Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Say Less, Telmo...

Before the afternoon ferry back to Uruguay, we spent our last half day of the dreamy trip visiting the famous Buenos Aires barrio of San Telmo--a historic district named after Saint Elmo, patron saint of sailors--and its acclaimed antiques market, nineteenth-century architecture, freelance entertainment, and cobblestone streets...
Subterranean...
Station...
Streets...
Stilts...
Statues...
Strings...
Strange...
San Telmo...
Sanctum...
Strolling...
Significance...
Signatures...
Cervezas...
Snickering...
Scrumptious...
Sailing from...
Sailing to...
Safety?...
Steak...

To Us!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Summers, Cool Breezes, And A Sting...

Waking up with another spring sunrise, we're almost back to Buenos Aires. From terminal to taxi to hostel, we stored our bags and stole the last of the coffee and cereal, and headed for Hard Rock Cafe to collect our tickets to The Police concert...Nearby, the famous obelisk, built in 1936 to mark the 400th anniversary and first founding of the city...
Named for the date of Argentina's independence, 9 de Julio, the world's largest street, was seeming extra spacious on this sunny early summer Saturday. Deciding to walk the two dozen blocks to the Recoleta neighborhood, we passed Teatro Colón which unfortunately is under repair for it's centennial in May, 2008...
After outlasting a long line of anxious ticket takers, we headed back to the hostel to finish check-in and find something fun to fill the afternoon...
Café Tortoni is a historic tango bar and restaurant--in fact, home to a tango museum--and we enjoyed a long lunch...
Sketches, paintings, and sculptures of famous folk from the passionate past are displayed everywhere, while mannequins masquerade as reality...
Our waiter told us that The Police actually had reservations here the previous night but never showed--as musical aficionados, it was undoubtedly a delay due to the double concerts scheduled for this weekend. Our friends from Montevideo, Aaron and Emily, were also in town to see the famous rock trio perform in Estadio River Plate tonight, and they arranged to pick us up in their rental car...

Now, for Aaron and I, both thirty-somethings who reached high school as The Police reached the pinnacle of world wide popularity, having front row standing room VIP tickets to a concert that was twenty-years in the waiting...well, it was a special opportunity. While other older or more obscure bands had been making reunion tours for years, this trio had held out and given no intention of selling out for the easy millions they could make. After all, they disbanded at the peak of their stardom.

But, on February 11, 2007, they performed at the 49th Grammy Awards, and to the delight of unsuspecting fans, also announced a world tour...

We arrived at the 66,000 seat stadium early, easily staking a claim a few feet from the front wall that provided a bit of a buffer between the stage and screaming fans. The opening act was Beck, named for the lead singer and song-writer, who's more well known numbers include "Loser" and "Where It's At"...
The stadium was still half full and comfortable when the eight o'clock concert began under dusky daylight...
River Plate Stadium is a historic site itself. Officially named Estadio Monumental Antonio Liberti and considered the national stadium, it is better known as El Monumental de Nuñez or Estadio River Plate. It is the home field of the famed red and white team called Club Atlético River Plate--one of two Argentina teams revered among futbol fanatics. Interestingly, it's inaugural match in 1938 was against Peñarol of Uruguay, and--five decades later-- became the second club of famed Uruguayan footballer Enzo Francescoli Uriarte, "El Principe" (The Prince), a South American superstar in the 80's and 90's, the all-time leading scorer for River Plate who's worthy of mention among Pelé and Maradona (star of River's arch rivals, Boca Juniors). But, indisputably, Argentinos will always remember winning their first FIFA World Cup here in 1978, 3-1 over the Netherlands, and becoming sixth nation and the second in South America, after Uruguay, to claim the title...
Anyway, Beck rocked. Especially, his boisterous afro-bearing bassist, his giddy guitarist and skin slapping drummer. Despite delivering a great mix of licks and lyrics, Beck himself seems as subdued as the brim of his eclectic hat...

Things were going great, the crowd dancing, the sides of the stadium filling in with people and darkness and a murmuring anticipation after Beck's band left stage right...

