Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008


Trasnochando is a famous old-timey tango song. The word means something like "All-nighting it."

In my younger days there was an aspect of this when I was going to college. The cycle of periodic all-night cramming for midterms and finals and the last ditch paper-writings meant that I was never fully awake during the school year, never had any kind of natural sleep rhythm happening.

Then came the raving days. In California the legal dance clubs are only open until 2AM, and then it's off to a 24-hour food joint (Denny's, Carrows) until maybe 4AM, latest.

That was until 1992 when the rave scene came to my town. Suddenly you could dance from midnight until 9AM in warehouses and basements, and we often did.

The other night a friend from Perth and I went to a pizza joint in San Telmo before heading over to the milonga. We were going to catch the whole class-practica-live band-milonga deal. On the way to the pizza joint we stopped in at a hostel so my friend could chat with the gal who runs it, a friend of hers. We hung out for fifteen minutes while gringos talked to her friend about where to eat. Then we chatted for ten minutes, then bailed to the pizza joint.

Had some beer, nice salad, nice tomato and basil pizza, then asked for the bill.

Meanwhile, while we'd been eating, I was noticing the trees blow around like crazy in a park beyond the front windows. Been here long enough to know what that means: rain's-a'comin. This is especially true on those days where the humidity is intense and has a painful burning feeling on the skin, like that day. You can see that kind of rain in this video.

As the gal put our bill on the table, lightning flashed, the earth rumbled and, as they say, the sky opened up. It just totally dumped on us. It was one of those deals where within seconds trash is whizzing by the windows in the street river.

Our milonga was three blocks away, yet we were totally pinned down. Three times we decided to go for it, and got sent back. Even during the light spells the drops were so huge that each one was a big splash on our heads or bodies. I was already soaked from the three attempts but was trying to preserve somewhat dry underwear. It was already too late for my hair.

So we sat down with some Spanish-speaking dudes in the resto and hung out with them for awhile. The lightning was consistent and intense. This little corner of San Telmo flashed and boomed and soaked.

It was too late to make the class or the practica, but I'd told a friend I'd meet him there at 10:30. He's not a tango dancer and wouldn't know anyone at the milonga, so I wanted to be there when he arrived, like I said I would be. So at 10:15, even though it was raining, it wasn't drenching, so I said Let's go for it. We went for it. After a block we found a few overhangs to run under, but basically we got soaked down to the unders. Not all bad in this hot weather, but not ideal either.

When we got to the top of the milonga stairs, turns out it was a very crowded situation, you needed to have a place to sit: you needed a reservation. We didn't have. So I whipped out my, "Tengo unos amigos aca." I have some friends here. "Su nombre?" Their name? At that point, my friend who I was meeting there comes from the bar to the door, and the door guy sees that I and my friend from Perth do indeed have "friends here." So he lets us in.

Now, when my friend had arrived there--the one who later got us in by coming over from the bar--was asked if he had reservations, he said he was there to meet me, and gave my name. When the door guy said "Quien?" Who, my friend said, "The guy with the hair." The door guy says, "Oh, okay," and lets him in. So if that was confusing, to sum up: he got in by saying he was there to meet me, and I got in by saying I was there to meet him. And neither of us had reservations nor a place to sit.

Fortunately another very cool friend of mine who will be recognized if I say here he is tall, young, attractive, always surrounded by beautiful woman, an American, a beginning tango dancer but awesome Salsa dancer...had scored two tables for himself and his friends, so he shared his spare table with me, my friend from Perth, and my other friend who had come to see what a milonga is like.

Back to the pizza joint for a moment. I've hung out with this woman from Perth a few times, and the convo finally found its way to the exhaustion and burn-out and sense of disconnectedness that this "tango expat" life leads to.

By tango expat, I mean someone here for some months rather than weeks. We are up to some very strange hours, often sunrise. Sleep is anywhere between zero in two days to 8 hours at any different time of day or in various chunks.

