31 October 2007

Blackout count: 2

Blackout 30-Oct-2007 Rosario

This is blackout #2 of the 2007 blackout season. The Power Supply Fluctuation Watch has assigned it the name Betty. Betty was a Type IIaS blackout (partial, small area, duration between 2 and 4 hours), and it was recorded in the northwest of Rosario, Argentina, beginning at about 21:30 hrs on 30 October 2007.

30 October 2007

Rule Cristina

To those who thought my post-election post was depressing, I have a few bits to justify my despair. This is from an interview with Joaquín Morales Solá, reprinted in La Nación — the first Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has given since she was elected, and in fact one of the very few interviews she's ever given to anyone.

  • Cristina's dreams: "I'd like us to be an exporting country like Germany." (Yes, Cristina, and I'd like to be a tall golden-haired Germanic god and drive a Mercedes. I think you got Botox into a place you shouldn't.)
  • About inflation: "There was an overreaction to the issue, to be expected during an election season." (The opposition bought up all the tomatoes in the country to make the price go up, I guess.)
  • The interviewer asks: "Were you disappointed at the vote of [people in the large] urban centers?". Cristina: "I think an urban center par excellence [= a prime example of an urban center] is Mendoza. It's a society with a very strong middle class. We won there by a very wide margin. There's also a middle class in Greater Tucumán, which we won by a lot, and in the first urban ring outside Buenos Aires City." (Ahem. Buenos Aires, Rosario, Córdoba? Filthy, stinking nests of neoliberal anti-Peronism!!!)
  • Interviewer: "What's your relation to the press going to be?" Cristina: "If [the press] goes back to being a means of communication and not of opposition, it's going to be perfect."
Cristina is going to keep Alberto Fernández, quite possibly the most aggressively ignorant and intolerant minister Argentina has ever had, as Chief of Cabinet cum presidential spokesman. One can only hope he'll have less to talk, if at least because Cristina (unlike her husband) can compose coherent sentences on the fly and so should be speaking by herself more often.

Most of the other ministers will remain the same, except for Infrastructure's Julio De Vido, who'll go away after the summer because Alberto Fernández has had a grudge against him for years. This is what A.F. said about Cristina's performance in Argentina's largest city.
  • Alberto Fernández: "I ask porteños to stop voting and thinking as if they were an island." (Yes, you people — you damn party poopers!)
I rest my case.

29 October 2007

Four more years?

Presidential ballot for Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

She won in the first round! Let's welcome ourselves to four years of Cristina — four more years of Kirchner-style corruption, friends' capitalism, negligence, incompetence, short-sightedness, intolerance and nepotism. And the worst of all is — she was the best candidate...

I refuse to believe that is it, but it is. Not only did she win by a wide margin, which will cause her and all her husband's minions to gloat over the victory during her whole term, but Congress, already crowded with yes-people, will now be practically a club for the Kirchnerist sect.

And yet I say she was the best candidate. In a way, many people sensed that and acted on their own interest. Cristina is the only one capable of containing and guiding the mobs that rule the most populated district in the country, her land of adoption, the province of Buenos Aires. She's the only one who can negotiate with the whole parallel chain of command (mayors, police, drug dealers, weapons dealers, gang leaders, petty thieves of all stripes) and ensure that they behave. These are the same people who are called to attend certain union assemblies and political meetings when they're needed. Cristina has already made sure that the corporatist model her husband started to draft will work — co-opt or buy the less combative unions, pay no attention to the smaller groups, and hint at the bosses of the oligopolic industrial conglomerates that run the economy that they'll be allowed to get away with murder, up to certain limits. By pulling on or loosing those two reins, she can control either side using the other as a threat.

The soul of old Peronism is now shattered for good, as are most other parties; all their candidates together couldn't have beaten Cristina Kirchner. The dissident Peronist Alberto Rodríguez Saá had a dismal performance; former minister Roberto Lavagna only served to take votes away from Elisa Carrió; former Radical Ricardo López Murphy must still be wondering why he ended up being a candidate. All these people, one presumes, will accept the defeat and go back to their homes, their fragile makeshift parties dissolving or becoming insignificant in national politics.

Carrió did quite fine, but only got half Cristina's votes, and half of her own, I bet, were votes against rather for. In any case, she seemed quite happy, and justifiably so, because she's now a force to be reckoned with. Carrió-Giustiniani won Buenos Aires City and in Rosario (they came even with Cristina in Santa Fe Province as a whole), and they got a few Senators and Deputies in.

During the celebrations, Cristina's supporters sang the Peronist March and chanted rhymes against the gorilas. A gorila, in old-fashioned Peronist parlance, is an anti-Peronist — which in Perón's time included (but was certainly not limited to) the urban middle and higher class, the wealthy landowners in the countryside, the independent intellectuals, the right-wing press, the big companies both national and foreign that didn't submit to Perón's desires. Hearing such a resentful and anachronistic term used to label the opposition (i.e. all of us) as enemies of Cristina's "national project", and the March — a textbook example of a crypto-fascist personality cult hymn — made me truly fear for this country.

This blog will resume its usual cheerful status tomorrow.

28 October 2007

Storm and blackout season

The first storm of the season arrived in Rosario last Friday, October 26, at about 7:15 PM. If this is going to become the norm for mid-Spring and summer (and it certainly looks like it), we're in for a lot of trouble. At least we didn't get hail, like last year. Yet.

For some strange chance, I left home for Japanese school earlier than usual. I had hurried a bit in order to have a chance to go with my camera and take some sunset pictures before the class began. I packed my umbrella just in case. I realized I wouldn't be able to take pictures because it was cloudy, and I also realized I was hungry, so I left the camera at home, and when I arrived at the school, I sat down at the shokudō and asked Alicia-san for a piece of her delicious ricotta cake and a carton of juice to wash it down and cool myself (it was like 30 degrees!) while I waited for sensei to come.

