Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Further Musings from the Far South (Dr. Joel Horowitz)

Last Thursday, I flew from Buenos Aires to Argentina’s second city, Córdoba, to give a talk at the University of Córdoba, the country’s oldest university. The university dates from the seventeenth century, though most of the university is presently housed on a campus away from the city center. This is unlike its peer in Buenos Aires, where each of the different faculties (schools) have buildings scattered around the city and there is no direct physical contact between them. The newer university buildings in Córdoba are attractive, if somewhat Spartan. They do have a newly rebuilt library with plenty of space to study and use computers and open stacks. The talk went well.

I stayed in the home of the colleague who invited me and her husband who teaches bio-chemistry. It was extraordinarily pleasant. I stayed in a little house on the back of the property, which the husband uses for a study. One day, while I was there, my hosts put on an asado (a traditional Argentine barbeque) for me and some of their friends, and it was wonderful.

Córdoba has about a million and a half people, and it is not surprisingly quieter and more laid back than Buenos Aires. It also has much more of a colonial past that is still visible. The so-called block of the Jesuits is a world historical site and includes the old university building, a church etc. It is very lovely. Interestingly, while I was downtown, there was some sort of a rally for Franciscan education. High school students had been bused in and the kids were wearing their different school uniforms and waving the Vatican flag. They were being sheparded around by a group of young friars. What the rally was about, I have no idea.

Córdoba is currently suffering from a severe drought, and it looks extraordinarily dry. The grass is all dead. More importantly, if it continues, it should have a large impact on the world’s soy bean supply as well as the city’s water supply.

In Buenos Aires, I have been riding the subway a great deal. It is the easiest way to get around, because of the increased street traffic. The number of automobiles has increased dramatically in the last few years, making bus travel slow. The subways are old. The oldest line dates from before World War I, and most of the rest was built in the 1930s. In recent years, several of the lines have been extended further, which may not have been the best strategy, since it just means the lines become even fuller than previously. It is difficult to increase the frequency of the trains without new cars and changes in the signal systems. Two lines have new stations which are ready but are not being used until new cars arrive. At peak hours, which are many, the subways are extraordinarily full. They make subway cars at rush hour in New York look empty. My favorite line is the oldest, since many of the cars are wooden and date from the 1920s or are older. One almost has the feeling that one is taking a step back in time, except for the clothes that people are wearing. (For those of you who have seen “Midnight in Paris”—the Woody Allen film- it almost has that air. I think that someone should make a film with that line in a central scene.) Many of the subway stations have tile murals. My favorite is a new mural which is of the cartoon character Malfalda—who is a Spanish language icon (a Peanuts with bite). (To see part of the mural

The styles of the line vary because of when and by whom the lines were built. The first line was built by a British owned trolley company. One other line is built in the US style, and the other lines are Spanish in style. I have not seen the newest line, which is only partially finished, and as of yet does not go anywhere I want to go. A side and interesting feature of the subways is that they run on the “wrong side.” Why? Because when they were first built, the autos drove on the English side. It is only after World War II that cars started to be driven on the “correct” side and the timing is an indication of the changing nature of world economical and political hegemony (the rise of the US).

Not surprisingly many young people wear shirts with slogans written on them, many in English. The only surprising thing is what some of them say. One only hopes that the wearers do not understand what their shirts say.

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