... in argentina


18 Dec 2007 | 216 words | dance berlin art review argentina theatre

Went to see Constanza’s latest piece at the Schaubühne in Berlin on Saturday and quite liked it. With Brickland Constanza (and the equally amazing rest of the the Dorky Park ensemble) manages to combine usual chaos with something similar to a narrative that does not get lost in 2 hours of brutal chaos.

Brickland is about despair, insanity end everyday evils behind the walls of gated communities (the name is taken from an existing decaying community in the vicinity of the international airport on the outskirts of Buenos Aires). One of the strongest aspects of the performance is the tight integration of the beautiful video material (shot by Constanza and Maria Onis on location in Brickland, Brazil and Berlin) with the on-stage action. Works even better than it did in Back to the Preset (which is probably also due to the fact that they finally seem to have learned how to do a proper video projection at the Schaubühne).

So if you are are in Berlin and you ever considered giving up your 3 bedroom apartment in prenzlauerberg/friedrichshein/mitte for a place where the kids can safely play outside, then go see this show. (plays again on 18 december and then from 24 to 27 january).

Knut Berger, Hyoung-Min Kim & Gail Sharrol Skrela (photo: Thomas Aurin)

Penguins in Rio - update

18 Sep 2006 | 579 words | migration penguins rio argentina climate cange

When i was in Argentinean Patagonia in January our host at the Estancia Monte Leon (by the way one of the most gorgeous places i have ever stayed in my life, totally worth the hefty price tag) told us that the penguins who hang out at the beach there in order to raise their kids would go all the way up to Rio in the (southern hemisphere) winter as they find patagonia to cold during that time of the year.

While i can see that Patagonia might be a little bit too cold in July i could not really picture penguins in Rio. Also i did not run into any Spheniscus Magellanicus down there (but then that is probably due to the fact that we did nose around in all the wrong places). A couple of days ago i ran into more anecdotal evidence that there are indeed penguins in Rio. This time in the form of someone blogging about migrants being washed up at the beaches of the canaries and penguins in Rio (which as the alert reader will notice are both subjects that have kept me busy in the past):

Penguins in Rio, abnormal concentrations of jellyfish in the Mediterranean coast, giant crabs invading Norway’s waters, Sub-Saharan immigrants stranding at the beaches of Canary islands in unhuman conditions surprising tourists… Nature claims… something is wrong with our world today… (from: extremo occidente

Seems like the author wishes to imply that the world is a bit out of control which does not seem totally wrong of an observation if you ask me.

update to the update: Looks like i should do my google reserach first. seems like while we did indeed see no penguins in Rio they have been there this summer. CBS reports that at least 135 showed up on the local beaches and are now being airlifted back to the southern Atlantic ocean in a heroic joint operation by the brazilian armed forces:

A Hercules C-130 transport airplane will take the flightless birds to Pelotas in southern Brazil on Sept. 23 for the first leg of their journey home, the Air Force’s press office said. There, they will be examined by veterinarians at the Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center of the Eliezer de Carvalho Rios Oceanographic Museum. From Pelotas, the penguins will be driven to the coast and placed on Navy ships. They will be taken 40 miles offshore before being released into the southern Atlantic. “Ocean currents will hopefully carry them back to their natural habitat,” Candiotto said. “If everything goes smoothly, the penguins should be back in Antarctica within 10 days after leaving Rio.”

According to the Guardian, Rio became a popular destination for penguins in 2001 or so. in that year they published a first article on penguins in rio and linked it to global warming (isn’t it refreshing to see that in the summer of 2001 the press could still explain strange things in other ways than blaming terrorists for them?). The article does contain absolute gems on how ordinary brazilians behave when suddenly confronted with penguins on their doorstep:

… some are being kept as pets by Brazilian fishermen, who feed them sardines and even walk them on a leash. [.. but also one would not expect] how many people put these penguins in freezers when they rescue them …

Regardless of this update the conclusion remains more or less the same. the world seems to be a bit out of control.

San La Muerte

29 Jan 2006 | 736 words | religion popular culture argentina

Even though i cant really read Spanish (let alone speak it), i spend a fair amount of time in book stores in Buenos Aires which ultimaetely paid off as i found a very intreaguing book titled ‘San La Muerte – Una Voz Extraña‘ (also available via Amazon UK.

The book which combines numerous photographs with 6 essays (in Spanish and English) explores the rituals and practices of the worshippers of the ‘folk-saint’ San La Muerte (‘Saint Death’). The cult of San La Muerte originates from northeastern Argentina (the Corrientes & Chaco provinces which are among the poorest regions of the country) and the bordering regions of Paraguay, but has spread to other regions such as the poorer working class suburbs of Buenos Aires and other cities.

