Archives mensuelles : août 2003

Ex

Aside from the banks, which look closed but are open behind the metal protecting the windows, you can see you are in a special city when you come across an Ex-Harrod’s totally shut down in the main pedestrian zone.

Yes, there was a Harrod’s here, don’t ask me since when, but it did shut down before the crisis, and after the war. Anyway, it’s a nice building and it’s still empty.

I would smile if they could reconvert it into a « Casa de los Artesanos » or something
like that, with small stores selling handicraft goods.

It would make a fun contrast with the one in Knightsbridge…

Let’s Party at the Cemetery!

It’s quite special, but a very trendy area of Buenos Aires where there are many
nocturnal activities is located at Recoleta, just around the cemetery where all
most important Argentines are buried, including Evita, but excluding Carlos
Gardel, the famous tango composer.

Therefore, you have all these bars, the cinema, « terrasses », with view on…
The cemetery walls!

Special, isn’t it? I hope they aren’t too bothered by the noise.

Geography

Argentina is not supposed to be a nationalistic country. Chileans are, of course, it’s an Argentine that told me.

However, every map of Argentina includes the Islas Malvinas, called Falklands by English-speakers. These islands are claimed by Argentina since some time, after the English colonised the islands that were not occupied enough by Spain, then Argentina. Then, I recall reading that Spain, then Argentina in the middle of an independence war, did not protest enough.

Following what I have learnt of International Law, this lack of protest after the occupation is called acquiescence and would a strong influence if an International Court was to proceed on the issue. Whether fair or unfair, this is probably why the dispute has not and will not be brought in front of the Court.

We can always discuss the influence of the Empire and its colonisation on actual hot spots, such as the Middle East or Cyprus, but that will not be the point here.

Anyway, just to say that Argentine maps also all include as part of its territory a chunk of the Antarctic, doesn’t matter if some of it is claimed and by Argentina, and by Chile. And by the United Kingdom.

Chile can also include it on its maps if it wants, and everyone’s happy.

Streetwise in England

We keep saying Buenos Aires is a dangerous city, but I found a way to make England and its streets a dangerous place for me.

I could buy a « remera » (T-shirt – at least they have a proper word for it, not like us, French-speakers!) in a Souvenir shop with a big map of the already mentioned islands, with the bold inscription « Islas Malvinas Argentinas » (capital city: forget about Stanley, it’s Puerto Argentino, of course!) on it.

I could wear it in England next Summer.

I won’t buy it. I am so streetwise.

Boca – Chacarita

I’ve just been this afternoon to the hottest cauldron of Buenos Aires, I have named the mythical Bombonera of La Boca, home of Club Atletico Boca Juniors.

Streetwise, I payed a bit more and booked this game through an agency that specially organises football matches for tourists. Indeed, there are often riots outside the football stadium. Therefore it was very comfortable to have a minivan dropping us in front of the
doors and picking us up that close after the game, as well as having a guide to escort us to our seats.

Well, this time the match was a bit different.

The quality of the game was not extraordinary, but what a great atmosphere with
the fans singing and shouting enough to shake the stadium. And we really had
great seats.

I said it was different. Yes, indeed exceptionally this time the action was in
the stands, luckily not around the best seats we had but where the adverse
supporters were « parked ». Chacarita has a serious rivalry with Boca since 2
years I think for I am not sure which stupid reason.

They started throwing what they found at the Boca fans below and beside them,
Boca fans replied rushing through the aisles from their kop to reach the other side of the
stadium and participate. The police, that wasn’t this time inside the stadium as usual, took a hell of a lot of time to intervene to stop the chaos, ending up using tear-gas once the fans had started breaking the barriers. Quite efficient. I didn’t suffer, just wondering after a few minutes and a slight breeze why I suddenly had become slightly over-emotional. The tears didn’t come.

The type of events that reminds you about the stupidity of the human race, especially when in packs. In case you had forgotten.

The game was stopped 20 minutes before the end, Boca leading 2-0. One advice if
you want to see a football match in Argentina: be streetwise.

In fact, be streetwise at any time, anywhere, at home or on holiday. It can
help.

Urban Soul

Buenos Aires is organised as a grid, with very long avenues crossing each other every 100 metres, making it quite easy to find your way, or get disoriented.

