Wednesday, December 24, 2008

la Nochebuena

The good night:
And she gave birth to her firstborn son
and wrapped him in bands of cloth,
and laid him in a manger,
there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2.7)

Monday, December 22, 2008

adviento 4: bienvenida

Greetings, favored one! (Luke 1:28)

Mary's story is about recognition. The angel sees Mary's courage, and she in turn sees the hope a child brings.

Mary's faith and courage are clear from the text we read during the final week of Advent. She makes her decision carefully, weighing up the risks involved.

Why is it then that we are often offered a submissive, silent image of Mary? As Brazilian theologian, Wanda Deifelt critiques:
Dominant male attitudes establishes the values and standard behaviour for men: aggressively; virility; success and power. What defines the standards for women is Mary-ness (the cult and idealization of Mary). Mary is the submissive, tranquil, introspective woman, the one that said yes. (Deifelt 2003: 108)

But what did Mary say yes to? Not purity, not submission; but justice and hope. Mary accepted the risks of unmarried motherhood because she longed for justice, because she wanted to sing of God's steadfast love:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever. (Luke 1. 46-55)

How will we greet the world this week? How will we greet the people and possibilities that come to meet us? And what will we say yes to?

image: by Chicana aritst, Alma Lopez Coyolxauhqui Returns as Our Lady Disguised as La Virgen de Guadalupe to Defend the Rights of Las Chicanas, Acrylic on Canvas, 24" x 24", 2004 For the merging (and domesticating) of Latin American goddess figures with Mary see:
Anzaldúa, Gloria (1987) Borderlands/ La Frontiera: The New Mestiza San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books

Deifelt, Wanda (2003) “María ¿una santa protestante?” en RIBLA46 (2003/3) Quito: RECU/ Editorial DEI, pp. 98-112.

This weeks readings can be read here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

if I hadn't come to Argentina...

I may never have:

tasted locoto and maracúya

failed to learn Hebrew for the third and fourth time

adjusted to the evening starting at 11, 12 or 1am

remembered how frustrating it is to be stuck in a rubbish lecture

taken film-going advice from Mark Kermode

been flooded five times

become a café regular

tangled up my 'oi's and my 'hola's

become addicted to 'facie-bookie,' as the Brazilians call it

discovered how beautiful Argentina is

longed to be as persnickety as Veronica Mars

woken up at the sound of rain to watch the storms roll

Monday, December 15, 2008

a perfect palermo morning

Just as I like San Telmo because it feels so Buenos Aires, I like Palermo because it doesn't.

Palermo is full of ex-pats and exclusive boutiques. The skyline is yet uncrowded and the parks are green. One of my favourite cafés (oh, there are so many...) is there - Mark's. So this morning I went first to Miles CD and bookstore, where I finally bought La Pasajera by Perla Suez. And then onto Mark's for a frozen and fresh limonada and choc-chip cookie (if you were to do a comparison with yesterday's post, you would see a pattern emerging).

I crossed the rail tracks, sizzling in the heat, and into Palermo Hollywood, where I met a friend for lunch at Arevalito. We like this small, fresh vegetarian café, but agree it's not the same since it moved from behind the orange door.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

an evening in san telmo

I'm doing the farewell rounds, and that includes saying goodbye to my favourite barrios.

A couple of my friends don't like San Telmo and hardly ever visit. True, there are crumbling buildings and dark corners, and it's overrun by gringos. But it feels like the heart of Buenos Aires to me.

I went first to Walrus Books and, after a leisurely browse, exchanged one paperback for another (Well I have to have something to read on the plane.. what, I already have 50-odd books to fit into my baggage allowance? shush...). From there, I walked past the South American Explorers Clubhouse which I first joined way back when in Lima.

I popped into Cafe Notorious music store and once again the older man and the younger man who work there selected the perfect CD for my requirements. This was the store where I cried on hearing Maria Betania's Pirata album. No tears this time round, just a discussion of whether the English think Argentines eat rubbish potatoes (I know - how random?!) which then moved on to wondering what the English ate before they stole from Latin America: potatoes, tomatoes, chocolate, coffee, etc.

It was time for a last ice-cream from Nonna Bianca's. Mint and lemon, with white chocolate and sugared orange peel. A read of the paper and a look out on the evening street.

I walked up to Plaza Dorrego and stood in the crowd gathered to enjoy the weekly milonga. First the couples danced chacareras then tango under the street lamps. They danced in killer heels and sharp dresses, in jeans and pumps, in sombreros and suits. Some forgot the steps, some chatted, some performed to the crowds, and some leaned close and danced as if it was their last night on earth.

I walked past Origin café, waved goodnight to the waiter there, and waited for the 126 bus to take me home. Maybe it's that I often take it at night through the quiet back streets, maybe it's the hope of catching the disco-bus that sometimes runs this route, maybe it's because it drops me off half a block from home, but this is my favourite route.

adviento 3: bálsamo

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners (Isaiah 61:1)

The 3rd Sunday in Advent turns around John the Baptist, who survived in the desert on locusts and wild honey (Mark 1). It seemed fitting therefore, that this week I met again with Alicia who teaches beekeeping at the University of Buenos Aires. We first met in the company of beekeeping friends visiting from England and, on the day after the first snow in Buenos Aires for 89 years, we donned hats and nets and peered into the frost-covered hives where the bees huddled together to keep warm.

Alicia's passion for beekeeping is a delight. We talked about the devastating impact of genetic soya on honey production; examined tiny sting-less bees native to Missiones, in the tropical north-east of Argentina; and discussed her advisory support for several projects working with pueblos originarios (original communities) in the north-east, including GESER, which supports rural women in a range of activities, including herb cultivation.

This time round, we also talked about the traditional healing properties of honey and how closely (in language, life and theology) healing is connected to salvation. Similarly, through her work with African-Brazilian traditions, Silvia Regina de Lima Silva writes of God as the one who soothes and heals, in many ways including medicinal herbs and teas, songs and dance, care and conversation (de Lima Silva 2005: 243).

A few years ago I read Sue Monk Kidd's novel, The Secret Life of Bees, which has just been released as a film (see trailer below). The book is about the hospitality of three African-American sisters towards a runaway white girl and her African-American carer. The sisters keep bees and make honey which is sold in jars bearing an image of a black Madonna. This image of Mary is part of their spirituality and at the centre of the community that gathers at their home. Honey and wax are used as a salve both to maintain the wooden statue of Mary and to sooth and protect her faithful followers.

Once again in this week's readings, we hear the prophets telling of God's saving grace and desire for the healing of ourselves and this broken world.

Silvia de Lima Silva (2005) “Fe y “Axe”: sanción como experiencia de encuentro con la fuerza que nos habita.” in Ecce mulier Homenaje a Irene Foulkes, San José, Costa Rica: UBL, editorial SEBILA, pp 231-45.

The readings for the 3rd Sunday of Advent can be found here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

what scares me about going home

I'm scared I'll forget all my Spanish (especially since three people in recent months have told me my Spanish has gotten worse!!)

I'm scared I'll be too cold when studying - even after being so so too hot this week, and even with my trustworthy pink blanket (everyone should have one).