San La Muerte is worshipped through little statuettes carved out of wood, bone or lead: a skeleton sitting or standing, often bearing a scythe. Throughout the year he is worshipped in virtual secrecy, but on August 15 “messes” are being said before the altars of household shrines. Some devotees even chose to insert images of San La Muerte – chiseled on a bullet or a human phalanx – under their skin, a practice that is increasingly replaced by having images of the ‘Santito’ tattooed on one’s body for protection.

For some, San La Muerte offers an absolutely personal and non-transferable protection that will only be accessible to another when – after one’s own death – he or she is in the possession of the sculpture. Others – which doctors and payés – invoke the saint’s power on behalf of customers and patients , all the while concealing the image from sight. To some others, he is a household saint concealed in some corner of the house, bestowing his protection upon all family members with no distinction whatsoever.

He receives offerings in exchange for favors related to the main problems that plague human existence. The saint helps to restore love, health and fortune, protects worshipper from witchcraft, heals people upon whom somebody has cast the evil eye, he also grants good luck in gambling […] and may bring death upon th enemies off his devotees.

He is said to be the fairest of saints. according to some he is a fair saint because he allows for the recovery of stolen objects and punishes the misappropriators. Others refer to the justice inherent in death since it takes all humans without disctinction: rich and poor, powerful and powerless.

San La muerte sticks to a moral code that must be obeyed. In the cult of San La Muerte, even people who break the law and resort to violence have numerous obligation towards the saint, which they must honor in exchange for his protection. The cult is is based on punishment and submission; to be granted a grace the saint must even be threatened. The saint can be threatened with hunger or banishment to an uninhabited place until the favor is granted. When graces are granted, the siant must be rewarded and fed but never fully, so that he may soon be willing to grant another grace.

While one requests favors from the Gauchito (Gaucho Gil – or other saints for that matter) one must demand them from San La Muerte. [excerpted from the various essays in the book]

What i find particularly fascinating are the various requirements that seem to determine the powers of the individual representations of San La Muerte. The Saint is especially popular among criminals and the most powerful saints are made by prison inmates. While most figures are either carved from wood or human bone there are a couple of materials that have special powers. When it comes to wood the most intense, strongest images are carved from dead people’s coffins of from crucifixes of people who died recently, not more than seven years back.

Among devotees, fired bullets, those that wounded and, more specifically, killed a Christian man are regarded as the most powerful materials to be used for carving a saint figure.

Whatever the material according to orthodox requirements the completed saints must be consecrated by a catholic priest for seven times (this is mostly archived by hiding the figures in or under another object which is presented for consecration). if the saint is carved out of the bone of a christian man It only has to be consecrated 5 times as it ‘has already been consecrated twice’.

City of meat

22 Jan 2006 | 97 words | argentina photos meat food buenos aires cities

To celebrate(?) the fact that i have started to eat meat again (after 12 or so years) i have created a flickr set highlighting some meat related pictures in i took during my two visits to Buenos Aires (in 2004 as a vegetarian and in 2006 after having started to eat meat again in Patagonia). It might be possible to go to Argentina as a vegetarian, but to come back for a second time and still refuse to eat meat comes down to masochism. Remains to be seen if i will continue eating meat here in Europe.

Argentinean technicians

I almost missed my flight today. First air france offered me €150 and Hotel costs if i would consider flying the next day as the flight was overbooked. Given that it was sunny 30C in BsAs and snowy -2C in Berlin i immediately accepted their proposal. i was given a voucher for €150 and asked to wait for half an hour in case they would have place on the plane. unfortunately they had, but they told me to keep the €150 as a reward for my flexibility (my first ever experience of this capitalist mantra for more flexibility (of the workforce) producing tangible results!

Ironically AF’s computer system seems to be much less flexible than me: in Paris it took them about 40 minutes to turn the voucher into cash as the procedures involved where too complicated for all 8 employees present). The whole procedure (the one in BsAs not the one in Paris) had taken so much time that i had about 40 minutes left to get to the gate (through immigration and security check). Normally this is not a problem unless one is confronted with invisible argentinean technicians causing a 30 minute queue in front of the immigration control booths:

excuse the nuisances

The whole sign makes me wonder of Indian technicians or German engineers would be able to upgrade their systems in a way that ensures faster throughput during the operation. I highly doubt this, as – at least in my case – the procedure was really efficient: take the passport, scan it, enter the date of departure in the computer system, stamp the passport in about 15 seconds. Can’t really see how they want to optimize this procedure. Given that the old implementation of the migration control system was supplied by the US it might take out that one particular second required to send the data to the CIA….

