Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Freud was a Taurus

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"What's your sign?" is a question I hear outside of bar banter here in Buenos Aires. Cabbies, shopgirls, teachers, and hardware store clerks want to read me via astrology. They even want to know rising signs, and I have to wonder if I've wandered into an alternate reality constructed by my mother.
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Argentines are not very religious. True, the churches are well attended on Sundays and were overflowing on Easter, but the real religion seems to be a mix of Freud and the stars. They're good at observing with the stars and at delving into issues with a therapist's point of view. Strangers are given deference, conflict is resolved through conversation, and men are given license to cry. It's a culture of open communication and of working through difficulty verbally and with hugs and kisses.
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This week I've been out on the town with two visiting New Yorkers. Seeing the city through the eyes of two New York women has been liberating and instructive. They're bilingual, having grown up in Dominican households, and therefore able to navigate the city and the culture in a way I'm attempting to do. We had a great time hanging out with the locals and getting into discussions of politics and culture. On their last evening we met a Porteno couple sitting next to us at the steakhouse.
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Alejandro and Carola are the same age as I am, he has an MBA in business management and works in finance, she is a psychoanalyst for an international headhunter. He's Bulgarian Jewish and Italian, she's Swiss and Italian. But, like Alejandro said, in Argentina they don't discuss their roots - they're all just Argentine. He wanted to know why people in the US stress their ethnic background. I asked him why he had to question the girls about their national heritage. They're both just Americans but no one here leaves the conversation at that. Everyone wants to know how an American can be brown and speak native Spanish. We continued our discussion of the politics of identity and the girls and I countered their view of last week's Virginia University slaying as anything related to a Korean phenomenon - focussing rather on American cultural isolation and guns.

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As a couple, Alejandro and Carolita were ambiguous. They were obviously on a date but called each other friends. He invited me to a party and she said he hadn't invited her to one of his parties yet. She paid the bill, which to me is a bad sign here. Carola talked about how she wanted to find an English guy and how she loves British culture. I talked about how much I love Argentines and Alejandro talked about how America as a republic is doomed. I countered with examples of pivotal moments in history and of charismatic leaders who've changed a nation with a speech or by example.

We spoke of destiny and national psyches. There was luck, chance, and cultural significations woven into talk of love, politics, race relations, economics, history and the future ramifications of global warming. Our conversation was rich, entertaining, and intense. We laughed, we debated, we admired each other's cultures and critiqued them. It was another night in Buenos Aires.

I emailed Carolita this quote yesterday as a follow up:

A return to first principles in a republic is sometimes caused by the simple virtues of one man. His good example has such an influence that the good men strive to imitate him, and the wicked are ashamed to lead a life so contrary to his example.
-Niccolo Machiavelli


Maria Elena said...

Thanks for the shout out! I was also struck by their insistence that anyone was welcome to BsAs when it was first being created. If that were the case, why is everyone so White?

p.s. I googled Oliver Kolker. He teaches Tango at Stepping Out in NYC.

Eve Ciudad said...

that's so cool! we'll have to go step on out, then, right? damn, you're on it - who was he again, friend of alex's?