Friday, June 20, 2008

Dimming the lights

The seasons are turning in Buenos Aires. The days are getting shorter and the air colder. For the past two days I have walked around through an incessant drizzle, dodging puddles and searching in vain for decent anti-frizz gel. Although it’s annoying to have my hair act as a personal barometer, most of me welcomes the rain. Cairo receives less than an inch of rainfall a year, which is a far cry from Seattle’s annual precipitation. The rain here reminds me of home. It cleanses the air, the streets, the buildings. During these past two days, it’s seemed as if the entire city is wringing itself out, purging itself of impurities. A veil of peace has settled, at least temporarily. Before the rain came this week, thousands of Argentines flocked to the Plaza de Mayo to protest Cristina’s policies and the government’s handling of the conflicto del campo. The government has raised export taxes on crops in what they claim is an attempt to keep Argentinean goods competitive in the global market, curtail inflation, and keep Argentines fed first by discouraging exportation. The conflict between the government and the countrymen has escalated as of late, but the rain has forced displeased citizens indoors. The city is quieter, and it seems appropriate to retreat, to stow myself away in a café with a large cup of tea and gaze out at the dark streets.

The tea and the darkness give me the perfect opportunity to think back at the contrast of last week, of all the color and activity. Last weekend was a long one, as Monday was a holiday. On Saturday we went to Tigre, which is an area about an hour outside downtown Buenos Aires. Tigre is like a very countrified version of Venice, because its inhabitants all live on small islands, and the fastest way to travel between islands is by boat. After an amazing lunch of parilla, or barbecue, we wandered over hill and dale, exploring the island and watching the boats. It was late afternoon, and the shadows of the trees created tiger stripes on the muddy river. Silver-lined trees stood sentinel on the riverbank, and the crisp air and wind kept us vigilant.

Sunday was a complete reversal from Saturday. I went to a soccer game. By soccer I of course mean ‘football’, which, as anyone outside the US will tell you, is what God intended it to be called. The game was Argentina vs. Ecuador, and was a World Cup qualifier. I was expecting my eardrums to explode. I was expecting to be accosted by fans in rapid-fire Spanish on what exactly a couple of Americans were doing there, and then to be mummy-wrapped in Argentinean flags and be force-fed dulce de leche. The experience was actually a little anticlimactic. Apparently games between two Argentinean teams are way more intense. This game was oddly calm. Ecuador scored in the first half, and then Argentina scored in the last 30 seconds of the game. Since it was a tie, the World Cup standings don’t change at all. Hm. It was just like a game back home, only the stadium probably could have held the entire population of Lichtenstein.

Monday a bunch of us went to an estancia, which is a ranch. We just spent the day eating more delicious barbecue, wandering around, and relaxing. All in all, a very trying day. I went out on Wednesday and Thursday night this week, which here means getting home between 4:00 and 6:00 am and then going to work/class the next day, all bright-eyed and bushytailed. I have yet to develop the Argentine stamina of steel, so tonight I am sitting in my café, drinking my tea, and am quite happy to go to bed early and get some rest. Tomorrow Natalie and I are taking the ferry to Uruguay for the afternoon, and then almost definitely going out, so it’s good to take a pause in the middle. I can’t think of anything better right now than sitting here, watching the dark rain, and ordering a second pot of tea. I need to soak up some quiet time, to dim the lights for a moment before plunging into the color and action once again.