Tuesday, January 28, 2014

More Street Propaganda from Buenos Aires

After walking for 12 hours you can eat anything and not feel guilty... Or so I keep telling myself.

After all walking is a good fat burning exercise. But like with any sport – walking is a sport I keep telling myself – the risk of injury exists. Last night I discovered that I suffered from a couple of walking related injuries. I had a bleeding toe, which has happened to me before. But it's the second injury that has me more concerned as I've never had it before. I had burns on the inner part of my thighs. My right and left thighs shouldn't be rubbing against each other as I walk. Does anyone know what the official medical term for ‘inner thigh fat burns' is?

But Porteños – the proper name for Buenos Airesans – warn you about walking certain streets.

I mentioned in my previous post the purse clutch of streetwalkers. The defensive walking style of people goes beyond that to avoiding eye-contact at all costs and having headsets on which is the universal do not disturb sign. Of course, this never works on a plane as the person next to you will always poke you and ask you something even if you have your headset on and your eyeset off. Then again spending over ten hours conjoined to a person on a transatlantic flight is more intimacy than the average married couple has. So poking rights are full earned…I guess.

One would expect from this walking behavior–particularly among women– that there is a culture of piropos, which is common in other parts of the continent and the world. But that isn’t the case from what I’ve seen. A piropo is basically poeticized sexual harassment, or a street pick-up line that has a solid success rate of Zero percent. That’s not to be confused with your average pick-up line, which has a success rate that hovers around Zero.

Naturally, I strayed from the ‘safe’ zone on my walk. Paranoia by definition exaggerates the dangers. Before arriving in Buenos Aires I was in Venezuela. In most cities there people auto-sentence themselves to life-in-prison. They allow themselves daily yard time, where distrusting interaction with others takes place before they rush back behind their electrified bars.

With weather being largely constant, the substitute filler in daily conversations is the police blotter. But when asked if anyone had personally been assaulted, out of tens of people I met only one was directly robbed. He was flaunting 2 iPhones at the time, because while the two models were numerically equal, one model was superior to the other alphabetically as it had an extra letter. If you ask me, the robber let him off easy by just robbing him. 

“Nobody rides motorcycles because they would shoot you off of it and ride away,” is a line often repeated by the paranoid. I cannot verify whether that incident actually happened or if it’s just chupacabric lore, but I can attest that I saw many somebodies riding motorcycles.

Back in Buenos Aires–where the weather is anything but constant, and the only “Buenos” Aires today are coming out of wall units as the temperature and humidity level play a game of reverse limbo–; streets are full of walkers and commuters waiting in lines for buses or disappearing into sidewalk holes that lead to the subte. People are moving with a purpose without making eye contact with each other.

There’s also a high number of cafes, bars, restaurants and ice cream shops lining up the same streets. There, people are always sitting not making eye contact with other sitters and of course not with walkers. Millions of sitters and walkers coexist without looking at each other. Do they know of each other’s existence? Do walkers ever sit, and sitters ever walk? I’m not sure. What I do know is that there is a third group, which goes naturally unnoticed by both sitters and walkers.

They are called “gente en situacion de calle,” literally people in a street situation. They seem to be mostly adult males, but I saw some sidewalks that were housing entire families. I don’t know the numbers, but this wall on the intersection of Scalabrini and Santa Fe tells the story of Pechito.

I will take this opportunity to vent.

Who the fuck painted over the mural of Ali Abdallah in Hamra? Was it a local militiaman that was afraid a portrait of a dead homeless guy might make the nearby portraits of his smirking militia lord look bad? Was it a mercenary for million-dollar apartments’ owners whose homes hover above Ras Beirut but want nothing to do with its streets? Was it the Lebanese state burying its crime under a coat of its only UN-approved weapon?

Anyway… Where were we? Streets…

Life happens at street level. You can take a giant electric saw and pass it just above the tallest tree of any city and it wouldn’t lose its essence. Above that height, all you have are fat layers.

Street vending can be a bit aggressive here, but give me a street vendor over a telemarketer any time. At least, when he shoves a notepad and a pen in my face as I sit in a café, he knows I might need his product. I cannot imagine that under any circumstances I would entertain the idea of buying the Michel Aoun encyclopedia, much less when the telemarketer doesn’t understand the concept of the ludicrous roaming fees Lebanese mobile operators charge.

Also, how can you blame a street vendor for his/her over excitement when the street is full of carriers of the virus called map?

Street maps are tools of oppression. What are guided city tours if not brain washing exercises? What’s the point of visiting a city if you are going to take the same picture and have the same memory everybody else had?

When the immigration officer at the airport asked me if I was a tourist I said “Noooo” before begrudgingly accepting that label. I wish I had access to the photo he snapped of me, because that would be the only chance for me to see what I look like when I’m begrudging. Anyway, it’s been a couple of days, and I’m still reaching for that “Kick Me!” sign on my back that I’m convinced the dude stuck on me as he stamped my passport.

I maybe a tourist but I will not carry a map. I just walk and I seem to always walk in a straight line towards the water. Animals are built in to gravitate towards water. They in turn build settlements around the water.

Music also happens on the street level. So, again I leave you with some street music.

Seriously though, here’s clip that combines street music and street vending.

As I mentioned earlier, Buenos Aires is invaded by Brazilian tourists. So naturally, opportunistic porteño beatniks provide the background music for Brazilian tourists – who are hated by locals for being “too happy” – to dance in the streets of Buenos Aires. This scene is completed by the priceless "what kind of street music is this!?” look on haughty Argentinian passers-by.

But hey, whether they like it or not, and just like in football… economically Argentina is Brazil’s little bitch or as diplomats call it “a strategic ally.”

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