Canadian cyclist filmed his escape from an attempted armed robbery in Buenos Aires

I’m happy this Vancouverite is okay.

I lived in Buenos Aires for a year and most Argentines would always brag about how “warm” they are in comparison to North Americans.

But here in this video you see a female Porteño ride away from what could have been, in the worst case scenario (and I’m being generous here), an attempted murder.

What I realized during my year in the “Paris of South America” was that Argentines are very amorous people and that’s what they mean when they claim that they are so “warm”. Most male Argentines, from my experiences, believe that they’re entitled to sex.

Every person I met in BA had been a victim of crime, whether it was a mugging, petty theft, a break-in or in one harrowing tale, a kidnapping.

When I confided in locals about my experiences they reacted apathetically; one person told me, after I had been robbed, “At least you weren’t murdered.”

So “warm”.

I understand that Argentina is a poor country, but crime is rampant and locals are so desensitized to it that they don’t understand how foreign an experience it is for those from more developed, safer countries.

For me, being warm is more than cozying up to someone for sex, it’s about actually caring and helping a person when they’re in trouble. The man in the video was eventually rescued, not by a “warm” Argentine, but another Canadian.

I doubt he went to the police over the incident, because the COPS in BA are just as corrupt as their politicians.

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Relatos Salvajes/Wild Tales

Have you ever watched a movie trailer and realized you still know nothing more about the film other than the title? Well, here you go! Next week the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) sweeps through Toronto and the Argentine/Spanish film, Wild Tales, is getting a lot of positive reaction. I’m off to see it at the Elgin on Tuesday — hope it lives up to the hype.

According to TIFF’s description:

Wild Tales is also a portrait of contemporary Argentina: a society riddled with corruption, hampered by bureaucracy, and bogged down by tradition. Szifron’s film, by breaking down taboos and allowing its characters to say “fuck it all,” provides a cathartic release from the pressures of modern-day living — a release that provokes unrestrained, double-over-in-your-seat laughter.

Sidewalls

I watched this Argentine movie called Sidewalls on Netflix this past weekend. It tells the story of Martín and Mariana, two slightly damaged people who live in buildings opposite one another. While they often don’t notice each other, separation might be the very thing that brings them together. I love movies that explore loneliness. It was cute, so watch it when you get the chance.

The Day I Was Not Born

Maria, a young German woman is waiting in a Buenos Aires airport for her connecting flight to Chile. Off in the distance she hears a woman singing a Spanish lullaby to her baby.

In an extraordinary, shivery moment Maria begins to mouth the words to the song, but how can she know them if she has lived in Germany all her life?

Florian Clossen, in his directorial debut, depicts the horror wash over Maria in that moment. Overcome she retreats to the public toilet where she collapses under the weight of fear and confusion.

The film follows Maria as she sets off on a quest to trace her origins.

And most importantly, for someone who has lived in Buenos Aires, viewers are offered a glimpse into one of the world’s most beautiful South American cities and its complicated, often tragic history.

The Day I Was Not Born is available to stream on Netflix.

Allergies are the devil

BA tree

My allergies are so bad that my doctor has prescribed a steroid that I must take two times a day. The side effects are a bloated, swollen face, and shrunken balls. All in time for Toronto World Pride! I can’t wait. The joys of aging.

So that’s why I’m posting too much today. I can’t do anything else! The last post about the cottage tree reminded me of this monstrosity in Recoleta, Buenos Aires. LOOK AT IT!

Missing Argentina

Reserva Ecológica de Buenos Aires

There are days when I’m sitting alone somewhere in Toronto watching ordinary people rushing to work, oblivious to their surroundings, attached to their cell phones, thoughtlessly mulling about, that I long for Argentina again.

I lived there for a year, and though admittedly it is not a perfect society — corruption looms large in daily life, and the citizens aren’t necessarily wise to a life outside of sex and clubbing — I miss it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Toronto, but I can become disappointed with it too. It’s a strangely apathetic, yet entitled society. Not only that, but we form attachments to electronics, like cell phones, that we pathetically convince ourselves we need.

Just this past weekend I was sitting at a Tim Horton’s in cottage country with three individuals who were each on their phones, texting, emailing, tweeting like it was as important to them as breathing.

Reserva Ecológica de Buenos Aires 9

On the old-fashioned land-line telephone, I rarely speak with someone who is not multitasking. They’re always frenzied by something, whether it’s washing the dishes, or checking email, or mopping the floor. Getting someone’s undivided attention in Toronto is almost impossible, they’re easily distracted by things that are not important. We’ve become so obsessed with occupying our time that we rarely sit to enjoy the grace that belongs to being still.

