Monday, July 25, 2011


Maybe it's because it's my last name. Or maybe it's because I'm an Arkansan and the wellbeing of our state depends on it's production. Or maybe it was simply a spectacularly ingenious exhibition in itself, but I was moved by what I found in the Palais de Glace building the other day.

The idea is this: one person = one grain of rice. I hope the photos speak for themselves.

Behind every grain of rice, there is a story to tell.

Illiterate adults in Argentina

Argentina 2 England 1- Aztec Stadium, Mexico 6/22/1986

People who follow Justin Beiber in Twitter
L: Population of Cancun, Mexico, 2011. R: Pop. of Cancun, 1970

Americans that vacation in Cancun every year

People living with HIV in South America

People living with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa
People that have applied for permanent resident status in Argentina since the year 2000. TL: Americans. TR: Chileans. BL: Koreans. BR: Ukranians (for Anatoliy;)

 TL: Senators that voted in favor of gay marriage (Argentina), 7/15/2010
 TC: Senators that voted against gay marriage, 7/15/2010
 TR: Senators that abstained from voting regarding the gay marriage law
 BL: Alejandro Freire and Jose Marie di Bello, first gay couple to marry
 BR: Angela and Vanesa, first gay couple to divorce

Children from age 5 to 17 that work in Latin America

L: People that live in extreme poverty in Argentina, according to Catholic University of Argentina statistics
R: People that live in extreme poverty in Argentina, according to government statistics
The biggest of all: People in Latin America that live on less than $2 per day.

Credit for this insightful, creative, and poignant exhibit:

Gallo (Spanish brand of grains)
in collaboration with
"Of all the people in all the world" is a creation of the collection of the English theater Stan's Cafe, originating in Birmingham. Since 2003, [the exhibitionists] have been traveling the world and have already visited more than 48 cities in Europe and North America, surprising everyone with their particular way of presenting statistics.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Election Campaigns

What first struck me about election season here were the inquiries people made leading up to voting time. It was never Who are you voting for? or What's you're stand? rather, it was Where are you going to vote? In order to strike up a conversation about the campaigns and elections, there's no reason to directly go for the kill with a question like "Do you prefer Filmus or Macri?" because whether you are stationed at the Guido Spano primary school in Palermo or the secondary school on the corner of Av. Las Heras and Alvear, you have to go somewhere. Voting is obligatory in Argentina.

Once I figured that out, I started asking my co-workers what they thought about the vote being mandatory and started to get an idea of the advantages and disadvantages of such laws. One of the main disadvantages that I've heard is the extent to which politicians buy votes from the poorer, uneducated citizens. Whether or not a person is able to follow the campaigns (which depends on access to media and a secondary education, which only 25% of students in rural areas complete), they have to vote for someone. Sometimes, the most desirable candidates are the ones who offer the plata (moulah) first, rather than the ones who will work to change access to education and health care in dispersed rural areas (which is desperately needed). This happens less in the urban cities, though, where 90% of Argentina's population lives.

I was talking to Gabi about all of this on the way to visit the Casa Rosada because the campaigns were in full swing that day. He made the best argument I've heard so far in favor of the obligatory vote. He said that what starts out as a law eventually becomes part of the cultural consciousness. Like obeying traffic laws in U.S. Obviously, we have our traffic problems and bad drivers, but for the most part, people stick to their own lane and stop when the light is red. In Argentina, lanes merely serve to make the highway look prettier, and red lights, well...
The reason for that, we both agreed, was that traffic laws are actually enforced in most American cities, whereas Argentines can get away with just about anything on the road short of causing a major accident. (This was his example, not mine. You may not agree about traffic in the U.S., but I can verify that the rhythm on the road is more aggressive here than, at least, in Little Rock).

Likewise, voting is part of the daily (or quadrennial) grind - something you do because it's something you do, like looking both ways before you cross the street. You don't question why, but deep down you know it's for your own good. So, even if it isn't something that interests an Argentine, he is still conscious on some fundamental level of the issues and agendas and has a motive to fulfill his civic duty. Unless, of course, he gets paid to vote for the third person down on the ballot.

Here are some of the more interesting campaign posters I saw around town:

"I have a dream between the eyebrows and I'm not going to stop until it comes true"

"They call us crazy because we want to govern without corruption. Ok, we're crazy."

And here's a campaign bus:

There's definitely a different tone to the campaigns here in Buenos Aires. They appeal to a wider public in some ways, using marketing techniques instead of stump speeches. Unfortunately, I don't have a tv, so I didn't get to watch the debates. But I do have a handful of political fliers that I had been collecting the week before the elections.

I'm posting this a little late because the elections took place last Sunday. The Saturday before is the only day in Argentina when you can't serve alcohol (apparently), so that there's nothing to keep the populace from waking up and making clear-headed decisions at the polls!

More on results and candidates coming soon...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mate gives you wings

Pronounced "mah-tay," it is a tea-like drink that is typical here in Argentina and southern South America (is that how you say that?!). It's a symbol of tradition and community, and is often the center of a circle of friends, passing one gourd around to share among all.

