The Meaning of Life in Argentina

Our last month in Buenos Aires was bittersweet.

Street Art Buenos Aires

As I wandered the streets of San Telmo, with one eye looking outward taking in the architecture and street art, and the other eye trained downward deftly avoiding piles of dog-doo while pushing the stroller, it was hard not to think of this split exercise as a metaphor for where we are in life: Good times on the horizon, but first we have to put one foot in front of the other without tracking shit into the future.

“Wanna fly? First you gotta give up the shit that weighs you down.” -Toni Morrison

It was also hard not to be saddened by the thought of leaving South America.

I mean, just look at this kid. He alone is reason to love Argentina. (By the way, I took this picture in a bar. Yeah, kids are allowed. Add that to the list).

Dapper boy

On one of our last days in the city, Soleil and I took a taxi from our neighborhood of San Telmo to another one called Palermo about thirty minutes away, which gave me plenty of time to chat up our driver.  I told him about our story,  how our trip was coming to an end, and how much I was going to miss the Latin American culture, particularly the slower pace of Argentina where the siesta is a treasured birthright and the people  love nothing more than sitting around with their friends and family drinking mate, talking politics, philosophy and art, cracking jokes and having a parilla (grass-fed beef and chorizos on the grill) with a bottle of wine, usually around midnight.

After the violins stopped playing in the backseat, he told me an old ‘gaucho dicho,’ a parable of sorts that sums up what I love most about Argentine culture:

A little old gaucho wearing a thick wool, grey and brown poncho is sitting under a tree in the pampa, watching his cows munch grass while he sips mate when a Norte Americano drives up in his fancy city car and says, “Now sir, I can’t help but notice that you have miles and miles of beautiful grasslands but only a few cattle.  You could greatly expand your enterprise.”

The gaucho takes a sip of mate, says nothing. 

“I have a proposition for you. Why don’t you let me invest in your farm, and together we can buy triple the amount of cattle and maybe even get some sheep. We’ll breed the animals, sell the wool, and then in time we’ll have an excess of beef and wool that we can start to export overseas. I have a friend in the shipping business, and we can open up a distribution plant in the United States and then….”

The gaucho cuts him off mid-sentence and says, “Thank you, sir, but really I don’t understand.  How will that help me drink mate under a tree?”

And if that doesn’t say it all, maybe these pictures will help explain why, despite skyrocketing inflation and an economic uncertainty that I have never known in my 38 years as an American, the quality of life is so damn good in Argentina.

Live tango music…

Tango orchestra 3

Tango music

Tango orchestra

Milongas, or dance halls, where passionate couples, friends, strangers, and sometimes even parents and kids come together to dance the Tango

Milonga

Evita, champion for the descamisadas (the shirtless), is still alive in the heart of Argentina.

Evita

Old ladies playing rummy at the Evita museum cafe

Old ladies playing Rummy

Tango dancers…

Tango 2

Tango 1

The famous old couple, Packi and Osvaldo Boo, that have been dancing the tango together for decades

The Tango Couple

Soleil making friends with the famous tango dancer “El Indio” in Plaza Dorrego.

Making friends with the Tango dancers

Feeding las palomas in Plaza Dorrego

Feeding the Palomas

Paloma in flight

Street Art

Street Art Buenos Aires 2

Street Art Buenos Aires 3

The markets at the San Telmo Mercado

Argentine Butcher

A playground in Palermo

Park in Palermo

Being from Los Angeles, ‘home’ to over 90,000 homeless where it’s criminalized to be poor, I found it oddly refreshing to see a squat camp no more than three blocks from the very touristy Plaza Dorrego.

San Telmo Squat

The puppet theater

Museo del Titere

She didn’t know what to think at first.

Welcome to puppet world

Padre y Caballero

Puppet and the hand

Totally entranced. She kept getting off her chair and trying to get on stage….
Soleil watching the show

And then it happened. She got invited up to meet the puppets in person.

Soleil and the Puppeteer

The closed-door dinner at Casa Coupage, the home of chef Pablo Bolzan in Palermo. The food and wine were positively exquisite.

Casa Coupage

Casa Coupage food

The Museum of Modern Art.  Detournalia, an exhibition by Fabio Kacero

In this short grainy film, Kacero pretends to be dead in public spaces and documents people’s reactions, or lack thereof. People walk around this ‘dead person’ as if he doesn’t even exist. This piece really resonated with me because when Tree and I first began this trip, we saw a dead guy in Morelia, Mexico slumped into the street at a bus stop, and just like in this film, everyone ignored him.