Every day has some mix of taxi rides, bus rides, subway rides, long walks, long times spent sitting in dark places, times spent dancing with people you know or don't know, times drinking beer, wine, cocktails, coffee, mate, mineral water, times spent in classes, waiting to get into classes, changing shoes in hallways, changing shoes under tables in clubs, times bumping into people, being kicked by people on floors, walking miles to shoe stores or milongas, standing at back-alley bus stops at 4:45AM, climbing stairwells to places you've been, places you ain't been before, meeting people you know, ones you don't, staring out windows across valleys of tenement buildings into other windows at 3AM, wondering what that person is doing there, what are they staring at? A television? Someone else across the way from them? Should I go to bed now, or say "F it," have a mate, take a shower, and go out. Walking past homeless people and cops and workers and woman and groups of young Goths at 4AM in the morning, looking up at the moon which for that one minute happens to be visible in this town's tiny sliver of sky.

So even if the song may be talking about a period of years, you can relate to it even if you're only here for months. Even the part in the end makes sense, either about this kind of life in general, or about the really precious relationships we seek and rarely find--but sometimes find--on the dance floor, people who then go home the next week, or whom we shall soon leave behind. Back home I liked this song and thought I understood it. I didn't realize that I was only grasping it in an abstract way. Now it evokes all kinds of memories and feelings from my real life.

Here is Trasnochando performed at that milonga the other night. If you want to follow the lyrics while you listen to the performance, the video starts with the line "Siempre fueron, mis mejores compañeros," in the first stanza.

Trasnochando performed by El Orchestra Tipica Afronte

Trasnochando, como todo calavera
que no ve lo que le espera
que no sabe donde va,
rechazaba, tus consejos buen amigo,
casi fuimos enemigos
por decirme la verdad.
Siempre fueron, mis mejores compañeros
los muchachos milongueros,
jugadores y algo mas;
y con ellos, noche a noche derrochaba
entre copas, baile y farras
esta vida que se va.

Trasnochando conoci
el nombre que vos sabes,
no quisiera repetir
lo que anoche te conte.
Todo todo lo perdi,
solo de ella conserve
esa foto que hay alli
y que ya no quiero ver.
Vos que todo lo sabes
manana cuando venis
esa foto la guardas
la tiras o la rompes.
Para mi lo mismo da,
vos hace lo que queres
no la quiero mas mirar
ni pensar lo que ella fue.


Staying up all night , like a hollow-eyed skull
that does not see what's ahead
that does not know where he goes,
I rejected your advice good friend,
we almost were enemies
for you telling me the truth.
My best companions always were
the milonguero boys,
the gamblers and something else;
and with them, night after night I wasted ,
between drinks, dances and parties,
this life that is going away.

Staying up all night I met
the name that you know,
I would not want to repeat
what I told you last night.
I lost everything,
I only kept of her
that photo over there
that I no longer want to see.
You who knows it all,
when you come back tomorrow
keep that photo,
throw it away or tear it apart.
To me it is the same,
you do what you want
I don't want to see her anymore
nor to think about who she was.

(Translated by Alberto Paz)

And here are links two other videos from that same night:


"Both night-shift work and chronic sleep deprivation are increasingly implicated in mental and cognitive problems."


Why the city messes you up.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Boca Juniors Match, Parte Dos

(Continued from Boca Jrs. vs. Independiente Parte Uno)

The stairwell up to the popular bleachers is a fifteen-foot-square four-story gray brick rectangle. When we enter it, there are three or four men on each level, urinating either towards the wall, or in the more classic Latin American style, facing away from the wall and pissing into the middle of the walking area.

People had been entering La Bombadera for a couple hours before this time, so the floors of the stairwell landings were nicely humidified with their first coats of fresh piss. The smell was not yet overwhelming.

We came to the first door out into the bleachers, and I had a sense we should keep ascending in the stairwell to a higher level, but my companions pushed on through this first door and into the already totally jammed bleachers. This may have been a mistake. If we had gone higher up, we could have ended up in the shade under the upper deck, with a better view, and out of the throw/spit/urinate line of the enemies in the opposing-team's-fans section above us. As it was we were in direct sunlight, watching through a barbed-wire fence, and in danger.

Next time you are heading into La Bombadera's popular section, keep going as high as you possibly can.

