Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Confusion and suspicion

CCTV catches the incident in Tigre
The confusion and possibility for misfortune that can come from living in a distrusting, mistrusting and genuinely suspicious of ‘just about anybody you don’t know’ society were demonstrated with perfect clarity yesterday in Tigre, a somewhat more affluent town to the north of the capital.

High crime, general insecurity and the constant fear evoking media coverage that accompanies it all in Argentina, makes partaking in a private transaction of any sort something to be chary about. So when a Buenos Aires resident of the Dock Sur neighbourhood made his way to Tigre to buy a second-hand car, he was very much on guard and on the lookout for any fishy behaviour which could see him heading home by public transport, without the desired vehicle or the cash he was going to use to buy it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

El Truco

A weekend game of truco

'Son buenas.'
'Quiero re truco.'
'Quiero vale cuatro.'
'Hijo de puta.'

Truco, Argentina’s card game of choice. Just watching can be exhausting; actually playing, an on your toes, get stuck in fully blown, loud, deceitful, slap you on your back Argentine experience.

Truco (Trick) is just that. A game filled with trickery, lies, gamesmanship, tactics, skill and like with any other card game, a little bit of old lady luck.

It is played with what are known in Argentina as Cartas Españolas (Spanish cards). The deck is made up of fifty cards numbered one to twelve. There a four suits, called palos. Basto (clubs), Oro (gold), Espadas (swords) and Copas (cups). For truco the eights and nines are removed from the deck.

The game can be played one on one but generally the real version is played in pairs, two on two; or in extreme situations with six players. 

Spanish Cards used for Truco
The object: to be the first to get thirty points. The first fifteen points are known as malas (bad) and the second half buenas (good). Points are obtained by winning during the two parts of each round, the envido and the truco.

The round starts with three cards dealt to each player. If you’re playing with a partner then some face signals will be made to let him know what cards you have. Bravado, lies and perhaps some truths are shouted around the table as the round gets underway.

Reading this without ever having encountered the game will no doubt be a tad confusing but the basic idea for the envido is to have the highest total, or to make your opponents think you do.

If you have two cards of the same suit, then you have something to play. You take the total of your two cards and add that to twenty. For example, if you have the seven of Gold and the six of Gold then you have thirty-three (the highest possible as 10s, 11s and 12s count as zero). If you’re left with nothing, then your only chance of winning is to out lie your opponents in a macho effort to convince them you have more than they do.

La mano (the hand) is the person to the right of the dealer and he has first chance to bet. If he chooses to he will shout envido (as soon as that word is mentioned at any moment then the bet is made). During the betting, players will crack jokes and employ other means of distraction to try to put their opponent off; be it to dissuade his betting or to to lull him into a false sense of security.

The betting responses to a call of envido are:
Quiero (I want) - the round is worth two points. 
Real envido - ups the stakes to three points.
Envido - means there are four points up for grabs.
Falta envido - you win whatever your opponent needs to complete his malas (first fifteen) or his buenas. 
No quiero - You bow out and automatically lose points.

After concluding who has the highest (without showing your cards for now), the second part of the round commences; the truco.

In the truco it is a fight to see who has the best cards. The cards are ranked in order of value. 

The One of Swords
The One of Clubs
The Seven of Swords
The Seven of Gold
The 3s
The 2s
The One of Cups & the One of Gold
Then from the 12s down to the 4s

Each player in turn throws down a card face up and the highest card kills the other cards and wins. The idea is to win two out of the three throws to take the points for truco. Throughout this part of the game more betting is going on in a similar way to that of the envido. Calling truco sets up the betting, and you can up it all by shouting re truco and then quiero vale cuatro (I want it’s worth four). 

If envido was played for, then knowing the total of your opponent gives you some idea what cards he has; but throughout the betting more lies and gamesmanship go on as you communicate with your partner as to the order in which you want to throw your cards or you use one of the many sneaky little tricks available to win. And remember, if at the end of the round no one has seen your cards and you won the envido, then be sure to show your total, or all the points you should have got will go to the other side the moment your cards are back in the pack.

A truco scorecard
If it all makes absolutely no sense whatsoever here, then rest assured it makes even less sense the first time you see a game played.

