Tuesday, July 31, 2007
...except when there is.
This photo was taken about a block from my apartment in Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires' so-called "bohemian" neighborhood. (In reality Palermo Soho is way too expensive for the average struggling Porteño artist and the neighborhood is more of an enclave for funky-yet-expensive boutique shops and ultra-modern restaurants, but that's a whole different issue.)
"Fuera Chinos" basically translates to "Chinese Get Out". Although the photo only shows one instance of the phrase, it was actually spraypainted several times on the walls of a local bakery. The bakery may or may not be owned by Chinese people, although the employees behind the counter are Asian.
To be fair, idiotic and racially-insensitive graffiti is not particularly extraordinary in Buenos Aires or anywhere else in the world. However, it is worth mentioning that this particular graffiti has been up for at least six months, as I first saw it within weeks of my initial arrival last December.
While this particular graffiti has more to do with the actions of a small-minded individual than some sort of society-wide discrimination, it does relate to the unusual dynamic between Argentinians and various immigrant communities. Argentina is an extremely white country, as approximately 97% of the population (scroll down) is of European descent, mostly Spanish and Italian. That number is even more surprising when Argentina is compared with a random sampling of other Latin American countries like Colombia (20% white), Peru (15% white) and Mexico (9% white). Even taking into account the large mestizo populations in those countries does little to prevent Argentinians from coming off as an overwhelmingly white bunch.
On the one hand, this ethnic homogeneity leads to relatively few racial problems in the country. I titled this blog entry "there is no racism in Argentina" because more than one Argentinian has said something along those lines to me. To a certain degree, the statement is true, as it is hard to discriminate against other races when relatively few people of other races live here. Discrimination based on other factors (especially economic and social class) is far more prevalent.
On the other hand, the lack of diversity certainly leaves the population with a certain lack of sensitivity when it comes to issues of race. Although the country is refreshingly free of the PC-induced fear which paralyzes so much of the racial discourse in the United States, the climate in Argentina also includes a surprising amount (at least for me) of offensive, or at least borderline racial comments. Earlier this year the federal government's National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI) published a study that found discrimination against foreigners to be the most common form of discrimination in Argentina. Bolivians were the number one target, while Peruvians and Paraguayans also made the list.
Although the study included no mention of Asians, recent years have seen some problems between Argentinians and the largely Chinese Asian immigrant community. Much of the tension revolves around Asian-owned supermarkets, locally known as "chinos". Besides the questionable practice of basically referring to the stores as simply "Chinese", as in "let's go to the Chinese," a number of myths have arisen concerning everything from the Chinese mafia to questions over the stores' low prices and whether or not shop owners are paying their taxes.
None of this is meant to imply that Argentina is some sort of racist stronghold. Most countries struggle with issues of race and ethnicity and Argentina is no different. In a country where the existence of large ethnic minority populations is somewhat novel, many of the issues I've highlighted are nothing extraordinary and will likely subside with time.
After all, I also found this:
"Aguante Los Chinos" translates to "Go Chinese" or "Root for Chinese". Someone wrote this on the walls of the same bakery that was tagged with all the unpleasant "Fuera Chinos" messages.
Clearly, not everyone is one the same page when it comes to immigration and racial issues.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Last week saw the premiere of a highly-publicized new series in Argentina. After weeks (if not months) of hype, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the critically-acclaimed drama that crashed and burned so spectacularly in the United States, has arrived.
While it is commonplace for foreign series to air in Argentina, episodes are shown months and sometimes years after their initial debut in the United States. This lag is actually somewhat beneficial in terms of programming quality, as it allows networks to bring over series that are already hit shows. While not all the shows that come over are great (I'm looking at you, Two and a Half Men and According to Jim), network gems like Lost, Heroes, 30 Rock, C.S.I. and The Office are all shown in Argentina. Further strengthening television lineups is the inclusion of programs that only air on premium cable channels like HBO and Showtime in the United States. Here in Argentina, series like Six Feet Under, Deadwood, Weeds, The L Word and Brotherhood are all available on basic cable channels, although it should be noted that basic cable is not nearly as widespread in Argentina as it is in the United States or Europe. Nonetheless, with only about five channels airing network series from the United States, the overall quality is generally quite good. Viewers also benefit from the fact that these channels are not tied to a strict programming schedule like their network counterparts in the United States. Although shows have a regular air time when new episodes are debuted, those episodes are usually re-shown multiple times throughout the week. Multi-episode blocks and even marathons are common, which is quite convenient for viewers hoping to play catch-up.