I'm scared about negotiating my way back into my family's and friends' routines. Jetting back over the past three years for a couple of weeks here and there, I've been treated like royalty. I've been the star of the show - everyone rushing round after me, ferrying me about, fitting into my schedule. I need to ajust to normal pace.

I'm scared of loosing momentum and focus on my thesis. And scared of my thesis - full stop! But as Alicia today, Muriel a few months back, and Elaine many times, have told me - it won't be perfect, it won't be the definitive word, it just needs to get done. Good advice.

I'm scared I'll never go riding in the Andes again on a crillo horse called Martina. Nor learn to jump under the watchful eye of Grace or Julia.

And I'm traumatized at the thought of no more Spanish classes with Cecelia. Best. Spanish Teacher. Ever.

I'm scared I've not done everything I set out to do these past few years.

I'm scared of all the books I haven't read in the library. And that absolutely essential reference I will have forgotten to photocopy which is unavailable in England and which I'll have to fly back to Bs As just to copy..... (this is a good idea to write down all these fears and see how silly some are!)

I'm scared I'll talk to Dad and Jon less once we stop using Skype. And how will I managed without Mum's emails which always start 'This is the second time I've sent this. The first one disappeared.' But with less punctuation.

I'm scared there will be less space to talk about my thesis, hopes and ideas with friends and family. I'm loosing the distance that emails and this blog give me to be honest. Why is is harder to be honest when talking face to face?

I'm scared of how much a hair cut costs in the UK! And that I'll disgrace Debs with the state of my clothes after three years of the ISEDET washing machine. Well, it won't be the first time I've disgraced her in public!

I'm scared of never getting a job. Ever.

I'm wondering how Mum and I will ever choose the books for our club. So many to read!

I'm fretting about living in a town without 24 hour public transport and the loss of independence that means.

I'm scared of having a TV again. Although I have found other ways to time-waste admirably via youtube, fanpop, etc.

I'm scared of not being the glamorous (ha!) girl living in Buenos Aires.

I'm scared, along with all my family, about exactly where another load of books are going to fit. Everyone is making suggestions for sneaking in a few books here and another shelf there. I fear a cull.

I'm scared of expectations, my own and others.

I'm horrified at the thought of no more maracuyas!

Most of all, I'm scared of how excited I am to be coming home.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

adviento 2: consuelo

The second week of Advent encourages us to reflect on the prophets, their passion for justice and their courage to speak the truth. But when I turned to this week's Bible readings, I stopped at the first verse.
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God (Isaiah 40:1)

It is good to be reminded that the prophets didn't only speak of God's righteous anger; they also spoke of God's compassion and abiding love.

In the film, Junebug, a recently married couple visit his family in North Carolina. In the clip below, we see the varied responses to the son's singing of the hymn, 'Softly and Tenderly.' Surprise, delight, brokenness, and longing are there.

This week's readings tell us that God has not abandoned us. Indeed, God is close at hand.

Believing in God's faithful care, we find a way home - the place we long to be.

This weeks readings are available here.

And, p.s., since I've just finished watching The OC, this clip is particularly fitting...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

adviento 1: aguanta

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down (Isaiah 64:1-9)

The first Sunday in Advent was a Saturday for me. I spent last weekend staying with a religious community in Rosario, and we went to misa on Saturday evening in the chapel of the school-that-was-once-an orphanage where my friends live. It was one of the sister's birthday and so after the mass, a crowd gathered at the house for birthday cake, tea and maté. Someone played música folklórica on the guitar and others danced between the kitchen and the hall.

In the middle of the festivities, I chatted with one of the sisters. We talked about the limitations placed on women by the Church - some subtle, some more upfront. We wondered how to discern when we should wait and when we should act; when to keep our head down, and when to speak out.

The theme of the first week of Advent is hope, or more accurately, hopeful waiting. It is not an endless, fruitless wait but a time of preparation for what is to come. In the reading from Mark 13, Jesus warns his disciples to 'Keep awake!' They, like us, are to be wired up, alert to change, and ready to act.

So how are we to know when to hold on (aguanta), and when to act? We know that to preach (hopeless) patience is often to be complicit with injustice. Instead, God calls us to watch for the tearing of the heavens, the coming of justice. More than that, God calls us to be justice-makers.

This week,
May we hope for God's coming (this, this is Christmas).
May we discern God's call for peace and justice.
May we hold on to each other.
And may we act with love, tearing open a way between heaven and earth.

Bus Shelter Nativity, Church Advertising Network
This week's Bible readings.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

today and every day: let's end violence against women

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the start of 16 days campaigning against gender based violence.

Since I've just spent five hours doing an exam on masculinities and violence, this post will be brief. Two things to note:

Juan Carlos Ramírez-Rodríguez (2005), working from the Mexican context, argues that descriptions such as 'battered women' or 'violence against women' fail to name men as the perpetrators of violence against women. His work, and others, calls on men to take responsibility for their collusion with patriarchal structures that perpetuate male control, domination and abuse of women (as well as children, animals, and even other - marginalized- men).

Second thing: I got back from my exam and checked my emails. A friend from Peru, who I have known since he was fourteen, had emailed round notice of an event he was participating in to mark the day against violence against women. He will be presenting a paper on feminicide (the killing of women because they are women).

After a day of reading about the intertwining of dominant masculine identity and violence, it is heartening to be reminded that there are many men actively committed to breaking with violence. Are you one of them?

Ramírez-Rodríguez, Juan Carlos (2005) "Más allá de un videoclip de violencia: la argamasa entre varones y mujeres" Estudios Sociales volumen 13, número 26 (julio-diciembre de 2005), pp. 7-25.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

la noche de los museos 2008

My third Museum Night in Bs As, and a lot to fit in. In 2006, Mum and I had visited an photography exhibition remembering resistance to the dictatorship, and gathered with the crowds on the steps of the Museo de Bellas Artes, before collapsing in a café (well, we had been to Brazil that morning!). Last year, Aunty Syl and Uncle Tony were here and we spent the evening in Monserrat, visiting the Museo Etnográfico Juan B. Ambrosetti (and a few others), and watched tango in the narrow streets, before enjoying a hot chocolate with a view of the Obelisco.

This year, I began with a visit to the Biblioteca Nacional designed by Clorino Testa, Francisco Bullrich and Alicia Cazzaniga. From the reading room, I looked over the Plaza de la Lectora - a park for reading - and the streets framed with jacaranda blossom.

Along Avenida de la Libertador, the Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo, and its beautiful French courtyard café, had attracted quite a crowd. With Louis decor and an enormous ballroom, it was like a (not so)mini Versailles.

At the back of the Spanish Embassy, the Casa de la Cultura del Fondo Nacional de las Artes, had a band playing upstairs, and the sound bounced off the crisp white walls.

I had wanted to visit the Museo de Arte Popular José Hernández for a while. There were some beautiful portraits of farmers and artisans from the North East of Argentina taken by Ricardo Wetzler to record the work of an Italian NGO, ISCOS (see photo above).

