vendredi 21 juin 2013

Buenos Aires - 5. Flag Day (the Non-Fireworks Holiday)

Down below our apartimento, in the street, is a local pub, which after work or on a Friday night is usually filled with loud shouts and the odd glass breaking. This is relatively short-lived since we are in bed early for work, but today is ‘flag day’, a national holiday where the streets are lined with blue and white and the windows everywhere are an azure gleam. It is the national holiday – very close to our July 1st.
   For flag day, we did what every other family in Buenos Aires seemed to be doing: we went to the Constanera Sur, or the ecological reserve on the edge of the Río de la Plata, ‘The Delta’, across from Uruguay.

Argentina, Peru, and Chile are not like other South American countries in their celebrations. Brazil, for example, has the extroverted reputation of dancing, partying, and frequent signs of physical affection, but although Argentina is a Hispanic country, it is quite reserved and conservative as a nation. This is observable in the very stars the country produces. Compare footballers Lionel Messi, of Argentina, and Cristiano Ronaldo, of Portugal, largely reputed to be the top two professional soccer players in the world: Ronaldo, a tabloid, twitter-feeding megalomaniac is in the news every other night for his various clubbing, hard-partying, womanizing ways. He is a media hound, and loves the attention and the cameras. Messi, we hardly see in the news. He is small, unassuming, very quiet.
Ronaldo hangs out with some Russian model; Messi is married to his childhood sweetheart, a girl from his hometown in Argentina. That pretty much describes Argentina.

In North America, national holidays would involve fireworks. Here? A slow walk in the nature reserve, followed by barbeque from a street-side vendor. Low key. Quiet. No fireworks.

We rented bicycles, an old tandem and a couple of granny bikes, from a shop called ‘Naranja’, or Orange, which is a chain all over Buenos Aires. Riding bikes in the city with children is not an activity I would recommend on an average day because helmets are non existent and the ten-lanes of Puerto Madero traffic merging chaotically into one seems like an accident waiting to happen to me (which is probably the reason for the neon-orange bikes). The only instruction we were given was, “don’t go into la Boca”. Buenos Aires is a city of paradoxes. It looks like Paris, with pedestrian shopping areas and old European façades, but like a bookmark 
between buildings is the constant reminder that Buenos Aires is at once ‘old world’ and ‘third world’. Deprivation, or ‘la Boca’, lies adjacent to billion-dollar condo developments.
Puerto Madero is the rich side of town, a side that is paradoxically between both a nature reserve and third world street people and tenement buildings.

Beyond “not going into la Boca”, riding bikes through the Reserva Ecológica was a peaceful way to spend flag day with the rest of the city. Parillas, barbeques, were set up outside of the park, birds joined you for your road-side meat sandwiches,
and vendors pedalled what they do in all parts of the world – leather belts, suspect watches, and t-shirts.

Tight-rope walking is very popular in parks here for some reason. We haven’t walked through a park yet where there wasn’t some fellow setting up a rope between two trees to practice his rope walking.
Again, a quiet, unassuming sport.

The view across the Delta to Uruguay was a lot like the view across Lake Erie to Cleveland, Ohio. Grey quiet waters lapping up onto a rocky Ontario shoreline. But, once again, enjoying the familiar-looking waters brought a reminder that we were not at home: a line of massive freightliners docking with crate after crate of fruit.

And so this shortest-day-of-the-year, flag day, in Buenos Aires, ended much like any other Winter day: with a cold walk home in the 5p.m. dark.

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