Five minutes later I heard a loud whoosh outside, then another, and then all hell broke loose. It was as if a million giant rain machines up in the sky had been turned on at once. Gusts of wind over 100 km/h forced us to close the windows. Thunder and lightning shook the walls.

The fluorescent lights flickered and turned off for a couple of seconds while we were in class, then came back again. At 9 PM the class was over and it was still raining, though not heavily. I was wearing sandals, so I got my feet wet, but nothing else. As a classmate and I stumbled over broken tree branches, paddles filled with dirty water and leaves, and unexpected holes in the sidewalk, we saw an uprooted tree leaning against a house, and severed power cables dangling from the lines.

I got back to a pitch-dark neighbourhood lit only by passing cars and by the occasional shop that held on using a portable generator. At home, my family was having dinner with candles — nothing romantic about that.

The blackout lasted more than I'd expected, and in fact longer than any other previous blackout I can remember. Power came back after 25–26 hours. On Saturday I had plans to do a photo tour (I'll tell you about that later) and I had to visit a friend to charge the battery of my camera in his house. Since pictures are worth several orders of magnitude more than words, I'll let you see by yourselves.

Después de la tormenta II

Después de la tormenta III

Después de la tormenta IV

Después de la tormenta V

  • La Capital: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.
  • Rosario3: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
  • Rosario/12: 1.
  • La Nación: 1.
  • Clarín: 1.
  • 26Noticias: 1.
  • Taringa! (with nice pictures): 1.
  • YouTube video: 1.

25 October 2007

Leave the car at home

I said this was going to happen, I knew this was going to happen, and I got it right: the Municipality is finally going to take some of those unpopular post-election measures that we need to get rid of the downtown traffic chaos. And the answer is...

... toll parking!

We've had toll parking for several years in Rosario, but only along some selected segments of certain streets in the downtown area. If I'm not mistaken (not having a car this is not something I pay attention to) the price was AR$1.20/hour, really cheap, especially compared to parking lots, which aren't enough anyway.

Mayor Lifschitz's plan, however, is much grander. He wants toll parking in the microcentro (i.e. the denser part of downtown) at 3 pesos per hour, the rest of downtown will be at 2 pesos per hour, and the first urban ring outside downtown at 1 peso; this, combined with a complete prohibition to park along several important streets that tend to get clogged by cars, taxis and buses. If the Deliberative Council approves the bill, toll parking it will be managed by a private company, which will have to put up signs, paint the curbs yellow to indicate forbidden spaces, and look for offenders.

As soon as they learned about this, the representatives of the shop owners cried out: "They're going to turn the downtown into a desert!", and the opposition councilmember Osvaldo Miatello said the plan was "savagery". They pointed out that, when the municipality banned traffic and parking in a small part of the microcentro in 2002, the shops saw their sales plummet. (It didn't occur to them, it seems, than in 2002 Argentina had over half its population below the poverty line — hardly a good time for business, no?), and when the municipality then loosened those restrictions the shop started getting record profits (hello, economic recovery?!).

According to these people, unless shoppers are allowed to get into the downtown with their cars and park them no more than ten short steps from the shop where they want to buy, they'll stay at home, refusing to take the bus or a taxi, refusing to pay three lousy pesos for the comfort of using the car, and refusing to walk even one or two blocks. The downtown will become uncompetitive and an empty shell and people will flee to the shopping malls outside the city center and for the shop owners there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth... Puh-leez!

The only problem that shops face today is the high cost of rented spaces (and even so, the gloomy forecasts I reported in May seem to have been wrong, fortunately). People are living a consumerist fever. Everything costs a lot and goes up, and we keep on buying stuff, probably because we guess that saving is useless...

24 October 2007

My new toy

It took me a while to decide, but I finally did it: I bought a new camera. It's a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7, a high-end compact camera that was released in February 2007. You can read the technical specs elsewhere; I'm not going to cover them here.

The H7 is not a bargain, but the price is quite acceptable, even accounting for the import taxes we're burdened with here in Argentina. I got it together with a 2 GB Memory Stick, which should be enough for about 600 pictures, so the manual says. I have been shooting at all sorts of stuff since Monday afternoon, but I haven't tested that limit... What I did notice, to my dismay, is the Gimp chokes on these larger images in my comparatively memory-starved PC, especially when I try to work with four or five layers. I also think that I'm going to need a new hard drive if my tendency to produce multiple variations of a picture is not contained.

The H7 is part of the new line of hyperzoom cameras. Most manufacturers went with 12x, but Sony gave the H7 a whooping 15x. You can actually use the camera as a telescope, or to spy on people far away. (Expect to see a proliferation of lunar shots and mist-shrouded buildings on the horizon.) Of course, as is the case with all compact cameras, you'll have chromatic aberration aka "purple fringing" in the extreme settings. Other than that, the camera has a nice array of standard functions to control aperture, shutter speed, exposure, and ISO number (up to ISO 3200 — which lies in the Land of Noise), and a few extras.

Luna azul

Amanecer urbanizado

I could've gotten a used DSLR for the same money. I actually saw one for sale on MercadoLibre (the Latin American take on eBay, I guess), and spent a lot of time pondering it. My professional photographer friend insisted that I should get a DSLR because "you can't do serious photography without a reflex camera" — she was indignant when I told her I'd decided against her counsel. But the kind of photography I like to do isn't compatible with carrying around a bagful of expensive bulky lenses which you have to mount and dismount and care for as if they were fine diamonds.

