Thursday, November 24, 2011

Dia de la Tradicion: Celebration of Latin Cowboys

Last Sunday we cowboyed up and took a 2 hour bus ride to San Antonio de Areco for Dia de la Tradicion (Day of Tradition), which celebrates gauchos and their way of life. What is a gaucho? A gaucho is a latin cowboy. They work at ranches, as cattle farmers, or they belong to gaucho clubs where they practice preserving gaucho culture.
Upon arrival, we had coffee and medialunas at a café while we waited for the parade to start. We found a great spot along the parade street and watched the military band play. Then people dressed in traditional criollo (folk) clothes performed some traditional folk dances. Next were the gauchos. The parade of the gauchos was SO long! They came from all over the western side of Argentina, from different provinces and holding the banner of their ranch or organization. They were in their best colorful clothes, wearing their fine leather hats and berets, boots and slippers, and carrying their best knives in silver sheaths. Their horses were groomed and adorned with metal and silver saddle decorations and blankets. We especially loved the gauchitos – the little gaucho boys riding miniature ponies. You will notice in the videos below that many gauchos wear berets instead of cowboy hats and slippers instead of riding boots. Other than that, their reputation and way of life is very similar to what we think of American cowboys. We did notice that there seemed to be a certain level of respect for the gauchos and their traditions (at least in San Antonio, on that particular day).

After the parade, we made our way to Parque Criollo, where the juegos de criollo (gaucho games) and asados (bbq) were to be held. Walking along the path, there was a constant stream of gauchos atop their horses riding past us, or walking in the same direction sipping on mate. We felt as if we had been dropped in on an old western movie.
Entering the park, which is a huge grassy field, we decided it was time for some steak. Gauchos are famous for their BBQing talent. Everywhere we looked, there was a fire pit with giant cuts of beef roasting slowly on stakes over a fire or atop of a make-shift grill. We all ordered a steak sandwich, which was a huge slice of flank steak in between two tiny slices of French bread. For me, I eventually gave up on the bread and just focused on my meat. Why ruin a perfectly good slice of meat with bread?

We wandered among some of the market stalls that lined the outside of the criollo game ring. All things gaucho were for sale. Horse accessories, like saddles, blankets, decorations, boleros (the rope with two balls used to rope cattle), and horseshoes. Gaucho fashions, shirts, riding boots, slippers, hats, pants, belts, knives, everything. Jesse bought a real, handcrafted, leather cowboy hat for $200 pesos ($50 American), and I got a new pair of gaucho slippers.
We found a place on the grass in the shade of a tree along the fence line of the game ring and sat and waited for the games to start. In typical Argentine fashion, they started an hour late, and so we had to leave to catch our bus back to B.A. before we were able to see very much. We were able to see the opening ceremonies and what I can only describe as a gaucho stampede show. How they ran all those horses around in an enclosed space without a horrible accident was beyond us. We will also see traditional games when we stay at an estancia in December with Kathy and Brock.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

You Know You're A Porteño If...

You Know You’re A Porteno If…

…getting a seat on the “Subte” (subway) is a life or death situation.

Let’s face it.  When you are taking public transportation, more often than not you are on your way to work early in the morning or coming home after a long day.  At these times, we usually aren’t at our most alert (or in the best mood), and we're looking to try and rest our weary bones for a few precious moments before the next activity.  Thus, being lucky enough to find a seat in the public modes of transport is often a lucky, if not fortuitous turn of events.  Here in Buenos Aires though, the desire, nay, the need to obtain this coveted prize is a true spectacle of sport.

Ever heard of women and children first?  Certainly, this a noble and chivalrous act a man does to saves lives when faced with certain peril, but more and more, simple acts are lost as well: open doors for people; take the next available taxi; allow them to order their coffee first when you walk up to the barista at the same time.  But here, when the situation is that of getting on the Subte (subway), nobility seems to have been left on the street level.

You can see it happening as the train slowly creeps to a stop at the station (especially at 9 de Julio).  The jostling for a position as close as possible to a train car, aligning oneself directly in front of an opening door, is underway.  When the train stops, it’s every man and woman for themselves.  This is where the men especially, show their true colors.  Without technically “pushing” anyone, they carefully slither through the crowd in a frantic effort to spot an open seat.  With eyes darting to and fro, the ability to not only locate, but deftly, yet quickly maneuver oneself into a vacant chair takes careful precision.  Routinely, there is an older woman who is too slow to navigate herself into a seat while her able bodied, 30-something male counterpart eases into the plastic bench, turns up his headphones, closes his eyes, and acts as if he’s oblivious to the robbery he committed.

