Pride and locro

On a miserable, damp afternoon, there’s nothing like a bowl of hearty locro stew to bring a tiny ray of happiness to the lunch table, even if it means slurping down the dish traditionally eaten on Revolution Day 24 hours early.

But not even that little sunbeam of gran locro (beef, white beans, sweetcorn, pork belly) courtesy of the Herald canteen could force away the clouds yesterday, May 25, until lunchtime, which meant festivities, always likely to be a limp and fairly forgettable affair in contrast with the truly grand bicentennial events of 2010, clicked into motion.

Only the very political hardcore, the Kirchner youth movement La Cámpora for one, had the inclination to take on the foul weather yesterday morning. But the usual drum-wielding, marching hundreds often led by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s son Máximo were reduced to mere dozens bearing brollies at their headquarters in Monserrat.

The rain had definitely put off the crowds, despite the lure of travelling for free on the subte. In fact, many decided to take the D line north and in the opposite direction of May Square, as did one patriotic gentleman bedecked in a light-blue-and-white three-piece suit and top hat. He was certainly wearing enough national pride for one carriage, if not a whole train.

Others, and I count myself among them, decided to have more locro on the correct day at a traditional Argentine (although the translation of autóctona is indigenous) restaurant in Belgrano.

No additional waiting staff had been drafted in for its busiest day of the year, and the owner wandered up to our table, mopping his brow, to verify that the lunchtime rush had been a complete quilombo. For want of a stronger phrase, you’re telling me. An hour for drinks and 90 minutes for stew? Hunger and impatience aside, that meaty, sausagey, pulsey bowl of goodness was definitely worth it.

Cut to mid-afternoon and the tiny ray had converted itself into something rather more substantial down May Square way. Thick smoke wafted around in front of the Cabildo, although not for reasons any more serious than the charring of beef and ruddy sausages.

“It looks like a political protest due to all the banners and flags,” said Sarah Treanor, a BBC radio producer from London who arrived in Buenos Aires yesterday morning, “although it does feel like a bank holiday.”

Having read about May Square in a guide book, she added that it was odd that everything was for sale “apart from the free hugs. Is that a pick-pocketing scam?”

Very much a family day out, street hawkers were flogging prerequisite homemade flags and badges in honour of the motherland, while more obscure purchases included dolphin helium balloons, binoculars, bubble-making machines and puppets.

While last year’s landmark Revolution Day celebrations focused on 9 de Julio Avenue and the Obelisk, Government House paled in comparison for the 201st version of events although some sort of effort had been put into sprucing her up with some fancy geometric lights flashing around the famous second-floor balcony.

Children’s TV character Pepe popped up onstage in front of Government House to hammer out his theme song several times. Relevance to Revolution Day? Still uncertain, but my head was spinning after the fourth version.

Wandering well away from the intolerable Pepe and through the crowd, many of whom were either selling or buying wares, the general ambience was that of confusion. No one really seemed to be doing much other than hanging around, no one seemed to be having a particularly good time, no one was even passing around mate. At May Square yesterday afternoon, Revolution Day felt like a misnomer. It was all very half-hearted.

Things can only get better, a man once sang. The evening looked set to pick up with live music from Los Pericos, La Mosca, Víctor Heredia and Soledad as well as a video tribute to María Elena Walsh. Fingers crossed.

So after mopping up two locro dishes in two days, the question remains — which came up trumps? Buenos Aires certainly doesn’t need any more food critics or bloggers, and although loyalty should rightly go to the Herald canteen’s efforts for its “gran locro” that had a generous helping of pork belly, it was the busy little Belgrano hole in the wall that stuck your reservation name to the table with a cheap napkin that revolutionized my May 25 — as did its rectangular ham-and-cheese empanadas.

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