No one can say I didn’t go out of my way to exercise my right and civic duty in voting this year. I registered absentee in my home state of California, with the ballot being mailed to my old roommate Jose. This was because I didn’t know exactly where I would be come voting time. After badgering Jose for several weeks (“Did it come?!, Did it come?!”) I finally got word that it did and Jose sent it (at a cost of 25 bucks! Thanks Jose!) to my temporary address here in Buenos Aires by USPS mail. I waited dutifully for it, but when I checked the USPS website for status, it said that they had tried to deliver it twice and failed. A call to USPS and they informed me that I would have to contact the local postal service as it was out of their hands once it left the States. When I finally got through to Correo Argentino and spoke to an operator (in my halting Spanish), we figured out that the street number address on the mailing had been wrong, and I would have to go down to their office near the train station to get it. I got there at 10am and took a number, and about an hour later I had my letter. After dutifully reading the entire voting pamphlet, I filled out my ballot and will be mailing it from the embassy later today. (Or tomorrow. It is raining really hard out right now.)
Regular readers of this blog know how important I think this election is, both nationally and in California. Please exercise your right to vote, it could really make a difference. And you have no business complaining about the political state of things if you don’t.
I’m a lucky bastard. I have the good fortune to meet wonderful people from all over the world. People who invite me to visit, for a meal, to go on outings, or who share their culture with me in a variety of ways. Today I was invited by two such people I met recently, Philippe and Roberto, to come spend the day with them in their little island home away from BA, in a place called El Tigre. El Tigre is the name of the delta region north of Buenos Aires. It is also the name of a small town that is sort of the gateway to the islands of the delta. The delta region is a fascinating and vast place, with a huge number of islands, some simple, some fancy, some wild and some quite developed. The weather was perfect, and we had a lazy day of eating and drinking and walking the island their house is situated on (called Santa Monica), followed by a fantastic boat trip offered by one of their neighbors to tour some of the delta. One could spend many days and not see all of it. In some ways it reminded me of the backwaters of Kerela; in others it reminded me of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. And yet in others it is totally unique. It is also super cheap and easy to get to from Buenos Aires. I just hopped on one of the frequent (every 20 minutes) trains at the beautiful Retiro Train Station, after buying my ticket for (I kid you not) 35 cents (US). Roughly 45 minutes later, I was in El Tigre.
My friend Guillermo yesterday introduced me to the custom and ritual of mate (pronounced mah-tay) drinking. The history of this drink is rather complex (you can read about it here) so I won’t go into it, but basically it is a kind of herbal infusion made in a particular way and served in a gourd with a special straw to filer out the herbal mix. If that were all there was to it, it would just be an interesting local drink. But the part that really fascinates me is the drinking ritual. The same cup and straw is passed in a circle to as many people as are present for the drink. Each one drinks until the water is gone and the server adds more and passes it back for the next person. This continues (but only one cup at a time per person) until as many rounds have been made that all are satisfied. I couldn’t help but feel slightly illicit in passing this thing around. There is nothing other than a few coffee-like stimulants in the mate, but the action of passing it around and hearing that slurp sound as the cup was emptied reminded me of nothing so much as my college days and sharing bong hits.
My trip to the Brazilian consulate this morning was an exercise in frustration, and didn’t really make me feel encouraged to visit the country. I arrived with what I thought was proper documentation: My passport, filled out form, photos, vaccination, bank records and loads of cash to pay the visa fee. The pinched woman behind the glass (bullet proof glass it seemed, and after dealing with her I can understand why) asked me where I would be staying in Brazil. I told her that I didn’t know precisely, but that I hoped to visit Sao Paulo, Rio, and Salvador. She then asked to see my proof of transport into and out of the country, and I informed her that I wasn’t sure exactly when and where I would be entering the country, but that it would be near the end of November, leaving near the end of December. She then informed me that without this information, she would not even submit my visa application to be processed as it would surely be refused. Bewildered, I asked if it didn’t strain credibility just a little to think that no one ever enters Brazil without having this precise a plan? Is there no room in the bureaucracy for some leeway in planning? I am on vacation after all. She pursed her lips, said “No.”, and pushed my docs back under the glass.
So I am a little unsure of what do do now. I can probably come up with an address of a friend in Brazil to fill out the “where are you staying” part of the application. But the ticket in/out is a little harder. It would mean that I would have to make a decision about those dates exactly right now, which I am loathe to do. I realize that part of the reason this exchange had me somewhat annoyed is that it touches on one of the things I find problematic with modern life: The obsession with planning and precision. It sucks most of the joy out of life, especially when related to travel. It leaves nothing to chance or the imagination, and is the sterilized, pre-packaged world we increasingly live in. This world is increasingly estranged from the possibility of appreciating a changing and organic life experience.
Last night was my first introduction to Tango (actually seeing it danced live anyway). I was invited by Philippe (a friend of my friend Alok from Mumbai) to go check out a gay milonga (Tango hall) in BA called La Marshall. The place starts out as a class early on, followed by dancing for the brave/experienced. The music, although all Tango rhythms, was quite eclectic. One of the pieces seemed so familiar to me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until…”Wait! Is that the Beatles’ Yesterday?!” and sure enough, it was the same melody, reworked for the dance. Being partnerless and a little intimidated by how complicated the moves seemed, I decided to sit this one out, but resolved to learn a move or two before leaving BA. I loved the music and the energy of this place. When one particularly sad song came on, I mentioned it to Roberto (Philippe’s partner), and he told me that all Tango music, and Tango itself, is melancholic by nature. No wonder it appeals to me, I love melancholy. It was especially interesting to see how the crowd interacted with each other. All manner of people were asking strangers to dance with them, and Philippe told me that this is how it is with Tango halls everywhere, you don’t just stick with your group or partner. And for a gay Tango place, this one was pretty mixed, with the asking and leading being done in all manner of combination throughout the evening. Some of the dancers were quite good, and I spent a fair amount of time watching their feet and trying to figure out how the moves worked.
Today, after a satisfying visit to the MALBA art museum, I took a stroll down to (and then through) The Recoleta Cemetery. Talk about a city of the dead, boxes and boxes all lined up with sealed coffins in them. There are quite a famous number of Argentine luminaries buried here, and of course the biggest draw of the place for checklist tourists is the tomb of Eva Peron. For the most part the place was deserted until I got to her tomb. Then there was a long line of people snapping photos and ooh-ing and aahing. Frankly, hers was not one of the better designed mausoleums.
My friend Ricky shared with me a classic of Argentine cinema last night, as we screened the comedy “Esperando la carroza” (Waiting for the Hearse). Released in 1985, it was quite the send up of various social strata in Argentina at the time. The dialog was very fast paced and very funny. Lucky for me Ricky had the version with English subtitles. It is apparently one of those films that many people (and especially the gays) know absolutely all the lines from. So in that respect I guess it is a bit like Mommie Dearest or All About Eve.