January 31, 2013

Calonia ~ crumbling quaintness and McCain Super Fries

Across the river from Buenos Aires is Uruguay and the town of Colonia del Sacramento. Long a favoured getaway for portenos, Colonia boasts a population of around 25,000 and a laid back atmosphere quite unlike anything in BA.

We travelled to Calonia by the BuqueBus rapid ferry. The 52 km journey takes about 55 minutes. At Uruguay Immigration there was a discussion, in Spanish of course so I'm not sure of all the details, nor to what I might have agreed, about the fact that my passport photo does not match the present reality of my appearance. The result of three months in the Yukon perhaps. In the end there was a smile by the officer and I was allowed entry.

Calonia is famous for its historic quarter, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our inn, Posado Plaza Mayor, a highlight of our stay, is located in the quarter and was built in 1860. Unassuming from the street, it boasts charming rooms and a beautiful courtyard, to which our room opens, complete with limes and grapes.

Founded by Portuguese in 1680, Calonia changed hands between Spain and Portugal a number of times. The cobblestone streets and buildings date, in many cases to the 1600s.

Calonia is beautiful. It is also a tourist town. There are many, many restaurants, all serving McCain french fries. In fact the dining situation in the barrio historico is terrible. While it is nice to sit outside and view the crumbling quaintness of the town, eating anything but the most rudimentary of food for the masses is almost impossible. This is a problem. In that sense I suppose it isn't unlike tourist towns the world over, but with the serious dining habits of Argentinos, the town's main tourist market, this doesn't make sense.

A popular restaurant across from the Basilica is El Drugstore. In the evening it boasts live entertainment. The singer presents all the Broadway hits from 1920 to 1950. She sings with great flourish,and wearing a headset, to canned music. In a brilliant grand finale, she stands on a chair, which wobbles a bit on the uneven tiles, and sings Don't Cry for Me Argentina.

Meanwhile, inside the Basilica, and down some dark and uneven stairs, is a strange nativity display with spot lights that flash so quickly your eyes hurt.

We did find one restaurant that potentially offers an actual dining experience beyond Super Fries. The Art Gallery Restaurant is small and inviting. We managed to get there for a late night cafe con crema and brandy, and to watch a stunning full moon. When we returned for a meal the next night, it was unexpectedly closed.

In the end, sometimes a person just has to give in. Here Sherry enjoys a cool drink at a cafe, and watches as a busker auditions for the cafe's owners. He was actually quite good, no classic hits, just a simple guitar. And no, we didn't have any fries.

January 28, 2013

Early morning

It is cooler at 4:30 in the morning. The air is fresh and the sky clear.

There are hundreds walking. Going home? Walking like me?  Hundreds more at a disco club located under an overhead rail line. The bass beat throbs through the area.

The moon is full and bright and a few stars can be seen in the darkness above. Buenos Aires lives up to its name with little in the way of obvious pollution. The winds take it down into the valley where it becomes someone else's problem perhaps?

An early morning busker plays in a subte station. Is he on his way home, or has he just arrived? His music echoes through the tunnels.

Afer 6:00 the sun begins to rise  and the heat with it. The parks, quiet before,are now filled with the sounds of a million birds.  

By 6:30 the avenidas fill with traffic. The city, never fully at rest, begins another day. 
And I return home, and to bed.            

January 27, 2013

Watch your step

Sidewalks can be a problem in Buenos Aires. They are often cluttered with all kinds of things, or in some sort of disrepair. To be fair, some of these same problems can be seen in other cities too, but I've never seen anything quite like what I've seen here. And to be clear, I love this city, and not all sidewalks are terrible. Still, it's best to keep one eye on the ground while walking.

Cars get to park on the sidewalk, for brief times, though no one knows what that means.

Of course you can park your motorcycle on the footpath too. Sometimes it's even okay to drive your bike down the sidewalk to save a little time.

Tree branches get cut and never seem to get taken away. Card board boxes appear, as do other things. Sometimes they stay where dropped for days.

Garbage accumulates on corners through the day and does get taken away during the night. For the most part.

It's the general disrepair that is most noticeable. There is much construction going on in this city and sidewalks are not a priority. I wonder how persons in wheelchairs, or those visually impaired, manage to get around. Or do they?

There is immense beauty in this city. In spite of the potential pitfalls, that beauty is all around us, and one of the best ways to see it is to simply walk. Carefully perhaps, but walking nonetheless.

And every once in a while, while walking on a sidewalk in Buenos Aires, you will come upon something perhaps unique to Argentina. The remembering of someone who mattered to a community. A tile carefully prepared and placed in the sidewalk, and protected day to day, by people who care.

Here lived Eduardo Goldar Parodi.
A popular activist for the public good.
Arrested and disappeared by state terrorism.
September 9, 1977
Neighbourhoods for Remembrance and Justice.

We should all care.

January 25, 2013

Argentina's Dog Sled Team

It's still difficult to believe, that just over a month ago I was dog sledding in the Yukon. It was a wonderfully memorable experience. Even though it was minus 32 on that particular day. A warm day as it turned out as it hit minus 48 before we left Dawson City. Yesterday in BA, the humidex reading was just over 40.