I first encountered mate in Spain at the eclectic tea place that my friends and I frequented. Veronica had studied abroad in Buenos Aires and jumped at the chance to have a mate when she found it on their menu. I'd never heard of it (and to be honest, it didn't look that appetizing), so I passed on the mate in favor of my favorite Pakistani flavor. (Pakistani - name of the flavor, not the origin of the tea).

So, when I arrived in Argentina, I knew what to expect. In fact, I tried to seek out this mysterious herbal concoction pretty early on, but it kept eluding me. I would see people with their mate gourd and thermos in the street, but it's really hard to find a public place like a cafe or restaurant where it can be ordered. I even passed a cafe one time and saw it on the menu displayed in the window, but the cafe was closed. And then I never found it again.

Finally, in Plaza Serrano, one of the more touristy but fun areas with restaurants, bars, and open-air shopping, I found it! A cafe that would serve me mate - the authentic way, not "mate cocido" which comes in a tea bag. No, this unique Argentine tradition is more than a cup of tea. It requires a lot of special equipment and a meticulous hand in preparation. Here's a glimpse of my first mate experience:

The green tin holds the yerba, which is akin to tea leaves. Sometimes yerba mate is flavored with lemon or orange fragrance, but it's good a la natural as well. The blue tea kettle, of course, holds the water, which should be hot, but never have actually reached boiling point. The silver cup in the middle is the mate. Traditionally, mates are made of squash gourds, but this is a more modern set up with all the metallic. Now you can find mates in almost any material you want...aluminum, ceramic, wood, leather, the classic gourd, or even horse's hoof (which is touristy. I don't know if the ones I've seen are real horse's hooves, but I hope not.) The straw is called a bombilla and is usually made of silver. The submerged end is not an open hole, but rather a bulb with small holes or a coil so that the yerba doesn't come through when you drink. Genial! (Genius!)

To give you an idea of the variety of mates there are available, here's a picture from just one of the many stands at an outside market selling them.
And this is the one I finally chose to be mine! I found it last weekend on our trip to the big market in El Tigre, one of the last suburban areas before you get out of greater BsAs.
It's a wooden one and has a unique design in comparison to the millions I've seen around souvenir shops and street vendors. After some research and a trip to the grocery store to pick out some yerba, I made my first mate today and sat sipping it while working on my project from home. It's magical! (Not magical like Shenan's grog, but magical all the same). It's got a lot of caffeine for one, but doesn't make you sick after a while like coffee does. You can keep refilling the gourd with your thermos of hot water for hours upon hours without breaking into a sweat or feeling like the acid's eating your insides (which happens to me after a fourth cup o' java). Che, I wish I had known about this stuff during college finals!

Anywho, I was more productive from my desk at home than I have been on any other day off! Usually, I get tired or claustrophobic sitting in my room for too long, but today I was comfortable crouching over my evaluation notes and best-practice resources. It must be the mate!

The trade-off is that it's 1:22am and I'm still wide awake with no sign of fatigue to help me get a good night's sleep before work tomorrow. Now, I know the secret to the Argentine's unusual circadian rhythm, which seems to entail very little shut-eye. HA! I may just have to pack up my roommate's thermos and my new mate and fly through another day of evaluation design tomorrow! No sleep, no worries. Hakuna Matata.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Happy Independence Day...again

This is the second time this week and the third time this summer/winter that I get to celebrate some country's independence.

Believe it or not, I didn't steal this pic from the internet.

I took it myself!
This one too, but you've already seen it in the "Flashback" post.

Of course, July 4 was a normal working day for me here in Buenos Aires. I did, however, manage to have chili in the company of some American expats the Sunday before, and had a celebratory drink with a mix of my American and Argentine friends after work on Monday.

The other two are Argentine independence days.

May 25 - marks the end of the Revolucion de Mayo (1810), when the Argentines ousted the Spanish Viceroy Cisneros and swapped him for a more local governing body, la Primera Junta. Just to be clear, this day is officially called Dia Nacional, which translates to what you would expect it to.

But the Spanish persevered and gained some sense of control back in 1814. Hence, Argentina's second day of independence:

July 9 - when they finally kicked out the Spanish for good and signed an official Declaration of Independence (1816).

To this day, as far as I know, Argentina is still an independent state. But we shall, someday, add another independence day in celebration of the liberation of the city streets from the dog poop mines that litter them...ugh!

Friday, July 8, 2011

La Casa Rosada

If you think John Mellancamp's little pink houses are unique to America, you'd be wrong. Behold - the Argentine Casa Rosada! (Well, technically it's American too, but using "America" exclusively to describe the U.S. is a topic for another post).

I want to say this is the equivalent of the White House, except for the choice of color, but in reality it's not. La Presidenta, Cristina Fernández de Kirshner, works there when she's in the Capital Federal (Buenos Aires city); however, she doesn't make her bed there, like the Obamas do in the Casa Blanca. She has a 10x2 block, walled compound backing up to the Rio del Plata (the river) called La Quinta de Olivos where she resides. It must be nice not having to work from home, huh, Mr. President?

