Thursday, 26 November 2009
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
The Buenos Aires subway system, locally known as subte, opened on December 1, 1913, making it the oldest underground system in Latin America, the Southern Hemisphere, and the Spanish-speaking world. On December 2, Línea A (the first subway train to be built) opened to the public, and around 170,000 passangers enjoyed the first subway ride in South America.
I'm not biased, but my line of choice is línea D. When I switched to línea A to meet some friends in El Congreso, I stumbled upon this gold mine of the past. The inside has not strayed from its original wood craftsmanship, and the ceiling loop supporters have defeated all upgrade attempts of the metal bar. I felt like a train stowaway when I manually pulled open the doors and hopped onto the already moving subte; automatic doors have replaced all other lines except Línea A. It was great until everyone in the car jumped off at the next stop. Was it closing? Did I smell? Was this the wrong direction? The only conclusion I came to is that the pure coincidence allowed me some quality one on one time with Línea A in the year 1913. Cool.
Back to the future, my friends and I made our way to the annual Gay Pride march that starts in the historic Plaza de Mayo and ends in El Congreso. Buenos Aires has one of the largest gay communities in Latin America, and this annual parade celebrates the gay community and its progress toward equality. Last year, around 50,000 people marched to the beautiful Congress building, and I don't doubt that this year's number was even higher. People of all styles come to partake in the festivity as gay, lesbian, and transgender floats slowly make their way partying down Avenida de Mayo with endless electronic music, bright colors, gay pride fliers & flags, outrageous costumes, and drinks. The best part, everyone seems happy.
Somehow, we ended up on a float, dancing across Av. 9 de Julio, the widest street in the world, at three in the morning. One girl made her guy friend ask me if I was gay. They had a little bet going out of curiosity: she thought I was gay, he maintained I wasn't. Sorry sweets, I'm here for the ride, but the three of us toasted to the night nonetheless. When the floats made a semi-circle in front of the Congress building, it was our time to hop off. We had a blast and ended the night downing two delicious Argentine pizzas with a side of beer. The beauty of 1913 to the beauty of 2009 in one day? Not bad.
Sunday, 8 November 2009
Under a freeway & the sole woman in this tourist free barrio, how the hell did I get here? It happened like this.. I wandered down some (random) side street, passing two guys I knew from my university in Los Angeles. What.. the.. how? At first, I convinced myself that my eyes were playing me for a fool. Trusting the instinct, I glanced over a second time. Indeed.. I knew them through friends of friends. They had been, by chaaance, visiting Buenos Aires and waiting to meet an elderly Argentine couple that they knew through friends of friends of friends. Damn.
In step with normal Argentine generosity, the sweet couple decided to fashion a connection between there and here by introducing the strangers to a pair of young Porteños. The elderly husband & wife (of course) asked (made) the young locals take the young foreigners to a River/Boca fútbol game. When I found this out, I laughed. My two friends stood out so starkly, even on this random side street, with their blond hair, blue eyes, and all-too-put-together clothes; they would scream intruders at the one location that epitomizes the strong and stubborn Argentine pride: a fútbol game. The Americans were nervously out of place, and the Argentines probably felt like.. Damn, really? We have to take these goobers to the biggest game of the season? True socios don't pollute the already electric atmosphere like that. This wold be a discredit to their name. However, the elders prevailed because at that very game, the unlikely group bonded over, and celebrated, their common passion: fútbol. No longer a obligatory date, Lucas even invited one of the visitors, the one confident enough in his skills, to play some soccer the following night. I laughed again. These guys were going to accept to play soccer with Argentines who live for it and spend e v e r y spare moment playing it?
Now, where do I come in besides as an amused observer?
When I happened upon these mutual friends, I became spontaneous tour guide. When I became spontaneous tour guide, I received free entrance to any side activities, aka, they invited me to sit with Mike on the sidelines and enjoy the show. Wonderful.. Inside access to Argentine life? I'm in.
The whole night suprised me. First, getting to Barrio Flores was an adventure in itself, being outside of the bubble that international travelers stay loyally within. Once there, I didn't know if Lucas would show up. I didn't really care at that point because it was ten at night, and I felt refreshed from the change of scenery. We found a small store to buy Mike & I some wine to go along with the game. The store owners were like the barrio: receptive, comfortable, real. We spoke in broken Spanish, gaining some respect for even coming to Flores, and even more, for coming to play soccer. After petting their pitbulls, haphazardly pushing the cork into the wine bottle (a desperate act but a solid team effort), and making new friends, we went to meet Lucas.
After a long digression, here arrives the highlight of my night, and the story behind the photos. The whole time leading up to the game, I was imagining this allll going down at some park under some weak lights. Lucas proved me incredibly wrong. We waltzed into some soccer playing haven. The sign on the outside boasted a place to play soccer, volleyball, and basketball, but let's be real. The only thing going on there is soccer, and the only people who partake are Argentine men.
