Merry-go-round

After two years, I returned to Buenos Aires with my little one. The flight was horrendous – direct flight with British Airways – and we landed with sunny weather and 36 degrees, but I can say after a week being here that young sir is adapting slowly but surely to the heat, the food and the new faces around, his appetite increased and I am pretty sure he has grown in height – weight is difficult to measure, for him the scales are a toy and it is ever so funny to step in and out to see the light flash !-  but my arms can tell the difference in weight from a week ago.

His cheeks are rosy and even his mood has changed. He is not that cranky and demanding although today he has been “difficult” but I don’t know why. I blame everything on the sun and the warmth of the summer.

In any case, yesterday we went to the “plaza” which is in most cases in Argentina, a mix between a playground and park. It is important to remark that “plazas” are the heart and soul of every neighbourhood / city / village in Argentina; it is very popular to go during the evening to the “plaza” to gather around, to see what’s going on and to share a moment with friends, or if fancy takes you, to sit down and gaze or read a book.

The “plaza” is surrounded in most cases by the church and cafes, restaurants and ice cream parlours; in some cities what would be the village hall is right across the “plaza” together with the church, the Council hall, the bank and a cafe (cafes are inevitably near a “plaza”).

In such a public space you can find benches scattered around, concrete tables with chess boards made with black and white mosaics, and you do see people sitting down playing chess and drinking mate (mate is a traditional drink in Argentina) and of course playgrounds for children.

Some of these playgrounds have a merry-go-round beside the traditional games and structures for children like swings, see-saws, sand pits and slides. Needless to say a “plaza” with a merry-go-round is extremely popular, particularly during weekends, and if those weekends are sunny and warm, no need to say, they are simply a “must do” activity.

Another important fact is that the “plaza” is – being the heart and soul of every village/city and town – the best place to take the pulse of the socio-economic beat of the population. At the plaza people from different paths of life concur and diverge; it is important to note as well that Argentineans talk *a lot* not only between themselves but with complete strangers and if they could talk to trees who could answer or follow a conversation they definitely would.

And what is it Argentineans that talk about? Normally it would start with the weather and then 5 minutes later they will – trust me, they will – end up talking about politics and how bad the economy is, comparing the current price of potatoes to how the price was two months ago and so on and so forth. If the conversation goes any deeper, they probably will come up with solutions to the economy, how they would do things differently and end up waving goodbye to each other as if they were old friends.

I can tell that it is true the social situation is bad and the economy is even worse; it is absolutely true that the money is worthless and going out to the shops (and it is only for groceries and the absolute necessities) requires skills of an economist and a calculator in the hand. One needs to be a magician in the kitchen to be sure to use every scrap of food and is nowadays a must, turning it into something edible and perhaps nutritious, in order to stretch the money and live day to day.

I experienced this feeling of money falling like sand through my fingers the first few days I was here and of course going out doing the shopping for fruit, veg and dairy. Boy, I went out with a wallet full of money and came back with few coins!. Now I became more “savvy” and I do like everybody else, wait for the daily offers and walk reaching different shops looking for the best price.

Going back to my lovely Sunday afternoon, my son woke up from his afternoon nap and of course, being sunny and warm we decided to go to the “plaza” nearby where I used to go as a child. Needless to say, so many memories came back to my mind! The swings, the see-saws, the sand pit…and the merry-go-round.

My mother was very excited to take her grandson to the merry-go-round, like she did when I was little. My son was delighted with the prospect of getting himself on the merry-go-round, so after buying the ticket off they go, my son sitting in a horse and my mother standing by his side. I do not need to say that both were very excited and my son was in absolute awe to see the world from his horse and me waving like an idiot whilst trying to catch a glimpse of the moment with my camera.

The merry-go-round stopped and my son was craving for more; as soon as I tried to get him away from the horse he climbed up again and looked at me as if to say: “you are not thinking on going back home, are you?”  with a big smile and giggling; so I went to the lady who sold the tickets and queued to buy another ticket. Note, each ticket costs $ 6 per child per round (we are talking something  like 45 pence) and you must buy them there and then, preferably with change.

So, another ticket bought, another turn on the merry-go-round, this time it was my turn to get dizzy and my mother’s turn to try to take a picture. As I stepped down and tried again to take my son away from the merry-go-round (failing again) my mother looked at me and said go on buy another ticket, it is a lovely afternoon after all and we have plenty of time…

There I was queuing up to buy another ticket and observing a mother who was taking her children down from the merry-go-round and you could tell the children were quite unhappy with the situation, and the mother as well. The dialog was more or less like this:

– But mum….

– C’mon darlings now we have to go, it is time to go home, we had a drink, an ice cream and some popcorn…

– But we want another ride on the merry go round…

– Yes mum we do!

– Listen, we had two rides. That’s it. I cannot afford another ride.

– Mum…please…

– No. I’m sorry.

I saw the mother’s distress when she was saying no. When she was saying they had to go. As the dialog with the children extended for another 5 minutes, I heard the mother say to one of her children “I saved all week to bring you to the plaza and I am afraid I cannot save any more. I’m sorry darling” and she stroked her child’s head whilst holding the other child’s hand.

I saw in her eyes the sadness and the frustration of having to say no to her children and quietly walk them away from the merry-go-round. And we are talking about only 45 pence each child, which is in any case almost a pound to pay for both of them to have 3 minutes of fun and laughter.

As I was contemplating the scene a little hand grabbed my shirt asking for something and pointing  to the swings, and my mother all excited taking him and saying he changed his mind and now it was the turn of the swings and both of them started to walk towards them.

As I left the queue to follow them I was still with that scene in my head and I have to say as a mother I felt her pain and her frustration and even now as I write this I struggle to come to terms with this clear result of a socio-economic situation that stains this country and its inhabitants; I can only feel respect for this selfless mother who saves one peso after the other during the week to take her children out to the “plaza” and treat them to a couple of rides on the merry-go-round, ice cream and a soda.

I do hope their children have the same feeling towards her mother in the future.

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Party…..Time

A few nights ago we had the infamous company party.

You can imagine the drill: a massive gathering, with (ex) colleagues from different areas of the business, people you have not seen for a long while and people you did not know worked there alongside you. People that you wonder if it is the same person you see day in day out and people you just avoid.

As usual, torrents of alcohol were flowing their way with waiters neatly lined up at the entrance with long flutes filled with champagne so when you come in the bubbles can start to get to your head and more waiters were walking around with full trays – just in case you “missed” the line up at the entrance, or that first flute was just to quench the thirst -.

As I walked in and avoided the line of waiters all together – I do not drink alcohol – I asked one of the waiters if there was any chance to get a non alcoholic drink. Oh boy, his face! I did want to ask if he had seen a ghost but I confess, I am quite used to see those expressions of “oh shock horror, a non alcoholic drink!! Arrgghhhh!!!” so I smiled briefly and said to him not to worry.

The venue for the company party was huge, and soon I spotted where the bar was – I saw the crowd of people around one space, so no trouble to locate the bar – so I made my way, in the hope to find something without alcohol to drink. Problem was, the queue was immense with all the people who preferred something else to drink instead of champagne.

It is important to mention that I was on a tight schedule here; I went to the party because I already said to my friend I was going to go, but in truth all I wanted was to head home, pick up my son on the way and enjoy what was left of the night with him. So, in my books, waiting for god knows how long for a non alcoholic drink was going to be a waste of (precious) time. So, my leave was going to be far earlier than everybody else’s.

So, forget all manners – I thought to myself – face (ignore, more likely) the awkward looks  and  just do what I have to do :  Reach  to my little bottle of water that is in my handbag at all times.  At this point I seriously questioned what I was doing there. Had a sip of water and started to look for my friend, who appeared out of nowhere – yes you guessed – with a flute of champagne.

You just arrived – I said to her – oh yes! How did you know? She answered – well, you have a glass of champagne in your hand…. to what we both laughed and carry on talking whilst more waiters were walking around with champagne, and stopped (without fault!) when they saw I did not have  a glass of any sort in my hand.

My friend and I quickly realised that the amount of appearances of trays with champagne were completely outdone by the amount of trays with food; which was a shame because I was a bit hungry and I could have done with a little something to eat before arriving home. To put it in the best possible way, imagine locusts over a fresh crop. Got the idea?

The few glances I got over these trays, the food was certainly “minimalistic”: mini hamburgers, canapés of some sort, some of those heavily decorated with chillies and more canapés. In my humble opinion – and my friend’s – that kind of nibbles could be fine for a small gathering. But for this party? I don’t think so. They were catering for people who came straight from work and more likely did not have anything to eat for most of the day. I’m not saying they should have served fish and chips and quarter pound burgers (although that sounds great!) but at least something a bit more substantial and something that you did not have to ask what on earth was that.

You know, you just don’t want to ask, you don’t want to look as if you are someone with an uneducated palate (to say it mildly) or to say it plainly, as in the tale,  you don’t want to be the poor cousin who has never been in the city before (The Aesop fable). Also no one wants to feel the looks when you ask “what is this?”.

Some of my colleagues said that the food was minimalistic and presented in a very fancy way to give the party some style and class, if you want to call it that; I would like to call it “whoever organised the party did not know or did not think straight”. Why do I say this? I tell you: because the people who normally organise these sorts of parties do not have the first clue as to the sort of people they are dealing with.

Don’t take me wrong, I do not, I repeat, I do not mean any demeanour to my fellow (ex) colleagues, but truth is, the people who organise these are sitting down in an office for 8 hours a day, doing everything via the internet and eating their sandwiches from a fancy shop; they do not have the first clue of what it is like to wake up at 02:30 to catch a 03:30 bus to get into work at 04:30; to cook your food at home and take it with you, because the cost of a meal at any nearby place costs the same to prepare 2 meals at home.

So, with this thought in mind, no wonder the food was what it was (yeah, fancy perhaps, but just that, fancy) and the overall feeling from my (ex) colleagues was that the party was no more than a clear and loud “meh” – if any could make the effort to say the “meh” loud and clear.

Point being, no one would say anything, not a peep. Only through the grapevine (as usual) and whispering, just in case the not very positive comment falls to the wrong ears, and you know how it goes.

As you can imagine the night went on and the chat with my friend too; so did the champagne and the trays with food, and some empty beer bottles started to appear (but did not last long: the waiters were making them disappear) and my time was up to leave the party. I did not manage to say my goodbyes because the mass of people engorged my friend and I was really in a hurry.

I wanted to go to pick up my son. And go home.

As I was on the underground, I thought about the party, and I came to the conclusion that the only ones who did know how to party where the Romans. Food was lavish but not scarce. If the idea was to give the party some glamour and sense of high fly / posh / glossy style, well yes you got it, but not to everybody’s liking. My stomach was rumbling so I concentrated on my newspaper so not to think too much about the food subject.

Finally I got to pick up my son, and go home. When we got home, I prepared our usual toast with butter and a slice of cheese, a cup of tea for me and a glass of milk to young sir, low lights and classical music on the background.  And believe me, that was the best meal ever. The best time, the best party, at home with my son.