Across the courtyard, already filling up with musicians and guests, I found a small room in which two Shipibo women from the Peruvian Amazon were demonstrating traditional weaving. The exhibition was called Shinakoshobaon Bakebo (Daughters of the Spiders) because the forest spiders are believed to have taught the women to weave cloth. The shamanic healing powers of the women are connected to their designs. Instead of singing the ícaros, the women weave the songs into the cloth:
Este diseño es una canción... la melodia es una melodia de bienvenida de los húespedes a la fiesta. This design is a song... the melody is a melody of welcome to the guests who have come for the party.

I crossed the grand avenue, caught a bus and walked to my final museum of the night. The Museo de la Deuda Externa is housed in the tired-looking basement of the Economy Department of UBA. It was 10 at night, but the space was filled with people diligently following the curator around the graphic tale of Argentina's debt - Baring Brothers Bank, railways, dictatorships and dirty debt, growing interest and unemployment. I felt like I was stepping back in time to the days of the Jubilee 2000 campaign. The exhibition ended with Argentina's paying back of its debts to the IMF in 2005, but of course other debts owed to the Paris Club, etc. continue to be in the news, as Christina pledges to pay back these debts also. But at what cost?

While others continued their caminos around the city's museums, and as yet more bands and theatre groups entertained and informed the crowds, I caught the bus home, bringing my last noche de los museos to a close.

Friday, November 14, 2008

telefono donna

Italian rape helpline, Telefono Donna, has met with opposition from rightwing politicians in Milan over its recent campaign poster to encourage women to report rapes. The organization states that only four per cent of women who suffer sexual violence report their assailants.

The politicians claim the image is 'sexually provocative.' Such an attitude once again places the blame on women for provoking sexual assault, rather than challenging male behaviour. In response to the poster's question, Who pays for man's sins? the answer remains: women.

This is not the first time women have been portrayed on a cross or in a 'Christ-like' pose. Such images tend to be controversial because they suggest women can represent Christ:

left image: Christa, by American sculptor, Edwina Sandys

right image: Gomez cross, of María Cristina Gómez, El Salvador.

Representing women on the cross reveals the violent and suffering reality of many women's existence. It also demonstrates a solidarity between women and Jesus, who also suffered.

Most of the opponents of the Telefono donna poster are not, I fear, interested in either revealing violence against women, or acting in solidarity with women who are raped or assaulted.

However, there are other questions that such images provoke. While I once found these images helpful, they now make me uneasy. I affirm the Telefono Donna campaign but at the same time want to encourage caution in the use of such images of crucified women.

Too often women are called to bear their cross and accept their suffering. Are women only Christ-like in suffering? Where are the images of women as healers, teachers, justice-bearers, peace-makers? Women alive and resilient in the face of death?

This last week, visiting a number of projects working with women who have suffered domestic violence, I have witnessed such Christ-like women. Women who refuse to bear their cross in silence, and who summon all their strength to get down from the cross, and walk away from death into life.

Some information taken from The Telegraph.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

magical realism

Summer beckons. The blossom sheds purple scent on the people below, who stumble through the day confused by the abundance of light.

Beneath the trees, a child counts puppies only she sees. 'Hurry up querida,' calls her mother. The child laughs in delight, 'Cinco perritos! 5 puppies!' and runs on home.

At Primera Junta, outside the station, a man weaves through afternoon traffic. A black cat sits on his neck. They cycle past the bus, but only one passenger notices.

A group of boys call out to each other, as oblivious to the crowds as the crowds are to them. They are the ones who turn cardboard into bread.

The woman who sits on the pavement where the bus stops, is selling soft lemons and clasps of herbs. She bends her head to listen to the murmur of the crowd.

The walls speak words that the crowd can only hum: 'Yesterday we remember, today brings fresh trouble, and tomorrow there will be more.'

At the park, one pool is blue but dry. The other is overflowing with brown water and plastic bottle boats. A woman searches for words in her puzzle book.

Stopping off at the heladería on their way home, two friends deliberate. The owner looks at the girl, then scopes pale orange ice from a silver drum. He offers her a taste. 'Maracuyá!' she gasps, 'How did you know?'

Signs and portents, prophets and wise ones. The invisible made visible to those who look, who listen, who believe.

Still thinking about Luke 13: 6-9

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

this is not an invitation to rape me

In 2002 the UK Home Office published the findings of a British Crime Survey to which 6,944 women had responded. Nearly half (45%) of rapes reported to the survey were committed by perpetrators who were victims’ partners at the time of the attack.

Women who are raped by their partners are much less likely to report the assaults against them or seek legal redress than those attacked by strangers.

Fear of retribution, a sense of family loyalty or even a lack of awareness that what has happened is against the law, silences many women who have been assaulted by their partners, and prevents them from naming it as rape, even to themselves.

Rape in marriage has only been recognised as a crime in Scotland since as recently as 1989 (and only since 1991 in England and Wales).

The concept of “conjugal rights” may have died out in the context of our legal framework, but the sense of a man’s entitlement to sex with his wife or partner is still very much alive in the minds and imaginations of many people, and often used to excuse or trivialise rape.

From Rape Crisis Scotland's current campaign, This is not an invitation to rape me, which challenges beliefs that dress, behaviour, drinking or relationship status, invite or justify rape.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Marcela Bosch - Del Dios sacrificador de la Doctrina de la Seguridad Nacional al Dios de la Vida

When a centre of torture is considered an appropriate place for the ordination of a priest, we are led to ask what kind of God is being preached.

Marcela Bosch begins her thesis with a description of an ordination, which took place in 1989 at the Escuela Superior de Mecánica de la Armada, the Argentine Naval Academy that functioned as an illegal detention centre during the military dictatorship (1976–1983). How is it possible, she asks, for the Church to accept without comment, the torture and disappearance of thousands?

Through analysis of the documents and statements of the generals and bishops of that period, Bosch argues that the repressive Doctrine of National Security was supported by a theology of sacrifice, preached by the majority of Catholic bishops in Argentina at that time (Bosch 1992: 3).

At the beginning of the dictatorship, both Church and State claimed Argentina was in a state of chaos, infiltrated by 'subversives' who sought to destroy the unity and values of Christian Argentina. Sacrifices were demanded of the nation; and Argentines were called to place the 'common good' above any individual needs or desires.

The generals and bishops talked a lot about sacrifice. But despite the fact that the actual victims were those being kidnapped, tortured and killed, the dictatorship inverted the identity of victim and oppressor, so that the military appeared as the sacrificial victim, offering their life for the Patria. The military believed their blood shed in a battle 'without limits,' would redeem the country, and bring about peace and security (Bosch 1992: 248, 256-7). The blood of their victims: students and teachers, rebels and philosophers, nuns and priests, journalists and artists, did not have redemptive power. Such deaths were described (if acknowledged at all) as the removal of tumors, or the curing of diseases, that threatened the body of society.

The generals and bishops preached a God who crucifies without resurrection:
La Buena Nueva de la resurrección y de la vida se terminaría negando, para anunciar y practicar la buena Nueva de la Crucifixión y de la muerte.
The Good News of the resurrection and of life would be negated in order to announce and carry out a Good News of the Crucifixion and of death. (Bosch 1992: 261)

Bosch urges us to abandon a cross separated from Jesus - Jesus who died as a consequence of his 'subversive' ministry. For her, the crucified Christ is a sign of solidarity with all who suffer from hunger, unemployment, etc., and to follow Jesus is to be in solidarity with the poor and marginalized (Bosch 1992: 276-8).