Please do not punish us we are only doing what others have done before us

18 Jan 2006 | 285 words | argentina museum buenos aires art exhibition drugs

The otherwise excellent MALBA (Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires) is currently showing works of the Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica in a solo exhibition. One of the elements present in all 5 works on display are photographic representations of cocaine (or to be precise lines of coke laid out on top of photographs of jimi hendrix, jesus, marilyn monroe and the like…).

However it seems like the curators of the show had the idea that they were sending out a bit of a mixed message here (or that there is a stupid law that does not allow minors to see works of art that depict drug use) and decided to put up a warning message at the entrance of that particular section of the museum:

warning message

[now i can’t translate this as i do not speak spanish but my understanding is that this means something like this: ‘Entrance prohibited for anyone under 18 years of age. This exhibition includes photographs depicting the use of drugs. The consumption of these drugs results in irreversible health damage. These works have been shown in various of the worlds most renowned museums in cities like New York, Barcelona, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro among others’]

I really like the part where they are hiding behind the fact that other museums have shown these works. Makes me somehow doubt that the MALBA will ever show a controversial exhibition for the first time (although Alan assures me that they have a really fine film screening programme & if anyone really wanted to stop people from taking cocaine in Argentina the should rather focus on the price (to low) and the quality (to good) of said agricultural produce).

If I was running an airline...

… I would not sponsor a street called ’11th of spetember’ as this invokes slightly too much images of planes crashing into buildings in my head. Areolineas Argentinas (the argentininan flag carrier) seems to think otherwise as this street sign form the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Belgrano illustrates:

The street in question seems to have this name since before the 9/11 2004 but (at least to me) it is unclear what the name referrs to. One possibility would be that the name is given in commemoration of the 1973 military coup in neigbouring Chile (this is a slightly strange event to name a street after in itself but given Argentinias political history not inconcievable). The only genuine Argentinian event mentioned in the wikipedia entry for 11 september is the death of the Argentinian statesman Domingo Faustino Sarmiento who died on the 11th of September 1888.

Back in Buenos Aires

13 Jan 2006 | 151 words | argentina photos cities buenos aires

After 9 days in Patagonia i am back in Buenos Aires and will probably stay here till i go back to Berlin on the 19th. Have bought myself a bike and started to explore the city. The character of the city is a really strange mix of speed (alsmost hecktic when i to comes to the inhabitants) slowness and style (especially when it comes to waiters and espresso machines).

While cycling through the downtown financial district today, i came across this scrap collector who was pushing along his push cart loaded with the discarded sign of a restaurant. I really like the photo i took of him and his cart. while i tried to take another one from a higher vantage point he found two abandond chairs on the side of the street which he loaded on top of the sign so this is the only picture i managed to take…

Non-existing airbag

09 Jan 2006 | 157 words | argentina cars business

In order to get to monte leon national park we had to rent a car. europcar got us a brand new Renault Clio which prooved to be a nice car even on the dirt roads (ripios) of Patagonia.

From the outside the clio looked like any other Clio i had been in so far, but after a while i started to notice that almiost all non-essential extras where missing form the car: No electrical window openers, no central door locking mechanism & no air bags. Looks like renault produces a trimmed down version for the Argentinian market. While this is not really surprising it is a bit cheap that the dashboard does include an airbag status control lamp (or at least the symbol next to such a lamp) for the non-existing airbag. If you insist on saving on the security equipment you should at least have the decency to spend an extra peso to hide your stinginess.

True artisans...

06 Jan 2006 | 281 words | argentina tourism design

Tomorrow we will be going from El Calafate to the Monte Leon national park on the Atlantic coast. This is a 6 hour drive on unpaved roads and we wanted to take along yerba mate. missing the required gear (gourd and bombilla) i set out to get us a set:

El Calaftate being a tourist town and this being Argentinia every second shop in the centre sells mate sets with either the name of the town the province, the country or good knows what other touristic symbol (penguins, wales, gauchos, Diego, Che, evita, sheep, etc…) or imagined proof of autenticity inscribed or engraved on it.

All i wanted though was a simple mate set with no added bullshit on it. I finally found a stall in the artisans passage of the high street. Someone was hand-decorating wooden gourds and he had a couple of plain ones that he used a raw material. When i asked them how much one of the plain ones was he told me that they are not for sale because he had yet to decorate them. i told him that i wanted a plain one and that i would pay the same price as for a decorated one, but he refused to sell it. I asked him ‘why?’ and he replied ‘because we are artisans’.

I have always detested hand crafted stuff exactly because of this almost missionary drive of the craftspeople to unleash amateurish decorations on the rest of humankind and i have never understood why at least half of the worlds toursits buy this kind of crap and take it home.

One more reason why i am glad to be born after the industrial revolution.

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: