Bad Times In Buenos Aires

#1
"Bad Times in Buenos Aires" is the title of a book by the English writer, Miranda France; it's based on a year -- 1993 -- that she spent in Buenos Aires. (The title is a trifle misleading.) I wonder if anyone here has read this book, and indeed what their sentiments towards this book are.
 
#2
I'll bite.
The Spectator (UK rag) began the Shiva Naipaul award for writing (in English) about understanding a different culture or country in memory of one of my favorite writers, V.S. Naipaul. So, of course I bought a copy when it first hit book stores. Miranda France won the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Award for her account about living here. Although it’s about 1993, the publishing date is 1999. Sadly, Miranda France is no V.S. Naipaul, but then writers of his caliber are rare. So, any comparisons are unfair. Still, someone decided she deserved the award.
Bearing those facts in mind, yes, I've read this personal account of living in Buenos Aires as well as, if I recall correctly, her experience floating on agricultural islands of one of the few indigenous tribes not completely killed off by European settlers, and brief summaries of the less populated provinces being wholly owned by the uber rich. Her surprise at what she describes as the bronca of Porteños, or Argentines in general, -- the ability to lose one's cool in public -- I found terribly amusing. It rarely amounts to little more than lots of yelling and marginal shoving. Granted, the idea of hot blooded Latins is a stereotype, but it's one not without merit. Latin culture is publicly emotional. Try crossing the frontiers of Argentina on a summer weekend and experience the crowds who are clamoring for visas to travel to Chile or Brazil in the northern provinces for a “restful” vacation. Yelling and screaming is not so much a demonstration of dangerous public anger as it is a public sport for letting off steam. And her observations regarding Peron and populism, the worshiping of Evita in the Recoleta Necropolis, and how Che, Eva, and others are romantic icons Argentines are unwilling to give up are basically true; but no more so than are the icons of Elvis and Marilyn that harken to a different, romanticized era up north and across much of Europe.
Again, one must remember this is a book written by a Brit who arrived in BsAs with a preconceived idea of what BsAs should be and had an especially difficult time reconciling her ethnocentric views of the world with reality. France lived in Brazil for a while and was/is supposedly a Latin American scholar, which I believe to be inaccurate (note, that’s MY opinion and you all are free to possess your own). I remember her writing style to often be humorously dismissive, looking down upon the culture she was supposedly trying to recant. As a journalist she failed to separate her personal feelings from objective observation. But I suppose I should find my copy and reread it again. As for historical accuracy, she had the timeline of the country’s history, governments and horrors in correct order -- up to 1993. But anyone could do that from the armchair of a good library -- pre Internet. She claims to be multilingual and drew her conclusions from talking extensively with all the "sad" Argentines she encountered. Predictably, Borges and the Tango were the only intellectual high points she found worthy to extol about Argentine culture. But then, the title of the book reveals a great deal, it's about her time here in 1993. It is now 2006 (again, publishing date is 1999). A lot has changed. A lot hasn't. One of the things that has changed is the air pollution France complained about which has been dramatically reduced due to new combustible fuels and autos with more efficient internal combustion engines.
Pointedly, I feel she's not the best person to read for clues about the Latin mentality, whether it's Argentina, any parts of South and Central Americas, or Spain. As a “scholar” she avoided discussing a major aspect of Argentine society and manners, the grand gesture, which is still taken seriously in most Spanish-speaking countries. Therefore, when one suggests “Let’s do lunch,” Latins are ready with their appointment books and pens to make that date rather than just mentally pencil you in. For me, France’s little tome was lopsided; she came looking for proof to support her preconceptions, despite claiming the opposite. This tends to be constant thread among English speakers who show up here thinking the streets are paved with their preconceptions and are hard pressed to be flexible. For example, how many out there have read Love in the Time of Cholera (another of my favorite books, by G. Marquez) and know that it is a not so metaphorical romance about class and political warfare in Argentina and BsAs in particular. Although nowhere will you find the name of the country and city about which Marquez writes, but he colors a damn good description of the geography and economic highs and lows of Argentina from about 1800 to 1900.
But just as it has been constantly repeated by others who post to this site, Buenos Aires and Argentina are not for everyone. If you suffered culture shock when you visited here, try doing something constructive with that energy besides being negative. If you ever get the chance to travel to another Central or South American country, why not donate your excess of free time (after all, you’re on vacation, right?) by volunteering at a local foundation during your stay. For example, Leer, a not-for-profit organization in Buenos Aires, needs volunteers to help teach illiterate adults who have fallen through the cracks of the educational system to read. Foundación Par needs volunteers to help the deaf and blind get to and from their training center where they are taught computer skills. Only one person through this web site has inquired about what she/he could do as a volunteer in this country to help be part of the solutions rather than the perceived problems. But hey, that’s just me. My heart bleeds and I proudly wear it on my left sleeve.
May I recommend a more accurate overview of Argentina and BsAs, The Argentina Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Latin America in Translation/En Traduccion/Em Traducao) by Gabriela Nouzeilles (Editor), Graciela R. Montaldo (Editor), which is a compilation of stuff from South American writers? And for those who think Andrew Lloyd Weber is worth making fun of, (and I do), check out And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out): Wall Street, the IMF, and the Bankrupting of Argentina by Paul Blustein. As for travel writing that still holds up after all these years, there is always Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia, a great pack of lies and tall tales well hewn to keep you wondering. There’s no lack of political, travel, and journalistic essay writing on this amazing country. For the English Only readers, there’s a book store called Books In English, on M.T. Avelar before or after the cross street Uruguay. And for those of you who have made it this far in my response to Bigbadwolf (who is most likely enjoying a Minneapolis winter) and are still considering visiting Buenos Aires, be advised that coming armed with a smattering of Spanish so you can speak with the locals means you’ll have a much different view/experience of this country than those who show up without the ability to communicate with Argentines on their own turf. If you don’t know Spanish, then consider doing something useful with part of your time here by taking beginner classes in the local language. After all, you can eat expensive chunks of cow at home, but you can only learn Lunfardo in Buenos Aires.
Oh, and as a post script, has anyone see Sally Potter’s 1997 film, The Tango Lesson? No less than four middle-aged single women whom I knew as free spirits from my days at university have taken the opportunity to come down here, stay with me, and learn the Tango. Definitely worth renting and viewing as the summer rains clean the streets of this city.
 
