Ok. The city's now buzzing about the semifinals of the Mundial de Básquet (starring, I assume, Manu Ginobili). I'm a little behind on the news. But I just wanted to post a short acknowledgement re: the surprising fun of the Mundial de Tango. We went Friday night to see Narcotango en vivo. (I enjoy the fact that the name Narcotango makes my Spanish tutor giggle every time it's uttered). They were performing between rounds of the semifinals of the stage tango competition. We saw stunning pairs from Colombia (who ended up winning, pic'd left), Japan (the best dress of the night was little more than a neck-to-ankles fishnet stocking, worn by brave chica from Tokyo) and, of course, Argentina. On Sunday, for the finals, Robert Duvall was in the front row, granting interviews to Argentine TV en castellaño. Unlike Mr. Duvall, I'm not a huge tango fan, but I was definitely entertained. And hats off to the Argentine piba who won the salon tango competition in her 7th month of pregnancy (also pic'd).
Less than half-way through the 2-month-long Festival de la Luz, we've seen photos in museums, galleries, libraries and a junk yard. The last location was the most memorable--with memory further aided by a new posting on Grant's inimitable website, Whats Up Buenos Aires (under News for Aug. 26). Photos by Sebastián Friedman were displayed among the chatarra y basura. Bonus: A cheery old chori-master fed us choripan while we listened to music under the unseasonably warm sun. (See: Grant's photo collage.*)
The junk yard was located in Lanus, just outside Capital Federal. The last time we went to Lanus, a friend from Quilmes taught us to sing like the school children do:
Por dia no hay agua.
Por noche no hay luz!**
So, I imagine that my as-yet-unnamed belly buddy could ask one day about his travels before either of his two passports were issued. I would be able to proudly tell him that, in utero, he went coast to coast in both North and South America (L.A. to N.Y.C. up there and Valparaiso to Punta del Este down here). And within Buenos Aires, he's been toted to sample high teas at the Alvear, dinner at Tomo I and streetfood in a junk yard.
*Those of you who think you know Ian might not recognize him here. It's not the sunglasses that will throw you; it's the shockingly unshaven head.
**I have nothing against Lanus. I've found the people friendly and the old-school cafés charming. It's just a catchy song.
Ever since we moved in, there's been a big construction job underway next door. You haven't heard us complain about it too much -- even though there were a couple of stretches when we woke up to jackhammering Monday through Saturday. (Turns out, it's legal for them to start work at 7 AM every day except Sunday. Oy.) When this monster project is finished, it's supposed to be a boutique hotel with the elegant bones of an old building and the deluxe amenities of new construction.
Well, yesterday, on our way to lunch, Ian decided to ask the guys on the job when they might finish the new wall that juts up a bit higher than our terraza's wall. (See pics.) With two distinct types of bricks, visible holes and cement patches, it doesn't look quite finished. But the question was met with "You'll have to talk to the building's owner." Turns out, the owner was right there, and so we met him. We also met someone I assume was his architect. The architect launched right into a explanation of why the owner has no legal obligation to do anything more than he's done. If we want the wall to be "finished," he said, it's up to us to get up there and build. Then, the owner piped in that he'd heard about the presence of humidity in one of our walls. (The phrase nada que ver pops to mind.) We tried to calmly explain that we'd hired a plumber who opened our wall to find no broken pipes nor any sources of said humidity. He then said he had to talk to someone else and with that dismissed us without a customary kiss or even a friendly chau.
Now, maybe I'm being petty, but after 8 months of enduring his project's construction, the owner struck me as a very unpleasant guy at this first meeting. My little bit of revenge can be to report and post pictures....Maybe more soon? Well, the hotel is still far from its grand debut.
Furthering our previous post about the li'l crime wave in lovely Palermo, Clarín recently reported that at 11 p.m. two guys in their early 20's jumped tango singer Adriana Verela's [spelling corrected] domestic worker, forced their way into the apartment on the 2500 block of Coronel Diaz (the edg eof Palermo), and stole cash in dollars, euros and pesos. Varela (right) was not at home.
Further fanning the flames, La Nación reported an attempted carjacking (replete with gunshots) at the intersection of Avenida Luis María Campos and Clay, two clothing stores that were burgled at dawn, a kiosk that was robbed twice in 2006, and another kiosk--on the 2400 block of Borges--that's been jumped 20 times in three years. Of course, La Nación might be especially sensitive to this crime wave: on August 17 they published an article about two of their own journalists who had been home-invaded--at 2:15 p.m. in the afternoon, while resting with their two-month-old baby--by armed assailants in their apartment on the 2000 block of Gurruchaga.