Since arriving in Buenos Aires I've  been searching for the ideal team to lead. There are lots of dogs in BA and some of them look like prime candidates to me, not that I know much about it mind you.

This group looks keen enough, though there seems to be a minor co-ordination problem. What we  really need is a lead dog.

This could be more difficult than I thought.

You can check out my Yukon dog sledding experience by going to the following
Dawson City Journal My Dog Sledding Experience 1

Dawson City Journal My Dog Sledding Experience 2

Dawson City Journal My Dog Sledding Experience 3

Or visit our entire Yukon experience at the Berton House in Dawson City
by clicking on the link to the Dawson City Journal on the right.

January 24, 2013

The Socialist Movement

Yesterday, while walking in a barrio near the centre of the city, off the tourist track altogether, we came upon a Socialist Party campaign office. It reminded me of a similar store-front office not far from where we stayed in Paris a few years ago. The rose in hand is a symbol commonly used by Socialist Parties around the world.

The office was on the opposite side of the street and there were several men standing outside. They appeared friendly, if not comrade-like and when they saw my apparent interest one of them waved us over. At least that's what I thought he was doing. "Fellow comrades in the struggle" I said to myself. So across the street we went. We were greeted warmly. As I looked inside the office, however briefly, I was struck by the general calamity of the place; boxes everywhere, dust and disarray: a disaster. The election had come and gone long ago and I imagined some sort of relocation might be taking place.

We engaged our comrades in friendly banter, and some political discussion. At times discussion was difficult due to the language problem, but I recognized various words such as "politicos" and "movimiento." Sherry, naturally thinking the local Socialist office would be in touch with various groups around the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, asked about the office for the Abuelas (the Grandmothers), telling our new friends she was doing research on the subject for a play she was writing. "Ah, si senora. Si." They were an attentive group indeed, and willing to help a comrade from Canada. At one time we had four comrades gathered round us, all assisting as best they could with Sherry's questions, and my continuing ramblings in Spanglish about nationalizing the giant media company: Clarin. Again the words, "politicos" and "movimiento" came up and I knew we were having a political discussion, albeit with some minor restrictions on my part. Still, I wondered, why did several of these men appear on the sidewalk without shirts, and in one case without teeth, and wearing big boots? Aren't the new socialists better dressed than that?

Our friends were especially willing to help, though they didn't have a clue about the Abuelas, which seemed strange for fellow travellers.  Before long the younger comrade in the Che t-shirt decided to call the Socialist Party HQ. And yes, now answers would be provided. Sherry and I continued to ask questions about life in Argentina and if our friends appreciated the work of Presidente Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Again, there was talk of  "politicos" and "movimiento".

Only this time I heard, for the first time, "no politicos" and "camion en movimiento." I remembered something about "camion" being a truck. Hmmm.... Looking around I noticed a large, run-down truck on the street just ahead of the Party office. The smiling face of one of my comrades met mine. "Si senor, el camion en movimiento!"

As it turned out, these nice fellows were renting the space vacated by the Socialist Party candidate. When they were saying "politico" they were actually saying they were not political, but operating a moving company for the father of the young man in the Che t-shirt. And he wasn't on the phone to Socialist Party Headquarters, but to his dad. The name of the moving company is, of all things, presented in English, not Spanish, as "The Wolf Moving Company." A capitalist enterprise to be sure.

We didn't get any answers to our questions. We did learn some Spanish. And I'd like to think we made some friends. And if you ever need a moving company...

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2013 by Jim Murray.

January 22, 2013

Madres de Plaza de Mayo

Between 1976 and 1983 Argentina was governed by a military junta that waged a brutal dirty war against its opponents. 
Approximately 30,000 people disappeared during this time. Among the desaparecidos were leftists, trade unionists, students and activists.

On April 30, 1977 fourteen women gathered in Plaza de Mayo, the very heart of the city, to silently protest. They were mothers of children who had disappeared. The government attempted to discredit and marginalize the group, calling them las locas. The protests continued and grew to hundreds of mothers and their supporters. The protests continue to this day.

In the protests the mothers wear white head scarves to identify themselves to each other and as a representation of their child's blanket.

Three of the original fourteen mothers were disappeared by the junta, with their remains later found and their identities proven through DNA testing.

In 1986 the original mothers group, now numbering hundreds, split into two factions: the Founding Line, which held its original goals, and the Association which is more political and radicalized. They are the larger and louder group at the plaza this day.

Another group is the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. These are the Grandmothers, an organisation dedicated to finding the stolen babies, whose mothers were disappeared and killed after giving birth. The babies were adopted to wealthy families with connections to the junta. It is estimated that there are over 400 stolen babies, and about 100 have been discovered to date.

The mothers, and their supporters, read out the names of the missing children as they march around the plaza, often with pictures of the missing.

In some ways these Thursday afternoons seem to have become an event for tourists and camera crews. On this day we saw television crews from KBS in Korea, and NHK in Japan. 

The message remains important and we should never forget what happened during that terrible time. The current government appears committed to bringing those responsible, after all these years, when there are many who would rather forget and move on, to justice. 

I found the public naming of names, coupled with the photos of the missing, to be a moving experience. At the time of the dirty war, I was the age of the some of the desaparecidos, and the faces on the posters remind me of my friends, and of myself.