Otherwise

Otherwise
opinions about life, work, and spirituality

Travel Highlights 15: Buenos Aires Day 3

December 13th, 2007

We wake late, after a barely adequate, interrupted sleep and stumble into The Hippopotamo for breakfast. I order apple pancakes, but realize when they arrive that they are a dessert item. Plump apples sleep under a bed of thick, crunchy caramel and a dusting of icing sugar. We pay for our bill, jittery from last night’s indulgence and too much sugar. We buy a giant crusty bun from the confiterie next door and savour its doughy plainness.

We walk to the Casa de Rosada, the famous coral coloured building whose hue derives from ox-blood. It is here that many Argentine revolutions and political uprisings have occurred. Evita gave her speeches from the balcony of this building. We hope to take a tour of the inside, but are disappointed to learn that none are being given today.

After a few choice words of frustration, we decide to take Subte Linea A (Subway Line A) to the National Congress. The subway train we ride, and the line we take is the oldest in South America. The car is panelled in rich, dark wood and boasts brass fixtures. Even the lighting is subdued, which furthers the elegant atmosphere. It is strange to look around and see people in sweat pants and coveralls and dirty jeans in such opulent transportation. It is nice though; a change from the fact that, in North America, the poorest are often denied aesthetics. Here, even the humble subway is a specimen of beauty (Linea A, at least).

The congress buildings are stately and ornate. There are plenty of architectural bits and bobs – curlicues, angels, gargoyle-type figures, swirling pieces, grooves, patterns etc. I’m sure there are official names for each of these architectural features, of which I am completely ignorant. The effect, even upon my ignorance, is pleasing if slightly intimidating. My intimidation is much lessened, however, by the fact that the Argentine parliament is set withing the confines of the city, on a normal city block. There are no sprawling, perfectly manicured green lawns surrounding the building, though there is an interesting park out front. The effect of the opulent building set in a normal city block, like a condominium or library, is congruent with Argentina’s political history; whenever a politician tries to intimidate, cheat or pull a fast one over the people, the people are there to shout and scream and demand justice.

Though I am not envious of Argentina’s troubled history of corrupt, murderous politicians, I admit, I am jealous of the people’s political fervour. Every Thursday a group of mothers whose sons “went missing” during the dirty war led by Lt. Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla, in the late 1970’s, protest in front of Casa de Rosada. They protest not only the fact that 20,000 to 30,000 people simply “disappeared” during that time, but that later governments, including the current government, are resistant to bringing about justice by prosecuting the perpetrators. They protest in hope that the cycle of corruption, of politicians who look after themselves before looking after the people, will stop. Every Thursday as the Mothers peacefully protest with speeches and chants, hundreds of riot police gather in front of them, dressed in bullet proof black clothes and helmets. They stand behind hundreds of body length black shields, a protection from the Mothers’ words; the demand for justice.

James and I walk through this scene one day. We wind our way in between the shouting mothers and the hard, blackened police men. We walk in front of a giant tank the size of our living room at home, its long machine gun points across the street towards the shouting women. James wants to take a picture of this unbelievable scene, but I am wary. Argentines walk past us, converse and argue and laugh. None glance at the gigantic war machine parked on the sidewalk in front of us. Though many, as they quickly stride to work or lunch, glance at the Mothers, there is nary an eye upon the police. Their presence is felt, I believe, but unacknowledged. Such is the way we humans tend to naturally react when we find ourselves in the same room as someone who hurt us badly in the past. We skirt around the person, a dance of avoidance. Only when we are cornered, will we look towards that person, rarely focusing upon their face, usually letting our eyes drift over their shoulder to the potted plant behind them, and say a curt “hello.” The Mothers are different though. They walk up to that person, look her straight in the eye and demand an answer for all their pain.

Now, back to the Congress buildings. We walk away from parliament towards Café Tortoni. There is a link between Argentine politics and the cafés of Buenos Aires, in that many revolutions had their humble beginnings in conversations held over café con leche. Café Tortoni, at 150 years old, is one of the oldest cafés in Bs As. Inside, high ceilings of creamy stained glass windows mingle with antique furnishings and rich artwork that adorns the walls. The atmosphere is of supreme elegance. Our waiter has a dignified air typical of his profession in Bs As. I have noticed that most waiters are male in this city, and often old and always proud, whether the menu is pricey or not. Serving is not a job one takes as a stint in the summer in Bs As, but a career that will likely last a lifetime.

After we are finished our delicious salads, we saunter back towards our hotel, and drop in various stores on the way. We run into Kenny and Lisa, who look just as ragged as we do, and chat for a few minutes. They say they are taking it easy today. They have time to take it easy, I think, aware of the fact that they have taken five months off to tour around the world. They are appreciative of their travelling time, however, so I am happy for them.

Around 8 pm, James and I famished, but it is much too early to eat dinner in Bs As. Many restaurants will not open for another hour. We find a nice parilla around the corner from our hotel that opens early, and we practically run in drooling. The food is excellent, the Malbec delicious and at 11 pm, as the restaurant begins to fill with customers, we drag ourselves back to our hotel and collapse into bed. Buenas noches!

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