Monday, 21 April 2014

Tourist Tat

I like to wear little things that remind me of things. They don't have to be valuable. I've never seen the attraction of diamonds. My jewellery is mostly about love and memory and particular places. So why not have a little heart of "inca rose" on a little chain? I chose it very carefully from all the very similar ones on offer, and decided that I wanted a heart rather than an oval. Because, why not. We can't always be loved back.

Rhodochrosite Heart from the tourist market in Recoleta
 These cloths came in many colours, and I deliberated long before choosing the brightest. It makes a warm scarf, or a very cheerful, very "South American" tablecloth.

Woven cloth from the other market in San Telmo
Also near the market in San Telmo was a Free Hugs guy. A fine looking tall young black man with a friendly face and a sign saying "Abrazos gratis". I hugged him with pleasure. He said "Oooooo, como abrazás!". Which was nice.

There is a tremendous amount of directly tango-themed tourist tat in Buenos Aires, much of it vaguely representational of couples allegedly dancing. Most of it is quite repellent. But I loved these. They have the painter's name on the back - rather hard to read, but I think it is Alicia Corrarin. She was a very sweet, friendly lady, selling her work in the market, and when I looked at her miniature paintings I felt that she really understands that people dance tango with each other because it makes them happy. One of them kind of reminds me of me, and another one kind of reminded me of a friend, except not now because she's got thinner.

Fridge magnet paintings from the market in Recoleta.
Every time I see them on my fridge, they make me smile. Tourist tat is not pointless.

(On the other hand, while we're on shopping, the cash economy was, to me, the number one most tedious thing about Buenos Aires. Of course, I got used to it very quickly and practically forgot about it: but it does the place a lot of damage.  I probably spent roughly half, perhaps even as little as a third, of what I *would* have spent in the local economy on top of accommodation, if the gap between the official and the actual market exchange rate hadn't been so large, and I had therefore been able to buy shoes and whatnot without having to travel across the city carrying large wads of cash. Impulse buys just don't happen. In fact, I would have spent substantially more if I'd been able to buy basically *anything* without carefully hoarding minuscule sums of cash I wouldn't have thought about for a second about back home. How hard is it really to just issue enough physical currency in small denominations, so that people who have the power to earn it and the desire to exchange it for goods and services, can physically do so as often as they want? One of the most basic  tasks of government? A question that must surely have been studied, I know not where. I know it can't be altogether simple - it took Isaac Newton to suss it out in Britain - in 1699).

Saturday, 19 April 2014

"From" is a big word

"From" is a big word. People ask where a person is "from", expecting that there is a simple, truthful answer which they can use to understand something about you. Or, less charitably, which they can use to look up in their heads what polite or impolite prejudice to apply. One of the nice things about living in London is that rather few people make that mistake; and one of the nice things about tangoing abroad is that "London" or even "England" will do as an answer.

I had a very curious conversation once in which someone concluded "... Oxford, but I'm not from there any more". The sentence struck me as extraordinarily odd; almost ungrammatical: who would ever say such a thing? The state of being "from" somewhere is permanent. That's the whole point. You can't "not be" "from" somewhere "any more" - that's just not what it means. If you ever were, you still are. Or you are not.

I nodded politely. I suspected it might have had to do with the university, and it might well have been meant as an invitation to ask about that, but as a Balliol woman I had no intention of indulging any such nonsense.

A week or two ago I had dinner with someone I've seen twice in the last three months, and before that, hadn't seen for thirty years. She is the only person in my life - apart from my parents, and I'm not sure about them - who already knows where I am "from". It doesn't matter where I was born, how long I lived where, what accent I speak with. She knows where I am "from" because she is too, and she remembers me. And no other information can remove that knowledge. And somehow, inexplicably, we were on the same page.

It was a very unfamiliar feeling for me, and it took me a while to understand what it was. I didn't know what it felt like, to be from somewhere.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

On writing letters

I have just been re-reading Les Liaisons Dangereuses. An inscription on the title page tells me that I bought it twenty years ago. Published in 1782, it is a fascinating novel concerning the education of women in the author's society. It was made (minus a rather eye-opening sub-plot) into a striking film in 1988, and there are lots of other film versions, including a rather good Korean one in 2003. I read an interesting essay recently which argued that a film by its nature misses the point of a novel in which all the characters construct themselves in the form of their letters, and never even bother to describe themselves or each others' physical appearance. However, all that aside, one of the bits I was looking for just now was this - my translation is below.


[The main part of the letter, instructing the 15-year-old Mlle Volanges on the management of her two lovers and prospective husband, need not detain us.]

P.S. - A propos, j'oubliais... un mot encore. Voyez donc à soigner davantage votre style. Vous écrivez toujours comme un enfant. Je vois bien d'oú cela vient; c'est que vous dites tout ce que vous pensez et rien de ce que vous ne pensez pas. Cela peut passer ainsi de vous à moi, qui devons n'avoir rien de caché l'une pour l'autre : mais avec tout le monde! avec votre Amant surtout! vous auriez toujours l'air d'une petite sotte. Vous voyez bien que, quand vous écrivez à quelqu'un, c'est pour lui et non pas pour vous : vous devez donc moins chercher à lui dire ce que vous pensez, que ce qui lui plaît davantage.

Adieu, mon coeur : je vous embrasse au lieu de vous gronder dans l'espérance que vous serez plus raisonnable.
My translation:

P.S. - A propos, I was forgetting ... another word. Pay more attention to your style. You still write like a child. I know exactly why; you say everything you think, and nothing you do not think. That is all very well between the two of us, who should have nothing to conceal from one another : but with everyone! and with your Lover, above all! You will always sound like a little fool. Think well that when you write to someone, it is for them and not for yourself : so you should try less to say what you think, and more to say what will please them best.
Goodbye, dear heart : I kiss you instead of scolding you, in the hope that you will be more sensible.