Now I’m not saying that people in Buenos Aires aren’t similar. I guess for me, when I lived there, when I left all the attachments that I coveted for myself here in Toronto, I realized how unimportant they actually were. Well, it’s not that I wasn’t aware of this, but it’s easy to fall into the traps of doing what everybody else is doing. What’s expected of us, is not necessarily what is right for us.

I’ve always prided myself on getting up and looking up — at the sky, the trees, the flowers, whatever it is, I observe. I don’t own a cell phone, I refuse to. And you know what, my life is not negatively impacted by this omission. In fact, my social life is busy and friends have a tendency to show up on time at agreed destinations, because they can’t send me a text cancelling, or postponing. They can’t be late, because I am waiting. I was able to make it without the assistance of a phone. What is their excuse?

Kel Books Buenos Aires

This past Toronto winter was brutal. It reminded me of the sunny skies of Argentina. Beautiful clear days at the park in Palermo, sitting on a patio enjoying a cup of coffee, or long walks through tree-lined streets on a quiet Sunday morning.

It’s a metropolis of 14 million hard-working people. Yet every night, after a long day at the office, the people of Buenos Aires are out and about, into the early hours of the morning, and they don’t need alcohol to enjoy their lives or their time together.

I remember taking the train to San Isidro for work, waiting on the platform, observing porteños, impeccably dressed, affectionate, calm, serene, not a worry to be had.

Torontonians can behave terribly, caught up in this absurd, invented rat-race, tripping over each other, stressed out of their minds, self-medicating, isolating themselves at night by sitting on their couches watching too much television. There’s gotta be more than this I think.

San Pedro

In Argentina, unlike here in Toronto, conversations are not inundated with topics like television shows, movies, music, or other people whom they do not know. They talk about things that matter, like their lives, family, friends and not in a negative way either. At least, those were my experiences.

Of course there are a lot of problems with Argentine life. The government is morbidly corrupt, the economy unstable, crime abundant and the people are pretty slutty. But they’re also shamelessly emotional, lacking the WASPy culture that is prevalent in North American society. They say what they think, resolve conflicts as they happen, and frankly, I found them to be generally more happy than Torontonians.

Saying all this though I do love the cynicism of Toronto, the intellectual curiosity, the fact that there is so much to do on any given day and of course, the bars and restaurants are top-notch.

I wish though, that we could bring some of South America’s sensibility here, just enough so that we stopped from time to time to appreciate the value in stillness.

Belgrano

The Official Story

The Dirty War was rarely spoken about when I lived in Argentina. Not unless I asked. You would think years of military dictatorship would strike conversation amongst a now liberated society.

Looking back it’s odd to ignore such an important period in Argentina’s history. Considering that the war did not end until 1983 it must be fresh on the minds of those who lived through it.

I’ve written about this period in two posts previously, one titled The Dirty War and the other Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo. They’re quick reads and will provide a history of the events that I’ve briefly mentioned here. Also included in each post are stunning photographs taken by moi.

The Official Story is an Argentine film that explores the Dirty War’s effect on the upper middle class society of Buenos Aires. It’s chilling depiction of one woman’s search for the truth won it the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1985.

The story chronicles a couple who live in Buenos Aires with an illegally adopted child. The mother comes to realize that her daughter may be the child of a desaparecido, a victim of the forced disappearances that occurred during Argentina’s last military dictatorship.

9,000 to 30,000 left-leaning citizens were kidnapped, murdered or forced into exile from 1976 to 1983. Victims were often taken up by helicopter, handcuffed and thrown out of open doors to the Rio de la Plata below. Their children were then given to high-ranking government officials.

Even now, at 3:30 p.m. each Thursday, the mothers of the disappeared hold vigil at the Plaza De Mayo outside the Casa Rosada. What happened to their children, their grandchildren during this period still remains a mystery.

The film helped illuminate why so many of my Argentine friends refused to speak about this specific period in their history. Perhaps some of them were unaware of their own roots, and had been so affected by the atrocities of the Dirty War that it was too painful to speak about.

#FreeArturo the polar bear trapped in deplorable conditions in a Mendoza Zoo — shame on Argentina!

A polar bear trapped in deplorable conditions at a zoo in Mendoza, Argentina is slowly going insane. Efforts were under way to move the suffering animal to the Assiniboine Park Conservancy in Winnipeg, but in typical Argentine fashion authorities there failed to produce the proper medical records required by Canadian regulations.