By taking something out of its usual context and putting it where it does not belong–even something as universal, powerful and intimate as death–Kacero shows how meaning is lost in the transference, which poses the existential question, is there any inherent meaning in life or is it always contextual?

Stevie in front of Kacero

Kacero 2

“All the people I have ever met in my life are like credits at the end of a movie. Real people turned into actors, actors turned into names, names turned into credits.

The drawing of a choral self that is reconstructed from the outside in, where it is intersected by others: Who am I? The people I have met.”  –Fabio Kacero (discussing his film CAST/K)

 

Credits Kacero

“I” exists in the negative space, the black choral between the people I meet.

I don’t remember the artist who did the below installation, but the exhibit was about how violence affects people and is then reflected in art and culture. In recent times, Argentina experienced a particularly brutal epoch of violence after the military coup in 1976.  For the sake of brevity, I”ll skip the history and politics, but it’s important to know that human rights groups estimate that over 30,000 persons were “disappeared” (i.e. arrested, tortured, and secretly executed without trial) during the 1976–1983 period. 

In the photo below, a group of children age 9-11, on a school field trip, are staring at a pile of heads strewn at the feet of a decapitated mannequin to signify the desaparacidos (disappeared people) while a teacher gives a brief history lesson.  Somehow, I just can’t imagine this ‘lesson’ being okay with the PTA in America.

Fallen heads

And, lastly, our sweet girl turned TWO!

Soleil TWO

In part of the Kacero exhibit, there were these dedications pulled from different books, each one individually framed as art work themselves, again showing how meaning shifts when it is out of context. Anyhow, one of the dedications was “To Sol” and of course I took a picture of it.

“To Sol, who saw what to me didn’t seem possible.”

A Sol Dedication

Feliz Cumple my baby girl!
Birthday cake

Blowing out the candle
Animals and Cork
Soleil playing with her new books from James and Lauren, and Paula and Jeremy. Thank you for the lovely present and coming to our birthday party!
Soleil reading her new books
Sol and Maria
Overlanders

Comments

  1. I’m so glad you guys are back and we are able to spend more time together! The more you experience in life, the more you are alive. I am happy to be doing some living with you! Te Amo Mucho! Tía Lexis!!!!

  2. Doug Moore says:

    I loved your adventure. When you get back to the states get a Truck Camper. Perfect for your lifestyle
    doug

  3. So pleased to see a new post post from yall! Yay! Warms my heart. Yayyyyyyyyyyy
    Nice post; thanks for the read. “How will that help me drink mate under a tree?” 🙂

  4. Love to you all from Croatia! I will see you sooon.
    xoxoxox

  5. A perfect goodbye to your South American Adventure. Your grateful heart and love of exploration lead you ever forward and deeper into life. I’m glad. Rumi says:”Let the Beauty you love be what you do.” and you three certainly live that mantra! I send love to you all from Croatia! I will see you sooon.
    xoxoxox

  6. I’m surely not alone when I say how fantastic it has been to follow your travels (life), these last few years. Looking forward to climbing with you guys! Cheers!!!

  7. Great to read this last post. Can’t believe the South American adventure is done! I’m hoping you’ll still be blogging your unique perspective from wherever you end up for the next little while. If you ever find your way down towards San Francisco we’ve got wine, trails, extra surfboards and a little nephew for Soleil to play with. Hope you’re both well!

  8. Harold Sumpter Jr says:

    I spent a week in Buenos Aires in July and fell in love with Argentina. I can understand how it would be tough to leave there after spending so much time there…

  9. Love this post Stevie – the bigger question is: The meaning of life NOB – what is missing up here that seems abundant down there.

    • Hey Rick. Thanks for commenting. It’s great to hear from you! It’s been a while. How’s your beautiful French wife? Still enjoying some nice plane rides in Santa Monica? I say it every time, but someday we really do need to get together for lunch.

  10. Tonya Keitt Kalule says:

    Hi there Stevie, this is a great last post. You have had great experiences through out South America. I still have a years worth of stuff to write. I wanted to wait to understand how and why things work the way they do in Peru, so hopefully I will start to write more about it soon. You all have been blessed and even more blessed with the friends that you all have back home that receives you three with love and open arms, regardless of how long you are staying at their house.

    You have truly been an inspiration for me, and after meeting you and Sol in California, I was inspired to make it happen and I did. Thanks for your honest and encouragement. Looking forward to reading about the next stages in your lives.

    • Tonya, you are a woman who puts dreams into action. I remember when you wrote us your first blog comment asking if we thought it would be possible for a woman to do this kind of travel, to which I of course replied hell yes, and now look at you living in Peru! And, a resident, too! I’m equally excited to see what adventures lie in store for you. I know you’ll realize all of your dreams.

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