“Decisions are made by those who show up”
THERE is some dispute about who came up with that phrase.
It has been attributed to Benjamin Franklin and Woody Allen, among others, but more recently was uttered by President Jed Bartlett in The West Wing. Just before he was shot.
Sorry to say, have spent more time watching The West Wing in the past week than showing up to the big decisions as missed a fourth UK General Election in a row due to being out of the country (and not being organised enough to sort out a proxy or postal vote).
Nine years ago, watched the results which formed the coalition government on a cruise ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, while in 2015 was in Zimbabwe where political discourse and debate is rather less open and fraught with danger than back home.
For Theresa May’s snap election of 2017, was on a historic bar crawl in Boston engaged in a lengthy debate with a Trump-loving car parts salesman from Dubuque, Iowa, and an actor from LA with a rather different point of view.
This time around, was able to block out much of what was happening back home by getting immersed in the considerable delights of Buenos Aires, one of those cities which instantly has you planning a return visit to soak up rather more of its charms.
Argentina – which we left for the final time yesterday – has been truly memorable over the past few weeks, be it the extraordinary scenery of Patagonia, the remarkable steaks and the free-flowing (and very reasonably priced) wine which has finally seen me converted from white to red.
And its capital, our home for four nights, lived up to the rest of the country (as did our remaining stop before crossing into Brazil, but we will get there next time) with enough to keep us occupied and entertained for considerably longer.
It also provided an interesting backdrop to events back home.
Four years ago, wrote about watching complaints about “Broken Britain” and the fallout from that election while in Zimbabwe – a country where people could not openly express any negative views without fear of reprisal.
This time round, election day had me watching some remarkable women who have spent more than four decades protesting and remembering loved ones in a dignified, determined and very moving fashion.
The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo have been walking round the square outside the presidential palace since the 1970s, originally in defiance of laws against mass assembly under the military dictatorship.
They are the mothers of the disappeared, people who vanished under the harsh regime – some of whom themselves went missing.
There are few of the original mothers left, but those who continue the tradition support human rights and the campaign to find babies taken from their mothers and givien to members of the military to raise as their own.
For all there is to get angry and complain about back home, maybe we are not quite as broken as we might think.
That was a sobering, fascinating insight into the country’s troubled past and we wandered into the heart of its current political system as we arrived smack in the middle of the inauguration of a new Peronist president which had the street outside our hostel closed and crowds on the streets.
Reunited with our travelling companions who had flown to the capital a few days earlier, we stayed out of the way of the crowds in the hostel bar for happy hour – just happy enough to convince some of us to take part in a free tango lessons before heading out through the lingering crowds in search of another steak.
Discovering the hostel bar transformed into a club led to a later than planned finish, but not late enough to stop us emerging into the searing heat of the next morning for a walking tour of the La Boca neighbourhood.
Chunks of the former docks area have been transformed into a colourful, artistic community which makes for a fascinating few hours wandering around, capped off with a visit to the place which has made the region famous – the home of Boca Juniors football club.
While that was a largely unplanned trip, the evening was pencilled in and looked forward to since booking this South American adventure – a journey to the Palermo area of the city for a reunion with an old friend.
Last saw Ale when we bade farewell in Cairo at the end of 40 weeks travelling together around Africa and we jumped at the opportunity to meet up in the city she now calls home.
It was, as Lisa who came along for the evening and a few beers said, like we had never been apart, catching up, reliving memories and spending a great night back together for the first time in more than four years.
So much so, we did it again the next night – after another walking tour through the political heart of the city, complete with a house designed around Dante’s Comedy of Errors and watching the weekly protest from the Mothers – as Ale was reintroduced to life in a truck group at an impromptu party.
Sadly, this one was to bid farewell to Cam who has swanned, smiled and extended her way around South America in her unique style. The tears were flowing almost as much as the wine by the end of the evening.
As she headed home, we set out for one final exploration of Buenos Aires and one final evening as proper tourists at a tango show.
Sadly, a few of us were unable to put our new-found skills to the test at another lesson as we were sent back to change from flip-flops to shoes.
Quite why we needed trainers to sit eating a three-course dinner, drinking as much of the unlimited wine we could get the waiting staff to deliver to the table – once we convinced them they could leave the bottle of white as it would not be there long enough to get warm – and watching a show which was surprising enjoyable.
That really should have been that, but the lure of the late-night club at the hostel proved a little too tempting, despite the looming spectre of another early start.
But then not all decisions made by those who show up are good ones.