¿No los veis sobre México y Quito
arrojarse con saña tenaz
y cuál lloran, bañados en sangre,
Potosí, Cochabamba y La Paz?
Being the only gringo in the village these last few years in Mar del Plata, has led to much stick-poking, many beer-spewing exclamations of wonder as to why a ‘first-worlder’ is bar-tending for minimum wage in winter in a town only frequented by disdainful porteños in summer. At first, of course, they have no idea. The standard greetings are not enough to give the game away: Buenas noches, ¿cómo están? Numbers, thanks, etc. Once pegamequemegusta gets the auld paddy palaver going in search of a few pesos for the hard road home, however, they will shift in their seat, the eyes begin to widen, the face to distend, vowels go through a vice of incomprehension, elongating themselves into owly hoots. ¿Y de dóóóóóóóónde sos? Irlanda, we reply. ¿Holanda? (Damn paddy brogue!) No, IRlanda. Ah, ¿y qué hacéééés acáá? Next comes the story, ah the story, of how pegamequemegusta came to inhabit these bendy-swervy shores, a story told so many times the words are so automatic and studied they pronounce themselves with Olivier-ian oomph (the Nazi Olivier, of course, not the Shakespearian one), or like anything anyone has ever said about Arsenal these last five years; a change-loosening story; a story of such mythical proportions it inevitably dwarves the very city in which it transpired – pegamequemegusta is Paris, Mar del Plata Ilium.
¿Y te gusta? Sí, pegáme, pero me gusta.
So while we don’t stand out too much, the Argentine, being a creature of great curiosity, demands satisfaction. We, indeed, are a curiosity. Other times, in the street, on the bus, at the grocer’s or some pub, the story will also get an airing, oftentimes with a lemony twist which would have our interlocutor believe we arrived for the World Trannie Trannie Fair (WTTF – transvestite fans of transistor radios, compered by the incorrigible Major-smoking Major Major) a few years back and just got hooked on the minimum wage. (It’s always intriguing to leave a grain of truth in there, a little bit of sand in the sandwich that will have their brain teeth gnashing like the hairy little compadre of a disturbed child).
The more forward of the marplatenses – though basically all Argentines, like their tap-water, are filter-less – will come straight out and assert with some confidence that we are Russian. Our pasty aspect and azure eyes give the game away, they say. When informed otherwise, some will even refuse to accept the new data. In all our years here, pegamequemegusta has only ever met one Russian, and that was but last month. Nonetheless, the Argentines seem to suspect they’re around every corner. Is this some kind of hangover from Cold War paranoia? But Argentina, besides the standard yanqui meddling in South America, hardly had a direct role in said stand-off…
Maybe it’s because all Russians have blonde hair and blue eyes?
Their dictators don’t:
Stalin was a bushy haired beast,
Lenin bald but brown,
The Czar was hardly Aryan,
No simpering little male Lolita was he.
But Stalin was Georgian, the Czar divine…
Perhaps the western Russians do:
The Petersburgians, the Muscovites,
The more powerful,
The effete, French-speaking, affected ones.
Quite the astute observation, my brown-haired ami.
So the Argentines just got that idea
From those who forged that nation’s cultural image
Then tossed it round midst their own scrimmage?
Well, that was getting tiresome. But yeah, the Argentinians didn’t necessarily invent the stereotype but it fits in perfectly with their wont for generalisations and nicknames. You’ll be familiar with many of these from football (Pelusa, la Pulga, La Brujita, el Negro Enrique, etc.) but of course they’re prevalent in everyday discourse, too. Thin, fat, bald, whatever your ‘defining’ characteristic is, that will be your nickname. You will be el flaco Rodríguez, la gorda Sosa, el pelado Martinez, unless like an ancient hero you earn another. You don’t have to be a mobster to get one, basically. Add to that the lack of reserve people generally have here, the filter-less quality we mentioned earlier, and you get some mannerisms that can seem brash, even rude, to the forelock-tugging paddy, for example.
