Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Iguazu redux

You may have thought, broad readership, that last week's Iguazu Falls video tour was the only post I'd be offering ye about the Iguazu experience. Well, you'd be wrong about that, and herein lies your correction. For Iguazu was not the kind of experience that can be contained in but a single post, and while I am not going to bore anyone--self included--with a series of useless superlatives to describe the waterfall, there were salient details of the trip that bear retelling, which I will herein retell.

Firstly: the Iguazu trip began early on a Sat AM, at Aeroparque Jorge Newbery. This is the point of departure for domestic flights within Argentina, and is commonly known as the "aeroparque" as opposed to "Ezeiza" which is the international hub. The destination was Iguazu (obv.) in the state of Misiones, which is a nub that protrudes out of the northwest of the country up toward its intersection with Paraguay and Brazil.

The first impression I had upon landing in Misiones was the blessed, blessed warmth of the atmosphere. Bs As is many good things, but during the "summer" (June-Aug, that is), it is not warm. But Misiones, happily, was, and the tropical sunrays were a blessed change from the dank citification of BA.

We had but a moment to change and regroup before heading out from our very nice hotel out to an open-topped jeep that was taking us to various excursions. The first was ziplining, which triggered DF's well-known fear of heights quite intensely. Despite aforementioned fear, I managed to zipline very efficiently, and my only regret was that the experience ended so quickly that I barely had time to realize I'd conquered my vertigo and that I was enjoying myself.

Then came rapelling, which raises all manner of double-entendre possibilities (e.g., "repelling", "repellent" "I repel myself"), but in fact required us all to launch ourselves backward off the lip of a steep cliff and bounce laterally down to a creek bed below. This is both easier and harder than it sounds. Easier, because it's all managed by competent Arg gentlemen who more or less assure that even if you freaked out and flailed like a newborn, you'd avoid death. And harder, because if you don't manage to execute it quite right, you can go into a tilt or a spin and find yourself humiliated if not in danger.

My result was adequate if not spectacular. I managed to avoid any major fracases but did not descend as gracefully as I might have. The trip to the bottom also afforded the chance to explore the creekbed, and a nearby waterfall that provided a small taste of the Iguazu experience the next day, at least in the sense that taking a bath prepared Titanic victims for the ship's foundering.

Night came, and back at the hotel I looked forward to a decent night's sleep free from the noises of the various deafening clubs located infelicitously downstairs from my otherwise very nice depto. Hence the borderline-tragic irony when just about when I was heading to bed, I heard the couple in the room next to me stumble noisily through their door. Their mighty battle with the lock forced me to look outside, and I saw them struggling with the lock, clearly too inebriated to perform basic motor functions. Another bad sign: Down the hall, where they'd just passed, someone (i.e., one of them) had ripped a painting off the wall and smashed it on the ground, casting glass about everywhere.

So you can guess what happened next: Domestic disturbance! Nothing violent, mind you, at least not that I could tell. I think what happened was that the woman of the couple passed out, and the man went into a drunken rage, as I could hear him bellowing "hijo de puta" and whatnot constantly, as well as slamming doors, and generally raging, and someone (not me) called the police, who knocked on his door for the next hour asking him to open it (him: "no!"). This was not only enormously disruptive to my attempts to sleep, but also puzzling. Why were the police being so polite? Why didn't they just barge on in?

Anyway, the fracas ended around 1am, and I finally managed to sleep, up relatively early the next day for the big Iguazu tour. Iguazu may be in a rain forest, but it's extremely well-developed in an almost Disneyland-style way. There are touristy shops selling Guarani crafts all over the place, there's a train that takes you around to the various parts of the falls, and the falls themselves are accessed through paths and steel walkways that are packed with pic-snapping tourists so that you have to jostle your way to the front to get a peep of the falls.

I won't say much about the falls themselves, and instead will let the videos and pix do the talking. But I will relate one event, the final activity that we all did after much falls-goggling and mild hiking and a gut-busting parrilla. When all this had finished, we all descended a slippery staircase down to a dock and were trundled into a speedboat. We put our belongings in waterproof bags, and then the boat took off into the lake, doing several rounds until it revved up and charged straight into one of the massive falls. This was indescribably exhilarating, especially for the few moments that it initially appeared that the driver was going to drive us all the way up into the crushing falls themselves (which, of course, he did not--rather, he pulled away at the last minute, leaving us soaked but alive, which was a fair tradeoff).

Besides the massive effervescing of the old adrenaline, the other major advantage of the boat tour was that, after we'd charged the falls thrice, the boat sped down a back section of the lake at exhilarating speed, and also happened to be across the international border, so that now I can officially say I've been to Brazil (though sadly not Paraguay, as I'd hoped), if briefly.

By then it was late afternoon, and we were all deposited back in the main Iguazu Falls shopping area for a gratuitous hour obviously designed to maximize the chances that we'd purchase commercialized Guarani goods, though I spent the time trying and failing to get a feed of the US/Jamaica Gold Cup quarterfinal game, and also cursing petulant Apple for freezing out Adobe (which was why I could not get aforementioned game).

Then the bus ride to the hotel, and the napping and the showering and the dinner, and the sleeping and the plane back to cold harsh Bs As the next day, where I sat next to a friendly Argentine gentleman who explained that he made his own wine that magically did not leave its consumers with hangovers (NB: not sold in stores--I asked).

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Two views of la Boca

After visiting la Bombonera in la Boca on Sat, I walked south toward el Caminito and the port, which are the other two heavily visited sites in the area.

The Boca is one of my fave districts of Bs As, pretty much the polar opposite of the fancy Recoleta where I'm staying. It's a working-class port district, right on the scuzziest part of the Riachuelo (hence its name--it's at the mouth (boca) of the river). But like many working-class districts, it has a real charm and sense of spirit, no better seen than in its many buildings painted in bright colors.

My Porteno friends, well-meaning all, warned me that la Boca can be dangerous, but enough of it is carved out for tourists that it's hard to find too much danger if you take the tourist bus to la Bombonera and then to the Caminito. The latter is a pedestrian walkway that swerves at a diagonal between main streets and down to the port itself, and is populated with artists' stalls vending works of variant quality, and is lined with classic Bocense variegated buildings.

El Caminito is also horrifically touristy, and it's hard to find any authenticity in the area, sort of like Hollywood Blvd in LA. That said, the street and the port are essential places to visit, just to see, while keeping in mind that they're not the real working-class Boca itself, which exists only blocks away but is almost entirely unvisited by tourists.

Then, at the bottom of El C where it meets the unutterably scuzzy Riachuelo are two outstanding museums, and this comes from a guy who does not like museums all that much. One is Proa (referring to the prow of a boat) and has rotating exhibits of modern art (as well as a truly terrifying statue of a titanic spider outside).

The other is the Museo Benito Quinquela Martin, and is devoted to 20th c art inspired by the Boca, and is just about the best museum I've ever seen. collection is modestly sized, but hits all the right notes. There's some really excellent art from the late 1800s and early 1900s inspired by the port culture of la Boca; an awesome collection of effigies from the prows of old ships (there must be a word for these--they're often half-human, half-animal); and a great series of work by a modern Argentine painter named Julio Racioppi, whose art depicts and really captures the tenor of life in the city, as for example, with scenes of hulking grey apt buildings sitting in the afternoon sun.

