Thursday, July 27, 2006

End of the World in Argentina

When the sky turned dark as night at 4 in the afternoon and moments later hail the size of plums plumeted (couldn´t resist that) from the sky, turning on car alarms and breaking windows, the students in my class all turned to each other with the same thought: "¡Es el fin del mondo!" It´s all over folks. Al Gore was right. And he even talked about the glacier that was shrinking not that far south of here in Patagonia.

As we watched from our 4th floor classroom in the Universidad de Belgrano, thunder roared, hail poured down on fleeing pedestrians and we saw the back windows on two cars cave in. Hail was followed by rain, buckets of it. The storm was over in 20 minutes but Ofelia told me this morning that 300 taxis were damaged and many people were sent to the hospital with bloody heads. According to this morning´s Buenos Aires Herald (in English), 14 people were injured, subway and train service was disrupted, streets were flooded and numerous accidents clogged highways. Eugenia, our teacher (who is probably in her early 30´s) said she had never seen a storm like that. One of our students, Marilyn, said it brought back memories for her of being in a high-rise building during the ´89 quake. The disaster syndrome.

I can´t say that my lessons are going well. I tanked an exam yesterday because the more I study the difference between verbs in the preterito and verbs in the infinitivo, the more confused I become. Spanish has a way to discriminate between completed activities in the past and ongoing actions. But there are numerous exceptions, at least so it seems to me. On the other hand, I´m enjoying the conversations enormously. One day we described movie plots and the others had to guess. My account in Spanish of "Superman Returns" was fairly easy. Yesterday we got together in groups of three and came up with stories about fiestas. Each member of the group told a story about a similar party and the others had to guess which of the three had really attended it. It was, as we say, "muy divertida."

Yesterday morning I went to meet with Juan De Wandelear, a friend of Phil McManus´s. He works in the baroque city hall in the Comision Pro Monumento a Las Victimas del Terrorism de Estado. I didn´t get to find out what he does because he was unable to keep the appointment. We´re made arrangements by email to reschedule for next week when I also hope to meet with Phil´s other friend here, Beverly Keene, an American who has lived in BsAs for 20 years.

After a slow cafe, and a stab at doing homework, in the atmospheric Le Pureto Rico near the Plaza de Mayo, I took a taxi to the Mueseum de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, better known as the Malba, which opens daily at noon. It opened in 2001 to house the private collection of Argentine multimillionaire Eduardo Constantini, and includes Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. There was an exhibit of drawings by Roy Lichtenstein in the upper of the two floors of the very modern and airy museum. I recall meeting him in 1967 when the Hollywood PR firm I was working for was hired by the Pasadena Art Museum, before Norton Simon took it over, to do publicity for a show of his work. Since I lived in Pasadena, I was in charge. It was humiliating. Since our specialty was celebrities, we made a spectacle of his show. And we erected a building on La Cienega in art gallery row which we had him unveil while the docents of the museum served tea to the media, dressed, for some unknown reason, in 19th century costumes. I recall Lichtenstein as being tall, thin and shy. But he climbed up to the billboard and unveiled it for the cameras while I cringed.

I was less interested in Lichtenstein´s pop art than the permanent collection which included Antonio Berni. The day before Eugenia had shown me a postcard of one of his works. It´s a large painting called "Manifestation (demonstration)" and it shows a variety of faces with a sign in the back saying "pan y trabajo (bread and work)." It was painted in the 30´s and obviously shows people suffering from the world-wide Depression. I found it an icon in general for suffering; very moving. I also liked his later work which include college, assemblage and sculpture. In the evening I browsed at La Ateneo, supposedly in the biggest bookstore in South America, but was unable to find a small book of his work. One of the more recent works in the collection was a large model of a U.S. Air Force jet headed downward which was hanging from the ceiling. Attached to the jet was a crucified Christ. Done by Leon Ferrar in 1966, the piece was entitled: "Western Christian Civilization." How very true. It was like a kick in the stomach. On a pedestal stood a bottle of red water which was entitled "Rhine Water Polluted: H20 + 10,000 Poisons," by Nicolas Garcia Uriburu. It reminded me of Duchamp´s found art. And finally, there was a huge painting on a balcony outside of an armed battle between revolutionaries and the authorities that was extremely powerful. I´m not sure if it was modeled after an actual event or something imagined.

Great art and a hail storm in one day. Life in Buenos Aires is full of surprises.

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