In the midst of death, God nourishes signs of life. And it is everyday life that we seek God and God seeks us:
This generation cannot invoke God from a place of honour within a church, because God...long ago decided to take refugee in the streets. God sat in a train, was tied down on a table of torture and knew hell. God waits in turn in the waiting room of a ruined hospital in Buenos Aires, or waits anxiously for a first date. This God, who lives and whose heart beats, remains free of whatever ideology.. because human lives... are made up of tears, smiles, triumphs and failures. [They are] found in the small things. (Bosch 1992: 279)
Marcela Bosch is an Argentine feminist theologian and sexual health educator, working with young people and community groups on issues of self-esteem, violence and sexual abuse. She completed her Licenciatura in Theology at ISEDET in 1992, with a thesis entitled: Del Dios sacrificador de la Doctrina de la Seguridad Nacional al Dios de la Vida (Tesis de Licenciada).
See also "Alfie, la opción por un Dios de la vida"

She was awarded her Doctorate in Theology from EST, São Leopoldo, Brasil in 2001 with a thesis on developing an ethic of resistance for young mothers, entitled: 'El poder de la sumisión (una mirada desde la ética feminista militante y no violenta al embarazo de mujeres jóvenes de sectores populares. Estudio cualitativo y comparativo llevado a cabo en las Regiones Metropolitanas de Buenos Aires y Porto Alegre)' A summary article is available online.

*The photo was taken last month during a visit to ESMA, now a dedicated site of national memory, given over to various human rights groups.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


This is the stairwell to my apartment. It's been rotting away since I arrived.

Today has been full of ugly things; of miserable poverty, sodden cardboard and plastic bags, dirt-covered buses, caca. Today I saw a woman bent over with age and need, screaming at the lucky ones catching a bus somewhere else. I saw posters for iPhones along a street where no-one had work, and not all had food.

But hidden behind the ugliness, there is sometimes kindness, friendship, hope.

A man with a terrible tattoo, as if his drunk mate had scribbled on his arm with a blue biro, pushed back the window of the colectivo and called out encouragement to a cartonero, pushing his cart of cardboard and plastic through the hot streets. Both away from their barrios doing what they needed to get by.

On the cold, miserable bridge, as trucks screeching through the gap and the stench of smoke grew worse, a hand touched my shoulder and I saw the bright face of Marga, resplendent in an aqua turtleneck.

A raggedy boy in dirty clothes, his one eye twisted, walked past the bus-stop begging. A young man offered him his Coke bottle. The boy took a swig, handed the bottle back, and moved on down the line.

And the wall? I came back home to the wall and seeing it made me smile. Because as I left, Rocky, my favourite builder and the only one I am glad to see, had been scraping away at the plaster, ready to repaint the wall. A sign that finally, the floods of the past three years are coming to an end.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

si no existe el más allá

Si no existe el más allá, la injusticia del pobre se prolonga eternamente. If there is nothing more, the injustice of the poor will go on for ever.

Colectivo MR is Spanish art critic, Ricardo Ramón Jarne, and Peruvian photographer, Marina García Burgos. Their latest exhibition, currently on display in Buenos Aires, is a collection of portraits of a family from Huancayo, in the Peruvian Andes.

The regional outfits change in each portrait, as does the setting. The scenes were all shot in fashionable Miraflores and San Isidro, the wealthy districts of Lima. The family sit in a luxury restaurant, at a stylish bar; they gather around the exercise machines of a gym, or the clothes of a designer store. In other shots, they sail on a yacht, wait to board a plane, or look out from a private theatre box.

The exhibition suggests that it is still strikingly unusual for pueblos originales to be present in such situations. They are unwelcome and excluded; sometimes directly bared from entrance, more often, unable to afford such experiences. In the fancy restaurants of Lima society, people in traditional dress entertain, but never eat.

One of the photos will be exhibited later this year at the National Portrait Gallery in London, I think as part of the
Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2008.

Photo via this blog. See also this report.

on seeing the hats again

It was on the way here that we turned up at the wrong place, lost each other buying provisions, and took a taxi backwards, before scrambling onto the bus.

It was hours later that a man called Pablo met the bus and cooked us banana pancakes. It was here that I slept on a mattress with no sheets, stumbling across the black courtyard to clean my teeth before morning.

It was a mile or so away that we drank sweet tea, and ate bread and boiled eggs, as the sun rose pink against the far snow. It was at Cruz del Condor that the condors rose swirling from the canyon below. For an instant they drew level with us, then up, gone, away.

It was here we parted ways. It was heading back to Cabanaconde that the man overcharged us such a small amount, but the woman sitting next to me rebuked him and reminded him to welcome these strangers.

It was from the mountains that two bearded Americans appeared, holding an empty, blue plastic water can. It was here a child played in the muddy street, and offered us lúcuma, a melon-peach fruit that we peeled with a pen-knife. Sunset fruit. It was in the square where we whiled away the afternoon sun, watching kids play football outside the white church.

It was here an old man, alone in his house, made delicate hats of black woolen cloth, steamed into shape, and covered in embroidered flowers and birds. It was in this tiny village that the women wore plastic bags over their hats to protect them against the rain.

It was here, years later, a friend read in the guest book that I had hurt my finger; but I don't remember how.

It was from the canyon's edge that far below we saw a footprint of green, El Oasis, and a boy offered to take us there on his mule. It was in the plaza that I would have eaten roasted llama, had it not been for a friend's warning shout.

It was from here that we caught the wrong bus back down the valley.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

the rabbit house

La Plata, 1975-6
I don't know who had the idea of the rabbits...Rabbits? Why did we have to take in hundreds of rabbits to protect ourselves?

The Rabbit House
is Laura Alcoba's attempt to explain her childhood, or lack of it. Until she was ten years old, Laura lived in Argentina. But because her parents were militants, members of the banned Montoneros organization, she has pieced together her memories without the help of family photos, or school friends.

This was a childhood of life-or-death secrets: a printing press hidden behind rabbit hutches; a father in prison; and a mother who hid under bright red wigs. The book describes a transitional life, moving from one safe house to the next, and from one surname to another until, when the fashionable yet friendly neighbour asks Laura her name, she cannot think what to say.
I said only 'Laura' because I know that this is the only part of my name that they let me keep. Straightaway, she asked me, 'Laura who?' And truthfully, I don't remember what came next. I must have started to panic, because I know very well that there is a warrant out for my mother, and that we are waiting for them to give us a new name and false documents...What is, after all, my name?

In my tutorial today, we talked about how even (especially?) the most idealistic movements betray themselves, giving into violence and fear, and demonstrating an abject failure to care for and protect their members, especially those lower down the scale.

Murder and kidnapping are always inexcusable. But state murder and kidnapping, that uses the instruments of the State - the armed forces, medical profession, church leadership and judiciary - against its own people, must be judged with even greater severity. Such are the conversations we have here, as we watch the long-awaited trials of military generals, who, thirty years on, still claim torture, murder and kidnapping are legitimate tools of the State.