#3
"midlifebear" said:
I'll bite.

Graciela R. Montaldo (Editor), which is a compilation of stuff from South American writers? And for those who think Andrew Lloyd Weber is worth making fun of, (and I do), check out And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out): Wall Street, the IMF, and the Bankrupting of Argentina by Paul Blustein.
Hey midlifebear - This is actually one of the books I wanted to order off Amazon (see my other post about getting books delivered here) -- as you mention it here, maybe you can tell me whether you've seen it around BA in English (at Kels maybe?) if so then I'll pick one up here, otherwise I'll order it from home. Thx
 
#4
"midlifebear" said:
I'll bite.

May I recommend a more accurate overview of Argentina and BsAs, The Argentina Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Latin America in Translation/En Traduccion/Em Traducao) by Gabriela Nouzeilles (Editor), Graciela R. Montaldo (Editor), which is a compilation of stuff from South American writers? And for those who think Andrew Lloyd Weber is worth making fun of, (and I do), check out And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out): Wall Street, the IMF, and the Bankrupting of Argentina by Paul Blustein. As for travel writing that still holds up after all these years, there is always Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia, a great pack of lies and tall tales well hewn to keep you wondering. There’s no lack of political, travel, and journalistic essay writing on this amazing country. For the English Only readers, there’s a book store called Books In English, on M.T. Avelar before or after the cross street Uruguay. And for those of you who have made it this far in my response to Bigbadwolf (who is most likely enjoying a Minneapolis winter) and are still considering visiting Buenos Aires, be advised that coming armed with a smattering of Spanish so you can speak with the locals means you’ll have a much different view/experience of this country than those who show up without the ability to communicate with Argentines on their own turf. If you don’t know Spanish, then consider doing something useful with part of your time here by taking beginner classes in the local language. After all, you can eat expensive chunks of cow at home, but you can only learn Lunfardo in Buenos Aires.
This is a superlative post, and I take my hat off to you (or would, if I had one). You don't have to rub it in about the Minneapolis winter (though mind you, it's been remarkably mild so far, with none of the -20 F days so far)
Miranda France does write with a bit of malice, but her book is a riveting read. I have decided that the next time I fly in, I shall go straight into therapy, preferably with a psychoanalyst belonging to the Lacanian school. I made a rapid exit because Buenos Aires me mata. I shall also exhibit some viveza criolla
Blustein's book, "The Money Kept Rolling in (And Out)" is an interesting read (I just finished it last week), but for some reason it didn't completely satisfy. In a sense, he deals with surface phenomena (and does a good job), but the deeper reasons for what happened lie in the Argentine social and political psyche, and here perforce he can shed scant light. I've been trying to delve deeper into this, and before anyone pours scorn on my fumbling attempts, let me point out I'm a beginning student.
In this connection, I came across a book at the San Telmo Market, titled, "Argentina: Political Culture and Instability," by Susan Calvert (Macmillan, 1989). I didn't buy it at the time, but ordered a copy when I cam back to Minneapolis. (I suggest someone buy the copy at the San Telmo Market, as I've found there aren't that many copies floating around in England or the US). This book delves deeply into Argentinian political and social culture. It's demanding, and I'm reading it slowly. I shan't attempt to give a synopsis at this stage, and indeed a faithful one may not be possible.
In passing, one other noteworthy book -- though it doesn't deal that much with Argentina -- is, "The Old Patagonian Express," by Paul Theroux. It describes his overland trip from Boston to some small town in Patagonia. He did spend some time in BsAs and he writes about his meeting with Borges. It came out in the late 70s, so it is a bit dated...
 