That is why the launch of failed series like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is somewhat baffling. While the show's star power will surely bring in ratings, why would the network spend the time and money promoting and building an audience for a series that they know has been canceled? Of course, none of the promotion mentions that the show has been canceled, although that fact has not escaped local television critics. Oddly enough, Buenos Aires paper Página 12 gave the show a glowing review while simultaneously lamenting its demise. Far from indignant about the "launch" of a failed series, the reviewer even makes a point to declare his intention to buy the forthcoming DVD box set in October.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is not the first canceled or struggling series to air in Argentina. Perhaps the most egregious example was serial drama The Nine, which was canceled after only a handful of episodes had aired in the United States. The show's dismal performance did nothing to stop Argentinian television from endlessly re-airing what seemed like five or six episodes several times a week for about six months.
In case you are wondering, yes, I watch a lot of television here. In the spirit of not being completely critical, I would like to add that I am quite fond of the Argentinian commercials for the 37th season (that is an approximate guess) of long-running drama E.R. Rather than quick 30-second bursts, the network puts together montage-style epics that basically spell out the whole story. Check it out:
I don't even need to watch the show! By the way, the band providing the soundtrack is none other than Norweigan goth outfit Apoptygma Berzerk. Who knew they could make such a cliché power-anthem?
Friday, July 27, 2007
Next week Marcelo D2, arguably the biggest name in Brazilian hip-hop, is coming to Buenos Aires for the first time. And somehow, I've been invited to be a part of the bill.
After getting his start in the enormously popular (albeit dubiously-named) group Planet Hemp, Marcelo eventually launched a solo career and hit it big with his 2003 album À Procura da Batida Perfeita (In Search of the Perfect Beat). Combining hip-hop with samba, his albums have all been produced by frequent Beastie Boys collaborator Mario Caldato aka Mario C.
Before releasing his most recent album, Marcelo D2 put out an open call for beats from all over Brazil. After receiving hundreds of submissions, he narrowed it down to fifteen, provided vocals and released Meu Samba É Assim (My Samba Is Like This) in 2006.
His myspace page has several selections from that album, and below is the track that catapulted him to solo success.
Marcelo D2 - À Procura da Batida Perfeita
Marcelo D2 is performing next Wednesday, August 1 at Niceto Club.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Coldplay, also known as one of the blandest, whitest bands on the planet, has announced that their new album is going to have a "Hispanic theme". Although decifering the handwritten message on the Coldplay website is somewhat maddening, more complete excerpts can be found in these articles from the BBC and NME.
In the band's own words, "The sights, sounds and flavours of Latin America and Spain have definitely been infused on this album." They go on to say that the record will have, "No maracas or castanets, but a vibrancy and colourfulness that owes much to the atmosphere of Buenos Aires and Barcelona."
Besides being totally ridiculous, this announcement is borderline insulting. The whole "maracas and castanets" reference in itself reflects an extreme level of ignorance about what "Hispanic" music really is. (Does anyone else find "Hispanic" to be an odd choice of words?) With their formulaic catalog of melancholy piano ballads, it seems that there are few bands less qualified than Coldplay to delve into the world of ethnic music.
Perhaps the band just included that statement to calm the nerves of their overwhelmingly non-ethnic fan base. After all, most bored middle-class suburbanites can only handle Latin music when there is a slightly brown person (emphasis on slightly, white folks scare easily) shaking their hips in the video and looking "spicy" on camera. Hello Ricky Martin and Shakira! If four gawky British blokes start doing anything besides looking pensive and awkward, people will get confused.
Thanks to my pal Party Ben for tipping me off to this story. Ben has been doing some stellar writing for The Riff, a blog curated by esteemed magazine Mother Jones. I actually pilfered the above picture from his blog entry and would be remiss not include some of his thoughts on the subject.
