The elephant in the room

The islands that Argentina just can't quite let go of

A post that I was never particularly enthusiastic about writing, although it feels strange that I haven’t done so already after almost 6 months in Buenos Aires. Indeed, as an Englishman living in Argentina, it would be awfully remiss of me not to talk about what is – for me at least – the most talked about thing here.

‘Son nuestras’ is how most conversations on the matter usually begin, and, thankfully, end. ‘We both know that isn’t strictly true,’ I would sometimes like to say to remonstrating taxi drivers and the like, when I’m having a bad day. What would be the point though?

I love and have completely taken to the Argentinian people. Discussing this touchy subject with them however is somewhat demoralising, not that it is ever me who brings it up of course. The question with apparently no correct answer, one common retort is, ‘Because they are!’

Embedded into the national consciousness, it is unfair on everyone that men, women and children must be overburdened with this burning sense of injustice that refuses to go away. Maps in classrooms; government-issued bank notes; the murals adorning the walls of the military base on Avenida Luis María Campos that my bus to and from work passes each day. They all punctuate a certain set of islands in the South Atlantic Ocean with (ARS), denoting ownership.

When I close my eyes at night I see their outline. To the Argentinians, Argentina. To the rest of the world, a claim to territory stemming from nothing more than proximity. The phrase is ‘let’s agree to disagree,’ I believe. Which is fine by the way, preferable in fact. The less said the better, please.

My next encounter with this unhealthy obsession is only ever days or, worse, hours away though unfortunately. Weariness is received as apathy, and subsequently apathy as disrespect. Disrespect does not sit well. Otherwise heading down a conversational cul-de-sac of presumed discomfort last week, when probed on whether the British also have a commemorative public holiday (like the one observed in Argentina just a few Mondays ago), I quickly nodded and answered, ‘Sí.’

Going back a couple of months, my Irish friend was taken aback when I also introduced myself as Irish to new locals in our regular drinking hole. Sometimes in the street or in shops I am American, or perhaps Australian. At River Plate last weekend, my compatriot friend and I were Kiwis for the match. Everything worthwhile requires compromises, and this national anonymity is simply one which makes daily life a bit simpler, but it can only go so far.

Yes, already sat waiting for me in most rooms I enter here is a big grey thing with floppy ears, two white tusks and a long trunk. Everyone sees it, we all know it’s there. We would do better not to pay it any attention though; if sufficiently riled, its force could be destructive.

Who knows, maybe one day, with enough neglect it might even get up and leave. Yet for now and the foreseeable future, that empty-roomed-utopia seems an altogether quite unlikely prospect. After all, elephants never forget. Everyone knows that.

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