As many of you know, Argentina is very close to our heart. My brother Felipe and I spent some of our most formative years there. It is a place and a culture of turmoil and freedom, of disorder and striking beauty. It is a place that, in many ways, feels like home. Now don’t worry, because I’m not going to go on and on about the World Cup. I’m not going to talk about how Messi is the best athlete of any sport in the history of the world, or how it was the best World Cup of all time, and how it was no less than the manifestation of the divine justice of the rascal gods of soccer. No, these things are of course true, but I just want to share with you some thoughts I had on a recent trip that Laura and I made after many years of absence.
In Buenos Aires, you always feel that this is truly the city that never sleeps. It is, like the song says, “La ciudad de la furia” (the city of fury). Its life unfolds in the streets. Bars, cafés, and markets are always open and packed with intergenerational city dwellers who spend their hours smoking cigarettes and drinking hot coffee and cold beer, vermouths and aperitivos on ice over loud bursts of laughter, and jugs of red wine and tall glasses of Fernet and coke over extravagant hand motions, the indelible mark of their Italian heritage. Its parks and plazas are the sanctuary of the continuous ceremony of drinking mate and catching up with family and friends. The smell of asado (Argentine-style cookout) fills the streets throughout the day and deep into the night. Neighborhood joints and Parisian-style restaurants frozen in time are filled to the brim. Dinner is served from 10 pm to midnight, and the early morning is the meeting place of cool nightcrawlers and diligent early-risers. The people of Buenos Aires live with a crazy intensity that can only be matched by their panache.
As you leave the city and start heading south, you ride long and narrow rutas where tiny Fiats and Peugeots rush and glide like mad swallows, where slanted tractor-trailers fiercely bounce forward transporting the bounty of the land between the provinces and the city, and where multi-passenger Chinese-made motorcycles zip through like frenzied fish evading the net of the fisherman. You find families like gypsies, with big-bellied men and chestnut-haired women eating sandwiches and drinking cold wine and soda on blankets on the side of the highway while their children chase a soccer ball. It is a landscape of destitute gomerías (tire repair shops) with lanky street dogs that roam about like lost mendicants, of packed roadside parrillas that bustle like townhalls as the sweet smoke of charred cow fat raises to the blue skies. It is a land of wild ñandús (South American ostriches) that roam the endless plains, of indifferent horses that stand tied to fenceposts on the side of the road like docked rowboats on the shore, of fat beef cows that carelessly float in an endless sea of knee-high green grass pastures, and of strange birds that soar the skies with large mullets and pointy beaks, lost in an infinite horizon. It is open and untamed.
It is a land with a sense of freedom not guaranteed by political powers; in fact, it is threatened by them. Freedom is guaranteed by wildness, by the sheer inability to control every aspect of human life. Argentina’s freedom does not lie in inviolable institutions or in fair government, or in a stable economy or a just society that strives for equality, or even in its own convictions. Ask any Argentine and they will tell you that none of these things exist, and that if they do, they certainly don’t work well. Their country is full of poverty, corruption, and insecurity, yet there is something that cannot be measured. You can feel it in the air. You can see it in each human interaction. It is raw, chaotic, unfair, and even perverse, but it is, in a fundamental sense, free.
Argentina is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of chaos and dysfunction. It is what happens when a culture refuses to have its imagination captured by the servitude of safety and financial stability. To be Argentine is to look up at the vast blue sky with its white clouds and golden southern sun and to see the colors of your flag, waving above the entire world in glory. It is, in many ways, a Quixotic culture, one that already lives its lofty goal despite all its troubles, exercising its freedom in the streets and cafés over an aperitivo, in the relentless freedom of being together. Casa Carmen, we hope, is a window into the beauty of that world.