Laura Alcoba's testimony ends with her search for Clara Anahí, the baby of the couple her and her mother lived with in the rabbit house, who is suspected to have been illegally adopted following the murder of her parents in 1976. The recent review in the Guardian notes that several thirty-two year old women have come forward since the book was published, wanting to establish if they are the missing Clara Anahí.

Both Laura Alcoba and the still missing Clara Anahí must piece together their childhood, out of the silences and secrets, the missing photos and false names. There is still much truth to be told in this land. There is still much truth to be told in every land.

The Rabbit House was published in English this month and is available on Amazon.

Photo of Clara Anahí with her mother, Diana Teruggi.

rabbit factory

Lima, 1995

The visit was not a success. I could barely look at the caged rabbits as the priest explained the project. Wool and meat, he told me, for the people of this pueblo joven set on a stony hillside.

Wool and meat. A rabbit factory.

I didn't feel like eating. But from the hall, we stepped into the dining room. The brown wood and thick carpet did not match the dust outside. Neither did the stew the housekeeper brought. Gravy smothered the boiled potatoes and carrots. I scraped off the brown liquid and swallowed quickly.

This was not what I had hoped for. No-one sang cantos del pueblo. No bright arpilleras bore witness. There was just a man, longing for brown stew, and seeking ways to 'feed his flock.'

Monday, September 15, 2008

Monday, September 08, 2008

graffiti near a hospital

Si el papa fuera mujer, el aborto sería Ley.
If the Pope was a woman, abortion would be legal.

Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir are one of several groups working in support of women's reproductive rights in Latin America. The US sister group is Catholics for Choice.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

el nido vacio

El Nido Vacio The Empty Nest (2008) is set in a Buenos Aires that I have never seen. Even if you account for the film's middle-class literarty setting, it's hard to get your bearings. This is a city bereft of buses, with litter-free streets and few dogs. In this version of the city, there are no botched-plastic surgery inflicted women, nor asado-loving men.

This was the first film I had seen with Cecilia Roth in it - oh, no it turns out it wasn't as she was in Pedro Almodóvar's Hable con ella (and several other of his films). Nevertheless, I was interested to see her work and I liked the exuberance of her character Marta.

The film is concerned with some favourite porteño preoccupations - group psychotherapy, empañadas, late-late-night dinner parties, adored authors (and the book they are struggling to find time to write), smoking (and quitting), sex and seduction. But above all it's about family, and how a couple adjusts to their 'empty nest.'

Watch the trailer below (sorry no subtitles):

Friday, August 29, 2008

Anoche. Un baile de tango

They opened up the old Harrod's building on Florida yesterday. It was the second time in twenty years. Someone had repainted the walls a stark white.They had polished the wooden floors and fixed the chandelier lights.

The people came back to visit their old haunt. They sat on the elegant lounge chairs as if nothing had changed in so many years, designer purchases set down beside them. They sipped café cortado and talked about the day's news.

But more than shop, they came to dance. They made a milonga between the smooth wooden pillars. Strangers met for a moment under the pink lights. Glittering gold, bright red zapatos de tango were on display. An old couple lent heavily against each other, as if this were to be their last dance.

Anoche. Un baile de tango, part of the Tango Buenos Aires 10th Festival, recreated scenes from a night at a dance hall. The crowd mingled, partners shifting and changing as the night wore on. A shy couple, stuck at opposite ends of the room, finally met as the last note was struck. A maestro made a couple dance in their sleep, dancing first with the woman, and then with the man. Three girls lept up, all convinced it was at them that the handsome young man had winked. A young woman was rescued by her friend from a man who talked so much he kept missing his steps, and misplacing his dance partner. Three men - one too tall, one too short, and the other too..?, intercepted each other as they sought the hand of a beautiful dancer.

As the night drew to a close, we slipped out into the street and away.

See more photos of the Harrod's event here.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Yesterday in the courtyard of ISEDET, the German volunteers were learning how to dance a murga. The battering of drums drove me out of the library to watch. Two tall pale boys kicked their legs high and flung arms wildly. The drummers drummed, the ring broke for a moment, and another pair took over the dance.

The day before, I had breakfasted with María Alejandra, and, amongst many other fascinating things, she told me about a group of young people from her barrio in Rosario, who had recently performed a murga dance and song, commenting - as murgas always have - on their daily life, their struggles, and their hopes.

Today, Cecelia told me that once the drumming starts in the neighbourhood plaza, it's hard to stop it. The drummers drum, the ring opens for a moment, and more and more dancers are spun into the circle.

Murga Argentina by Juan Carlos Caceres is available in the UK

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

el último beso abajo la luna llena

Before the moon took back the night sky, I stole a last kiss.

Yesterday in Palermo, I carried my books from café to café, ending the evening at el último beso.

For several hours, I sat in one of the interlinked rooms, the light of dusk soothing the cream walls. Each table was set with pink and white freesias and mismatched china. As the darkness grew, candles were lit and their flames reflected in the fountains. Friends and lovers gathered around the courtyard, walls overtaken by trailing vines, corners lit up by pots of red cyclamen and tender citrus trees.

The tea menu paid homage to 'the most acclaimed, anticipated and passionate kisses of the silver screen.' Maybe you can identify a few: '...a blend of white flowers like the cotton that grows in the southern States;' ' tea, mint, and Fez rose petals..;' 'with red Rooibus tea leaves, of the same crimson colour as the locks of Rita.'

I selected Before Sunrise ('...perfumed with the scents of eternal love') having recently enjoyed rewatching it and it's sequel Before Sunset, but they were out of the blend, so I settled for You've Got Mail (' petals like the ones in the garden in which they finally meet').

But do not despair, my critical faculties had not abandoned me! In the midst of all this romance and loveliness, I continued reading Rosemary Radford Ruether's feminist reassessment of Christian marriage. The perfect antidote!

Friday, August 15, 2008

camacuá y bonifacio

I went out to pay the phone bill. Today is the last day. Nora who cleans and washes and keeps all in order crosses the road ahead of me. "Nora! wait up." We chat. "Lots of noise from the builders drilling," she says "And the street being dug up," I say. "But what about the Germans?" she asked. "What?.. oh, no.. no problems this year," I tell her. We stop outside the pago facil (the irony) It's locked up - something about the system being down, but there's a notice about a new place to pay. "I'll go back and find it," I tell Nora. "Chau, chau, hasta mañana"

Back track one block but the new pago facil is not yet open.

OK, so Disco supermarket is my best bet I figure. I retrace my steps, cross the road by the flower stall on the corner. Walk to Disco. "José! Professor!" I touch the sleeve of his blue cotton jacket, "Hola, cómo está?" I often see him out and about, completing routine tasks or enthusiastically debating a theological point with a student. José heads out, and I breath a sign of relief that the checkout queues aren't long. At the one till where it is possible to pay bills, a man in front of me points out to the cashier that she has only entered 5 of his 6 bills. It's my turn. "Just the phone bill" I say hopefully. The bar code won't scan. She tries to enter the barcode manually and the numbers stream across her till-screen. No luck. "Maybe the systems down.." she says. "But today's my last day to pay!" I plead with her not to give up. And then, it goes through. Hurrah.

