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September 20, 2004

20/9/4 Segunda

Well, I’m back from Argentina now.  Arrived at 8:00 this morning–just enough time to drop my bags at “home” and head back out in the rain to watch the Farroupilha Day parade commemorating Rio Grande do Sul’s revolt against the Brasilian government in the 1800s.  It was not unlike a parade that we might have in the USA commemorating the Revolutionary War or Civil War with its floats representing the themes of liberty, justice, and private property occupied by men dressed in the baggy pants, leather belts, red kerchiefs, and flat cowboy hats of the traditional gaucho and women dressed in 19th century dresses that made them look just like U.S. Southern Belles.  Much to my delight, there were also hundreds of gauchos and gauchas mounted atop healthy, beautiful, powerful horses that pranced down the sopping streets.  I smiled watching the cavaleiros and cavaleiras (horseback riders) enjoying themselves and whipping up the crowd with prideful southern shouts despite the soggy, chilly weather.

So how was Argentina, you’re wondering?  Well, I have mixed feelings.  The conference I went to was part boring (like any conference/workshop) and part stimulating.  It was always fun when we split into focus groups to brainstorm ecologically and human-friendly solutions to the problem of overcrowding in Latin America’s cities.  The charrette (sp?) reminded me of just how complex the problem of sustainable housing is in Latin America (or anywhere) because both local and global economic, social, political, and technological concerns must be taken into account.  But my group worked well together and came up with a possible design scheme to address the situation of encroachment into ecologically sensitive areas in subtropical, hill-and-valley cities.  I worked with both Brazilians and Argentinians, so I was constantly having to switch between Portuguese and Spanish–NOT an easy task!!  Despite having studied Spanish for nine years and Portuguese for only one, I found it quite difficult to speak a complete sentence in Spanish without mixing in a Portuguese contraction or conjunction.  But it didn’t matter since the Brazilians spoke in Portuguese to the Argentinians and the Argentinians spoke in Spanish to the Brazilians, so everyone was essentially communicating in Portanhol all week!

As for Buenos Aires, well, I am left with mixed feelings.  On the one hand, the city is gorgeous and very cosmopolitan, with bits of New York City, D.C., Mexico City, London, and many other cities, too, I’m sure.  Very modern, but with its colonial heritage still intact.  I loved the San Telmo neighborhood, which is the heart of the Tango district and the most colonial part of the city.  Very colorful, with Spanish-style architecture and cobblestone streets.  Brian, Tim, Jonny, and I went to a Tango show one night; I couldn’t help but get a little thrill out of seeing Tango performed in its birth city.

But there are two hands, and on the other is the poverty I caught frequent glimpses of as we toured the city.  I was particularly unsettled by the pre-teen children who walked by our table two nights ago as we sat outside of a sports cafe, trying to peddle flowers to us for one to two pesos.  One little girl was wearing an adorable plastic top hat painted to look like cowhide.  It made my heart melt and my stomach turn to see her trying to sell flowers among throngs of tourists and upper-middle-class Argentinians rather than playing with friends or watching TV like the children of the couples enjoying the pleasant evening around her in Recoleta, one of Buenos Aires’ upscale neighborhoods.  How could I enjoy an over-priced meal at a snazzy sports cafe while many of Buenos Aires’  residents can’t enjoy their own city?  The truth was, I couldn’t.  I felt uneasy the whole evening and longed to be somewhere where half of the population doesn’t think it’s okay to leave the other half behind as their country develops.

When we were walking back to the main avenue below the hill from the sports bar to catch a cab, we passed a group of homeless families huddled against a wall.  Seeing whole families like that put me over the top.  I don’t like being a tourist in places like that.  I’d rather be in Mexico, where almost every little restaurant is owned by somebody who needs my money, and where (almost) everyone is struggling together rather than growing further and further apart.  The contradictions are much more apparent in Brasil and Argentina than in Mexico because there are larger middle and upper classes here–like in the US–which makes the poverty seem all the more unjust. 

It’s almost 21:00 now and my mom is supposed to call soon, so I’ll sign off here.  Roxy, if you’re reading this, I could sure use one of your wonderful massages right now–the bus seat I sat in for almost 18 hours yesterday was NOT very comfortable!

Okay, pessoalTchau.

From → Brazil, Uncategorized

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