« A Very Porteño ChristmasOh Indeed »
01.09.2008

Nuevo Año

Porteños greeted the new year by fleeing the city as fast as gridlocked roads could take them. January is the month Buenos Aires takes its summer vacation, and the destination of choice is Mar del Plata, a seaside resort I have never visited. Given my love for crowds, heat and strangers' children it sounds it would be my own personal Mordor. "You can't even see the sand for all the people! It's an absolute madhouse!" Argentine friends tell me in horror, as they pack up their cars to head down there.

Buenos Aires itself is technically on the water, at the mouth of the River Plate, but access to the river is blocked by a fairly new riverfront park called the Reserva Ecológica. The reserva helps provide the city with the copious amounts of wetland acreage required to breed sufficient mosquitoes for a population of fiften million. As a side effect, the park is also home to numerous wading birds on bright-colored stick legs, as well as legions of young Argentine couples who have mastered the art of making out while walking. Pajeras y pájaros.

On New Year's Eve the city was as empty as I had ever seen it. I spent most of the evening with my new best friend, the three-speed fan (set on level two to create the illusion that I could hadle more heat), before heading out into the vacant streets a half hour before midnight. The city doesn't really have a central meeting point, but the Plaza de Mayo is home to the Argentine presidential residence and the locus of all protests in the city, and I figured something might be happening there.

The only people I could see in twenty minutes of walking were other tourists heading skeptically towards the plaza or the waterfront, along with a few bored cops. To my surprise, the plaza itself was completely deserted. The only people there were the striking riverboat casino workers who had chained themselves there over the holidays to protest their inability to earn an honest wage by seizing the means of consumption.

The casino workers had been demanding an audience with Cristina Kirchner, but the new President, fatigued by a simple misunderstanding involving a Hugo Chávez bagman who had been caught in Miami bringing her an $800,000 campaign contribution in a suitcase, had begun her term by going on a long vacation. The former senator and First Lady had drawn many comparisons to Hillary Clinton during her campaign, but as she flew the presidential plane (Tango 01) down to the scrubland of El Calafaté it was clear the better comparison was going to be with George W. Bush, another enemy of overwork. The casino workers were left to rattle their chains alone.

Most of the Casa Rosada was cordoned off by the usual set of riot barriers, their intimidating aspect undercut a little by the fact that they were covered in six layers of graffiti. But I noticed what seemed to be a big gap between the left side of the barriers and the edge of the street. Walking closer I saw three armored riot tanks and a group of about a dozen police officers in a festive mood, setting off flash grenades and drinking beer. They were standing in a semicircle around their riot tanks, in the best of spirits, and they paid no attention to the trickle of tourists creeping by as they pulled their pins.

Somewhere along the way to the waterfront it turned midnight and the taxicabs began merrily honking, even turning their lights on for brief, expensive seconds to celebrate the New Year. There was a hum coming from Puerto Madero, the revitalized waterfront district that looks like every other revitalized waterfront district in every other city in the world. The dique was packed with tourists, many of whom had brought large Chinese fiesta boxes of fireworks of the kind that could be set off with a simple car battery and would emit rockets in whatever direction they happened to be pointing. There was a splendid hour of drinking champagne nacionál, skittering out of the way of weaving groups of Mexican men and watching explosives fly back and forth over the narrow canal. There was even a little festive breeze to take the edge off the heat. It was 2008, everyone was happy, and you didn't need a suitcase full of dollars to know that it was going to be a very good year.

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