Saturday, May 28, 2005
A 1950’s science fiction movie set brought to life. This was my first impression after a short trip to Brasília, the capital of
I was also shocked that this modern urban and architectural wonder was built in an incredibly short period of time. Under the command of socialist Juscelino Kubitschek, Brazilian president from 1956-61, Brasília was built in the middle-of-nowhere in just over three years (1957-1960).
The science fiction movie remark is due to the widespread modernist architecture – that is, a rejection of past architectural traditions, tonnes of concrete, and buildings that belong in a futuristic utopia that was imagined 50 years ago.
It is evident that the urban planner, Lúcio Costa, had a clear priority: efficiency and functionality. The city is built with many freeways and roads that lack traffic lights, intersections and sidewalks. A driver’s heaven. A pedestrian’s hell.
The main avenue is lined with countless rectangular government ministries that lead up to three eccentric buildings that are positioned in a perfect triangle. This equilibrium symbolizes the balance of power between the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. The city is filled with buildings, statues, monuments, etc. that intentionally serve both functional and symbolic roles for the nation’s capital.
For a student of political science, the city’s emphasis on administration is particularly fascinating. I also imagine that architects and urban planners would consider Brasília as an exceptional case study for analyzing what is right (and wrong) with modernism.
Despite being created with the most honourable of intentions and grand ambitions, the 45 year old city suffers from some serious problems.
Its socialist creators aimed to create class-uniting, self-contained residential communities for a city of 500,000 people. Yet in a short amount of time satellite towns popped up in the suburbs – one of which is already larger than
As mentioned, the city is ideal for car owners. Anyone who has to take public transport, mostly the poor, or simply wishes to walk, has to deal with a lack of sidewalks, extensive distances, and a dangerous absence of traffic lights and crosswalks.
The lack of people on the streets gives Brasília a colder, isolated feel. I found the city difficult to associate with what I imagined to be a livelier, colourful culture. And while there is a lot of grass and trees – an abundant 25 square meters per person - the overwhelming amount of concrete, roads and cars, overshadow this well intended initiative.
Admittedly, I was a bit sceptical when I found out that my first trip to
I have long wanted to visit
During visits to
Considering that Brazil almost has five times the population, three times the land mass, and over three times the wealth (in GDP terms) than Argentina, it is logical to expect a one-sided integration and influence. It is not surprising that
Given this complicated relationship, upon arriving in
The most memorable part of the trip was meeting a couple of people, of about my age, who work at the UNESCO office.
Sunday, May 22, 2005
Saturday, May 21, 2005
Cromagnon (a synonym for corruption).
A night before New Year’s eve celebrations, a concert was held by a group called the Callejeros. Generally, the band holds concerts in outdoor or large enough venues that allow for the use of flares. Cromagnon was considered so unsafe for pyrotechnics that the Callejeros pleaded with their groupies that if a flare was lit, there would be a disaster.
A few moments into the show, someone lit a flare that engulfed the entire ceiling in flames within seconds. The ceiling was covered in a plastic net that produced flames and smoke that instantly converted the club into a gas chamber filled with over 1,500 youths.
If such a tragedy had occurred in North America (indeed, a similar tragedy did take place a couple of years ago in a Rhode Island concert which left almost a 100 dead), the pursuit of ‘justice’ would be fairly straightforward: the club owners, organizers and band members would investigated. Charges and lawsuits would ensue.
However, in a country were corruption is as widely practiced as fútbol, the question of justice is far more complicated.
Indeed, many consider the case of Cromagnon to be a test of
Investigations have revealed that many deaths could have been avoided had four out of the six fire exits not been chained shut to avoid people from sneaking into the concert. Several babies and children were among the dead as a makeshift nursery was created in the women’s washroom. The club was overdue for a fire hazard inspection. Not surprisingly, many flaws in the city’s inspection services have surfaced.
Most Argentines have channelled their outrage into calls for punishment. Many not only want the club’s owner behind bars, but government leaders as well. I am probably in a minority that is more interested in knowing what concrete measures will be taken to prevent another Cromagnon.
At times, I have been shocked by how much the sadness and rage produced by the tragedy has been sensationalized and politicized. Cromagnon consumed so much of the media that a tsunami which killed over 200,000 people was not given the attention it warranted.
In an emotionally charged atmosphere filled with powerful figures joining the masses in calls for a narrow definition of justice, that is, one of revenge and retribution, I wonder if
Despite the incredibly slow pace, I believe the government is on the right path.
In what has been a painful process for families and friends, it took the state about five months to bring criminal charges to officials. So far, about 10 police officers and inspectors have been charged, along with the club’s owner and security chief, who face murder charges. The owner is also guilty of bribing officers to turn a blind eye from what became murderous concert venue.
Aside from tracking down those directly responsible for what happened, the city also took a deeper look at the problems with
Realizing that countless clubs and bigger bars were violating many building codes, fire regulations and were also bribing officials, the government decided to shutdown ALL clubs and bars with dance floors for a minimum of two to three months while inspections and changes were made.
Since reopening, I have noticed that clubs are no where near as crowded as they used to be. Fire exits are easy to spot. It's almost impossible to enter a club past . And my 15 year cousin constantly complains about how hard it is for her and her friends to go out dancing.
If you know
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
To my surprise, I came across an academic study that not only confirms this statement but also presents some impressive figures: "If we only count stadiums within the Federal District of Buenos Aires there are 18, but if we expand the range into the province of Buenos Aires just ten kilometres the number quickly increases to 35. Six of these stadiums (Boca Juniors, River Plate, San Lorenzo, Velez Sarsfield, Racing Club, and Independiente) have capacities of more than 50,000...."
The author of this study also asserts “that one cannot fully understand the culture of Buenos Aires and Argentina without having at least some understanding of what happens in the stadiums.”
