Thursday, September 15, 2011

Greetings from the far South (Dr. Joel Horowitz)

Argentina is a changing country. When I was here in the mid-1970s, the military was not only repressive, killing some 30,000 people, but was decidedly socially conservative as well. Certainly one of its targets was people who were different. Argentine has fairly recently passed a law legalizing gay marriage. One day this week the newspapers had a story about a captain and a coronel who had gotten married (both male). The military spokesman said something about obeying the laws of the land and made it appear to be no big deal and it was not.
One way in which the country has not changed is that it is still a country of book stores. There are numerous small book stores around and this afternoon (Saturday)I went to a giant one which had been converted from a large movie theater with a ceiling mural and boxes etc. It is full of books and had a fair number of CDs. I, of course, spent too much money but money on books is rarely wasted. By the way the music that was being played was the Beatles which added a certain air of incongruity. I do remember the place from when it showed movies and it was magnificent but given the economics of movies it was probably doomed. Most of the old theaters have closed and been replaced by multiplexes in other parts of the city.
One place in which the poverty in the country can be seen is on the formerly elegant shopping street of Florida. It is now mostly a tourist trap and far from elegant, though there are expensive stores. It is a walking street (no cars permitted) where the inhabitants of Buenos Aires used to walk to be seen. Clearly that is no longer the case. The middle of the street is full of venders selling all sorts of trinkets from blankets laid out on the pavement. This is a clear sign of true poverty.
The large number of small stores, while very nice, is also a sign of lack of wealth. For example the large number of places selling fruits and vegetables in my neighborhood has to mean that the profit margin is thin. Yet there is a wonderful sense of pride involved. Today I was in what has become my store (the owner seems already to recognize me but perhaps it is my accent), and I asked for some pears, the son told me that they were not yet ripe and would the day after tomorrow be okay. It was.

I was struck by the different attitude towards when university work is done, at least compared to Bonaventure. It is not uncommon to have seminars or talks on late Friday afternoons. Three of my five talks (I am now scheduled to give five presentations) are being held late on a Friday. It seems to me to be something that is unthinkable at SBU. I went to one such talk last Friday afternoon and everyone seemed to think it was normal. I did learn from one of the graduate students there that one of my pieces is required reading in the undergraduate history program at the University of Buenos Aires.
I have been on weekday going to the national library. I walk because the weather is nice and it is about a half an hour walk, which I enjoy. Because I have been reading an old magazine, no Xeroxing is allowed and I and everyone else are busy taking photographs with our digital cameras (Oh these modern tools). Speaking of ubiquitous, cells phones are everywhere. Someone told me, but I am not sure if the figure is correct, that Argentina has more cell phones than inhabitants. This is a major improvement over 36 years ago when having a telephone was relatively rare as one waited years for a line and public phones were frequently broken.

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