Banfield

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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We have all heard the sports metaphors likening athletic activity to religion. Whether referring to the fan’s fanaticism as some sort of religious zeal or a stadium as a temple. In Argentina, this idea fits more closely than most situations, both as a social meeting ground and as the predominant source of identity.
Unlike sports in the United States, which are often part of educational institutions, soccer, both amateur and professional, is an integral part of the community and wholly separated from schools. In fact, all professional teams, or clubs, are associated with a community organization that offers much more than just soccer, but community activities, amateur sports, and other services to the members of the club. Banfield, a relatively small club in the first division offers everything from youth soccer to field hockey and swimming as part of its programs. By providing such activities and services, the club has become the main social focus in Buenos Aires, replacing the Church. Very few Argentines attend church regularly, despite being an overwhelmingly Catholic nation.
In the way the church provides a social meeting place, it also provides a source of identity. It is the same, if not stronger, for soccer clubs in Argentina. The first identity of the average Argentine after family is with his or her soccer club, before religion or nationality. This is a strong bond because it is so close to home. From the time a child is born in Argentina, he is often a member of a club, and with the dues he pays, he receives all the communal benefits of that club. This cradle to grave membership system creates a strong sense of identity between club and member, which helps to explain why it supplants the church as the source of identity in Argentina and much of Latin America.
Sports in no way has anywhere near the significance of religion in terms of moral prescription or questions as to the meaning of existence. In that way, it can never compete with religion on those questions. However, while the church in the United States has addressed these questions, it has also provided a social focus and therefore a source of identity that perhaps explains why it is so much more popular there. In Argentina, these last two functions of the church are replaced by soccer clubs, which explains the passion and ferocity for sport which is unmatched by anything stateside.

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At the end of our visit to the Argentine Central Bank, one thing was painfully clear—the Argentine Central Bank had never seen, talked to, or even knew anything about the Argentine Government. While discussing the operations of the Bank, the officials from the Banco Central denials of their ties to politics of Argentina were as vehement as Peter’s. “The Argentine Government? I’ve never even heard of them,” stated the Bank Director.
OK, so it wasn’t that extreme. We didn’t even talk with the director, but the separation between the politicians and they bankers they charged with the financing of the nation was evident. While the director is a political appointee, the officials were adamant in indicating their independence from politics. They felt that the upcoming elections would have very little effect on the way they do their jobs, outside of the confidence it may or may not instill in the economy, which is an indirect effect. Furthermore, there are a couple of ways the division is even more overt.
First, the Central Bank issues its own debt, rather than debt issued by the treasury, as is the case in the United States and most other nations. While the Federal Reserve is relatively independent of political movements, it must work with the Treasury since it issues T-bills. Since the Treasury is subject to policy changes with different administrations, this is a relatively significant tie to politics that the Federal Reserve must negotiate. The Argentine Central Bank has not such issues, as it issues its own debt, which does away with the need for the interaction that occurs between the Treasury and the Fed in the States.
Secondly, it became very clear that they took no responsibility for the under-reported inflation numbers that have scandalized the nation. While not admitting that the numbers were falsified, they explained that they had no control over them. Again, there was an effort to make a distinction between the government and the Central Bank.
The need to make such a distinction is the result of the lack of confidence in the Argentine government. Historically, Argentina has defaulted on its government issued debt more than any other nation, and the most recent episode occurred in 2001. It is therefore very understandable that the Argentine Central Bank, now the issuer of debt, would do whatever is necessary to differentiate itself from the Argentine government. In order to instill confidence in its lenders, it must shed all associations with the government.
Hopefully this is a good idea, and the separation will keep the politicians from meddling with debt again as well as boost the credibility of Argentine public debt. If that is the case, then deny away Banco Central de Argentina, on whom I shall build the future confidence in Argentine debt.

