Two-and-a-half months here in South America have come and gone much faster than I would have liked and, although the trip’s been well-documented at least in the privacy of my own journal, I’ve only just recently reconciled myself with the technology that allows me to share those experiences with others — hence this blog.
Here are some highlights (at times rambling) from the last ten or so weeks:
8/27 – Disembarked in Rio around 4:30 this morning, only got about an hour of sleep on the plane. Airport is empty, plain, characterless. Expected something more stereotypically Brazilian — like what? Ecstatic Brazilians dancing samba at the baggage claim? Went wandering near the duty-free shop and saw three men, taxi drivers I think, two black, one with Portuguese features, and I thought: Brazilians in Brazil. Real ones. The same types of thoughts when I first encountered Argentines in person, as if before that they were mythical creatures.
9/9 – The Feria de San Pedro Telmo: the sun warming the Plaza de Mayo as we approach from estacion Catedral, the historic square full of tourists from Brazil and the provinces. A long fence divides the plaza in two just past the small obelisk — a mural runs along the fence, ‘Argentina: Unida y Organizada’; dozens of cartoonish figures waving the blue and white flag, some of them children in their white labcoats, some of them madres and abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo, some of them oil workers in construction hardhats, their shirts slyly emblazoned ‘YPF’: Argentina’s biggest and most recent expropriated business. At the head of calle Defensa the beginning of the street fair that stretches nearly all the way to La Boca and spills into the nearby cobbled streets. Women from the Andean provinces of the north — or from Bolivia or Peru, I don’t know — sell sweaters, hats, gloves, and ponchos of alpaca, sweaters piled high in mountains of beige, white, brown, cream, and black. Every manner of knicknack, antique, treasure, and junk imaginable — old coins commemorating distant soccer tournaments and near-extinct fauna, antique cameras, tie clips with Evita’s profile, a pin celebrating 100% attendance at an Irish preparatory school in 1985, medals from Franco’s Spain, glass bottles, old license plates, boxes full of black and white photos from family trips to the sea, little identification booklets from the ’40s and ’50s, rosary beads, silverware, swords, stamps, violins…and the food: Colombian empanadas, pan relleno de queso, medialunas with dulce de leche, tacos calientes, little meat pies, coffee. On a corner, in a big empty lot, a banner advertises “Choripan Asado”: smoke billows out from the grills to the street, nothing inside but two big oil-drum grills, cases of beer, and a guitarist seated on a stool competing with the electro-tango blasting from nearby speakers. Lunch in the quieter neighborhood bordering La Boca, at the Bar Británico near the Parque Lezama. Up Defensa from the direction of “La Repubblica della Boca” come six teenagers, dressed in soccer jerseys and ripped jeans, loud, with the gelled jet-black hair and fake diamond facial piercings popular in the poorer parts of the city — grandsons of Genovese immigrants, living in a Boca little changed since the days of their grandparents.
9/17 – Construction workers on calle Armenia are demolishing a building wedged between two apartment highrises. Brick, soft-pink, the chipping and hammering echoes off the nearby walls and the dust creates a haze which is backlit by the sinking sun. A construction worker balances atop a five-foot stretch of wall, a column of brick rising above the rubble which spills over the sidewalk, and with a sledgehammer hacks away, bit by bit, at the very brick he is standing on, till he slowly descends with the wall to the ground.
9/19 – In the news since we’ve been here: the upcoming elections in Venezuela, Chávez’s upbeat campaign rallies full of dancers, singers, hearts of yellow, blue & red, ‘Corazón de mi patria’, — interviews with 16-year-olds who as of next month will most likely gain the vote — the middle class teens in their rooms in Palermo decorated with sports posters and centerfolds, the boy who works as a cartonero and lives in a halfway house for teens, the wealthy girl who says she’s not interested in politics, the girl from the province who lives in a 1-bedroom home with exposed brick walls and numerous siblings, nieces and nephews. The nationalization, throughout the Southern Cone, of fuel resources. The destruction in the north of the country caused by deforestation and the massive planting of genetically-modified soy crops for export. Mexican poets leading peace caravans to Washington, D.C. to demand an end to the drug war. The anniversary of the disappearance, a few years ago, of Jorge Julio Lopez, implying that the same forces who carried out the disappearances of the Dirty War are still active today. Agricultural protests in Paraguay. Domain names being registered for Antarctica. The children of the desaparecidos reunited, 30 years later, with their biological families.