So consider these two videos. First, I walked from la Bombonera to el Caminito, which took me ever so briefly through a part of the Boca that is not (or at least not that) touristy. I stopped to get a "choripan" (sausage in bread) from a guy on the street, and for at least that moment had a sense that I'd escaped the tourist hordes at least for a moment, which you can see here:

This seems like a pretty good indication of la Boca--it's a little run down, but homey, and you can see la Bombonera in the background, as well as a brightly painted buildings. Also, love the guys waving. I showed them the video afterward, and told them I was going to post it on my blog, which is very famous in the US. They were all like, "You, famous? Liar." Fair enough.

Then I strolled on down to the Caminito and eventually to the Museo Martin, and you can see my sojourn along the former here:

This about captures it--camera-toting tourist hordes, but colorful and interesting nevertheless. Right after I finished the video, a bunch of guys--some clearly drunk at like 3pm in the afternoon--crowded around to look at the iPad. At first I thought they were going to rob me, but really they just wanted to check it out, and they were all like "Miracle! Amazing!" which is really a pretty understandable reaction to the iPad.

After all this, it was late afternoon and I hopped on the local 53 back up to the Recoleta. It was the first time I really felt like I had a grasp of the city and its geography and could get around with ease and instinctive knowledge. As I was waiting for the 53, the cheesy open-topped "Buenos Aires Tour Bus" rolled by and I shook my head in contempt. Damned tourists.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Observationalismo: amusing Argentine signs and unrelated Porteno facts

There are many one-off observations I've made about Argentina that don't warrant a blog post in themselves. There are also many pix I've taken of amusing crap that also don't warrant independent posts. So, like the chocolate and peanut butter of yore, I've decided to start a thread that combines the two. Here are my first forays. I'll likely add to this. Or, I won't. You'll have to wait and see, Broad Readership.

First off: Portenos love dogs. There are dogs being walked all over the place, often by dog walkers, often wearing amusing sweaters (the dogs, I mean, though the walkers may well have been wearing foolish-looking sweaters as well--I didn't really notice). My fave example was just this AM when I saw a man walking his small dog down Puerreydon, with the dog clad in an albiceleste sweater with "Messi 10" on it.

But Portenos do not seem to love cleaning up after their dogs nearly as much as they love owning them (cf. also Berlin). I have had to develop a habit of walking down sidewalks while always looking at my feet to make sure I don't step in something foul, and I'll risk tempting fate to report that so far I've been fortunate to avoid such foulness (unlike the elegantly dressed woman I saw who stepped out of a cab directly into aforementioned dog foulness, and immediately exclaimed "la concha!", which was my first experience of what appears to be the Argentine swear du jour.

Speaking of pets, it took me a while to figure out what's weird about this sign, then I got it--it's in English! No idea why they didn't say "Lavadero de perros."

Second: There are quasi-homeless folks one sees on the street quite frequently hauling around rickshaw-like devices stacked with cardboard cartons for recycling. Called "cartoneros," these people are not environmentalists, but make a living (barely) by collecting and recycling cardboard cartons.

This was apparently a practice that first began during the Argentine economic disaster of about 10 years ago, and has persisted since. The cartoneros often seem to have a pretty well-oiled operation, wearing pullover workers suits with reflective tape (they're not city workers, to be clear--this is an informal but tolerated, and I suppose at least marginally socially beneficial practice). Nor do these people seem completely abject and dissheveled in the sense of, say, a homeless drunk moldering on the street. I'm not sure if this is heartening because it means that they're doing more OK in life than one might suspect, or if it means that there are more Argentines close to the poverty line than is immediately obvious to visitors.

This pic is actually from Colonia, Uruguay, and explains that the big public chessboard in the city square near the old castle is only for the kids of the area. Something about this made me think of property and public goods at the time, though looking back I suspect the children of Colonia were all like, "Really, chess? You couldn't have spent public funds on a damned Wii?"

I got weird looks from people during my first few weeks here when I said "Que pasa?" as a greeting. Apparently this does not mean "What's up?" as it does in Mexico and Spain, but rather "OH MY GOD WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON," so I've since stopped and now say "Como anda?" (how's it going) or "Todo bien?" (everything all right?).

At stores, one must buy fruit separately from a dour guy who weighs it and sells it to you from a stand. The rest of the stuff you get from the proprietors, who are without fail Chinese. In fact, markets often have Chinese names, which initially made me think there was a weird profusion of Asian specialty-food stores here, while in fact these are regular, mainstream Argentinian stores that happen to have names referring to their Chinese proprietors.

You can barely see it given crappiness of my iPad camera when it zooms, but there is a street here called "Estados Unidos," which filled me with nationalistic pride. I even chanted "USA" a bit when taking this pic, but no one seemed to notice or care, and to be honest I was disappointed at the lack of reaction.

There is no iced tea here. Hence I've had to resort to my old caffeine standbys, Diet Coke ("coca lite") or coffee. The latter is really quite excellent. There are no frou-frou coffee drinks here in Arg, but only strong, quality coffee often cut with a bit of milk. The latter is my drink of choice, and it's called a "cortado", which I often amp up to a "doble cortado."

And while the Starbucks leviathan has made inroads here, I've never been to one since arriving in Bs As, instead preferring local joints or even the Argentine equivalent of Starbucks, Cafe Martinez, which is a chain found everywhere around here but has damned fine coffee that I'll miss upon returning to the states (when, I swear, I'm going to kick diet coke cold turkey and go back to a limit of 1-2 coffees a day, max).

This sign was in Palermo Jardin, and in it a guy professes love for his wife/girlfriend. When I first saw this, I thought it was a pretty impressive gesture that took a lot of creativity and work, but then I started seeing these signs everywhere and realized that they're a commonplace gesture in Bs As. It would be as though you were at a restaurant and people came out with a cake singing "Happy Birthday"--if you'd never seen that whole tradition before, you'd be blown away. "Wow, you came up with a song and thought up this whole spontaneous event just to celebrate your friend's b-day!" But then once you eventually got that it was something commonplace, it would seem a lot less impressive.

In a class touch that the US would do well to imitate, water and non-alc drinks (e.g., diet coke) here are served in wine glasses. Makes you feel like a movie star! The TV presenters (including guys talking about sports) even have wine glasses with water on their desks during their shows.

This is one of a series of ads I've seen a lot of in the Subte (which I've stopped taking because it's not only far from where I live, but also hellaciously crowded and gross, and colectivos are a much better option). This one in particular amuses me because of the way the girl's head looks weirdly detached from her body. I suppose they don't have the latest version of Photoshop down here.

When I came down here, everyone remarked that Argentines are an attractive people. My verdict: No more or less than anyplace else. As with any country, some people here are gorgeous, some ugly, and most somewhere in between. I think there may be truth to the assertion that Argentines are better dressed. This winter, long colorful coats are in for women, many of which are leopard-print, which is a particularly good look. And the sloppy, slouchy look that is so popular among US youth (and which I've been guilty of adopting sometimes--not that I'm a youth), is not much seen here. A colleague said in advising visiting Americans that Portenos are "more conscious of their appearances" than Americans, and I think that about captures it.

