Thursday was the program orientation and aside from eating lunch (pizza!), forming Survivor-style cliques and alliances with other students, and listening to a bunch of rules about what you’re NOT supposed to do in Buenos Aires (more on this in the next post) I didn’t really do anything exciting. In the evening, I invited some of my new crew (the kids I thought wouldn’t wear burnt orange to go out) to a Couchsurfing meet up thing I’d found online. The meet up was free to get into, which I guess is a plus since most places here charge a 40 peso ($10) cover, and they had free pizza and “cheap” drinks ($6 for two beers) but it wasn’t very cool. I practiced my Spanish over the din of the club, danced to the “Y.M.C.A.” – everyone’s favorite international disco hit about cruising for gay sex at the gym – on the basically non-existent dance floor, and we all left around 2:30 a.m. Not a bad night, or a bad start, but nothing incredible.
On Friday, we had to meet up again as a giant group for a tour of the city. In general, I feel about guided tours the same way I feel about mini-golf and pool. It’s fun for the first half and then I just stop caring. Sure, history and names and dates and facts and stuff are cool, but I honestly prefer to just look at stuff and make uninformed guesses about what it all means. But that’s just me.
The tour started in the plaza where the Casa Rosada (pink house) is, which is more or less the government center. Back in the day when Argentina was whack with military dictatorships and fascist shenanigans, anyone that wasn’t down with the system got disappeared. Eventually, all the moms whose kids had just ceased to exist one day got pissed and started protesting. They weren’t allowed to congregate in the plaza without moving so they ended up walking around this statue in circles every Thursday. Apparently, angry pacing moms are a threat to be reckoned with and the dictatorship gave up and everything was good and freedom rang. The End.
After the central plaza, we went to a neighborhood called La Boca (the Mouth) which is where one of the Argentine soccer teams (Las Boca Juniors) play. When Argentina was cash flush with grain and beef bucks in the late 1800s, the Argentine aristocracy suddenly realized they had mad ducats but no one to do all the hard ass work for them. They opened the doors to immigration and a bunch of Italians and other swarthy foreign types showed up hungry for a piece of the Argentine pie. A lot of them lived in La Boca but apparently there weren’t many babes around, so these hard working dudes of yore got all their miscellaneous instruments together (guitars, clarinets, lil baby accordion things) and invented a “rude, masculine dance.” They called it… the Tango.
The tango didn’t get much respect at first, probably because it was a bunch of low rent foreigners bumping-and-grinding with each other in a bad neighborhood, but just like jazz, what comes out of the hood eventually ends up forming a bandwagon all the upper class art snobs can hop on. Also, because it was the ghetto and they couldn’t just go to Sherwin Williams and buy some regular “cobalt slate” or “Moroccan peach” color paints for their houses, they had to use whatever dregs they could dumpster dive. So now, there is a zone where all the houses are painted up like a bowl of Fruity Pebbles. Naturally, this whacky zone of immigrant color and tango history is a tourist photo-gasm and just like how Hollywood has Batmans and Marilyn Monroes charging for snap shots, in La Boca you can drop 25 pesos and pose with a tango babe or a guy that looks like he’s auditioning for the Squirrel Nut Zippers.
After milling about and admiring all the statues of vintage Argentine rough trade, we got back on the bus and then drove through a shanty town. It made me very uncomfortable to watch people take photos of the shanty town from the safety and luxury of our tour bus, but this blog isn’t Adbusters so I’ll keep my Western globalization guilt to myself. The next and final destination was a cemetery in the Recoleta neighborhood. You know that scene in Easy Rider when they got all fucked up on acid and ran around the cemetery in New Orleans (crap, I just remembered someone tried to sell me acid last night. I should have bought some and come back to the cemetery! Goddammit! Oh well…) tripping their motorcycles off? Well, this cemetery makes that New Orleans cemetery look like a novelty tombstone from a Spirit Halloween store. Here’s some photos:
While we walked around the cemetery our guide told us about Evita’s body and how her husband pickled it like Lenin’s so it would be a symbol for the people, but then Peron’s ass got coup d’etat-ed out of town, and the military jerks took her body and gave it to this intelligence officer to look after. Unfortunately, that guy developed a big ole crush on post-mortem Evita and was doing weird stuff with the body and wouldn’t let anyone touch her. Obviously, that wasn’t going to fly so they locked him up in a mental institution and sent zombie-Evita to the Pope and the Pope hid the body. Then a bunch of other stuff that sounded like an elevator pitch for an Argentine version of National Treasure happened, then I stopped caring and walked around the cemetery more. Then the tour was over and I went and ate lunch. I ordered…
LOCRO!!! Locro is an important food for May 25th, which is some kind of independence day (but not the kind you would make a rad movie about) and so on May 25 everybody eats locro. It was pretty much a zoo crew of meats – salami, beef chunks, chicharrones (non-fried pork rinds) and more – mixed up with a bunch of corn and hominy. Pretty tasty actually. I also had fernet, which is like classy Jägermeister.
In the evening, there was a dinner for everyone in the program at a nice restaurant and then I went out and had so many crazy adventures I’m going to have to save them for another blog post.