Maybe they can make some kind of special parrilla-themed edition for Argentina. Or perhaps the record label can churn out some special edition empanadas with Chris Martin's face on the side. Whatever helps move units, right?
"Who better than Coldplay," they continued, "with our spicy echoes of U2, Radiohead, and Travis, to explore these exotic flavours...like, you know, tomatoes." Singing about flavors has always been a focus of the English band, they say, describing early hit "Yellow" as being "inspired by a paticularly savory paella."
Rumored song titles on the new album include "Fix You (A Tasty Enchilada)," and "A Rush Of Blood To the Head After Eating This Spicy Hot Pepper." The album will come in multiple formats including a deluxe edition served with a side of guacamole and sour cream.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Somehow she even managed to convince the king and queen of Spain to interrupt their vacation and meet with her in their summer palace on the island of Mallorca. Unfortunately for Cristina, no cameras were allowed to document the visit. Before leaving she also plans to meet with the Spanish president and vice-president, speak with business leaders, conduct interviews with Spanish newspaper El Pais and CNN en Español and basically try to look as presidential as possible.
Cristina will return to Buenos Aires by the end of the week, but has a similar trip planned to Mexico before launching her full campaign in the Argentinian provinces.
Does this seem weird to anyone else? Why would Cristina visit a European country before going to at least some of the Argentinian provinces? Maybe she is playing to the old adage that Argentina is a European country that just happens to be located in South America, but it seems that there are better ways to appear "in touch" with the average Argentinian.
In terms of Latin America, this trip should do little to stem criticism that Argentina is overly snooty. With her country suffering an energy crisis, struggling with inflation and still dealing with the effects of the economic crisis, Cristina decides to kick off her campaign by hobnobbing with the Spanish royals. It is difficult to imagine any other Latin American leader attempting a similar maneuver. Inside Argentina she is still a virtual lock to win in October, but the anti-Kirchner crowd has no shortage of ammunition to take their potshots.
Even worse, all the fashionistas who only pay attention to Cristina to check out what she is wearing should have a field day with this hat she had on when she arrived in Madrid.
What was she thinking?
Friday, July 20, 2007
That's right everyone, today is "Friend Day" in Argentina. For weeks local shops have been posting little signs and ads for Día del Amigo. My first thought was to dismiss the whole thing as some sort of Hallmark holiday; after all, Día del Amigo is not an official government holiday in Argentina.
Eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to do a little digging. It turns out that Día del Amigo (sometimes referred to as Día Internacional del Amigo) was started in 1969 by Argentinian dentist and teacher Enrique Febbraro. Inspired by the first moon landing and firmly believing that the entire world counted the three astronauts as friends on that day, he began lobbying for an annual Día del Amigo to be held on July 20.
Apparently Febbraro's efforts have paid off, as many Buenos Aires restaurants have been booked solid for a week or more. In 2005 part of the Argentinian cellular network crashed on Día del Amigo under the strain of so many people calling and texting their friends and loved ones. Officials are warning that similar telecommunications problems are to be expected this year. A minor Día del Amigo crisis was averted yesterday when hotel and restaurant workers, who had threatened to strike in conjunction with the holiday, were granted a salary raise and agreed to continue working.
Here is my favorite Día del Amigo artwork:
That is one tender embrace between Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. And who knew that Scooby Doo took part in the moon landing?
Feliz Día del Amigo!
Thursday, July 19, 2007
In search of higher wages, Buenos Aires film projectionists today launched a 24 hour strike. It is no coincidence that the work stoppage began today, as Thursday is the usual "new movie" day around these parts. Five new films are being released today, including mega-blockbuster Transformers, so it seems that the projectionists want to maximize the strike's effect.
Although news of the strike prompted fears of shuttered movie houses around the city, the Federation of Film Exhibitors (i.e. the theater owners) have guaranteed that theaters will continue to run normally. (Are there scab film projectionists?) Further limiting the strike's overall impact is the fact that the striking union does not include employees of foreign-owned theater chains, which means many theaters will be completely unaffected.
Even if the strike proves to be little more than a symbolic gesture, it certainly caught my attention.
