Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bulletins From BA #15

Bulletins From BA #15
30 junio 2013

¡Hola! there… Rodger French here.

“Cementerio de la Chacarita”

If you’re interested in Argentine history, one of the places you have to visit in Buenos Aires is the Cementerio de la Chacarita, also known as the National Cemetery. Anne and I previously visited Cementerio de la Recoleta, which is downtown, compact, and crowded with turistas. Chacarita is located in the western part of Buenos Aires and is a much larger and quieter city of the departed. It is also the site of the tomb of Carlos Gardel, who died tragically in a plane crash in 1935.

It is impossible to overestimate Gardel’s importance to Argentina. He was a brilliant singer, gifted composer, and genuine Latin superstar. Historical comparisons can be dicey, but in some Spanish-speaking countries of Latin and South America, Carlos Gardel was as idolized in his day as Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson were in theirs. 78 years on, many people, mostly locals, still make the pilgrimage to his gravesite, where they honour him by placing a lighted cigarette between the fingers of his statue. A fitting tribute, if kind of gross.

[Musical Sidebar - For my part, I have managed to learn and memorize two of Gardel’s most beautiful and famous compositions: “El Día Que Me Quieras” and “Por Una Cabeza.” When I play them, my breath and that of my accordion become one. (Por favor, perdona el interludio rapsódico.)]

Speaking of tango, last evening, A.J. and I went to a performance of Orquesta de Tango del IUNA (Instituto Universitario Nacional del Arte), a 13-piece ensemble that performs classic arrangements from the 1930s and 40s. Listening to a real orchestra play this wonderful music is a thrilling experience and the ensemble was excellent.

There was, inevitably, a catch. The venue is a converted house, so the performance space is bifurcated, with one room facing the musicians and the other room facing stage left. As a musician, I found this arrangement to be the stuff of nightmares. Also, the sound suffered somewhat from the fact that every surface in both rooms was reflective. Nonetheless, the group played con brio and the packed house was most appreciative. And, the concert was free and the venue is a five-minute walk from our apartment, so…

In other news, we’re headed Stateside on July 4, after the humongous official reception at the Ambassador’s residence. This is a business trip, since Anne has a conference in DC. Afterward, we’ll go to Fairhope, AL for a few days for visits and appointments, and then fly back to BA. FYI, we do expect to return to the U.S. in December for R & R and a longer visit, during which we’ll have more time to make the grand circuit and catch up with family and friends.

Meanwhile, hasta luego; and if you aren’t familiar with the music of Carlos Gardel, I sincerely recommend that you check it out. La música es la vida.



Sunday, June 2, 2013

Bulletins From BA #14

Bulletins From BA #14
02 junio 2013

¡Hola! there… Rodger French here.


It’s a quiet Sunday here on Avenida del Libertador; just an elderly miniature poodle named Sam and myself lounging on the luxurious State Department furniture. We eat, we doze, we watch TV, and I occasionally take Sam out to pee on unsuspecting curbs. We are currently living very comfortable, boring lives. There are, of course, explanations.

1. Anne is attending a conference this week in Santiago, Chile and running amok with her sister IROs.

2. Sam’s humans have gone to the States to tend to some sad, though not unexpected, family matters, leaving us (meaning me) with doggie duties.

3. A combination of age, stress, and exertion has left me with severe back pain, the kind of severe back pain that requires spending as much time as possible in prone positions. (My condition is, thankfully, improving daily.)

This state of lethargy is assuredly a radical departure from the past few weeks. For example, Anne was the Embassy’s point person for The 39th Buenos Aires International Book Fair, so she and, to a certain extent, I (being her wingman) were all up in it for three weeks. It was un gran éxito (a great success) and A.J. and the entire Public Affairs Section were cubierto de gloria (covered in glory).

Then, not altogether inexplicably, I landed a grant to teach juggling workshops and present accordion concerts at several BNCs (Binational Centers) in the NW provinces of Argentina. Since Anne was due to visit these places anyway, we teamed up and took our act on the road.

There was no shortage of drama at the outset. The customized juggling props (beanbags embossed with the Embassy logo) did not arrive from the States until the day before we were due to depart. This necessitated us transporting a very large/heavy prop bag in addition to a very large/heavy accordion in a very large/heavy flight case. But, OK, that’s part of the deal.

Not part of the deal was a wildcat strike by airline baggage handlers that forced us to (a) reschedule our departure, (b) reclaim our already checked large/heavy baggage, and (c) return home only to come back the following day and hope for the best. Fortunately, our second attempt to get out of Buenos Aires was successful.

The rest of the week went like clockwork. We even managed to work in a long day of touring in the mountains NW of Salta, not far from Bolivia. It is a beautiful, stunningly desolate area, inhabited by people decidedly not of European extraction. There is also a lot less oxygen that we are use to. More than once, I had to remind myself to don’t forget to breath. (En español: “No te olvides de respirar.”)

Salta itself is a lovely little city, and very tourist oriented. The visit to the Salta BNC - indeed, all the BNCs - went swimmingly. The workshop students were invariably polite and attentive, in spite of some space and time constraints, and took instruction well. A few actually learned to juggle. They were also very tolerant of (and amused by) my less than fluent español.

The audiences for the concerts, a mix of students, faculty, and the public, were enthusiastic and curious. The program itself was quite popular (especially the tangos, naturally) and prompted mucho interest. At each BNC, audience members, mostly students, stayed on after the concert, posing for photoz and asking all sorts of questions until the place closed.

[Musical Sidebar - Interestingly, many of the students did not know of Carlos Gardel ( and his importance to Argentine and South American culture, although they responded muy emocionalmente to his music. I did my best to elucidate.]

Fortunately, we had had sufficient foresight to engage a tour operator to schlep our baggage and us from town to town. From Salta, we drove to Tucuman, a fairly large and bustling city surrounded by sugar cane fields and, finally, to Santiago del Estero, a surprisingly nice little town in the middle of nowhere. Eventually, we made our way back to Tucuman and caught our return flight to BA. Without incident, I’m happy to report.

And now, here we are, a man and a dog, in the throes of transitory ennui. Pardon me, but Sam and I are off once more in search of unsullied curbs.