Our last month in Buenos Aires was bittersweet.
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).
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…
Milongas, or dance halls, where passionate couples, friends, strangers, and sometimes even parents and kids come together to dance the Tango
Evita, champion for the descamisadas (the shirtless), is still alive in the heart of Argentina.
Old ladies playing rummy at the Evita museum cafe
The famous old couple, Packi and Osvaldo Boo, that have been dancing the tango together for decades
Soleil making friends with the famous tango dancer “El Indio” in Plaza Dorrego.
Feeding las palomas in Plaza Dorrego
The markets at the San Telmo Mercado
A playground 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.
The puppet theater
She didn’t know what to think at first.
Totally entranced. She kept getting off her chair and trying to get on stage….
And then it happened. She got invited up to meet the puppets in person.
The closed-door dinner at Casa Coupage, the home of chef Pablo Bolzan in Palermo. The food and wine were positively exquisite.
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?
“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)
“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.
And, lastly, our sweet girl turned 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.”
Feliz Cumple my baby girl!