Wednesday, January 16, 2008


The place I went for lunch — the place I crossed the city to go for lunch — was closed.

(Why didn't I call ahead? Assuming I could even find their number, they could easily be open but not picking up the phone. So not getting an answer would mean nothing.)

I ended up at La Americana for pizza, for the third time in a month.

I grabbed a table and flipped through Clarín. I almost did a spit-take with my grapefruit soda when I read that the city has identified 12 areas where garbage accumulates. Twelve? Really? Not, like, 13 or 14? Just 12?


But the main headline of the day was the city and national governments fighting over what to do about the protesters that choke the main arteries of the city.

The national government is far too populist to curb the protesters. It would pay too high a price in its working-class support if it cracked down on these protests over pay raises, working conditions, etc. More to the point, such confrontations have a history of getting violent and spiraling out of control.

The city government, on the other hand, does not draw its support from the working class. As far as it's concerned, the protesters should not be bringing traffic to a standstill and should have the required permits.

This may sound eminently reasonable to some people, but the rules of engagement are very different here.

I looked up from Clarín when I heard the steady beating of drums outside. A line of police was forming outside the restaurant. Protesters had cut off Avenida Callo.

Some fresh-faced First Worlders outside stopped to gawk and snap photos of the protesters.

An old woman in a purple suit sat at a table by the window. She watched the protesters for a bit, too. Then she finished off her beer and fished a mirror out of her bag to check her lipstick.

I paid and as I was leaving, a woman waved me over to her table. "Can I have that newspaper?" she asked. "I'll take it back when I'm done," she added, motioning toward the counter. She thought it was the restaurant's newspaper.

"Well, I was going to take it," I said. She looked a little taken aback.

"It's my paper," I added quickly.

"Oh!" she said.

"But, here, take it." I thrust the paper toward her.

"¡No! ¡Por favor!" she said. She wouldn't hear of it.

"No, really. It's OK," I said.

Again, she wouldn't hear of it. So I left, newspaper in hand.

I was standing on the corner outside the pizzeria, waiting for the light to change and listening to the unholy racket of the protesters' drums. Inside the bank across the street, a cop stared out the window, thumping his fingers on the glass in time to the rhythm of the drums.

This place is by turns so civil and so confrontational.

I ran back to the pizzeria, dropped my paper on the woman's table and darted back onto the street before she could say anything.

Is this a good time to mention that I'm considering keeping a parallel blog to record all the times that I'm a raging asshole? Just for the sake of balance.

* * *

I saw today that the subte is having a writing contest. First prize is 3000 pesos (US$1000). Second prize is 2000 pesos. Third prize is 1000 pesos.

This is great. If I can win first, second and third prizes, I can pay for a trip to Japan this year.

Some of you are probably scoffing at the notion of my winning first, second AND third place. And, really, I'm with you: It is hard to imagine me finishing third.

But I'm not going to be talked out of this plan.

Because you know what? They said I'd never have a blog!

Oh. Wait. I said I'd never have a blog.

Well. Someone definitely said something about a blog.

Don't change the subject.

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