Not only do Argentines have cologne specifically for children, but they also market it quite aggressively. If we have this in the US, I'd rather not know about it. Seems creepy. Though we have sexy beauty pageants for six-year-old girls, so I guess we're not really in a position to judge.

There's an election here in Argentina later this year, which explains at least in part, I think, the profusion of election posters and graffiti. The posters that have really grabbed my attention are for a fellow named Filmus, who appears to be running for Jefe del Gobierno of Bs As on the Judicialist (e.g., Peronist) ticket. The posters that I am fond of say "Porque estoy con Cristina, estoy con Filmus." The move here is pretty obvious--Filmus is trying to leverage Cristina's popularity. What's strange about some of the posters (like the one below) is that Filmus doesn't even appear in them. It's all Cristina. This isn't really that bad from an aesthetic perspective, but the attempt to use Cristina's appeal to get votes for Filmus is so transparent that it seems to reflect badly on the guy. Can't Filmus even be in the damn picture? Doesn't he have any redeeming qualities? Or is he just a total Peronist/Judicialist figurehead? (These aren't rhetorical questions--I really don't know.)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Night They Drove Old River Down

The word "passion" is linked so often with soccer as to be a chunder-inducing cliche. But there's truth to it, as was so clear when I attended the River/Colon game a few weeks back. There's a nearly insane edge to the intensity of the hinchas' love for their River Plate,* as there is between so many supporters' groups and their soccer teams.

I mentioned in that post that River was struggling this season, and indeed they did struggle throughout June. So much so, in fact, that they ended up being one of the worst teams in the entire Argentine league, which meant that they had to play a team from the second division to stave off relegation.

(NB: Outside the US, soccer leagues are characterized by a feature called relegation and promotion, whereby teams that finish last or nearly last in their league can be sent down (relegated) to the division below. Similarly, teams that finish high in their league can be sent up (promoted) to the division above. In this manner, even teams from the lowest professional leagues have a theoretical (albeit distant) chance to rise up through the ranks and find themselves shoulder-to-shoulder with top teams. However strange this may seem to Americans, foreigners (at least the Argentines I've spoken to about it) express shock and dismay when told that our professional teams don't have a relegation/promotion structure. It's not really even possible in the US, where there's either only one league (NFL) or there are minor leagues but they exist as part of pro clubs to develop talent (MLB)).

So. Turns out that River Plate was not automatically relegated to the second division, but was put in a position where they had to play a two-game playoff against a 2d tier team called Belgrano (from Cordoba, not to be confused with the Belgrano district of Bs As, which is actually and somewhat ironically where River's stadium, el Monumental, is located). The winner of the two-game, total-goals series would play in the primera, the loser would be stuck in the segunda.

Got that? More simply, let's put it this way: If River didn't beat Belgrano, they'd be required to spend the next season (at least) in the Argentine equivalent of the minor leagues. It's hard to overstate the impact of this on a massive club like River. Not only would it mean they'd be getting less money and fan support and playing against a lower level of competition, but it would also be a profound humiliation. Consider, for example, if the NY Yankees had to play in Triple-A ball after having a bad season. One Spanish team that got relegated tried to sell fans on its upcoming trek through the lower division with an ad campaign called "Come join us for a season in hell," which about sums it up.

So in the first game of its promotion/relegation playoff up in Cordoba, Belgrano drubbed River 2-0, a performance so bad that some River fans broke through the security and attacked some River players. Not a good omen.

This set up a desperate situation whereby River needed to beat Belgrano in the return leg here in Buenos Aires on Sunday by at least two goals to save themselves from relegation. The game was just about all anyone was talking about for the intervening days, even people who didn't care about soccer. My Spanish teacher, an Uruguayan lady who professed a great distaste for the game, came into our class on Thursday and asked, "Did you see what's happening to River?" in the same way one might ask about an awful political or cultural event (e.g., "Did you see that famous person X is in the hospital?").

The game happened yesterday, and I happened to catch the second half in a pizza restaurant that is far from a sports venue in terms of clientele and atmosphere. Still, the one TV was faithfully tuned to the game, and the (mostly old) people there were all watching rather than talking to each other. The mood was somber, as though everyone was watching, say, a state funeral or something grimly fascinating. But there was hopeful news; River led 1-0 at the half, and another goal would secure their place in the Primera (barely).

Then, only about 15min into the second half, Belgrano broke on a counterattack and scored a really well-worked goal, the forward diving feet-first through the air to stab the ball into the back of the net. The goal meant that River was just about done, needing to score three goals (for complex reasons I won't get into). The assembled crowd reacted in horror--there were shouts of dismay, and averted eyes, as though we'd all witnessed a gruesome traffic accident. And I say "we" because I absolutely felt this too, to my enormous surprise. It was as though I'd absorbed the desire (that I think was shared by all of Bs As) not to see River humiliated.

But they were. They won a penalty, but Caruso missed it, and when he looked skyward in anguish after, you sort of knew that was it for River. The game ended 1-1, and River was relegated to the Segunda for the first time in its 110-year history.

What happened immediately after? Crying. Crying and crying and crying. [Insert "Don't Cry for Me, River Plate" joke here.] The River fans cried; the River players cried. The Belgrano fans cried (with joy); the Belgrano players did too. I have never seen so much crying in a professional football stadium. And this was not, to be clear, the kind of awful, treacly American crying that is a product of flabby sentimentality (and which is well illustrated by this documentary, which is the soggiest most lachrymose film I've seen in my life, and which turns my stomach; cf. also John Boehner). This was a more Latin crying, both more demonstrative and more openly anguished. It was "I can't bear this suffering" crying, not "gee, I feel sentimental crying." The undercurrent wasn't merely sadness or disappointment, it was rage.

Oh, and did I mention rage? Because then? There were totally, totally riots. It began with violence inside the stadium. The ref didn't end up using the available extra time in order to get the players off the field. And when they did finally come off the field, they had to do so through a hail of ripped-up seats that the fans rained down on them. The Belgrano fans had to be kept in the stadium, hidden away to avoid being a target of violence. And then after the game, for like hours, there was violence against police, reporters, and other fans outside el Monumental. I watched the coverage with mixed emotions--freaked out that there were soccer riots happening a couple miles from my depto, and pleased that I could understand everything the news announcer was saying.

The fact of riots after a sports disappointment is not new. Vancouver just rioted over their game-seven loss to the Bruins in the Stanley Cup, and there are often low- to mid-level civic disturbances following wins (oddly enough) in the US, such as Detroit (NBA Championship 2004) and also wherever UConn is (NCAA Championship 2003?), just to name a couple examples.

The difference, though, is that while Vancouverians or whoever will get over their loss and continue to play in the same league, River's relegation puts them into a lower world of soccer altogether. And it's also been regarded as somewhat of a national tragedy. Very few people, even Boca fans, wanted to see River relegated (though certainly some Boca fans are basking in schadenfreude). It's sort of like if something awful like a serious accident happened to an iconic but divisive public figure--if you loved the guy it would be heartbreaking, but even if you hated him it would be tragic and terrible to see him suffering.

But suffering is, I suppose, a necessary incident of passion. For all the excessive number of times "passion" is invoked in connection with the soccer, it's paired with scenes of cheering fans and exulting, goal-scoring forwards. Here, though, the passion is seen in its opposite number, which is obviously the gut-wrenching pain and sadness of a hideously disappointing (and franchise-threatening) loss. And for DF, it was interesting observationalistically, because I do not have a dog in this particular fight, but despite that felt sucked into the whole drama, somehow by the force of the entire city's being fixated on the event in that distinctive "can't avert eyes from unfolding gruesome tragedy" sort of way. It was about as Porteno as I've felt during my time here.

