Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Is Francis a Freudian? The Pope and His Shrink

Earlier this month, the world’s most prominent religious figure made international headlines when Pope Francis acknowledged that, in his early forties, he had regularly visited a Freudian psychoanalyst for several months. Now 80, the Pontiff wouldn’t reveal the reason for what, statistically at least, would appear to be a midlife crisis, but his position and celebrity made this a high-profile story.
The Facultad de Medicina at the Universidad de Buenos Aires is a hotbed of Freudianism.
For many, there’s still a stigma associated with psychoanalysis, and the Catholic Church was slow to accept the idea. Still, while New Yorkers may stereotypically chatter about their therapists, the porteños of Buenos Aires can match or surpass them—in the Argentine capital, psychoanalysis and other therapies are not for the upper and upper-middle classes alone. Once, during registration time at the Universidad de Buenos Aires medical school, I saw a flurry of flyers offering psychoanalysis and psychotherapy with UBA professionals—the first session free—for individuals, couples, and groups. Subte handouts may declare that “Asking for help is the start of solving the problem” and tempt commuters with “unlimited sessions.”

Francis had his therapy during the dictatorship of the “Proceso” but, at the turn of the century, the therapy obsession was at least partly a function of economic crisis, and even the former corralito banking restrictions have been interpreted in this context. In an early 2002 interview with National Public Radio’s Martin Kaste, a Freudian psychiatrist argued that “Money has a certain symbolic equivalence to the penis. People put their money in the bank, but at the moment they want to withdraw it they lose their money, so this produces a castration anxiety.”
"Tango therapy" may be an option - Francis was a dancer in his youth.
Another claimed that “sexual desire has also been caught in the corralito—men worry about lack of desire and premature ejaculation, and women are unable to have orgasms.” The 2002 Festival de Tango even included a session on Tango de Autoayuda (Self-Help Tango). Meanwhile, angry real-estate brokers picketed the residence of caretaker President Eduardo Duhalde—himself a former realtor—but not necessarily in hope of any relief for a frozen real-estate market. Rather, proclaimed one protestor, “This turned into our therapy, a place to set our anguish free.”
Clients purchase their meds at Farmacia Villa Freud.
Therapy, though, is not just a function of recent times; it began with the 1930s arrival of Jewish refugees from Europe. Historian Mariano Ben Plotkin has chronicled this tale in Freud in the Pampas: the Emergence and Development of a Psychoanalytic Culture in Argentina (Stanford University Press, 2001). Many of Buenos Aires’s thousands of shrinks practice in Palermo’s so-called Villa Freud, where their clients can top off their meds at the Farmacia Villa Freud. One online magazine specializes in listings for professional office rentals, and even acting classes are often exercises in therapy.
In 2002, the Centro Cultural Borges paid Freud a month-long homage.
Institutions add to the therapeutic ambience. The Asociación Psicoanalítica Argentina once organized a month-long exhibition on “Psychoanalysis, Culture and Crisis” at the Centro Cultural Borges. The Museo de Psicología Experimental Horacio Piñeiro recounts the experimental efforts of an early-20th-century pioneer. Villa Freud’s everyday literary locus is Librería Paidós, an inconspicuous bookstore in a small shopping gallery, but the annual Feria del Libro always shows the latest in psychoanalytic scholarship.
Amateur and professional Freudians crowd the display at Buenos Aires's 2016 book fair.
In Argentine cinema, therapy is no less common than in Woody Allen films—in Rodolfo Durán’s 2007 comedy Terapias Alternativas (Alternative Therapies), an apathetic loner psychoanalyst winds up unexpectedly caring for his own son by a brief relationship and simultaneously sharing accommodations with a suicidal patient. Woody himself is a great favorite, for that matter; he once even suggested he might film in Buenos Aires.
"Help Me, Dr. Freud!" - a stage play in downtown Buenos Aires.
Not that long ago, a hit play on Avenida Corrientes went by the title Therapy…If Only Freud Could See This, but such matters are not always humorous. In the summer of 2010, after junior lightweight boxer Rodrigo “The Hyena” Barrios killed a pregnant woman in a Mar del Plata hit-and-run, he took several hours to surrender to police, apparently to avoid alcohol and drug tests. In the ensuing days, he managed to remain free on bail as he underwent “psychological testing,” but he is currently in prison.
A year ago in May, the Argentine Psychoanalytic Congress held its annual meetings in Recoleta.