Maybe I'm not ready to become a pro, or maybe I think the division between a pro and a skilled amateur is meaningless in this time and age. My friend's firm opinion on photographers who don't have reflex cameras was very close to insult, which I'm sure she didn't notice; if she weren't a true friend that I've known for ages, I would've taken it as such. In any case, I have so much to learn that I feel I can very well survive a couple of years without a DSLR, until I exhaust the possibilities of my not-so-amateur H7.

There are lots of things I couldn't picture the way I like with my old camera, which I can now. So for now, if you notice I'm writing less, it's because I'm out there!

22 October 2007

Rosario BlogDay

Rosario BlogDay 2007

Rosario BlogDay
will be held on November 9 at the Centro de Expresiones Contemporáneas (CEC). The local blogosphere seems to be reaching critical mass. I'll be there and hopefully meet some other bloggers. Pass it on!

Photo tour to San Lorenzo

I went on a photo tour to San Lorenzo with the Rosarigasinos last Saturday. San Lorenzo is a city of 45,000 north of Rosario, within the metropolitan area. The region is densely populated and, in the case of San Lorenzo and the nearby towns, booming with light industrial development — petrochemical, vegetable oil, a cellulose plant... This combination gives the area a distinctive stench that fortunately doesn't reach the urban center of San Lorenzo, but is a pain along the road.

San Lorenzo is also known as the site of the only battle of the Wars of Independence to be fought in present-day Argentine soil. National hero, General José de San Martín, really liberated Argentina by defeating the Spanish in places located in neighbouring countries. The Battle of San Lorenzo was really a very small one (less than 1,000 troops counting both sides), but San Martín succeeded in thwarting a Spanish attack from the littoral, which was then rather wild and underpopulated. The rest of the battles he fought in Chile, Bolivia and Peru, closer to the local power centers of the time.

On Friday night there was a terrible storm, including some hail, and it still was raining from time to time when we gathered on Saturday morning, but by noon the sun was out in full force. We got on two cars and headed for San Lorenzo... it must've taken us an hour, because the road is narrow and not too good and it was being repaired and redone (they want to connect it to a highway). First we went to the Convent of San Carlos, where San Martín's forces rested.

There are Franciscans there still, but the convent is actually a museum. They preserve the room where San Martín stayed, others with objects used by the first monks, others with 19th century weapons, old letters and pictures, and all sorts of other objects up until the early 20th century. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves...

Habitación de San MartínHabitación del Capitán Bermúdez
Historia acumulada

We had lunch in a restaurant nearby, and then visited the coast. The provincial government is working on it, reinforcing the ravine against erosion and planning a nice park and a promenade, not unlike what's been done in Rosario. The reinforcement is needed because the river naturally eats away the ravine, and the increased traffic of large cargo ships and the 34-foot dredging of the Paraná have only made it worse. The rest is just esthetic, which is not a bad idea considering the potential for historical tourism. Schools regularly take students to visit San Lorenzo, but it's really a minor thing.

In the afternoon we visited the Municipal Museum. I was favourably surprised by it. It had a collection of everyday objects from the past of the city, nothing of great economic value or splendid appearance, but very interesting nonetheless. It was well-lit and displayed, and nobody protested when we took pictures.

We stayed until nightfall and then (since the last of us had been left behind without a car) we returned on a packed interurban bus.

19 October 2007

Days of black and white, and a good hair day

I always knew that growing my hair long again was an experiment... Satisfied with the result (that is, satisfied at the confirmation of what I already thought — that it was going to be a massive bother), I ended this experiment last Tuesday. I didn't dislike the long hair per se, but the time it took to take care of it. I reckon I'm saving ten minutes in the morning, during and after my daily shower; that means ten more minutes for me to enjoy breakfast before leaving for work, or ten more minutes to sleep.

The short hair has this one drawback, which is that it makes me look even younger. If I looked 25 before, I think I could now pass for a somewhat battered 20-year-old (especially if I'm clean-shaven). Countless people have told me (to no avail) that that's going to be a blessing when I'm 40. I guess they're right, unless a gene for wrinkles or baldness springs into action somewhere and decides to catch up.

Catedral reflejadaI haven't blogged much lately because I've been writing for my website, about black and white photography, or rather, how to take a regular color image and turn it into a nice monochrome picture using a variety of methods. (Follow the link if you read Spanish, or if you believe that a picture is worth a thousand words. Yes, I'm ending the cloaking/deniability policy too.)

I've spent considerable time producing pictures and almost none doing anything to them, except posting them to Flickr. I was looking into deviantART as well; it seems more like the kind of exposure I'd like to have for my more artistic pictures, but I'm not sure it's what I want. (I really hesitate on calling some of my pictures "artistic" when a significant part of the work is done by a pre-programmed filter in the Gimp, but many in the deviantART community appear not be bound by such scruples.)

Expect more pictures soon, since I'm going to San Lorenzo with the Rosarigasinos tomorrow. I went to San Lorenzo by myself almost exactly one year ago, and I didn't find it spectacular, but a photo safari is an occasion to socialize, not just to take pictures, and you can always count on someone in the group to direct you to a spot you didn't know before.

16 October 2007

Crimes of the Church

I wanted to write about something that was news only a week ago, and something that wasn't news anymore, though it should be. The former is the life sentence for Christian von Wernich; the latter is the lack of punishment of Edgardo Storni. They have in common the fact that they're both priests, that as such they've lived off the state (i.e. us) for decades, that they've both committed horrible crimes, and that the Church, being aware of that, has refused to condemn them in the strongest terms.