Flat Porteña accompanied my friend Gabi and I on the one-hour free tour last Saturday. Here are some of the *highlights*

 *It was free!* During the 20-minute wait for the start of the tour, Gabi gave me some Argentine/Latin American history tidbits which were provoked by the pictures of Latin American somebodies hung in the Gallery of the Bicenntenial Patriots. Featured faces that I knew a little bit about already included Che Guevara, Evita, and Pancho Villa. There were many more that I learned about who had given their time and sometimes their lives for the progress of their country or continent.

*There was a whole room dedicated to the women of Argentina* called, appropriately, Becentennial Argentine Women's Room, which highlighted the important females of the past 200 years. (Well, past 201 years. The bicentennial passed last year but is still a fashionable word, as you can tell by the names of all the rooms). Women have indeed played an important role since Argentina's independence. Eva Peron, or Evita, passed women's suffrage and increased worker's civil rights during her time as president in the later 1940s and early 1950s. Besides Evita, the Madres are probably the most recognized female presence of the nation, known for marching on a weekly basis in the Plaza de Mayo in remembrance of their children and grandchildren who were victims of the disappearances during The Dirty War three decades ago. The Madres are still a significant influence in Argentina, though the theme of their demonstrations has moved beyond protesting the Dirty War and encompasses a wide political agenda.

*Standing on the Balcony where past dignitaries have stood before to address the Argentine people,*
including both Perons (Juan Domingo and wife Eva), Pope John Paul II, and President Raul Alfonsin.

Flat Porteña was especially illusioned at *being in the president's office!* You can (kind of) see of photo of her (Presidenta Kirschner) in the background. Flat Porteña hasn't been to the oval office replica yet at the Clinton Library, but I promised I'd take her just as soon as we get home. Unfortunately, I didn't really get any good pictures of the whole office, but the desk that Cristina sits at during the day is to the right of Flat P and Gabi's arm.

Of course, any *mention of Spain* calls my attention. So even though this was one of the less spectacular spaces in the Casa, I'm going to highlight it anyway. This is the Presidential Elevator that was gifted to Argentina by La Infanta (infant) Isabel, of the Bourbon family, that ruled Spain for over two centuries. How do you gift an elevator, you ask? That was not among the many silly questions I put to the tour guide, unfortunately. 

Finally, *our tour guide* was spectacular! She spoke loudly and clearly (and slowly), which was great for my foreign ears. She also entertained those aforementioned silly questions that I had. She was really knowledgeable and obviously was passionate about Argentina's history and government. It made learning about the complicated and occasionally not-so-pleasant facts all the more interesting.

After the tour, we happened upon a marching band out in the plaza - the Regimiento de Granaderos - that played a little modern music for our enjoyment (and for some official reason still unbeknown to me). And that concluded last Saturday's tourist trip.

Agenda for this Saturday: Lunch and a self-guided tour at Museo Evita.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Christmas in July

I'm sure the people I work with are getting tired of hearing me say, "Me siente Navidad" ("It feels like Christmas to me"), but I can't help it. Imagine my surprise when I got off the Subte yesterday morning to find Christmas trees displayed in a store window!  Don't worry, it's just a fluke. The Argentine's celebrate Christmas in December like we do, they just do it in shorts instead of sweaters.

Besides this picture and the lights adorning the potted evergreens at Regina & Torcuato cafe (where I go to read and have a cup of hot tea sometimes), there are no signs of yuletide merriment in the typical sense. No signs of Papa Noel, nor colorfully wrapped parcels, nor jingle bell tunes. But now that the real cold has set in (55high/35low), I'm discovering the more subtle archetypes that I have of the winter holiday season. The smell in the air is a little smokey, presumably from the famous Argentine parrilla, mixed with the acute sweetness of roasting almonds and peanuts in the street-side food carts. This is a Christmas imprint I picked up spending two winters in Spain. The city sidewalks are indeed busy sidewalks, and the shoppers rush home with their treasures...though not because it's gift time, rather seasonal sale time. And of course, there's the hot tea and coffee (though not much hot chocolate). It all makes me want to curl up with some of my Dad's famous chili and Love Actually, one of my Christmastime favorites (though really you can watch it year-round).

It occurred to me while I was taking all this in that I'm right on par with my family Christmas tradition as well. For many years, instead of waking up to presents under the tree on Christmas morning, my parents, brother, and I would unwrap gifts on Christmas Eve and then head to Grandma's house. We spent Christmas morning cooking and delivering food to shut-ins in and around Ashdown, AR, an initiative led by my grannie from a little historical house- one of Ashdown's treasures- for years. In other words, I volunteered. And here I am again...sipping soup, singing Christmas songs in my head, and doing a volunteer project. It's all very surreal.

So, in the spirit of Noel (and because I know all of you back home are smoldering and need a Christmas vacation right about now), I wish you good tidings and a little Christmas cheer.

To my parents - both my Mom and Dad, and Bobby and Paige (who right now are singing Christmas carols around the piano in my honor, like the old days except for the swimsuits and smoked ribs) - I love you and miss you! It was great to be able to visit today.

And to my CSPS friends in the southern hemisphere - stay warm! Hope you are enjoying the winter weather as much as I am!