Nonetheless, the economic gulf between rich and poor in Argentina is underscored by a considerable racial divide, one which these jolly monikers oft express. The Rooshians aren’t the only mixed race society where whiteness is prized. Being dark-skinned, un negro, is akin to being a scumbag, a knacker, a pieball, a chav, a wetback. While most of the time people can chuckle away taking joy in the lack of pudeur, their expressiveness, their warmth as opposed to the cold Europeans, the sobriquet is loaded – but a slight change in circumstances, a slight change in luck, a slip of the finger, a slip of the tongue and pretty quickly el Negro Enrique becomes un negro de mierda. Now in the circumstances it wouldn’t be right to translate that as the N-word, which has connotations from a rather different (uh, way out of our depth) cultural context. Nasty it certainly is, and racist, too, but that still wouldn’t be the correct translation. When Luis Aragones made those comments about Thierry the Prick Henry a few years back, however, it was right to say he was a racist cock. It’s a question of intent, of discriminatory, violent intent and crass insensitivity.
Why, just last week in Buenos Aires thousands of people from the villas, from the shanty towns that abound in and around that mad city, felt it incumbent upon them to occupy the Parque Indoamericano, a ‘park’ in the same way a tenement is a residence. They were protesting about their disgraceful living conditions, about the failure of various levels of government to do anything to relieve their misery. It all eventually cooled down when many of the poor souls chose to accept a promissory note for future dwellings ahead of an almighty beating from the now massed police forces. Even as they left the politicians, who had spent the previous few days arguing over whether it was the national government’s responsibility or a matter for the Buenos Aires federal authorities (we’re in pre-election days and with Kirchner dead the despicable Macri, erstwhile president of Boca and now governor of BA, reckons he has a pop at the presidency), were backtracking furiously: “They’ll get no priority ahead of anyone else,” they said.
Fair enough, but putting fences up around the park was the new priority. In any case, the thing is, with the free movement of persons guaranteed by Mercosur and the already underlying racial tensions of the country (indeed, the continent), the duration of the occupation had seen violent clashes between a mix of ‘local residents’ and outright fascist thugs, and the occupiers. Midst the stone-throwing and shooting over the weekend, several people were killed. It’s become de rigueur for cameras to pick out people involved in these kinds of incidents, these kind of public murders, then identify them with a club, with the hooligans of that club and then with the political backers of said hooligan factions. Only then do the respective news companies make up their mind what they think of the incident, depending on which side of Argentina’s media schism they fall on: you’re either pro-Clarín, the largest media organisation and more or less a monopoly power, or you’re slavishly, disgustingly pro-government. However, they miss the point that the barras, the hooligans, are essentially apolitical: they’re mercenaries in a never-ending turf war. Unfortunately, pegamequemegusta lacks Joseph Heller’s talent to bring it out.
Despite the original Argentina national anthem, quoted above, speaking proudly of the bravery of their South American brothers in the unharnessing of the Spanish colonial yoke, the perceived origin of many of the occupiers came quickly to the fore: the dirty, filthy, backward, thieving bolitas and paraguayos had to be dealt with, expelled. Even an Argentine can be a ‘dirty bolivian’ such is the strength of the underlying sense of cultural and racial superiority. Hell, sometimes it even works both ways: it’s more than likely that at least some of the erstwhile antagonism towards Messi ultimately stems from the fact that, despite being from a modest background, his ‘whiteness’, his ‘niceness’ arguably precluded him from being immediately accepted as a true representative of garra criolla. For more on this and some possible rival triptychs of Argentine identity, see here).