Von Wernich's crimes were far more horrible (complicity in multiple instances of kidnapping, torture and homicide), and justice has come to him at last, with a delay of thirty years. He was sentenced to a life term for his collaboration with the last dictatorship's murderers. He masqueraded as a faithful chaplain, trying to convince prisoners to confess, and providing theological support for the program of extermination carried out by the military. In his trial he expressed no regrets and he compared himself to Christ.

The top of the Catholic Church stalled long until he was sentenced, and then released a brief note saying "they were moved to pain" by von Wernich's deeds, committed "under his personal responsibility", and speaking against "hatred and resentment" (in Churchspeak, that means the victims' insistence on pursuing justice). The note didn't even hint at the well-oiled relation between the dictators and the Catholic hierarchy, and didn't show any pain for the victims, which included not only guerrilla members but also young activists and pregnant women. The bishop overseeing von Wernich didn't immediately do anything; he said he'll wait a bit — so von Wernich is still technically allowed to confess, celebrate mass, and serve as any good loyal priest.

Storni's crimes were of a wholly different nature and comparatively minor (he only sexually abused a young seminarist) but the rot runs as deep. Storni was the Archbishop of Santa Fe. When the scandal broke out, a priest called José Guntern, sent him a private letter where he told the archbishop he knew about two other instances of sexual abuse, urging Storni to confess and repent. Storni sent for 85-year-old Guntern and had his proxies sit him down before a recantation and a public notary. Guntern signed, but then filed an accusation against Storni. That came to nowhere.

Storni was first sent to Rome, he resigned as Archbishop, and then the Church gave him a nice private home in a secluded spot in Córdoba for his trouble. He's still waiting for his sentence on the abuse case, but in the meantime, the Church arranged for him to receive the retirement pension that bishops are entitled to by a law dictated during the dictatorship — over 7,000 pesos per month. The arrangement was illegal, since it's for disabled bishops over the customary retirement age of 75, and Storni is a healthy 71-year-old. The money comes from the 16.6 million pesos that the state pays the Catholic Church each year, a relic from colonial times that somehow slipped into the Constitution and that nobody has ever challenged.

14 October 2007

Culture weekend

I always more-or-less supposed there were tons of culture-related events and culture thingies to do in Rosario at any given time, but then the propaganda machine of the Municipal Culture Secretariat is well-oiled and sometimes they do blow things out of proportion. However, this is not the case right now.

You'll remember the vernissage I attended last Tuesday — well, that exhibition was held in the very lobby of the seat of the Culture Secretariat, in Rosario Norte Station. (On a side note, I asked my artist friend how she'd managed to get that space. She said she had no idea; it was a deal with her university. And I was already fantasizing about a photo exhibition there...)

Then last Friday I went to see this display of old and new photos, drawings and blueprints of buildings by Lluís Domènech i Montaner. I had no idea who he was, but then I read that he was a pioneer of Catalan Art Nouveau (a.k.a. Modernisme) on par with Antoni Gaudí, so I went to the Parque España to check out the exhibition. Domènech designed buildings mostly in Barcelona, but I knew the style because other Catalan architects worked here in Argentina and particularly in Rosario (see my post with the picture of the Palacio Cabanellas).

Very impressive, enough for 45 minutes of admiration, and it only cost me one peso. I took as many pictures as I could, mostly not very good (pictures of pictures, under museum-type lighting, come out usually rather bad), but enough to document it. I don't know if it was allowed to take them, but nobody protested.

Then on Saturday I was scanning the cultural schedule again, and I found a Japan-themed event at the Museo Estévez, including a display of Japanese art pieces and ornaments, a short lecture on Japan's history, and kamishibai (paper theatre). I decided to check it out as well, but I made the mistake of taking a detour to enjoy the sunny view along the river (camera in hand, of course). It turned out that the view was extremely rewarding and I arrived at the museum when the lecture had already started, and after all the tickets for the kamishibai were reserved. It was all free of charge, but the space was limited, so I was told to come back for another show later. I couldn't do that, but I'm going to try it tonight if I can.

The lecture was fine enough — a brief surview of the relations between Japan and the West, showing how the myth of an enclosed, self-sufficient, almost xenophobic "millenary" culture is just a myth, as many of the things we associate distinctly with Japan were imported or adapted from the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Dutch, the British or the Americans. The lecturer wandered into another kind of myth herself a couple of times, unnecessarily, for example speaking of the "unconfirmed" etymology of arigato from Portuguese obrigado, which has long been known to be absolutely bogus, and also relating a supposed graphical similarity between the Japanese kanji for "snow" and "blood" and samurai's concepts of purity and death. Maybe she meant "white" and "blood", which have somewhat similar characters, but then why not "white" and "red"?

Walking to and from the museum, I also noticed a lot of tourists. And I mean a lot. The riverside parks and the Flag Memorial were packed, and adding to the usual locals with mate and thermos and kids and dogs you couldn't stop noticing a large number of people with curious looks, camera in hand, taking pictures of themselves in front of absolutely unremarkable spots, or map in hand wandering the streets.

I found a young couple from some place in Greater Buenos Aires who actually asked me, not how they could get to a certain place, but where they could go, because they were not sure which direction to take. The girl seemed not to know that Rosario had a river, or that it was a large city, and somehow they'd both been able to walk down Córdoba St. without asking for (or finding by themselves) the 70-meter-tall Flag Memorial at the end of it. I also found a couple from Bánfield (Buenos Aires) who asked me to take a picture of them, and commented that Rosario's very nice but has almost no touristic infrastructure. I took another picture of a middle-aged couple from Córdoba. And on my way back I had to explain to two elderly ladies (one of them with a city map she was holding upside down) how to get back to the Bus Terminal.

The weekend is just half over, so there's still much to do...