The popular bleachers are made of cement, nine ten inches front to back, eighteen inches from butt level to foot level. When we first got in about an hour before kick-off, though we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other fans--actually there was shoulder overlap--you had a place for your feet and a place for your butt. But by the time the game started, you only had one place: you could either stand there, or sit there and pull your knees up to your stomach with your feet on the same level as your butt, in a roughly 9-inch-square area.

I AM smiling, Che.

Each team is sponsored by a company and the company name is the dominant thing on their jerseys--the pro ones and the fan ones. On the Boca Juniors jerseys the word MEGATONE blazes across the front and back in blue on yellow. Independiente's colors are red and white, and these are also the colors of their sponsor's logo. I will not mention who their sponsor is because for some months I am a Porteno, not some sub-human Independiente-loving scumball who throws wet and or burning things onto my body while I try to watch fut.

The opening proceedings have a lot to do with promoting the sponsors' stuff, plus some sports-for-kids stuff, then some cheer leading stuff. Our cheerleaders were lead by Batwoman, as you can see in in this video.

All of this involves yellow-and-blue related things around the periphery of the field, but the whole time a big red and white logo for the opposing team sponsor is spread out dead-center in the field and beautiful young (but probably subhuman) women stand around the logo holding red and white flags unmoving for the full hour-plus.

When the match finally starts, it takes a minute or two for the popular section to get into full roar, but by the time they do the volume is unbelievable.

They sang and chanted at least thirty different songs in perfect unison and it was like having icepicks reamed into my ears it was so freaking loud. They must be half deaf after a few games of that and are now insensate to the ridiculous decibels.

Immediately I could see this was a higher level of soccer than I am used to seeing on TV in the States where I am watching American, Mexican, some European, and some international matches. I was dazzled by the skills, and it looked like Boca was going to dominate, they were so creative, precise, and fast. Yet I know it can be very hard to get a small ball through eleven guys and into a small net, and one bad moment on your end, and you're screwed.

I learned at that match that soccer is not as boring as it seems. Being in a psychotic horde of deranged maniacs who have nothing to live for but the game, you start getting a feeling for what it's all about: appreciation for skills, bravery, and heroism. Every time something skillful happens, the crowd flips out with applause and songs and hoots in appreciation, even if it ends up in "failure." One guy taking on six defenders and getting THAT CLOSE! got nearly as much applause as if he had scored a goal. A player stealing the ball from another who had just beat three other guys: roaring cheers! An unbelievable spin move followed by a precision-lofted ball to a downfield attacker, pandemonium of chanting and screaming and clapping and cursing and taunting at the enemy above us. Even if we had not put a number on the scoreboard, we had just smote the enemy to our own everlasting (one or two seconds) glory.

On TV you don't get that. You don't hear it or feel the continually changing pulse of the crowd as it reacts constantly to what is happening on the field, second by second.

The great joy of the own-goal.

And then BOOM. Boca own-goaled themselves, right in front of us, right in the goal not forty feet down to our left. I saw it in my mind over and over: our defender sliding in on his knees trying to block the ball in the frenzy of action at the net, and the ball clearly coming off his grass-sliding knees and into our own goal. You see this in the first part of the video linked to below, from television broadcast of the match.

But there was no sense of fan anger against this poor sap. Everyone in the stadium knows the sports gods are unfathomable. Some pats on the back, the ball was taken to the center line, kicked and the game continued.

And the first half-stick of dynamite came down from the upper deck, landed five feet from me, and blew about twenty of us off our feet. I could feel my rib cage bend inward with the blast, I was momentarily deaf and all I could see was white.

I had to clear up a bit before I could determine if I was injured. I wasn't, really. Sort of an unusual blast-radius sensation in my chest and legs, but that's all. Others around me were checking themselves, laughing nervously, and trying to continue watching the game, but with frequent furtive glances to the upper deck that would continue until they let us out of there.

The bombs seemed to be a ploy to get us into a situation where we were continually looking back into the upper deck, from which the spitting and tossing of cups of scary substances then commenced. This was responded to by our section with explosive torrent of abusive screaming, the most common and recognizable word of which was PUTA!!! whatever that means.

