Saturday, May 30, 2009

'Cold Polenta'

Una manzana entera pero en mitá del campo/ 
expuesta a las auroras y lluvias y suestadas./
La manzana pareja que persiste en mi barrio:
Guatemala, Serrano, Paraguay y Gurruchaga.
--Jorge Luis Borges

Alberto Diaz pauses to inhale his fifth Marlboro of the hour, and the smoke filters up through the Friday afternoon light, hovering around his salt and pepper hair that experience has rendered more salt than pepper. His office walls are a clean eggshell, bare, save for a towering bookshelf filled with Emecé’s latest titles and five framed black and white portraits. His hawk-like eyes, red around the rims from fatigue, become animated as he identifies the photographs, standing up to point to each as he goes—Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo next to a few of the Argentine greats: Ricardo Piglia, Manuel Puig, Jorge Luis Borges, and his dearest friend, writer Juan Saer (or Juanito, as he affectionately calls him).

Diaz returns to his chair and puts out the cigarette. “Juanito was asthmatic. And he wrote like an asthmatic… still, he could write like a god.” He smiles to himself and continues. “Juani used to call me from Paris and complain that he missed Buenos Aires. And I would say to him, Juani, its not like you’re in Asunción. You’re in Paris! I would even mail him mate. He loved his mate… He was quite a character, constantly arguing with Beatriz. She thought he was coarse.” I realize that the Beatriz to which he refers is Beatriz Sarlo— Argentine essayist and literary critic— and it becomes clear that the man in front of me won 2009’s Editor of the Year for a reason.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Last Night in South America

Yesterday morning, the sun rose behind schedule.

Concealed by the mini skyscrapers of capital federal, it proposed daylight, emitted just enough to hint that it would someday arrive, framing the sides of my world in half-light. The street-sweepers and taxi drivers moved down Avenida Santa Fe, their bodies only shadows that graced the storefronts and cafes not yet open, the air waiting for the sun’s warmth that didn’t come; the wind moving autumn’s starched leaves across the pavement as they crunched under foot.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Where the Purebreds Roam Free

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina— In the thumping, screeching, Capital Federal, a city where drivers race down the avenues as if blindfolded, ignoring traffic lights and weaving through the lanes, it’s a miracle pedestrians brave the pavement.

Even more remarkable, however, are the canines that accompany these pedestrians on their afternoon stroll. To an outsider, the well-groomed golden retriever who wanders, seemingly alone in this city, is surely a stray. To a Porteño, he is like every other argentine dog that travels sans leash: well trained and aware of his surroundings. In Buenos Aires, amidst the chaotic vehicular traffic, the sidewalk permits a calmer ritual as dog owners allow their pets to explore the rich aromas and curious objects that populate the block, without cumbersome attachments.

One could assume that this method of dog walking was related to the small size of the city’s canines. Not so. Hardly put-him-in-your-handbag Chihuahuas, these pets are of the German Shepard, brown and yellow Labrador persuasion. As Palermo native Olga Valls explains, the dogs here are like “caballitos,” or small horses.

In this laissez faire metropolis where ‘late’ is ‘on time,’ where endless dinners begin at ten, where getting mugged is a mere annoyance, the purebreds who roam free are not the exception, but the rule.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Asunción, Paraguay, Rants

A few weeks ago, I mentioned to my host family that the school was taking us to Paraguay. I might as well have told them I was being hauled off to bathe in a landfill: (gasp) "I wouldn't go there if you paid for my trip, and paid me to go...It's hay nada."

I should preface this by first saying that Argentines do not consider themselves racist. They appreciate racial diversity, as long as the "diversity" describes the various European contingents who migrated south years ago and settled in this port city--Italian, German, Spanish. In the mind of the average Porteño, (a resident of Buenos Aires) (allow me to generalize), it's not racist if the discrimination is targeted towards: black people (though there are very few here), chinos (a group that encompasses all Asians, who own laundromats and supermarkets), and Bolivianos, a term that once simply described residents of the bordering country, but is now tossed around among the worst of insults.

If your skin is dark, you must be boliviano.