More than one western gringo will have been charmed by the apparent rawness of Argentine life. These days more than ever they’ll be be an influx of ‘economic exiles’ filling the cafés and bars, staining the streets with their scary milky legs and ugly clothes, constantly moaning about how poor their country is, what a joke it is and how they’ll never be able to go back. They claim to love the ‘authenticity’ of life in South America. They’d love to stay, they say, no more of that queueing in Aldi nonsense. This is real life, they proclaim with a flourish before going to the bank machine to withdraw more euros, which happen to enjoy an exchange rate of more than five for every peso.
Indeed, when pegamequemegusta first arrived this was the case, and one of the chief artefacts embodying said frankness, this wily boisterousness, was Olé, the all-conquering sports daily. With its fine sense of humour, flagrant red top chauvinism and occasional flashes of brilliance in its campaigns against violence that contained a hugely impressive amount of detail on events, we soon began to collect them. In later years, however, we became disillusioned with their cowardice: hiding a loss to Colombia in a sidebar on the front page whilst focusing on some secondary story, their referring to the cancer of Argieball as don Julio, their incessant hypocrisy with regard to Messi, their lack of balls when it came to taking on Maradona’s consistently bizarre decisions and their constant touting of anyone who scored a few goals against Newell’s as worthy of a place in the national team. Also, on the occasions when their prose failed them, the pieces soon lost their charm; their lack of class was quickly exposed and they were left looking cheap, crass and ignorant. We still buy it, but usually just because the cover is worth keeping (aka, hoarding under the glass coffee table).
Yesterday’s Olé [16/12/’10] cover was pretty bleedin’ crass.
On the one hand, of course, it’s admirable that they’ve devoted the front page to the improbable victory of the African champions against a much-fancied Inter team. Yet at the same time it’s quite a low ebb. You soon realise that Olé are just back to doing their weird, unfunny ‘black jokes’ of the kind they enjoyed so much before and during the World Cup, with their double entendres about the ‘Dark Continent’ (or is that even a double entendre?). Even when they speak about Usain Bolt in glowing terms, you get the impression that they’re not really taking him seriously as, while laudable, his achievements are merely a ‘black thing’.
Anyway, Jota jota is the nickname (well, it’s not so much a nickname as his initials but it sounds so absurd it becomes one) of River’s current caretaker manager, JJ Lopez. He has been the caretaker since Ángel Cappa lost the rag but Passarella has decided he’ll stay on, hence the ¡Sigue! You can read Jota Jota in this context, though, as basically synonymous with waka waka, which in turn suggests the general wackiness of Africa, not a place to be taken seriously, just a load of uncivilised brutes, touchingly funny to our enlightened white eyes – hence the pictures. It’s Sepp Blatter humour really – a worse insult we can hardly conceive of. Below the main banner they then pun cheaply on an alternate nickname for Jota Jota, el Negro Lopez.
– That’s not racist! Of course you can say that! We say that all the time! I call my best mate negro all the time! It’s endearing!
Here it isn’t, though. It’s just cheap, part of a general undermining of people with dark skin, and indeed, of people from almost any other country you feel free to take the piss out of. They’re on the cover because they’re funny, like banter with the blacks in the jacks when you’re seventeen and hopelessly deluded as to your wittiness.
The text goes on to make reference to yesterday’s game between the ‘wop’ Inter, as opposed to the Brazilian one, who they surprisingly refrain from slurring in any way, against ‘the Koreans’. The latter team’s name isn’t even given. You tell us why that could be.
Inside, there’s actually a nice little editorial piece by Marcelo Guerrero. Fine, he spends about 300 of his 400 words talking about humiliations suffered by African teams such as Zaire in 1974 and complaining he couldn’t get the sticker for their ‘tubby’ defender Mukombo that year. His praise of their achievement is sincere, though, and he finishes by eulogising the ‘coming of age’ of African football.
On the double page spread, however, the pictures of the crazy fans are back and Federico Rozenbaum has clearly had a swift enough rummage in the bin of cultural stereotypes:
Yes, this is the land of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, of petro-dollars, where there’s no drinking or smooching in public, and men have four wives.