During the rest of the match, only one more bomb came down. Our senses were so heightened by this time that we could almost hear the thing flying down at us and so we covered our ears, spun away from the likely explosion point and curled away from the explosion.

The spit, though, and cups filled with scary unknown liquids mixed with cigarette ash, continued to rain down the whole time. Huge viscous spit wads hit our backs, heads, shoulders, chests, faces, depending on which direction we were facing. We were constantly glancing up and behind for fear of more bombs coming down, and then we'd see a rain of phlegm descending from the sky and there was really no way to avoid it if it was coming down at you, because there was no space to move. You could see these guys were used to it: a huge wad would hit their shoulders, and they'd just reach back with their shirt and scrape it off, often without taking their eyes off the game if something exciting was happening.

Earlier I had noticed that most of the shirtless guys around me had pretty large bruises on their legs and arms and torsos and massive scaps on their elbows and knees. I have to reckon these guys were season pass holders, because those bruises could easily have come from both being bombed and from being knocked down on these sharp-edged cement bleachers. If you look at this next video you will see that our team scores at minute 1:46 of the clip. My friends and I are in the stands to the right of the word BUDGE, and notice how there is tidal wave of humanity the second the goal is scored by #10, Riquelme, a guy who many (even outside Argentina) think is the current best player in the world. #10 is also the number on most of the tourist jersies, though you'd think his name was Megatone. Maradona, who was also in Boca Jrs, also wore #10.

At 1:46 in that video, upper left, is the moment where I first got bowled over by a tidal wave of humanity and and injured my pelvis pretty decently. At least I seem bruise- and scab-free even if I can barely walk more than a week later and my back is killing me. On the plus side, the powder burns on the right side of my neck from that first bomb seem to be healing really well.

So the game ended a 1-1 tie (both goals unfortunately scored by our team) and there was a lot of scary threatening going on between guys in our area and guys above. I decided, after several hours of putting aside my intuition to get the hell out of there, to get the hell out of there now and I got about thirty feet closer to the exit when I realized we weren't going nowhere. The doors were locked.

They kept us locked in the popular area for more than an hour while the entire rest of the stadium completely cleared out. So we sat on beer- and Coke-soaked cement, staring through barbed wire, in 100F heat, for an hour while the animals above us threw cups of wet grossness down upon us and the "security" dudes stood around and didn't do squat. You couldn't move from your position if you were in a particularly rich line of fire because we were all just crushed in there like 12 people in a 5-man elevator. We just simmered, stewed, and got abused, while maybe a hundred of us hung on the barbed-wire cursing and gesturing at the people above.

Once they got all the rich white folks out out of the rest of the joint, they finally opened our doors and the mob flood started. I was hot to get out of there so I sort of aggressively pushed my way into the stairwell.

Guess what! It was not TWO FREAKING INCHES DEEP IN PISS! It was an un-partable Sea of Urine that soaked through our tennis shoes as we slowly herded ourselves, inch by inch, through the airless tunnel.

But not just airless. There was actually an honest-to-god piss fog in there. The heat and the moisture and the vast quantities of urine had turned the stairwell into a full-on toxic urine gas chamber. I held one hand over my nose and mouth and tried not to breath too much; meanwhile the sticky cloud stuck to my flesh and burned. Eventually I got out and stood on the sidewalk waiting for Chris and Cory. When they came out they both had their shirts wrapped around their faces. They pulled them away and gasped for air. Their shoes were soaked to the ankle.

When I got home after 2 hours of trying to catch a taxi later--we finally snagged the 29 bus back to Plaza de Mayo--I got on the internet and bought a ticket to another match. I will be returning to the section popular.

Surely the fans of Colón de Santa Fe cannot be as debased as those of Independiente.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Abuelas (grandmothers)

The last time I said anything about a specific milonga was a month ago, about Sunderland. In the dozen or so milongas I've been to since then, there have been a lot of wonderful moments, perfect to intensely good dances, fascinating social happenings to observe. But nothing I felt like mentioning here. My plan had been to never talk about tango in a way that someone could say, "Hey, that was me he's writing about." But there were two things about last night's milonga in San Telmo that I feel like mentioning.