I'd like to think that Transformers was the straw that broke the camel's back. "We're getting paid almost nothing so people can watch this garbage? Why is that kid wearing a Strokes t-shirt? Let's go on strike!"
You never know.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Sonido Martines is an important figure in the Buenos Aires cumbia scene, despite the fact that his DJ work often takes a backseat to his influential role as a collector and historian. A few years back he helped organize the Festicumex (Festival de Cumbias Experimentales) parties in Argentina with fellow cumbia ambassador Dick El Demasiado. Although those events helped set the table for the current wave of experimental cumbia beats on Buenos Aires dance floors, Sonido Martines' true pioneer spirit shines through in the realm of crate digging. He actually travels around South America in search of records, often discovering obscure cumbia gems from bargain bins across the continent. His DJ sets double as history lessons, often featuring a wide array of vintage psychedelic cumbia and other tropical beats.
Tonight his efforts are being celebrated by DJ /rupture, who will be featuring an exclusive Sonido Martines mix on his Mudd Up! radio show (Wednesday nights on famed radio station WFMU). As rupture explains, the mix will feature a number of cumbias rebajadas, an oddball pitched-down variant of cumbia that began in the 60s. The mix will air tonight at 7pm Eastern, 8pm Argentina time. Those outside the New York area can listen online.
Special thanks to Whats Up Buenos Aires for reminding me about this appearance, along with the fact that Sonido Martines will be appearing behind the decks at Zizek next week.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Warning: this is one of those expat "look how wacky things are in another country" posts.
But seriously, here in Argentina stores sell milk in a bag. Cardboard cartons and plastic jugs are also available for sale, but many locals opt for the bag. Check out this shot of a local dairy shelf.
Although this isn't reflected in the pictures, it is worth noting that an entire range of dairy products are available in bag form, including a wide variety of yogurt drinks.
To be fair, Argentina is not the only country with milk in a bag and some environmental argument involving reduced waste can probably be made for this sort of packaging. But still - milk in a bag? It's certainly not the most practical way to go. Milk lovers can't exactly tear open a bag, take a swig and toss it back in the fridge.
I was under the impression that people cut open the bags and dump all the milk in some sort of pitcher. However, a little research on my part has proven that hypothesis incorrect. Apparently most consumers usually just cut off one of the top corners and place the entire bag into a special pitcher. Once the milk is gone, the bag is simply yanked out and tossed into the garbage.
Even with a greater understanding of how it all works, I must admit that the whole "milk in a bag" concept still strikes me as a bit odd. On the other hand, milk in a bag is significantly cheaper than its carton-based counterparts.
Plus, I'm not sure if someone coming from a culture that spawned individually-wrapped American "cheese" slices has much room to criticize.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
This may look like nothing more than nonsense graffiti, but this is actually an odd sort of guerrilla marketing campaign for Adelas, a local band who decided to throw up not only their band name, but their musical genre as well. This practice is actually quite common in Buenos Aires.
In a city filled with graffiti, the band tags always stick out because of the accompanying genre listing. Here's another one.
I really hope Con Fusion Urbana is some kind of awful fusion band. That would make the little play on words in their band name even more hilariously mockable. I also enjoy that the group classifies itself as "soft rock". Do they want to be the Air Supply of Argentina?
That's certainly not going to win a lot of cool points.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Lovely Chords is a group I saw all over one of my favorite blogs before I ever realized that they were from Argentina. The whole electro-house/blog-house/whatever movement hasn't exactly swept the nation down here, so I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that genuine electro bangers were being made in my own South American backyard.
Lovely Chords began in 2003 when Martin and Fash, two friends from Tres Arroyos (a small city a few hours south of Buenos Aires), started making house music with a healthy dose of 80s pop and electro. However, that incarnation quickly fizzled and Lovely Chords went into hibernation.
The group was resurrected in 2006 when Fash started taking their old songs, chopping them up into a thousand pieces and re-assembling them as glitchy, cut-and-paste electro monsters. After bringing Martin back into the fold, the duo also began enlisting collaborators from around the world. Although Fash and Martin continue to be responsible for most of the beats, Lovely Chords includes contributions from Age (Spain), Ester (France), Maki (Japan), Gazzyboy (UK) and Luciana (Argentina). Recording their parts on minidisc, shitty home microphones and even via Skype, most of these people are myspace friends who heard Lovely Chords online and were subsequently brought into the fold.
