My day began promptly at midnight. I was standing in the Plaza de Mayo, the historic center of Buenos Aires. Fireworks were exploding just above the president’s house, the Casa Rosada. The occasion was the 54th Peronist Loyalty Day, the annual pep rally for Argentina’s ruling party. I was there to cover the event for the Buenos Aires Herald.
Marcelo and Ruth were there, too. Marcelo is a colleague from the Herald. He was there to set up interviews with Peronist bigwigs. Ruth is Marcelo’s girlfriend and was there to enjoy the show. For the record, I had also asked a woman along, but she declined. Not to worry; I’ve grown accustomed to failing in certain areas where Argentine men–let’s be fair–really excel.
We were at the front of the crowd, in a cordoned-off area for the press and special guests. Behind us, as far as the eye could see, was a sea of Peronist flags and banners, shimmering in the floodlights. The pressure was really on the party hacks to bring out the faithful: The presidential election is only one week away. About 70,000 people turned up.
On either side of the Casa Rosada, there were giant video screens showing images of Juan and Evita Perón in their heyday. As the fireworks died down, the band struck up the “Peronist March.” Marcelo, a good political junkie, tried to lead Ruth and me in a chorus.
“He’s a little loco,” Ruth said.
The music switched to one of Argentina’s more humiliating political ditties: “He who doesn’t jump is a Radical (i.e., a member of the opposition).” Suddenly, the Plaza de Mayo was full of pogo-ing Peronists. In front of me, a man dressed as a gaucho was dancing by himself and yelling into a cellular phone.
I felt one of my periodic attacks of “what the hell am I doing here” coming on. You see, I am a lawyer by training. Just over a year ago, I took a leave from a big Manhattan firm to work for an Argentine company. That was the plan, but I ended up as a journalist with the Buenos Aires Herald, the English language newspaper of Argentina. The next thing I knew, I was staring at a dancing gaucho. Life, very occasionally, is like that.
At about 12:15 a.m., the Peronist presidential candidate, Eduardo Duhalde, delivered the keynote speech. Short, chubby, neckless, and with a lopsided grin permanently fixed on his face, Duhalde brings to mind Buddy Hackett, circa 1965. He hit all the big Peronist issues for this year: cutting taxes, salaries for housewives, a law forbidding companies from firing anyone. Duhalde has also intriguingly pledged to abolish weekly cabinet meetings. Granted, I’ve been in the country only a year, but careful observation tells me that weekly cabinet meetings are not Argentina’s big problem.
Peronist Loyalty Day, by the way, commemorates the events of Oct. 17, 1945, when a massive rally in the Plaza de Mayo forced the military regime to release Juan Perón from prison. This year’s rally was scheduled for the wee hours of the morning, so as not to conflict with the afternoon’s playoff between the country’s two most popular soccer teams, River Plate and Boca Juniors. No Argentine politician can attract a crowd during a soccer game. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to get four for bridge during a match.
When the rally ended, I bade farewell to Marcelo and Ruth and hopped a colectivo bus. Back at my apartment, I listened to BBC World Service and got a few hours sleep. Later (still Sunday), I went to the Herald, where I checked the wire services, chatted, ate lunch, and wrote my story about Peronist Loyalty Day.
Then it was back to my apartment, where I had to show the place to prospective tenants. Oh, that’s the other thing about this week–it’s my last in Argentina. After 14 months, I’m moving back to New York. The small world of English-language media in Argentina has given me a once-in-a-lifetime chance to break into a new profession. But sooner or later I’ll have to try my luck as a writer in the United States. So I’m leaving, but not until I see the elections through.
Nobody wanted the apartment.
At dusk, I went for a run in Palermo Park with Julio, the arts editor of the Herald. Julio was very excited because River had defeated Boca in the soccer match. We ran two laps around the lake before I gave up. It had been a long day. I limped on to a colectivo that happened to be packed with drunken River fans. They started singing, “He who doesn’t jump is for Boca,” and suddenly I was surrounded by pogo-ing soccer hooligans.
What the hell am I doing here?