I can’t tell you how many times I have talked with one of my friends or family about my trip to Argentina when, at some point in the conversation, they say, “Argentina…there’s a lot of Nazis down there, right?” The truth is, yes, there are a lot of Germans in Argentina, and some of them were Nazis. However, to continue to focus on the German Argentines because of the very few in their midst that were Nazi sympathizers overlooks their most important contribution to Argentine society—the German Shepherd.
In Argentina, everyone has a dog. This, in combination with a lack of rules concerning canine hygiene, has left the streets of Buenos Aires a veritable minefield of Fido’s surprise. In the “Paris of the South,” it is impossible to take in any of the beautiful architecture, grand statues, or lively shops because you are so busy trying to dodge the next line of terds. The dogs themselves vary. There are golden retrievers (because, let’s face it, they’re great dogs), huskies (maybe because they are needed in Patagonia?), and the usual stray mutts (examples of how much of a melting pot Argentina is, and how poverty still exists in great numbers). Despite this diversity, I would say that every third dog I saw was a German Shepherd. It is, from my observations, by far the most popular dog in Argentina.
I have no idea why this is the case. Sure, Germans are great dogs, and I myself would be tempted to buy one, but why are these transplanted Italians so crazy about them? Perhaps it is a safety thing, or their obsession with all things big and bad. However, there are many dogs that would fit these descriptions, which still leaves me baffled. It can only be said that this is an indication of the lasting effects of German immigration, which is yet another component to the diverse identity of Argentines.
The German profile is not as evident in humans as it is in canines in Buenos Aires, but there do exist many proper German-speaking communities and families to the south, tucked away in the Andes (the Alps of South America). Most of them are not Nazis, although admittedly some of them are. Despite their fascist tendencies, the Argentine Germans have most certainly had an impact on Argentine society, although not as strong as, say, the Brits. For evidence of this, one need look no further in Buenos Aires than the bottom of your shoe…

In Argentina, Juan Domingo Peron is the dead 2 ton political elephant in the room. Peron will seemingly forever have a strong influence on the country, and in particular the province of Buenos Aires. In the city, the images of Peron and Evita are nowhere to be found, save perhaps the statue of Evita and the imagery within the various unions, such as the CGT. The federal district has never supported Peronism, even in his most popular years, but in the worker-laden province, he is a saint.
I was familiar with this division that marks social and regional differences within Argentina, however, I was not aware as to how stark the contrast was between the federal district and the surrounding province of Buenos Aires. After learning in lecture about the types of imagery used by the Peronists, especially the seal, I realized that I had not seen any of these symbols before. Furthermore I did not see any after that lecture until we took a tour of various soccer stadiums which led us to the province of Buenos Aires.
After spending some time at the hallowed grounds of the Bombonera, which is the Yankee stadium of Argentine soccer and home of Boca Juniors, we crossed over the river into the province of Buenos Aires. While the appearance of the province does not immediately differ from the city, the political imagery certainly does. Suddenly, on every corner there was a poster with the Peronist Seal on it. Furhtemore, imagery of Evita and Juan were displayed proudly on street walls, a sight not found in the federal district. Literally, the dirty little river separating in la Boca separating city from province also separated political factions. It divides those who believe a beautiful day is “a great day for Peron” and those who greet this statement with disdain.
Perhaps due to my awareness of the symbol’s meaning, I did notice the use of the Peronist seal in the city of Buenos Aires after the tour of soccer stadiums. This again proves that there is the exception to every rule. However, it remains that the division between the political preferences of the province and the federal district is very stark due to proximity, much like the division between Racing Club and its rival Independiente. These clubs were on our visit as well, and they provide one of the most interesting rivalry aspects in the world as they are literally located 200 yards apart in the province of Buenos Aires. Of course, in a fitting mirror image of the political oddities of Buenos Aires, Racing Club’s stadium was built in an effort to dwarf its rival club by none other than the club’s biggest fan and the stadium’s namesake—Juan Domingo Peron.