*Possibly interesting cultural note: You'll notice by this point in your careful scrutiny of el blog that Argentinian soccer teams tend to have Anglicized names. E.g., River Plate (not "Rio de la Plata"), Boca Juniors (half-Spanish, I guess), Racing Club, Newell's Old Boys (referring to the club's founder, a Brit named "Newell" presumably, and "Old Boys" indicating something like "alumni"), and All Boys (no idea what this means, though it sounds kind of pervy, and I think may refer to the single-gender character of the schools in Arg). This is, I'm told, because when Brits came to Argentina in great numbers in the late 1800s-early 1900s, they also brought soccer with them, and named the clubs that still exist. The slightly funny feature of this is that the locals pronounce the English names of the teams with Spanish inflections (e.g., "River" = "Rrreeber" or "Racing" = "Rrrahsing"). I find myself referring to River as Reeber even when I'm talking about the team in English.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

La Bombonera

If there is a more deliciously named football stadium in the world, I don't know what it is. Seriously: La Bombonera, the nickname for the stadium where Boca Jrs plays its games, refers to the fact that it (apparently) looks like a big box of candies. I myself do not see the bon-bon box resemblance, but nevertheless a trip to the Bombonera is so essential whilst one is in Buenos Aires that it's frequented by tourist buses and endless pic-clicking tourists (e.g., self) even on a chilly off-day during winter (which is what they call the months from June-August here, rather than just referring to them as "summer" and thinking of summer as cold and chilly).

Why the centrality of la B? Primarily it's because the stadium is the site where Boca Jrs play, and at the risk of offending followers of River (or Independiente, or Racing, or various big clubs in Brazil or Chile), I think it's safe to say that Boca is the most successful and most widely supported South American professional soccer team. They've won the Copa Libertadores numerous times, and even more often the Argentine league, and have a following all over the world as few other S Am clubs do.

This is but a tiny selection of the infinite schwag that is available to commemorate a visit to the Boca Jrs shrine that is la Bombonera (and which also includes blue-and-gold mate gourds, blue-and-gold penholders with the base in the style of la Bombonera, and of course all manner of infant clothing to assure hinchada parents that their kids will not embarrass them by not growing up to be socios):

The team is linked inextricably with the working-class dockside district of la Boca, which I'll say more about in a future post, and this gives it a different romance, which I swear is the right word, than its opposite number and eternal rival, River. Boca's romance is downtrodden, underdoggy (though they're certainly not underdogs in soccer terms), with a dose of the colorful (literally, as you'll see) character that the district itself is known for. River's rep is more austere and upper-class (though their supporters are, on average, no more or less wealthy than Boca's), as their nickname "los Millionarios" suggests.

La Boca is famous for having its buildings painted in bright colors, and across the street from la Bombonera is an example reflecting Boca Jrs' blue and gold:

No figure in Boca's history is more beloved than Diego Maradona, whose playing-days visage one can see both in la Bombonera and indeed throughout la Boca, including but by no means limited to this statue here:

So I arrived at the Bombonera mid-afternoon or so to find the site itself pretty well-attended despite it being the off-season and not that pleasant a day (but no rain, which is a blessed relief). I sprung for admission to the Boca Jrs Museum but not the 45min-long stadium tour, esp since admission to the museum allows one to visit a section of the stadium itself, and I am not enough of a fan to want to see every last corner of la B. (I have, actually, seen Boca play in DC against DC United, some years ago, and was impressed by the level of their away support, as well as by the play of Juan Roman Riquelme, who was shortly to be transferred to FC Barcelona.)

The museum was worth the US$8 I paid for admission, but not a penny more. There was a surround-sound and -visual video that was fascinating in its tackiness, as it purported to narrate the experience of a young player from la Boca coming up through the ranks of the club to star in the senior team and score a winning goal, all from a first-person perspective. It was the kind of thing a child of, say, eleven years old would have found thrilling, but I, and the other adults in the theater simply found it tacky and embarrassing.

Getting to see and be in part of the Bombonera itself was easily the best part of the tour. The section of the tribunal where they let you in is where some of the serious socios get to stand, on a sloped terrace without seats (since none of the truly intense hinchas sit for the game anyway). This used to be a standard feature of all football stadia in Europe too, but has since been phased out in the interest of safety and making more money.

The below video gives a perspective of the Bombonera from a fan's point of view, painted blue and gold to reflect Boca Jrs' iconic colors. Note the crush barriers in place to distribute the pressure of the massive crowd and make sure the people down in front aren't trampled to death by the avalanche of people that surges forward when there's a goal.

Graffiti in La Boca

I learned from one of my intensive-Spanish teachers yesterday that the reason graffiti proliferates (and is pretty appealing and well-executed) here in Bs As is that it's more or less legal, depending on the place (i.e., you can mark up the side of an industrial building or abandoned fence but not someone's house).

So for the next stop on the DF porteno graffiti tour (earlier versions here and here), behold this wall art I photographed while strolling down the surprisingly Anglo-sounding blvd "Brandsen" in exploring la Boca district of Buenos Aires.

This inscrutable and vaguely disturbing graffito features various evil-looking sprites apparently drinking and cavorting and, as the case may be, eating humans alive. Hey, look, that cute little cuddlebug over on the left just decapitated somebody!

Not a graffito as such, this is a taller de imprenta (print shop) with some images of historical printers featured on its retractable doors.

Can't tell if this one represents a very early printing press or instead the pre-Gutenberg illumination of manuscripts by monks.

And this one is also on a retractable door but is a representation of life in la Boca, with tango dancers in the right corner, dockworkers loading up a boat on the Riachuelo in the middle, and some gentleman I don't recognize off in the left.

A la Bombonera!

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Iguazu Falls Experience: video tour

Apparently there is a waterfall called Iguazu, as I learned like three months before leaving for Argentina, which is sort of unusual (i.e., that I hadn't known about it earlier) since I usually have all manner of useless knowledge stuck up in my head, which is so awesome.

Anyway, I went to aforementioned Iguazu Falls this past weekend and it was spectacular. So much so that rather than strain my narrative/descriptive capacities, I am instead going to show a series of videos that I took of them, and which illustrate much better the gut-punching impact of Iguazu.

This video shows the first view of Iguazu, at the very edge of the back of the part called "Devil's Throat." It is salient not only because it gives some sense of the falls themselves, which allow one to use the word "awesome" without feeling like it's an overused and inapt cliche (as above), but also because as I was reaching out over the railing with my precious iPad hovering over the abyss, a guy jostled me carelessly, leading to the lurch in the video, and to me saying "Careful, dude!" if you listen closely.

Here's another view of the Devil's Throat area, from which you can see the massive plumes of mist that obscure the base of the falls, as well as some of the black birds, endemic to the area, that swirl in that mist.

Now here's a different take on the falls, though at this point what little internal compass I may have had become all snarled, and as a result I can't explain exactly where these are in relation to the part of DT that is pictured (via video) above. But as you can see, this is more a slightly differentiated series of massive waterfalls as opposed to just one enormous massive one. That's really all the knowledge I got for you.

