Friday, 14 September 2007

Humitity, Cartoneros and the brush shop

18th April:

Its now 1.30am on Thursday morning and I am now back in the lively, homely activity of the locutorio in Corrientes. Tonight I have been to the Brut Nature Restaurant in Peria, Recoleta, a small traditional bohemian place run by the family of Roscana Fabiano. Yes, sounds Italian and in a very Argentine way is, as the late C19th Italian settlers left a large genetic and culinary footprint throughout the city, the Porteneos demonstrating the striking Italian looks of refined features and clear olive skin, especially noticeable in the women for some reason!
What a relief to feel a gentle breeze lifting the limp fronds of the fern trees in Plaza Rodrigues as I strolled back through Bario Norte and Retiro! Earlier today as I returned from my cancelled tango class in languid humidity I mused over the large wet stains which periodically covered the footways. Looking up I saw the cause; projecting out across the pavements were the air conditioning units struggling, dripping moisture dragged from the over-worked heat exchangers and dehumidifiers.

The cause of this unseasonable oppressive heat with humidity reaching saturation point, to the point that drops of moisture never dry, is global warming. It is so real here with ozone gaps affecting all large Latin American cities. Small wonder when you account for the huge mass of people, and vehicles pushing out clouds of heat and fumes. The humidity today was expected after last nights storms. Lightening forked across the sky in a continuous display, arking down to the myriad of high antennas which festoon the tops of tall blocks across the city. Then the thunder. At first a crack, followed by an explosion that seemed to rock the buildings, then the shock wave, a sudden movement of pressure and air! And sheets of water, flooding the streets floating litter into shop doorways. Now I see why all the floors are tiled throughout the city, the shopkeepers and porters leisurely brushing out the water, carrying on as normal save for the odd bucket to catch the drips. People returning from work were stranded where the buses dropped them, perhaps a couple of blocks from their apartments, unable to cross the torrents. The elderly rich booked into adjacent hotels because the lifts were down and they could not struggle up many flights of wet stairs. But within a couple of hours, as the temperature dropped and the huge heavy clouds moved away, the city returned to normal, at least for the moment.

El Mundo del Cepillo: The brush shop (established 1911)
It is worth needing or wanting a brush just to visit the brush shop in Rodriguez Pena 321. You would be unwelcome just to browse as the shop is stacked to overflow with brushes. They may sell the odd duster, not that you would notice as the shop is filled with every imaginable brush: English badger shaving brushes, Colombian beetle brushes, house brushes, car brushes, tooth brushes, hair brushes, clothes brushes, step scrubbers, back scrubbers, yard sweepers, crumb cleaners; of every colour, size, shape and design. They festoon the walls, the floors and hang from the ceilings giving the minimum headroom and blocking the light. My quest was a suede dance shoe brush of which there was a wide selection of about eight! The first assistant, a young woman only spoke Italian, so I was ceremonially passed to the shop proprietor, one of two sisters who spoke and wanted to practice her perfect English (her daughter had married an Englishman).

 She talked me through the advantages and disadvantages of each brush and I settled on a spectacular brush of mixed bristle and brass wire for 25 pesos (about 4 pounds sterling: this would buy dinner for two). I shall no doubt be complimented on my shoes at the next milonga!

Re-cycling: Cartoneiros
I have touched on ecological matters throughout this blog. Being a foreigner in a strange place heightens ones awareness of the differences between home and abroad, and the reasons behind strange sights. The huge, busy city produces mountains of rubbish, most of which is deposited by the Portnos in the streets! I dutifully placed my banana skin in a city bin. It looked antique but as if it had never been used, which it probably had not been! The refuse disposal carts clatter and roar at break-neck speed along the one-way grid of roads, the operatives adopting some secret code involving collecting every other rubbish bag, splitting them open as they rush, and cascading rubbish back onto the broken footways. Ahead of them by a few hours are the nomadic street people who break open bags and retrieve anything of remote value or use. The main commodity is plastics, and with hand-drawn carts topped with large canvas bags they create mountains of plastic bottles which are then moved onto 1950s ancient American trucks, loaded 3-4 metres high and topped with street children who sift and collect for the odd centivo. A lorry load is worth about 20 pounds sterling. When their work is done at about 3 am the collectors slope off with cardboard boxes and blankets into doorways or under covered porches to sleep til dawn and beyond.

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