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.

And….landing

ImageWell, the day finally came when I had to make my way back to England. Goodbyes and hugs here there and everywhere, of course lots of tears, and my little one looking lost and confused as to why he suddenly was wearing a long sleeve shirt and a jumper when he has been with a sleeveless bodysuit for almost a month.

The flight was at 13:00. Knowing that in Buenos Aires almost anything is possible, I made the decision to leave the house reasonably early, perhaps too early to the trained and experienced traveller, but for me, it made all the sense in the world.

Let’s put it this way: I was not in England, where you know that the major obstacle between you and the airport is either the M25 jam packed or the Piccadilly line with “minor” delays due to a signalling problem and in the worst case scenario, you can always talk to someone and explain your situation and make the suitable arrangements; no.

I was in Buenos Aires, where you can find yourself facing a demonstration or a picket at any point of your route to the  International Airport (important: there is only ONE route to the International Airport and there’s only one International Airport which is called Ministro Pistarini, AKA Ezeiza (that’s the name of the location).

The other Airport is smaller in size and it is the National Airport and it is located by the riverside and it is called Aeroparque Jorge Newbery. Mind you, you may, on the odd occasion, catch an international flight from Aeroparque; but that is almost one chance in a hundred.

Anyway, we left early to Ezeiza, in order to avoid and/or diminish any kind of situation explained above. Hence, we woke up early – that’s not a problem when you have a seven month old little boy! – And got ready to leave my mum’s flat where we were staying.

Add to that that there was no electricity (the previous night was raining quite hard, hence the electric substation that feeds the blocks was flooded, hence no power) and I had to come down 10 stories with a baby, the pram, two suitcases and the pertinent bags for both for the flight; and oh, yes, my mother who was very persistent to come with us to Ezeiza,  despite the fact she would face going up ten stories in order to reach her home when she got back from waving goodbye.

You may wonder, well, probably the power at that point would be restored. Nah. Is Buenos Aires, very difficult that anyone would provide services during a weekend.

Weekends are sacred down there, and if anyone can avoid doing some work – even emergency ones like restore electricity – they will do. To give you an idea, when I called to report the power cut (this was at 5am) the person who answered the phone sounded half asleep, and the answer to my query was “due to union problems, we don’t know when we will be able to send an emergency service to your area”. You may wonder when the service was restored. Nearly 12 hours later, according to my mother who sent an email to tell me so.

So. After doing my exercise quota, we got in the car and made our way to Ezeiza. And an hour later, we were there, trying to find a place to park. In the meantime, I was left in the drop off area in order to wrap the suitcases and get everything ready to start the check in.

Bags wrapped – that’s something I always do, no matter what! I had some nasty experiences before and I learnt my lesson the hard way! – boarding passes and passports in my hand, I made my way to the BA desk. It was crowded. Despite the fact that I arrived almost three and a half hours earlier, obviously there were people with the same idea.

However, someone from BA saw me with my little one and told me to go straight to the beginning of the queue (would you believe the amount of evil looks we got?) which I did. Because I had everything printed, the process was fairly smooth. The assistant at the desk was very helpful as well which made the beginning of the journey a bit more bearable.

More tears and more hugs, we make our way to customs.

Oh well, sit down and grab a cup of tea, because that deserves an entire new chapter.