One was the music. The setup to this milonga is a somewhat common one based on a successful formula: class at 9, practica at 10, milonga at 11. This formula is golden, because tango is first and foremost here a tourist industry, and coming off the plane and into a milonga (tango dance event) to cast one's eyes hither to a local tango girl would just be just too damn scary for the average man and would leave too many foreign girls dying on the sidelines. So it's about networking: meet some friends, suss out their level, get a table with them, dance with them. No matter what else the night offers, you're going to dance instead of suffer (it's one or the other).

So during the class portion, where they sort of fake their way through teaching to all levels from rank beginner to seasoned tango hustler--er, pro, you make your personal connections. You meet some people you might dance with that night. Then during the practica portion, you cement those relationships while ostensibly practicing some tango moves. If all goes well your table ends up a dozen large instead of maybe you and a friend or you yourself. If you're a man you can dance with all the women at the table, and then with their friends who arrive and join the table later. If you're a woman, same deal.

What was cool about this place, though, is that there's an hour and a half of live music between the practica portion and the milonga (dancing) portion, and this live music was KILLER. I was expecting a band of at least four guys, but two came out. A bandoneon and a guitar. And they were amazing. People at my table were saying, "Last week it was more guys, but these two guys are incredible." Turns out they were the warm up act.

Back in my town one of the reasons I did not take tango classes is because the classes are on the same night and at the same time as the one night a week when a live tango band plays at the local Argentine resto. This was the strangest arrangement imaginable and there was zero question but that I'd rather listen to live tango than take classes in a rec center. I LOVE LOVE LOVE live tango music! And at home I am blown away by a band consisting of one violin, one stand-up bass, and one bandoneon.

So when the entire El Orchestra Tipica Afronte came out onto the stage, my eyes got huge and the words "Oh my gosh!" went through my brain. FOUR BANDONEONS in the front row, backed by three violins, then a cello on one side, stand-up bass on the other, and a piano.

I had never heard anything this powerful, and I've seen the Stones, AC/DC, Metallica, and Van Halen. Tango music hits the first and third beat of the bar pretty hard, because these are the main beats you step on, but these guys CRUSHED the third beat! The whole place actually shuddered. And they did some crazy stuff musically: middle-eastern scales, swing rhythms, insane trade-offs of bandoneon solos á la J, P, and G on "The End" on Abbey Road. And all with a strong "What Lola Wants" vibe.

So I was sitting there in the dark watching this band, feeling really moved by the unusual beauty of it all, when thirty minutes into it this tall handsome young dude walks on stage from stage-left. Blue jeans, tight black t-shirt, black boots, black knit cap pulled down to near his eyes, typically unshaven, and he walks up to the mic stand and takes the mic and I'm thinking, "No way." And the next half hour is just amazing and it's like there's Jim Morrison up there singing some of the most beautiful tango I've ever heard with the craziest tango band I could ever imagine--staffed by intense young ragged-looking "San Telmo types." As soon as that guy started singing I was on the floor in a second with the nearest girl I could grab. It was totally bitchen.


Couple hours later during that time that always comes when a lot of the table sort of kicks back and takes a break and has a beer or wine or water and talks about the tango life in BA and life in general, I hear someone say, "Look: two abuelas," meaning grandmothers.

I scan the floor filled with mostly 20-to-40 types, and there they are, these two easily-eighty little white haired "abuelas" dancing together; super clearly one of them is the "butch" and the other the "femme." The leader did not just appear to be a woman who can lead, but someone who had strong masculine energy and even at 82 had a less feminine face and less curvy body than her partner. Though they were both 4-foot-8 or so, the leader was bigger and more powerful and had this bull-like way of leading her woman that you see in the "old-time tangueros." Very dynamic, muscular, full-body leading with complex rhythmic variations, moving her partner's body with the power of her own energy. There was no doubt that these women had been together for forty or fifty years, tangoing for most of it. You had to look at them with respect for the quality of their tango; yet the real admiration--and I'm sorry to have to say something so corny, but it's the truth so what can I do?--was that you could look at these two people and more than anyone else in the joint, just based on their chemistry, the way the two of them moved and held each other, you could say about them, "Those two are in love."

