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)