As with almost all cases of disgust with non-politically correct jokes or cartoons or whatever, the real issue is not that this is so very offensive, it’s not even that the joke is at someone else’s expense. The real crux of the matter is that it’s bad writing, they’re bad jokes. Whether it’s Hugh Dallas’s exceedingly boring paedo stop sign those pathetic Danish cartoons (A bomb for a turban – jaysus) or Olé’s mirá los negritos, che, qué bestias que son, loco, the one thing that really stands out like a throbbing Isreali techno tent in Tunis is the poverty of the author’s imagination. Bad jokes are good, crass jokes are bad.
We should finish there; why even continue when everyone stopped reading about a thousand words ago? The paper of the Olé sitting next to us on our scribbling rock is already yellowing with age and damp from the sea breezes that beset this cave. Nonetheless, we have one more item to bring to your attention, oh dear, loyal, so faithful and handsome readers.
Take a minute, clean your glasses, adjust yourself in your seat, leave off torturing the lab mice you keep in your pockets, enough already with the lotion, concentrate as you would if you were stalking a bird, and check out this picture. Is there anything odd about it?
Pegamequemegusta found this photograph in a phone box whilst looking for change a few years ago. Let us assure you it has no message on the back, no phone number or any such appeal. Intrigued, we took it back to our cave and studied it. At first we weren’t sure as to why it exerted such a hold on our attention, why it mesmerised us so. It’s just a man standing on the coast, near the casino in the centre of Mar del Plata. The picture is nice enough but spoiled somewhat by the intrusion of the ugly apartment blocks that blight that part of the city. However, we soon began, if not to explain the mystery itself, at least to understand that we were faced with a real riddle.
It’s a very sunny day. A perfect day in fact – there’s not even a whifter of a cloud in the sky! Delightful, azure, Virgin Mary blue, celestial god-loving and god-loved Argentine blue splashes itself across the sky of the kind He saw when He stepped back from His divine canvas and pronounced “It was good.” So it’s a positive picture, grand. But as we said, this is the centre of Mar del Plata yet there are next to no people around. A few can be seen dawdling in the background but nothing compared to the hoardes of porteño ne’erdowells who tend to herd themselves in this particular concourse, next to the main beach as it is. Very strange. Moreover, our subject just happens to be standing right in front of the statue to Almirante Brown – is this another instance of outlandish Paddy bashing?! Left precisely where they knew we would drag our limbs in search of sustenance-giving change, zounds!
This somewhat hysterical reaction was dispelled, however, as we found our next clue. Like Indiana Jones parting the cobwebs as he advances in his quest for the Grail, we penetrated further into the dusty heart of the matter. Although our man is clearly of African descent, aren’t we all, that in itself is not so strange as although the rest of the year there are basically NO black people in Mar del Plata in summer there do appear people of all hues plying their trades and wares along the coast. No, what is more interesting is his outfit. Look closely: he has a Barcelona jersey on (with UNICEF on it), a Chicago Bulls chain, no doubt some international brand of cool sunglasses and the ensemble is topped off by an Italy hat – this is the international man! This is the future! You might say that it’s merely globalisation, but I put it to you, oh poor dear soul of eyes and heart ashened before you’ve even known the flames, I put it to you that our man here is fully conscious of his actions, of his appearance. His whole persona is a post-Warholian propaganda exercise, he is a preacher not given to public speaking but instead a man of action, subtle, graceful actions like leaving pictures in a phone box, of gestures that draw us in and wake up our minds to the symbolic power of the world and the beauty to be found therein, the blue sky, the sunshine, the relaxed yet impressively stern gaze, the wandering preacher spreading the Word in mysterious ways. This is a world pegamequemegusta would gladly leave our cave for.
If anyone falsely charges that this is more light-hearted than becomes a theologian
or more biting than becomes a Christian
– tis not I,
but Democritus said it.