Edit: I have posted two youtube videos I took at Maldita Milonga the following week:

Monday, March 10, 2008

Boca Jrs Match, Parte Uno

Going to a Boca Jrs. futbol game for the first time is a lot like going to Buenos Aires for the first time: you wanna find out what it's like, what's gonna happen. If you get out of there alive, you're going to do it with new memories and a new you. That's the hope.

On the day of the Big Game, my internet was still down. I don't know my home phone number so hadn't given it to anyone else. I was basically unreachable. I had Cory's number but our landline here won't dial out to cells. The local locutorios (phone and internet joints) around here were all closed because it was a Sunday and this is a God-fearing (the Judeo one more than the Christo one) barrio, god damn it!

So during one of those moments when I could cop some free wireless from the farmacia down the road I dropped him a line saying I would meet him and Chris at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Boca, which is 1/2 a mile or so from the stadium, around 2:30PM.

Fortunately my roomie The Kellness showed up with her cell phone and I was able to reach Cory, because he had emailed me that he and Chris had different plans: we'd hook up at the Catedral subte (subway) station at 3 and taxi from there. I wouldn't have got (received) that email, so all praise be to The Kell and her magic phone.

Look at what it says under that burger. If you thought they
spoke Spanish in Buenos Aires,
then you see why I weep
for your ignorance.

We did meet at Catedral, got a taxi at Plaza de Mayo and descended into Boca. If you've been to Boca, and I don't mean the little painted houses caminito part of Boca but more that bad-ass Tony Bourdaine smirking and chowing on a choripan (chorizo on bread) kind of Boca, then you know that Bronx-like (lots of cool restos, lots of shirtless guys who've got those major working-class [stoner] eyes) feeling (I've never been to the Bronx but I've seen it from a bridge and it looked pretty urban; so having La Bombonera in the middle of this scene feels a bit Yankee-esque or I guess Fabulous Forum-esque for all my homies out in Inglewood).

So the stadium seems to have several mini-barrios to itself, and there are huge fields near it where one can score some grilled meats, weed, and scalped tickets. And it was this tickets aspect more than the meat or weed aspect, that took up the first 1.5 hours. We did not buy weed and later this proved sentient: the herb-to-air ratio in our section was far higher than that, of, say, a reggae concert in San Francisco.

There were three of us with somewhat differing ideas about what constituted a successful ticket score. The variables were price and location, and the location variable ran from the popular to the platea alta (high plateau areas are places where people with more dough and whiter skin can sit on actual seats and rarely if ever be showered in the urine of the opposing team's fans) . We couldn't always tell from the tickets what we were looking at. But we knew one good thing, strong and true: DO NOT END UP IN THE POPULAR SECTION!

I won't even play. We know, y'all know, we totally ended up in the mas popular section possible.

We talked to maybe 20 different "scalping crews," over an area of several square miles of field and barrio, trying to hustle--under a scalding sun and in a thick smog of BBQ--in our case, the worst possible tickets for the highest price. We are bad-ass gringo sports fans, scalper bitches. Step off.

So now that we had our awesome billetas (b-jettas) it was time to find our way into the forbidden section popular. We had to move through several mini barrios, street by street, crowd by crowd of horse-mounted and boot-mounted 45mm-packin' police, horde by horde of roving hoodlum-esque groups of scary (locally colorful) chanting stoner hooligans, talking to cop after cop to find out which street to go down to access puerta 6 and the mysteries that lay behind it.

There were multiple security barricades in the streets that we had to pass through, being checked for guns, bombs, that kind of deal. Too bad those guys didn't do a slightly better job.

Eventually, four barricade-levels in, we found our entrance gate where we would soon learn whether our totally fake-looking scalped tickets would get us through the turnstiles or not. Fake-looking in that the dot-matrix print job of the ticket info was totally crappily printed and smearing off. Happily, our scalper guy had not been bullshitting us when he said that smeared ink and crappy printing was proof these tickets were legit. We were permitted to enter the Amazing Stairwell of Urinating Hombres.