Bad Behavior Bonus: Further further proving that as we said before many drivers here can't drive worth a pig's ass, Los Andes runs a DyN story that says that in an average month there are 500 car accidents and 600 hit pedestrians just in the city of Buenos Aires. So the next time you see a car in B.A., remember your what they taught you to do if, um, your clothes caught on fire: Stop, drop and roll. Or just run.
Living in a quirky old place with no monthly expenses, we basically have to be our own encargados (building superintendents). What does that entail? Well, I'm still learning, but here's a little wisdom gleaned from our first 8 months:
- When we smelled gas in the galeria, Ian called a local gasista, who tore up some old tiles to reveal a rusty, leaky gas pipe. It was replaced & the galeria tiles were patched back up for $300 (Arg. pesos). Not too traumatic.
- A neighbor who lives in an old building that abuts our old building called us about the presence of humidity in our joined walls. We gamely arranged a visit (but I was bracing myself for the worst). The neighbor brought her building's administrator (why not encargado? no sé.) and an overseer from the hotel construction project on another side of our building. We were surrounded.... After inspecting our home inside and out, the crew declared the leaky faucet on our terraza as suspect #1.
- Ian called back the local gasista, who also happens to be a plomero. We asked him to see if he thought the rooftop leaky faucet could be damaging the joined walls and estimate how much it would cost to fix it. He dug up some terraza tiles to reveal that, no, the pipe itself was not leaking, just the old fixture (which I want to replace with an outdoor shower anyway), nor did any water reach the troubled area. Total cost: $0.
- But on his way up to our roof, the local gasista/plumber, who also happens to be a welder, stepped on our circular staircase in such a way that one of the welded corners came apart. So we've asked him to come back to weld the metal staircase in a few places, adding some child-proofing bars while he's at it. I guess he's almost becoming our outsourced encargado -- without much financial gain from us.
(Photo credit: CTPyle of fromacafe fame. I can't believe that was just 5 months ago -- before my belly took on its current epic proportions.)
It's a slow work week for me so far and el feto will officially be considered full term on Saturday (even though his projected birthdate is still a few weeks away). This means it's probably time to stop procrastinating on the baby front. Yesterday I bought diapers, mineral oil, talcum powder and some other sensible supplies. Today I pre-washed the first load of baby laundry, which includes swaddling blankets, onesies, formal outfits, socks, etc. (= all the light-colored gifts from, in alphabetical order: Cathy, Aunt Cindy, Eve, Emily, Joan, Megan and my parents. All are very cute and many are celeste y blanco, which is both Argentina- and boy-appropriate.)
So, I'm making some progress. But the toughest item on the to-do list has got to be deciding on a name. In Argentina, there's an official list of acceptable names (See: nombres autorizados). Strange. But with 1,337 names from Aaron to Zysli--including Ian's favorite mild oath, Dulce Jesús--I think we should be able to find one...
(Appropriate for these final pre-birth weeks, Ian's cellphone rings to the tune of Europe's The Final Countdown.)
Recently, the New York Times' Larry Rohter provided a sneak peak of the forthcoming Argentine version of "Desperate Housewives." In order to keep the storyline close to the original, certain backstories and character quirks have been translated. So, how do you translate the pinched WASP, closet alcoholic played by Marcia Cross? Her Argy alter-ego is "daughter of a military officer and a fervent Catholic." Makes sense.... And the Latin bombshell played by Eva Longoria? Well, they cast this country's ubiquitous underwear model Araceli González, who explained to the New York Times that she too can be manipulative and coquetteish.
How Do You Say ‘Desperate’ in Spanish? (NYT, reg. requ'd)
The AP posted an article today about foreign entrepreneurs taking advantage of the low rents and low low local salaries to start businesses here in BA. But double-digit inflation makes it a little difficult for these businesses to make 10- or even 2-year plans.
Quote: ''On a macroeconomic level, you're in the hands of God in terms of the Argentine economic cycle. It's best not to think about it.''
Foreign Entrepreneurs Spice Up Argentina (via Yahoo! News)
Tourism is now the 4th biggest economic engine in Argentina, moving ahead of its beef industry, according to Sunday's La Nacion. But admittedly, the beef is one of the reasons tourists flock here.