And then...
It's almost impossible to explain the combined effects of the impassioned people packing together, with a decades-long build-up of love for an infamous rock band that recently re-united, and exploding in hysteria in the general admission area of front row, when the spotlight's flash flooded The Police who bound on and broke into "Message In A Bottle", one of many many top hits that they would medley through for the next three hours...

In short, the crowd crushed itself into human soup as the music failed to out-rock the deafening applause. For the next five minutes, you were fighting for your life, your "personal bubble" completely popped, as you moved meters this way and that--and your feet weren't even on the ground. Even being a big guy with years of experience battling bigger guys on basketball courts, it took every ounce of shoulder and elbow to hold on to Leandra whose expressions quickly changed from fun to fear, as we were literally obliterated during the next two songs, "Synchrocity II" and "Walking on the Moon"...
Finally, after five minutes of moshing, some slower songs allowed everyone to enjoy the show with a bit less need for their survival instincts. During the concert, more than one fainting fan was dragged out by friends or over the front wall by paramedics. Even though it was a perfect partly cloudy day with a cool breeze, man, was it still hot and sweaty...

But boy, was it awesome...
Back in Iguazu, a tourist from Buenos Aires told us an fascinating story about Andy Summers, the least famous of the blond trio. In 1980, the last time the band visited Buenos Aires, the people were suffering under the post-Perón era dictatorship. Soldiers were used as concert security and when a frenetic front row female fan was being brutally beaten back by a military policeman, mid-song, Andy stepped forward and kicked the cop in the head, to the roaring approval of the crowd. This simple act of humanitarianism not only made an infamous public statement against oppression, but it vaulted the lead guitarist deep into the grateful hearts of Argentinos. And when Andy came on stage, sizzled a psychedelic solo, or took his final bow, the applause was thick with admiration...

Stewart Copeland is still considered one of the best percussionists in rock history--a master of the syncopated beat with his signature sharp smack on the snare, maintaining steady grooves while adding awesome fills. His kits are as elaborate as his super skills, and he has string of creative achievements ranging from operas to soundtracks. Fittingly, he's used the pseudonym Klark Kent. The Copeland family has been a seminal force in modern music. His oldest brother and band manager, Miles, founded the IRS--International Records Syndicate. Ian, the family's second son and decorated Vietnam vet, started the FBI--Frontier Booking International, a break-out talent agency in the 80's. After Ian died from melanoma, Stewart borrowed Ian's army nickname to start the "Leroy Coolbreeze" Fund to fight cancer, a charity advertised on his t-shirt...
Sting, whose fame completely shrouds his real name, Gordon Sumner, is most recognized. Not only are his singing and songwriting skills--and good looks--adored by millions, but his bass lines are hypnotically strong in their apparent simplicity. His hits--and its hard to say if his solo career outshines his days with The Police--have been praised for four decades, including several collaborative efforts with other famed performers. But perhaps greatest of all, like all those who turn fame into an opportunity to help others, are his contributions to combat world suffering and save the environment--from starvation in Africa to preservation of the Amazon. For this reason, he even has a Colombian tree frog named after him: dendropsophus stingi...
By the way, their signature fair hair image is an inadvertent gimmick, gained after bleaching themselves blond for a 1978 Wrigley's commercial. But it stuck like gum under a picnic table...

From that year until 1983, they produced five albums that earned six Grammy Awards including, most notably, Song of the Year for "Every Breath You Take"--beating out "Billie Jean" from Michael Jackson's Thriller. They were pioneers of the new pop-punk-reggae sound, and one of the first major groups to tour Mexico, India, Greece, Egypt and Thailand among others. They broke The Beatles' New York City ticket sales records on their Synchronicity tour, the final album. Then, they just stopped...

They went out on top...

And while other aging groups took multiple grabs the golden goose of reunion tours, they never even hinted at having any interest in it...

They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March, 2003...

Then, the year that we were in Uruguay, they came together and aimed at Buenos Aires...

