Thursday, July 27, 2006

You Shall Know My Velocity

This afternoon, as usual, I was reading in the least fashionable café in all of Palermo, the Pingüino de Palermo. Several tables away from me, two men were having a conversation. Perhaps inspired by the eavesdropping skills of Chang, the keen-eared cook of Wong Kar Wai’s “Happy Together,” I tried to listen in.

At first, all I heard was “Sarmiento... Mitre... Liniers.”

A conversation about nineteenth century Argentine history?

When I paid more attention, I discovered they were talking about commuter train lines and stations.

I realized something: if you were only to listen to the proper names used in conversations in Buenos Aires, discussions about trains, roads, history, journalism, education, and many other topics would sound the same.

* * *

When I sat down, the waiter greeted me by saying “¿Qué tal, muchacho?”

For an hour and a half I read Ernesto Laclau.

Then I paid and thanked the waiter.

A vos, viejo,” he responded.

At first, it startled me to think that one can age so fast reading difficult books. And then I became a little sad, considering that I missed the spectacle of everyone else in the restaurant hurtling about at tremendous speeds, while I was busy reading.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Estoy chocho

I have two of these things on my feet as I write.
Designed and handmade by Ramón Belaustegui, a contertuliano of Viernes Santamarina.
I dig.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Buenos Aires boasts of more theaters than New York, the newspaper Clarín reported about a year ago. Whether or not this statistic is true is uninteresting; why it Clarín feels compelled to validate this city’s culture life by measuring it against Nueva Zhork is a question worth considering, but it is also one whose answer exceeds the length of a blog entry.

When comparing my private Buenos Aires with my personal Empire City, though, there is no doubt: I see more theater here. Last weekend I went to two shows.

On Friday night I accompanied my former landlady, Nuestra Señorita de los Escupideros, to El vuelo, which she described as a remix of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and The Seagull.

I’m unfamiliar with The Seagull and have a faint recollection of Uncle Vanya, so I can’t speak of the relationship between the work and its inspiration. But I can hazard a guess: neither of Chekhov’s plays involves the entire cast performing choreographed dance moves, playing ring-around-the-rosie and ass-grabbing to techno. This proved mildly bemusing, but the propensity to repeat lines ad infinitum did not.

I am all for a steady drip of verfremsdungeffekt, but this was a bit much. What I took away from this was a sense that the actors must be very close in order to push, kiss, grope, slap, tag and spit on each other so much.

Saturday night, I went with a group to see what I was told was a clown performance. In my mind, clowns all have wigs, red noses, enormous red shoes and are either goofy or murderous.

Thankfully, Cancionero negro did not match either of these mental images. Presented in Absurdo Palermo, a converted warehouse across the tracks in Palermo Hollywood, Cancionero features the androgynous Señor Neptuno who, back from the underworld, reluctantly recalls his lost loves by singing tangos, boleros, and rancheras.

Sr. Neptuno, who happens to be a friend’s, um, former clown professor, sang like a sad, sad, drunk tough guy as he twirled his hands and sashayed like a woman. From time to time he procured from his crotch a bottle of what looked to be Fernet Branca and poured glasses for the guitarist and himself.

What at first was a decidedly odd mix of melodrama and black humor grew on me and, by the end of the performance, it struck me that the show was an ideal way to resurrect songs that have been murdered over and over again by cheesy and earnest crooners.

Little Raging Bull in a China Shop of Horrors

Recently I went with some friends to El Beso, a milonga on the corner of Riobamba and Corrientes. Coincidentally, it was the first milonga I ever set foot in, as I mentioned in an earlier entry.

This time I was there to dance. Or at least attempt to dance. Perhaps lacking liquid courage, we sat at our table for about an hour, watching partners shuffle around the dance floor in counterclockwise orbits.

It was clear that what they were doing was not what I do in class, but it was close enough and, besides, Stella was getting impatient and starting to goad me.

At last I took to my feet. It was sometime around 1 in the morning, and the place had filled, mostly with well-dressed, middle-aged folk.

Once on the floor, I prolonged the requisite pre-dance chat until nearly all the couples around us were dancing, then, finally, took hold of Stella and started to move.

Like soccer, it’s bad to look at your feet and, in this case, it was impossible. The floor was packed, and it was necessary to take tiny steps, shuffle, start and stop. And for a few, brilliant seconds, I felt an integral part of the mixing, swirling mass.

Then, wham! A shoulder, an elbow, one annoying appendage or another, came into contact with another body, not Stella’s. There was no time to say perdón, and besides, I was laughing too hard at myself to get a word out.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Ink Battles

As reported on the blog GoodAirs last week, the Argentine press seems to be “toothless” when it comes to the policies of President Kirchner. They lists a number of examples where mainstream media backs off after receiving threats from the government.

Of late, however, the media has been highly critical of the administration’s attempt to push through “superpowers of urgency,” which, as I understand poorly, are like a line-item veto on steroids. (A better explanation is both solicited and welcome.)

Yesterday President Kirchner gave a speech in which he blasted journalists for “lobbying” instead of reporting, failing to check facts, and hurting the his feelings: “¡Qué pena que me dan!” he exlaimed.

The news on news made the front page of both La Nación and Clarín, the capital’s two biggest dailies.

Journalists were predictably indignant and furnished La Nación with enough blurbs for an article that bears the headline “The Press’s Unanimous Rejection of the Attacks of the President and his Wife.” Cristina Kirchner, incidentally, is a Senator.

The comparisons to Perón and Evita were perhaps inevitable, but columnist Pepe Eliaschev went way back, claiming, “The intelectual hero of this government is Juan Manuel de Rosas, the synthesis of the sum of public power.”

Rosas, dictator of Argentina from 1829-52, was indeed endowed with absolute powers from 1835 until the end of his reign. The notion of him as an intellectual hero, however, is highly ironic: as a pro-Rosas poem published in 1830 has it, Rosas has little respect for abstract thinking:

“Of these wise men of the Earth,
Good opinion I don't got...
They're gonna confuse us
with their goddam theories.”

(My translation is intentionally coarse and is meant to be read aloud with a Texan accent that masks an Andover and Yale education.)

What’s more, Rosas himself was personally involved in the editing of the Archivo Americano, a trilingual newspaper that was intended to export a good image of the dictator and his government.

So maybe Kirchner should stop whining and pick up a pen. Of course, then Eliaschev’s blustering would have real substance.