To be continued.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Portrait of A Young Girl in Red Velvet Coat

What do I mean by that title? I mean it's a bit silly to show something and then explain what it is. Some people love slideshows where the host talks for nine minutes about each slide. Sure, sometimes that can be awesome. "This picture of us riding donkeys down to the Colorado River is kind of hilarious because, I swear to god, these donkeys were screwing with our heads, and they knew they were. We'd get to a bend on this totally hairy switchback path where there was like a five-thousand foot drop, my donkey would stop, ease on over to the very edge, sort of sway over the abyss, then suddenly like lose his grip and start to topple, rocks and dirt free-falling for three minutes, then at the last possible instant this god damn burro, I'm not making this up, somehow regains his traction and we continue our descent down the path unscathed, over and over! I kid you not, this happened fourteen times!"

On the other hand, it is possible for a photograph of a pear to stand alone. I know this is a philosophical thing about art: do you have to understand the context of a Manet or a Cezanne or a Mondrian, or can you decide whether you like it or not based on what you're seeing today on the wall there?


Casa Rosada. I think it's like our White House. Okay, let me get right into the burro story. The deal is, I went down to the Peru station on the metro A-line because I wanted to get some video of those cool wooden turn-of-the-century (19th) subway cars. Was going to go for a ride, put something on youtube. But I ended up totally bummed because the train that pulled into the station was more like a Disneyland monorail thing than anything [insert name of famous mid-20th-c Argentinian person, e.g. "Eva Perón"] might have ridden on [conclude with a balancing clause including the googled name of some famous 19th-c Argentine after whom a major metro hub station is named and whose bones I have fondled in Recoleta Cemetery, e.g. "let alone Carlos Enrique Pellegrini."]

So, seeing as how I'd blown 90 centavos on the ride down here, I had to do something. So I walked. Looking around, I had those age-old super-duper-cliché thoughts of anyone who's ever walked in Buenos Aires with a digital camera in their back pocket: "Damn, this place is so faded. But it must have really been something back in the days of
Carlos Enrique Pellegrini." Followed by, "Wow, talk about your juxtapositions! Every single block, it's endless repetition of 'cool old Paris-like building from 1889 juxtaposed against Stalinist Architectural University Doctoral Student's Thesis Blueprint monstrosity from 1961.' (Yes, I googled Stalin and I know that he died in 1953).

Well, I just can't help it. These are the things that nail you right in the eye here.

Buildings from three different epochs reflected in the windows of a 4th epoch.

I thought my dad would dig that graffiti. He often tells me that we are all one, there is only one consciousness, there is no division betwixt us all. Then he rolls down the window, gives the finger to the guy he just cut off in traffic and screams things at him that have the letters f and u in them.

"Four kinds of stuff, maybe five, plus wetness."

The famous Twin Palaces of Retiro.

I was intrigued by that plant growing up there.

The corniness of this made me laugh much like the "tango" dancers on Calle Florida do, but heck for all I know this corner might have been the very spot Gardel himself belted out his first canción. So I should wipe that smirk right off my face.

Sunday street fair in San Telmo. You wouldn't believe the quantity and variety of mate gourds you can choose from here. Seriously, thousands.

A pretty wall.

A street sink.

Faucets dating back to the Roman Invasion.

I can't say it. Okay, I'll say it. "Juxtapositions."

Your typical Art Deco Wang.

This is kind of cool, and you see it around town a lot. You've got a missing building and a space there that is typically now a pay parking lot. But up on the upper floors, you've got the paint from the rooms that used to be there. And it's usually these pastel combos. I gotta wonder when those walls were painted. It feels like 40 to 60 years ago, something.

The following shot is a close-up of the molding from the one above.

More of the same, about three miles from the other one.

Hitler? Proust? Julio?

Yes! "Juxtapositions!"

Some street that makes me think of "The French Connection." Okay, maybe Buenos Aires was once the Paris of The South after all, much as Beirut was once the Paris of the Middle East, Saigon the Paris of Indochina, Abidjan the Paris of Africa, and Paris the Paris of France!

Juxtapositions! Old and new, baby. Old and new.

Thursday, February 21, 2008