I couldn’t agree more with this statement.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a fairly devoted fan of North America’s major sports. Unfortunately, the concept of professional soccer in Canada is an oxymoron. Being an Argentine by birth has carried with it the obligation of being a life long soccer aficionado.
As the most widely played and watched sport in the world, soccer reaches a level of fanaticism that is absent in North American sports. One only needs to attend a soccer game to understand that fútbol means much more to Argentina than hockey does to Canada, and much more than Baseball and Football do to the US. Probably only Brazil has a similar, if not greater, obsession.
I come from a relatively non-religious family - unless you consider fútbol to be God. In line with two generations of Filmus males, I was baptised a Club Atlético de San Lorenzo de Almagro fan before conception.
My family, like most fútbol fans, can be considered moderate followers (I’ll address the fundamentalists in a bit). My father has recounted stories of going to the stadium with an umbrella to avoid being urinated on when walking below the stands. Recently, my great uncle’s ashes were buried behind the net on the field belonging to his beloved Argentinos Juniors fútbol club. These and other stories are all too common in the world of fútbol loyalty.
Since arriving in Buenos Aires, I’ve attended almost every San Lorenzo home game in what has been one of their worst seasons in history. Last weekend I witnessed a shocking San Lorenzo victory over River Plate that ended a 15-game winless streak.
While I enjoyed the euphoria that came with beating one of the best, and thus most hated, teams, I will admit that I didn’t mind going to the stadium to watch my team lose. The creativity, passion, and vulgarity expressed in the heckling and hissing was an event in and of itself. During the 15-game winless streak, I watched passionate San Lorenzo fans get progressively angrier and louder, bringing them to the brink of violence.
San Lorenzo’s once popular coach was forced to resign after the 14th winless game. It is said he would have resigned earlier had he not been paying off the barra bravas (hooligans) to support him. During this alleged agreement which lasted a few games, most of the stadium's heckling was directed at the players themselves, the opposing team, the referee, and at times, the team’s president. However, the coach’s decision to finally leave demonstrates that money can buy you very little impunity when you are losing in the crazed world of Argentine fútbol.
In the days leading up to this last game, it was rumoured that if the team extended their streak to a 16th game, violence would be deployed to get the attention of executive board. Out of precaution, I sat with my uncle and grandfather in the upper deck seats – far removed from the box office seats belonging to the team’s directors. Luckily, San Lorenzo pulled off an incredible upset and violence was averted.
When a team is performing poorly or is playing against a hated adversary, the prospect of violence is greatly elevated. The barra bravas (hooligans) are often led by fanatics who are essentially mob bosses that are involved in the many lucrative branches of organized crime. Extortion is often used against one’s own players and coaches in order to extract bribes in exchange for ‘protection’. These hooligans widely consider violence to be an appropriate way to demonstrate support for one’s team. They often see games as battlefields, and target the opposing team’s fans as if there was an irreconcilable personal hatred between them.
This fanatical “us-versus-them” mentality is most blatantly expressed in the Boca Juniors and River Plate rivalry. Probably more than half of the country’s fútbol fans pledge allegiance to either of these teams who have dominated the league for about a century.
From a sociological perspective, these adversaries represent much more than just fútbol hostility inside a stadium. These opponents also symbolize the important divide between the haves and have-nots in Argentine society.
Boca Juniors, located in the working class south of Buenos Aires, has typically been known as the ‘team of the people’. River Plate, located in the wealthy north of the city, has been nicknamed los millonarios, and is generally supported by upper class porteños. Although the class line is not firmly drawn among the fan base, the hatred is.
A Boca-River game, known as a superclásico, places the country at a standstill as the stadium literally trembles. Some label it the greatest rivalry in sports – in an elite category of derbies with Madrid/Barcelona (Spanish soccer), Inter Milan/AC Milan (Italian soccer), Yankees/Red Sox (Baseball), Maple Leafs/Canadiens (Hockey) Michigan/Ohio State (US College Football), etc. Undoubtedly, Argentines will refute these comparisons and label this confrontation as the most important sporting event in the universe (outside of Argentina playing in the World Cup, of course)
Two weekends from now is the date of the next superclásico. If I can manage to land a ticket I will have the opportunity to get severe goose bumps from what will undoubtedly be a passionate and profanity laced event - and hopefully a peaceful one as well.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Beauty of Buenos Aires
The metropolis of around 13 million people is commonly nicknamed the “Paris of Latin America”. I guess if one considers the spectacular grand avenues, countless plazas, stunning architecture, fine cuisine, thriving nightlife, and its reputation as the capital of psychoanalysis,
That being said, porteños (as
After a year in
Contrasting what I see as pervasive emotional repression in
I imagine that this emotional openness has better prepared porteños to deal with the recent economic depression. I often ask myself how is it that despite the crisis, that I see people from all walks of life, smiling more, laughing more, hugging more, and kissing more than I’m used to seeing in Toronto (proudly known as one of the “best places to live in the world”)?
The nightlife in
A typical Friday or Saturday night for young porteños, usually 16 years old until their mid 30s, involves the following:
10 or 11PM: dinner with friends
: pre-drinking at a bar, house or park
: dancing at a club until daylight (usually between and ).
This club and bar scene reflects a wide-ranging porteño passion for leisure and entertainment. I am often shocked by how long the movie lines are for mediocre
There are too many soccer stadiums in
This evening I will be attending for the first time in my life what is probably considered to be the most pure porteño cultural expression: a tango show. Famous Argentine writer, Jorge Borges once said: We might say that without the evenings and nights of
Given that I have yet to develop an appreciation for dance in any form that does not involve loud music and alcohol until six in the morning, I am looking forward to the experience.