Saturday, February 12, 2005

Everything I know about Argentina I learned from Andrew Lloyd Webber

Today was my last full day in Buenos Aires and I am really feeling sad about leaving! It took a while to settle in, and for most of the past few weeks I have been anxious to get on with the traveling, but I´ve grown attached and it´s hard to go. Anyway, I had a few things left to see so after another tango class this afternoon I took off for the Palermo section of town to see the Museo Evita, a museum about the life of Eva Peron.

For those who don´t know about Evita (and didn´t see the movie) here´s a little recap: She was born outside of Buenos Aires in 1919, moved to the city at age 15 to pursue her dream of being an entertainer and became a star on the radio and in movies. She met and later married military leader Juan Peron, who was elected president in 1946. They had huge appeal to and support from the working class, and dedicated themselves to improving conditions for workers (popularly called "descamisados" or "shirtless") Evita was their sweetheart because she also came from a very poor background and held a lot of contempt for the priveliged classes, who in return resented the power she had in government affairs. She died in 1952 at age 33, just after Peron had been elected to a second term. (The term only lasted until 1955, when Peron was deposed and had to take exile in Spain. He came back, though, and was elected president again in the early 70s, and when he died less than a year later his third wife Isabel--Eva was his second--took over briefly as president).

Anyway, I´ve seen both the play and the movie "Evita" and know the soundtrack pretty well, so I went to the museum to see how Eva´s real life compared to the image created by Weber. I was actually surprised at how accurate it seems. The best part of the museum (which consisted in large part of large-print quotations from her autobiography and personal items such as hats, shoes, first communion certificates and childhood photos) was a video montage about Evita´s communication with the people. It had footage of Peron and Eva speaking from the balcony of the Government house, and yes, the people were chanting "Peron! Peron! Evita! Evita!" It also seemed to me that some of the lines from the songs were actually taken from her speeches.

It was interesting to see the footage and to realize just how influential a couple the Perons were. Millions of people flooded the streets to support them and then to mourn when Evita died. But then consider that a 26-year-old entertainer who came from a poor background married a popular, strong military leader and made real changes in the country: feeding poor children, offering job training, building homes for the poor, improving working conditions. In fact, imagine a mid-80´s Madonna becoming first lady and imagine how that would shake up American politics, or any country´s politics for that matter.

So, that is your Argentina history lesson for today. I´ll try to get online tomorrow to tell about the tango club I went to last night, before I head off on a 18-hour bus journey to Iguazú Falls.