I'm at the locutorio and see Hugo. Hugo is golden - dependable, helpful, everything you want at the front desk. "Hey," he asks, "Have those Germans been bothering you?" I laugh, "Nora just asked me. But no, this year's volunteers have been fine. Not like last year. I had to get up in the middle of the night and yell at them to stop banging saucepans!" We get to the door and Hugo stops to finish his smoke.

Evenings are quiet. I write and email, drink cups of tea and follow the medal chasers in Beijing. But soon there come the rubbish trucks, and the motorbikes; and in the morning, the drilling and the digging will begin.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Nuestra Señora de Luján

I finally made it to Luján last Sunday, taking the Lujanera bus with Ulrika. Luján has been a site of Marian devotion since 1630 when a wooden statue of Mary miraculously stopped by the river Luján, en route from Brazil. Since then various miracles have been associated with the statue (the picture is of an 'accessible' replica at the back of the church).

The Virgin of Luján is patroness of both Argentina and Uruguay. The first Saturday in October and 8th December are both days of pilgrimage to Luján, with devotees setting out from the chapel of San Cayetano in the barrio of Liniers.

I've been reading about the numerous appearances of Mary across Latin America, many - such as Guadalupe - appeared at existing sites of devotion to goddesses or other divine figures. The Virgin of Luján is not linked to any pre-Columbian goddess figure, sadly. Moreover, her dark identity was soon lost, as the simple wooden statue was covered over in the European blue and white robes of Mary, and ‘whitened’ through silver overlay (Trillini et al. 2004: 135).

Unlike other Latin American Marías, it's difficult to find stories of resistance or challenge associated with Luján; rather the opposite. The Argentine dictatorship aggressively promoted devotion to the Virgin of Luján as a method of maintaining traditional Catholic morality and devotion (Althaus-Reid 2000: 59). And Pope John Paul II visited the Luján during his 1982 visit - praying at the shrine and calling for peace but failing to challenge with any conviction either the military Junta or the Falklands/ Malvinas conflict.

Nevertheless, the Virgin of Luján opened up space for justice in one specific moment – it was in October 1976 on pilgrimage to Luján that the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo chose to wear white headscarves (actually cloth nappies once used by their children) as a way of identifying each other. Lost in the crowds of pilgrims, they were able to meet, talk and be found by others also looking for their missing children. In the plaza outside the church at Luján, the Madres petitioned for their children.

So much for Luján. After a quick peep inside the church, and an interesting lunch experience, I ventured into one of the many Santerías around the plaza. Inspired by Marcella Althaus-Reid (and who isn't?!) I was looking for a couple of more risqué characters.

Like a child collecting football stickers, I gave a little whoop of joy when the helpful staff deciphered my mispronounced request and, out of a back room, produced a devotional card of Santa Librada, a crucified female saint (or a crucified Mary, or even a cross-dressing Jesus, see Althaus-Reid 2000: 80). Santa Librada, also known as Wilgefortis or Uncumber, to whom women pray for delivery from abusive husbands or unwanted suitors. I'm sure I'll have more to say about her in some later post...

Buoyant with success, but failing to remember the name of the second santa, I resorted to dramatic interpretation: "She's a woman, in the desert... one of her breasts is exposed.. she has a baby..." Holy charades and - hurrah! - a card of La Difunta Correa was mine for 75 centavos. La Difunta Correa is connected to women who work as roadside prostitutes (Althaus-Reid 2000: 85), and is another marginal figure, caught between scandal and sanctification.

Accompanied by Santa Librada and La Difunta Correa, we left the banks of Luján and headed home.

Althaus-Reid, Marcella (2000) Indecent Theology Theological Perversions in Sex, Gender and Politics London/ New York: Routledge

Trillini, Coca; Andant, María Teresa; y Bani, Claudia (2004) “La Virgen de Luján y la fuerza de los arquetipos” en Verónica Cordero, Graciela Pujol, Mary Judith Rees & Coca Trillini (2004) Vírgenes y diosas en América Latina. La resignificación de lo sagrado Santiago: Con-spirando; Buenos Aires: Red Latinoamericana de Católicas por el Derecho de Decidir, pp.117-38.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

running away with the circus

white plaster flakes drift down
everything is movement
even the walls

spinning, spin
the purple drapes bite into flesh
hang on - hang on!

i watch his hands
one, two
one, two
drop. they scatter to the walls

in front of me Gabriel gurgles
unfocused eyes glimpse
a girl in a hoop

Monday, August 04, 2008

i hope you're not involved in it

Foro de Género de CLAI Argentina (the Gender Forum of the Council for Latin American Churches, Argentina) has issued a statement calling for the reform of laws concerning trafficking and prostitution.

Many of the women who enter prostitution in Argentina are kidnapped. Once used, they are often killed. Brothels are illegal in Argentina but officials often turn a blind eye to their activities. Exploitation of women and children depends on the complicity of the state and media and other institutions, including the church.

Without men who pay for sex, there would be no prostitution or trafficking of women and children for sex. These men are fathers, husbands, lovers, friends, colleagues of other men and women, all of whom may have opportunities to challenge their behaviour.

CLAI are calling for the following changes to be made to the recent law on trafficking:
  • Removal of the requirement for victims of human trafficking who are over 18 to prove they have been trafficked, since this wrongly implies some women may be complicit in their own trafficking.
  • Custodial sentences for crimes related to trafficking and pimping.
  • Financial support for victims of trafficking and prostitution.
On the idea of church complicity in the exploitation of women for sex, I wondered, What might a sermon about prostitution read like? Not one that speculates on the identity of the 'penitent sinner' in Luke's gospel, mixing her up with Mary Magdalene who is thus portrayed forever after as a prostitute, not an apostle and leader of the early church; nor one on how Jesus had compassion for - shock - prostitutes and sinners; nor even those prophetic ones that call for support for women forced into prostitution. No, what would a sermon about prostitution look like, a sermon that addresses the thousands of British men who pay for sex - men sitting in front of, or even behind, the pulpit - and speaks a word to them...

A sermon about prostitution
In 'When the sun goes down,' the Arctic Monkeys song about prostitution, there are three men. One is the pimp, one is the man who buys sex, and one is the man who chooses not to. Which one are you?

Oh what scummy man. Not to be trusted, he protects himself while placing the women he controls at risk. He stays warm out-of-sight while they freeze on the street corner. He uses drugs, violence and fear to keep 'his girls' on the street. He has a nasty plan, involving other men who trick young women and girls with offers of good jobs, women and girls who are forced into having sex with anonymous men. His nasty plan makes the most of Britain's inhuman treatment of so-called illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. His nasty plan is helped by 'lads mags' and other forms of pornography. His nasty plan is one step further to being realised every time some woman is called a whore or slag or slut.
I hope you're not involved in it.

The second man. Isn't he Mister Inconspicuous? He could be anybody. He drives a Ford Mondeo. He is the silent partner, the hidden face of exploitation. What he does has only just begun to be seen as a crime - indeed, in many places, what he does is seen as natural and acceptable. A boy's night out. Some harmless fun. Let's make a man of you! He tells himself, 'If I didn't pay her, someone else would - and at least she's out of the cold.' But it is his sense of his right to sex, his belief that this is normal behaviour, his ability to use another human being for his own satisfaction, that enables prostitution to continue. He looks at this woman and sees only himself. He is at the heart of the nasty plan.
I hope you're not involved in it.

