Saturday, April 19, 2008

Paris is burning

Buenos Aires, often called the Paris of the South, is gasping for breath as I write this, smothered by a thick layer of smoke. For a week now we've seen the sky alternate between hazy gray and sooty black as the winds either aid or afflict the city more. Grasslands and farms outside the capital are on fire, some 180,000 acres so far, and no relief appears to be in sight.

As you may recall, we had a nationwide farm strike recently which currently is in a state of temporary truce as the famers and the government negotiate. In light of this tension, it's not suprising that rumors and conspiracy theories abound on both sides. Some say the farmers carelessly lit fires to burn off post-harvest crop stubble and it subsequently got out of control. Others say the farmers did it deliberately to punish the capital and humble the government. The opposition says that most of the fires are on public grasslands, used for grazing, and that ranchers would never burn the land their cattle use to graze so it must have been government forces that started it to make the farmers look bad. I have no idea, I just hope it ends before we all literally choke to death.

On a positive note, I finally got my visa renewed. For 3 months, I jumped through every hoop required by Migraciones, obtaining all of the documents they requested complete with embassy seals, notarizations, legalizations, and everything else they could throw at me (including one wild goose chase to a Foreign Ministry office but the address they wrote down for me turned out to be a bakery). Then they informed me they had lost one of their official documents, my entry permit from a year ago, and would have to search their archives. They told me to come back at the end of the week on Friday, the final business day before my visa expired on that Sunday. I showed up wondering if I would be an illegal alien the following week but somehow they'd found what they needed and now I can spend the next 9 months dreading the process before I have to begin it all over again.

Of course, it wasn't quite all over yet. When my visa expired, so did my DNI (national identity document, kind of like an internal passport used for ID and mandatory for both citizens and foreign residents). It has blank spaces in it for renewals, requiring a new expiration date, authorized signature, and offical stamp. Could they do that at the same time as my visa? Are you kidding? The bureaucracy couldn't survive if it was so efficient. No, I had to go to another office of Migraciones about a kilometer away, waste more hours, stand in more lines, bring more copies of documents, and so on. Six different steps and officials were needed to get a date, a signature, and a rubber stamp applied. Can you imagine actually trying to accomplish anything complicated here? I suspect one would die of old age before it ever finished.

Luciano spent a week in Spain recently, during Easter week. He lived there for a while and is still registered as a resident. To keep his status, he needs to renew his residency in person every 2 years so he decided it would be a good time to close his store and do it, since BA virtually shuts down from Thursday through Tuesday around the holiday. I, of course, was in the throes of visa renewals so there was no way I could leave the country and jeopardize my months of work. When he came back, we compared notes. His bureaucratic process took less than 10 minutes and mine had already lasted 2.5 months. Hmmm, which country is efficient and has an economy 6 times greater than the other although it's only 1/5 the size in area? I'll take "Spain" for $500, Alex! Anyway, Luciano had a good time and hopefully I'll be able to go with him on his next trip there.