also incidentally a Peronist, but not a Kirchnerista. Which is the perfect segue into what I'm reading right now..Orwell's Homage to Catalonia which is all about the fracturing on the left.

the horrible hot pink lights that illuminate the Casa Rosada (the white house of Argentina) at night

genial...buena onda...riquisimo

The old mailboxes which we refer to as statues. None function and people sometimes put garbage in them, but never letters. For those you have to go to the post office.

Mumbai, the Indian restaurant I had chosen for my birthday was closed (many things were as May 1 is International workers day), so we chanced upon a Hungarian restaurant which we thought was interesting for its novelty if nothing else. Much ghoulash was had, and comments shared about how I was born on the day of the worker when I've spent so much time not working (perhaps its one of the perks). Besides, May Day is also Beltane, which is more what I'm about.
And, since coincidences happen constantly here (I'm beginning to think magic realism in Latin literature was not an invention, but just a reflection of things as they are), we were drawn to the restaurant's name since we had listened to this aria from the opera Turandot the day before:

The above poorly-photographed banner by yours truly was about nuclear waste storage. Which is happening near the airport. One of the dumber ideas by some bureaucracy I'd guess. Putting nuclear waste next to the main entry point of the country. Can you imagine an accident or contamination and the airport closes for 6 weeks? Adios Argentine economy. This is a no brainer. There are two nuclear plants in Argentina. Interestingly, these signs were in English and Spanish, which is never the case in protests here. I think they were obviously looking for international attention as the nuclear issue is an international one. Note the white scarves made of tiles on the pavement. Those are in honor of hte Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (aka Mothers of the Disappeared) who circumambulated the central obelisk here in the Plaza de Mayo and arguably were a major factor in bringing down one of the most despicable dictatorships in history.

This is a permanent protest encampment about the lack of benefits for Las Malvinas (Falklands War) veterans. It is annoying that the Malvinas are constantly used politically to gain points and promote nationalism/patriotism, while the vets, many disabled, languish in poverty. Of course, the same can be said for the US. People ask me about homeless people in the US, and I mention that many are veterans.

Italian dance cultural event in the city Tarantella

A 19th-century well with attendant modern trash and grafitti

The Guido Palace Hotel. Just liked the name.

The film festival just wrapped up and now the book festival is going on. I stopped in to have a look....

(Note to Stella: they had a t-shirt, but I didn't like it, so you still need to find me one with the flag!)

Sorry about the focus on this pic, but it's interesting to see how many Marxist/Anarchist/Socialist works are read here. In the US, as we know, the majority of people rarely have even a basic clue about political theory, but here you see books by Bakunin, Proudhon, Kropotkin, Marx, etc. in every bookstore, often prominently displayed in windows. Of course, these books hold more cache in a country and among a population that knows firsthand the abuses these thinkers are addressing, and have experienced the worst excesses and outright failures of capitalism. There was never land reform here of any substantial kind, it's always been a privileged rich man's game. Every kid who goes to college can talk about all of this political theory on the level that only kids into the progressive left do in the US (a smaller and smaller subset of students sadly as our universities devolve into high tech vocational schools)

This was a weird installation. Since the US is not in South America, and this is a South American Book Fair (although there were Israel and Armenia booths--I'm guessing because they have large populations here and the common history of genocide that Argentina shares). Anyway, the US booth was all about getting a U.S. visa, which is actually very hard to get. There was a video welcoming Argentines to the US...but get a visa first. Which you usually can't get. But it was nice to show Ezequiel the books with photos of National Parks on this shelf. He's never actually been to a waterfall. So we hope to go to one of the biggest in the world in June..Iguazu.

Buenos Aires has one big mosque (lots of Syrians and Lebanese here)...Ezequiel is half Syrian, but raised Catholic in a totally Argentine Spanish/Italian town so he has no real connection to the culture, though he likes Middle Eastern food as much as I do.

The book fair took place in La Rural, a huge convention center (campus really) where all this kind of stuff happens. Originally, it was for big cattle shows, thus the name.

And finally, a spanish-speaking infant....

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