Maybe we’re naïve about the situation, Latin culture and chivalry.  Maybe this is true for every big city.  Maybe everyone on the Subte understands that when you get on the Subte, it’s a dog eat dog world and they’re fine with this.  Every once in a while you do witness a man get up for a woman or child, but it doesn’t happen with the regularity we expect. Note: In general, when it isn't more of a hassle to do so, most able bodied people will give up their seat to an elderly man or woman.

So when you get to the Subte and want to sit down, think of these words by William Wallace, “Are you ready for a war!?”

Other Subte personalities:
The Runner: these are people who run through the Subte halls.  Usually as a train pulls up, you see them run along the train to try and get to the stairs or connection before the approaching train unloads a fresh batch of people. Sometimes people run to the platform even when the train isn't there yet. Good thing you ran so you can stand and wait like everyone else you rushed past on your way there!

The Advancer: similar to “The Runner”, the Advancer will begin to advance train cars as the Subte nears the station (usually one of the last two stops) in order to have quicker and easier access to a connecting train tunnel or stairs to ground level.  They want to get a jump on everyone else, so in order to gain the upper hand upon an exit, the Advancer advances, even if that means passive-aggressively and uncomfortably squeezing in front of you just so they can stand in front of the door. This is even more asinine when the train is at the last stop because it's the last stop - we're all getting off the train.

The Entertainer: trolling amp and guitar; juggling; drumming and singing off key (this guy is horrendous) are some of the forms of entertainment that might make your Subte ride more enjoyable.  Of course, they are asking for money after a stellar performance, but at least they’re trying to earn it.

The Product Pushers: there you are, minding your own business when PLOP on your lap are some Hello Kitty stickers.  "Wow, just what I always never wanted" you think to yourself.  The Product Pusher comes around and will put items (tissues, pens, bus guides, socks, lighters) on your lap whether you want it or not, keep walking and do it to everyone else.  I’d say they get a 5% rate of success, but hey, there‘s probably one of you thinking some Hello Kitty stickers would actually be pretty nice right about now…

Romeo and Juliet: this is a couple who is an example of the Argentina Make-Out, Subte style.  They unabashedly suck face on the Subte, not giving a care in the world who sees, or how crowded it is, or how disgusting it is.

The Over-Anxious Borderer: after jostling for prime position in front of the opening Subte doors, the Anxious Borderer will actually impede your ability to exit the Subte in order for them to board the Subte.  Usually this happens at the height of rush hour, making this personality very frustrating.  Normally I just go Bo Jackson vs. Brian Bosworth on these guys and don’t stop until I’m in Tacoma.  Or San Telmo… Whatever comes first.

The Starer: When this man sees a woman he likes, there is nothing that will prevent him from staring at her creepily. Even when she feels his eyes burning a hole in the side of her head or she happens to make eye contact when peeking out the window to check which station they are stopped at - he'll just keep looking, without blinking. 

The Self-Important Eye Roller: This person acts like riding the subte is really inconvenient and awkward for them and only them. They check their watch, sigh heavily, furrow their eyebrows and roll their eyes when it's busy and  everyone has to squeeze together. Look - none of us want to be here, no one enjoys riding the subte, and everyone is uncomfortable when it's crowded. We all have to get somewhere quickly, and most people expect it's going to be busy and personal space in going to be invaded. Either don't ride the subte or stop acting like you're the only one who dislikes it. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Election Day!

In Argentina, a couple weeks ago, they held their Presidential elections. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was running for her second term and her opposition one who had any chance of winning. Basically, she was running for a second term unopposed, but that's not say everyone likes her. In fact, she has a lot of critics. But, if you thought politics in the US was corrupt, you have no concept of the corruption here. At least that's what we've been told. Anyways, Cristina was originally sort of grandfathered into the Presidency for her first term because her husband, Nestor Kirchner was President for the two terms prior. Many people in Argentina loved Nestor (they've erected a statue of him at Plaza de Mayo), so it was an easy transition to Cristina, especially since Nestor died last year. Needless to say, Cristina was the obvious winner for 2011.

Even though Cristina was expected to win the election, there was still a big to-do that evening. We turned on election coverage on TV, and then remembered that we live 5 blocks from Casa Rosada. For those of you who don't know, Casa Rosada (the pink house) which is surrounded by Plaza de Mayo, is the equivalent of the White House. So we put on our shoes and marched down to Plaza de Mayo to join the crowd. There was music, choripan grilling, and vendors slinging beer. We estimated there was around 2,000-3,000 people packed into Plaza de Mayo singing, waving flags, and waiting to hear the official announcement and Cristina's Inaugural speech. Cristina's speech moved some people to tears (even though it went on, and on, and on...), and was concluded by cheering and fireworks.

We weren't really invested in the outcome of this election, but it was a really cool experience to have, to be able to see the President of another country be elected.

Here are some videos!