11 October 2007

My photos

I've been asked, and I should've posted them before, so: these are the pictures I'm contributing to the Rosarigasinos exhibition (you can see all of the pictures in Flickr group that was just created: Miradas rosarigasinas).

Desde la terraza

Patio Parada en grises

Super invierno

We obviously have no entrance fee and no way to tell how many people are visiting the exhibition, but at least we had exposure, and a local cable channel interviewed one of the group's founders last Tuesday. I did my share of word-of-mouth advertising as well, at the vernissage of a friend's art exhibition later that day.

I've been doing other things in the meantime... but my mind is in that other place!

09 October 2007

Barrio de los Ingleses

Yesterday I told you about the photo exhibition. Well, after we finished setting it up, it was noon, so we decided to congratulate ourselves a bit and go celebrate. We went to a bodegón — one of those old-style, un-fancy restaurants that prepare great home-made-like meals. It was comparatively cheap, but very good (and abundant!). Our embedded storyteller and historian/anthropologist suggested (guess!) that we should go and take pictures.

A few blocks from the restaurant there's a group of old British-style houses that used to be the home of railway personnel one century ago. It's informally called Barrio de los Ingleses, and it's opposite the old company storehouses, nowadays recycled as the headquarters of the Nuevo Central Argentino. In fact it's just a couple of housing blocks only, outside the normal street grid, and seemingly outside of time — and location.

Barrio de los Ingleses

The place is called Batten Cottage. There's a string of nice small houses which were built for the VIP of the company, and a group of apartments for the common personnel, both temporary (passing by) and permanent. The apartments still keep their original number plates, and though the place is not exactly crumbling down in slow motion, most of it looks rather 19th-centuryish as well.

I'd passed by the Barrio de los Ingleses a million times, but I never dared get in and look around, least of all with my camera. There are people living there after all, and it's not exactly an upscale area, even though it's right beside a new park and near the shiny Alto Rosario shopping mall. Being with a group of half a dozen or so, however, I felt safe — we had enough cameras and the inquisitive attitude to convince anyone that we were curious tourists off the beaten track.

More pictures for your enjoyment right after this...

08 October 2007

Rosarigasinos on the news

Our little photo exhibition is on the news! Miradas rosarigasinas was featured in Rosario3, NotiExpress, and El Ciudadano.

Rosarigasinos trabajandoWe gathered on Saturday morning to mount the exhibition. I arrived and found a guy with that indefinable "photographer aura" that I've grown to perceive... but I didn't know who he was. Since there are quite a few of us in our online group and we don't all know each other's faces, I asked him. He was in fact a photographer for El Ciudadano, a friend of one of us, and he'd come to cover the story. Wow.

The rest of the groups arrived shortly, with yerba, a thermos, and a couple of bags with facturas. One of the guys had already gone to the trouble of buying all the equipment and pasting all the photos on white 3mm plastic frames, so we had to hang them. After fumbling with threads and clips for a while, we found a suitable way. The pictures ended up at different heights, but we agreed we couldn't help that and the effect was anarchically modern-artsy anyway.

La muestra de Rosarigasinos recibe visitasThe display, you'll remember, is held on the Faculty of Biochemistry and Pharmaceutics, and they have classes even on Saturday morning, so we had to keep more or less quiet. At mid-morning recess, though, we had the thrill of receiving our first visitors, who looked around curiously as we continued hanging the pictures.

We had the first and second floors available. There were a total of 63 photos, so we had to think twice about the layout. My three pictures ended up in the second floor, which wasn't that good I think, but I'm told they're going to place signs alerting the people that the exhibition continues upstairs. We also got a couple of posters and some pamphlets. I pasted a couple of mine on the Japanese Association's notice board and I'm going to leave a trail in other places. So we should have a lot of exposure.

We're almost sure that we'll have a place for another exhibition next month, at the Alem Park Culture Center. Even if not so, there are many venues that could take our pictures (for free) in the city. I hope we don't get too famous. If I have to dress up, shake visitors' hands and give away wine, I'll adopt another name and disappear.

05 October 2007

Let them eat tomatoes

I can resign myself to be ruled by Queen Kristina of the Clenched Fist from December on, but I sincerely hope she has learned something from the embarrassing mess his husband's made and fires Alberto Fernández. For his ilk we have the word impresentable in Spanish — I don't know if there's such a term in English. Alberto Fernández is simply not somebody you want to speak for your administration. They say pets resemble their owners; if so, Fernández can be seen as Kirchner's oversensitive, rabid bulldog.

The issue is, as usual, inflation. Listen to this: according to the Chief of Cabinet, "the opposition candidates are dealing irresponsibly with the issue of inflation" because "they're trying to create inflationary expectations in order to ruin Argentinians' lives." I'd reply to that by saying that tomatoes at 15 or 16 pesos per kilo are ruining our salads (an important part of my life, at least!), but then the Master Number-Cruncher Guillermo Moreno (Secretary of Internal Commerce) would come, figures in hand, to tell me that IndeK's fair and flawless measurements show tomatoes at AR$3.99/kg, and my belief that tomato is outrageously overpriced is the fruit of a conspiracy.

Since this blog is intended for an international audience, I thought I'd make it clear. The figures released by Indec, our census/stats bureau, are not trustable. Inflation is the main one, but inflation also correlates with poverty. We now know that energy use, GDP growth, and others have been subtly tweaked as well — not by making them up, but by using different criteria for the measurement. For example, Indec decided to show electric power demand and quietly dropped power generation from publicly accessible reports. Demand is growing steadily and often surpasses the offer; generation is stagnant.

