| Letter From Buenos Aires
July 27, 2005
From a haunted place
It is impossible to really understand a place in a few short
days. One can get a sense, a feel, a touch of a place. So
it was with me and Buenos Aires. I had in five days a scent
of the place.
Once settled, I hired a driver from the hotel who spoke good
English, Eugenio, and asked him to drive me around Buenos
Aires, which he did, unfailingly polite while pointing out
to me all the sights he felt were interesting.
Argentina has been through all kinds of financial crises
for the last four decades, with one of the worst ones happening
in 2001, when the economy melted down and the government devalued
the peso. Good for us. One peso equals about 33.3 cents, and
one peso buys about what one dollar does in the States which
means that Argentina is one of the few countries where our
currency has an advantage.
It was winter here so it was cool, not cold but cool, very
Eugenio took me around Saturday afternoon, through a city
that has been described as the Paris of the South. Indeed,
the city and its architecture evoke Paris; with touches of
British, Italian, and German influences.
To us, Evita is the subject of a musical; here Evita is an
icon to be called upon to evoke a cause, as is being done
by two women of Argentina currently. One is the wife of the
current President of Argentina; the other is the wife of a
former President. Both are competing for a Senate seat for
Buenos Aires Province. Think Laura Bush versus Hillary Clinton.
Both these women are claiming the mantle of Evita
and holding competing rallies in her name.
Ignancio, who runs the Discovery Ad Sales office here, told
me that the country has been roiled by one crisis after another
since 1960. And as the country reels from one crisis to another,
various individuals bring out the ghosts of Juan Peron and
Evita to attempt to convince the current population they can
do as much good as these two iconic characters, in every sense,
from their past..
I dont think Juan has a museum of his own but Evita
does; a place I visited on Sunday afternoon. You walk into
a darkened room and are confronted with scratchy black and
white film that fills the space and the imagination; all of
it demonstrating the anguish into which Argentina was plunged
with the death of Evita.
In the black room, mirrored on three sides so that you are
surrounded by the mourning for Evita, it is a bit overwhelming.
Ride the streets of Buenos Aires; walk the streets of Recolleta,
the central district, and you feel a place that has endured
the Perons, several military dictatorships, ongoing financial
crises, a volatile union and political scene.
You see the worn faces of people who have endured their times
and still stand but are weary from the effort. There is, on
the faces of most people in their forties and above, a visible
exhaustion that has come from surviving these crises.
Until I walked its streets, Buenos Aires was the stuff of
legend, the musical, a place I read about, a city of mothers
and grandmothers who still march to find out what happened
to their offspring who are the disappeared.
It is a beautiful city, worn by its times and troubles. With
a population of twelve million, a third of the countrys
total, greater Buenos Aires seems to be emerging from a stupor,
seen in the construction cranes and the young faces who are
working hard to have a future different than the ones before.
Out of the crises of the peso devaluation, and debt default,
there is slowly rising a new Argentina, less chaotic than
the Argentina before. It is a country still haunted by its
past, by those who disappeared under the dictatorship, by
the ghost of Evita, by the spirits of all that could have
been but has not been. It is a city that wants to hope, that
wants to be re-born but feels afraid to hope for too much