This is a view from atop one of those waterfalls, which is interesting (to me, anyway) because the water seems still and calm before it drops off dramatically for like a million feet into a crushing hydrodynamic abyss.

And here's another view of the same part of Iguazu, which includes a rainbow, and well may make you seasick (or at least to have to crane your neck) because I am clearly just getting the hang of the iPad as video device, and can see from this that turning it mid-shoot does not really work.

And this is the final video, which I took longways but cannot seem to rotate in aspect, so it's pitched weirdly, but has a nice view of the same part of Iguazu (again, I think) from a lower angle.

And that was Iguazu, kids. I will say only this by way of conclusion: I've seen a lot of sights and been to a lot of places, but few of them seemed like things to have done rather than objects my eyes happened to just take in. Hence I think it's more apt to say "I've been to Iguazu" as though it were a life experience earning some kind of life-changing status than merely "I've seen Iguazu" as though it were merely about something to observe ocularly (though it's certainly that). And it's efficient, to boot. After going to Iguazu, all other waterfalls pale in comparison, so fortunately I no longer have any need or desire to go to Niagara or any of the others, which would only seem like leaky faucets by comparison.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Misunderstanding Peronismo

Please note the absence of punctuation in the title of this post. This post is not a pun, hence it's not "Mis/understanding Peronismo," or "(Mis)Understanding Peronismo," or some such. This is so not only because I think such constructions are tired, but also because they would also be inaccurate as applied to the content that will follow. This is not a post about my misguided understanding of Peronismo, but about my full-bore, unmitigated misunderstanding of Peronismo. I have never understood Peronismo since coming to Argentina, and I understand it even more poorly (and yes such a thing is possible, in the sense that negative numbers have values less than zero) after attempting to have various smart locals explain it to me.

The only way to explain how I misunderstand Peronismo is to note the various things about it that confuse me.

First, Peronism doesn't really exist, and yet it does. I was surprised to see the idea of Peronismo batted around as much as it has been in my time here in Bs As (though it's an election year so perhaps this explains it to an extent). I was aware of the historical figure of Peron and his wives, but did not know that whatever -ism he gave birth to persisted so much in present-day Argentina. (It would be like going to the US and seeing people debate whether Obama was more of a "Kennedyist" than McCain.)

And yet, technically, no one is a Peronist. For example, the current Argentine head of state and stone fox (when age- and job-adjusted) Cristina Kirchner is not a Peronist. She is a Judicialist. That is the name of her political party. But she is, for all intents and purposes, a Peronist, and receives massive support from, e.g., the militant wing of Peronists called, for obvious reasons, Peronismo Militante. The reason there's this linguistic distinction, I'm told, is that Peron no longer exists, so there must be a different name for the party (parties?) that carry on his tradition. But this makes no sense, since parties that carry on his tradition would be very well-served to keep his name in their name as a way of making clear that they are carrying on his tradition.

Confused yet? Me too. But wait, there's more!

Second, while Peronism does not officially exist, so that no one is really a Peronist, everyone is basically a Peronist. Peronism is not (or at least no longer) a political party, but rather a movement that is for a variety of things including social justice, national self-determination, etc. The Peronist tent is so big that it strains the imagination to find people who are not Peronists.

There are some, I'm told. Social elites, and especially those in Bs As, are often not that into Peronism (or Cristina, who is/not a Peronist). Nor are human rights adovcates, though this too is changing as the present Kirchnerist regime (which is Peronist not only in its orientation but also in that Nestor Kirchner was followed in office by his wife, the stone fox Cristina Kirchner, creating a husband/wife power dyad much like Juan/Eva Peron (and to a lesser extent, Isabel Martinez de Peron, who also was the head of state briefly here following Juan's death and whose utter incompetence in office was largely responsible for the rise of the awful dictatorship of 1977-83 or so)) is a big supporter of human rights, at least in form if debatably in substance. I've also seen some posters for the radical left around town, about half of which are defaced with the word "puto", suggesting that they're not exactly winning hearts and minds.

Third, and perhaps most confusingly, and certainly relatedly, Peronism includes groups that we think of in the US as inimicably opposed to one another. Right and left often claim that they are Peronist. Ditto for military and the common man. The idea of Peronism is so malleable and/or capacious that it seems any political group can fit into some corner of it. And they want to do this because Peronism appears to be really, really popular and compelling on an instinctive level, in the sense that many political self-definitions are adopted by people more instinctively than analytically. Argentine hearts and minds--the Peronists have them.

So Peronism may be more a force or a feeling than a coherent political philosophy. I say "may" because as should be clear from this post so far, I don't really understand Peronism after talking to many politically savvy Argentines about it and if anything, am more confused about it than I was before. My term for it is intellectual quicksand--the harder you struggle to get it, the deeper you sink.

And you know what? I think they prefer it that way, the good old Argies. There's something distinctively Argentinian about Peronismo--it's a nationalist movement named after their most important 20th century political figure(s), after all--so there's something satisfying about having it seem inaccessible to foreigners. It reminds me a bit of the old T-shirt that said, "It's a black thing, you wouldn't understand," which also carries the implication that it's somehow group-definitional to have internally understood ideas that are obscure to the rest of society or the world.

So you win, Argentinians. This estadounidense doesn't get Peronismo. It's yours, all yours. Just the way you like it.

Pic #1: Graffiti from around the corner on Azcuenaga touting militant Peronism, located next to exhortations for Cristina to be re-elected this year.

Pic #2: "Thanks for giving us back the motherland," says the sign featuring Argentine hottie-of-state Cristina and Nestor Kirchner, posted at the site of ESMA. Pretty decent example of nationalism and national identity in nexus with contemporary politics. Or it's totally not. Like I said, I've got no idea.

¡Fracásos lingüísticos!

The Spanish is, as they say, on the upswing. Oh, wait, they don't say that. We do. Or at least, I do. But as I slog through my intensive Spanish course (four hrs of daily conversazione with a real-live Porteno who is obliged to listen to me and comment on my usage and grammar), it becomes clear how many gradations (or, I've just learned, "matices") of language knowledge there are.

Which is to say: When I went to my language school's activity last night, a yoga class en Espanol, the other students, all beginners, all marveled (unwarrantedly, obv.) at the fluency of my comprehension. But the yoga teacher, who's one of my instructors, agreed wholeheartedly when I explained to the beginners (a group of Aussies taking a world tour that's limited for unclear reasons to the Southern Hemisphere) that my Spanish is far, far from perfect.

This is not false modesty, or even its obnoxious cousin, false false modesty, but rather a simple and incontrovertible fact. I have crossed a threshold where I can, more or less, converse with most (though not all) Portenos. This is something that I've long wanted--functional fluency in Spanish--yet despite, or perhaps even because of this increased language ability, it's become clear to me that one can be more or less conversational in a non-native language and still make errors all the time.

And I mean all the time. Weirdly, these errors are often very basic ones. I'll rock the pluscuamperfecto but then forget that "ley" is a feminine noun. I'll deploy the subjunctive but forget that my interlocutor is singular, not plural. And so forth. My theory on this is that those parts of foreign languages that do not exist in one's mother tongue (for English this would include, e.g., gendered nouns, the subjunctive mood, and declining nouns) are very hard to instinctively understand and require the kind of constant concentration to get right that makes it hard to have an at-ease chat with someone.

