Sunday, August 17, 2008

He who must not be named

One of the shameful aspects of coming to a country with a rich recent history like Argentina's, is that one is immediately confronted with one's own lamentable ignorance. On Wednesday in class, we saw a documentary, "La Republica Perdida" ("The Lost Republic"), covering the country's history from rougly 1928 to 1983, and I was brought face to face with the fact that I didn't know Evita from Isabel Perón. So I've been boning up on a little paperback "Breve historia de la Argentina" (by José Luis Romero) ever since.

One aspect of the more recent history (the book stops in the mid-90's) which we also learned about in class, and which I find completely hilarious, is the following. The Argentines have a word called "yeta", (pronounced "Shetta", to rhyme with "Jetta"), which can be loosely translated as a jinx, or someone who brings bad luck. Other synonyms for this same concept are "mufa" and "semáforo" (the latter word also means a traffic light). I seem to remember an X-Files episode based on a similar premise, but that's another story.

Anyway, it turns out that the former ill-fated, palindromic president of the Republic, the much-reviled (for his big-business, World Bank, U.S. capitalism-pleasing ways) Carlos Menem, who was in power during the lead-in to the economic collapse of December 2001*, is held in such superstitious contempt that most Argentines refuse to mention him by name (believing it to bring bad luck), so that he is now universally referred to only as "el yeta", in a kind of Voldemortian reverse homage.

*: After the increasingly agitated pot-and-pan-beating demonstrations (or "cacerolazos") by housewives, and members of the lower and middle classes, in the Plaza de Mayo, he had to be airlifted by helicopter from the Casa Rosada, thereby initiating the crisis, and the so-called "semana de los cinco presidentes", which - perhaps in unconscious recall of the Italian origins of many Argentine politicians - had the country experience five presidents in as many days.

Even now, our teacher Carolina has yet to mention his name, referring to him only as "El Yeta". It cracks me up every time.

No comments: