Monday, January 8, 2018

Smeared by a(n Attempted) Scammer

In nearly four decades of visiting Argentina, I’ve never been victim of a crime, though I experienced some anxious moments during the military dictatorship of 1976-83. In the course of researching and writing guidebooks to the country, though, I’ve always had to address issues of personal security, even though I’d never experienced any attempted attack or robbery—at least until yesterday in Buenos Aires.

In the course of writing multiple editions for a publisher now best left unnamed, I often received reams of reader mail, often touching upon issues of personal security. One common scenario in Argentina’s capital was being told that there were pigeon droppings on your shirt, or the “accidental” spilling of a cup of coffee followed by abject apologies that were, in fact, a distraction for a pickpocketing accomplice.
My boarding station, at Plaza de Mayo, for the train back to Palermo
The Puente de la Mujer, a pedestrian bridge, is an entry point to the Puerto Madero neighborhood. Beyond the bricks and high-rises, Puerto Madero also offers wildlife-rich wetlands and even some small beaches.
These stories were believable and, as I started to walk toward the Plaza de Mayo after a leisurely afternoon in Puerto Madero, I became part of one. On a narrow downtown street, with few other people, I felt some moisture on my back and, then, a middle-aged man animatedly pointed at my trouser leg. I’m not paranoid about personal safety, because I feel comfortable here, but this aroused my suspicion immediately.
When I got home, this is what my shirt looked like...
It’s worth mentioning that I was openly carrying a SLR in my right hand, and also had a wallet and a smartphone in my jeans pockets (though neither was visible), so I probably fit the profile of an easy target. My response to the man, who addressed me in halting English, was the Spanish-language equivalent of “Bugger off!” He didn’t exactly run away, but he didn’t persist either, and I saw no likely accomplice.
and this is what my jeans looked like.

Heading toward the Subte to catch a train home, I seated myself on the steps of a building to put my camera into my daypack, and discovered what appeared to be a creamy substance there and on my shirt as well. On arriving home, I changed clothes and took a shower and, this morning, I took everything to a nearby laundry. In the end, a portion of 120 pesos (about $6.50) was all the incident cost me—I already had a partial load in need of cleaning.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Messenger and the Movie

A few weeks ago, the day my wife arrived in Buenos Aires, we had the good fortune to catch one of the last local showings of Jayson McNamara’s documentary Messenger on a White Horse, about Robert Cox’s heroic editorship of the Buenos Aires Herald during the so-called “Dirty War” of 1976-83. The movie debuted last April at the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, but this was our first opportunity to see it.
Given the subject matter, it’s not the sort of film that one “enjoys,” but it was an absorbing account of Argentina’s most brutal dictatorship ever and the pervasive fear that prevailed at the time. As editor of the paper, Cox pursued and publicized the human rights violations that took place after the 1976 military coup and, facing threats to himself and his family, he went into exile in 1979—at a time when the Australian McNamara was not even born. I met McNamara four years ago, in Cox’s Recoleta apartment, at a time when he was working for the then struggling Herald—which was becoming the victim of the now-jailed tax evader and casino magnate Cristóbal López.
Bob Cox and Jayson McNamara at Cox's apartment in Recoleta, 2014
Given McNamara’s youth—I don’t believe he’s even 30 yet—I was impressed with his perspective on this complex country’s history. My wife, who lived through much of the worst in that period, agreed that his usage of historical footage and his interviews (with Cox and others) evinced a genuine skill for thorough and honest storytelling.

Some days later, when my wife and I shared empanadas and a bottle of Malbec with Cox and his wife Maud, both expressed admiration of the filmmaker’s ability to narrate a story he never experienced personally. In my opinion, it’s something that deserves a wider audience and, according to McNamara, “We’re hoping it will soon be available on Netflix or the like.” When it is, I’ll watch it again, and encourage others to tune in. It’s not a commercial film, but it deserves the widest possible audience.
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