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.)