This Wednesday, Lovely Chords will be performing at Zizek alongside local indie radio starlet SRZ and the usual Zizek residents. They were also kind enough to send along a few mp3s to help whet your appetite.
Lovely Chords - We Push Up On Frenchies
Lovely Chords - My Disko Is Broken
It would be be a major disservice on my part if I didn't also include links to a couple of remixes Lovely Chords has done. The boys really flex their muscles when messing around with other people's work.
Kid Rolex - Pussy Pop (Lovely Chords 2 Fingers remix)
The Amplid - Plugin (Lovely Chords remix)
Monday, July 9, 2007
It snowed today in Buenos Aires, something that hasn't happened since 1918. As this archive photo shows, that snowfall was a little more severe.
Nonetheless, today's weather was still pretty shocking. Although the snow didn't stick to the ground in the capital, plenty of Porteños were documenting the occasion.
Maybe now people back home will stop asking me if it's "tropical" here. Grab a map and look how far south of the equator Buenos Aires is. It's winter here. WINTER!
Sunday, July 8, 2007
This frighteningly awful music comes from Argentina's own Carajo, a band so tough they named themselves after a curse word. Compounding my sadness is the fact that the band's myspace page features a cover of Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box," apparently only one of many Nirvana covers the band has in its repertoire. I'm sure Kurt Cobain would be thrilled.
I thought nu-metal was over. Apparently it immigrated to Latin America.
Saturday, July 7, 2007
Earlier this week these posters went up across Buenos Aires. Are they an ad for a new television talk show? Perhaps a new album?
Not quite. Actually, they were the first presidential campaign posters for first lady Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. After months of speculation as to whether her husband Nestor Kirchner would run for reelection in October, his administration finally announced that he would step aside and allow his wife to run in his place.
Hardly a political novice, Mrs. Kirchner is a popular senator in her own right and already has a hefty lead in the polls. However, not everyone is thrilled with this news. In a country where the political ghosts of Eva and Isabel Peron still conjure powerful memories (some of them not all that pleasant), some people are less than thrilled about the prospect of a "new Evita". A few critics (some might say conspiracy theorists) have even suggested the move is part of a larger long-term power grab by the Kirchners. While the Argentinian constitution limits presidents to two consecutive terms, there is no limit placed on non-consecutive terms. As such, Nestor could run again in 2011, throw the country back to Cristina in 2015, and so on, allowing to Kirchners to run the country ad infinitum.
Not surprisingly, pundits have also been comparing the Kirchners to the Clintons. Although the two power couples certainly have their similarities, Cristina is clearly no Hillary when it comes to fashion. ABC News brutally called out Hillary's look as "dowdy" as compared to her "sexy" counterpart in Argentina. Granted, showing up female political figures from the United States in the realm of fashion is no big accomplishment, but Cristina certainly schooled first Lady Laura Bush when the Bushes paid a visit to Argentina in 2005.
If Hillary Clinton threw on a leather coat once in awhile maybe her alarmingly high unfavorability ratings would improve a bit. As things stand now, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will probably be seated comfortably in the Casa Rosada while Hillary is fighting just to make it through the Democratic primaries.
Friday, July 6, 2007
For all the praise heaped on Zizek, there are still plenty of Porteños who never get the chance to go because the party happens on a Wednesday night. I guess responsible folks who have to be at actual jobs at 9 or 10am the next day have a little trouble going to a party that barely gets going by 2am.
Well, this Sunday at Niceto Club all those excuses go right out the window because the Zizek gang has put together a giant party they're simply calling Super Zizek. (For anyone confused about why a Sunday party would be easier to attend than a Wednesday party, know that Monday, July 9th is Indpendence Day here in Argentina.)
Besides all the Zizek residents, the party also features several artists who are about to leave Buenos Aires. Oro11 (who I've written about before) is heading back to the United States in a couple weeks, while Douster (another guy I've written about) is wrapping up his study abroad program and returning to his native France. King Coya & El Trip Selector are also playing their last show for awhile, as El Trip Selector is heading out of the country for a few months.