Club Atletico Ferro Carril del Oeste is by no means a powerhouse in Argentine football. In fact it is struggling to remain in the second division and maintain financial stability. However, the match I attended between Ferro and Chacarita, the leading team in the B division, provided an endless amount of talking points to relay to my friends and family back home. However, rather than describe the die hard fans and their indignance at referees and other fans or the brilliance of their play in the 2-0 win that goes a long way in keeping them from being relegated, I wanted to dissect an event the game that may threaten the Argentine style of football.
After 15 to 20 minutes into the first half, it was apparent that Ferro was the team that came ready to play. As a result, the majority of play occurred Chacarita’s half, who were constantly on the defensive. Inevitably, a situation arose where a foul was committed and Ferro had a free kick opportunity. As the players forming the wall took there positions in accordance with the imaginary line the referee usually sets, it was evident thatthe referee did not feel imagintation was enough. In an action I have never seen, the referee used some sort of temporary white spray similar to silly string to mark the line. Furthermore, he drew a circle around the ball as well to keep the Ferro player from advancing the ball as he “placed” it in a suitable position.
For the most part, this seems to me to be a brilliant idea. The players were held accountable to play within the rules, and within minutes the spray was gone with no harm done to the pitch. However, I can also see how this may inhibit the Argentine culture as it is expressed through its most sacred activity—football. In Argentina, the “trickster” and slight of hand are often valued parts of life, if they are only valued in a begrudging manner at times by those who fall victim to them. Football is certainly not exempt from this, as indicated by the Argentine preference for Maradona’s illegal “hand of God” goal against England in the 1986 World Cup, rather than his skillful dismantling of the English side in another goal in the same match that many claim is the greatest goal of all time. To cheat, ever so subtly, and get away with it, is even more admired in some ways than legitimate achievements.
In this way, it is easy to see that the Argentine culture may be under attack from referees armed with silly string. The art of advancing the ball a few feet, disguised as an attempt to place the ball, as well as the subtle movements forward by the wall to affect the angle of the kick indicates are the kinds of sneakiness so valued in Argentina. Now, will this destroy the devious manner of play for which Argentina is often renowned? Probably not. However, the attempt to impose order on a game that is so often defined by funny bounces, marginally legal tactics, and subjective refereeing seems to somewhat contradict the essence of the Argentine game. They just might be better off without it.

In one of the travel guides I skimmed before arriving in Buenos Aires, it described almost perfectly the ride into the city from the airport as an endless expanse of shabby apartment buildings stretching as far as the eye can see. This is true. The travel guide went on to say that eventually you reach the “real city,” where French architecture and beautiful statues turn Buenos Aires from a relatively wealthy Latin American city to the “Paris of the South.”
The insistence that Buenos Aires is some sort of transplanted European city is a misnomer. In reality it is something far more interesting and unique then a replica of Paris, if not as aesthetically pleasing. In the labyrinth of diversely colored 20-story apartment buildings, the bodies of burnt out cars, and the sobering realities of slums just slightly better than the ones I have seen in Guatemala City, there is something distinctly Latin American. That is not to say that all the distasteful things of the city are not European, but that the stark reality is that this is still a developing region of the world is incredibly evident before entering the center of the city. While the elaborate architecture and stunning statues reflect the aspirations and potential of the Argentines at the beginning of the 20th century as one of the world’s top 10 economies, the gritty reality of what I would call the “real” neighborhoods surrounding the microcentro remind one of how short they have fallen of achieving this level of development.
In the end, most of Buenos Aires is no different than what I have seen in American cities like Miami or New York, leading me to believe that Buenos Aires is more a city in the vein of the United States, with a European center. However, one only has to travel out of Palermo and Recoleta, cross Rivadavia, the dividing line of the city, and head to Boca to get a taste of the vitality, culture, and, yes, poverty that defines most of Latin America. It is this complexity of cultural mestizaje and near confusion that makes Buenos Aires one of the most surprising and endearing places I have encountered.

1,984 km (1,233 miles) traveled
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