To illustrate, I thought I'd start a list of my most truly humiliating linguistic errors, or "fracasos" as I've become fond of saying, and with which word I'll be puncutating each of the following linguistic errors, largely for my own amusement, como siempre.

--In seeking to say something about religion, or perhaps America, I used the phrase "pecado original." Or at least I sought to. What I really said was, "pescado original," or "original fish." ¡Fracaso!

--For reasons unknown, I was trying to refer to "serial killers" and used a phrase that sounded like "matadores de cereal," which actually means "killer of breakfast cereal," such as your Kix and your Froot Loops and whatnot. ¡Fracaso!

--An attempt to comment on social class in America led me to desire to distinguish high-class and lower-class WASPs, though what I in actuality said was "high quality" and "low quality" WASPS, when when you think about it is also a relevant metric to distinguish them, though orthogonal to class, obvs. Anyway, ¡fracaso!

More ¡fracasos! to come, no doubt.

--Update: I was informed by a Porteno amiga that "fracaso" is far too strong a word to describe these kinds of linguistic errors, and that "error" (which is the same word in Spanish) would be more tonally appropriate. Hence the title of this post is itself an illustrative example of what this post is about. ¡Self-referential fracaso!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Night at the Opera

I think this title has already been used (oh look: per the googles, it has, by the band Queen for their third album), but in this case it's literal rather than metaphorical. Because I actually did spend a night at the opera. Specifically, I saw Puccini's "Trittico" at the Teatro Colon here in Bs As this past Friday eve.

This transpired because a friend/colleague asked me some weeks ago if I'd like to go to the opera while in Buenos Aires, and without thinking too carefully, I said yes. The non-thinking here is key, because when this convo occurred, I was doing that thing of where you respond to a suggestion that sounds basically good with an affirmative answer, not pausing to think about whether the basically good is worth various future-discounted costs like logistical annoyances, difficulties, everpresent tiredness, etc., that become very real when you're actually faced with going to the event when it rolls around.

And as the BR might be already sensing, when the opera rolled around the other night, I didn't much feel like going. I'd had another truly legendary night of terrible sleep thanks to the noise of my depto (which now includes not only the relentless oonta-oonta of club music from the various night clubs downstairs, one of which is called, I shit you not, "Sodoma", which in case you don't speak Spanish, actually does translate to "Sodom," but also the equally relentless hammering and plane-sawing of the construction project that is going on constantly during the day hours, amazingly enough on the floor directly below me, and is not deafening but does have sort of a Chinese-water-torture aspect of constant percussive annoyance to it), and the idea of getting gussied up (albeit with a skinny tie, which I was sort of excited about since it's the only kind of tie I can really stomach wearing) and hauling my ass all the way to the Colon for this Puccini biz was not sounding so appealing.

Because, you see, I do not especially like opera. Or at least, having never been to an opera, but having heard and seen bits and pieces of operas in various settings, I was pretty sure it did not much do it for me (and in case it's not clear why I accepted the invite to go to the Colon earlier, it was in the interest of trying something new that I'd never done before more than from actual intrinsic, opera-specific interest), though I was not so sure about this that I wouldn't at least want to try it out.

So we arrived at the Colon Friday eve, and it only then occurred to me that the venue itself is (or at least in this case, can be) a major draw for the opera, independently of the performance. The Teatro Colon is spectacular in a way that challenges my descriptive/narrative capacities, so I'll just say that it's a fairly eye-popping example of the Baroque style, and that sitting in the floor seats looking up at the tiered banks of box seats gave me a real sense of awe (as well as vertigo, in addition to nausea, which is fairly standard fare for DF, as the Broad R. undoubtedly knows). Would that I'd brought my iPad (NB: did not b/c thought it would be bad opera etiquette for some reason), so I have just the one pix to let do the talking for me.

The opera itself began, and as the name suggests, it's in three parts. The first was a real downer: The story seemed to have political overtones, but was mainly about an extramarital affair, and at the end the husband kills the wife's lover, which seemed like a morally satisfying outcome to me though I think we were meant to regard is as sad and bad. But there was not a catchy tune to be heard, and while the first third lasted only about 1.15hr, it felt much longer, and at the intermezzo I recall distinctly not being able to imagine sitting through the second and third parts.

But I'd bought in (quite literally, and not at all cheaply), and so hauled my ass to the fifth row (!) for the second part (not "act," since the three parts were conceptually and narratively separate). This second section, which I recall being called Gianni Schicci, was not nearly as dark as its predecessor, and in fact was comic (though not ha-ha funny, though many people did laugh, albeit in that "I feel obligated to laugh at this high-minded material" way that people often do in plays and such), and I found myself not finding the experience terribly dull and unpleasant as I had the first part. I was not having the time of my life, but was basically entertained.

And then, do you know what happened? A miracle!

But wait. This miracle requires a bit in the way of backstory. So you see, around about the early nineties, when I was a hellaciously awkward nerd (insert "so what's changed?" quip here), rather than doing normal teen things like having friends and going to sock hops, I stayed in and did things like reading and watching movies. And not your "Jurassic Park" level fare, but mildly better fare that salved the unwarranted sense of intellectual superiority on which my fragile teen ego was entirely and precariously constructed.

Among these films was "A Room With a View," which led to a chaste infatuation with a then-young Helena Bonham Carter, and also caused me to be very fond of the beautiful female-vocals-driven song that is sung during the opening credits. I recall being affected enough by this song during my teen years that I rewound the tape (quaint! dated!) of ARWAV numerous times in order to re-hear this song that I could not understand the words of or place in context.

So: halfway through Gianni Schicchi, I hear overtures that seem to gesture at (what I think of as) the ARWAV song, but dismiss them as coincidence or something, and then a few minutes later am utterly jaw-dropped when a very very lovely opera singer (and believe you me, not all of them merit this description) begins belting out the selfsame ARWAV song that I so loved from my youth.

It turns out that the name of this song is not, in fact, "The ARWAV Song," but "O Mio Babbino Caro," and it is a famous aria in which the daughter of Gianni Schicchi asks her father for approval and funding for the marriage to the man she so desires. The aptness of this aria never really got to me before (not having understood a whit of the lyrics or their meaning), but now I get it, since it is set in Florence (as is much of ARWAV), and mentions the Arno (highly relevant to ARWAV), and is about young intense and not approved-of love (ditto ARWAV), etc.

But I cannot stress the astonishing, and miraculous-feeling coincidence of having the only element of any opera that I actually know and recognize, and, to be honest, really love, also happen through nothing more than good fortune, to pop up halfway through the only opera I've ever seen or possibly ever will see. It would be as if the only play in baseball you found interesting was a triple play, and you only ever saw one baseball game in your life, and there was a triple play in the fifth inning.

When the very very pretty opera singer finished the aria, there was polite applause, which was nice because it was the only time people clapped in the middle of any of the performances, but it still seemed somehow inadequate. I wanted to grab my seat-neighbors and shake them and be all like, "CAN YOU FREAKING BELIEVE THIS? YEAH!", and chant "U-S-A!!!" and demand that they high-five me, and whatnot. But I did not do this ("U-S-A" chanting being not enormously popular in Porteno society generally and certainly not at the colon), and Gianni Schicchi went on, and was very entertaining.