So if you hear rumours in the international media about the controversy with Argentina's census bureau, be sure that they're understated. We're in the dark regarding our figures — some are obviously false, others probably, but we don't know which and how false.

Back to inflation, it just happens that the house of cards crumbles at the slightest touch, because Argentina is still nominally a federal country and each province has its own stats bureau. Indec releases a metropolitan consumer price index (IPC) showing inflation for Buenos Aires City plus Greater Buenos Aires, where Moreno and his thugs can pressure producers and supermarket chains and manipulate the prices at will, and where the inflation rate is consistently less than what common sense dictates. It also releases a national consumer price index, which is not really national but includes weighted data from several provinces (presumably based on sampling criteria). The national IPC has been showing higher inflation than the metropolitan one.

And finally —surprise, surprise— when one reviews the IPCs calculated by the stats bureaus of the provinces that are not included in Indec's national sample, the inflation rate is much, much higher.

Granted, the Entre Ríos bureau uses different criteria, leaving out some services and tourism and giving more weight to (for example) fruits and vegetables. The other provinces surely do similar stuff. Therefore the IPCs are not directly comparable. But this shows that maybe, just maybe, Indec is not doing its thing right — that's what you think when your figures are considered meaningless and irrelevant for the public.

Public perception is that Indec is simply making up the figures. More educated observers note that Indec might simply be selecting a biased sample and/or giving sample items a weight that doesn't correspond to its relevance in real economy. You can stop doing tourism every long weekend; your dog can do without a weekly grooming by professionals; your children don't need to have a brand-new cellphone every six months; but you cannot (or should not be forced to) stop eating tomatoes and lettuce or drinking milk and yoghurt.

On top of that, it's been announced that Indec will begin using the "American method" to eliminate seasonal variations from the price index. That's right — so when the price of tomatoes increases fourfold during the winter, they'll just ignore it and take the previous price as an estimate, because everybody knows that tomatoes are like that, always going up and down like crazy. If this is the same for other items, I guess they won't record anything unusual if medical laboratories decide to start selling $20 aspirins next winter.

Regardless of the method and its results, yelling at people from a stand, hinting that they're all fools if they believe the opposition, and denouncing invisible conspiracies to make tomatoes look expensive, is the kind of thing that would cost an elected official his or her job, or in the case of a minister, cause the president to ask for his or her resignation ipso facto. Only here can Fernández be such an ignorant foul-mouthed thug and survive intact.

04 October 2007

Carlos Fuentealba, half a year later

I couldn't believe it the other day when I heard it was going to be six months since the murder of Carlos Fuentealba. It seemed to me that only a couple months had passed. In the meantime things haven't been exactly nice throughout the country. Protests and demonstrations have continued, in many cases violently dispersed by the police, but not in places where the media care to look.

Carlos Fuentealba was a teacher who worked in Neuquén, a province in the northern edge of Patagonia. On April 4, the teachers' union was on strike and he was accompanying a protest march by car, when the provincial police came. A policeman called Daniel Poblete shot a can of tear gas into the car, hitting Fuentealba in the back of the neck almost at point blank. He died two days later in hospital.

Today, in order to commemorate Fuentealba's death but especially to demand justice for his murder, the teachers all throughout the country are on strike again, and massive demonstrations are planned. The only one arrested for the murder is Poblete, the judiciary of Neuquén is not independent, and the investigations are not advancing.

Jorge Sobisch, the governor of Neuquén who ordered the repression and justified it, is still campaigning for the presidency on a platform of public security, as if nothing had happened. But the large posters in the streets where he appears with a big smile are quickly covered by smaller, cheaper posters with Fuentealba's face and by graffiti that read ASESINO — murderer.

I have my personal take on the matter. First of all, I think teachers should've marched and protested outside school hours or during the weekend, so that the children don't lose more days of an already reduced class schedule. They could devote one hour today to explain what Fuentealba fought for, and why teachers who work in public schools have the right to earn good salaries, and explain to the children what happened. They could review the history of police brutality in Argentina and the history of state-sponsored repression of dissident views, in terms appropriate to the age and background of the students. But they chose to leave the classrooms empty. (In Argentina there are 180 days of classes per year, in theory, but due to strikes this is often reduced to 160 or less. Some developed countries have over 220 days/year.)

Second of all, the demonstrations and protest actions are organized by unions and organizations with a strong political component, in the heat of the presidential campaign. That just doesn't sound right. Sobisch accuses Hugo Yasky, the leader of the CTA union, of being secretly in league with President Kirchner, and says that the national government is financing a campaign against him, which is entirely possible. CTA is fighting to get official recognition as a major labour union and competes with CGT, the older and more traditional Peronist union that has a lot of influence within the government. Yasky is also accused by some of lending his influence to Kirchner and to Minister of Education Daniel Filmus to get approval of the brand-new Education Law by the teachers' union CTERA, even while the law is resisted by many teachers and was rather plainly made up to make Filmus look good at the time when he was campaigning for Chief of Government of Buenos Aires City.

Politics is dirty and the teachers are doing politics, instead of teaching the children how Carlos Fuentealba died and what they should know to avoid such things from happening ever again.

03 October 2007

Two villas miseria

This is a followup on yesterday's post about the Toba tribe and how they came from Chaco to Rosario.

I live 10 blocks from a railway track around which a large Toba settlement grew in the 1990s. If you're wondering why they put it there, it's because the areas on the side of the rails have been jurisdictional "no man's land" for a long time, since the railway system started to decline. When the stations were shut down, the state-owned companies that ran them stopped caring about keeping people away from the tracks. The municipal and provincial government couldn't take care of them either.

