Monday, October 17, 2005

Kirchner, Charly and Messi

During my 50-day-or-so blogstinence, I’ve come up with countless things to write about. Instead of picking one theme like I usually do, I will discuss three strikingly different brushes with Argentine fame.


One afternoon I went to the presidential palace: la Casa Rosada (yes, the “Pink House”).

I attended a press conference announcing the passing of a bill entitled: the Law on Education Financing. The law promises to increase education funding as a percentage of national wealth (GDP) from its current figure of 4% to 6% by 2010. This goal is on par with what the most advanced countries spend on education.

It was incredible to witness the jubilation of the people in attendance. The president, his wife, the vice-president, the minister of education, the 23 provincial governors, along with cultural icons, such as the Nobel Peace prize winner, Adolfo Esquivel, legendary author Ernesto Sábato, and singer Leon Gieco were on hand to preside over the announcement of the law.

The event was particularly entertaining when it was officially over. Herds of teacher union leaders made their way over to President Kirchner to get their pictures taken. I was caught up in the hysteria and luckily had my camera with me. I managed to meet the jovial, clumsy and lazy eyed leader, shake his hand and get a photo taken with him. Unfortunately my only posed shot came out blurry. This “Forrest Gumped” shot is the best footage I have of the encounter:


At 3 am on a Saturday night, I stumbled into a club called Cocoliche. I made my way to the second floor in search of some friends. I came upon a room guarded by a bouncer. Judging by the tight security, I made it my mission to get in.

I decided to test out a new theory which I’ve been developing: English speakers automatically acquire a certain level of authority and respect simply for speaking English.

So, I confidently, yet politely, talked to the doorman with the least amount of Spanish as possible. My job was made a lot easier, when the door opened and I managed to peek inside and saw that a 6’4” American friend had already made into the private room. At this point I told the bouncer: “I am with el tall-o”. Magically, he said, “Ah, perdoname” and opened the door.

Once inside, I noticed that the room was quite small with only about 25-30 people. Everyone was focussed on a middle aged man singing and playing the guitar. Even though I was only standing 3 meters away from him I only saw a lanky, dishevelled Woody Allen look-alike.

I then clued in that this was Charly Garcia – possibly Argentina’s greatest rock star ever. Although he is virtually unknown outside of Latin America, Charly has produced music that is comparable to Springsteen’s popular classics in the USA. But what makes Charly unique is his combination of undeniable, ageless talent with eccentricity and bad boy behaviour which places him in a league with Ozzy Osbourne’s antics.

After covering several Rolling Stone’s tunes and swigging from a bottle of hard liquor, Charly took a much needed break. During this interval someone in the room grabbed the mic and began singing to Charly. At one point he got so close to his face that Charly pushed him away. The person didn’t seem to get the message, continued singing, and then got in Charly’s face again. This time Charly reacted with a couple of quick right crosses to the face of this crazed fan.

Before I knew it, the fragile, legendary rock star was clubbing an even frailer fan. The fight lasted for about 8 seconds before some people escorted the fan out of the room. Charly reluctantly returned to his show. After a couple of more songs, Charly clearly had had enough for the night. He walked out of the room.

As we were making sense of the impromptu concert/fight, everyone began spilling into the next room. On a couch, Charly was chatting up a much younger lady. Four meters from him stood the bruised man who took the beating. It turns out that this man was the boyfriend of the club’s owner. Charly didn’t seem to mind that he wasn’t kicked out of the club.

It was 5am and all was normal in the world of Charly and Argentine rocanrol.


Ok, this story doesn’t really involve an up close encounter. But since I’m such a big fútbol fan, being 30 meters away from an incredibly talented player is good enough to qualify.

A couple of weekends ago I attended Argentina’s second last World Cup qualifying match. The game was meaningless since Argentina had already qualified. Nevertheless, the game offered the coach the opportunity to test a promising star.

The entire country was interested in how 18 year old prodigy Lionel Messi, who has repeatedly been compared to Maradona, would fair in his first start on the national team.

The diminutive, 5’6”-169cm, Messi did not disappoint. In fact, he was by far the best player on the field. His ability to use his left foot to dart through the opposing team’s defence was very Maradonesque. His explosive first step, blinding speed, and unending hunger to attack were the highlights of the game.

In a single match, Messi already accomplished what most players take years if not months to accomplish: ensure a spot on the national roster for the 2006 World Cup to be held in Germany next summer.

On another fútbol note, this past weekend I made it to my first superclásico: Boca vs. River. The atmosphere was spectacular. I was scared to death, goose bumped, and uplifted in what was the best sporting atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of. It didn’t matter that the game ended 0-0 and the level of play was horrible. I will soon discuss the game in more detail and post some pics.