Anyone who needs help getting hyped for this party should do themselves a favor and check out this snippet of a DJ mix from Douster. It was recorded the last he time spun at Zizek (and brought the house down). Adding to the chuckle factor is Douster's drunken introduction at the start of the set. Does Spanish sound as funny with an English accent as it does with a French accent? Probably.
Douster - Live at Zizek
And just for fun, I'll throw up this track Oro11 put together a while back.
Oro11 - Pibes Walk Out
Thursday, July 5, 2007
Somehow in all of yesterday's excitement over the new Inrocks club and the (slowly) burgeoning Buenos Aires indie scene, I neglected to mention another major indie rock happening.
Tonight marks the return of Music Is My Girlfriend to Buenos Aires. Every Thursday night in July at Club Unione E Benevolenza (Perón 1372), MIMG will present 3 bands along with a DJ. With both Argentinian and Brazilian bands scheduled to perform, the bands come from all over the local map, not to mention the musical spectrum. Everything from space rock to punk to stoner metal and surf rock is being represented. By the way, doesn't Brazilian band Superguidis sound a whole lot like Pavement?
The full lineup can be found at the MIMG website, along with links to all the bands' websites and myspace pages. There are even a few mp3s for the downloading-inclined.
In all honesty, some of the bands are less than inspiring in terms of originality and/or how good they actually are, but at least Music Is My Girlfriend is bringing together actual indie bands for actual shows in Buenos Aires. It's certainly another step in the right direction.
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Look out Buenos Aires, because there is another indie club night in town. Starting tomorrow night, local music magazine Los Inrockuptibles (an offshoot of French mag Les Inrockuptibles) is launching Inrocks Club, a weekly Thursday night party at the recently-reopened downtown nightspot Cocoliche (which happens to have an amazing soundsystem, just fyi).
The Inrockuptibles editoral staff will be behind the decks on the main floor with a promise to serve up "power pop, electro rock and post-punk." The bar area will feature new British sounds provided by Juan di Natale of local radio station FM Rock and Pop. Beginning in August, the magazine is even promising start bringing in some international guests.
The club's myspace page has the new Interpol single along with videos from LCD Soundsystem and Justice, so they appear to have a decent idea of what is going on in terms of "indie" music. This isn't surprising, as Los Inrockuptibles seems to be one of the more credible Argentinian music magazines. Recent covers have included Gael Garcia Bernal, Regina Spektor and the 30th Anniversary of 1977 (the year punk "began"). Hopefully that good sense will be transferred to the dance floor.
An early post on this blog openly lamented the lack of a decent independent rock scene in Buenos Aires. The city still has a long way to go (decent local indie bands are still alarmingly difficult to find), but with the continued success of Friday night party Compass and this new Inrocks Club, perhaps things are moving in the right direction.
Porteños already have the angular haircuts and the Chuck Taylors. So it is really only a matter of time until they all find their way on to an indie dance floor.
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
This morning my girlfriend alerted me to this post on Craigslist Buenos Aires:
It would be really easy to go on a little rant here about foreign residents desperately trying to recreate the comforts of home while soaking up an international lifestyle; however, I am going to skip the condescending "trying to have your cake and eat it too" critique for two main reasons:
D&D in Buenos Aires, in English!I am trying to find some cool people in Buenos Aires, to play together D&D RPGames!!
we'd play in English, or maybe Spanish, or both, depending on who's coming! obviously, we'd need to be 4-5 players at least! the idea is playing each Friday night, during winter, here in Buenos Aires...
so, if any hardcore, or beginner, Dungeon-and-Dragon player is interested, please reply, we'll try our best to start a campaign soon!:)
1. I am totally guilty of doing the same thing, albeit not with D & D.
2. I am kind of impressed by this guy.
Seriously, this dude loves Dungeons & Dragons so much that he needs to play it in Buenos Aires. Living in the cultural capital of Latin America is not quite enough; he wants to launch a "campaign" and kick some wizard/troll/whatever ass.
How do you say "hit points" or "eight-sided die" in Spanish?