Nowadays, with many trains transporting cereal and other types of cargo from the interior to the ports, the situation is a bit different. Private companies keep their land from being occupied. However, the rest of the former railway property is managed by the national state through an office called ONABE, which is powerless to stop people from taking residence beside the tracks.

So these Toba came, I don't remember when exactly — surely in the 1990s, but also before. Then a government housing programme built homes for them in a different part of the city and they moved there. But the settlement, though much reduced, is still there. A couple of years ago, after many requests, the provincial government built a police post near it, because people were scared of walking or driving along the street and being stuck right beside the villa miseria, on the level crossing, when a train had to pass.

I myself have never had a problem with the people of the villa. They've been there for ages and they're mostly decent fellows who happen to be very poor. But I still know better than to walk past the villa when it's dark, because if I'm robbed there, the thief can easily run into the villa and nobody there's going to tell on him.

There's another settlement, about 8 blocks in a different direction, where a Catholic nun started a "mission". It was built too near the Ludueña Stream, in a floodable area, without proper streets or sanitation. Nevertheless, word-of-mouth (especially along extended families) reached Chaco and the "mission" attracted more settlers. The lands around the Ludueña are another preferred place for villas, because until recently nobody has wanted them. The public works needed to make them safe are only being done now.

The "mission" was a bad idea, the grandiose scheme of an attention-hungry woman to become the benefactor and spiritual leader of the poor. María Jordán had charisma; she talked to politicians and the media and got donations, which her collaborators in good faith distributed following her will. She organized a couple of fund-raising events, got benefactors to pay trips for her, and even (I was told) a car and an apartment (to better conduct her charity work, of course).

She did do some missionary work in the villa: she enshrined a Virgin Mary whom she called "Mary the Mother of Hope", and even had stamps printed — the Mother of Hope looking suspiciously like her inventor. I don't know what became of that; the poorer segments of the population are nowadays overwhelmingly attracted to other sects, usually very active evangelical ones that get funds from the United States, and local upstarts.

She had no idea how to run the place. I don't know how many poor people came from Chaco to live in her ridiculous mission, but they were a major problem — they were quite literally refugees, and the city wasn't prepared to receive them. In my experience, religious initiatives tend to rely on good intentions alone (cf Mother Teresa's "Come Here To Die As We Pray For You" shelter franchise), and this was no exception.

Jordán was soon eclipsed by the exotic miracle healer Father Ignacio Peries, but she still appears now and then in the news, invariably referred to as "Sister María Jordán", and wearing a habit... even though she was forced to leave her order years ago, when she refused to obey her superiors and stop her lone "missionary" adventure.

I know all of this because I worked for this self-centered woman for six months (don't ask), and I saw other people being trapped by her deceivingly charming manners. The last time I heard of her was on the occasion of an art exhibition by the controversial León Ferrari, when she said publicly that, if she had the money, she'd buy up Ferrari's works and burn them all. Yeah, that'll help the poor and sick.

02 October 2007

The Toba, from Chaco to Rosario

The other day I was visiting Rob's blog and I saw he'd posted a video about poverty in the province of Chaco. It was really strange to watch this report of something that's happening quite literally in our backyard... in English, by an Argentine journalist, via Al-Jazeera. I knew the reporter, Teresa Bo — I think I saw her once before but I didn't remember who she worked for.

Rob subtitled his post "Another thing I had no idea about", which is not surprising given he's just gotten here from a different country and he hasn't left Buenos Aires (that I know of). What is surprising and disappointing is how Argentinians themselves seem to ignore this as well.

Chaco is a province located north of Santa Fe. It belongs in a larger biogeographic zone called the Gran Chaco, and within it, in the Humid (or Low) Chaco, which is humid only relative to the arid High Chaco.

Quebracho treeRed quebracho (Schinopsis balansae)
Chaco is a very poor province. At the turn of the 19th century, its land was exploited for quebracho trees. Quebracho produces a lot of tannin and has an extremely heavy and resistant wood. Developing the country, for the rulers of that time, meant driving away the Indians, occupying the fertile lands with European colonists, and selling the rest of the country to foreign companies, along with carte blanche to deal with the locals. So Chaco and the north of Santa Fe were given to a British company called Compañía Forestal del Chaco (later Compañía de Tierras, Maderas y Ferrocarriles La Forestal Ltda.). La Forestal started as a timber-and-tannin company and then became basically a private government, building new towns, railways and roads, hospitals and schools. Of course, the workers were not free to do anything but work on the company. They got paid in company bills and bought their stuff in company stores. The company wasn't very tolerant of strikes or anything of the sort.

Without government control, and given the lack of knowledge of basic ecological facts at the time, La Forestal destroyed the Chaco forest. When it left, in 1960, the quebracho trees were gone, the soil was absolutely degraded, the land had become a desert, and the population was desperately poor.

The main aboriginal group in Chaco are the Qom tribe, who are known as Toba — a derogatory term imposed by the technological more advanced and aggresive Guaraní. The Qom started migrating south as economic conditions worsened in the 1950s, establishing themselves in the outskirts of larger cities. There's evidence that, in the 1980s and 1990s, the government of Chaco encouraged them to abandon their lands and went as far as paying them a one-way ticket to Santa Fe and Rosario, where they joined their previously settled relatives in villas miseria (shanty towns). It was better for them to live in precarious homes made of corrugated iron and cardboard, scavenge for food in someone else's garbaga and work long hours in unqualified jobs in the big city than starving without hope of assistance or enduring alternating drought and floods in the middle of their desertified forest. In Rosario they found a robust public health system, an abundance of free schools for their children, and jobs.

