Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Best Propaganda in Buenos Aires

It’s been a week in Buenos Aires, and I would say at this point over 95% of conversational exchanges I’ve had with people end with: “Ok, so how much do I owe you?”

It might be normal for a tourist. But apparently porteños too use that line a lot. I’ve been told Buenos Aires is the city with the largest shrink population in the world. I believed it because why would anyone use a superlative unless it’s true. I must say I have seen evidence in this week that makes it plausible that the statement is true. I wrote before about people avoiding eye contact with other people, but these eyes don’t seem to have a problem making contact with books. There is a bookshop of some size on every street block. As a holder of an MBA degree from the prestigious University of Miami (back in the good-old-days we used to brag about its Football dominance, now we have to resort to boring outstanding academic standards), I can deduce that there is a market for books. So if ignorance is bliss, then reading equals an expensive psychotherapy bill.

There is also a lot of drying dogshit on the sidewalks, a lot of people scooping fresh dogshit, and professional dogwalkers who text on the job (pictured above). Also, within a few storefronts of that bookshop on every block there is a pet care shop. My intuition says there is a bit of a pet culture here. I don’t want to say that pets and shrinks are related in any way, but for some reason I am saying just that.

There is also a Carrefour Express and the Best Parrilla in Buenos Aires on every city block. If it’s not the Best Parrilla, it’s the Best Empanada or the Best Pizza in Buenos Aires. I also happen to be staying in the Best apartment in BA. The guy listing the apartment had 3 other listings and they were all the Best Apartment in BA.

So what happens when someone isn’t the Best? Clearly, they would go to the Best shrink in town who makes them believe they’re the Best again.

I am so tempted to try one of the Best American fast food burger franchises in town. Can they possibly get away with replacing meat with shit and marketing slogans in a country where people claim to know their meat? They do. There are McMierdas all over the place.

Music of the day? I didn't record any, but this seems appropriate.

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.”

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Propaganda on the Road - Buenos Aires Parachute Edition

Pardon the rust. It’s been a while.

Apparently it took for me to be over 12,000 kilometers away from Beirut for me to get an urge to post here again.

I was so tempted to revive this blog when I was in Venezuela, but clearly the Atlantic Ocean and its Bermuda triangle alone didn't exorcize the demons of the Lebanon. I had to call in support from flesh-eating Amazonian piranhas to feel safe enough. I will have an angry rant or two about Venezuela and perhaps about Lebanon as a thing or two have taken place there in the past year or two, but let's just start with the land of gods. Of course, by gods I mean holy cows the biggest of which is of course the ultimate god, Diego Armando Maradona.

This reminds me of the conversation I had with dude on plane.

Dude on plane: I raise cattle and export chicken breasts. The part of Argentina where I'm from pretty much feeds the world. So what is Lebanon's main economic activity?

Dude in seat next to dude on Plane, also known as Me: Well, we raise cattle and export breasts too, but ours are more like peacock breasts.

I haven't read the laws of Argentina, but I'm pretty sure that vegetarianism in this country is a capital punishment offense. (Disclaimer: This line has already been tweeted, but I typed it here first)

The City of Buenos Aires is tens, perhaps hundreds, of kilometers of walkability. So I like it. There are minor elevation changes in the topography of the city, but these only become problematic after hour number 13 of walking. Also, the “green” that is missing from there dishes they try to make up for it with Free Bicycles.

I know that in Spanish the rule of thumb is that if a word starts with al then it's most likely adapted from Arabic. Alfajor is a sugary cookiey chocolatey concoction, which can be found in many countries in the bigger half of the Americas. Half here is used as in "You're my better half" where half is clearly not mathematically accurate. Well, whatever alfajor is in Arabic, Arabs should take it back. I know there is no shortage of delicious pastry in the Arab world, but let's face it, the towns that make the best sweets (Tripoli, Damascus, Nablus and Hama, which claims to have taught Tripoli how to make Halawet El Jeben) aren't easily accessible these days.

But Buenos Aires isn't just about food.

After all there is an Argentinian dude who has sold more shirts than Leo Messi.

Ernesto Guevara's portrait made an appearance at a protest camp outside a pink palace, which I presume is the presidential pink palace as the signs were against the presidential family: the Kirchners.

I talked to some protestors who were on hunger strike. I don't think you're supposed to talk to hunger strikers as they attempt to conserve their energy after 25 days of foodless survival, but at the same time solidarity requires you to know what you are solidarizing over.  Now whether I solidarized with them or not (more on that later), the conversation earned me an undercover police tail. Protests and police informers go together like a slap on a face. It won't be hard for them to keep me on their radar. I am wearing that kryptonic glow of green that nullifies Superman's super powers. It also happens to be the same color of that blip on analog radar displays. Also, I probably won't be changing anytime soon as my bag and my entire wardrobe is somewhere in a pile of lost bags in some airport. Logically, it would be either Caracas or Buenos Aires's international airport. Illogically and more likely it's in Tegucigalpa. If you're wondering what that is, it is the city that houses Tegucigalpeños and Tegucigalpeñas and the younger Tegucigalpeñitos and Tegucigalpeñitas.

I must admit I'm completely ignorant about this city and the country…as ignorant as a CNN correspondent in Beirut. I basically did a 3-minute search for a place to stay before landing here. That was that extent of my knowledge of the city. As I walked around I came upon what is clearly a very coveted touristy site: La Recoleta. It comes replete with octogenarians in shorts with orthopedic black shoes and calf length white socks, tour groups following a guide carrying a brightly colored thong on a stick (most tourists are Brazilians after all), and Nikon straps strapped to generic cameras with big lenses. It turns out one of the hottest tourist traps in town traps you eternally. It's a cemetery. You can pose for pictures and – if no one is looking and you have long limbs – shake hands with famous dead Argentinians who are in fancy mausoleums/sarcophagi/tombs/graves/caskets/bonesinabox/yougetthepoint. Madonna's kitschy tomb is one of the hottest attractions. No need to ask people not to cry for me Argentina, because the truth is that people look to be extremely jolly when surrounded by decayed human remains.

Back to fresh flesh, because after all the food here is quite exquisite. The internet has gone to great lengths to deliver you unbiased critical scores of eateries around the world. Billions of internet users can't be wrong, so naturally I consulted with a random person on the street and she pointed me to a restaurant.

I would venture to say that purse snatching is a thing in Buenos Aires. The unique way a purse is carried buttoned into the belly with a hand clutching it or within quick-clutching distance looks like the result of conditioning.

Finally, here’s some street music from a few minutes ago.