I took a little sign. I wrote some of my favorite songs down--ones that weren't singles, ones most people don't know: "Bombs Away", "No Time This Time", "Any Other Day", "Be My Girl". At the bottom I wrote "play a tango". But between twenty years of rust and a rabid crowd demanding the most famous singles, they didn't see my little cardboard wish list. But, as I stood there, watching my favorite band from childhood for the first time, mentally muting the cheering crowd, glancing at Leandra in front of me as she enjoyed the show, thinking of my friends who would love to be with me--it was neither more or less than I hoped for. It was exactly what I imagined--my second dream come true in the past two weeks...
Message In A Bottle, Synchronicity II, Walking On The Moon, Voices Inside My Head...
When The World Is Running Down, Don't Stand So Close To Me, Driven To Tears, Hole In My Life...
Truth Hits Everybody, Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, Wrapped Around Your Finger, De Do Do Do De Da Da Da...
Invisible Sun, Walking In Your Footsteps, Can't Stand Losing You, Regatta De Blanc...

The encore was Roxanne, King Of Pain, So Lonely, Every Breath You Take...

Then, after extended ovations to the darkened stage, Andy re-appeared to renewed applause and flew into one more song to his adoring Argentine fans: Next To You. Of course, Stewart and Sting jumped out and joined in. Afterwards, as the clapping cacophony turned into classic soccer chants of "Ole, ole, ole, ole", the three men waved "muchas gracias" and blew kisses goodbye...As we exited, just two of tens of thousands of sweaty and exhausted fans, we found one more lovable memory of life in Latin America...

Tell you what, why don't you watch the concert yourself. This video is for Marc and Michael, Eric, Mike, Jon and Javier--and any and all of my friends, old and new, from Oregon or Uruguay or elsewhere, who wish they could have been there with me...

video

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Two Of A Kind...

The Best Things In Life Come In Pairs Contest: Count and identify all the things that clearly come in pairs in the photos below and post them in the comments. The winner gets 2 pesos or 2 cents--whichever is worth more--and a possible appearance in our next blog contest winners section!

We were blessed with a beautiful view from our fourth story room that looked out on the town hall tower and the cathedral steeple. We spent our first full day in San Martin de los Andes wandering the streets and eateries, the "playas" and plazas, sampling more local morsels. Like most of the buildings in San Martin, the interior architecture of the church was wooden, reflecting the natural resources and the notably European flavor. We lunched along main street by day, and by night we dined on swine and chicken brochettes with fine wine followed by creamy chocolate desserts...



Between meals we spent the afternoon on horseback, ambling through the foothills behind our gaucho guide, Juan. We found sheep nibbling in the dales, chirping birds darting between trees, and falcons silently circling on the updrafts. We also liked Luli, Juan's smart little farm dog, who trotted along for fun. The unexpected surprise was a Mapuche man leading his timber-toting team of oxen down a steep rutted rode as we strode higher. It was a marvelous sight that seemed straight out of a history book--a living example of an artist's would-be drawing of native life...


Combining the words for "earth" and "people", the Mapuche still live according to tradition in the mountainous region of northern Patagonia. Prior to the Europeans, the Mapuche successfully thwarted Inca attempts to conquer their territory and assimilate their culture. Then, again, for three centuries they foiled the encroaching efforts of Spain, eventually managing to retain their autonomy once Chile and Argentina achieved independence. Seeing the hand carved wooden wheels and powerful hooves lift the dust as they rocked and rolled downhill was a special sight. Feeling out-matched and without orders, our horses quickly cleared the way...

Juan posed for a picture and pointed out distant peaks. We took a break from our saddles, stretched our legs, and absorbed the scene while petting the necks of our ponies. Behind the rolling forest vistas lie the rugged range of Lanín National Park, where it's namesake, a world famous conical volcano, has slumbered for five centuries, tempting scores of summer climbers with its smooth slopes...

Leaving San Martin the next morning, we got an excellent view of Mt. Lanín, on the right, resting it's head in a cloudy pillow...

In addition to a hilarious horse smile the day before, we had a few laughs on the long bus ride back to Buenos Aires. First, in a pueblo about mid-way, a young local lady's T-shirt tickled us with irony. At another small town terminal we got a kick out of the complimentary thermos-shaped super tanker of "aguas calientes" so that no one would be left sipping lukewarm mate...


And, for possibly the last time, we nodded off into an another Argentina sunset that painted the pampas in pastels...