Villa miseriaVilla miseria (shanty town) in Rosario, originally a Toba settlement

What they didn't find was a return to their ancestral ways, which worked fine for them before their lands were ravaged. Like most of the rural poor that migrated to the cities, they fell prey to the political clientele system, and their children became accustomed to beg in the streets, to use alcohol and illegal drugs, and to expect nothing from the future.

This post is getting too long and sad, so I'll reserve the rest of what I'd written for tomorrow or the day after that. It concerns the local Qom and their involvement with one of those power-hungry religious characters that seem to be attracted to poverty and despair (not, not Padre Ignacio).

Mirada rosarigasina

mirada rosarigasina

01 October 2007

Power of the unexpected

Back from the weekend, I can't help but thinking that plans and schedules are really useless in Real Life more often than one might guess, and that indeed the joys of Real Life are usually to be found in the chanceful parts. I say this because I managed to pull off a nice weekend despite the fact that my ideas for it got completely scrambled.

As I said earlier, the Rosarigasinos are planning a photo exhibition. We'd scheduled an informal meeting in a bar, Saturday morning, to get all of our pictures together and collect the money for high-impact plastic sheet we're going to use to frame them. But since I was having my friends over for a late birthday celebration on Friday night, I took them beforehand to Facundo's place (Facundo is one of the Rosarigasinos). First unplanned occurrence — I changed my mind at the last moment and chose a different picture instead of one I'd selected before. I'd given quite a lot of thought to it, since we only get to show three photos each, but I looked at it and found it nice and Facundo concurred, so I dropped the other picture.

Desde la terraza
The picture I decided to use instead of the other

Friday night dinner was pizza and bits of the assorted crap that goes with beer. One of my friends has a 3-year-old child who is generally a good girl (this time was no exception), but has the horrible habit of junk food which afflicts so many children her age, and which the mother cheerfully allows. Faced with greasy cardboard-like chips, delicious home-made pizza, sausages in tomato sauce, meatballs and peanuts, the little junk addict went straight to the chips. (Even the peanuts would've been better. They've got Omega-3 and stuff.) I'm of the rather extreme opinion that children shouldn't be allowed to eat junk food, drink Coke or watch TV until they're at least 5, but it wasn't my call. So I only said to my friend, as she motioned for more chips, "Is she not going to have any real food?".

Saturday morning, second unplanned occurrence — I woke up after only 4 hours, too late to reverse my decision and rush to the Rosarigasinos' gathering, and too early to do anything else. Got up, had breakfast, and then I decided to go jogging. Bad idea. Lots of pizza and peanuts washed down with beer at unusual times, plus little sleep that gets your head alert again but doesn't rest your body, meant that I was tired too soon. I did manage to run all the way, about 5 km, stopping every now and then. It was OK; I needed to resume the habit some day.

Got home, took a shower, had lunch, then went to sleep again. I figured I was going to get out in the evening, and on Sunday either go on a photo trip to a nearby town (with a friend and her photography classmates) or have grilled fish for lunch (with another friend), so I'd better get decent sleep or I'd be wasted. Third and fourth unplanned occurrences — the first friend I called wasn't sure he could go out due to a family problem; the second one had his cell phone turned off or not working. Fifth unplanned occurrence — no fish; my friend of the fantastic grill was suddenly going to have his parents over. Sixth unplanned occurrence — my friend of the photo trip had second thoughts and nobody in her group had arranged anything, so the trip was basically cancelled.

Fine. So I go to sleep early (on a Saturday night! what a sin!) and next day, facing a sunny Sunday with nothing to do, I start by having copious breakfast and then go out to walk and take pictures. I grabbed a few ones of the Ludueña Stream. You can see the difference in level from the first picture, taken where the open channelized section becomes piped underground, and the last picture, where the stream ends in the Paraná. Those are a mile apart at most. The channel is a real dump when it's low, as it's now (compare to the time of the Great Rains). The little harbour in the mouth of the stream was being dredged less than a month ago, but the water level seems to be OK now.

Contaminación en el Ludueña
Pollution in the channelized stream

Mouth of the Ludueña Stream
Mouth of the Ludueña Stream

I was surprised to see that, despite the horrible pollution, there were birds, fish and turtles in the stream. The black ones are biguás (aka Neotropic Cormorant, Phalacrocorax brasilianus); I don't know what the other one is. I also saw a group of small birds with pointed wings, black with an iridescent blue patch on the head and back, and a kingfisher (the goddamn bird waited until I was on top of him, camera on hand, and right then it flew away).

End of the pipes

Biguás (neotropic cormorants)

Some bird

A biguá up close

All of these, of course, were unplanned occurrences.

In the meantime I received an SMS from my friend who couldn't go out — saying he could go out after all. It was dated Saturday at 10:40 PM, about twelve hours before the time when I received it. The cellphone grid works like hell, and I was very angry, but then if I'd gotten out Saturday, I wouldn't have met those birds on Sunday morning.

So I say to my friend, let's go somewhere this afternoon. Sure enough, we meet, get some hot water in a thermos for mate, drop by another friend's house, and head for the Parque de las Colectividades. The streets and the parks near the river were packed.

Parque de las Colectividades
Parque de las Colectividades

Last unplanned occurrence — we run into some friends of my friend and, as the sun goes down, they propose having some snacks. I think beer and peanuts, they think big picada. No way, I tell them; I don't have that money on me and I just want something light. We settle on a compromise — fried chips (real potato chips fried on the spot, not salty pseudo-potato flakes) and a carlito (hot sandwich or tostado with ham, cheese, chicken, red pepper strips, and salsa golf) with one beer for three of us and water and orange juice for the other two (one had a late hangover, the other one had to drive a car back home). The service was slow, the waitress un-cheerful, the food expensive, but at least it was good enough.

And that's the story of my unplanned weekend.