And that was more or less the Pickett's Charge of Trittico, if you want DF's opinion. That is, GS peaked with that moment, obvs., and the denoumentey final segment of the Trittico was a very somber and melodramatic bit about a lady nun who finds that her illegit son has died, and then dies herself of quasi-suicide quite dramatically (in case you haven't seen it, and even if you have). There was much applause toward the end of each part, for each singer, and the singers often gestured interestingly, such as crossing their hands over their hearts as though overcome with emotion, or kissed their hand and slapped the floor, which I took to be some kind of reference to thanking the band (?).

We all filed out into the late late Bs As night (and I'll pause to note that the "we" were not all as well dressed as DF and compatriots, and some of whom were in jeans and t-shirt stuff, which really puts a dent into the whole "Portenos are more elegant than US folks" argument, and is also kind of an interesting iteration of atmospheric externalities, esp to those who find non-elegant garb at the opera grating and inappropriate), and unsurprisingly failed to eat at one of the two good and open nearby restaurants, and ended up having some mediocre dinner at an awful place in the Recoleta, though it was the first time I'd ever had one of those legendarily late Bonaerense dinners you hear so much about.

And that was how DF spent a night at the opera. Verdict: success! But qualifiedly so. That is, I enjoyed the experience, esp given the miraculous appearance of OMBC, hence success. This success did not convert me into anything like a real fan of opera, however. And I am certainly not going out to buy season tix to the opera anytime soon. Rather, the nature of this success lay in having checked off one more item from the life-list, and enjoyed it quite well, so now I can move onto other life goals such as being physically present in four Canadian provinces at the same time. Oh, relatively nouvelle quadpoint to the north--you will be mine!

Pic: DF and compadres scoping the Teatro Colon pre-Trittico. There is one other pic of me at the opera but since it makes it look as though I'm undergoing some kind of autistic seizure (which, to be clear, I was not, or at least do not recall), I chose not to feature it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Communication consternation, part II

If you're at all curious about DF's continued efforts to become facile with the Espanol (and judging from the crushing volume of email from the Broad Readership, you doubtlessly are), consider this puzzling comparison based on events that transpired yesterday.

I. During the ESMA tour, my attempt to explain (in English) why the Argentine atrocities of 77-83 are underappreciated in the US requires me to say "ethnic groups," which word the very fluent-seeming guide does not require, causing me to transition into Spanish to explain what I mean, and triggering a switch with her as well, after which we complete our discussion of this issue in Spanish. Then after the tour we discuss various other interesting topics, e.g., American politics, again in Spanish, all with great facility on my part, so much so that at one point she spontaneously observes, "You speak great Spanish," in Spanish. I felt very proud.

II. After the ESMA tour, a few of us from the Sw program went to have crepes at Carlitos in Belgrano with some law students from ESMA. They were all on the young side, around 22, and while the subject of the conversation with them was much more pedestrian, I could barely, barely keep up and at one point simply admitted to a colleague, "I have no idea what they're saying." I felt very embarrassed.

What to take from these two examples?

1. My Spanish language skills are as mercurial as I am. Those of you who know DF know that my life and career have been marked by moments of pretty excellent performance as well as some shocking stinkers. Consistency is clearly not my strong suit. Hence with Spanish, I'm the same. At times I'm killing it and effectively fluent. At other times, I flounder and stammer and seem like a full-on Americano retardado.

2. What factors dictate the Dr. Fluent and Mr. Retard distinction? Two major ones are whether I'm feeling mentally sharp and whether I'm in an extended conversation. That is, when I'm mentally sharp and feeling good, I can rock the Spanish pretty damned well. But when I'm feeling tired and annoyed (which is a lot of the time as I'm getting over the resfrio as well as negotiating the challenges of sleeping in the noisiest city I've ever lived in), it's an unfun pain in the ass, and huge parts of me just want to scream out "Speak freakin' English already." (NB: I have resisted actually doing this.) Related, when I'm in an extended conversation that's given me some context and a chance to ramp up to Spanish, then I've got momentum, and it all works. But on the spur of the moment, say when someone asks me for directions out of the blue, I'm totally caught out and often have to scramble to remember to speak Spanish at all. (Consider also, e.g., when I'm surprised--invariably my angry swearing on the street at cars that nearly run me down is in English.)

3. Age plays a major factor in my comprehension. The ESMA guide was late 20s, early 30s, while the UBA students were no more than 22 or so. For some reason, below about 25, Argentines become well-nigh incomprehensible to me. They apparently speak with a slangy accent and use idiomatic phrases often enough that I'm told Argentine folks of my age have trouble understanding them, but it explains I think why the UBA law students were more or less lost to me completely.

4. On the whole, I think the Espanol is coming along OK. Being a self-critical perfectionist, I'd pretty much rate anything less than total fluency as utter inadequacy, but attempting to be less unreasonable for a moment, I think it's safe to say that my comprehension has improved a lot (I'm often at 90%+ when old people are talking), and my speaking is pretty dead-on as long as all the relevant factors are in place. To give one brief indication, I'm currently writing this with "Metro" (my fave Bs As channel, which shows only newsy shows) on in the background. The Argentine presenters (one of whom is named, hilariously to me, "Fanny Vega") are speaking slangily and at typically Porteno machine-gun speed, and when I turn my concentration on the show, I'm getting it, or at least 85-90%. And I just signed up for an intensive Spanish course next week so I'll be forced to work on the communication consternation even more.

There's the language update, Broad R. You're welcome.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I went to a concentration camp yesterday

How's that for a fun title, dear Broad Readership? Yes, it's true, today I was able to continue the grand tradition of DF visits to sites of horrors against humanity (cf., e.g., 2010's classic blog entry, "Chillin' in Dachau!!!"). What's more, I was able to do so merely by taking a colectivo down the street to Belgrano, where only a few blocks from the Estadio Monumental and smack in the middle of a bustling city district lies ESMA, la Escuela Superior de Mecanica de la Armada.

La ESMA, of course, was not just a military technical training camp, but in fact one of the main sites where the Argentine military dictatorship of 1977-83 (I think it was 77-83, and I should say now that I'm far, far from an expert on this, and may have some of the facts not-quite-right, and my non-expert status is kind of the point, or one of the points, of this-here post) effected its policy of "disappearing" members of the political opposition.

I have to admit that upon arrival in Argentina, I recognized the term "desaparecidos" and understood that it connected to some atrocity that had happened here some years ago, but couldn't have explained much more than that. Somewhat embarrassingly, I think I knew this only because it was mentioned in connection with a documentary I saw about the '78 World Cup (which happened in Argentina, and was bound up with the then-new military dictatorship's efforts to both create an image of a united Argentina and to distract people from the brutality of their policies).

Since being here, I've become increasingly, and darkly, fascinated with the state terrorism of the military dictatorship (often called "la Guerra Sucia," or "the dirty war," but which term I learned today is, for plausible reasons, generally disfavored).

The basic facts appear to be that during the seven or so years during which the dictatorship was in power, they "disappeared" (i.e., illegally detained and, in most cases, executed) about 30,000 people perceived to be opposed to the military regime. The term "systematically" is often paired with these kinds of mass exterminations, but in this case I think it's inapt because the disappearings were done with a lot of arbitrariness, although there was government oversight and surveillance and whatnot.

