May 25 is a big deal in Argentina. The date, also known as National Day, marks the May Revolution in 1810 which began the Argentine War of Independence from Spain. It’s a colossal celebration. In the days leading up to it, streets were blocked off around Casa Rosada (the Argentine equivalent of the U.S. White House) and huge skeletons of scaffolding were set up around it. On the actual day, busloads upon busloads of people came into Buenos Aires. Huge groups roved the streets bearing flags and banging on drums. Fireworks were set off (yes, during the day) and some sounded as big and loud as cannons.
Of course, I almost missed it.
A group marches down a street in Buenos Aires on May 25. (Photo by Jammie Karlman)
I, naturally, could hear the hullaballoo from the drums and firecrackers, but I could not see them. We had made plans to meet friends in the San Telmo Market (wonderful place, a post on it later) in the afternoon, but our route there took us away from the action and into the small, cobblestoned heart of Buenos Aires’ oldest barrio. But even at this distance from Casa Rosada (the center of the festivities), buses were parked along the streets and blocking intersections. The sidewalks were unusually full of people, and they all seemed to be scurrying toward Casa Rosada. It was a crisp, sunny day and even the air felt infused with fervor.
It’s an odd feeling to be in a place as big as a city, that’s having a big celebration seemingly everywhere around you, yet not see it or be a part of it. Everyone really is hanging out without you, and it’s a disorienting, forlorn feeling. Bjorn, of course, had already reveled in and seen all the spectacle, being as he is a good and righteous man who gets up early and goes to church (which happens to be near a main thoroughfare where many of the paraders/protesters passed by), whereas I am of the sort who not only gives in to communing with God from bed but also sometimes deems it necessary. Bjorn, naturally, was the one who had been rather blasé about the whole holiday while I had been blathering on excitedly about it for nearly a week. (The question of whether this morning merriment miss was a delicious bit of irony or just desserts did cross my mind a few times).
I stayed inside the San Telmo Market for as long as I could. Finally, I could bear it no longer. Begging permission from our friends, Bjorn and I galloped off into the city to see what all the fuss was about. Within a few blocks, we caught sight of the tail end of a huge group of people waving green flags while chanting/singing and banging drums. We strove mightily to catch up with them (really quite impressive the speed they were moving at, considering their large size). Fortunately, they stopped in front of a building to form what looked like a mosh pit while the people on the perimeter continued waving flags and banging their drums. Firecrackers (with matching green smoke!) were set off, hoorah!
More groups followed behind that one, though they did not all carry the same kinds of flags (with the exception of the Argentine flag). The groups seemed to be formed according to interests, professions and political parties, although we did see a crowd about 15 people strong that seemed to be either a smallish band of neighbors or a largish family. Small children rode on the shoulders of adults, shopkeepers came out to watch and wave, cars tooted in friendly solidarity as they drove by. Babies, toddlers, teenagers, senior citizens, families, tourists, street denizens, gangs, singles, the posh and the rough — everyone and everything whirled and mixed together in the blender of May 25.
Later on, we were told by a friendly man that the Argentine president, Cristina Kirchner, would be speaking at 8:30 p.m. at Casa Rosada, so we excitedly made plans to go to the plaza at that time. How exciting and fortuitous that we happened to be in Buenos Aires at this time! I haven’t even seen U.S. President Barack Obama in person. I was extremely curious to see CFK, as she is also known, especially as she seems to incite either ardent support or hate in Argentines. She has an interesting backstory: Her husband Nestor was the president of Argentina before her and she is the first elected female president, and the first woman to be re-elected. The not-so secret whispers and theories about her are even better: She won her re-election by paying the poor to vote for her; her government is full of corruption and cronyism; she’s trying to control the judicial system so she can have a third term; she has a room in a bank filled with gold and American dollars. She’s terrible! She’s great!
She spoke at 6:30 p.m.
So yes, we missed seeing and hearing the president speak — BUT we did happen to see the spectacular firework display afterward. This seems to be par for the course whenever I’m in another country during a major holiday: Either I see a (near) head of state and no fireworks, or I get to see the fireworks but not the head of state. I’m in a state of flux about which one I like more.