The end of another lovely rainy day here in Buenos Aires.
I don't know about you, but I just love the rain! (It would have been lovely listening to it last night, waking up to it this morning, but for a car alarm that went off, honestly for about four hours just outside my window. I was ready to key a message into the guy's hood, but wasn't sure of the Spanish word for car alarm. So, I just stayed in bed, not sleeping.)
(I should have taken a picture of this on Valentine's day!)
Did you know that Argentina was the first country in Latin America to grant civil unions to homosexual couples? Since 2003, the city of Buenos Aires (and the province of Rio Negro) has been seen as an exemplar of modernity in South America, and the gay scene here is actually rather happening. This is not to say that tolerance has trickled down to every individual - it is still a very machoistic country, after all. But at least on paper, gays can get some tax, health insurance, and deathbed rights.
The interesting thing is, this law has actually benefitted more hetersexual couples than homosexual ones. Before its passing, there was no alternative to a religious ceremony, non-catholics were pretty much out of luck. Now more couples choose a civil ceremony over a religious one (this is not a very church-going nation).
This sign is advertising someone who will do the paperwork for a civil union. These ads are everywhere along the train tracks, for some reason.
Since technically the party started late Saturday night, and ended early Sunday morning, I believe that two carnaval pictures are in order. Besides, look at this costume! Isn't it amazing? Some of them were so big, and so beautiful, and clearly must have taken months to create.
EDIT: By the way, Ryan had a schwack of wonderful pictures of all three carnaval celebrations we saw. (Well, he saw three, I only saw two.) Check them out at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/birdseyeview/sets/72157594562910676/
Today Ryan and I got up unbelievable early to take a bus to the city of Gualeguaychu, a few hours away from BsAs, to see the biggest carnaval in Argentina. (I'm not sure, but maybe the third biggest on the continent, after Rio de Janiero, Brasil, and Montevideo, Uruguay.)
One of our students dances in the parade (although we didn't see him) so we got marvelous seats, second row center, in the auditorium through which the parade runs. The costumes were amazing, huge and elaborate. The theme was fairy tales or imagination or something, and many clubs were done up as fantasical creatures or characters from old stories.
The place was packed, and this is one of the last weekends it is going on. They have been dancing every Saturday since January 6th, and still every seat was full. In fact, the row in front of us was particularly full, holding about twice as many people as there were seats. We happened to be right behind a group of rowdy drunk people, who were standing on the chairs, jumping, and singing. This required us to stand on our chairs, in turn, to be able to see anything, and the people behind us, and so on. They were quite friendly though, offering us beer throughout the evening, and quite curious about the foreigners. I think they were happy to find one who spoke Spanish, and could answer some questions!
One word about the costumes. There were lots and lots of busty girls in thongs and nipple-stickers, shaking their bums all over the place. And of course, the men were in general more covered-up than the women. (You're never going to break that rule, it seems.) But it was rather refreshing to see that most of the men were also in revealing costumes, that they too were being shown off, and showing off. There was a little more equality in the amount of skin shown than I had expected.
This is a little Buenos Aires tradition that I love. Sometimes you will see these painted banners on the smaller streets, wishing someone in the neighborhood a happy birthday, anniversary, or good luck. This one says "Gaby, I love you madly." It's a neat way to involve the community in the celebrations, to announce to the world your happiness, to really get someone's attention. It reminds me of the "So-and-so, I love you" graffiti sprayed onto overpasses in Detroit, but so much nicer.
A wonderfully friendly vendor on my street, selling a kind of sugar-coated peanuts whose name I can never remember. They smell divine, however, sweet and warm, and whenever I walk past them I am reminded, for some mysterious reason, of the Ice Cream Saloon in Romeo, Michigan.
I've already put up one picture of the dog-walkers of Buenos Aires, but have been trying to get a better one ever since. I don't think I quite succeeded in capturing the insanity of one person walking twenty dogs at once (in this picture, there are a lot of little ones hidden by the big ones) and so another dog walker picture may make its way up here eventually. Until then, enjoy the giant Buenos Aires poop-making machine!
Floresta is the small barrioito next to Flores where I have a few classes. I saw this bit of graffiti the other day, and quite liked the idea that all this time I've been teaching on a tropical Caribbean island and didn't even know it.
Xian Nian Kuai Le, everybody, Happy New Year! Today is Chinese New Year, ringing in the year of the Pig, so Ryan and I headed down to the very very small Chinatown in Belgrano. We were not disappointed! The Association of Taiwanese in Argentina were putting on a big hullabaloo, and people had turned out in droves. There were dragon and lion dances circling the block, lines outside every restaurant, and egg rolls and squid balls frying on the streets.