And so, the third man. He looks at the girl and sees her. He sees a story, something that has gone wrong. He sees the dirty, cold misery of it all. He's nervous about being there, embarrassed to overhear the woman being ordered to approach him. He comes from the same town as the other men. He's used to the same culture and jokes as they hear. But he chooses to be different: 'Sorry love I'll have to turn you down.'

In the stories we have been given about Jesus, prostitutes are mentioned as examples of faith. They who survive outside of acceptable society, on the dusty roads or at the gates of the city, they are the ones who look at Jesus and see good in him. Jesus teaches us again and again to look and see each other as humans, with stories to tell, and dreams to dream. We are not objects for another's use. Neither are we bound to social expectations of what is acceptable or normal behaviour. By God's grace we are free to live and love, to honour and cherish ourselves and others. Like Jesus did, we are called to look and see the world for what it is.

We can always say no to participating in the harming of another. We can break the silent acceptance of violence against women. We can ensure we are not involved in it, on any level and to any degree. We can always change our minds and begin believing in a different way of living, the way that Jesus taught us.
Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him. (Matthew 21: 31-2)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

man to man

I was really encouraged by an interview in today's Guardian with Vernon Coaker, MP with responsibility for police and community safety.

During his time in office, he has focused on getting men to take responsibility for their actions, and those of their friends, work colleagues and other men, as the recent campaign against use of brothels highlights.
His legacy is likely to be that he helped to make men accountable for rape and domestic violence, and to change minds and attitudes, as well as crime statistics and conviction rates. "This is about the sort of society and communities we want to live in," Coaker says. "It is about men challenging other men's behaviour."

The key issue for Coaker is public education. "You make the absolute assertion that rape is a criminal act, one of the most heinous we know, and there will be consequences. It is about teaching respect, and educating men to bring about attitudinal change.

Read the full interview here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

on not being everything

A monotheism that idolizes one god sustains and is sustained by the exclusion of gender and ethnicity. Perhaps because of this, the theologies that are being woven by feminists and by ethnic groups inside and outside Christianity are able to be put forward as participants in an ecumenical conversation and coexistence on the frontier of multiculturalism in Latin America.

Why do they not fear to not be One, to not be Everything?…because they know that they are [only a] part…[and are] letting go of the crumbs of power that Christianity still receives from the powerful of the continent as part of an exchange of favours at both symbolic and material level. (Cardoso Pereira 1996: 458)
Cardoso Pereira, Nancy (1996) “Damned, Pleasure-Loving and Devout: Women and Religion” in International Review of Mission Vol. LXXXV No338 July 1996 Geneva: WCC, pp. 447-59.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

the price of bread

Via MEDH, the ecumenical human rights organization here in Argentina, I received yesterday a letter from the Bishop and staff of Humahuaca. Bishop Pedro Olmedo has pastoral care for one of the poorest regions of Argentina, in the far far north of the country. The region, encompassing parts of Salta and Jujuy, is stunningly beautiful, but living is difficult in a harsh climate with high unemployment and isolated communities. The mining industry, while providing employment, is contaminating the landscape.

The letter is in response to the ongoing crisis between the Kirchner government and the campo (countryside, but more specifically here the farmers - especially the soya farmers who export the majority of their crop), arguing that forgotten heart of the matter is the impoverishment of an increasing number of Argentines.

It calls attention to the people who are dying for lack of medicines and medical attention, noting also:
Malnutrition, that appeared to be under control, is adding to the harsh reality of hunger and poverty, but... [the government] continue to give the same level of support as in years past. It is impossible for children and young people to be fed today on 60 centavos (10 pence) per day.
The bishop goes on to criticize the government for its massaging of statistics concerning the level of inflation and cost of living. Insted of relying on such figures, people need to look at the cost of basic goods: a few months ago bread cost 3 pesos per kilo (50 pence), today it costs 5 pesos or more (~85 pence); a litre of oil has risen from 3 pesos to 8 pesos.

According to the bishop, 60% of the region's inhabitants struggle to survive below the poverty line. Regional and national migration has increased, causing further problems in urban centres.

There is sense of being isolated, far from the centre of power in Buenos Aires. The government seems unconcerned about the growing poverty and has failed to initiate programmes of support.

Inflation is having an impact on my daily routine too as I look at the price of a cup of coffee or get the bill from the photocopiers and think 'ooch.' But it's nothing compared to the experience of those who were already only just clinging on.

The bishop's letter, accompanied by photos can be read here. I read it and remembered our trip to Salta and Jujuy this time last year. This is a area out of sight and out of mind for many porteños, except as a winter holiday destination. But many of the people who live there are struggling to get by. Like in so many other countries, such day to day poverty fails to get the attention of the wealthy and powerful. But it's time it did.

photos July 2007 (2nd by Caz)

Friday, July 25, 2008

no ser dios y cuidarlos

No ser Dios y cuidarlos had a limited release in Argentine cinemas last month. I missed it but found first the trailer and then the whole film on youtube. The film is a documentary about a degree programme run by the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) within the high security prison, Cárcel de Devoto (the setting for Manuel Puig's Kiss of the Spider Woman). The Centro Universitario Devoto (CUD) began in 1985 and the film blurb suggests it was pioneering work, enabling university professors to work with the prisoners directly.

The reoffending rate for ex-prisoners in Argentina is 70% but the film offers evidence that it is as low as 3% for those who have participated in CUD since the prisoners are enabled through their degree qualification to find work on returning home.

Here is the trailer:

I haven't yet watched the film but when I do, I'll make some further comments.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Carlos Páez Vilaró - fragmentos

Inspired by this article from La Nacion, read over coffee and medialunas one morning, I gathered up a few friends and took the train to Tigre to visit the new exhibition of paintings and sculpture by Carlos Páez Vilaró. Páez Vilaró has been painting for a long time, hanging out with the likes of Picasso and, alternatively, Albert Schweitzer at his leprosy hospital in the Gabon. (*painting to the right entitled, "Suddenly, another sun was born.") I had wanted to visit his Casapueblo near Punto del Este in Uruguay but it was this paragraph that made the exhibition a must see for me:
Su amor por las orillas de Uruguay y de la Argentina, su interés por la cultura afrouruguaya, su pasión por los viajes y por la pintura que, en sus propias palabras, "le dio todo", se imbrican de forma tal que es difícil separar al artista del hombre.
His love for the river banks of Uruguay and Argentina, his interest in African-Uruguayan culture, his passion for travel and painting, in his own words, 'say it all,' are interwoven in such a way that it is difficult to separate the artist from the man.

I spent a long time with his most recent paintings imagining the resistance of Africans to slavery and colonialism.

"I was present when the African revolution shot its first arrow" (part)

"I stayed magnetized on arriving at the shores of the island of Fernando Pó"

At his home in Tigre, a quiet walk down the river bank, the late afternoon light flooded the enclosed garden, and lush green prevented all but glances of the casapueblo-style house constructed there.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

it's oh so quiet...

"Where is everyone?" I wondered, peering out of my window at the empty streets below. It's cold this morning. Cold, quiet and foggy. Foggy weather equals smelly weather, as the city's refuse decomposes and the damp air holds everything down.

