“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”
– Rabindranath Tagore, Indian Poet & Essayist
Buenos Aires – I’m now convinced. Argentines will stand in line for anything. Patiently. I rarely hear anyone complain while they stand in line. Sometimes for hours and hours. It’s just an acceptance of some sort of lot in life. Yesterday found me popping in to catch the last of Expopatagonia at La Rural, where, various billboards and adverts assured me, I’d find out everything I ever wanted to know about Patagonia, sample regional products, hear regional music, etc. What I found was a whole lot of lines. Like this one. These folks are queued up to have a moment to sit in the seats of that big new luxury sleeper bus on the other side of them. Now, that bus can seat around 60 folk, so you’d think that a line of 50-60 would move relatively fast. But… no. Folks were being taking on 2-4 at a time, I think it was just individual families. Then, they spent 4-5 minutes inside, getting a tour of the bus and a spiel about the busline.
Now, queuing up to see a luxury bus was not on my agenda, so I didn’t. I also didn’t get in the similar length lines for tasting a ¼ ounce of various artesanal liqueurs being offered by any of half a dozen producers, nor the same for wine, cheese, cookies, or, simply to get a brochure about one tour company or another. And tour companies and tourist hotels were truly the order of the day, the vast majority of the exhibits were one or the other. There are apparently a lot of spa hotels in Patagonia. At one time, there were apparently dinosaurs, but they weren’t interesting to anyone but me – even the attendant seemed bored by this stack of bones. She wasn’t really attending the dinosaur, but the large sandbox in front of it, where if you wanted, you could “dig” for fossils. No one was.
The new anti-smoking law went into effect here yesterday. Surprisingly little attention has been given to it in the media. I remember long diatribes in newspapers, speeches on radio and television, etc., when the U.S. first put some of the laws into effect. When New York outright banned smoking in restaurants and bars a few years ago, the demise of dining and drinking was predicted in various doomsday scenarios. Here, it seems to be being taken with a shrug of the shoulders, which, given the Argentine disposition to avoid, ignore, and/or circumvent laws and regulations whenever it seems convenient to do so, means that most likely folks figure that they’ll just go ahead and smoke where they want to, regardless, and few restaurants will pay attention anyway, at least not after the initial introduction.
On the other hand, we stopped in at a neighborhood cafe that usually has a grey haze hanging about it that’s difficult to see through, and not a single person indoors was smoking, all were stepping outside to puff away. Of course, it was a gorgeous day. Today’s pouring rain at a level that Noah would have worried about, so I imagine they’re all back inside. It’s hard to say where this will go – a similar ban went into effect in all public offices about a year ago, but you can walk into most any governmental office and not only are the folks waiting in line (patiently, I might add once again) smoking away, but so are the officials behind the desks… except, interestingly, at the migraciones office, where they seem to take the ban seriously. My understanding of the new law is that all smaller restaurants and cafes are now completely non-smoking areas, whereas larger places are allowed to have a small section for smokers, but with some sort of spacial separation (their tables, not them).
I had momentary visions of a new addiction. And it’s so not in keeping with the local spice avoidance character that I had to do a double-take. A “Spicy Fort” chocolate bar – milk chocolate with black and red pepper flakes in it. At a full peso for a 17 gram (less than an ounce) bar, it’s expensive for a candy bar here. I took it home with great anticipation. I checked the ingredients – sugar, powdered skim and whole milk, cocoa butter, cocoa “mass”, black pepper, chili flakes, soy lecithin, and vanillin. Nothing sounding like something I wouldn’t be willing to eat. Unfortunately, it sucks. No balance to the flavor at all – clearly just designed to shock the palate, more with black pepper than red. But then, it was on display in the local locutorio, an internet station packed with teens gaming away their pesos (I should talk, I just play the same games from home…).
I’m still not getting the hang of any connection with the local Jewish community. When I’d visited the major conservative temple on a tour a few months back, I was assured that “attending” was not an issue. Now, generally, Friday nights I’m busy with the Casa S dinners, but I thought I’d check it out for the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services. Couldn’t get anyone to return my calls or e-mails over the last few weeks. Same at any of the others I tried. The Israeli embassy suggested a local community organization, AMIE that might know – it’s nearby to my house, but the guard outside refused to let me enter to ask my question, as he didn’t feel I had a legitimate reason to go in the building. I could have gone to one of the hassidic shuls, but that’s a little more intense than I wanted to deal with. So I stayed in last night and listened to an online broadcast of a Kol Nidre service (probably the most beautiful service in our religion, at least my view) from a congregation in upstate New York! Not quite the same, but gave some sort of satisfaction to the evening. It’s not a thing of major importance to me, but I like having at least a tenuous connection to my roots…