El tango, la carne, el clima, la noche, el mate, el fútbol, Caminito, la montaña, el mar, el vino, las mujeres... ...lists the article. What else? Polo ponies, mullet-sporting soccer stars and plastic surgeons at cut-rate prices could be added as attractions.
More factoids: Brazil is sending the most tourists Argentina's way, followed by the U.S. of A. In Buenos Aires, the average foreign tourist spends $463 (Arg. pesos) per day. Meanwhile, the average Argentine visitor to the big city spends a more modest $167 (Arg. pesos). Any wonder why foreigners get more attention from the vendors on Florida? Hello, big spender...
Those who've been to Palermo's popular Jardín Botánico Carlos Thays know that, besides its large greenhouse (replete with 2,230 broken windows after the recent hail storm) and calm landscapes, it's prime attraction are the scores of cats that populate it and rub their oft-wonded bodies up against strolling visitors. Well, in order to keep the number of cats under some kind of control (cats have, in various quantities, been there since the 1950s), the city of Buenos Aires has decided to perform a feline census and mark each of the 200+ cats on their ear to identify the "legal" ones and disuade people from leaving new ones (think of it as an Illegal Feline Immigrant Amnesty). Feline defense groups of sorts, like Gatos del Botanico, have sprung up and familiar stereotypes are being trotted out (this is sounding more like the U.S./Mexico immigrant dispute every sentence): "It all began because it was said that the cats were disappearing from the Garden (last year there were 300 of them)--they were stealing them to sell them--and people even said they were killing them in a Chinese restaurant," a woman named Clara told La Nación.
Today's Clarín had the interesting news that in Argentina's new code of military conduct, members of the nation's military will not be punished for having sexual relations with someone of the same gender (i.e. being actively gay). According to Colonel Manuel Lozano, one of those who drew up the new rules, "It [the old rule] was nonsense. It's people's private life." Maybe the U.S. military could learn something here (I mean, regarding gays in the military; let's not be learning any lessons from Argentina's many military coups, the Dirty War, the...).
The military dictatorship and Dirty War of 1976-1983, never far from the surface of the Argentine discussion, has risen very much to the fore in recent weeks with the first trials of “repressors” since the Argentine Supreme Court repealed the amnesty laws in June 2005, especially with the first completed trial—the recent conviction and 25-year sentence for Julio “Turco Julián” Simón (right), a former federal police officer charged with kidnapping and torturing a Chilean/Argentine couple and “stealing” their eight-month-old child. A federal judge recently issued 16 more arrest warrants and three people—a former intelligence agent and two retired military officers—were arrested last Wednesday on Dirty War charges.
Putting the effects of the dictatorship and those it killed into context is difficult for anyone, much less a foreigner whose experience is third hand. The numbers are both horrible and small in comparison to other mass killings—the Khmer Rouge regime was said to have led to the death of 1.7 million Cambodians, or 24% of the population, while those killed in
It is into this soup, that of a country reopening the wounds of a 25-year-old civil war, that Wall Street Journal editorial writer and resident “Latin America Expert” Mary Anastasia O’Grady jumped (as she so often does) a few weeks ago. Her basic schtick, to reduce it to its minimum, is that the real problem wasn’t the military dictatorship but the left-inspired and Soviet/Cuban/Palestinian-backed civil war it was trying to “save” Argentina from, that it's best to let bygones be bygones, and that President Nestor Kirchner is just angry because his side lost to the military. Now, admittedly there is some kernel of truth in each of these assertions, but because O’Grady argues with such disingenuousness and elides so many salient facts it's impossible to take her as anything more than a partisan hack—and easy to understand why she apparently so pisses off the Kirchner regime and expats like this one, who writes:
A typical grotesque distortion from the WSJ's notoriously reactionary editorial pages. The writer is an apologist for the late junta. She asserts that Kirchener is the very equal of Castro (the first four paragraphs of her piece), glosses over the murderous state terrorism of the dirty war in one sentence, and invokes Menem's discredited blanket pardon as a just model for reconciliation. Reprehensible.
What exactly did she say? Well, here’s her summary of what happened when the military took over in the midst of a leftist insurgency that she says ended up killing 1,500 people:
According to newspaper accounts, when the military took over the government, Argentine society was greatly relieved. Tragically, the military went on to use extreme measures to restore order. In 1983 civilian government returned.