To bring an animal into Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency requires specific records dating back at least three years and the Argentines can’t provide them, therefore no permit.

According to the Winnipeg Sun:

“There are very strict regulations that must be met to bring an animal into Canada,” said Don Peterkin, chief operations officer with the Assiniboine Park Conservancy. “These regulations are in place to ensure the health and welfare of animals and animal-related industries so without the proper health records in place it’s simply not possible to obtain the permits required.”

The Assiniboine Park Conservancy has been in contact with the Mendoza Zoo in the South American country for weeks, trying to see if a transfer to Canada would help the 28-year-old bear, who is languishing in hot weather.

Assiniboine Park representatives will participate in a Skype meeting on Friday to help assess the bear’s health, and have offered to send a member of their veterinary team in the near future to evaluate his environment and make possible recommendations for improvements.

The Mendoza Zoo has been under heavy scrutiny since 2013 after reports surfaced about the inhumane conditions of the polar bear’s enclosure. Video of the bear shows him in a shallow, tepid pool of water, sweltering in 35 C temperatures, staring at a picture of snow.

“Arturo is in a small cage, with no space to walk, he has no stimulation — and the weather is awful for a polar bear,” said María Fernanda Arentsen, a professor at Université de Saint-Boniface, who spearheaded the months-long campaign to bring Arturo to Winnipeg.

How the Mendoza zoo acquired Arturo is suspect in a country where this type of treatment towards animals is typical. I personally visited Mendoza in February 2012 and can attest that it is extremely dry, and hot, definitely not a place for an arctic animal like a polar bear.

Without medical records I wonder how many times Arturo has been moved throughout his life. All in the name of profit for animal abusers. He is clearly not getting the medical attention that he desperately needs and he is slowly going insane, as you can see in the video that I posted above.

Argentina’s attitudes about animals infuriates me. When I lived there, Argentines frequently explained what a ‘warm people’ they were, but I realized that what they meant was that they liked to have a lot of sex with as many people as possible.

Animals are often neglected, abused and ill-cared for. Definitely not the characteristics of a warm, friendly, enlightened people.

I’ve already written letters to the Minister of Agriculture of Manitoba, the Governor of Mendoza, the conservation park in Winnipeg and the zoo in Mendoza. No one has replied to my messages.

What we can do

  • On Saturday, February 22 there will be a “TweetStorm”on Twitter. Simply write as many tweets as you can with the hashstag #FreeArturo and #MendozaZoo and let’s help save Arturo’s life before it’s too late.
  • Please sign the petition at Change.org now if you can.

Thanks for all your help!

Church Street Mural Project takes flight

This mural replaced the iconic painting of two cowboys holding hands

This mural replaced the iconic painting of two cowboys holding hands

Toronto has a long way to go if it ever wants to equal Buenos Aires’ mastery of street art. For some examples of what I mean, please see here, here and here.

I’ve spoken before about what I consider to be the poseur attitudes of the Toronto art community, and how it negatively impacts the nurturing of real talent. That doesn’t really exist in Argentina, the art community there is inclusive to new members and they respect each other in a manner I’ve never seen anywhere else. There’s little ego, and an endless amount of collaboration.

Perhaps in Toronto, or maybe even Canada, government involvement stifles creativity, where as in Buenos Aires the current administration encourages the development of talent, offering financial assistance to street artists. Graffiti in South America is a way of life, stunning to look at and revered by citizens.

The tide is changing in Toronto I think, though I doubt it will ever reach the level found in Buenos Aires. Luckily, there are upcoming events that have brought artists together to beautify the city’s oldest buildings in a barrio that is beginning to show its age.

The most prominent of all these events is World Pride 2014. Toronto is the host city, and much of the activities will be centred in the Church-Wellesley village. To help connect public spaces, the community and local artists, The Church Street Mural Project, has been established. Comprised of 11 artists who have been carefully selected, their mission is to create publicly accessible murals throughout the gay village.

I haven’t found all the murals yet, with many of them yet to be completed, but I will be back, with camera firmly in hand, to document these stunning pieces that are certain to entertain residents of Toronto. I for one am excited about this development, and I hope it’s a sign of more to come.

Church Street Mural Project 2

Ella

This one makes me laugh, the woman giving birth!

This one makes me laugh, the woman giving birth!

At the corner of Church and Wellesley, to be unveiled soon!

At the corner of Church and Wellesley, to be unveiled soon!

The Crews and Tangos building

The Crews and Tangos building

I snuck in to get a better look

I snuck in to get a better look