Where the Pope fits into this context is open to speculation. Might it be that, in his midlife crisis, he harbored doubts about the existence of a supernatural being for which there is no empirical evidence? Freud, after all, dismissed theistic beliefs as a collective neurosis.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Risen From the Dead? The Buenos Aires Times Supplants the Herald

At the end of July, the venerable Buenos Aires Herald surprised me—and lots of other people—by shutting down after printing and posting one last Saturday edition without so much as a formal farewell. Shortly thereafter, I wrote my own mini-obituary of the paper, but I soon heard reports of a resurrection.
It didn’t take long. This past Saturday saw the first edition of the Buenos Aires Times, a 16-page English-language supplement within the weekends-only tabloid Perfil, and many of the Herald’s old familiar names were on board—most notably Robert Cox, candidly explaining the complexities of the paper’s not-so-sudden decline and demise after 141 years in print. Perfil’s Executive director Agustino Fontevecchia argues, meanwhile, that it’s time for a “strong, English-language publication" in Argentina, “relying on both the traditional techniques of print and the advanced tools of the digital era.”
Patagonia's long and meandering Río Santa Cruz, under threat from a pair of hydroelectric dams, is a featured topic in the first issue of the Buenos Aires Times.
The first also included critical and analytical pieces on topics such as controversial dams on Patagonia’s largest wild river, prospects for the Argentine economy, and significant news stories from around Latin America. Contributors included former Herald editors Andrew Graham-Yooll and Carolina Barros, and senior editor Michael Soltys.

All things considered, the Times’s rollout was stunningly quick, and there’s some evidence that it was rushed. For all that, there’s a reassuring familiarity starting with the paper’s masthead, which is virtually identical to the Herald—almost to the point of wondering whether there could be copyright issues. The story fonts, however, appear rather different.
Many if not most porteños get their print news fix from corner kiosks.

Maybe it’s partly print nostalgia but, when I return to Buenos Aires in November, I’ll be looking forward to waking up on Saturday morning, walking to the corner kiosk and purchasing Perfil—with its BA Times insert—to read with my breakfast. My only concern is that, with its aging staff—many are in their sixties and seventies, and Bob Cox is 83—the paper will have to recruit younger talent to survive.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Vikings, from Buenos Aires to Berkeley

In late 2014, I traveled crosstown from our Palermo apartment to San Telmo’s Svenska Kyrkan (pictured above), where the Scandinavian communities of Buenos Aires—Swedes, Norwegians and Finns—were holding their annual Xmas festival. I’m not religious—to say the least—but I was still curious about this gathering of the Vikings in what, on the face of it, is an improbable urban environment.
San Telmo's Dansk Kirke is Buenos Aires's Danish church.
To the best of my memory, the Danes were absent from the event, though there’s a separate Danish church just a few blocks away and lunches at Retiro’s Club Danés are a delight. In the Buenos Aires province beach resort of Necochea, it’s common to see cars with Argentine plates and “DK” decals, but here I recall nothing.
Flags of Finland, Norway and Sweden hung from the ceiling at the Svenska Kyrkan.
All throughout the building and the grounds there were Scandinavian delicacies, along with souvenir items—some of them brought by the countries’ respective embassies because, at that time, arcane import restrictions effectively kept private parties from acquiring them. Most of the baked goods were local, but almost everything produced overseas had to enter by extra-official channels.
Many of the manufactured foodstuffs arrived through embassy intercession.
That’s not the case in Berkeley, adjacent to my hometown of Oakland, where the Nordic House specialty shop imports all sorts of Scandinavian food items and even carries a selection of Nordic noir novels (mainly in English) and travel guidebooks. On Saturday, though, Nordic House hosted my first-ever kräftskiva, at which Swedes and other Scandinavians devour plates of boiled crayfish and slug down shots of akvavit, with a shout of Skål! at the end of boisterous drinking songs.
Berkeley's Nordic House carries a diversity of Scandinavian supplies.
A plate of crayfish and potatoes at Nordic House's kräftskiva

In fairness, I didn’t the crayfish especially appetizing (it doesn’t help that they make a messy meal), though almost everyone else devoured as much as they could grab. Nor did the various herrings and other specialties thrill me—I much preferred the roast moose, scalloped potatoes (identical to what my Swedish-American used to make) and other side dishes that my Swedish cousins served us in rural Värmland. Still, my only real complaint about Nordic House is that they’ve run out of Hungry Troll lefse (my Norwegian grandmother used to make this), but I’m told it’ll be back next month.
Lunch in Värmland. Note the scalloped potatoes (upper left) and the roast moose  (upper center-right)

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