To reply to that in short form: 1) While many people may have been relieved to have some semblance of order restored, that relief no doubt evaporated when the military moved from going after the small number of revolutionaries present and began killing everyone it disagreed with; 2) The military didn’t just “tragically” go on to use “extreme measures to restore order,” it killed between 9,000 and 30,000 people (depending on whose count you believe); 3) Yes, in 1983 civilian government returned—after inflation bounced to about 200% in 1982 (and more later) and the junta lost a disastrous war with Britain over the Malvinas/Falkland Islands. And to her using of the 1,500 number (both here and in a previous article), Martin Edwin Andersen, the author of Dossier Secreto: Argentina's Desaparecidos and the Myth of the “Dirty War”, wrote:
First Ms. O’Grady gilds the lily by saying that, during the 1970s Argentine leftist guerrillas “rack(ed) up over 1,500 victims,” when the number of those actually killed was around 600, if that. Bandying about inflated numbers about the size of the guerrilla threat is one way apologists for the former Argentine military dictatorship justify why some 25,000 people, including hundreds of senior citizens, pregnant women and children, were tortured and killed in secret concentration camps.
To round out this ramble on Dirty War politics, I would be remiss if I didn’t relate it to
But as such conversations do, at that time of night before the action but after the food, frivolous turns to politics. “What do you think of this new push for trials for people from the Proceso [the dictatorship]?” I ask.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently,” Ale says. “Fabián Bielinsky’s death hit me really hard because of that, because I felt like we lost one of the only big brothers we had.”
“Our generation of artists and film makers don’t have many older siblings,” he says. “The Proceso cut off the head of the generation of artists and filmmakers and syndicalists and anyone else who might have been on the left. They died in a religious war.”
“I though the dictatorship at least pretended it wasn’t tied to the Catholic Church.”
“Sure, but the thing is, the previous ones helped the traditional powers—the landowners, the Church, people like that—protect their power, but they weren’t so ideological. This one, you see, was a religious one, part of the whole worldwide anti-communist religious war, and it killed off the head of a whole artistic generation. It left a castrated generation behind.”
“Yeah, because the leaders, the most forceful artists and filmmakers and people who you would have expected to lead the generation were killed. It was castrated. Fabián somehow survived, and he was one of our few big brothers. So his death is so tough. Because so many were killed in his generation is why a new wave of Argentine film is only now just coming back. The post-dictatorship generation is now in its 30s. Their generation was castrated, and ours had no older brothers to lead the way.”
The message board of the Buenos Aires expat group BANewcomers is all atwitter about Len Schwartz (being arrested by Good King Wencelaus, right), a supposed newbie visitor who used the board to find apartments and turned out to be--a fugitive sex abuser! Apparently (and I say apparently so as not to be libelous), while in the U.S. Señor Schwartz pretended to be a fake gynecologist in order to touch women (You wouldn't think a guy would use such an obvious ruse to get in a girl's pants, would you? Well, apparently Len would). In 2001 he was sentenced to nine years in prison in New Jersey for sexual abuse of women and minors and for impersonating a medical doctor. In February he was given a conditional release but then broke the rules of the release and decided to come here, to scenic Buenos Aires, and pretend he was with Doctors Without Borders (classy, Len).
Once here, he pestered people for apartment rentals on BANewcomers and, it seems, got a little creepy on one expat. According to Holly at B.A. blog Tango in her eyes, he got a little too excited about helping her get over a cold:
This person emailed me extending his offer help me with my medical needs, because my "cold" just may turn into a bronchical infection. He was just a bit "too" interested in helping me. And then when he mentioned the method of ingestion of the antibiotics he was going to perscribe, the ALARMS really went CODE RED!Len is now in jail awaiting extradition to the U.S. His NJ sex offender registration is here. First mafiosos and Serbian war criminals, and now this.
1) Fellow Bayres blogger/journalist Oliver Balch of Argybargy fame writes a solid overview of the well-heated local real estate market, including a quote from Saltshaker's Dan Perlman, the tale of an actual NYC style apartment bidding war in B.A., and the interesting fact that prices in the swanker districts went up 25% last year. Even better, the "Special Report: Argentina" file under which the article is filed leads with the picture at left which, I believe, shows a police/citizen melee after the 2001/2 currency devaluation.
2) Giving credence to our theory that local bus drivers can't drive worth a pig's ass, La Nación publishes a piece about the boom in fatal bus accidents, noting that every six hours someone dies in a bus or truck accident, 1,790 people died in such accidents in 2005, and 25% of roadway accidents in Argentina involved a professional driver as compared to 1-2% in the "First World".
3) Further proving that the world is about to end--or at least that the climate is a mess--Mexico City suffered a weird hail storm a la Buenos Aires.