#6
IMO , I have read the book 'In Patagonia ' and i think that it is a very BORING/STUPID book . I only advice this book for people who want to practise his english because the english grammar is very good and NOTHING ELSE.
To bigbadwolf , I have read a lot of your post .Are you giving advice to tourist ? Really ? Poor tourist . IMO that you are un racist / intolerant / stupid / and snobby american man who think that America is the Best Country on the world .I don't think that all american people are as you maybe you are the bad example of american man and leave in very bad position to ALL american people .I am sure that you didn't have great time here becuase you only was conected with travell agency and american people to ask an advice.Argentinian people don't like and can't stand people like you and i am sure that you haven't met argentinian people here. I have seen several spain people . IT is full of spain people and when i asked them why they came here they told me that their friends recomended to come here.That is why there are bargains in flight to come from Spain to Argentina .
 
#7
Nadia:
just a comment on your reply to bigbadwolf.... he's British, not American.. and from what I gather by reading his posts... not only is he very anti-american government, he has also completely changed his preconcieved notions about Argentina since his tenure here. As a matter of fact I believe he has made some inquiries on the imigration process that he would have to undergo to make Argentina his permanent home.
Also, if you read his comments, racist is the last adjective I think would describe him. He is an educated man with a flexible world view.
As far as your comment on the migration of spanish people to Buenos Aires... I have no idea what you are getting at. Maybe you could explain your position in a future post.
Ahhhh, and before you question my integrity as a person... know that I am full born and bred Argentinian, with Argentine parents and grandparents. I lived in the States for 18 years and it has allowed me to see both sides of the coin.
Bigbadwolf gives advice... this is true, but if you read carefuly you'll notice that his advice is always very well researched and documented, matter of fact, you'll notice that he seldom writes about something that he does not know about.
I am usually the first to rant and rave about the imperialist tendencies and the capitalist views of fellow posters... but i have learned the hard way that appearances can fool you... ( my apologies to those that I have offended in previous posts... especially you Nashorama.)
 
#8
Don't get me wrong , i am not against British or American people.I am against people who come Argentina For 2 pesos and after that they criticise everything because compare Argentina with Europa.Ok it is not Europa and there are a lot of problem here but Nobody say that it is one of the best country on the world.However i think that Argentinos try good to tourist.One of the thing that my British Friend say (he has living here for 2 years) :when i come to Argentina i could walk into a bar / restaurant and starting to talk to Argentinos as if they were friends that i have known for years.
 
#9
We are all here opposed to the Evil Empire, and the laughter of our foes will be the only response if we continue to bicker among ourselves.
Argentina has much to commend it. In my estimation, one of the most admirable characteristics of Argentines is their absence of malice. Seldom have I seen this, and alas, I am myself not free of it. But I admire it. The land is still pristine. And Argentina is out-of-the-way. The disputes and squabbles that afflict the Northern hemisphere: US imperialism in the Middle East, and rising problems and tensions in and between the US, Europe, and East Asia are all mercifully far away in Argentina.
On the flip side, Argentines are intensely sensitive to criticism: they seem to have some sort of complex in this regard. Perhaps understandably so, since a country that had living standards higher than Western Europe and North America now faces such acute problems. As Naipaul says somewhere, this is one great conundrum: how a country like Argentina -- blessed as it is with such resources -- could have done so poorly. Also on the flip side, things are very uncertain: political and economic changes seem to take place in fast forward mode.
There seems to be a misapprehension by some forum contributors that I suffered some sort of "culture shock" in Argentina. Let me respond by saying I have spent time in some of the most dangerous and impoverished cities in the world (Karachi, Lagos). Buenos Aires is a piece of cake in comparison: I never got jumped, I never got arrested (that's happened to me twice elsewhere), and I never had to fear stray bullets from an AK-47. Vive La Argentina.
 
#10
Who am i ? i am an argy or i would say an Argentina who has lived in Buenos aires for all my life.I am not acting as a protector of our goverment becuase i have never been in any political party and i am not interested to speak about politics .
To bigbadwolf, i am glad that you feel confortable here and i really don't want to offend you , my apologies to you if i have offended you.