lunes, 20 de agosto de 2012

Southern Cone Guidebooks

Evita’s visage replaces that of President Julio Argentino Roca (1880-86; 1898-1904), a military man whose so-called Campaña del Desierto is widely considered to have been a genocidal campaign against the Mapuche of Patagonia. Roca is a polarizing figure, whose equestrian statues in Buenos Aires and Bariloche (pictured above) are often defaced with graffiti.

Funny Money: An Argentine Tradition

The Buenos Aires daily Clarín is the world’s largest circulation Spanish-language newspaper and, a few days ago, I was simultaneously surprised, flattered and disappointed to see myself quoted extensively on its website (and presumably in the print edition) the other day. That requires some explanation.

In the mid-1990s, while working for another guidebook publisher best not mentioned by name, I wrote a sidebar about the so-called “Menem Trucho” (“Bogus Menem”), a pseudo-banknote glorifying then President Carlos Menem. It was the work of Armando Gostanián, a political hack who was then in charge of the Casa de la Moneda, Argentina’s national mint. It also included the punning motto “1 Valor Que Estabilizó al País,” mimicking the numerical value of a real banknote while suggesting that Menem possessed “Bravery That Stabilized the Country” (which admittedly, had been chaotic when he won the office in 1989).
Gostanián’s big problem was that he used official paper to create the pseudo-banknote – the equivalent of the US mint printing a fake dollar bill to promote the re-election of a sitting president. That got him in hot water, though nothing eventually came of it and, several years later, Menem’s abortive re-election campaign came up with a less official-looking substitute that extolled his “10 Years of Stability” and his “Muestra de Capacidad.” The latter was also a pun, praising his “Proof of Ability” but, at the same time, it openly admitted that it was a “sample,” not an official banknote.

Clarín used my piece to establish a parallel with Argentina’s current vice-president Amado Boudou, presently under investigation for influence peddling over contracts awarded for the printing of 100-peso banknotes. The kicker is that the guitar-playing vice-president has become the subject of his own photoshopped “Boudou Trucho.” Text on the note says, among other things, “Banco Central de la Guitarrita Argentina” (Central Bank of the Little Argentine Guitar). It’s only fair to add that Clarín is an outspoken editorial critic of the administration of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Political motives aside, it’s flattering to see one’s work acknowledged in public. What’s disappointing is that Clarín attributes my writing to a redactor (“editor” in Spanish), but that’s because my former publisher, unfortunately, holds copyright to the work. That is the case with most guidebook publishers, though Moon is a welcome exception.

At the same time, the government is due to decide whether a new 500-peso note will bear the image of Perón or former President Hipólito Yrigoyen, though the photoshoppers have suggested that the late President Néstor Kirchner might be the most suitable choice for a bill that, effectively, acknowledges the inflation that’s taken place under his government and his widow’s.

Argentine Trains: Off the Rails, So to Speak,+Torre+Inglesa.jpg

Trains like El Gran Capitán, which until recently connected the capital with the northern city of Posadas, are by all accounts something to avoid (especially in summer, when the weather is brutally hot and humid). It’s theoretically possible to travel by rail from Constitución to Bariloche, but that requires crossing the Río Negro from Carmen de Patagones to Viedma and then waiting six days for the connection.
Yet the trains are full, and that’s because they’re cheap. To quote Clarín, “According to the level of service, the bus can cost nine times more than the train,” which is the only option for many poorer Argentines. The train to Córdoba, for instance, costs 30 pesos (about US$7), while the bus can cost 250 pesos (roughly US$64). For that reason, the trains sell out early: “In high season, it’s better to buy 90 days ahead of time – the rest of the year 15 should be sufficient – and departures are few: the train departs only Monday and Friday.”
That’s why I discourage anybody but the truly determined from taking long-distance trains in Argentina. My friends Darek Przebieda and Analía Rupar of Eureka Travel recommend the Tren Patagónico from Viedma to Bariloche but, even then, they have to admit that the 18-hour trip averages only about 45 km per hour, and a comfortable sleeper bus would cover the distance in half the time. For my part, I’ll stick with an excursion on Esquel’s La Trochita.