Actually, I was really very surprised by how crowded it was (you could hardly walk down the sidewalk, the streets were thronging with people) considering most Argentine's view of the Chinese population here. We have heard, from students, the belief that Chinese-run grocery stores are very dirty, and lots of people here are afraid that the Asians are "taking over." (But then again, so are the Bolivians and Peruvians and all general dark-skinned scary people.) How wide-spread this fear is, we're not sure, but we've definitely encountered a lot of racism. One common complaint is that Argentina is becoming "too South American," as opposed to the lovely pure European it should be.
But perhaps the crowd there today was proof that I've simply talked to the wrong people, and these stereotypes are not too common. Or at the least, a huge celebration like this will be a step in the right direction!
We met some friends of ours in Belgrano this evening, in a park near their house where impromptu tango had broken out in a giant gazebo. It was a slow and old-fashioned style of tango, and the people certainly seemed to be enjoying it. It's so nice to live in a city with parks and activities and things like this going on all the time.
These posters have gone up all over downtown in the last day or two, yelling out "Ayer Isabelita, Hoy Cristina." A few words about these two ladies of Argentine politics.
Isabelita is Isabel Perón, the third wife of the famous Juan Perón. (Evita was his second.) She was a beautiful dancer thirty five years younger than him, and met him in exhile in Panama. They married and she quickly became very influencial, and when Perón returned to Argentina and ran for president in 1973, he choose Isabel as his vice president. He died less than one year later, and she served as Argentina's first (and, thus far, only) female president from 1974 to 76.
The problem is, she was extremely unpopular. Her time in office was marked by high inflation, weak leadership, lots of disappearances, and over 1,500 deaths in an attempt to "annihilate subversive elements" in the country. She was actually arrested in Spain a few weeks ago for her connections to (i.e. direct orders for) these disappearances.
Cristina is Cristina Kirchner, current senator and rather powerful wife of the president, Nestor Kirchner. Rumors have been flying that she will run in the next presidential election. Clearly someone is not happy about this.
Once (pron Ohn-say) train station is one of the worst places in Buenos Aires, in my opinion.
It is dirty. Like everywhere in BA, people throw their trash on the ground, but here it seems worse somehow. I see them throwing it out the train windows, off the platform onto the tracks, onto the platform, anywhere but in the numerous trash cans. There is litter everywhere.
It is full of misery and desperation, a common place for beggars to beg, and homeless children to wander. Everywhere you look there is someone needing help, and every train ride is punctuated with the tragic stories of lives interrupted and sick children.
It is noisy. Not only are there people yelling and shouting to each other, men making piropos at women, and children crying, but there are dozens of people selling things on each train, as well. As you sit (or, more likely, stand) all kinds of amazing products are sung about, at full volume. Hot dogs and pop are the norm, but you can also buy socks, crossword puzzles, joke books, flashlights, candy, phone cards, colored pencils, pornography, ice cream, and much much more.
When a train pulls in at rush hour, there are always huge crowds of people waiting on the platform in groups where they guess the doors will line up. Very luckily, I am usually coming into the city at rush hour, which is between 6 and 8, having gone out to Flores earlier for my classes. These waiting crowds will usually push their way onto the train very violently, everyone vying for a seat. I really do mean violently, by the way, actually pushing each other out of the way. I've seen them push little old ladies. It's so ridiculous, in fact, that if the windows are open wide enough, people will climb into the windows to get the seats next to them, as can be seen here. You can't get off the train until this rush of people has gotten onto it, making the train twice as crowded as it needs to be until the seats are all taken.
I don't know the name of this bread, and it isn't common in Buenos Aires. It can be found in the poorer areas of town, however, and is cooked on sticks over coals on makeshift grills. This was taken near Retiro bus and train stations, a small area with dodgy markets and cheap parillas and lots of trash on the ground.
A St. Christopher medal on the front grille of a construction vehicle in the Flores neighborhood.
I guess they don't mind so much down here that he's not exactly a saint any more. But then, there are an awful lot of home-grown "saints" in the countryside. They have shrines, receive gifts and pilgrims, grant miracles and answer prayers, all without the formality of vatican approval. The best story is of "La Difuncta," the Deceased, a woman who followed her husband into war across a desert. She died along the way, but some shepherds found her body days later, still nursing her child, and built a shrine right there. Now it is a major sight of pilgrimage and prayer, and needs a warehouse to store all of the gifts thanking the saint for answered prayers.
