Monday, May 19


Things have been pretty calm these last two weeks.

At the beginning of the month, I moved to a different part of the city, called Belgrano. It's clean, quiet, and has many conveniences close by. Plus, it's not as shady an area as where I was last month, which, although technically in a tourist neighborhood, was unconfortably close to the hooker and drug slums.

The farmers are back on strike, blocking many highways, though there haven't been any food shortages yet. Most people in the city think it's the farmers' responsibility to pay higher taxes, as with the high prices of food, they're earning quite a bit of money. But smaller farmers complain that their profit margins have been cut to almost nothing. Since there is no transparancy here at all (the government doesn't even talk to the media, accusing them of being incompetent), and both sides at the negotiating table don't care about anything but their own well being, it's hard to imagine the conflict ending any time soon. At least no one has started any major fires in the last couple of weeks.

Sunday, May 4


To start with, I'd like to talk about a common problem when I write about my travels; most of the stories tend to be a bit bleak. This is mostly because the negatives tend to be more interesting than the positives. It's unfortunate, and I've tried to change perspective that the stories give. In the end, some of my favorite things about the places that I see don't require much explanation, and so are very short when I include them.

For instance, one of my favorite pass times here is to dance tango. Tango was born here, yet most of the people my age aren't very interested in it. It's quite rare that I find anyone who wants to study it, and the classes that I've tried have been mostly of an older crowd.

One exception is a class that I take in the older neighborhood of Palermo. There, pretty much everyone is in their twenties. The class is good fun, and I try to go each week. Since there are often new students, it's difficult for the more experienced students to advance to higher levels. So far I'm only at a high beginner stage, so it's not an issue for me. Yet even if I stop noticing major progress, I'll keep going. The instructor is very friendly, and the class is always enjoyable.

Another class that I've tried is much more serious, and there's little doubt that the teacher is a true maestro. He's very passionate about what he does, and like many other artists is a bit testy. I learn much more there, but most of the students are middle aged or older, and I rarely relate to my partner. I try to go as often as possible, as together with the more casual class, I tend to get the best of both worlds.

Other enjoyable aspects of daily life here are things like food and transportation. I'll miss being able to buy fresh pasta, something I had never tasted till I came to Argentina. I'm sure it's quite popular in Italy as well, but I didn't get to spend much time there. The empanadas are also nice, small pastries with cheese and vegetables inside. And there are plenty of nice cafes, with at least one or two per block in the commercial areas.

The local buses are excellent in terms of frequency, though they can be a bit dirty. Usually they go every 2 minutes, and they cover the city quite well. Most shops sell little books called GuiaTs, which would be interpreted as Guide Yourself. These explain where each bus goes. The buses only take change, and as a consequence, coins are very hard to come by. Often shops have no change at all, meaning that if you don't have the exact amount for what you're buying, they won't sell it to you. Many yell at you for not carrying change. It's hard to follow such logic, or why the government just doesn't put out more coins.

Perhaps the best part of life here is the weather. The temperature is somewhat cool now, as winter is approaching. But a freezing day is anything under 6 degrees, and it never goes below freezing.

It's unfortunate that I arrived just in time for the smoke crisis, which I've already written about, and will write about again soon. Hopefully this will be resolved in the next week, but it hasn't rained much in almost a month. There isn't much equipment to cope with such a large-scale problem (70000 hectors were burning), so it may be a while before it's truly under control.


Negotiations between the government and the farmer's union regarding tax rates have broken, and the farmers have decided to apply more pressure. So far it's not as severe as last month, when they blocked all delivery of meat and vegetables into the city. It's difficult to say how it will turn out, as neither side has the best interests of the people at heart. The government is only concerned with it's own political survival, as governments here always have been. This in turn has lead the country from one political or economic disaster to another. The farmers are riding high on record food prices and a deeply undervalued currency, though small scale farmers still struggle.

Corruption is endemic in most parts of the society, possibly due to the huge wave of Italian immigration over the last 200 years.

Almost everyone here has some Italian blood.

The reason that this relationship has been on my mind so much lately is that Silvio Burlusconi was recently re-elected as Prime Minister of Italy.

He only ran for office in the first place because he had lost favor with politicians of the time, in 1994. A billionaire media tycoon, he was facing multiple charges including, but not limited to, mafia collusion, false accounting, tax fraud, corruption and bribery of police officers and judges. Running out of loopholes in the Italian legal system, he no longer had enough friends in high places to protect him. So his options were either to go to jail or to become prime minister and change the laws. He chose the latter.

In his second term, he buried most serious charges against him by reducing the amount of time allowed for many crimes to still be prosecutable. Yet Italians still re-elect him. His virtual monopoly on Italian television is no small factor - he owns most of the channels. Most 'news' programs are overtly biased in his favor, often doing more campaigning for him than he does himself.

During the Italian campaign last month, there were many political posters here in Buenos Aires. As I said, many people here have Italian citizenship. So his incessant grin was to be found on billboards, buses, and walls all over this city. And he won, by a large margin.

Last week, the municipal elections in Rome went in favor of one of his colleagues, who runs a neo-fascist party directly descended from Mussolini. It sounds like a fun time to be in Italy.

But I digress. The reason that I brought all of this up is that the political trends in Italy and Argentina are unmistakably similar. In both, corruption is seen as a mild shortcoming, or at the very most, a flaw to be expected. Everyone here complains about how corrupt Cristina Fernandez, the not-so-popular president, is. But there is absolutely no expectation of change, as anyone with morals finds it almost impossible to break into politics, even if they had the desire to do so in the first place. People in most western countries complain about corruption, but after seeing how bad things are either here or in Italy, the petty problems of Canada, America, or most western European governments tend to lose some of their shock value.