But when in Argentina, if you learn the value of the cards, the lip-licking and eyebrow raising face signals, then you can sit down around an empty crate of beer with a plank of wood on the top in a neighbourhood anywhere in the country, with one, three or five compañeros; and with some hard practice to get used to the pace, the jargon and the loud and jocular atmosphere of it all, you'll start to get the hang of it. And though you'll probably lose a few pesos as you get going, somewhere down the line with an afternoon's game of truco you might just end up winning a few bottles of Quilmes as you relish in the enjoyment of a truly great card game.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The South Atlantic

The islands out there in the South Atlantic have been in the headlines rather more frequently as of late. Of course the subject is one that never really goes away in Argentina but political cynicism suggests that the government’s choosing to harp on about it right now might have something to do with the up-coming national elections in October.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner definitely portrays herself as a president who is capable of ‘getting back what is rightfully Argentine’ and her publicly solid stance will no doubt secure her some extra votes come Election day. And it is clear that the more time she spends rallying the people with patriotic promises, the less time she spends addressing the real problems her government ought to be facing up to; potential vote losing topics like increasing inflation and troubling insecurity.

This 2 April, a national holiday in Argentina to commemorate the War Fallen and Veterans of the 1982 military conflict, not only saw the standard protests outside the British Embassy in Buenos Aires and parades throughout the country, but also various political announcements.

After screaming to a crowd in Rio Gallegos that the South Atlantic Islands “will be forever Argentine and this government will never yield our claim,” President Kirchner went on to say that “Argentina will continue to seek to resolve the issue in abidance with the UN,” stating that her country “only participates in peace missions,” while the UK sorts out its conflicts by “dropping bombs on Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya.”

Argentine map of the Islands
Of course the arguments about who is abiding by the UN and whether the Islands should remain British or become Argentine have been going on for years with both sides delving into the history books to defend their claims, while accusing one another of improper or counter-productive behaviour.

A recent exchange of articles has taken place between London authors Peter Pepper and Graham Pascoe, and Andrés Cisneros, Argentina’s Deputy Foreign Minister during the 1990s Menem government.

In their first article ‘Unilateral Facts’ Pepper and Pascoe discuss Argentina’s recent accusations that the UK is acting ‘unilaterally’ and is ‘in breach of UN Resolution 31/49.’

The UN Resolution, which was agreed in December 1976, states that ‘each side should refrain from taking decisions that would imply introducing unilateral modifications.’ Pepper and Pascoe write that any talk about the Resolution post the 1982 War is absurd and suggest that the Argentine government is acting ludicrously and hypocritically in doing so now.

Cisneros responds in The Buenos Aires Herald with his article, ‘Unilateral Facts Indeed’ by emphasizing that the debate should go back a lot further than the UN Resolution and 1982 War and take into consideration the 19th Century ‘when London abused force by invading the islands and threatening with a display of weaponry all the Argentine inhabitants,’ - a response which prompted Pepper to argue about what is the ‘real history’ of the islands in ‘Unilateral Facts II’. All articles are very much worth the read.

The fact is most Argentines are firm in their belief that the UK is illegally occupying Argentine territory – and this popular viewpoint is as open to exploitation today as it was during the 1982 invasion. (NB ‘invasion’ is not a word Argentines will employ with respect to the incident citing the example that if someone was squatting in your property, you wouldn’t be labelled an invader if you went there to kick them out). 

And with the recent successful offshore oil explorations in South Atlantic waters, coupled with the October elections, the subject of the Islands' sovereignty is again being raised by the Argentine government.

This week the Argentine ambassador to the UN, Jorge Argüello has given a conference with the launch of 'It takes two to Tango.' Its idea is the promotion of a world-wide discussion on the whole issue.

The cenotaph at Plaza San Martín
And the announcement was made that the country is set to change its protocol for visiting officials by obligating them to pay homage at the cenotaph in Buenos Aires which lists the names of the 1982 War’s fallen soldiers.

Cristina Kirchner also announced that at as of 2012 a letter sent from the Islands by volunteer soldier Julio Cao will be read to all children in every school in Argentina. Shortly after joining the Military Junta’s campaign, Cao, a primary school teacher, sent the letter to his pupils to express his feelings about defending ‘the Argentine flag.’

Whether you believe these acts are pure politics or true patriotic gestures, the fact is the issue is not likely to go away soon but while the UK and Argentina quibble about the future, the Islands’ residents will continue to get on with the task of living.

“We are happy with the status quo, and do not like being told by others what to do,” said the Islands’ Legislative Assembly Member Emma Edwards during a UN seminar last year. “We are currently not ready for independence, but we do express our right of self-determination with almost all of the people on the Islands wishing to remain and enjoy our British Overseas Territory status.”