Sunday, December 13, 2009

Retiro: the tracks

[Photo taken from this place]

Yesterday was an interesting day. I planned to go to the barrio, Belgrano, to pick up some riding pants, some breech. I figured I would take a different route, mix things up a bit. I decided to jump on the colectivo and head for Retiro station. I had heard some things, not so good, about it. But, my comrade, Maggy, just took it the other day, saying it was fine by day.

Upon arriving at Retiro station, a slight sadness came over me. There was no doubt that, once upon a time, this station welcomed travelers with grandiose elegance, the arches, the metalwork, the sculpted columns and doorway detail. Unhappily ever after. I overcame my sadness when I realized that this main station was bustling and alive, people going to and from work and home, running errands, living life as usual. There is nothing to feel sad about when you see that life goes on.

I found the boleteria, made my 0.80 centavo purchase to Belgano C station, found the platform, boarded the train. As the train emerged from the station, I remember someone telling me that Retiro is a bizarre area, the epitome of juxtaposition. On the South side of the tracks the buildings are not smaller than 10-floors. Architectural detail adorns the rooves, the balconies, their French-doors, reminents of European grandeur. On the other side, to the North, one-level shanties proliferate the space, some even have a second level with terraces that holdup drying laundry, sheets, rags, remeras. Some may think that, when there is not a train passing, the shanties look at the towering taunts of the bourgeoise. I see kids running along the tracks, little girls playing in the mud. I wonder what the kids on the South side are doing.

I was told that Retiro became an interesting barrio because the workers established their settlement on the North side of the tracks to be closer to their workplace, the rich, South side. Carpenters, housekeepers, nannies, electricians for the rich made their orange-brick and plywood homes there. All I can say is: interesting. I don't know what living on either side of the tracks is like, I can't have an opinion on the matter. I am not going to say that the poor deserve more or the rich deserve less. For all I know, some of the rich were once poor and vice versa. It's a dilemma that I think any globally-conscious person deals with: what is justice when it comes to class status? Difficult question. However, my comrade, Jameson, explained something very poignant to me the other night, something his dad had told him:

Never feel sorry for people. Empathize, understand them, but never feel sorry. The minute you feel sorry for someone is the minute you marginalize that person. You are basically saying, "I feel sorry for you because you can't live the way I do, because my way of life is so much better". You can help someone, listen to him, but never feel sorry him.

I wonder if the British felt sorry for the First Nations, living in matriarchal societies, having their own way of doing things, focusing on community and non-instiutionized spirituality.

Instead of feeling sorry for people, maybe people should do what they love, succeed at it, not feel guilty, not be spoiled by wanting more, then, without pity, extend a hand and help others. Care about people, feel compassion, but never pity.

I arrived in Belgrano to find out that the talabarteria was closed. I decided I would go back on Monday. I bought a medialuna, a croissant, just one, and rode the bus home, all the while thinking about what I saw, feeling ashamed that I pitied a group of people. Most of all, resigned to never feel sorry for myself, to do what I want without being spoiled. Help out when and where I can, lose the self-righteousness, the martyrdom of living on frugality, not to judge others, and never expect for one minute that more money would make anyone more happy. It doesn't make the rich happy. Powerfully pompous, but not happy.

What tangible things we have in life will never amount to the stories that we have lived through. In the end, we all go to the same place, whatever that place is. We end up persevering through whatever life throws at us. Such is the beauty of human strength. That is nothing to pity.

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