Feeling like everyone else was in the know, I reached for my guide to Buenos Aires and, with a sinking feeling, confirmed that today, 9 July, is a national holiday.

Now once upon a time I loved holidays. But these past three years have put me right off them. Holidays in another country are often lonely and frustrating days. Holidays in Argentina mean for me:
  • No heating - I only get heating when the offices downstairs are in use.
  • No-one to sort out my hot water heater - it worked Monday but has now packed in.
  • No library! - no-where warm and comfortable to work.
  • No friends to meet up with - everyone is busy with family.
  • Shops open only part of the day - thankfully I endured Disco supermarket yesterday ( maybe that was why the checkout queue was over 30 minutes long - then again, that's normal in Disco).
Actually, I'm feeling fine today - off to a more lively part of town and taking my books with me for a lovely afternoon in my favourite cafe. Then a festive trip to the cinema.

But my dislike of holidays has given me an insight into the loneliness of Christmas, Easter and other occasions for those far from home. And that's no bad thing.

Welcoming the stranger who lives amongst us is one of the duties of Christians, Jews and other people of faith. Indeed, the experience of being a stranger in a strange land is fundamental to the Jewish people and it is by reminding them of this that God calls on them to offer hospitality and care to the stranger amongst them:
You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19)
Befriending the lonely, reaching out across national and religious divides, enlarging our circle a little more. All these are good things to celebrate today and everyday.

¡Feliz día de la Independencía!

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Leonera (The Lion's Den, 2008) has received more international press than usual for an Argentine film due to being part of the official selection at Cannes. This afternoon Ulrika and I finally got to see it.

For a film set in a woman's prison in Argentina, it was a lot more uplifting that expected. And thankfully held back on the 'drama,' extending the camera lens over four years.

Julia has her son Tomas in the maternity wing of a prison in the north-eastern tropical region of Argentina. It's undeniably grime but there are no stereotypical bullies or baddies, either amongst the mostly female guards, or the inmates. Instead the film portrays the day-by-day adjustments and struggles of the women as they make the best of it. Maté is shared, as is the care of their children. The women cook, shower, do laundry, argue, cry, even laugh a little.

When Julia returns to the wing with Tomas for the first time, both she and her tiny newborn baby are fingerprinted (or, in the case of Tomas, foot-printed). This scene is in the trailer below and was one of the moments that most affected me; the innocence of tiny feet jarring with the institutionalization of mother and child. The endless cycle of documents, fingerprinting and officials also reminded me of my own - thankfully limited - encounters with Argentine bureaucracy.

Amidst the routine, come birthday parties, goodbyes and celebrations. As fireworks scatter light across the dense black sky, the women and their children laugh and cheer as Santa Nöel dances along the barrier wall, dressed in red and sparkling like the fireworks around her.

The official site gives a useful synopsis and details of reviews. And you can see the trailer (without subtitles) here:

Saturday, June 14, 2008

two queers

Eleanor Rigby died in the church
and was buried along with her name.
Nobody came.
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands
as he walks from the grave.
No one was saved.

John Lennon reportedly once described Eleanor Rigby as a song about 'two queers.' Two lonely people who meet only at the end of life.

I thought about people who keep a face by the door, and pick up the rice scattered at other people's weddings; people who struggle to be heard, and who must be their own companion. I thought about loneliness as I sat in my coat in the church sanctuary last night, listening to members of an small inclusive fellowship describe their struggle to accept and be accepted in their sexual orientation. "Conviction," Marcelo said, "you must have conviction of your value and dignity."

Ai, Dios
, that we the church, the body(s) of Christ, have managed to destroy the truth and joy of the lives of others and our own.

Marcella Althaus-Reid (and this would be better if I could find the reference) says something like, all Christians should aim to be queer - willing to distort doctrines and dogmas, and to get lost in the maze of faith. So, I ask, is the church ready to embrace it's queerness? To hear unspoken names, to build arches for queer lovers, and to be home for all the lonely people?

"Two queers," said John, "belong."
For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. (Matthew 18:20)

Friday, June 13, 2008


El otoño es una segunda primavera
en la que cada hoja es un flor.

Autumn is a second spring
when every leaf's a flower.
(Albert Camus)

Outside the restaurant was a small tree, its trunk metal-grey, and the last leaves sparkling like shards of green glass.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

from the ground up

Video created by local Oxfam volunteers and staff in Birmingham.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

puzzling it out

The blue and green plastic bottle tops had been compacted into the soil over time. They reminded me of an exhibition I saw last year in Centro Cultural Borges. Blue, green, white bottle tops scattered over the gallery walls, curving and swirling, and cut into flower shapes. Who knew rubbish could be so pretty?

But there was nothing beautiful about this place. The ash from the burning rubbish tasted sour and I was glad Arturo had told us to be quick. We were visiting an after-school project supported by MEDH in Villa Itatí, just outside the city of Buenos Aires. Since it was Saturday, there were no kids about, but a volunteer told us how the one-room building next to the sorting barn offered space for local children to do their homework and chat over milk and rolls.

Villa Itatí is a large villa (shanty town) of over 50,000 people (2001 figures). People began settling in the area when the autopista (motorway) was constructed several decades ago. The excavations for the motorway left an empty valley into which came the poor. At the bottom, Arturo tells us, are those who are the poorest of all. They live at a level that is at constant risk of flooding. Many cartoneros live and work there. They gather recyclable material from the city's bins and haul it back to be sorted. Their roughly constructed homes sit cheek-by-jowl with the rubbish. All the children, Arturo tells us, have respiratory problems, and their arms are often covered in sores.

If I leave my flat I will see cartoneros searching through the large bins on the street corner. They pull their carts themselves now; when I first arrived tatty ponies trotted along the capital's streets at night, the carts stacked higher and higher behind them. I usually try to catch the eye of those cartoneros I pass on the street, say a brief buenos or hola but I'm not sure it that makes them (or me) feel better or worse. How can I begin to imagine there is a connection between us? That we share enough in common for us to share greetings? They live off my waste.

The barn and after-school club are at the edge of Villa Itatí, just visible as we passed over the rim of the crater. A line of clothes gathered from the rubbish hung drying in the smoke. We weaved through bales of cardboard and flattened plastic, ready to be sold on. With the support of MEDH and other organizations, the cartoneros of this sector of the villa formed a cooperative Asociación de Cartoneros de Villa Itatí, about which a documentary was filmed in 2003. They get a better price selling 100 bales of cardboard than 10 bales individually.

Saturday lunch-time and a calm had settled over the villa. A child was showing off a new puppy, clasped tightly in his arms. In the sunshine outside the barn, six young men lent against plastic bales of sorted rubbish. I felt embarrassed to be there, walking past them, talking in English. We said hola, and it felt awkward. As we left we said goodbye chau, gracias, chau gente. For once I was standing on their ground. This was their barrio and I was the intruder, allowed in for a brief few minutes.

As we left, the young men resumed their conversations. A couple of them were leafing through magazines, salvaged from the day's findings. And one was relaxing in the Saturday afternoon sun with a word-search puzzle. Figure that out.

Image of cartoneros via this article but originally from here.

Image of bottle tops design by Fran Crowe - read more about her work on BBC.