The massive red and white billboards on the way into Buenos Aires were hard to miss, even though they are stacked among the increasingly imposing skyscrapers and other giant advertisements that define the city. Their messages are short, in all caps: One simply reads “Ella o vos”; another says “Ella tiene un límite: Vos”. My rudimentary Spanish was more than enough to decipher this not-so-subtle stab at Christina Kirchner: “Her or you” and “She has a limit: You”. The language is aggressive in its purity (more obvious to me since my comprehension is so basic, I think) and, frankly, offensive.
It’s a sign of the wave of negativity felt towards La Presidenta of Argentina and, from the POV of a feminist (me), a reflection of the unchecked machismo here. People are very divided on the Christina topic and they pull out all the stops – including forking out many thousands of pesos for political advertisements that shamelessly employ gender to sway opinion – to deride and ridicule this woman who is adored by the other, albeit poor, half of society. Opposition leader Francisco de Narváez, responsible for the ads, appears on a few of them himself (there are a few variations on the theme) and the juxtaposition of the anti-woman language and the masculine form is striking. (If I got my details wrong, I’d appreciate anyone correcting me!)
Unfortunately I wasn’t fast enough to photograph these billboards, and I can’t seem to find any online. But I noticed them only on the outskirts of BA, and then again in Bahia Blanca.
I stayed in BA for three nights, not long at all and not long enough. Frankly, I’d had it with cities after Rosario and all I wanted was to dip my toes in the Atlantic, to be overwhelmed by peace and quiet, to get on the road, to dive, to reach Puerto Madryn, which was on the top of my list.
Skipping BA would be unforgiveable, so I decided to make it a weekend special. Super-cheap (ARG$40!) and very good value for money accommodation was found in Boedo, close to the subway station, cramped but more than what I needed (that is to say, I had the best coffee in the world downstairs at an unpretentious and cheap café, twice).
I had barely sat down outside with my nerdy travel guide when Nicolas the Uruguayan (sin Ingles) started asking questions. We got to know each other with a little help from my Lonely Planet Latin American Spanish Phrasebook. Much of our confused chat revolved around the “cuchillo”. A cuchillo is a knife. I told him I wanted to go to the river. He responded with something about “cuchillo”. Do I need a knife? I asked. Is it peligrino (I should have said peligroso – dangerous)? Eventually it emerged that he forgot his cooking knife on the boat over from Montevideo, and that he would need to go fetch it, and did I want to go with him.
Well yeah! A kind lady (kindness recurs) at the hostel lent us her bus card (otherwise you need the exact change and that is hardly ever realistic) and off we went, five-word sentences in tow. The cool thing is that (most) people don’t mind if you make a fool of yourself, as long as you don’t mind making a fool of yourself. It’s actually quite an effective bonding experience and it separates the vain from the eager to learn. Besides, most Latinos are keen to improve their English.
We took a long walk down the river (I thought Nic had been in BA for two months but eventually I understood that it was his first day, too) because we got lost and stuff, almost got run over a few times (have I written about the traffic here?), took some pictures, chatted about the mundial (World Cup – always a good ice breaker) and so on. By the way: the whole world hates the vuvuzela.
Being South African I didn’t believe that Nic would get his cuchillo back, so you can imagine my surprise when he emerged from the office with his precious knife. I was seriously blown away. Nice one Argentina!
We bumped into a graffiti artist in action, then grabbed a beer from the supermercado and plonked down in a park in San Telmo, to talk about novios y novias (boyfriends and girlfriends) and our life stories. My version always goes something like this: “Yo soy un periodista, pero ahora yo no tengo trabajo. Mi pasion es conservacion del mar, y yo queiro trabajo que. Pez, contaminacion. Yo encantada escriben. Yo quiero escriben muchos libros, y buceo.” (I am a journalist, but now I don’t have a job. My passion is ocean conservation, and I want to work in that. Fish, pollution. I love to write. I want to write many books, and dive.)
That night Nic used his knife to cook pasta for us; bless his soul, it was accompanied by a Spanish tutorial. He dutifully translated every action and ingredient.
On Sunday I stayed indoors, the weather wasn’t playing along, watched The Simpsons in Spanish (still funny) and some football match on TV, hung out, chatted to the people, took a nap … It was good. There was a late-afternoon walk to a nearby park.
Monday was the sightseeing day. I saw the famous Casa Rosa up close, went into the cathedral, walked through the business district, then – more out of necessity than preference as I didn’t have a fucking clue how the buses worked – took a long stroll to Recoleta Cemetary, home to the corpse of Evita Duarte herself. My battery life made it just in time to get one shot of her grave.
On Monday night I hooked up with Nancy, whom I met in Rosario, for a fun night of beer and tequila (double shots – it’s great not driving) and politics and dreams and jokes. She shoved me into a taxi at some hour and I felt that I had done my bit: sightseeing, night out on the town. Good weekend! I might be back at the end of the year … Who knows.
On Tuesday morning I bought my ticket out, lost my sunglasses, bought new ones (these have since broken), and had a final dinner with Nic and the dudes from the hostel. Cutting it very fine indeed – made it to the station two minutes before the overnight bus departed for Bahia Blanca.