Argentina Politics

A Bilingual Treat

Growing up in multiple cultures can, sometimes, be difficult, but it also has it’s joys.  I was recently gifted a book by a friend entitled Ramon Writes.  Now, this book can’t be understood by anyone who doesn’t meet the following criteria:  A) lived in Buenos Aires for at least a few years, B) speaks fluent English and understands the culture of the large British emigration to Argentina in the late 19th century and C) speak fluent idiomatic Spanish–particularly focused on Buenos Aires slang from the 20th century.

Ramon Writes_Buenos Aires Herald_Basil Thomson

A tiny group, surely?

Apparently not.  Item A is dispensed with reasonably easily, as 15 million, give or take the odd million people currently reside here.  B is the one that seems to be the stumbling block unless one realizes that like most third world countries, the good schools are mostly British, which means that many middle-class and upper-middle-class children grow up with at least a passing knowledge of the culture needed, as well as a high level of proficiency in English.  C is pretty much everyone, so no problem there, except that it excludes foreigners.

The analysis above isn’t necessary, though.  My edition of the book is a third edition from 2007, meaning the two earlier ones sold well enough to justify this.

So what IS Ramon Writes?  It’s a collection of pieces from the sorely missed Buenos Aires Herald newspaper, once a bastion of culture which was eventually destroyed by both the internet and an unfortunate change of ownership but which, for 140 years gave Argentina one of the few decent sources of actually objective news for intelligent humans in the country (along with the La Nación newspaper… and nothing else). Also, it was the only place that ran peanuts cartoons; enough said!

These pieces ran from 1949 to 1977 and tell the story of the scion of a traditional British / Argentine family who is essentially what we’d call a vago atorrante (it translates roughly as ne’er-do-well, but has much deeper cultural meaning in Argentina).  This is a personality type which is well suited for life in Buenos Aires in that era, but not so much to keep with the expectations of his respectable family.  Being a ne’er-do-well doesn’t disqualify one from society, you just have to take the barbed comments!

They’re funny and entertaining but more importantly they’re also a veiled critique of life and morals at street level but also among the high society, while not shying away from the occasional barbed comment aimed at the politicians of the day.  When you realize that those politicos included people such as Perón and the military dictators of the 1970s, men with a true lack of anything resembling a sense of humor, you also end up admiring the courage these took.  Basil Thomson, the man behind the columns, could easily have had serious trouble because of what he wrote.

Anyhow, this is a tiny piece of extremely local color that serendipity dropped on my doorstep, and I decided to share with you.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  His latest is a very silly fantasy novel entitled The Malakiad.

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National Geographic Sells Out

Our Editor-in-Chief is back… and, as usual, he sounds off on something that bugs him.

National Geographic Centro Cultural Kirchner

So, I was recently dismayed to learn that National Geographic has issued a Special Edition in Spanish about the Nestor Kirchner Cultural Center in Argentina.

On the surface, this would seem to be reasonably aligned with National Geographic’s mission.  After all, on their website, National Geographic says that they want to inspire, illuminate and teach.  But (there always seems to be a “but” in these things, doesn’t there…) it isn’t quite that simple.

You see, this latest supplement is not a simple article about a cultural center that many people in the Spanish-speaking world are likely to be interested in.  This, as so ably chronicled by La Nación, Argentina’s most respected newspaper, is a particularly crass pandering to media dollars by the society in a critical election year in that South American country.  The cultural center is not just named after the current Kirchnerist government’s founder, but is also a monument to their belief that an ideal world can only be reached through their particular continuation of Mussolini’s old ideas, reinforced with concepts of isolationism, populism and certain elements of postmodern socialism.

Of course, it can be argued that a democratic country’s culture is well-reflected by its government, so the supplement is a valid informative piece – except for the fact that just a month before it hit the streets, 60% of Argentina’s population voted against the Kirchnerist government in an obligatory presidential first round election.

Even if the population hadn’t expressed its desire to find a different, more modern road forward, the supplement itself reads like a political manifesto written by a virulent opposer of free market economics (which is weird, because the last time I checked, the Society was based in a somewhat non-socialist country), savagely criticizing what many feel to be the last true era of modernization in the country.

Worse still, one of the spokespeople for the government appears in no less than four photos…

We’ve sounded off against the sheer barefaced destruction of the truth by this government before, but I sincerely can’t believe that a publication as well-respected as National Geographic would publish something like this for any amount of money.  This is a government that has lied about inflation statistics – even firing members of the statistics bureau who wished to inform the true numbers – and attacked the free press openly and violently during its entire run.

It is a government that has actively attempted to promote ignorance and isolation – everything that National Geographic is supposed to combat.  But it seems that this government’s desperate election money was stronger than the principles established for so long.

National Geographic has betrayed out trust.

But worse, it has betrayed itself.