Each time you pass one « cuadra » (block), the house numbers increases by one hundred. Therefore at number 3300 you are at 33 cuadras from the harbour, or from the street that does the main East-West divide of the city.

As mentioned before, most of Argentine streets have names of (sometimes) obscure (especially to me) persons of Argentine history. Slightly boring. The others have the name of Argentine Provinces. I prefer (me, the Geographer).

Anyway, why don’t they have the variety we have in Europe? Well, creating a city from scratch on a (close to) virgin land in the 16th century has its consequences.

You have to search for the soul of the city in another dimension.

Bizarre Thoughts

Well, it’s common knowledge that a bath empties itself spinning in the other direction in the Southern Hemisphere, and that I’m writing this post the head upside down on the other side of the planet.

Or rather, it’s just a question of reference. Maybe we could say that the Earth
is revolving around the sun in the other direction, that clocks should go anticlockwise and then Europe would be upside down.

Anyway, I tend to forget when orienting my map that when I look at the sun at midday, in fact I am looking up (again, reference…) North. And that the sun did not rise on my left and will not set on my right, but rather the opposite, rise on my right and set on my left… Think about it!

And then, when you’re straight ON the Equator? Well… You can choose.

All I know is that I am STILL left-handed.

Politics: Todos La Misma Basura

Last week-end, my « museum visiting streak » was hampered by the first round of the local elections. Indeed, most official buildings and museums are then shut for the week-end, or some even until the second round. So I thought I’d write a few lines on my understanding of local politics.

First of all one of the major characteristics of the Porteno (Buenos Aires inhabitant) is its total mistrust in Politicians: « All of them are the same rubbish. »

Ask a Porteno to mention one unanimously respected Head of State in Argentine History and check the result. Therefore, difficult for them to trust the newly appointed Nestor Kirchner, who faces a very tough challenge.

The result is therefore anecdotic to most, with the Peronist (some will say
Menemist, and that is really not a compliment) candidate finished with a slight
lead over the candidate supported by the President. Interestingly, the Peronist
was ahead in the richest and the poorest barrios, leaving the ones in between
to his opponent.

After that I went to the Museum of Argentine History, to see virtually all the street names of Buenos Aires in paintings, as so many important Generals,
Commanders or Governors of the 19th century. Were they of the same quality and
respect as the ones of the past fifty years? Just to say that it was relatively
interesting, and surprisingly nearly did not mention any of the 20th century
history. Or I did not find the room. Nothing on Peron, nothing on the
Militaries, on the Disappeared.

The sole exception being a small room dedicated to the Falklands/Malvinas War of 1982, the comments openly not daring to take position on the motives of the war. Indeed, it is acknowledged that even if Argentina always claimed the islands, the war was declared by the militaries mainly as a desperate act to maintain them in power. It didn’t work out that way.

Letter Box

Amazing how Argentines seem to trust letter boxes as much as rubbish bins. I just wrote a few postcards, but I think I’ll wait until Monday to hand them directly to a cashier. The Correo Argentino is not only expensive, but looks to be unreliable. I’ll do everything to maximise chances for success!

By the way, I have been silent some time now, writing a few postcards as mentioned, learning and practising my Spanish subjunctive tenses, and preparing the rest of my trip. And not that motivated in spending too much time in Cybercafes. You’ll read more from me before I leave for Salta on Monday.

Argentine Distances

I always have good fun here in Buenos Aires, explaining that Tessin is « muy lejos » (very far) from
Lausanne, i.e. 4 hours by road.

Here, it seems perfectly normal to take the « micro » (bus) for 18 hours each
way to go skiing to Bariloche, or to spend a long week-end at « las Cataratas ».
The main Buenos Aires beach is Mar del Plata, a mere 5 hours away. Ushuaia by
bus might be a bit too far away for a week-end, as it takes approximately 60
hours to get there I was told. Yes, too far.

For most (I did say most) of us in Switzerland, driving more than 2 hours to
go for a week-end seems a waste of time. Even if in 4 or 5 hours, we can get to
wonderful places in the South of France or the North of Italy. Or Tessin :-).
Graubunden is not that far away neither!

Does anyone fancy a minibus ride to Malaga for the Jeune Federal week-end?
Ah, I forgot. We have no-frills airlines.