Regardless, this place was awesome. Set up under the freeway, it included three 'indoor' soccer fields, divided by mesh netting. The guys that weren't (yet) playing sat with a Quillmes from the bar up front. The three of us were stoked at the chance to see something like this. I had no idea these places existed in Argentina, and apparently they're quite common. It's genius. Usually land under freeways are absolute wastes of space. Instead, this place provides somewhere for these guys to further their friendships, forget about their hardships, and play what they love. It stays open late and is always a healthy alternative to other spare time possibilites. If LA could every pull something off like this, it would be a much needed hit. Maybe it can?
The sense of comraderie and competition was overwhelming--my turn to be out of place. Still, I was welcomed, joking around with some of the players. The wine probably helped, and really, I think the regulars were amused that a girl had guts, reason, or especially a desire to make an appearance. Settling in with Mike on a bench, perfect for watching and picture taking, I was ready to see if Alex could live up to his word, and how the Porteños would receive a foreigner in on their game. He was definitely nervous, and the others he warmed up with seemed rather uninterested. As soon as he scored the first goal, though, everything changed. I was impressed. Mike was buzzed and stoked for his friend. The US unknowingly received instant fútbol-playing respect from a fútbol-playing kingdom. The competition upped a level, and the Argentines were glad for it.
After the game, all the guys hugged, kissed, whatever. Laughing and beers replaced sizzling (yet extremely respectful) competition. I talked with Lucas and his brother for a little, both I liked very much. The standard questions were asked: what am I doing here, what am I studying, how do I like it. My responses evoked the reaction that, by now, I know all too well. When I say I'm here learning their language, and yes, I'm in love with it all, pride washes over their faces. Literally, every time, with every local I've met, I watch as pride brings out their smiles and lights their eyes. Their expression says: hell yes, my country. They are so grateful that a foreigner, and a foreigner from the US no less, can see it too, see how amazingly unique this country is. Taxi drivers, colectivo drivers, strangers on the street, waiters, homestay parents, teachers, salsa instructors, strangers in bars, store owners, museum workers, band members, music goers, theater goers, coffee drinkers. I see it, everytime.
Saying goodbye to the guys, to the hidden gem of a soccer spot, Mike, Alex, and I settled in for a quiet but content cab ride home, until we, too, parted to go dream. Alex dreamed of soccer goals, Mike dreamed of BsAs' nightlife, and I, at least for now, keep dreaming about Argentina.
Sunday, 1 November 2009
The Guaraní indigenous communities belong to no border because they precede all borders, because they precede the discovery of America. Las Guaranías live in the jungle in Northwestern Argentina but also in Brazil and Paraguay, among other regions. These pictures in particular were taken in a community near Iguazú, Argentina.
What was my Mirá Vos? Where to begin. They live completely in harmony with nature. Meaning, their beliefs stem from the earth that cradles them and are inspired from natural wonders like their neighbor, Iguazú Falls.
Las Guaranías kill for need, not for excess, and utilize the medicines that Nature provides. Usually living to about 110 years old, these people don't suffer from cancer or asthma because their communities don't affiliate with the processed, the plastic, or the perverse. They refuse the overstuffed, the oversized, the over-want. They aren't into consumerism; they are into peace, participation, and independence. They speak Guaraní, which sounds more like Japanese than anything else, because again, they precede Spanish in the region. An example of their positive outlook, the Guaraní language does not have a word that means, "no." They embrace simplicity, and they represent what modern society has lost: the basics. When talking with one of the community members, he explained to me that they really don't talk much. It's unnecessary. They communicate through nature and through music and through body language.
Las Guaranías do, however, hold assemblies and come together to talk out what they are feeling, how they are doing. Seeking and acting on the consensus of the community, the assemblies are moments for everyone to participate, not just indigenous leaders but the Guaraní people. These communities are an alternative to the society in which most of us exist. Yet, they're not in denial about their surroundings, using tourism to supplement what the land provides and to rebuild their losses since European Colonization. To safeguard their autonomy (dignity)? They maintain a distance.
Don't get me wrong, I understand their lives are hard, and I understand that I am not intimate with their history. But when they extended us a Welcome to share how they lived, some of the others thought it was all so sad. I disagree. I think my fellow visitors are just unexposed and unaware to any alternative outside of our tumultuous consumerism culture. The Guaraní people do it right: happily in harmony and harmoniously happy. Nature will prevail, and when it does, so will the these communities. They are, bit by bit, moving ahead, unified.
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
Sometimes the hardest part is starting. That was me the other day. I couldn't decide where I wanted the day to take me. Finally, I chose to just Go. Jumped on a colectivo to nowhere and walked and walked.. and walked, and since I had started, I couldn't stop. The day rewarded me sweetly for my choice, and I wandered contentedly up Defensa under the stars to Plaza de Mayo and Casa Rosada, homeward bound. Casa Rosada? Nothing new. This, though, absolutely took my breath away. It amazes me that something so simple as pink lights can turn the ordinary into extraordinary. Maybe it epitomized the magic of the day for me, or maybe it was just so wonderfully unexpected. Someone else in the plaza explained to me that the lights were for Breast Cancer Awareness during the month of October. Whatever the reason, I felt like sitting with a bottle of wine to people watch and get lost in my thoughts before the glow.