Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bienvenidos a Buenos Aires

I started my internship with Expanish on Thursday. I´m part of a marketing team of five - a few portenos, a Brit that looks like Kurt Cobain and an intern from Texas. At the moment I'm learning online marketing (search engine optimization, link sharing, etc. - a lot of ins and outs, lot of what have-yous) which is half of my job. The other half is writing assignments for their website and newsletter. It's a small, very personal company of about 20 employees. Everyone there is nice and my boss could be a part-time model.

On Friday I was downtown early for an interview and stayed through for the internship. I was done work about 6 and started back to the hostel. At the subway station I was ushered through the turnstiles before I could reach for my wallet to pay, and for the next two hours learned an important lesson - there is no such thing as a free ride in Buenos Aires. The platform was busier than usual and the TV screens were playing a message on loop with a red background. The message warned how the media would interpret this strike, but assured it was UTA, the workers union, who were being treated unjustly. In the 40 minutes I waited two trains passed, both impossibly full, and when the doors opened they were sieged by a mob until it was unclear who the unlucky ones were - the people who made it on the train or the ones left on the platform. I didn't need to be anywhere that badly.

I went back up to the streets to catch a bus and saw 9 de Julio, the widest street in the world, gridlocked. I had heard of the public political activism of Argentines before arriving here. Cacerolazos (cacerolo meaning "stew pot") are protests where groups of people take to the streets with pots and pans. They were commonplace after the Dirty War in 76 and most recently during the economic crisis of 2001. Today they are a popular expression of public frusteration. Andy witnessed several demonstrations a few weeks back when the president, Cristina Kirchner, performed the daylight robbery of private pension funds in Argentina by nationalizing close to 25 billion dollars worth. Friday was my first.

I found out the next day that this particular protest was in response to a recent study estimating that 8 children die each day in Argentina due to malnutrition. Easily 500 people had set up a picket line across 16 lanes of traffic at rush hour on a Friday. I was starting to understand that I wasn't getting back to the hostel anytime soon. I was also becoming increasingly aware of being a foriegner at a decidedly Argentine demonstration concerning an issue about which I had no ties or knowledge. I decided to spectate from the cafe behind me instead, ordered a pint of their cheapest, and held a personal protest of the protest. When my glass was empty and the crowd slowly continued their march toward Congress, I made my way to the bus stop. With both forms of public transportation crippled by a strike and a protest respectively, it took me close to 3 hours to go 5 miles. Welcome to Buenos Aires.

When I got back to the hostel I learned that Andy and Mike had found free tickets to a Los Fabulosos Cadillacs concert which was starting in an hour, so I essentially turned right back around. A Scottish guy working at the hostel has a Colombian girlfriend who had the tickets, so we met up with her friends and went to the show. I had bought their new cd a few weeks back and really like their ska-ish sound (ska is very alive here). They're one of the more popular Argentinian bands and filled out this River soccer stadium nicely with about 70,000 people. We were in the nosebleeds but it was fun and the girls were good company. The night never ended and we saw the sun rise.

Andy is off to Bariloche on Monday (tomorrow) and won't be returning until the day before our flight back to the States. In his honor we met up with some good friends for a dinner at their place on Saturday night(here that means show up at 11, eat by 12 and be at the bar by 1). Josh and Julia are good cooks and had some Aussie friends in town. After a drink at a bar near their place we we went to a party with some of their Colombian friends they know through a frisbee league. They were a lot of fun, and even with the language barrier and their cultural advantage of being able to salsa with all the girls, everyone had a good time. They ordered beer from a nearby delivery service two times throughout the night and we saw the sun rise again. When we got back to the hostel, the owner, Murray, was up with with a few of the hostel goers having some bottles, so as not to be rude we had a couple ourselves. He's an Irish guy who moved here about 10 years ago to open up the hostel with a friend. He was quite inebriated himself and kept laughing and saying "happy days, happy days" in his 'tik Irish accint.' Then I beat Andy in pool so he picked up the tab.

Sorry for not having any pictures to post right now, but Andy should have plenty from Patagonia - I'm insanenly jealous. Hope everyone is well, and thanks for reading if you made it this far.


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