At the corner of Corrientes and Jeronimo Salguero you can see this plaque embedded in the sidewalk. It marks the place where Graciela Mellibovsky was disappeared in 1976. There are countless posters and signs and photo shows and marches here demanding that the government and the people remember the victims of the dictatorship, but I have never seen a plaque like this before, marking the exact spot something happened.
I walk past this book store every Thursday on my way to classes downtown. It is the oldest bookstore in Buenos Aires (and very possibly the continent, although I'm not sure), founded in 1785. It has also been named one of the six most beautiful bookstores in the world.
Although I've traveled in Europe, which is full of old buildings, and Asia, whose civilization is millennia older than ours, it still amazes me to think that this one store is about the same age as my entire country. (Well, my entire government, anyway.)
Ryan and I both had the morning off, so we decided to do a little sight-seeing. Our destination was the Palacio de Aguas Corrientes (Palace of Running Water), the waterworks of Buenos Aires. It was finished in 1895, and the outside was designed as a beautiful building, architecturally, to fit in with the gorgeous old houses around it. Inside, however, it is just one big ugly room with tanks and pipes and whatnot. We're not exactly sure if it is still functioning as a waterworks, but it definitely still houses the offices, as there were lots of people there to pay their bills.
On the second floor is a small museum full of old taps and faucets and toilets, the old blueprints of the building, and some other old-fashioned knick-knacks. They had a whole room full of old toilets, in fact.
I had a close encounter with the inner workings of the Argentine bureaucracy today. The lovely ladies at South American Explores (a local travelers' club of which we are members) let me know that my mother's package was here, and I should come by the clubhouse. When I got there, I found, not a package, but a slip to go to the local post office to pick up the package. Pretty normal, they do that for safety, as there isn't usually a mail box or anything to put it in.
So, I go to the local post office and wait for over an hour to get my package. It's finally my turn, I sign for it, and the woman brings out, not a box, but a letter. Hmmm, a registered letter for me from the Argenine post system. I open it up, and it is another slip telling me that my package is at the main post office. I couldn't believe it.
Why they wouldn't just tell you which post office it's at on the first slip, I don't know. Maybe they see that it's from somewhere else and think, "Let's frustrate the foreigners!"
Ryan and I went to a tiny Carnival celebration on Medrano Street in Almagro last night. It featured a local award-winning murga (group of people who dance and sing together, in matching costumes, during Carnival), some tango singing (what event in BA would be complete without it!), and lots of children spraying foam at each other and whoever else was around. It was short and small, but a ton of fun, and the dancers were terrific. The announcer mostly talked about how great Almagro is (there's a lot of neighborhood pride here.)
It was all a little dark and fast for my camera, so you should really check out Ryan's site to see a nicer picture, and hopefully his Flickr account later on to see much more of it! Either way, you'll be seeing more when we go to Gualeguaychu in a few weeks to see the biggest Carnival in Argentina!
This is the prison on Caseros Avenue in the Parque Patricios neighborhood of Buenos Aires. It is closed down now, but in its day was known for being dirty, over-crowded, hellish, and full of political prisoners. Conditions were horrible, torture was rampant, and the entire building was in fact designed to let no direct light in, keeping the prisoners in a hazy twilight. A reminder of the military dictatorship, and an ugly building to boot. They are demolishing it now, floor by floor because of all the hospitals nearby, and it is slowly shrinking in size.
A New York artist named Seth Wulsin came down here a couple of years ago, was impressed by the art scene, and decided to stay. He said that he was walking past this prison one day and saw faces in the smashed out opaque windows. He decided to do an art project, despite the fact that it would exist only as long as it took for the demolition crews to get down to the ground floor. So, he carefully punched out more of the glass circles, making faces in the grids. These faces represent the people who were imprisoned here. They can only be seen from just the right angle, where the sun hits the glass. (It took Ryan and I a while walking around to find just that angle. For a closer view, check out his site.)
I began taking a photo each day on the day I moved to Buenos Aires in August 2006. It's been over five years now, through normal working life in Argentina, a trip all around South America, a long visit home to the US, teaching in Taiwan, traveling around the Middle East, living in Vancouver, and traveling around Canada.
I have a few lapses, but I decided that it was better to feel good about the blog instead of feeling like a slave to it.
These photos are the things that I see - things that are common or interesting or odd or delicious or beautiful or terrible - things that catch my eye in some way. This blog is a way for me to keep in touch with family and friends so very very far away, an extended photography lesson, and a kind of daily journal of my own impressions of places both new and well-known.