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March 30, 2002
 
Bad Mood in Buenos Aires
 
 
 
Friends,
 
I'll be honest. I'm in a bad mood. But I really want
to be inspirational
right about now, what with it being Easter and
Passover and with all those pictures from the mideast
blazing across television screens and newstands all
over the world. I mean for my own mental health, as
well as yours.
 
But what can I say? Can I talk about the tango show
that I saw last week? Is there still inspiration in
the dramatic look that passes between a man and a
woman as they dance their passion across the stage
when all around you them the world seems to be
falling apart? Or in the magic fingers of the old
guy with the white hair who sits quietly in the corner
of the stage and plays his bandoleon as he learned to
play it fifty years ago?
 
There is bravery in that look, in those fingers.
Because at times it feels like art, and I mean music,
I mean dance, I mean poetry, is one of the few things
that can still hold us together as the world appears
to be crumbling everywhere we look. And, even though
the Argentine newspapers are busy commemorating the
Falklands War, it is not as warriors that the
Argentine people have made their mark in the world,
but as lovers, musicians, and dancers.
 
Please forgive me if I indulge in my own bad mood for
awhile. Maybe at the end of it all I'll find a song,
or at least a poem. Perhaps this mood I'm in is not
really mine. Perhaps it belongs to all of Argentina
which lately has been feeling a b
it like the Titanic.
Perhaps it belongs to all of us.
Last week a truck broke down in the countryside of
Argentina. This truck was carrying cows. A horde of
people set upon the cows in a frenzied burst of
hunger,and sliced the meat off the bodies to bring it
home to eat. And once again, there have been reports
of crowds of unemployed and hungry people in the
provinces looting supermarkets and lining up outside
for "giveaways." The supermarkets, not wanting
trouble, usually give. Here in Buenos Aires, little
girls and women are lining up to get their hair cut so
they can sell it to wigmakers to have enough money to
eat for a few days. "Middle class" girls and women.

I am not talking about rumours here. I am merely
reporting what I read in the local papers.
Also in the papers is the upcoming visit of the
International Monetary Fund, who, as usual, has all
sorts of requirements it wants the Argentine
government to abide by in order to qualify for its
funds. Odd that none of these requirements mention
the "pensions of privilege" that retired politicians and
members of the military receive every month. Some of
these pensions are as high as $17,000 a month. General
Videla, the ex-dictator who ordered all those
disappearances, is one of those lucky retired guys on
the list. Nor does the IMF mention the "nyoquis."
Everyone here knows that a "nyoqui" is not just a
pasta that you eat for dinner, it is someone on the
government payroll who is paid by the government
official in return for doing nothing but showing up at
the end of the month and picking up a check. The
government official, in return for his favor, receives
a portion of the "nyoqui's" paycheck. So everyone is
happy. Except those people butchering cows in the
countryside, and those little girls giving up their
hair.
 
What the IMF is requiring however, is that Argentina
do away with its "Law of Economic Subversion." This is
a law that prosecutes bankers and businesses who
damage the Argentine economy by taking money or other
"materials" out of the country. This is the law that
at least one Argentine judge is now using to go after
corporations like Citibank who have recently funneled
dollars out of the country. But Citibank, is of
course, a major member of the IMF, along with George
Bush and a bunch of other people we're probably
familiar with. While most everyone in the world is
focused on the Mideast and Afghanistan, the IMF is
quietly enabling even more plundering of this already
plundered nation. I mean, who cares about a few people
at the end of the world dancing dances and singing
songs that went out of fashion more than fifty years
ago?
 
Unfortunately, Argentina is not the first to fall
victim to the "help" of the international monetary
fund, which usually requires "labor flexibilization"
(ie loss of labor protection, job cutbacks) and
"streamlining" of state assistance programs, and has
in past also "helped" Indonesia, Mexico, Africa and
several Eastern European countries whose economies are
also in shambles. Nor, I am sure, will it be the last.
As the saying goes, with friends like these....
Okay, I am ranting again. Forgive me. If you want
more information on the IMF, you can find it at some
very good web sites about it simply by punching in
International Monetary Fund in your search engine. And
if you don't, I promise not to talk about it again in
this email.
 
By now I am sure you are asking, as all the Argentines
always ask me, why the hell I would want to stay here?
Maybe it's the way the neighborhood has changed since I
started working with the neighborhood assemblies, the
fact that I walk around the neighborhood and run into
two or three people I know, the fact that suddenly we
have started spilling in and out of each other's
houses late at night, singing and making music
together in a way that people here say they haven't
done since the seventies, the projects that people are
putting together, the politics they're talking, the
plots of land in the middle of the city that are being
tilled to plant vegetables so people can eat, or the
massive demonstration that filled the Plaza de Mayo
last Sunday with thousands of people remembering the
30,000 people who should be here with us now, but
aren't.
 
That the Argentines, this nation of individualists,
are finding themselves organizing mass neighborhood
assemblies that are spearheading a kind of new
community, seems at times like a great cosmic joke.
They continue to fight and argue and complain, and
seem to have great difficulty moving from talking
about things to actually doing them. Several people
have told me that during the dictatorship when someone
disappeared, others shrugged their shoulders and said,
"Well, he (or she) must have done something." So to do
anything at all is to combat years of fear that have
been instilled in the bones for over two generations
now. Others say that talking a lot and not doing
anything is just an Argentine characteristic.
 
Again, I don't know. But the other night, after a lot
of fighting and yelling and arguing, the cultural
committee managed to put together a pretty damn fine
Open Mike Night at a local cafe. Virginia, beautiful
with her black hair, dark eyes and powerful voice,
sang a tango whose lyrics
were written specifically for these hard times.
Victor the actor kept thinking of new poems he wanted
to recite and returning again and again to the
microphone, Fernando recited political poetry with
intensity and passion, Liliana and her trio of singers
led the crowd in enthusiastic singing, and a chorus of
adolescent girls sang about how the flight of the bird
depends on the building of the nest, the day to day
gathering of twigs and straw. Since I was
the one who had stubbornly insisted the event take
place regardless of our personal differences, I had
the honor of hosting the event. And I even wrote and
recited a poem in Spanish. So, because I promised
you a poem if you put up with my bad mood, I'll close
with that. I'm also including an English translation,
which frankly, doesn't hold water to the original,
which is best read in a loud voice in a crowded, smoky
room full of other people in a bad mood.
 
En Las Calles de Buenos Aires
 
Se llamaba Justicia
y caminaba
por las calles de Buenos Aires
Se llamaba Basta Ya
y caminaba
por las calles de Buenos Aires
Se llamaba Memoria
y caminaba
por las calles de Buenos Aires
Se llamaba Vecina
y caminaba
por las calles de Buenos Aires
Se llamaba Espejo
y caminaba
por las calles de Buenos Aires
En sus manos
llevaba una cacerola
Y cuando la cacerola cantaba
La ciudad llenó
Con millones de palomas perdidas
 
--Lisa Garrigues
Buenos Aires, Abril 2002
 
 
In The Streets of Buenos Aires
 
Her name was Justice
And she was walking
through the streets of Buenos Aires
Her name was Had Enough
And she was walking
thorugh the streets of Buenos Aires
Her name was Memory
And she was walking
through the streets of Buenos Aires
Her name was Neighbor
And she was walking
through the streets of Buenos Aires
Her name was Mirror
And she was walking
through the streets of Buenos Aires
In her hand she held an empty pot
and when it sang
the city filled
with millions of lost doves.
 
 
---Lisa Garrigues
Buenos Aires, March 2002

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