Anyway, the point is not to give a history lesson since I don't know this history well at all, but merely to frame the basic background facts for the BR so the following will make some sense.

So, ESMA has been converted into a site of remembrance, so to speak, not so much a museum in the sense of many of the holocaust museums I've seen around the world, but more like a living memorial and working history center. I was there with a tour group from my school as well as some students from the University of South Florida.

The tour was led by a pair of very sincere and serious volunteers who kept apologizing for their English, which was ridiculous since their English was perfectly fine. The tour led us through several of the main buildings of ESMA where prisoners were detained (apparently, in tiny coffin-like boxes for days on end) and later tortured and, usually, killed (some 90% of those illegally detained were executed). The methods of execution grabbed me as particularly chilling: The victims were injected with sedatives, and then either shot and buried in various mass graves around the city, or taken in planes and dropped out into the broad Rio de la Plata. These were called, aptly enough, vuelos de muerte ("death flights").

The tour guides were, as I've mentioned, serious and sincere in the way you'd imagine volunteer guides at a concentration camp would be, and kept the discussion pretty conceptual. E.g., they explained at some length that the term "Guerra Sucia" is disfavored because a war presupposes two equal state-like parties, while in this case there were not two equal state-like parties at all, but merely the military government and the population of Argentina. Apparently the preferred term is "State Terrorism," all of which basically seems to me to make sense.

The site itself is interesting because it is very much unlike the kinds of genocide museums I've experienced (which are, somewhat strange to say, numerous), in that there was relatively less in the way of graphic exhibits and more in the way of authentic, recent-seeming actual source material. This is to say that the buildings we visited weren't full of interactive videos showing films and whatnot, but were the actual buildings where the detention and pre-executions took place, more or less unadorned save for a few maps and some quotes from victims.

This austerity lent the experience authenticity, both because I often find interactive exhibits and whatnot kind of infantilizing and even undignified (esp given the subject matter), but also because the reason for the austerity was at least in part because la ESMA is still being used as evidence in ongoing trials for some of the perpetrators of the disappearances.

This latter fact, I must admit, rocked my world. That this whole episode remains a living part of the Argentine present rather than just an ugly relic of its past lends the whole scary affair a distinctive degree of immediacy. After all, this was happening in my lifetime, and in the lifetime of pretty much anyone who's in their thirties or older. When I was a tiny kid listening to Evita incessantly on the cassette player in my parents' Oldsmobile (yes, that actually happened and I remember it, and embarrassingly also remember LOVING that soundtrack), down in Argentina folks were getting whisked off the street and into detention/extermination centers including but not limited to ESMA.

It's hard to overstate the immediacy of all this in contemporary Argentine culture/politics. The sites where this happened, ESMA included, weren't sequestered off in the middle of nowhere, but were (and are) right smack in the middle of the city, so that people were living and working and walking past places where their fellow citizens were being detained, tortured, and killed. When we were going on the introductory bus tour of the city with the program, the tour guide mentioned as we went beneath an underpass that in constructing the highway, they'd uncovered a mass grave with hundreds of bodies of the disappeared (which site was still visible as a mass grave, albeit obviously having been cleared out). Then she mentioned a very picturesque park off to the right and the tour rolled on.

My mind was also blown when the tour guides mentioned at the end of the visit that the groups devoted to preserving the memory of the disappearances had adopted the phrase "Nunca mas" ("Never again") as their official motto. The obvious irony is that when the disappearances were happening, "Never again" was already in full swing as a motto associated with the Holocaust. And despite all the never-again-ing, clearly this kind of mass killing did happen again, in Argentina, and then in Rwanda, and Yugoslavia, and likely in other instances I'm not remembering offhand. My point being that it seems like a singularly impotent and demonstrably failed slogan, however unassailably admirable the sentiment may be.

So the effect this all had on me I suppose derives from the element of surprise. I've been to many other genocide-oriented museums, and am no stranger to the literature on the Holocaust, Rwanda, and Yugoslavia, and I'm pretty well aware of the forces that led to, e.g., mass killings of Armenians in Turkey during WWI, oppositionists under Mao, etc. And while in terms of numbers, the quantity of life lost in Argentina during the dictatorship is not on the same scale (though it's not terribly far off, and in any event, I don't think these kinds of numerical comparisons are that useful anyway in measuring the horror of mass killings, perhaps in the sense that multiplying any number by infinity is still infinity), it's still concerning that the whole problem of the desaparecidos was so off my Americano radar screen in terms of institutional and self-education about these kinds of events.

Why? Hard to say. I ran across references to most of the above atrocities in the course of various academic studies, so part of it may be that Argentinian politics doesn't register on Western/US curricula as much as the aforementioned. This isn't really about North/South though because aforementioned courses did address Asian and African genocides, so that hardly solves the problem. It might be that the Arg disappearances were political, and people may be more concerned about and/or freaked out by ethnically inspired genocide a la holocaust, Armos, Rwanda, Yugoslavia. But then again you've got a pretty decent consciousness of the events in China under Mao and the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot, so that doesn't really work as well either.

So I don't have an explanation for why this event is so far out of the American political consciousness (and I could be wrong about this, and it could just be that I'm embarrassingly and distinctively uninformed, which possibility I seriously am not ruling out). But at the very least my consciousness about this whole passel of awfulness was raised by visiting la ESMA today, and I'm pretty glad about that (and here I mean "glad" as in "pleased about the outcome" not "full of joy", obv.).

And then the tour was over, and what do you do after coming face to face with the specter of man's limitless capacity for inhumanity to his fellow man? Well, if you're DF, you're hungry as hell, so you head down the street to Carlitos with some folks from the Sw program and a few UBA law students and have panqueques (viz., crepes, pictured below).

Is this an unduly flip way to end an uncharacteristically so(m)ber DF blogpost? Jesus, I have no idea. Tactfulness is clearly not my bailiwick. But what else is one supposed to do? You get hungry, you gotta eat. Awful stuff happens, great stuff happens, and you go on living through it all (if in fact you do live), til one day you're no longer alive. As the lady says, "Everyone must breathe until their dying breath." Can't argue with that, o mine homies, now can ye?

Graffiti in Recoleta

I observed this graffito, presumably by a tagger named "Rouz", at the base of the Biblioteca National:

Here's its neighbor. I don't know if this is also the work of Rouz. But the term "Love Killer" reminds me of the famous photo of William Burroughs in which he's dominated by the legend "Life Is a Killer."

This graffito (which, in case it's not clear, reads "Peronismo Militante", or, perhaps obv., "Militant Peronism") is from a wall next to a vacant lot along Azcuenaga, an area that's nowhere near as scary-looking as this nighttime photo (one of the few nocturnal iPad pix that actually worked out) makes it look. It's clearly a reference to one of the sixty million variants of Peronism, though I can't tell if it's meant to be ironic, because...

It appeared next to this other graffito, referring to Argentina's current (and weirdly hot for a head of state) president, Cristina Kirchner, who is by no means a militarist. But as I plan to explain in a future post, my understanding of the incredibly confusing jumble that is Argentine politics grows less clear with each successive attempt to understand it, so the truth is really that I have no idea what these graffiti are meant to express.